Shadows of Memory by Lindahoyland|
Summary: Injured and believing himself in great danger, Aragorn seeks to flee for his life. Escape, however proves impossible.
The characters are the property of the Tolkien estate. No profit has been, nor will be made from this story.
There was pain everywhere. Thorongil had no idea where he was. Hands were prodding him and removing his clothing. He tried vainly to struggle, only to encounter strong hands that restrained him. He felt violently sick and started to retch. The hands supported him while someone held a basin. Then the darkness swallowed him again.
Thorongil’s bandage swathed head throbbed painfully.. He tried to take stock of his surroundings. He realised he was lying on a strange bed, larger and softer than his own. Home in Imladris? No, he heard no familiar Elven voices, nor smelled the long-missed fragrances of herbs and flowers scattered throughout the Last Homely House. How had he come to be here? The last thing he remembered was setting out to dine with Steward Ecthelion. The Captain slowly opened his eyes. To his surprise, he beheld the last person he would have expected to see standing at his bedside: Denethor, Ecthelion’s heir. “What happened?” Thorongil whispered through parched lips. It was a struggle to speak. The words came out slurred, as if he were drunk.
“You had an accident and have hit your head,” said Denethor. “Would you like a drink?”
Denethor supported his head and held the glass to his lips. ”Easy, Aragorn, sip it slowly,” he advised.
Thorongil nearly choked on the water. He was so shocked that his control lapsed, surprise and horror showing on his face.
“I know you dislike being helped, but you will soon be well again, mellon nîn, easy now,” the Steward’s heir soothed.
Thorongil groaned, sighed and settled back against the pillows. Denethor had discovered his true name! What else did Ecthelion's son know? And how had he fallen into Denethor's power so helplessly?
“Sleep now,” said Denethor, kissing him lightly on the brow. Before Thorongil could do more than wonder at such an action, he fell back asleep.
Some hours later Thorongil opened his eyes again. He gingerly sat upright, trying to ignore his aching, spinning head. Denethor lay asleep on the far side of the bed, nearest the door. Thorongil tried to make sense of what had happened.
He must have been attacked. It took no great leap of reasoning to ascertain the most likely culprit. Denethor had distrusted and disliked him from the start. Denethor never ceased to question Thorongil's origins, sometimes casually, sometimes directly, and sometimes subtly, trying to catch Thorongil in an untruth. Now it appeared that the Steward’s heir had finally ferreted out his true name. How? Could he have blurted out his true name when reduced to semi-consciousness by his injuries? Yet, it would be most strange for Denethor to attack him. The heir to the Stewardship was a cold and proud man, but he was also neither a brute nor a traitor. Thorongil could scarcely believe that Denethor would have resorted to such measures to learn his rival's identity. Could Denethor's jealousy and suspicion have driven him mad, mad enough to have arranged the attack that had left Thorongil with a head injury, and, he painfully realized, a cracked rib or two together with a great many bruises. That too was unlikely. Denethor was a particularly strong-minded man, master of himself as well as of others.
The hostility of the Steward’s heir had always saddened Thorongil. They were so well matched that almost could they have been brothers. Denethor was unusual for a lord of Gondor in these latter days, for in Ecthelion's tall son, as in Thorongil, the blood of Númenor ran true. The Steward’s heir was gifted with foresight and shrewd intelligence; and he thirsted for lore even more than did Thorongil, who loved the old tales and histories. The heir of Isildur could surmise that Denethor’s love for Gondor had made him determined to cling to the right to rule it - at all costs. Not that Thorongil would be such a fool as to try to claim the throne.
Aragorn had dreamed often of reclaiming the throne of his fathers. It would be a deed almost worthy of Elendil to reunite the North and South Kingdoms, so long divided to their mutual detriment. And Aragorn had often wondered whether Elrond's fair daughter would look more upon him more favourably if he wore the Gondor's winged crown. But, he would not make such a claim at the price of harming the land that they loved. He was all too aware that the tumult that would arise from his asserting his rightful claim would serve none save Sauron. Even the revelation of Thorongil's true name and lineage could provoke another kin-strife! The old Steward was growing frail and loved Thorongil as his own son. It would break the old man’s heart to be forced to choose between his son and the Captain he loved as dearly. And if that strife spread, dividing his own officers from their families, and lords from Anorien to Belfalas quarrelled over the coming of the King, battle and war could erupt, sapping the strength that the realm so desperately needed to battle its true Enemy.
