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The Keys of the Realm
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
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4
A Crown Claimed

A Crown Claimed


It was with a feeling of loss that Húrin bade farewell to the Hobbit as he set off eastward with what supplies could be sent across the river in haste to the needs of the army. “Cormallen is a fair place--you will learn that,” he assured Master Meriadoc.

“I’m certain it is--I only fear what I’ll find. The letter said so little, but it was enough to let me know all three of them are injured. If Pippin’s lost----” He stopped in embarrassment, his eyes flickering to and away from Húrin’s empty sleeve.

“You need not fear the loss of a limb--I may no longer wield a bow, but I am still a worthy adversary with a sword and thrown knives--indeed, I carry six upon my person at all times. And it has done nothing to blunt the keenness of my mind or the effectiveness of my pen.

“Remember, Master Meriadoc, he is tended by your friend Strider, and he was the one who was by me when I lost my arm. How it might have been had it been any other I could not say, but there is a reason that those here within the City already name him the King due to the healing hands he bears. And if he is as good at calling light out of the shadows in the business of the realm as he is at easing the fears of a young Ranger who’d just learned he’d lost his left arm, or calling a Pherian from the darkness of the Black Breath, then he will make a good King indeed. You will see.”

Once the cavalcade of wagons had set off eastward to Osgiliath where they would be loaded on boats and sent northward to the encampment of the Army of the West, Húrin turned back reluctantly to the Citadel where he was expected to sit at Faramir’s right hand as the Council met one last time, Erchirion of Dol Amroth sitting in for his father, Lord Elfhelm and the Lady Éowyn for Éomer King of Rohan, a goodly number of the greater and a few lesser lords or their wives and sons or brothers, all come to debate the claim they would face for the Winged Crown of Gondor, all witnessed by Lord Halladan of Annúminas, who’d come from the camp at Cormallen to represent the interests of Arnor and his Lord Cousin.

The Master of the Guild of Lawyers presented the arguments that had been made a thousand years past when it was a different Heir of Isildur who’d come here to Gondor. “The major argument against him was that he was too far removed from our line of Kings,” the lawyer explained. “However, in examining the rolls of the lords of the various fiefdoms we find that the same can be said for all at this point in time. Not a one is closer to the line of Anárion than fifteen removals. However, in Lord Aragorn’s case he is in direct lineage of both lines, father to son in the case of the North Kingdom and father to son from the daughter of Ondoher in the case of the South. I’ve not as yet had the chance to examine the Roll of the Kings from the North Kingdom--if, of course, it yet remains; but it is clear from the list of names given independently by Lord Halladan here and from what the King and one of his Elven brothers have written that there can be no question of his lineage--all agree in the names and particulars.”

“But if we denied the claims of Arvedui....” began a lord from Langstrand.

“Who was it who did that but the Steward Pelendur?” demanded Faramir. “And what was the reason he did so? Was it not primarily due to envy that Arvedui had won the bride he’d wished for himself? His decision certainly could not be argued on the basis of who held the closest blood claim--Arvedui claimed the crown, intending for it to be held jointly by himself and his wife, and none questioned that the Lady Fíriel was Ondoher’s own daughter, and of legitimate birth.”

One of the lords commented, “Perhaps he ought to have claimed the Crown in the name of his son Aranarth. Pelendur could not have contested the legitimacy of the marriage nor the claim the child as the grandson of Ondoher held for our rule.”

“But he was not but a child of what--five or six years at most?” Erchirion was shaking his head. “Perhaps the lords and people at that time might not have questioned his right to the Crown as they did that of his father, even if he did propose to rule jointly with his wife as daughter of the late King; but in a time of such instability as there was, such could easily have proven disastrous. Such situations all too often lead to abuse and civil war as various factions seek to set themselves in control of the regency and the regent finds himself fighting for independence of action--and then having to release the rule when the time of minority is over. And had the child’s parents been suggested as regents for him, Pelendur would still have fought it, for it would have led precisely to their rule, against which he was firmly opposed. We have seen how strongly his will was represented within the records read us over the past three hours.”

