He accompanied the two Men out of the City to the tents raised there, his head still swimming to find the so-long-missing famed Captain and his aide by his side.
“Then you went north?”
“I was wounded gravely enough. Hardorn did what he could, and managed to get me aboard one of the small fishing craft and headed up into the river, hoping to get me to some of those I’d trained in healing in Ithilien. But two days up the river he saw one of my Elven brothers on the river’s bank, and pulled to the bank to garner his help--and news. Gondor was not the only land in danger from the Enemy’s creatures, you must remember--orcs, trolls, and the lawless ones who had taken Rhudaur and who live yet in the lands of Angmar have ever been our enemies, you must understand. One of our hidden strongholds had been assaulted, and Hardorn’s father, who’d been my father’s Steward as well as my own, had been killed along with several others in greatest authority. Once again we’d been betrayed as had happened before, there shortly before I as a child was taken into hiding within the valley of Rivendell.
“I was needed by our own folk, Húrin, and I needed to put into practice there what I’d learned of ruling here. We had many smaller isolated lands in the North that needed protection, and we had not the population allowing us to produce a standing army as is true here in Gondor. We have always known alliance with the Elves of Rivendell--Lord Elrond has ever cared for the folk of his brother, and particularly for those of us who have been his direct heirs. It fell to me to confirm friendships with the other Elves both of Eriador and the valley of the upper Anduin, and to form alliances also with the various peoples of Rhovanion and what Dwarves would hear my arguments.
“But I have also sojourned within Rhun and Harad--indeed, I’ve been deep inside Far Harad, and just over the borders into Khand, through Umbar, and north into what remains of Angmar. I have walked and ridden and even sailed far across the face of the mortal realms. Believe me--although there has been known victory in battles within Rohan and here before the gates of Minas Tirith, the Elves and Dwarves and other residents of the northern lands are even now under attack. So it is only a token force could come southward--not two score Men, a Wizard, a wood-Elf from Mirkwood and a Dwarf from Eriador and two Peredhil of Imladris and four Hobbits----”
“Hobbits?” interrupted Húrin. “You mean Pheriannath? But I’ve seen but one!”
“And a second lies inside the Houses of Healing as recompense for striking at the Lord of the Nazgûl, while two others seek even now to accomplish the impossible--and although they are but barely able to use the weapons they bear they yet pose the greatest danger to the Enemy himself! But I cannot speak further of that at this time.”
“And you have come to claim the Crown at last?”
The other’s face grew grave. “I said no such thing.”
“Then I am mistaken in the thought that you have come as the Heir to Isildur?” Húrin felt very confused.
A tent flap opened and from it came another who was very similar in face to Hardorn, save this one was broader in his chest . He, too, showed great grief in his expression. “Aragorn?” he asked. “Will you not rest? You’ve not properly rested in--how many days now? And even we rested when we reached Helm’s Deep, unlike you and Halbarad.”
“At least he rests now,” his companion said quietly. “Where have you bestowed his body?”
“In the healer’s pavilion there.” There was a nod toward a broad pavilion beyond them. “A screen has been set up around the area where the fallen have been bestowed. We’ll not be able to carry him home, you know.”
“I know, and Aeiluin shall weep for him when the word is brought to her.”
“If she knows not already,” the other said. “He spoke a bit as I held his head, glad he was spent in your service.”
This one--Thorongil? Estel? Aragorn? The King Returned?--reached out and placed his hand upon the other’s shoulder. “Alas we must lose him, Halladan.”
“Master Gimli and Prince Legolas have been standing honor for him whilst we’ve been busy about our own business.”
“Bless them. You, too, need to rest, cousin.”
“You are the one who will need to deal with the folk of the city on the morrow.” The one identified as Halladan examined Húrin. “You are of Gondor, then, lord?” he asked.
“Forgive me, Lord Húrin. Hardorn here I believe you recognize, but not his next older brother, Halladan, who now serves as my Steward for the North Kingdom, following his brother, Halbarad, who died this day upon the Pelennor.”
Suddenly Húrin understood. “He served as your standard bearer, then?”
Thorongil gave a slow nod. “Yea, so he did, and would suffer no other to take that right from him, although he foresaw that doing so could well cost him his life. My first friend among Men he was, long ago when I was first returned to my own people after growing up within Imladris, and these his true brothers allow me to grieve with them for his loss.” Indeed, in the growing light presaging dawn and the light of the lantern lit before the tent he could see that the pain and grief was indeed equal in the face of each of them.
“And you, my lord--how would you have me address you?”
