A slightly different view of the Crowning....
Do I remember the day Lord Aragorn became King Elessar?
Of course I do!
Everyone had new clothes from the skin out, even Wil and me. It was actually the first time I’d been dressed in more than a nightshirt since I’d been wounded, and at first the shoes felt strange on my feet; I had become used to softer slippers.
We weren’t still staying in the parlor, not since the Rohirric warriors had mostly gone down to the camp on the Pelennor. Wil and I had a room together, which we preferred , and that morning, as Rhylla and Ull helped us, Lord Erragol came in with a new tabard for Wil. He shook out the green folds with the white horse’s head on the breast, and even buckled into his rolling chair, Wil seemed to sit straighter wearing it.
I looked at that, and asked Rhylla, “Where’s m’ tunic?”
“Right here.” She held up a red one.
I shook my head. “Nay, I mean t’other ‘un. M’ uniform tunic.”
“Oh, Rill, ‘twas all torn and bloody from when you was hurt,” she protested.
“I want t’ wear it,” I said.
“No, you don’t! You wouldn’t even look at it, when we come here,” she said. “You said you never wanted t’ see it again, that all’s 'twas good for was rags.”
“Where is it?” I persisted.
“I don’t even know!”
“Rhylla, please find it for me,” I coaxed. “I need it!”
“No, you don’t! Here’s this nice new one, ‘at Lady Silma had made special for you. Put that on.”
“I don’t want it. I want t’other ‘un!”
“We’ll be downstairs,” said Ull tactfully, and wheeled Wil out.
Rhylla had her hands on her hips, glaring at me. “You stick your bottom lip out at me, Rill, an’ I swear I’ll hang a flatiron from it! There ain’t no time for you to fuss t’day! We got to get down t’ break our fasts, an’ get ready t’ go! We’ll be late!”
“I ain’t wearin’ ‘at tunic! I want m’ uniform ‘un,” I said firmly.
“How ungrateful c’n you be—” she began.
“I don’t mean t’ be, an’ don’t you lecture me!” I retorted. “’Tis kind o’ Lady Silwen t’ give me ‘at ‘un, an’ I know it. Think I ain’t knowin’ how we live? I lost the use o’ m’ legs, not m’ wits! I already thanked her, an’ I’ll thank her again, but t’day I want t’ wear m’ uniform ‘un.”
“Well, you can’t! You put this’n on right now!” She tossed it at me.
“I ain’t got time t’ be arguin’ with you!”
“Then go on down ‘thout me!” I shouted.
“Oooh!” she cried in frustration, and flounced out of the room. I dropped the tunic on the floor, and began wheeling my chair towards the door. Then I paused and went back, picking it up. No point in possibly fouling the wheels of Wil’s chair; he had less dexterity with his hands managing the chair than I did.
I folded the tunic up and laid it on the chest at the foot of my bed, which Rhylla had already made, and looked around the room. It was a decent size—as big as the main room over Father’s tile shop had been, and would have cost a fair coin if rented. Besides our two beds, with the suspended rod over each side to help us swing ourselves out and into the chairs, and the chests, there were two small tables, with lamps, a big table and a set of shelves. The pegs were low on the walls so we could get at our clothes more easily; my nightshirt and robe were hanging up, with my slippers on a low shelf underneath, easier to reach than if they were on the floor. I’d never had a desk before, but Rhylla had been teaching me to read. I already could figure some. Wil’s side had mostly pieces of wood and some carving tools, and a couple of board games. My side had a few small tools, and a little vise that Master Samno had given me, and some sketches Master—pardon, Lord—Dalf and some of the other Dwarves had made for me.
I set the tunic on a shelf, wheeled myself out, to the lift, and maneuvered my way into it, lowering myself with the rope inside, down to the dining-room. Just about everybody was there, eating—both the ladies, Lord Dalf, the other Dwarves, my sister and the Samnos, Nahemion, Lily and Rose, Lord Erragol, Ull and Wil,—and Tamperion. I should have known he’d stop in, sweet as he was on Rhylla! He scowled at me, for upsetting Rhylla. I scowled back, then grinned as some of the others looked up.
