Olórin led him toward a different doorway, and as he came to it Aragorn paused to look back, saw himself still seated on the High Seat beside Elros, Elendil seated at his other side. He looked questioningly at his guide. "Time here is not as it is in the Mortal Lands, nor even as it is outside of this place in the Undying Lands. A part of you is now a part of this Hall, for you are the fulfillment of years of waiting. It was not for nothing Elrond named you Estel, or your people called you Elessar. In you the Song of the Aínur for the greatness of your line has been renewed and brought into full being. A full circle from the greatness of Elros Tar-Minyatur and Elendil the Tall." At which the Maia turned and led the way into a long passage.
Aragorn was led to another doorway, where he looked in and saw a feasting hall of the Rohirrim, filled with tables and folk, their long hair shining like spun gold, their faces filled with delight. There were calls as they looked up to him. "Ælrich!" "Thorongil!" "My Lord Eagle!" "My brother, Lord Aragorn!" "Come inside and join us!" "Come, Swiftfoot, my brother!" He found himself met by Hama the Door Warden, and greeted by lords and marshals he’d known long before, and a cup of greeting was born to him by a woman tall and slender in whose eyes were no hint of desire but instead sheer joy.
"Westu, Aragorn, hal," smiled the White Lady of Rohan, and she led him among the others--her brother, the cousin he’d never met, her uncle and great uncle, her father and mother, the Riders he’d ridden behind and beside and before, and the ladies. He saw the joy of them all as he sat with them, the pride of Théoden, the pleasure of Thengel, the delight of Éomer, the laughter and joy of those who’d been his fellows. He heard Faramir call to him to sit beside him, saw Boromir’s gladness, saw the son Elboron born to Faramir and Éowyn looking young and happy sitting between them in his great-uncle’s Halls, saw others of the Northern and Southern Dúnedain who’d ridden at times with the Rohirrim laughing and rejoicing, the shining form of Lothiriel seated by her Lord husband, then a small figure in the livery of an esquire of Rohan seated beside Théoden, the two forever sharing stories of their own lands.
Four forms, tall and proud, came to him. "So," said Eorl the Young, "it was partly for your sake we came out of the North to these lands, that they might be kept intact for your time. I am glad to see you are worthy."
Baldor son of Brego smiled on him. "Long I wandered in spirit, lonely and lost, until the day you found my bones at the door where I died, not able to open it, and brought light in to show me my folly. I was able then to leave that place and find my way here. I thank you, Lord Aragorn."
Another stood there, far older still, who looked at his remaining companion and said, "I see one full worthy wears here the ring you bear, Barahir. Your descendants are indeed worthy of our allegiance and of the honor these bear them." And Aragorn rose to honor Barahir Elf-friend, father to Beren One-Hand, from whom he was also descended, and his gladness was overwhelming. Afar off he saw another small figure laughing with the Riders of Rohan, a tankard almost as large as his own head before him.
At last he rose, leaving himself feasting here among those he’d loved as brothers and sisters, and rejoined Olórin at the door. The Maia’s face sparkled with amusement. "I see you have learned the trick of it. Well done, my child. Yes, you belong here as well, and in many other places, also. But I think you can come back in the future to see the Halls of Rhun and Harad and Umbar. Yes, Aragorn--Umbar as well. For there are very many there who remember you there with respect, and even a few with honor and love. The two without the Door are growing very restless, and there is one more you must see ere you go out to them."
As they walked, Aragorn asked, "Why are not Merry and Pippin within the Halls of the Dúnedain if they are in the Halls of the Edain?"
Olórin shook his head. "Pippin will not enter there as yet, not till the first he knew as sworn Lord has accepted his place; and Merry honors the wishes of his brother."
He led the way deep into the Edifice till Aragorn saw a small, narrow door behind which it appeared a red flame glowed. Here Olórin stopped, and turned solemnly to Aragorn. "The one who has constructed this room for himself needs healing, and we hope that he will accept it from the hands of the King, for he will not allow any others to approach him. He accepted false intelligence, was betrayed by his fears and his pride, and he blames himself for his foolishness. Will you enter?"
Aragorn knew who waited behind that door. "I’d looked for him in the Hall of our peoples, and grieved he was not there. I’d wished to beg pardon for the griefs I left him with, with the uncertainties as to the love of those he loved, as to the honor given him by his people to whom I was a stranger. Yes, I will try." With a nod the Maia made a gesture and the door opened.
Olórin murmured softly, "He wrought this room at first with no openings, but with a great mirror on one wall so he could watch with fascination his own immolation. We made a window so he could, in time, look out into the Garden; and we opened a Door. When finally he turned to the window we were able to remove the mirror at last. The fire is finally burning out, but it is not yet quite quenched. I wish you good fortune, my child." Aragorn smiled into the face of his guide, then turned to the figure about whom dark fires still blazed, and entered the chamber.
