I don't own anything. The people and main events of this tale all belong to JRR Tollkien.
Frodo stood with his companions, watching as Aragorn walked towards the walls of Minas Tirith. No crown yet graced his brow but he was every inch a king. His hair was brushed until it shone and the pure white of his mantle reflected the sunlight of the day until Frodo had to look away for it hurt his eyes and made his head ache.
In his train walked many of the Dunedain, Eomer of Rohan . . . now king himself . . . Prince Imrahil and Gandalf. The hobbits would have remained behind but wizard and king bid them follow and so they came too, although trying to remain as unobtrusive as possible in such lordly company.
Frodo tugged gently at the high collar of his dark green velvet robe and tried to shrug his long heavy velvet cloak into a more comfortable position across his shoulders. He wished he could have worn his everyday clothes, those he had been gifted by Aragorn whilst in Ithilien. A plain white linen shirt and breeches would have been much more practical on this unseasonably hot spring day. But Prince Imrahil had sent them all a set of fine court clothes for this occasion and it would have been churlish to refuse such a beautiful gift. At least Gandalf and Aragorn were arrayed largely in white.
Between the many tents of the encamped army of the West and the Gates of Minas Tirith there was a wide space and it was into this that the future King of Gondor strode, with his company. A single trumpet rang, and a profound silence followed as Aragorn’s party stopped.
From out the huge gap in the walls where once tall, intricately carved gates had stood, walked two tall men, dark of hair as the Dunedain, followed by four in the high helms and armour of the Citadel who bore between them a great black casket bound with silver. When the others drew to a halt one came forward and knelt before Aragorn.
Frodo blinked as a bead of sweat ran down his brow and into his eye. He felt that he had been standing forever. The pages had made him stand still within his tent for an age while they fussed, settling the many layers of finery upon him, brushing his hair and arranging the silver circlet on his head. He had found it hard not to fidget. Once in his regalia he did not dare sit down, even if he had known how to in the long heavy cloak. It would not do to arrive at a coronation with his clothes rumpled.
As for eating and drinking . . . He dare not even enter the tent where food and drink had been set up for the guests. He still had difficulty with his missing finger and would occasionally spill a drink. It would not do to have such an accident whilst dressed like this. So Frodo had let nothing pass his lips since first breakfast, and it was now past midday.
The world wavered a little and Frodo spread his feet further, hoping to give himself a wider base to balance upon. He had recovered much of his strength but even now Aragorn insisted that he sleep for a few hours every afternoon, and Frodo had no inclination to refuse him for, in truth, he needed the rest.
The kneeling man bowed his head and offered up a white rod. “The last Steward of Gondor begs leave to surrender his office.”
Aragorn took it from his hands but, to Frodo’s surprise, handed it back, saying: “That office is not ended, and it shall be thine and thy heirs’ as long as my line shall last. Do now thy office.”
Frodo’s eyes widened in surprise as he saw the Steward rise and realised that it was none other than Captain Faramir. He had little time to contemplate this turn of events, however as Faramir spoke in a loud clear voice.
“Men of Gondor, hear now the Steward of this Realm! Behold! One has come to claim the kingship again at last. Here is Aragorn son of Arathorn, chieftain of the Dunedain of Arnor, Captain of the Host of the West, bearer of the Star of the North, wielder of the Sword Reforged, victorious in battle, whose hands bring healing, the Elfstone, Elessar of the line of Valandil, Isildur’s son, Elendil’s son of Numenor. Shall he be king and enter into the City and dwell there?”
Frodo would have held his breath, but he was finding it difficult to draw any breath at all in his tight fitting clothes. His shirt was stuck to his back with perspiration and his throat was dry, his tongue feeling too big for his mouth. The dark fabric of his cloak seemed to absorb the rays of the sun but it was also too thick to allow any perspiration to soak away and Frodo felt as though he were a coney being slowly broiled in a pot. So intent on his misery was he that he all but jumped at the loud cry of, “Yea!” from the assembly.
He tried to concentrate on Faramir’s voice as the Steward spoke again. “Men of Gondor, the loremasters tell that it was the custom of old that the king should receive the crown from his father ere he died; or if that might not be, that he should go alone and take it from the hands of his father in the tomb where he was laid. But since things must now be done otherwise, using the authority of the Steward, I have today brought hither from Rugh Dinen the crown of Earnur the last king, whose days passed in the time of our longfathers of old.”
The tall helmed guards stood forward, and Faramir opened the casket, and held up the ancient crown, offering it to Aragorn. Once more, Aragorn accepted that which he had been offered, this time holding it aloft and saying, “Et Earello Endorenna utulien. Sinome maruvan ar Hildinyar tenn’ Ambar-metta!”
Frodo felt Pippin touched his arm. “What did he say, Frodo?”