Lady Silwen saw that I was just in my shirt, but said nothing about it, so no one else did either. No doubt they all knew from Rhylla about our spat—or had heard us.
My sister got up to put a filled plate in front of me, and Master Samno handed me a cup of milk. I don’t like milk, but it’s supposed to help my bones, so I drink it. I thanked them, and after looking West—is there any Gondorian who doesn’t habitually locate West at mealtime?—for a minute, I began eating: eggs and sausage, pastries and some stewed fruit, all of it delicious.
All the talk was of the Coronation down below.
The meal over, folks dispersed.
Rhylla came over to me as I wheeled myself back to the lift. “I’ll run up an’ get your tunic. I’m sorry I was short with you, Rill.”
I took her hand. “I’m sorry I barked at you. Look, you go get ready an’ go down with Tam.”
“But what about you?”
I’m taller than she is, but I’ve gotten used to looking up to her—not only because I sit all the time, I mean. She’s a nicer person than I am. Who else would’ve stuck by me? Father didn’t. And she never complained nor reproached me, and I know that that isn’t always the way of it, for others maimed by the war, or accidents, or sickness. My sister’s a good-hearted woman.
“Wil an’ me, we already made our ‘rangements,” I told her. “We’re a-goin’ t’ do the dishes for Mistress Samno an’ the maids so’s they c’n get ready an’ go. We ain’t a-goin’down.”
“But you’ll miss it all!” she protested.
“Lady Silma, she said ‘s 'ow we c’n borrow Master Clerk’s lookfars. We’re goin’ t’ take the lift up t’ the highest floor, an’ Master Samno cleared out the stuff in front o’ the big window so’s we c’n look down. Sittin’ ‘s we do, we w’ldn’t see much in a crowd but buttocks an’ backs anyways, Rhih. Up here, we’ll see better. Honest, Rhih, ‘tis all right! We want t’ stay ‘ere.”
“Are you sure?”
“’M sure,” I repeated.
“I’ll tell you ‘bout every single thing ‘at happens!” she promised.
I was already rolling up my shirtsleeves. “An’ I’ll hold you t’ that! G’wan, now. I’m a-goin’ t’ wash.”
“Well—if you’re sure,” she said doubtfully.
I grinned at her. “G’wan! I’m busy!”
She laughed then, a little unsteadily—it’s what I used to say when I was a boy before I’d run out to play, and what I’d said when I enlisted and marched off to battle at the Great Gates—and she leaned down to give me a quick kiss on my forehead. ‘We’ll come back an’ wheel you t’ near the gates so’s you c’n see the King a-processin’ up t’ the Citadel,” she promised.
Down in the kitchen, Mistress Samno was filling the big pails on wheels. This had been one of Master Clerk’s ideas, devised to make it more efficient to clean big spaces like the wards at the Houses of Healing; two pails, which could hold several gallons of water, were set in a low holder on wheels, with a long handle to pull them around. One held soapy water, and the other clean, for rinsing. At one side, near the bottom of each, was a spigot to make it easier to empty them over a drain in the kitchen floor; the pipe under the drain emptied them into Mistress Samno’s herb-beds outside. That last part was my notion, and I was pleased by the job that the Dwarves and Master Samno had made of it.
Lily and Rose finished scraping, sorting and piling the dirty dishes on the bench that had been moved away from the table to the wall, so I could reach them. I had a dishcloth on a stick-holder, to make it easier to retrieve if I dropped it, and as I put each item into the rinse bucket, Wil took it out, wiped it, and put it on one of three wheeled, three-shelved carts Lord Dalf had made: one for mugs and cups, pitchers and bowls; one for plates and platters; and one for cutlery. Later the kitcheners could put them away properly where they belonged, and sweep the floor if they hadn’t already.