But why was Denethor being so kind to him now, hovering at Thorongil's bedside, calling him friend and bestowing a kiss? Could Denethor feel guilt for having had him beaten? He could sooner have imagined the son of Ecthelion turning cartwheels in the Court of the Fountain stark naked, than caring for his hated rival! So how had Thorongil come to be here, in the bedchamber of Ecthelion’s son’s room, sharing his very bed? It was the custom to share with a friend or relative, in Gondor, especially in winter, to stave off the cold, but Thorongil was the last man on earth that Denethor would choose for a companion. And where was Finduilas, Denethor’s beloved lady? He could only surmise that her husband had given her leave to visit her kindred at Dol Amroth. Finduilas’ deep long for the sea seemed almost to consume her at times. Thorongil feared it was damaging her health. Denethor hated to be parted from his wife, which meant her visits to the sea were few and far between.
The room was odd too. Thorongil could have sworn that this vast chamber with the enormous bed, which could easily accommodate five Elves, belonged to the Steward rather than to his heir. Maybe he was mistaken? He had only been in Ecthelion’s bedchamber once before, when the Steward, bedridden with a light sickness, had summoned his favourite Captain for the discussion of a forthcoming campaign. The tapestries looked familiar. The light was too dim to clearly discern the images woven into the cloth, yet they seemed very like the tapestries that had covered the walls of his bedchamber in Imladris!
Thorongil realised he needed to use the privy. He could only hope that the oddly over-attentive Denethor would not awaken and insist on taking him there! Strange, the man even looked different. Denethor’s eyes had held more warmth than usual and in repose; the stern carven features were somehow gentler.
Somehow, Thorongil managed to get out of bed without disturbing his unwanted sleeping companion. Clutching the edge of the bed to keep his balance, he made his way round to its foot, where two robes lay folded. He sat down for a moment and pulled one on.
Once he had closed the chamber door behind him, Thorongil saw with surprise that the corridor was far more brightly lit than usual. Unremembered carpets covered the stone floor. At least the servant’s privy and bathing chamber was where he remembered it, a few doors away from the main bedroom. He recalled trying to wash the grime from his hands and face ere a meeting with the Old Steward, but then there had only been a simple pitcher of cold water and a bowl, not the good quality soap and thick towels that were there now. He splashed water on his face, wishing fervently that his head did not hurt so much. At least the room was no longer spinning.
Thorongil reached a decision. It was not safe for him to remain in Gondor any longer. He must seek out Ecthelion and ask for his help to return to Rohan. Thorongil knew not how long Denethor’s benevolent mood would last, but if he made it clear he was planning to leave, he would probably be safe. Given this strange mood of Denethor's, the Steward's Heir would probably send him off in a well-appointed wain with his favourite cloak wrapped around Thorongil's shoulders!
But where was Ecthelion? He must be sleeping in the second main bedchamber. Thorongil was more familiar with the sitting room between them as well as the Steward’s private dining room, where his patron had often invited him for a meal. To disturb the Steward at this time of night would be unwise. Yet he was confident of Ecthelion’s affection and support. Surely the old man would understand his plight and help him?
He knocked loudly on the bedchamber door. There was no reply.
“May I be of assistance, sire?” A guard appeared, seemingly out of nowhere. To Thorongil’s bewilderment, the fellow dipped his head as if in obeisance. Even stranger, the guard’s uniform was embroidered with the Royal Insignia, an emblem unused for hundreds of years in the South-kingdom!
“I wish to speak to the Steward. Where is he?” Thorongil enquired. To his relief, he no longer sounded as if he were drunk.
“He is sleeping yonder tonight,” the man replied, gesturing towards the chamber that Thorongil had recently vacated.
Just then, Denethor appeared, clutching a robe over his nightshirt. An anxious frown furrowed his brow, which relaxed when Denethor espied his captive.
He gripped Thorongil’s arm firmly, yet surprisingly gently, and shepherded him back to his room. “You alarmed me by wandering off like that,” Denethor chided gently. “Please tell me if you want to go out again. Come on, let us return to bed.”
His escape attempt foiled, Thorongil slumped dejectedly on the bed. His best plan was to appear meek and say as little as possible until he regained his strength. Denethor helped him remove his robe and pulled the covers over him, tucking them under his chin. Thorongil began to wonder if they had both fallen under a spell. What else could suddenly cause Denethor to cosset him like a devoted nursemaid or even a mother? He prayed that Denethor would not bring him spiced milk and sing him a lullaby; things were strange enough already.
“Why did I not think of it before?” Denethor said suddenly, going to the door and calling to the guard to summon a servant to fetch hot water.
Thorongil had no idea what he was talking about until the Steward's son started rummaging in a bag, which appeared to contain healing supplies. To Thorongil’s consternation, Denethor selected two dried athelas leaves from amongst the herbs.
“This eases your heart when you inhale it,” said Denethor smiling. Just then, the servant tapped on the door. Denethor went to take the bowl of water from her “You will need to crumble the leaves in the water, as you alone have the power,” he told his captive.