For a time all were quiet. “We could deny this one, too,” pointed out the lord from Langstrand. “We were content under your father’s rule, Lord Faramir. We do not need to accede to the rule of any King at this point, I think. Let him go back to his own lands and make of them a kingdom again.”

“Were you truly content under the rule of my father, or did you not merely feel safe, knowing that no undue changes were coming, Lord Mardiol?” Faramir asked. “He saw to it that the army was strong and had as adequate supplies and weapons as the land could provide; he accepted little foolishness from those who ruled the land under his guidance, and allowed none to become too independent or to use his people too badly or to lord it over other fiefdoms.

“But as a land we have not grown. Most of the grainfields of Anórien have had to lie fallow for too many years as we’ve drawn their menfolk into our armies and have forced the remaining women and children to move away from the farms and into the towns where they might be offered better protection. Since the victory at Umbar in the days when my grandfather was Steward we have let our navy deteriorate until today there are barely enough warships to protect a small convoy of merchant ships from here to beyond the coast of Harad. The orchards of Ithilien have seen more burning than harvests during most of my life. The oyster beds of Langstrand were poisoned six years back by some substance dropped from Haradri and Umbari vessels, and only in the last year have there been reports that they again begin to support the life of the oysters once more. It will be at least ten more years ere they again support our needs for such gems. The townlands of the Pelennor have been burned and trampled, its villages flattened, its folk fled or murdered, its trees hewn down and destroyed. We cannot look to set cattle or sheep to forage upon it for at least two years--indeed, before many villages can be rebuilt we must make certain the wells are clean and that no fell weapons or substances have been left there to poison or kill those who would restore their homes or farms. And we have had the difficulties of disposing of the bodies of the dead, both our own and those of the foe, as well as the many great beasts brought here--the dread flying thing, the mûmakil and the animals used as draft beasts. We have been fortunate that the days have been relatively cool and that in the greyness few flies have bred as yet, or we would have contagion beyond telling within the city.”

All muttered at how well he’d summarized the situation.

At last the lord from Langstrand asked, “Well, do you accept the claims of this Aragorn son of Arathorn, my Lord Faramir?”

Faramir looked about before answering, “Yes, I do. He has come along with witnesses who have known his ancestors from the days of Valandil, and whose father has known them from the days of Elros Tar-Minyatur himself, and who fought our Enemy alongside Elendil, Isildur, and Anárion. He came to the needs of our land and our capital when we were sore beset, and has drawn to our defense such an alliance as we’ve not seen in Gondor since the Elven havens failed near Dol Amroth. He commanded the forces of the Dead from beyond the Dimholt Door, and it is written even in our annals that it was foretold that Isildur’s Heir alone could do such a thing. He has wielded Elendil’s own sword reforged, and the Elven Light gathers about him. And he possesses the hands of the healer, the gift to his line through his ancestry from Eärendil himself. Certainly I would not be here today were that not true, as is true of countless Men both here within the bounds of the Pelennor as well as in the encampment the army has made at Cormallen.”

“I doubt there are many of us who followed my brother southward to find Aragorn and to fight at his side who have failed to enjoy such healing also, my Lord Faramir,” commented Halladan. “When he was returned to us, some who questioned whether he was perhaps merely an orphan child raised up as a pretender by Lord Elrond gave over such questions when it was shown he had this gift in full--not, of course, that many would seek to question the word of the Lady Gilraen when she came forward at last and confirmed her son’s lineage.” He was smiling. “Nay, few found it easy to question her.”

Many of those sitting about the Council Table were smiling also. “She was a strong one, then?” asked Lord Fedwion.