I wiped the table as far as I could reach while Wil pushed the pails over to the drain and emptied them out, dipping some water from the pump-tub next to the drain to rinse them.
Up in the aerie, as Lady Silwen called it, we got ourselves into position and opened the window. If Rhylla had been there, she’d have been worrying about my being in my shirtsleeves, but it was a fine Lótessë day, warm as summer, and we could faintly hear the crowd-noise down below. With the lookfar tubes—I had rigged up a little tripod for Wil to steady the long tube better, while I used the shorter dual one—we could see quite clearly. I could even make out the designs on the circlets and mantles the Ringbearers wore!
I don’t know what spell Mithrandir used, but we could hear what he said, and what Lord Faramir and the King said, clear as I can hear you now. I wondered how the Istari did that, make the sound do that, instead of fading on the wind, or drowned out by the crowd. Oh, I know that folk say it was dead silent, but you get even a few folks together, much less hundreds and hundreds of people and whole armies like was gathered there, and there are noises even if they aren’t talking—someone’s got to whisper, or cough, or sneeze, or somesuch, or step on someone else’s foot as they crane to see better, and beg pardon. Everyone was on their best behavior, that day.
But we could see just fine, and probably better than a lot of folks closer! We were far enough over to one side that we could see them clear as well as hear. And we shouted our own cheers too, let me tell you!
So we saw it all, and while they were sorting themselves out who’d come up first, we went downstairs to the front door and saw that just as we’d asked, Master Samno and Nahemion had put out the ramp so we could get outside. And didn’t it feel good, to be out in the street again, even if nobody else was there! There was plenty of room for me to loop a long set of ropes around the back of my chair from the arms of Wil’s, and pull us both along. I had recently begun paddling on the ground a little with my feet, and his arms were getting stronger, but we both missed Rimbor, Lady Silma’s dog. Oh, how we wanted helpmeet dogs of our own!
It felt even better, to be sitting near the Gate to the next level, waiting for Rhylla and Tamperion and the rest, smelling the garlands of flowers draping the house-entrances, at our ease. Some other folk had rushed up from down below, to see could they get a good place to see the King’s procession, but nobody was right near us, and we had a great spot to watch from. I had on black pants, and over them and my shirt I had my old uniform tunic on. I’d found it, wadded up, back in a corner of one of my shelves. Wil and I had sponged off as much as we could—I reckon it upset Rhylla too much when she first saw it, and then she forgot—but there were still some rusty-looking stains on the silver Tree on the front, and a tear on the shoulder; we pinned that. I didn’t care, although it bothered me I didn’t have my boots or my helmet, or my sword. I wondered what had happened to that, after the Great Gates fell in the Siege.
Everybody knows that the High Men are tall, and the King’s own family name he took that day for himself and his heirs means his nickname the Periannath gave him in the North. Sitting down, and looking up as he starts to walk by—well, you can see every inch of that height. Made me want to sit up taller my own self.
He looked like a King.
I hadn’t seen him the times he came to see Lady Silwen and Lady Silma or Lord Gimli and Lord Dalf. That day, I could see that there was just a trace of silver at the edge of his temples, and that he moved like someone used to being fit, to moving about. I mean, that’s near five miles upslope from the Gates if it’s a step, and he’d been on his feet probably since early, and who knows if he’d slept well the night before? A lot of folks are panting by the time they get to our level. His hands looked strong. His face—well, he was happy, wasn’t he? He’d just fulfilled a long task, but he’d taken up another big one too, and you could see that while he was enjoying the excitement, and the joy, still he was already thinking and planning and considering.
He looked like the King. He looked like my King.
I said he looked happy, and he did. Not like Lord Denethor! I’d seen him a few times. Stern and severe, grim and grumpy. Cold as the Khelegaer’s waves and winds in one of the Dwarvish tales about the far north. But this Man had warmth to him, enough to fire loyalty in any subject as he fired it in me.