“What?” said Thorongil horrified at the discovery of this unquestionable proof that he was the heir of Elendil. Denethor must not have been as senseless as Thorongil had believed him to be when he had treated the Steward’s heir for a nasty slash from an Easterling blade after their usual Healer had been killed. He had hazarded the use of the herb when the life of the Steward’s heir had hung in the balance. Later, Thorongil had mused upon the irony; that he had saved the life that stood between him and the throne of his sires. But Thorongil could not have deprived either his kindly patron of an only son, nor Gondor of a great lord and Captain who was his own comrade-in-arms. Only the servants of Sauron would stoop so low! It seemed, though, that his decision had cost him dear.
Denethor now regarded him with what appeared to be genuine bewilderment. He had no idea the man could act so well! “The air in this room is not especially stale,” Thorongil said lamely. ”Why do we need athelas?”
“You have never hesitated to use it for others, so why not for yourself?” said Denethor, holding the bowl in one hand and offering him the leaves with the other.
Thorongil had no choice but to take them and drop them in the bowl in the same fashion he had seen the elderly serving women freshen the rooms.
Denethor was looking increasingly puzzled. The keen grey eyes looked slightly hurt too. Those eyes troubled Thorongil. They seemed somehow to have changed. He almost had a look of Lady Finduilas about him. It was said that Men grew to resemble their wives, a saying Thorongil had always thought foolish, but maybe it was true after all?
“Does your head still ache?” Denethor enquired.
“Yes,” Thorongil replied tersely.
Denethor poured two drops from a vial into a glass of water and held it to Thorongil’s lips. “Drink this!” he commanded.
“You are trying to poison me!” Thorongil accused, his composure faltering.
Denethor took a small sip from the glass. “It does not taste that bad,” he said, “Come on, it will make you feel better!”
Thorongil was compelled to drink, though still fearful the draught was some nefarious potion, designed to weaken him and addle his wits, rather than the simple pain relieving draught he craved. His eyes soon grew heavy and he could not fight the urge to sleep, desire his desire to remain watchful.
"Why am I here?" Thorongil asked.
"The ladies suggested we should keep one another company," Denethor explained, as if talking to a child.
Obviously it was some peace making scheme of the Lady Finduilas that they should share a room while she was away from the City. The gentle lady was ever seeking to make peace between her husband and Captain Thorongil. There were some disputes that even the Steward's wife could not heal, and this, alas, was one of them.
But Denethor had said ladies, not lady! Had Denethor carried him into some den of loose women while he was unconscious, to trump up some lie to be told to Ecthelion? There were pleasant and still comely women in several taverns that they had frequented who had certainly made it clear they would welcome more intimate relations than good coin paid for refreshment. Thorongil felt his head pound; it was all so confusing!
Thorongil rubbed circles into his temples, wishing that he could just make this nightmarish day end forever. Perhaps Finduilas' older sister, who had recently visited her, had suggested that Denethor seek the company of a trusted man at night on those occasions when Finduilas was feeling ill? Thorongil had met the Lady Ivriniel, older daughter of Adrahil; and found her to be a good-hearted woman inclined to jesting. Could Denethor have lured Ivriniel into a sinister plot on the pretext of a mere jest?
He did not know! He should know! Thorongil could not hold back a moan of frustration.
“Easy now, rest,” Denethor had climbed into bed beside him and had laid a hand upon his shoulder. Thorongil wanted to recoil from such a false and patronising gesture, especially when his unwanted companion started to gently rub his back. Yet the touch seemed genuinely comforting, like that of a comrade or brother, such as Halbarad or Elladan or Elrohir. Most curious, though, was the difference in Denethor’s very hands. When Thorongil had last dined with the Steward and his son, he had idly observed that both father and son shared short, stubby, though strong, fingers. Denethor’s hands now seemed long and slender. Stranger still, Denethor was using an Elven technique that Thorongil often recalled the Master Elrond using to ease him as a child. However did Denethor know that? With that unsettling thought, he drifted into a dreamless drug induced sleep.
When Thorongil awoke again, his head still throbbed. He was still in the vast luxurious bed and wanted nothing more than to bury his aching head in the soft pillow. He wondered if Denethor were still there.
Blearily, he opened one eye and stared in amazement. Denethor was getting dressed. He had already donned his breeches, but his lean body, so like in build to Thorongil’s own, was bared to the waist. He was standing with his left side facing Thorongil as he raised his arms to don a shirt. That was the side, which had been slashed by an Easterling blade only a few months ago. Such an injury would leave a deep and painful scar unless the victim had access to treatments unknown outside the Elven Realms. Gondor had had no contact with Elves for generations. Yet Denethor bore no trace of a scar.
Thorongil let out a sharp intake of breath. He must be losing his wits!
Denethor must have heard him, for he hastened to the bedside, tucking in his shirt as he did so. “How do you fare, mellon nîn?” he enquired.
If Thorongil had not known him better, he could have sworn the concern in the man’s voice was genuine. “Much better, apart from a slight headache,” he lied, not wanting to betray his weakness.
