On the last afternoon of April the remaining bulk of the army of the West was to return at last to the Pelennor. All day Men had been busy upon the portion just north of the ruined gates, setting up proper camps and pavilions, latrine lines, kitchen tents, and even bathing tents. Three clean wells had been located amongst the ruins of farmsteads and villages, and water had been drawn to the needs of those who would remain there overnight.
Just within the northernmost wall of the Pelennor had a new graveyard been made, and most of those who’d died in the defense of Gondor had been laid there, as many as could be identified in company with their fellows. The few of the Northern Dúnedain, however, had been carried to the Rath Dínen and laid with those who’d died from amongst the Guard of the Citadel; and the body of Halbarad of Eriador, having been identified as the kinsman of the King himself, had been given over to the embalmers and laid in the tomb of the lords of the city, or at least until Lord Aragorn should return with Halbarad’s brothers to give other direction.
Outside the Rammas Echor was another graveyard made, and there were buried many orcs and Men, and such trolls as had not been petrified when the clouds of Mordor had been dispersed at the arrival of the black ships from the southlands. Pyres had been raised and burned for the disposal of most of the orc-kind, but there had been too many all to have known such an end. As for those trolls petrified by the Sun--the great figures had been dragged with great difficulty to one side, and some were being barged down the river to be set up in city squares in Pelargir and Passaurin, although the thought was to take most down beyond the shorelines of Gondor and drop the stone corpses into the depths of the Sea.
As for the oliphaunts and other beasts--several had been skinned, but most had needed to be burnt lest their putrefaction should poison the soil or water. All had been glad when sufficient wood was gathered about the body of the Witch-king’s fell beast to allow it to be burnt, while a great howe had been raised over the body of Théoden King’s steed Snowmane, some of the Rohirrim led by Lord Elfhelm working alongside knights from Dol Amroth who’d remained within Minas Tirith to see the warsteed properly honored.
And now, as the day waned, Húrin watched from the walls alongside his cousin, as parties converged on the newly raised camp from the Harlond and from Osgiliath, some afoot, some on horseback. Great wagons filled with fodder for the horses had been brought from Anórien and Lossarnach and upper Lebennin; freshly butchered fowl and kine were already being turned upon spits in the kitchen tents; wine from Anfalas, Belfalas, and lower Lebennin sat in barrels by others filled with ale from Lossarnach and Anórien; the last of the winter stores of root vegetables were being supplemented with herbs brought from the farms and woodlands near the feet of the mountains. They could see the new arrivals pause and lift their heads with interest at the scent of meals being cooked and hay being readied along the picket lines. Men and horses, steps quickened and eyes widened in anticipation of the night’s rest.
And one party caught the attention of those looking out from the city as, walking before the banner of Elendil, there came a variety of figures, some markedly taller, some decidedly shorter than the norm. It would appear that the King had traveled with at least three of the Pheriannath by him. Soon afterwards a troupe of mounted Rohirrim swept out of Osgiliath, led by the banner of Eorl, and behind the gilded figure of Éomer King rode a small figure, clutching at his waist.
“It appears that Master Meriadoc is well mounted,” Húrin commented to Faramir.
The Steward nodded, turning his own attention back to the King’s party as it approached the pavilion prepared for them, and he saw guardsmen pulling open the tent flaps to allow them entrance.
“Why do you not go down to him?” asked Húrin at last.
Faramir shrugged. “Galador will go down, of course, to check what further proofs the sons of Lord Elrond might have brought with them. I would not overwhelm them. And for tonight--well, tomorrow a new order will be upon our land. Let our folk feel reassured that their Steward, such as I prove, remains here within the White City with them this night. We will have much to do tomorrow.”
The Keeper of the Keys sighed, indicating that this was undoubtedly right and proper.
As the glorious sunset of that day finally gave over to the shades of evening Húrin returned to his own house in the Sixth Circle. His wife Lynnessë met him at the door. “Ah, good, my lord husband,” she sighed as she put her arms about him. “The maidens returned at noon along with my parents, and they are eager to see their father. I fear they are over-excited and most voluble.”