“One of the strongest--but then she needed to be strong to see to her son’s safety and upbringing after her husband’s death at the hands of orcs. It is no simple thing to leave one’s people to live in one of the lands protected by the Elves, even if it does offer safety to a beloved child. Much of her joy was lost to her, my mother always held, when Lord Arathorn died and it was learned that the Enemy was seeking out our strongholds one by one, intent on finding Arathorn’s son and seeing him dead also.”

All looked at one another following that revelation. At last Lord Erchirion said, “My father has already announced he has given his fealty to Lord Aragorn, and we of his house will follow suit.”

Fedwion sighed. “I swore that if he led us to victory at the Black Gate I would acknowledge him. He did so, and I will fulfill my oath.”

“But he did not bring about the victory,” argued the lord from Langstrand.

“Yet if he had not led our army to the battle at the Black Gate there would have been no victory, for the Ringbearer would most likely have been captured before he and his companion could reach the Mountain. In this way all who went in that company contributed to the final victory.” Faramir sounded very certain.

“I would see this mysterious Ringbearer,” muttered the lord.

“He was hurt near to death itself,” Faramir said. “He yet lies in healing sleep, according to the word brought by these who have come from the camp and what was written in the King’s reports.”

“And how do we know that such a person existed to begin with?”

Faramir gave him a long, searching look, and at last shook his head. “I myself saw him, as did my Men who took part in the assault on the Southrons, as he traveled upon his way. You have served in the defense of the city, and have seen Master Meriadoc and Guardsman Peregrin. Do you doubt their existence or their worry for their kinsman who’d parted from them to complete the journey in greater secrecy? Or do you accuse me of making up such a personage as I’ve described for some reason of my own?” The apparent mildness of his expression no longer hid the steel in his voice.

Somehow that quieted the debate. The vote, when taken shortly after, was unanimous to accept the claim for the Winged Crown by Aragorn son of Arathorn, late the Chieftain of the Dúnedain of Arnor, and the defender of the West before the Gates of Mordor itself.

Húrin smiled to himself. Their new Steward had just shown himself the ruler of his own Council, even though he sought to give it to another. He prayed that the new King realized just what a powerful ally Faramir would be and would continue Faramir’s role in the government. Although, considering what he remembered of Thorongil and what he’d seen of him at the captains’ council a few weeks earlier, this new King of theirs would realize just how sufficient a jewel Faramir was and would treasure him as a helpmeet in the act of rule.

The lord from Langstrand then asked, “Then when will we do this thing--give over rule of our land to this newcomer?”

Halladan now joined himself fully to the discussion. “Many are sorely wounded and should not move from their current camp. Certainly the Ringbearers are yet deep in healing sleep as Lords Húrin and Faramir have indicated, and it is still in question whether they will awake, particularly the Hobbit Frodo Baggins. I doubt Aragorn and the healers will give permission for most to be moved before the end of April.”

“There is also the need to allow the news to be sent out throughout Gondor and Rohan so others might gather for the event,” suggested Erchirion.

“The first of May, then?” asked Faramir.

“That gives a month in which to prepare the nation and the populace,” Húrin noted. “And I suggest that those who come for the coronation be asked to acclaim him if they will have him as King. It will show we do not accept him with no thought to the will of the people.”

All agreed to the wisdom of this suggestion.

“Then so be it,” stated Faramir. “The law indicates his claim is valid--certainly far more valid than any to come forward since Arvedui and Fíriel--or Eärnil. His acts in defense of the realm and Minas Tirith in particular and in leading the Army of the West have shown he is capable of decisive action but also great compassion. His demonstration of having the healing hands of the King has led already to his recognition as the rightful King by all who’ve known and witnessed his ministrations to those wounded in the battle of the Pelennor. His insistence on not pressing his claim untimely indicates his is unwilling to bring strife to our land. And the Elven witnesses have affirmed his lineage.”

Master Galador, the Master of Protocol, asked, “Is he married? Does he have yet an heir?”