Frodo swallowed and tried to force his cloudy mind to focus. “I’m not certain but I think it was an ancient line, spoken by Elendil when he came up out of the sea. “Out of the Great Sea to Middle-earth I am come. In this place will I abide, and my heirs, unto the ending of the world.” He wondered, vaguely, whether Pippin felt as uncomfortably hot as he did.
To the surprise of all, Aragorn did not place the crown upon his head but handed it back to Faramir. “By the labour and valour of many have I come into my inheritance. In token of this I would have the Ring-bearer bring the crown to me, and let Mithrandir set it upon my head, if he will; for he has been the mover of all that has been accomplished, and this is his victory.”
The words sent a wave of heat through Frodo and he could feel all eyes upon him. He tried to pull himself more erect and, with as deep a breath as he could manage, came forward to stand before Faramir. He felt naked and exposed somehow, without Sam and his cousins next to him. But on looking upward, he found the proud but kindly face of the Captain of Ithilien, who had sent them on their way with food and blessing when all had seemed black. To his surprise, Faramir inclined his head in a small bow, and Frodo was glad that his early training in etiquette from Bilbo had taken root as he bowed in return without even thinking about it.
He had thought the silver circlet on his own head too heavy but he could hardly bear to hold the weight of the crown that Faramir lowered reverently into his small and shaking hands. So heavy . . . the weight of a realm to rest upon Aragorn’s head. It took all his strength to carry it the few steps to Gandalf and was relieved when the ancient wizard lifted it from his hands. Frodo turned, trying not to become entangled in the train of his cloak, and walked quickly back to the companionship of his friends. He was thankful that all those eyes were now focussed upon someone else. Would but the sun do likewise.
Aragorn knelt and Gandalf lowered the crown upon his brow, saying, “Now come the days of the King, and may they be blessed while the thrones of the Valar endure!”
Along with the assembled throng, Frodo found himself gasping as Aragorn arose, for it seemed that he was fully revealed for the first time. He was tall as the sea-kings of old, taller than all who were about him; and although he had an air of ancient wisdom he was yet in the prime of his manhood. To Frodo it seemed almost as though he glowed with a light like the elves.
Then Faramir broke the silence, crying, “Behold the King!”
From every tower in Minas Tirith trumpets were blown and Aragorn, King Elessar, went into his city surrounded by music and cheering. The hobbits were swept along by the crowd, through the entrance and up the winding, flower strewn road. From level to level, as they processed, the cheering grew louder, the crowds thicker, and Frodo yearned desperately to find some quiet shady corner to rest for a moment.
The stone of the road and walls held the heat, the white stone glaring and reflecting back into Frodo’s eyes until he felt that they would pop like an unpricked tomato in a pan, and the loud cheers echoed and reverberated until his head throbbed mercilessly. By the time he reached the third level he had lost sight of his companions amongst all the tall folk and people kept stepping upon the hem of his cloak, almost throttling him when he tried to take just one more step.
Frodo felt a mounting panic as he realised that the throng around him had no idea who he was, seeing only an overdressed child if they saw anything at all. Their only care was to move forward far enough to catch a glimpse of their new King, and perhaps the White Wizard and the Ring-bearer. If he had any tears left to shed he would have done so now, lost and alone in the multitude.
He had been alone on Mount Doom but never had Frodo felt so lonely as he did now. For a moment the sun-heated pavement burning the soles of his still tender feet brought back memory of that accursed place and the impact of it robbed him of what little strength he had left. With a soft cry, Frodo crumpled to the ground, his world a place of blank whiteness filled with a loud buzzing before all grew black and silent.
“Are you awake, Little Master?” The voice was soft and accompanied by the cool and gentle stroke of a damp cloth across Frodo’s chest.
He tried to swallow and lick his cracked lips before replying but the action did not seem to make things any easier. His head was still pounding and Frodo dare not open his eyes, even though he could sense that he was no longer in the white-hot furnace of the suns’ glare or that of Orodruin either.
A large hand slipped carefully beneath his sweat damp curls and a spout of some sort was slipped between his lips. A tiny trickle of liquid filled his mouth and Frodo swallowed greedily. It tasted strange, of honey and a little salty, but it eased his throat at once and when more was administered he swallowed without further thought. It was only when the spout was removed and he was lowered back into the softness of pillows that Frodo dared to open his eyes.
His surroundings were dim, but not dark. Sunlight from a large window to his left filtered through thin curtains revealed a small room through which moved several tall, grey clad figures. All but one seemed to be leaving, carrying basins and ewers. Frodo turned back to the man who sat by his bedside, the one wielding the damp cloth. A gentle smile graced the grey bearded face.
“Can you tell me your name now, Master Perian. I take it you are kin to Master Merriadoc, who resided in these houses for a little while.” He reached forward and drew the cool dampness of the cloth across Frodo’s brow, eliciting a soft sigh from the hobbit.
“My name is Frodo Baggins. And yes, Merry is my cousin.”