The tall Man shrugged. “You may tell those within the city that I am Aragorn son of Arathorn, the Chieftain of the Dúnedain of the North, come to fulfill the alliance forged between Arvedui and Ondoher, and later with Eärnil, in thanks for the support granted my ancestor Arvedui and his son Aranarth.”
“Then you do not intend to claim the Crown of Gondor?”
Aragorn son of Arathorn, Chieftain of the Dúnedain of the North, gave a rather feral smile, reminding Húrin of how this one would speak of his plans to assault a newly located orc nest. “I did not say that, either, my lord,” he said. “I will see you in a few hours’ time, then.” So saying, he bowed and turned to enter the tent, followed by Lord Halladan and by Hardorn, who gave the salute common to Gondor before following his brother and lord kinsman inside.
Leonid awaited him not in his office, but on the very steps of the Citadel itself. “You found him?” he demanded.
“It took time, but, yes, I found him.”
“What was he doing?”
“Ministering to those wounded who were taken to the Inn of the King’s Head once it became known there was no more room within the Houses of Healing.”
“And he is...?”
“He said for me to speak of him as the Chieftain of the Northern Dúnedain, and nothing more.”
“But is he Thorongil?”
“He does not use that name.”
“Not that name? Then what name does he use?”
“He said to tell those here that he is Aragorn son of Arathorn.”
Leonid seemed to relax. “Yes, the name is right,” he breathed.
“Then you are indeed from the North Kingdom yourself?”
Leonid gave a shrug, then looked away ruefully. “I was born in the Angle,” he said. “I saw our Lord Aragorn a few times when I was a child, when he would visit our village. Then he came southward. I was sent to the Bear for training when I turned sixteen, and was on my first patrol when word came my village had been attacked by orcs and those few remaining in Rhudaur. We came as soon as we could--and there was almost nothing left. Three children, two women, and four Men--those were our only survivors. My father and mother--they were not among them. We learned my sister was taken as a slave by the folk from Rhudaur. By the time we found them, she, too, was dead.” The look on his face was grim. Húrin was fascinated, for never before had Leonid spoken of his history or family, save one time when he’d merely said he had no family living.
“So, I chose to come away south--follow our Lord Chieftain. And after you were injured as you were, Aragorn gave me to you, to serve you as I could. He was--he was giving me a reason to live, I suppose.”
“So that was the reason you never left us.”
Leonid gave a gentle nod of assent. “Yes, that was why.”
“Why did you come to us from the valley of the Anduin, and not through Rohan?”
The northerner again shrugged, looking east toward the lowering threat of the Enemy. “I was advised to come that way, that I not----” He took a deep breath. “They did not wish for me to avenge my family on all I came upon along the way,” he finally said. “Lord Halbaleg sent messages by way of me, to his youngest son and to our lord chieftain. I recognized Hardorn first, for he spent time in Rivendell on our Lord Aragorn’s orders, learning more fully the warrior’s way, and was often among the patrols that followed the sons of Elrond against the orcs that infest the deep places under the Misty Mountains--they have ever hated the orcs, ever since their mother took a poisoned wound at their hands and was forced to leave Middle Earth to seek healing in the West. Hardorn was sent with Lord Aragorn that he not be fully cut off from the memory of our people as well as to watch his back.”
Húrin indicated his own understanding. At last he asked, “Who are Master Gimli and Prince Legolas? Do you know?”
His aide looked to him sharply. “Prince Legolas--is he here? He came following our lord chieftain?”
“Apparently. You know of him, then?”
“He accompanied me partly along the way, guarding me, I suppose. His patrol leader was not happy he should do so, for the folk of Mirkwood find his willingness to shed his bodyguards somewhat disturbing.”
“Yes--his father is King of the great Woodland Realm of the Green Leaves--far to the north of us. As for Master Gimli--that sounds like the name of a Dwarf.”
Húrin looked thoughtfully toward the walls for the level of the Citadel as if he could see through them and downward to the camp of the Northern Dúnedain, there out upon the Pelennor. “I see,” he said half to himself. “Yes, he said he came with three Elves and a Dwarf, and four Pheriannath.”
“Four Hobbits? I was amazed to see one brought here by Mithrandir, and then to learn a second had been brought to the Houses from the battle. There are two more? But since when have Hobbits ever taken up weaponry? Such is not their way! And if these two within the city are kinsmen to the two others, as is likely for they are a clannish folk, why are the other two not already beating down the doors to the Houses demanding to see those within?”
All Húrin could do was shrug, for he had no answers to these questions. It appeared there were many unfamiliar folk lingering within the ruins of Arnor....