Denethor frowned. “I dressed in here rather than the dressing room, as I thought you might awaken once the poppy juice wore off,” he said. “Would you like some tea? I have sent for some. The Healer will be here to see you soon. I hope he will give you something for the pain. He only left one dose of poppy syrup with me, alas.”
Thorongil nodded in pretended compliance. He wished he had not when the dizziness from the day before return.
Denethor squeezed his shoulder, obviously in pretended sympathy. “Easy now, the Healers said it would take a day or two for you to feel yourself again,” he said.
A servant tapped on the door and Denethor went to open it. Thorongil seized the opportunity to try to get out of bed, but failed dismally. As soon as he tried to put his feet on the floor, he started to feel decidedly queasy and he found himself suffering the indignity of being escorted to the privy by Ecthelion’s son.
He felt much better, though when he returned and felt able to sample one of the steaming mugs of tea. Denethor tucked him up in bed again and held the cup to his lips. Suddenly fearing it might be drugged, he tried to think of some excuse. “I am not thirsty after all,” he said lamely.
“Come, you need to drink,” said Denethor. ”See, it is not drugged.” He took a swig from the mug, before offering it again to Thorongil.
However could the man read him so clearly? Denethor was noted for his perception, but this was uncanny! Thorongil drank. He was in truth, very thirsty, and the tea was reviving.
No sooner had he finished it than another knock came at the door. This time, Denethor opened it to admit a stocky, fair-haired man clad in Healer’s robes. Denethor regaled the man in great dealer about his captive’s symptoms.
“Tell me how you feel, my lord and spare no detail!” the Healer said. He had a strong Rohirric accent, which surprised Thorongil. He thought he knew all the Healers in the Houses at least by sight, and they were all Gondorians. And why did the man call him ‘my lord’ rather than ‘Captain’? He was a lord only amongst his own people in the North.
“My head aches and I have experienced nausea and dizziness,” Thorongil replied in perfect Rohirric, hoping to maybe establish a rapport with the man. Denethor had little time for Healers, so this man was most likely what he appeared to be.
“That is usual after a head injury,” said the Healer, unwrapping the bandages and probing the wound on his head in a very professional fashion. “Hmm, you are doing well; the wound is clean and should soon heal, and you seem perfectly lucid. I think you could get up later, if you do not over exert yourself. I will give you something for your headache.”
“I should like to consult Master Beren about my injuries,” said Thorongil. Beren was a good friend, an elderly Healer who was interested to learn whatever Northern herb lore Captain Thorongil was willing to impart. If he could but get a message to him, maybe his friend could help him escape.
“You will not escape my attentions so easily, by asking for a Healer who does not exist!” the Healer said, laughing ruefully. “Little wonder that Master Oropher preferred to set a broken leg this morning and left me to attend upon you!”
“But Master Beren is real, you must know him!” Thorongil protested.
“I have never heard of him either,” added Denethor in perfect Rohirric.
Thorongil’s spirits sank further as his bewilderment increased. Wherever had the Steward’s son learned to speak the language of the Mark so well? He had obviously understood every word of Thorongil’s conversation with the Healer.
“It is not unusual to be a little confused after suffering a head injury, my lord,” said the Healer. “Maybe you mean Bereg?”
“Yes,” said Thorongil quickly.
“Everyone confuses similar names at times, my lord,” the Healer said cheerfully, winding a clean bandage around Thorongil’s head. “You are fortunate, your thick Númenorean skull has saved you from serious injury this time, but you need to rest.”
“I will see that he does,” said Denethor. ”I have cancelled all my engagements today, so that I can remain at his side. I am greatly relieved the cut is healing well.”
Thorongil suppressed the urge to glare. Had this arrogant man not even the decency to allow him to have his wounds treated in private? At least his head had stopped spinning now.
"Do your ribs still pain you?" enquired the Healer.
"No," Thorongil replied tersely, determined not to allow this Healer to examine him further in Denethor's presence.
“Very, well, I will wait until tomorrow before examining them again, “said the Healer, as if humouring him. “I will mix you some willow bark tea to ease the pain without making you sleepy. I will leave some poppy juice for later. You know the correct dosage.” He mixed up the herb and handed the cup to Thorongil.
“It tastes vile!” Thorongil spluttered.
“You always say that!” the Healer commented placidly. “Healers make the most complaining patients!”
Thorongil could have sworn he had never seen the man before today, but all the Healers would now know he was one himself. After he had treated Denethor’s severe injury successfully, Ecthelion had made his gratitude widely known. One of his colleagues must have told him more about his patient. Or was the man truly a Healer from the Houses at all, given that he did not know Beren?
The Healer placed a vial of poppy juice and a packet of herbs on the table. “I will call again later. Farewell for now, my lord.”