I saluted him, never thinking he was heeding aught but what the great lords around him were saying—and one was Wil’s King, with his golden hair and beard and green cloak, and there were the two Elves and Lord Húrin and Prince Imrahil and Steward Lord Faramir, among others—and then I froze, because he turned his head and looked right at me.
More than that, he swerved from his path, and came right over to us. His eyes just looked down inside me, and I knew he saw all of me—all—all the anger and frustration and fear and all the bad things.
But I also knew that there was gentleness in him, that he also saw what I’d wanted to be, what I could have been.
What I could yet be.
And he saluted me back.
“Valar an’ Eru bless your reign, Sire,” I said.
“Rill, my lord,” I said. I could not—would not—say my father’s name.
“Corporal Rill, of the Third Thangon, Sword and Star Company,” said Lord Faramir—fancy him knowing! “He was wounded defending the Great Gates, one of the very few who did not run away.”
“My thanks for your service, Rill Holdfast of the House of Ornamir,” said the King. “Are you recovering well?”
“Aye, my lord. Gettin’ better.” I realized that Rhylla and Tamperion had come up to stand nearby, and Master Samno and the rest, and I beckoned to Nahemion. He hurried over to me, with Master Samno on my other side. I pushed aside the throw, and put my feet on the ground.
My hands on the arms of my chair, I straightened my arms until I had my weight shifted over my feet, and slowly transferred my grips to their arms. Then I let go of them. I was standing.
It only lasted a breath, before I had to sit again, but the King himself eased me down, and he said something low into my ear that I have never forgotten.
Then they were gone, and the rest were gathered around me, Rhylla laughing with tears streaming down her face as she hugged me. “Oh, Rill!”
I had to blink pretty fast myself for a minute…
She was more composed by the time we got back to the House. “An’ you in that torn an’ stained tunic in front of the King!”
“You leave it alone!” I said, batting her hands away. “Think 'e minded? 'E’s a soldier too! I got a right t’ wear ‘t, an’ I’m glad I did! Reckon I c’n wear what I want on my birthin’-day!”
“Oh, I forgot! I’m sorry!”
“’S all right. Ain’t every man c’n say 'e shared 'is twentieth birthin’ day with the King’s crownin’, but I can! Ain’t we goin’ t’ eat some nuncheon soon? An’ ain’t you all a-goin’ t’ tell us what we missed?” I asked.
We trooped back to the house, and I didn’t mind a bit that Tamperion wheeling me, because I was so tired suddenly I felt almost light-headed. Some food put more heart into me, but I was glad to rest for a while afterwards, and gladder yet that we were having a quieter celebration, just Rhylla and me, that evening after she saw the ladies, Lord Dalf and Lord Erragol off to the big feast and ball up in the Citadel. The Samnos had a family celebration with their kin, before the cook and buhdelier went to the one at the Cooks and Bakers Fellowship hall, and the Rohirrim took Wil down to their camp for a while.
For a while, Rhylla sat with me in the garden. She had poured us both some wine, and we sat sipping it in the twilight, listening to the sounds of people celebrating—laughter, and singing, and music, and the sound of voices without making out the words.
“I’m sorry I forgot ‘bout t’day,” she said quietly.
“You been busy.”
“But I didn’t get you a present!” She sounded on the verge of tears.
“I didn’ get you one for yours, last ‘un you had,” I reminded her. “I heared that the Periannath give presents on their birthin’ days, ‘stead o’ gettin’ ‘em like us. So I thought mebbe I c’ld give you one, somethin’ I knowed you want ‘most ‘s much ‘s I do.”
“Oh, Rill, you did!” She was crying; I could tell by her voice, all trembly. “I never thought I’d see you standin’!”
“I may never manage it again,” I said candidly. “Not rightly sure but what ‘twas somethin’ t’ do with the day. ‘Twas a magic day! Did I tell you we c’ld hear what was said down below clear’s ‘f they’d stood right next t’ us? But that ain’t what I meant.”