Húrin took Leonid down with him to the Captains’ council that was held within the encampment before the city. It was a quiet spot within the determined effort to cleanse the Pelennor of the scars of war. Teams of draft horses had been brought from where they’d been taken for safekeeping within northern Lossarnach and even now were being attached to the bodies of the great mûmakil to drag them to a place where they might be burnt. He saw teams of foresters divesting the great beasts of their huge tusks to be used by the artisans of the city, although the talk was that a pair taken from the largest animal should be given to King Éomer in token of how it was his people had helped to bring them down.
No horses, however, could be brought anywhere near the body of the great winged beast on which the Nazgûl had ridden. All that Húrin could guess was that it should most likely be burnt where it lay, as no one was willing to have much to do with such an accursed and unnatural creature.
Leonid was recognized by Hardorn and Halladan, and was spoken to by a few others among those who’d accompanied Lord Aragorn as well, and Húrin saw how this recognition by his own folk appeared to fill an emptiness in his aide of which the Gondorian lord had only partly been aware.
“You will all go to the Black Gate?” Lord Húrin could not believe this move.
“We must.” Lord Aragorn’s face still showed exhaustion, but also showed great determination. “He must believe that one of us holds his weapon that the way be made open for the Ringbearer. In this are Gandalf and the Lord Elrond right--the Enemy must be challenged.”
“And who will be the commander?” he asked.
Prince Imrahil looked about the rest of the tent. “I have given my fealty, as I said, to Lord Aragorn. All saw his banner unfurled upon the Anduin and leading the assault on the Pelennor; I see he wears the Elessar stone and the Elendilmir, and have seen the sword of Elendil reforged shining in his hand as he has hewn down the foe. I follow the Heir to Elendil and Isildur into this battle, even should it cost me my life.”
Halladan, whom he’d met the previous evening, shrugged. “Why else would my brothers and I come south with what of our kindred we could gather in haste if not to follow the heir to our Kings into these final battles against the foe to all?”
Éomer looked about those seated within the tent. “My uncle gave himself gladly upon the Pelennor to meet our ancient vows of alliance, and I have given my love, as that of a brother, to Aragorn here. I follow him.”
Fedwion of Lossarnach looked from the face of Prince Imrahil to that of the other lords of Gondor, then back to Éomer. “I lost my father as you have lost your uncle. We were almost overwhelmed upon the Pelennor when the black ships arrived and spewed forth not the folk of the Corsairs but our own people, come to the City’s defense now that the rest of our realm was made safe. I will go with you, and if the victory is won I will give my oath of fealty to this one as my sovereign lord.”
Húrin watched as others followed suit, some vowing themselves and their people directly to the one identified as the Heir to Isildur, others stating, as had Fedwion, that if he led them to victory that they would then accept him as their King.
One lesser lord of Lamedon asked, “I would ask what proof there is that you are indeed the Heir to Isildur?”
The two dark-haired Elves both arose at that. One spoke: “Our father was own brother to your great lord, Elros Tar-Minyatur, and has accepted his issue ever as our kinsmen. Valandil, son to Isildur, dandled us upon his knee, and his son and grandsons played with us as children. We have known all of the Heirs to Isildur, fathers, sons, and even daughters, from that day to this, and saw this one raised even as a son of our house for the sake of Elros, Elendil the Elf-friend, and all his long-fathers to this day, Kings and Chieftains. For this have we ever ridden at the side of the Rangers of Arnor, as they have ridden to our defense at need. My brother, our father, and I saw this one born to Arathorn and Gilraen; and for this day have we ever sought to prepare him, that when the final battle with Sauron came he should be ready.”
“I am not certain what further proof you should need,” added Lord Angborn. “Lo, he comes to us wearing the Elfstone and the Star of Elendil, Narsil Reforged answers to his mastery and has heartened all who have found themselves fighting at his side, and the army of the Dead followed at his will and helped to secure the victory at Pelargir. The hearts of us all have been lifted just at his presence--and he has amply demonstrated that he has the healing hands of the King. I stand by our lord Prince Imrahil, offering my fealty now.”
The other dark-haired Peredhel said, “More proofs we have brought with us, but now is not the time for proofs, but for acts. We have come to the last hours of the Third Age--we either triumph, or all of us shall fall--Men, Elves, Dwarves, Periannath, Onodrim, Great Eagles, and all others of good will.”
“What about the Crown of the North Kingdom?” asked another unnamed lordling.