“My wife was wondering if you had any ginger root to spare in the Houses,” Denethor said as he showed the Healer to the door. “It always helps our little one’s stomach settle.”
Thorongil realised this was his chance. Denethor adored his infant son, Boromir, and missed no opportunity to boast of him. Taking up the vial of poppy syrup, he slipped two drops in his jailor’s half finished tea. The potion would not hurt him, but he should sleep deeply for hours.
A few moments later, when the Healer finally left, Denethor picked up his mug and took a swig of tea. Grimacing he put the mug down, its contents still unfinished, much to Thorongil’s dismay. Still, maybe he had consumed enough to make him sleepy.
“The tea is cold and tastes rather strange,” Denethor said grimacing. “I will send for some fresh. Would you like some breakfast, Aragorn?”
Thorongil flinched at this fresh use of his true name. “I will just have some toast, please,” he replied, still feeling too nauseous to stomach a full meal. He only hoped his still delicate digestion would not rebel at the sight and smell of Denethor’s favoured morning meal of ham and eggs.
To his surprise when breakfast arrived, it comprised a large plate of toast and butter, together with boiled eggs and crusty bread and honey, the only addition for his companion.
Seeing his look of surprise Denethor said, “I did not wish to order anything that might cause your nausea to return, my friend. Shall I assist you to a chair that you can eat more easily, or would you prefer breakfast in bed?”
“Breakfast in bed, please,” said Thorongil desiring to appear as helpless as possible. To his delight, Denethor yawned; causing him to dare hope that he had imbibed sufficient of the drug to make him sleep. He was starting to feel much stronger now the pain killing herbs had had time to take effect. He nibbled at his coast, but let Denethor hold the cup for him again, willing to endure that humiliation, if he could but lull the man into complacency that he was too weak to attempt to escape.
After he had eaten his fill, an increasingly yawning Denethor brought Thorongil a damp cloth to lave his hands and face. “Would you like me to read to you or maybe you would like to play chess?” he suggested.
Thorongil quickly scanned the books in the room, surprised at how many concerned Elvish lore and the History of the Kings. He requested an account of the Battle of Unnumbered Tears in Quenya, which he espied on far corner of the shelf.
Denethor began to read, but when he reached an account of the strength of the armies and what weapons they bore, his words became slurred and the book fell on his lap, the reader sound asleep.
Thorongil waited to make certain Denethor was sleeping soundly. In repose, the man’s features looked noble, yet surprisingly gentle, with an almost childlike innocence. Strange indeed how the man had changed over these past days!
With the stealth only a Ranger or an Elf can possess, Thorongil slid from the bed. He had no idea where his own clothes might be, but a tunic and breeches lay folded on a chair. He silently donned them over the drawers and nightshirt he was already wearing, together with some boots. They fit perfectly, almost as if they were made for him, though of far finer quality than his own clothing. He was startled to see that the tunic was embroidered with the Stars and Tree of the Kings. What nefarious scheme could Denethor be planning, that he would have ordered such things? Maybe Thorongil was to be held up to public ridicule as a would be king with nothing to back up his claim? Would Denethor force him to wear the garments to his execution, as a final humiliation?
He knew it was time for him to leave Gondor, a realisation that had been growing in his mind for some time. Captain Thorongil was loved by the people, and most especially by Ecthelion, but the Steward was growing old and frail. Thorongil needed to be well away from here before his son inherited the White Rod.
Thorongil cautiously opened the door a few inches. It was fortunately well oiled. There were two Guards at the far end of the corridor. He crept along, concealing himself in alcoves. When a flirtatious maidservant bringing clean laundry distracted the men, he slipped past unnoticed.
Flattening his body against walls and alcoves whenever he was in danger of being observed, Thorongil gradually made his way to the main door and slipped outside. He was somewhat surprised not to have seen any familiar faces amongst the servants he had glimpsed. Most of the staff had worked in the Citadel for years. It were as if they had all been mysteriously replaced overnight. Once, he thought he recognised a gardener, but the realised he was mistaken when he saw the man’s face. It must have been his father, as this man looked at least forty years older than the man he knew.
Thorongil walked openly among the passers by once he was outside. Greatly to his surprise, almost without exception they dipped their heads or bowed to him as he passed, while others called “Good Day, my lord!” Captain Thorongil was popular, but such shows of respect were for a ruler, not a captain!
He was alarmed to see a handful of Southrons in their colourful robes mingling with the Gondorians. They must be enemy spies, but how strange that they made no attempt to disguise themselves!
He was so distracted by his musings that he failed to see a now wide-awake Denethor approaching him together with several guards.
“You must come back to bed, sire, you are not well,” said Denethor.
Panicked, Thorongil ran around the corner to the Court of the Fountain, hoping he could disappear into the buildings flanking the dead tree. To his astonishment, the withered trunk had disappeared and a living tree stood in its place. The Guards were dressed differently too. They were bareheaded and their uniforms bore insignia that he had last seen in portraits of Elendil at Rivendell.