All looked to Lord Halladan. “He is not yet married, but it was laid upon him that he should not do so until and unless the victory over Mordor was won. That has been achieved, and so he is now freed to take for himself a wife.”

“Then this will need to be considered as soon as is possible. How old is he?”

“Eighty-eight,” Halladan said. “It is not an unusual event for those of us within Eriador to wait nearly this long, although I admit he is somewhat older than most. He is, however, almost wholly of pure blood. However, I will advise you that my beloved Lord Cousin has indicated he will marry only when he is certain all conditions have been properly met.”

Master Galador appeared troubled, and the rest found themselves exchanging glances.

*******


It was after the rest had been dismissed and Lords Halladan and Erchirion had departed to spend the night in the house the Princes of Dol Amroth had kept in the Fifth Circle for many generations that Húrin found himself alone with his younger cousin for the first time in weeks. Together they left the Citadel to pass out toward the walls to look across at the Ephel Dúath under the light of the approaching sunset. “That was masterfully done, Faramir,” the Keeper of the Keys told the Steward of Gondor.

“You think so, do you?” It was all the older Man could do to keep from laughing outright at the look of relief on his cousin’s face.

“Your father would have been most pleased--and, I fear, more than a bit shocked as well to see how well you handled them all. Will any of those who attended today be returning to Cormallen?”

“Erchirion and Lord Halladan will do so tomorrow. I understand they intend to cross on the bridge of barges set up by the Enemy’s slaves and ride up the North Road, surveying much of the way as they go.” Faramir sighed. “We will need to examine it to determine whether it might be dismantled swiftly and then made whole again, for we must send more goods north to the camp at Cormallen as soon as possible. Several of the ships taken from the Corsairs have been sent to ports to the south such as Pelargir, Dol Amroth, and other such places to bring what food and other stores as escaped the burning. We will need to get them through the line, of course, if we do not wish to handle the goods several times before they reach the encampment.”

Húrin considered this thoughtfully. “Yes, I can see the need, particularly if it will be another month before they return to the city. And what do you think of Mardiol’s concerns?”

Faramir shrugged. “They will be common among the lesser lords of the land, as you know. He is too young to remember the great Captain Thorongil and his exploits, and would never connect this candidate for the crown with one come out of the legends of his childhood.”

“You recognized that this was whom he must be?” asked Húrin, intrigued.

The Steward’s smile was particularly wry. “How could I not, considering how much my father had to say about this ragged vagabond being brought by Mithrandir to Gondor to supplant him? But, then, Masters Frodo and Samwise had also discussed this somewhat with me, assuring me that my brother had recognized this Aragorn’s lordship. I look forward to seeing those two once more--two more worthy individuals will never be found, I deem. But I fear that most within the Citadel will find Master Samwise a great shock. They will have difficulty reconciling his speech and tastes with the greatness of his deeds.”

“Were they by Boromir when he died?”

Faramir’s expression had become saddened at the question. “Nay--they broke from the others sometime ere the Uruks of Isengard attacked the rest, or so Master Meriadoc has told me. Master Frodo had not intended to take any others with him on the last leg of the journey to Mordor, for he recognized that--that what he bore sought to corrupt the rest, and he would not willingly take any others with him into death, which he saw as the inevitable end to the journey to the Mountain. When I told him that Boromir had died and I had seen--and I still know not whether in truth or in vision--his funeral boat, he was shaken deeply. He knew naught of it, and had not heard the horn blow, although we heard it, those with me and even my father, here within the city. He must already have crossed the river and been in the folds of the Emyn Muil when the assault began.”

“If he would take no others, then how was it Master Samwise was with him?”

Again he saw the wry smile that had become so common to his cousin since he’d awakened in the Houses of Healing. “One thing I saw in Master Samwise’s character--he is loyal to a fault, and knows the one he deems his Master full well. They spoke little of the break from the others, but it was plain to me that there was an argument between Master Frodo and my brother just ere the--the Hobbit made up his mind to leave the rest at Amon Hen. Apparently Master Samwise realized his Master’s intent and thwarted it. And so agreed Master Meriadoc.