“No, that s’prised me too!”
“Then what did you mean?” she asked.
“I can’t give you a thing, Rhih, nothing’ you c’n hold in your hands. Leastways, not this time. So I’m givin’ you the truth.” I reached out, found her hand, and clasped it in mine. “I’m a-goin’ t’ be all right. Whether or no I ever walk, I’ll be all right. I ain’t tellin’ you not t’ worry ‘bout me, ‘cos I know you will, but you don’t need t’ be afeared for me no more.”
Her fingers tightened on mine and she let out a long breath, like I’d lifted a big burden off her shoulders. “Are you sure?”
“Aye. Reckon there’ll be some black days yet, but aye. I’m sure. Dunno yet what I’m a-goin’ t’ do, but happen I’ll figger it out. I got some ideas t’ try.”
“How’d this come about?” she asked wonderingly.
“Don’t rightly know. Mebbe ‘twas part bein’ ‘round the Rohirrim.. Mebbe ‘twas you believin’ so steady. Mebbe ‘twas the lady an’ all tryin’ t’ help. All o’ that was part o’ it.”
“But I think ‘twas the King t’day. 'E looked down inside me, Rhih. 'E c’ld see all o’ me, all the dark nasty bits you know ‘bout an’ the ones I try to keep hid—but 'e also saw the other parts, what I was, what I c’ld ha’ been. An’ I knowed 'e was judgin’ what he saw, ‘cos that’s part o’ what a King is. I know Lady Silma’s worried ‘bout that judgement 'e’ll be givin’ soon, but she don’t need t’ be.”
“Never mind that,” she brushed it aside as if she hadn’t been almost as worried. “Did 'e speak t’ you, when 'e helped you sit?”
“Aye, 'e did. I know what 'e saw when 'e looked at me.”
“What did 'e see?” she asked softly.
'Ee saw me. A Man. An’ 'e said I was brave—“
“Well, o’ course 'e did! You are brave!”
“Not so brave’s you. 'E said I’d be all right. An’ I will be. I am all right.”
“Good,” she said.
I sat back. “Which’s why Tamperion ought t’ be ‘ere soon t’ take you t’ a party.”
“No, I told 'im I was stayin’ with you t’night.”
“An’ I told 'im t’ come back. You go on, Rhih. Wil’ll be back soon, an’ we’re goin’ t’ play that racin’ game. I think I c’n beat 'im this time.”
“You boys an’ those games!”
We both heard the gate swing open and a step on the walk. “You go on, Rhih. Ain’t nobody’ll bother me t’night. There’s still too much magic in th’ air. Please?”
“Rhylla? Rill?” called Tam.
“Over here,” she called back. “Are you sure?”
She had to insist I go in, and she had to make sure I was settled in the parlor waiting for Wil and Ull, but at last she and Tamperion, hand in hand, had gone, and I had some time to myself.
I took a folded bit of paper out of my pouch, along with a graphite stick, and began to make some notes. There had to be some way we could pad the straps that held Wil upright better, and some way to change a spoon so he could grip it better. For that matter, I thought I could get Lord Dalf or Master Samno to fasten a board, mayhap with a hinge, so that I could swing it up flat over the arms of my chair and use it as a small work-surface.
The great thing about Rhylla’s teaching me to read was the glimpses I’d had of Master Clerk’s notebooks, so I could understand the writing and diagrams. Lord Dalf had said more than once he wished he’d been able to get to know him. I did, too. I wished I could apprentice myself to him…but maybe I could, through the notebooks.
I wasn’t Rill, son of Romfilion. I wasn’t Corporal Rill of the Third Thangon, the Company of Sword and Star. But star and sword! I could still swear by them; it was part of my past and present. I would be the best of what I could be—and meanwhile I would begin work on my own devices. And that was how I began to become Rill Holdfast the Devisor!
THis is also in memory of that King of mentors, Dr. Don Wilson. Praise him with great praise!