He was aware when the door opened behind him and that a Maia stood there, even knew the identity of that Maia. But he did not turn, would not turn. He did not wish to look on those who knew his folly. But another was there, another Light that was distantly familiar, one he’d once honored and then resented. His sorrow and shame filled him.
This one had not seen him caught in the madness of despair and grief, although he had known him in the grip of jealousy and suspicion. This one, however, had also recognized in his sworn Lord’s son experience and wisdom and a shared love of learning and discovery. As he approached Denethor did not pull away as he had for others.
The other stopped short of him, stood quietly, and the Light of him shone about Denethor, projected his shadow on the wall before him--save for the open square of the Window. Denethor was surprised, for he’d not thrown a shadow for a very, very long time. That this one’s Light was great enough to overwhelm the flames that endlessly burnt about him was sufficient of a shock that Denethor at last turned.
He turned, and beheld the King, the King whose coming he’d eagerly desired to see when he was a child, whose coming he doubted as he entered his youthful training, whose coming he’d feared as an adult in whom ambition was growing great. He recognized in that one the form of Captain Thorongil, and the image he’d seen reflected many times in the Palantir of Minas Anor--before Sauron had realized that Denethor of Minas Tirith had possession of the Anor stone and began to seek to capture his awareness, to suborn him. The visage that looked back at him was almost his own, save that this one had never given in to despair, may have doubted himself but never what was right to do, had never sacrificed his honor for expediency and ambition, had taken what was his by right, but had confirmed in others the honors they’d also gained by right and by worth demonstrated. Denethor was ashamed, and bowed his head.
At last the King spoke. "Hail, Denethor, son of Ecthelion. Your father grieves you are not at his side. Your sons grieve you have not seen them in their glory. Your grandson grieves not to have known you. She who was your wife grieves you have not greeted her, she who loved you in life and bore your sons. Your captains and men grieve not to have been able to offer you the honor you deserved from them. Your mother and sisters grieve to not have held their son and brother one more time."
"And what do I have to do with them? I have no honor--I forfeited what little I had long ago."
"You earned honor before the Enemy drove you mad with his lies and deceptions. It is still valid, Denethor." For several moments they simply looked at one another. "And I found you not there when I entered the Halls of Waiting, even as I found you not there when I entered into Minas Tirith, now Minas Anor once again. I had hoped to see you, to greet you, to beg your pardon for the ill you received on my behalf."
"You, beg my pardon?"
"Yes, I beg your pardon, for when my presence drew attention from your competency, your wisdom, your counsel. For when others saw me as worthy of honor without knowing why, and seemed not to see that you were equally worthy. For when you thought I stole the love of your father, your men, your people, even of the woman you loved."
"She would have had you had you asked."
"I would never have asked. I had already seen the one I loved, as I told you at the time, and I could not love another as I loved her."
"But you said her father would not agree to the match."
"I did not say so--I said that at the time he would not agree, but that in time he might accept me, once circumstances changed. They did change. Nor would Finduilas have accepted me. My lineage was unknown to her. My friendship was there, and my regard, but no passion, and she knew it. And whenever I saw in her that which reminded me of the woman I loved, it was my beloved’s image that grew in my heart, not that of Finduilas. I was never a rival for her heart save in the imagination of Men."
"And so you were able to marry the one you loved?"
"Yes. After I became King."
Denethor considered. "She must have been of the pure blood to have waited that long."
Aragorn smiled. "Purer blood than you or I bore, Denethor. She is the daughter of Elrond Peredhel."
Denethor stood, shocked into stillness in wonder. Finally he said, "You dared to love one of Elf-kind?" Aragorn stood steady, looking deeply into the former Steward’s eyes. "And she accepted you?"
"Her father was as father to me after my own father was killed. She was not in Imladris when I dwelt there as a child, for she was across the Misty Mountains with her mother’s parents. I saw her first the day I came of age, and her beauty smote my heart. I was singing the Lay of Lúthien when I first saw her, and thought I’d wandered into a dream brought on by the song I sang. Whether she discerned the love that had kindled in my heart on first seeing her I have no idea. Her father saw it, though, and told me that I might not bind any woman to me until the Enemy was thrown down. When at last I learned she saw me as I saw her and she told me she would bind herself to me and accept the fate of Lúthien for herself, I feared her father would ban me from his house as one who defied his will, but he did not. But he told me he would grant her plea only if I became King of Gondor and Arnor." He smiled at Denethor. "I had--great motivation--to seek the Throne of Gondor. But I would not seek it until I was certain I would be accepted."
"And they accepted you."
"And they accepted me."
Each regarded the other. Finally Denethor spoke again. "Why do you seek me here?"
"To call you forth. There are many who desire to be reunited with you, many who love you."