It was all too much for Thorongil. Everything started to spin. . He heard someone running towards him. Denethor’s arms caught him as everything went black.
Powerless to resist, the semi conscious Thorongil was carried back inside. This time, he was taken to a different room. This chamber appeared to belong to a woman. It was tastefully furnished, again with tapestries oddly similar to the ones her recalled from his childhood at Rivendell.
Thorongil could only struggle feebly when Denethor and the Healer undressed him and put him to bed. The Healer mixed a potion, which he politely, but very firmly insisted that Thorongil swallow. He knew from the taste it was intended to induce sleep.
Before he succumbed to the drug, he heard Denethor say in an agitated tone, “How could I have been so careless? I tried not to leave him. I did not even dress in my dressing room, lest he wake and need me!”
“You were drugged, my lord, I can see that your pupils are dilated. You did well to awaken when you did,” the Healer replied. “He is obviously very confused. It might be best to restrain him for his own good.”
“I will not have him humiliated. Remember who he is!” Denethor’s tone was sharp.
“Of course, my lord, as you wish.”
“Will he recover?” Denethor’s tone was now anxious. Thorongil was surprised; for though Denethor was capable of masking his true feelings, he had not known the Steward's heir to be so skilled at deception!
“He should, but it will take time, I fear. Would you like me to stay with him? He must not be left alone in his current state of mind.”
“I will not leave him, but would be grateful for your company, Master Eomund. I will keep guards stationed outside the room at all times now.”
Thorongil’s heart sank still further at these tidings. Denethor and the Healer sat down on chairs either side of the bed, obviously prepared to stay there. Bizarrely, Denethor patted his captive’s hand. Thorongil pretended to be asleep. Within moments, he surrendered to slumber, unable to resist the drugs any longer.
When he awoke again, Thorongil’s head felt much better. There was no sign of his jailors. Slowly he sat up and to his great relief his head did not swim. Darkness had apparently fallen outside, as lamps dimly lighted the room.
Then he noticed her; a woman was lying in bed beside him! She was turned away from him, so that he could not see her face. The long dark hair spread across the pillow suggested that it must be Lady Finduilas. He was obviously in her chamber. This then, was Denethor’s plan against him. For a man to found abed with the Heir to the Stewardship’s wife was high treason. It meant a certain and extremely unpleasant death. Finduilas would escape punishment, if it appeared that he had taken her by force. However had Denethor persuaded his virtuous wife to agree to so evil a plan?
Thorongil feared his fate was sealed. Ecthelion might well love him as a son, but even the Steward could not exonerate him from a situation such as this. He was alone with the lady, in her bed and wearing nothing but a nightshirt!
He cried out in horror, and the woman awoke with a start. She turned to face him. It was not Finduilas but Arwen!
“Whatever has Denethor done to shame you like this? Never would I bring such dishonour upon you, my lady!” Thorongil cried in horror.
Ever since he had glimpsed Arwen walking under the birches at Rivendell, he would have liked nothing better than to wake up each day beside her. Not like this, though, without proving himself worthy of her love and winning her hand in marriage.
“Why should I not lie beside you?” Arwen sounded bewildered. “I am your wife!”
A guard, having heard Thorongil’s cry, knocked on the door. “Is everything well, my lord, my lady?” he called.
“There is naught to for you to be concerned about, but please would you summon the Lord Steward here?”
“Yes, my lady. We will despatch a servant while we wait outside here lest you need us.”
“My wife? I beg you, do not jest so cruelly!” Thorongil protested.
“It is no jest! Of course I am your wife. We wed four years ago come June; and I have borne your child!”
“Child? How can this be?”
”The same way that all couples have children!” Arwen replied. She slid from the bed. Thorongil realised there was a crib in the room.
Donning a robe over her nightgown, Arwen lit more lamps then lifted a child from the cradle and climbed back in bed beside him, the child clasped in her arms. “Look, Estel! “she demanded, “Here is our child, your son Eldarion!”
“Ada!” gurgled the toddler sleepily. He was a handsome child, with an Elven beauty in his face and a look of Elladan and Elrohir as well. Thorongil wanted immediately to reach out to the child, to take him in his arms, acknowledge him; but he could not remember being his father.
“See, does he not bear your likeness of you, in his dark hair and grey eyes?” said Arwen.
“He looks like you,” Thorongil said doubtfully. ”You have dark hair and grey eyes too.”
Arwen’s placid demeanour finally shattered. “How dare you!” she cried. “You would question my virtue and your own son’s birthright? I know Faramir said you are unwell, but this is too much! This little one is wiser than you, as he recognises his own father!” She returned the sleepy child to his crib as she spoke.