“The sovereignty of Arnor has never been conferred by a crown, but by holding the Sceptre of Annúminas. Aranarth left that in the hands of our father to hold against the day that the desire of Arvedui and Fíriel should be met and the two kingdoms both be properly restored and reunited. For was it not ever the law that it was through the eldest child to the King of the Dúnedain that the primary lordship passed? Isildur was elder brother to Anárion, was he not? Indeed, so our father has proclaimed, and there in your Hall of Kings atop your city, as Elrohir and I stood witness to.”
“And when did you do this?” demanded the lordling.
“When Arvedui came here with his son after the death of his wife’s father and brothers--our father, our grandparents, and many others all came to stand by the claim he and Fíriel made for the Crown, that the two realms of the Dúnedain be reunited, and we came to stand by him, one we considered almost as much a brother as we do this one.” Elladan clapped one of his hands to the shoulder of Aragorn son of Arathorn. “This is not our first visit to the White City, you see.”
This pronouncement quieted the rest, but the lesser lord of Lamedon turned to Húrin. “What think you, as kinsman to Ecthelion, Denethor, Boromir, and Faramir? Do you accept the claim of this one?”
Húrin turned to search the eyes of the one he’d once known as Thorongil, and suddenly he felt himself begin to smile. “Long and long have we of Gondor looked for the return of the King. I say that I have seen the healing hands in action, and have been lifted by them from weakness and despair to the light of hope once more. It is time to put the envy of Pelendur behind us for once and all.”
“But I will make no proper claim until the victory is won,” Aragorn pointed out.
“You think indeed we can win against that?” demanded the lesser lord from Lamedon, indicating the darkness over the Ephel Dúath to be discerned through the partially opened tent flap.
“If we don’t,” muttered another, “there will be no need for any debates as to the rightness of claims or crowns or anything else.”
There were words of agreement on all sides.
He and Prince Imrahil, trailed by Imrahil’s second son Erchirion and by Leonid, returned up through the city to the Houses of Healing together. “He reminds me of someone, although I cannot say whom,” Imrahil commented. “Perhaps it is merely Denethor, many, many years ago, when he first courted my sister. He was hopeful once, and pleasant to spend time with, after all.”
“I remember,” Húrin agreed. He’d decided not to share the past identity by which the Lord Aragorn had once been known, and was wondering how long it would be before Imrahil would recognize Thorongil in Isildur’s Heir.
At the doors to the Houses they were recognized by the Guardsmen and passed through easily, and the Warden came forward to greet them as they paused in the entrance hall. “Welcome, lords,” he said, and they could see how much lighter his cares appeared today than they had the previous evening. “Lord Faramir has been awake several times today, and has only just been assisted to a comfortable chair. He is stiff and still in some pain, but will not accept anything stronger than willow bark at this time. His breathing is normal and clear, and his color much better than it had been. His mind appears clear, and he has learned that his father is dead, although we have not told him any details as yet.”
“Can he bear with visitors, do you think?” Imrahil asked.
“Yes--such should not burden him overmuch at this point.”
Húrin asked, “And other casualties--how many more died during the night?”
The Warden’s face grew more solemn. “We lost sixteen in all during the night--but it is far better than I’d looked to see--we’d thought to lose at least four times that number. And it is similarly throughout the city--the word on all levels is that where the Lord Elfstone and the two he spake of as his Elven brothers walked amongst the wounded most with minor wounds have begun to show signs of full recovery, and most others have rallied; while those who must die have done so with greater grace and peace. And everywhere their shadows have fallen the darker Shadow has fallen away.”
It was heartening news, and together they approached the hallway where Faramir’s room lay. Beregond of the Guard again stood outside the young Steward’s room, although it could be seen that he wore a uniform of unrelieved black rather than that of the White Tree as was customary.
“And where is Guardsman Peregrin?” Húrin asked.
“He was relieved of duty today that he might attend on his kinsman. They and Master Gimli and Prince Legolas are all in Master Meriadoc’s room there,” said the other Guardsman on duty, indicating a room not far down the hallway. “Master Meriadoc assisted in the felling of the Lord of the Nazgûl, and undoubtedly is the only reason the Princess Éowyn survived the encounter. It is a wonder to us, my lords, to find that there are indeed Pheriannath in this world and that they are so courageous.”
“Would you see our Lord Faramir, lords?” asked Beregond. At their assent he knocked at the door. It was opened by Dendril, Faramir’s clerk when he worked within the Citadel as first assistant to his father.
“My lord Prince, and Lord Húrin? Lord Erchirion? Welcome! Enter--Lord Faramir had hoped to see you soon and learn what you can tell.”