The man nodded. “I am Master Aldern and you are in the Houses of Healing. Word has been sent to the Citadel of your presence here and I have no doubt that you will have visitors soon. How do you feel now?”
Frodo took a deep breath and let it out slowly, trying to assess exactly how he did feel. A little too warm, although not as warm as he had been. He had seen his finery folded carefully upon a chair in the corner of the room and realised now that he was naked upon the bed, covered only with a sheet from waist to foot. Simply to be rid of the heavy and constricting garments was comfort enough for him but the bed was soft and a large paddle attached to a long cord was drifting back and forth on the ceiling, producing a soothing breeze. His head ached but it was not the pounding that he had felt before.
“I feel . . . better, thank you. How did I come here?”
“One of the city guards brought you. He found you lying in the street when the crowds had moved on. At first he thought you were a child, but when he saw your garments and your feet he realised that you must be one of our Lord’s halfling companions. He brought you here and then went up to inform the Citadel.”
An echo of panic rose in Frodo’s chest as he remembered the street. It was the first time in his life that he had been truly alone. Even at the end, on Orodruin, without Sam or Gollum, still he was not completely alone for he had the other. It was not a friendly presence but it was one he had grown used to . . . a companion of sorts. But on that street in Minas Tirith, and even now, he was more alone than he had ever been in his life.
Frodo swung his eyes rapidly back to the face of the healer, trying to find some anchor. It was a kindly face. But it was not a face he knew and Frodo could feel his breathing becoming quick and shallow as the loneliness rose up like a wave, threatening to drown him. His gaze began to dart about the room, desperate to find a familiar face. He could not be alone for, if he was alone, then the memories flowed in.
How long had he been here? How long did it take for a guard to reach the Citadel and fetch someone back?
“What if they are too busy in the ceremonies of the day to have time for me?” Frodo tried to lever himself up. “Perhaps I can meet them halfway.” His voice sounded strange in his ears. Too high and breathless.
Firm hands caught his shoulders, pushing him back into the pillows, and then moved to capture his head, turning it until he was looking into the healer’s eyes. Aldern’s voice was quiet but compelling.
“Slow your breathing, Frodo Baggins. Breath with me now. In . . . out. Slowly. You are safe and your friends will be here soon. In . . . out. That is better. In . . . out. In . . . out.”
It seemed to Frodo to take hours but it was only a few minutes before Aldern had him reasonably calm. The kindly man settled at Frodo’s bedside once more, turning to mix something to drink in a small feeder cup.
“You have been too long in the sun for someone still recovering his strength. You are the one they call the Ring-bearer, are you not?”
Frodo nodded. The exertions of the past few minutes had worn away what little reserves he had.
“You underwent a great trial and your companions should have taken better care of you.” He fed Frodo the sweet contents of the cup but, as soon as it was drained, Frodo leapt to his friends defence.
“They bear no blame. There are more important things in motion today than the health of one small hobbit, who has not the sense to know when to come in from the sun. Gondor has a High King and a new age begins for Middle-earth. My part is over and I am glad to step down and let others take the centre of the stage. In truth, it was never my intention to be at the centre, but rather it was something that fell to me.”
Aldern pursed his lips and brought a hand to Frodo’s brow. Obviously pleased with what he found there, he drew the sheet up to his charge’s chest and covered it with a light blanket. He would have spoken again, were he not interrupted by another.
“That the world has moved on to acknowledge another great deed does not make yours any less important, Ring-bearer.” Gandalf strode quickly across the room, followed by a worried looking Sam and Frodo pushed upward with all his remaining strength, almost throwing himself into the wizard’s welcoming arms.
For several minutes there was no sound in the room, as Frodo buried his face in the wizard’s soft white robes and Sam’s familiar hand smoothed up and down his back in steady rhythm. Gandalf said nothing, only holding the small hobbit tightly. Within a few minutes he felt Frodo’s body grow limp, his breathing become slow and shallow. Gently, he leaned the small body back and found Frodo’s face in peaceful repose, his eyes lightly closed.
Aldern produced another blanket and, with great tenderness, Sam and Gandalf wrapped a somnolent Frodo in it.
“I gave him a tincture to help him rest. He will probably sleep through the rest of the day and may not wake until tomorrow morning. It would be best if he stayed abed for another day after that.” Aldern’s voice grew firm. “But he must not be left alone.”
Gandalf gathered up a firmly swaddled Frodo as Sam drew himself to his full height before the healer. “I’ll see to that, sir. He’ll not be lost or alone ever again if I can help it.”
Gandalf smiled across at the healer. “Have no fear, Master Aldern. Many will want to honour this little hobbit for his part in saving Middle-earth from the Dark Lord. But none will treasure him as closely as those who have the honour to call him friend. To them, Frodo Baggins is more precious than gold or titles. He is someone who would lay down his life to protect theirs. And they will do no less for him. He will not be alone.”
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