“My apologies, my lady, “ but I certainly have no recollection of wedding you, much less of fathering your child!” Thorongil protested. “And who is this Faramir?”
“Why your best friend and Steward of course!”
“I have never heard of the man! Ecthelion is Steward here. What trick is Denethor using you to play?” Thorongil covered his eyes, wondering what strange, painful dream this could be. He removed his hands, but Arwen and the child were still there. "Lady, how came you here," he asked softly, fearing that some horror had addled her wits, and fearing for Imladris. "Does Master Elrond know you have left the Elven realms?"
“Do you not recall my father bringing me to claim your hand in marriage?” Arwen enquired. “We wed with my father’s blessing, ere he sailed to rejoin my mother.”
Thorongil swallowed hard. If she spoke the truth, he would never again see the one who had been as a father to him.
“What year is it?” Arwen asked suddenly.
“Why? Twenty nine eighty, of course,”
It was Arwen’s turn to cover her eyes in shock. ”No, my love, forty four years have passed since then.”
“It cannot be! This is all some trick!” Thorongil protested. “Denethor has had me attacked!”
“You fell from your horse when out riding with Faramir,” Arwen explained gently. ”I fear the blow you sustained to your head has caused you to lose your memory.”
“No, that cannot be! Denethor has had me beaten and drugged and holds you under duress!”
“I have never even met Denethor,” Arwen said patiently. “There is no doubt that you fell from Roheryn, the bruises on your body prove it. Take off your nightshirt and look for yourself!”
“What? Certainly not, it would be most improper!”
“Estel. I am your wife! There is nothing improper. I have already seen your injuries while you were asleep when I returned from visiting Éowyn. Let me help you.” She reached out to undo the laces at his neck.
“Thank you, my lady, but I can undress myself!” Blushing scarlet, Thorongil reluctantly slid the garment from his upper body. He would truly rather fight a hoard of fully armed Orcs, but it seemed that there was no alternative than to bare his skin to the Lady of Imladris.
“Now look carefully,” Arwen said. “You have bruises on your left arm and across your ribs on the left side only. The injury to your head is on the left too, which is entirely consistent with falling from a horse.” Tenderly, she traced slender fingers across his bare chest. Thorongil tried hard to suppress the delightful sensations her touch aroused in him. He wanted to believe she was his wife and such pleasure was allowed, but it was all too much to comprehend.
Just then a knock on the door interrupted them. “It is Faramir,” a voice called.
“Come in!” Arwen answered, pulling on a robe over her nightgown. Thorongil was dismayed at the prospect of being caught in such a compromising situation. He hastily pulled his nightshirt back over his shoulders.
“Lord Denethor, I understand you might have a grudge against me, but please release this innocent lady!” Thorongil said with as much dignity as he could muster.
“He has lost his memory, I fear, Faramir,” said Arwen. “He thinks he is still Captain Thorongil, you are Denethor, and that your grandfather is Steward here. He believes that you seek to harm him.”
Denethor came and at a nod from Arwen sat down on the edge of the bed. ”That would explain much,” he said his eyes full of concern and compassion. “I am not my father, mellon nîn,” he said gently. “He died four years ago next month. You are the King of Gondor and Arnor, Lady Arwen is your wife and I am your Steward.”
“But you must be Denethor?” Thorongil protested. “And yet - now that I behold you, your eyes seem different and you have a look of the Lady Finduilas about you. And you were so kind.”
”You were ever kind to me,” said Faramir. “At our very first meeting you saved my life before you fought to defeat Sauron. I will fetch your crown and. Many people witnessed both events. There are paintings to commemorate them. You found a new White Tree, which you saw today in the Court of the Fountain. Surely that must be the proof if nothing else is?”
“Sauron defeated? The Kingship restored? How could I not recall such things that I have dreamed of, finally coming to pass? Can a son of Denethor’s truly be my friend?” Overwhelmed, Thorongil buried his face in his hands.
The two men regarded each other in increasing dismay as the situation sunk in.
“You recall nothing of all we have been through together?” Faramir asked sadly.
Thorongil shook his head.
“He is as dear as a son to you, much as I believe, you were to his grandsire. It is not really so strange that you are close,” said Arwen. “Can you not recall all the happy times you have shared with Eldarion and me?”
Thorongil sadly shook his head. ”I have lost over forty years of my life! “ he lamented. “I know no-one, and my wife is a near stranger to me!”
“You would remember my Uncle Imrahil,” said Faramir trying to sound cheerful. ”He has aged, but I am certain you would know him.”
“Maybe.” Thorongil replied absently. “But how can I be King if I cannot remember!”
Faramir placed a comforting arm around his shoulders. This time, Thorongil did not recoil from the contact, recognising the genuine affection and concern behind the gesture. King and Steward remained thus in silence.
“Let me think who else would have known you forty four years ago,” Arwen said at last. ”My brothers, of course.”