Their two daughters had been sent to Pinnath Gelin to stay when the city was threatened, and it had seemed the house had been overly quiet without them. As he heard the voices of the children raised in the upper reaches of the house Húrin found himself smiling. “As much as I hated how unnaturally quiet it has been without them, I must say that within a short time we shall be insisting we would prefer it were they still gone,” he noted wryly. “The Lord Aragorn’s party has just entered the camp and has taken possession of the pavilion prepared for them.”
“I know--Lindriel has been coming down to tell me each and every new action of which she is made aware. And Beruthien--she is constantly letting her sister know how I am capable of seeing such things myself from the balcony. Naneth has taken over the running of the kitchen--I fear that Rienstra may choose to leave us--at least for a while--if I cannot find a way of governing my mother! As for Ada--he’s been at the barracks complex on the south end of the circle most of the afternoon, gossiping with his old comrades. I’m certain he will return with all sorts of stories, some of which might possibly be true, but most of which will be sheer nonsense.
“As for you, Húrin--what time must you be awake in the morning so as to be at the gates on time?”
“At least an hour and a half before dawn.”
“The Lord Steward has all in hand for the Coronation?”
“Indeed. Guildmaster Cuillion has inspected the Winged Crown and assures us it is intact and sound; and Master Balstador has had the entire Citadel cleaned and dusted within an inch of its life at least three times over in the past five days. As for the Throne--it would not surprise me if the new King slips from it and down the steps again when he sits himself upon it, so carefully has it been polished.”
Lynnessë broke out into a peal of laughter. “Ah, but I can but imagine that! Now you have spoiled it--I shall not be able to keep a straight face on the morrow when the Lord Elessar sets the Crown upon his head, anticipating what might await him within the Hall of Kings!”
Just then they heard from above as Lindriel came clattering down the stairs, “Oh, Nana--I swear I can see the Pheriannath! They look like little boys from here in the light of the torches!”
And from behind her they could hear Beruthien scolding, “How many times must I tell you, Lindë, that Nana is capable of seeing such things for herself if she wishes!” She was already visible at the top of the stairs, staring sternly down them at her little sister.
Lindriel stopped and glared up at the older girl, and stuck out her tongue. “You always think you know better than me, just since you’re older!” she shot back. “But you haven’t been looking, have you, Nana?” She turned to her father, and a wide smile broke out, revealing the space where a tooth had been recently lost. “Ada!” she squealed. “You’re home! Did you see them come--the new King’s party?”
He knelt to hug her close. “Yes, our Lord Steward and I have watched them from above. And you--how was your visit in Pinnath Gelin?”
“It was a very long trip--I shouldn’t like to do it again, Ada. It was too long, and it was cold in the mountains, and it was so dark for so long--I didn’t like it at all! But it looks all different here--it’s bright and shiny! Is it true the war is over, and the Enemy is gone?”
He could see her excitement and the lingering anxiety. He smiled, and was glad this smile was unfeigned. “Yes, my heart, the war is over and is won. The Lord Elessar is come now, and tomorrow shall be King--and you shall see it happen, if you can awaken early enough. Would you like that?”
Her face was shining. “Oh, yes! And can we see the Pheriannath, up close, I mean? Have you got to meet any of them? Do you know what they are like? Do they like to play?”
He laughed. “I’ve met two of them now, before they went out to be reunited with their kinsman the Ringbearer. But I do suspect you shall be able to see them a fair amount, for they are among the Lord Elessar’s close companions, and will most surely be frequently about the Citadel.”
“And the Lord Elessar--is he nice?”
“Yes--most nice indeed.”
“And does the Lord Steward like him?”
“From the little he’s been able to see of him, yes, he does.”
“Is he a good fighter?” she asked.
“One of the greatest,” he assured her solemnly, and looking up saw that Beruthien was listening from the bottom of the stairs. “Come here, Ruthië--ah, how I’ve missed you so, and how glad I am to know you were kept safe from all this.” He let go of his younger daughter to hold out his hand to the older girl. She smiled, and he saw that the last of her own anxiety was leaving her as she came into his embrace.
“Oh, Ada! But it’s good to be home again! But the lower city--it’s so awful! I was afraid that all here would be broken and burnt also!”
“I know, my darling one. Oh, I know. But the bad times are over now, and all will be rebuilt or restored or replaced. And soon you will find all is better than it was before.”