“I will tell you this--after knowing these four, I find that the Pheriannath terrify me. No more than plentiful harvests and full bellies and peace for their people do they wish, yet when roused they must be the fiercest and most single-minded of all who seek to protect their own.”

Húrin felt confused at this. “I do not understand, Faramir--they are but a small folk who don’t, I understand, wield more fearsome weapons than small bows and slings in the normal course of events, or so Guardsman Peregrin assured me when I saw him at weapons practice ere he left to go with the Army of the West. He and Master Meriadoc have both told me that they are a peaceful folk who rarely quarrel seriously amongst themselves, and have not needed to defend themselves or their land for many centuries; and that their greatest joys are in enjoying the bounty of their harvests and delighting in the love of their families and friends.”

The younger Man was nodding. “And that is a good part of what terrifies me, cousin. When a Man’s home, family, or land is threatened, the first thing he does is reach for what weapon he can for their defense. However, had you just learned that what you thought was a small but valuable trinket brought back by your uncle from his travels abroad and then left to your keeping is instead the most fell of weapons ever to befoul Middle Earth, what would you have done?”

Húrin found himself thinking furiously. “Is this how it was with Master Frodo, then?” he asked.

“So Master Meriadoc has assured me. Tell me, what would you have done?”

“He suddenly realized that a ring he had inherited was the Ring, the great Enemy’s Ring of Power?”

Faramir’s gaze was steady as he gave a single nod of assent.

The older Man was shaking his own head and he dropped his eyes to the city below as he considered the question. “First, I suppose,” he began slowly, “I should wonder how it was that such a thing came to pass, that first my kinsman and then I should have come into possession of such a thing.”

“Yes, and so should I, or so I would think. And according to what Master Meriadoc has said, so it was with Master Frodo as well. But tell me, what would you do then?”

Húrin looked into his younger cousin’s eyes, then answered, “I think that then I should begin thinking how it was that I could use the thing to our advantage.”

Again a slow nod from Faramir. “According to what Master Samwise told to Master Frodo’s kinsmen, his first question to Mithrandir was, 'What must I do?'”

The older Man was shocked, and saw that Faramir recognized this and was gratified. “He did not think how to use the thing?”

“No.”

“And Master Samwise was there to see this exchange?”

A corner of Faramir’s mouth rose in amusement. “I understand he was spying on the Wizard and his Master from the garden beyond the window.”

The two Men shared a laugh. “So,” Húrin said, delighted, “then the Pheriannath are not all perfect beings, are they? Spying, was he?”

“Aye, even so.”

“How wonderful!”

“You will see, or so I hope, should the two of them awaken again still within the Bounds of Arda. Master Samwise is most careful for the welfare of his Master, even to the point of spying to see Master Frodo’s plans that he might have all arranged to his friend’s greatest comfort.”

“And he never thought how to use the thing to achieve his own ends?”

“Apparently not--or, if so, not until all else had been achieved.” He straightened, looking toward where the pillar of cloud had risen when Mordor fell. “Consider, cousin--until they came away upon this journey, none of these Hobbits had even seen swords save for two that hung upon walls as decorations, or so Master Meriadoc assured me. None of the four had held a blade in his hand, much less learned how to wield it to protect others or slay an enemy. None of them had been further from the borders of their land than into a wilderness area just beyond the district in which Master Meriadoc was born, a place called the Old Forest. Although they had heard tales of the outer world all their lives, tales told them by Mithrandir, whom they name Gandalf, and the one they call Bilbo Baggins, none truly knew the meaning of danger or enemies.