Thorongil visibly brightened. “My Mother and Halbarad are closest kin to me,” he exclaimed. “If we could send for them, maybe I could be healed!”
“Alas!” said Arwen sadly. “ I fear both are now beyond the circles of this world.”
Thorongil’s look of bleak anguish at these tidings was heartrending to behold. He struggled to compose himself. “How came this Faramir to be my Steward?” he asked, aiming to distract himself from tidings that made him want to weep.
“Little Boromir was Denethor's heir; what happened to the lad?”
“Faramir is Denethor’s younger son, born in 2983 after you left Gondor.
Boromir died in the struggle against the Dark Lord,” explained Arwen.
“Let him fetch the tokens he said he could produce then!” Aragorn demanded.
“I wish to see the paintings too.”
“You should rest, my love,” Arwen protested. “Can it not wait until the morrow?”
“If I am King, my people will need me to be whole,” said Aragorn. “The sooner I learn the truth, the better.”
“I can soon fetch the crown and sceptre,” said Faramir. ”I have the keys to the chamber in which they are kept.” He immediately left the room.
Arwen sighed. “Some of the pictures you wish to see are in my sitting room,” she said. ”Come!”
Thorongil was forced to accept her supporting arm as she led him into an adjacent chamber. It was sumptuously furnished with many paintings and tapestries upon the walls.
“There is our wedding,” said Arwen showing him a large painting depicting her standing beside him smiling joyfully while an equally joyous Elrond presented Aragorn with ancient sceptre of the Kings of Arnor. Thorongil eyed it doubtfully. This was what he dreamt of, but could it have truly happened?
Thorongil next studied the largest one, which showed his old friend, Gandalf placing the crown of Gondor upon his head. Faramir stood beside the Istar, holding the Steward’s White Rod. Thorongil’s eye was drawn towards the presence of four Hobbits in the painting.
“Hobbits live in the Shire!” he protested. “There are none in Gondor!”
“It was two Hobbits who destroyed the Enemy’s Ring, one of them was Frodo Baggins, Bilbo's cousin and heir; and the other was his gardener and friend, Samwise Gamgee." Arwen's voice softened, with a tone of reverence he had only heard in her voice when she spoke of Lúthien, Beren and other great heroes of the First Age. “The other two, Meriadoc Brandybuck and Peregrin Took, performed great deeds as well. No Man could have imagined the path by which you came to the throne.”
For the first time that night, Thorongil felt this might be true. However devious a plot, Denethor could have devised, the man knew little of Hobbits. And not even Denethor could have imagined so far-fetched a story as that of the One Ring destroyed by two hobbits, even if one of them was kin to the Burglar of Erebor. Thorongil stared hard at the picture, trying to remember.
At that moment, Faramir returned, staggering under the weight of the boxes he bore. ”Show him the sceptre,” said Arwen.
Faramir unlocked a long box and took out the sceptre of Annuminas and handed it to Aragorn, who studied it intently. This was the sceptre that Elrond said he would never surrender until he was proved worthy. Elrond did not lie, neither did his daughter. Then he remembered the mingled joy and sorrow on Elrond’s face when he had brought both the sceptre and his daughter to Minas Tirith. The painted figure looked little like him, beaming almost foolishly in a way that Elrond never could have managed even at his most merry. Thorongil swayed. “I think I remember,” he said. “It is starting to come back to me. Your father brought you to me the day before we were wed. You rode a grey palfrey and wore a blue and silver gown."
“I did indeed!” Arwen exclaimed joyfully.
Aragorn stumbled as his head started to swim. “I feel faint,” he said.
Arwen and Faramir led Aragorn back to the bedroom and sat him on the bed. Acting on a sudden impulse, Faramir sent a servant to fetch some hot water. When it was brought, he rummaged in Aragorn’s healing supplies for the athelas and bade the King crumble some in the bowl.
This time, Aragorn did not try to feign ignorance. He inhaled the refreshing vapours deeply. Suddenly he looked at Faramir with a light of love and knowledge kindled in his eyes. “I remember!” he exclaimed. ”When I first met you, you were near death and I revived you with this. You opened your eyes and hailed me as your king!”
Faramir smiled, though tears glinted in eyes. “That was indeed so, and it gladdens my heart indeed that you remember!” he said.
Tears trickled down Aragorn’s cheeks as returning memories flooded his brain. He knew it would take time to fully recover but he knew who he was!” I am Aragorn Elessar Telcontar, King of both Gondor and Arnor,” he whispered.
Laughing and crying together, Arwen and Faramir both embraced him.
Despite his still aching head, Aragorn felt content for the first time since he had awakened after the accident. He knew enough Healers’ lore to be certain that the rest of his memories would return. Meanwhile, he had his name, his purpose, his wife and child, and the best friend that any King, or Man, ever had. It was enough.