She pulled back to search his face. “And the Enemy? He’s really, really gone?”
“Yes, Ruthië--he is really, really gone, and this time he cannot return again. When his Ring went into the fire----”
“His Ring?” demanded his wife’s mother, Endorë, as she came from the kitchen. “What’s this about his Ring?”
“The Enemy’s great Ring of Power--It was found, apparently by accident, some years ago. The one who held It learned from Mithrandir just what It was, and determined to take It to Its destruction. Only when that happened was the Dark Lord vanquished utterly, for although he held It not, yet Its power was not wholly lost to him as long as It remained in Middle Earth. And those who were at the final battle before the Black Gate tell me that once the Ring fell into the abyss all of his orcs and trolls and other evil creatures lost their will to evil, for he no longer commanded them with his own will.”
“It’s so hard to believe,” she murmured.
He smiled. “Oh, again I know! But it is true. And tomorrow you shall see legends spring out of the remains of the fields of the Pelennor, and you shall see Elves, and a Dwarf, and Hobbits! Yes,” he added turning to his daughters, “you shall indeed see Pheriannath, and shall see the King Returned!”
“And Uncle Denethor--is he truly dead?” asked Beruthien.
His face grew solemn. “Alas, you have heard rightly there. Boromir died upon the northern borders, only just within our land; and your uncle died on the day of the battle.”
“Did he fight hard?” asked Lindriel, her face far too serious for a child of seven.
“Ah, child, indeed he did fight; but the Enemy had tricked him, and so he was open to the Enemy’s stroke. Your cousin Faramir is Lord Steward now.”
The two girls considered this solemnly. Endorë cleared her throat uncertainly. “The--the evening meal will be ready soon. Perhaps you should go wash your--your hand, Húrin.”
“Indeed I shall.” He rose to his feet, and looked out the open balcony doors at the last of the day’s light lingering on the fields below.
“That’s not right, either,” Beruthien sighed, looking out. “I don’t like looking at it.”
“Nor do any of us. But I will tell you this--you would have liked it less had you seen the Enemy’s army camped there! But they are defeated, and we shall dwell from now on mostly in peace. You will see!”
They walked down through the city alongside Mistress Ioreth from the Houses of Healing and a number of others, including a slightly younger woman in the dress of Ered Lithui. “It has been such a flurry of things to do, cousin,” Ioreth was saying to the one with her, “what with all the work that there has been to do with the wounded and those who suffered from the Black Breath and those injuries and illnesses that must happen when folk live in such a city as this. I am only glad there were few with weak lungs left in the city, for the ash would have troubled them mightily--it crept in everywhere over the last few weeks, or so it has seemed. And wait until you see our Lord Elfstone and the
Húrin exchanged glances with his wife, and urged his family forward. His wife’s father carried a lantern to light their way, although as the light increased about them as the dawn approached it would soon be unneeded.
As they reached the Third Circle more were coming out, many following the multitude down to see the Coronation from the area around the barrier where the gates had been, and others seeking out places to watch from the walls of the city. A group of singers was gathering in the courtyard of the Inn of the Dragon’s Claw, while musicians were paused in the drive for the Inn of the King’s Head to bring out their instruments and to await their fellows. As they passed through the gate into the First Circle several folk gathered about a wagon handed each of them flowers and sheaves of greenery to carry, and at last the lantern was blown out and left in the keeping of one of the Guards, who promised to return it as they came back up again.
“I’ve never been up this early before, save when we were traveling,” Lindriel commented.
“Must I go out with the others,” asked Beruthien. “I’d rather stay by you, Ada.”
“But don’t you wish to see?” he asked. “I will have to stay at the barrier until the King comes to us, you realize.”
“I want to stay by you,” she repeated. A glance at Lynnessë, and he nodded. “Good,” she said, and her face brightened noticeably.
Leonid waited at the gate, the great box carrying the Keys to the City and Citadel sitting on a fallen stone before him, his face pale above his dark livery. His posture relaxed as he saw them come. “Good!” he sighed. “My lord, my lady--all is in readiness. Guardsman Tervil there shall show you the place saved for you and your family, Lady Lynnessë.”