“Yet they speak of the Onodrim casually as if meeting such beings were merely to be expected instead of almost unheard of outside the oldest legends. They speak of passing through Imladris, the depths of Moria, and the Golden Wood as if all travelers were welcome therein. Guardsman Peregrin was able to help his kinsman and himself escape from the Uruks who had stolen them away, and at the battle before the Black Gate offered up his own life to save that of his friend Beregond, they tell us. Master Meriadoc, seeing the Lady Éowyn in danger from the Lord of the Nazgûl, neither fled nor allowed himself to go senseless, but stood to defend her, daring to stab the one from whom even Eärnur found himself fleeing. And two others, with less training in defense than even these two, have passed through the desert of Mordor and have managed, without raising a blade, to bring down the great Enemy of all the Free Peoples of Middle Earth for the last two ages of this world. Would you have attempted to go to Orodruin itself to the Ring’s destruction?”

“I doubt any could have convinced me even to try. No one wishes to begin a task that is deemed impossible.”

“Indeed. Still, knowing it was impossible, yet Master Frodo took the task as his own; and knowing his beloved Master would do this, Master Samwise went with him. And, had they not, and had not our Lord Aragorn agreed with Mithrandir that only by drawing the Eye to himself could we assist the Ringbearer to win through, it is likely this city today would lie in ruins. Can you not see why I consider the folk of the Pheriannath to be amongst perhaps the most dangerous within Arda, for they look not first to possibilities and impossibilities, but instead to what needs to be done, and see it through? If only Men had the same resolve!”

“Some do.”

“Some, but not most, I fear.”

The two stood for a time in quiet contemplation. At last Húrin asked, “When will you go to the Hallows to retrieve the Winged Crown?”

“It would be best, perhaps, to wait until but a day or two before the coronation, do you not agree? It is made of mithril, so will require no polishing.”

“But to see that the gems of the wings are yet sound? Perhaps a few days earlier....”

Faramir shrugged. “You are perhaps better suited to judge such things than I.”

After a moment Húrin added, “I wonder if we should send a tailor to the King’s camp to see to proper clothing for him. You must admit that in traveling as he has been forced to do his clothing is perhaps not the most regal....”

Again the two shared a laugh. “Ah,” the younger Man sighed at last, wiping his eyes, “what a contrast with my lord father! I cannot imagine him ever appearing wearing leathers so obviously long used! Although I must say that when Lord Aragorn stands straight with his head lifted he appears worshipful enough no matter how he is garbed. Well, it would be worthwhile, I think, to send to ask his pleasure in this. I have some fabric that my aunt sent to me to have made into dress robes--it should suit his coloring well, and I certainly have little need for yet more garments.”

“And then there is the question of seals for his use, particularly when he is traveling. I have an idea that our new King will not agree to remain within the bounds of the Pelennor for any particular length of time. Nay, he will wish to see the whole of the realm with his own eyes, or I have lost the knack of reading Men.”

“I agree,” Faramir said.

“You do not appear particularly discomfited to allow another to take up the rule of Gondor, my lord Steward.”

Faramir gave that wry smile once more. “When ever did I expect to rule, cousin? That was for my father and my brother----”

But Húrin was shaking his head. “As much as I loved and honored your brother, Faramir, I have never been able to imagine him sitting easily in the Black Chair, nor wielding the Rod with any confidence. Nay, he would have had you ever standing at his side, advising him and undoubtedly doing most of the rule while he made certain that the armies were sound and our borders ever secure. He was ever too much a Man of action. He would have made a perfect Captain General for our new King, but would have been woefully inadequate as second in rule.”

“There is no guarantee that Lord Aragorn will continue to allow me to serve as his Steward, cousin.”

“He would be ten kinds of a fool to dismiss you--and from what I remember of the Lord Captain Thorongil, he was never that.” Húrin shook himself. “Well, I’d best be returning to my house--Lynnessë is beginning to think that I no longer dwell within the Sixth Circle, so much time have I been spending here within the Citadel since your brother left Gondor.”

“Give her my love, cousin.”

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