"I killed my son."
"You killed neither of your sons, Denethor. Boromir died protecting those who were weaker than he, two who stood under his protection. He died doing what a great warrior is supposed to do, and with his honor intact. Faramir recovered, and served Gondor for many years."
"He was not Steward as I was."
"He surrendered his rod of office to me when he brought out to me the Winged Crown from the Hallows, and I gave it back again. He retained his office until he surrendered it to his son Elboron, who kept it until he surrendered it to his son Barahir."
Denethor stood considering. "How long have I been here?"
"Over a hundred years in the Mortal Lands, Denethor."
"You ruled that long?"
"I was of the blood of Númenor unmingled. I lived two hundred ten years. Will you come forth?"
"Why should I do so?"
"I had hoped to have one who knew me serve as my Steward in Gondor, one whom I honored, one whose knowledge rivaled my own. Faramir was wise and learned beyond the standard of most men of his day, but he was not you, Denethor. I had hoped to be reunited with you and our differences washed away by friendship ere either of us came to this place. But as that was not possible, I must seek it now."
"Why do you wish to be friends with me?"
"Because I loved you when I knew you, Denethor. Because I honored you, learned of you."
"I am unworthy."
Aragorn laughed. "Few are truly worthy, Denethor. But love does not rest on worthiness, but in the depths of the heart. I loved you then, and I still love you, I find. Will you bear the touch of my hand?"
Denethor felt a strange trembling within himself. He looked with desire at the King he’d rejected in life, the one who’d become King anyway. But he still held back. "The Enemy was cast down?"
"By your power?"
"No, not by my power. I was but a mortal, and not even the Elves were able to bring him down. Only the grace of Ilúvatar served, aided by the dedication of two who went into Mordor itself bearing no skill at arms and no hope for their own survival. Ilúvatar led them, guarded them, guided them, saved them from themselves and the fall of Mordor at the end."
"The Halfling? The Enemy showed me his clothing, his sword. He was taken, and the Ring found."
"He knew not why a Halfling entered his lands, only that one did so. That there was a second he did not know. Nor did he ever learn how the one he captured escaped. He lied to you, Denethor. Always he controlled the information the Palantir gave you, and through it he lied. He showed you the Black Ships coming up the River, but from a distance the last time, is it not true?"
"Yes, that is true."
"He could no longer see those on the Ships at that point. He did not know they then contained my troops."
Denethor stood again stilled by shock. "Then you saved the city?"
"Yes, my troops saved the city. And when I would have sought you out, you were not there, my brother. Please, will you accept my hand, Denethor? For long have I desired to see you once again."
And Denethor at last looked into the heart of the King he’d denied, and without thought he stretched out his hand, and took that of the one he’d long thought his rival. A thrill ran through him, a shiver of intense pain which turned to Joy as he stood there. His eyes widened in surprise. At last he said, "It was long said that the Hands of the King were the Hands of a Healer."
Aragorn smiled. "And thus was the rightful King known, you who were Lord Steward. Come forth, Denethor. Two wait, I am told, impatiently for me to come to them, and one of them waits for you as well as for me. He seeks to do you the honor he swore to you. Denethor, do you wish to enter that Garden?"
"Then come forth, and we can go there." Holding Denethor by the hand, he led him forth, turned toward the door to the Ways. As they came out, two figures turned toward them, shining with relief, and with a cry they ran forward. Trembling with weakness and surprise, Denethor son of Ecthelion accepted the reverence of he who had been Peregrin Took.
"I told you, my Lord, I would not be released from my vow or from your service. But neither would I allow you to betray yourself by killing your son. He awaits you, Denethor, he wishes to show you his love for you. If you are unready now to enter the Hall of the Dúnedain, you may still find him elsewhere. May I show you?" And he led the way into the Garden, Aragorn and Denethor and Merry following behind. In a bower they found Faramir seated with Éowyn and Elboron their son, and nearby stood Boromir brother to Faramir, and their mother Finduilas.
Denethor looked on his younger son, whose being shone with the Light of his Love, and bowed low before him. "Forgive me, Faramir," he said, "for I would not see you, would not honor you, saw you as weak because you were not the warrior your brother was. I knew my learning was great, but thought strength in arms was what was needed to save our land, and would not see you held both. I wronged you so many times over the years, so very many times. Please forgive me."
But Faramir rose and approached his father, took him into his arms in an embrace. "You are here now, my Father, here now and healed at last. And my heart is full that at last I may see you again, love you again as so long I desired to do."
From the Door emerged another soul, come to seek out his son who had been lost for so long. So at long last this family was reunited, and years seemed to fall from Denethor’s appearance. Suddenly he was young, and a white light shone now from him where before had been red flames, and the tears of his release fell unheeded, and flowers of red bloomed where they fell upon the ground.