She paused to kiss her husband briefly, then went out with her parents and Lindriel, leaving him to take his place at the barrier. Húrin turned briefly to peer upwards, hoping that those set to see to it the new King’s Standard was raised at the proper moment would do so with no error. Then he looked out.
The musicians began to gather, and a single piper played a mournful air, and all grew quiet. As the last of those who chose to go out upon the Pelennor to see the King come passed him, Húrin began looking about for Faramir, and finally saw him approaching with a Guard of Honor, followed by those given the honor of carrying the casket of lebethron that held the Winged Crown. The young Steward of Gondor walked most erectly, his face also pale but set, patently ignoring Master Galador, who walked by him and was trying to voice objections of some sort or another, clutching his clubbed hand in his good one. At the barrier Faramir paused, turning to the Master of Protocol. “Please, good Master Galador--let that be enough. The matter has been settled--I’ve chosen to bring the Crown to him, and that is how it shall be. He is no son of Eärnil or Eärnur either one to go into the Hallows to fetch it himself! Let all see him take the Winged Crown--he is our first King in a thousand years. It is a time of renewal, and renewal of our ways as well as renewal for the land.”
Master Galador quieted, and his face grew pale. “As you say, my lord,” he said humbly.
Faramir gave him a grateful smile and reached out briefly to clasp his shoulder, then turned, looked out, straightened again, and with a nod to indicate the Guard and bearers should move forward led the way. Once he was past the wall he stopped, and Húrin gave a gesture to those who would close the barrier, and now all waited.
The lament of the pipe finished at last, and all went quiet. For several moments all that could be heard was the soughing of the wind in the sprouting grass and the rustling and quiet murmuring of the crowd. Then all went utterly still briefly, and then they could hear the sound of feet as the King’s procession approached.
Leonid reached down to Beruthien, who was squirming to see, and lifted her up to balance her on the fallen stone on which sat the Box for the Keys. Húrin gave his aide a grateful smile, and they turned their heads again toward the place where the King’s party would pause, just barely to be seen in a cleared area before the gates. There came many, and before them all walked---
“Ooh, Ada! Is that a Pherian?”
“Yes, Guardsman Peregrin son of Paladin of the Shire, one of the King’s Companions.”
“Those don’t have uniforms,” Beruthien objected, indicating those cloaked in grey, green, and silver who walked toward them.
“They are the King’s own kinsmen from Arnor, my child. Hush!”
She nodded, turning her attention back to the ones coming.
Behind him he heard a nickering, and turned to see the grooms from the lower stable leading out the two ponies that had been ordered made ready. Good--another detail requested by their new Lord met. Again he looked forward.
He could see the Lord Elessar now, walking with quiet dignity, dressed in the formal armor taken from Elendil’s own chest, his head bare, the green Elfstone shining on his breast. And by him----
Húrin straightened, for he’d not thought to see two who appeared like this. He’d thought that Master Meriadoc and Guardsman Peregrin had looked absurdly like children at times. There was nothing childlike to the two Pheriannath who flanked their coming King. The one with lighter hair walked solidly upon his bare feet, as if he felt the health of the soil through his soles and affirmed it, his stance utterly responsible and dignified. The other----
What could be said about the other? He was taller than the lighter-haired Hobbit, and his build was slight. It could be seen he wore a fine mesh of silver under his surcoat and shirt, and there were clear crystals to be seen sparkling at its placket and upon the ends of its sleeves. He walked with a quiet, native grace, as if he were a dancer of great skill; but with an unexpected wariness as if he’d been through great trials. The circlet of honor lay upon his dark curls, and the blue of the sea diamond did indeed match the blue of his eyes. The silver of the circlet matched that of the fine mesh of his corslet, and the Man realized it, too, was wrought of mithril. “Aah,” he breathed. And there was to him much the same feeling of isolated dignity and reserve he saw in the figure of the one who would shortly be King. The Man gave a single glance at the Hobbit, his face softening; and the Pherian returned the glance in kind. There was, Húrin realized, mutual respect there, and mutual love as well.