They entered, and Dendril went out to fetch refreshment for them. Faramir looked up from a missive that lay upon the table next to him. “Uncle, and my beloved cousins. Tell me--what was decided in the council of the captains?”
Imrahil answered him, “We will raise a force and cross the river--bring the fight directly to the gates of Mordor itself. Apparently at this time the Morgul Vale is empty; but many others lie within the gate to the Black Land, orcs, trolls, and Men from Rhun, Khand, and Harad, plus whatever other creatures of wizardry and darkness the Nameless One has bred as he did those fell flying things on which the Nazgûl rode in the assault upon the city.”
“To the Black Gate itself?” Faramir straightened in surprise, but it was clear he approved as well. “That is quite a move, then. Whose suggestion was this?”
“It was made first by Mithrandir, but approved by Lord Aragorn and the two Elves identified as the sons of Elrond.”
“Did they discuss Masters Frodo and Samwise?”
“The other two Pheriannath--the ones not within the city? Yea, some, but as obliquely as possible. Did they truly----”
Faramir waved his good hand. “Nay, do not speak of it, not here--this is not something that should be discussed openly.”
“Then you know----” began Imrahil.
The young Steward nodded, although his expression was now very grave. “It was made plain enough to me what their purpose was, and I helped them as I could. And if it angered my father--well, then, so it must be. But I would not touch this thing, much less see It brought here where It could corrupt those I know and love. It had already betrayed Boromir, and had sought repeatedly to see Master Frodo given into the hands of our enemies all along the way, or so I gleaned from what Master Samwise could be brought to say.”
He leaned back in his chair and rubbed at the bridge of his nose. “Who leads the assault?” he asked at length.
“The Lord Aragorn--and I tell you now, nephew, that I have given him my fealty.”
Faramir dropped his hand and looked up at his uncle, a smile lightening his expression. “You have named him as King, as did I when I awoke?”
“Yes, beloved one.”
“Can you tell me of the battle?”
“What can I say that you do not already know or can divine? They brought an army of near a hundred thousand--Men, orcs, and trolls. I cannot say how many mûmakil there were--a fair number, but all are destroyed now. Plus there were other odd beasts of one sort or another, mostly used to drag their great ram, the one used on the gates of the city. The Nazgûl rode upon the winged steeds you saw over Osgiliath and, I’m told, between there and here as you led the first retreat.” Faramir nodded. “They assaulted the walls and--and sought to dishearten us by sending proof of their hatred for the Men they caught abroad.”
Faramir paled. “I can too easily imagine.”
“They made little headway, however, during the night, for none of our folk would go out to face them, and they could do little against the walls of the city save to send their shot over them. They did send balls of flaming stuff into the First and Second Circles, and there will be much need for rebuilding. However, it was not until near dawn that they were able at last to breach the great gates--but Mithrandir sat his great horse within them and faced down the Lord of the Nazgûl, who uttered empty threats until, as the Sun rose, the horns of Rohan could be heard across the Pelennor.
“The Witch-king withdrew and fetched his flying thing once more, and stooped down on Théoden King himself. Only a second Pherian and the King’s niece slew his steed and faced the wraith, and somehow brought about his end! It was a great deed! The Lady Éowyn and Master Meriadoc were carried here and lie recovering as do you, for the Black Breath almost took them both.”
Faramir’s face showed wonder and interest. “And how was it dispelled?” Then he began to smile. “No--the hands of the King?”
“Indeed, beloved one.”
“Yes!” the younger Man said with relief. “Ah, but now we have to find the way to see to it that the Lord Aragorn is accepted as King when he returns to us.”
“You think there will be a victory, then?” Húrin asked.
Faramir nodded his head. “We must focus on that hope. And, remember--I have felt the gift of healing, ever one of the signs of the King’s right to rule, and have looked into the eyes of the two Pheriannath who carry the greater burden to the consternation of Mordor itself. I do not believe that Master Frodo looks to return from his quest; but only death itself will come between him and his purpose, I deem. The Enemy has never appreciated the strength there is in what appears small and comely or merely comfortable. Indeed, between the return of Mithrandir from death, the unlooked for appearance of the Heir to Isildur, and the small ones even now creeping through his land--or so it is to be hoped--I suspect that the Nameless One has far more reason than he realizes for anxiety.”
His expression could easily match that of the captain in the early hours of the morning, or so Húrin believed. He gave a glance back at Leonid, who stood behind him, and saw that the northern Dúnadan was smiling as he indicated his own agreement with Faramir’s estimation of the situation.