Faramir gave his last nod, and Leonid lifted Beruthien from the stone just in time for her to follow a half step behind her father as he walked with Faramir to greet the King. And then they were standing before him, and together they bowed ere Faramir knelt to hold out the Rod of the Stewards. When the Lord Elessar returned it, Húrin felt a fierce pride and gladness surge through him, and saw the relief and growing joy in his cousin’s eyes ere he turned to the crowd to ask them to acclaim their new King. He felt Beruthien reach to take his hand and squeeze it, and realized that she, too, was moved by what they saw. He exchanged a glad smile with her as the crowd, both without and within the city, called out to welcome the King Returned!
“But it is by the hands of many that this day is come,” the King spoke, and all watched in growing respect as he gave the Crown back into Faramir’s hands and stepped backwards, composed himself, then knelt, humbly awaiting the Crown to be given him by others.
“He knows he owes them this,” he heard Leonid whispering into Beruthien’s ear, and he felt more than saw her nod of understanding.
The Ringbearer came forward to receive the Winged Crown from Faramir’s hands. He’d looked uncertain for a moment, but then there was purpose in his expression as he turned to carry his burden to Mithrandir.
Lord Húrin had seen the Wizard Mithrandir many times over the years. He’d seen the Istar when he seemed nothing but an impatient old Man, and when he’d told fanciful stories to the young boys he, and later Boromir and Faramir had once been. He’d seen him with his odd pipe, breathing the essences of smoldering dried leaves and blowing rings of smoke that took various colors and sometimes odd shapes; had seen him stand with great dignity to counsel Ecthelion and later Denethor during his visits. He’d seen him searching through old records, scrolls, and parchments; he’d seen him standing wearied, looking relentlessly eastward as if seeking to divine the Enemy’s thoughts. He’d heard him sing absurd songs and speak solemn odes. But today--today he stood white and shining, filled with a Light that only rarely had Húrin glimpsed; and there was a true benediction as he gently accepted the Winged Crown from the solemn Pherian and turned to place it with remarkable authority on the head of the King.
And then the King rose, and all of the great company gathered to see, there upon the Pelennor and there within the walls of the city, seemed lifted up with him.
“Behold the King!” Húrin heard, and he felt the surge of joy as it was at last fully expressed by all present. He went gladly before the rest to see the barrier moved aside, and to lead the Lord Elessar Envinyatar Telcontar into the capital of Gondor, to lead him toward his throne. And he could fairly feel the pride his daughter held for him as he did this!
The two Pheriannath who accompanied the King were mounted on the ponies that had been readied within the First Circle, and now all walked in procession into the City and up its winding high road. It was when they were passing the marketplace in the Third Circle that Húrin decided that it was time to present his gift.
“My Lord King,” he said as he approached his new liege, “I had this prepared for you. I hope that it will serve you well.” He pulled out of his scrip the small carved box and held it out.
He who’d once been known as Thorongil accepted it with open curiosity. “A gift?”
“Of course, Sire. You were crowned King this day, and besides the Keys to the Realm, City, and Citadel I had thought you might appreciate another sign proper to your sovereignty.”
Lord Elessar smiled, carefully prised the box open, then stopped as he examined its contents. “A seal,” he said quietly.
“Indeed, my Lord.”
The King lifted it out of the box, surrendering that to Faramir, who walked at his side. He examined it, and looked on the faces of the eagles on each side of the shank and the taloned setting for the stone, and laughed--laughed in joy and delight. “I rejoice to receive this, my Lord Húrin,” he said. “And the imagery is--perfect!”
“For the memory of the Eagle of the Star,” Húrin said softly, “as well as for the gladness we know as Gondor and Arnor are at long last reunited once more. Welcome to your new home, my Lord.”
“I feel welcome indeed, my friend.” Carefully he slipped the Ring upon his left index finger, and smiled. “It fits--I’ll not need for Gimli to adjust it.” He held it down to show Beruthien. “Did you see it, child?” he asked.
“That is good,” Húrin agreed. “Now, I wished to warn you--those who room on the second floor of the Royal Wing will need to be cautious. A pair of falcons--peregrines--have built their nest off of one of the sleeping chambers there, and their hatchlings have left their shells only four days past. It would be wise not to disturb them overmuch....”
Those who watched the progress of their King through the White City rejoiced to hear their King laugh again. Yes, the darkness was well past.