Aragorn stood upon the ramparts of the Citadel, overlooking the field and away beyond, the causeway that crossed Anduin. In the bright morning, he could see across to the eastern bank, shrouded in mist that the Sun had not yet burned away. Where the orc camp had lit the night, it now lay silent and deserted. Small fires and wisps of white smoke rose above the mist and between the river and forest beyond, the earth looked trampled and battered like soft mud beneath heavy feet.
The causeway gate and stone towers guarding it on either side lay in shambles, the wood and iron splintered and twisted, while stone debris lay across the road. Aragorn recalled hearing the blast and seeing the fire of some unknown power of Mordor rending the gate and towers. The field that lay before the walls was littered with the slain bodies of orcs, shattered siege engines, and the remains of weapons and armor left behind by the fleeing enemy. The smell of smoke and death filled the air, blown over the Citadel by a soft wind from the East.
He felt heavy and tired, but more than fatigue weighed on his heart as he stood aside from the parapet to allow two soldiers, carrying the body of a comrade, to pass by. The morning’s work was grim, and he aided men wherever he could. Though the battle had been won, many sat in quiet solitude, with wounds unseen, the names and memories of their companions fresh in their hearts. The day moved slowly, and the defenders of Cair Andros became masons, carpenters, and blacksmiths.
Within the Citadel, in a far northern corner, injured men gathered in a courtyard, which was surrounded by buildings with open windows that looked north and west. The wounded sat against walls and against a large cistern in the center of the courtyard. Two trees provided shade for the yard. Aragorn tended to some, wrapping their wounds and spending his remaining supply of Athelas that he brought from the north to soothe their pain and ward away infection. Men who witnessed him the night before marveled at his tenderness and the change in his face as he softened and whispered words to them in elvish tongues, and they knew clearly that he was from a world that seemed wholly different from their own. His words sent warmth into their bodies and a haze in their minds as if they merely rested after a hard day’s work beneath a tree at the height of a fair summer.
Aragorn came into one of the buildings and walked among the beds where men lay and found back near an open window Tiror, seated beside the wounded Celador. They tenderly held hands and spoke together with smiles upon their faces. Celador’s leg was tightly bound and the color in his face told Aragorn that the ranger was quickly recovering. As Aragorn approached, Celador saw him and waved his free hand to him.
“Thorongil, I am pleased to see you,” he said. “Because of you I lie here, now, and not upon the banks!”
Aragorn smiled and stood beside the bed next to Tiror, “Did I carry you back to the Citadel? Nay, your men saved your life.”
“But the banks did not fall, and you cannot have others take your credit, there,” Celador said, laughing. “And from the sound of it, you saved the citadel as well!” He looked at Tiror who blushed.
“Indeed, I have told Celador of how you led the men upon the ramparts, and saved the great gate from the ram,” Tiror said.
“You mean, where Tellagor and his archers shot the enemy’s munitions?” Aragorn said, waving his hand.
“I think we have met our match, and our attempts at flattery are in vain,” Celador laughed, rubbing his forehead.
“I came to serve Gondor, and thus I have as best I could,” Aragorn said. “It was my honor to serve you in your hour of need,” he put a hand on his chest and bowed.
Tiror kissed Celador’s forehead and stood, “There shall be a feast tonight. The men will toil through the day, but once the dead are laid to rest, I shall call them to rest themselves, and we shall celebrate. It is never good to delay a celebration of victory too long,” he said. “Would Celador be able by then, would you sit beside us at our table?”
“That would also be my honor, my lord,” Aragorn said, bowing his head again.
Tiror looked back at Celador, “Then, we shall see you in the eve. I give you leave to do as you wish for today. You have already aided many, and you must renew your own strength. You may have come to aid Gondor, but by caring for yourself today do you also strengthen Gondor tomorrow.”
Aragorn bowed once more and left the two men. He walked back through the beds and into the courtyard and he wandered the pathways of the Citadel until he found a secluded corner of wall, and on the other side, looking to the west through the parapets, he saw a vast green plain, with copses of trees at intervals, and Anduin winding away, looping back and forth on itself to the north and west. He smiled and the thought of Lothlorien and Imladris came to him like a dream. He thought of the lady Arwen Undomiel and how he found her standing beneath a grove, barefoot and wandering amid flowers. He slowly nodded off to sleep, back to a stone, and his head leaning against the parapet.
There was not enough room for all of the defenders of Cair Andros inside the hall that night, and many still ate and drank at tables spread outside among the rubble of the battle. The mood was joyous, and spirits were high throughout the citadel. Within the hall, the captains sat at tables together, and many soldiers filled in the spaces. At a wide table at the head of the room, sat Tiror, Celedor, Aragorn, and two other captains.
With a strong fist, Tiror pounded the table and all voices died down and all in the room looked toward him. He stood and raised his cup of ale, “Tonight we honor those brothers who no longer stand beside us. From smith to captain, they stood as a shield against Mordor. And now, Gondor mourns their passing, but celebrates their victory. Let mighty Anduin carry them swiftly, and by their sacrifice, may we continue to stand here, against the shadow.”
The men in the room erupted into a shout, and they rapped their fists on their tables, and all were quiet as they drank. But Tiror did not sit; he looked down at Celador at his side and continued, “Those who are no longer here do not tell the whole tale. For many among us still, also bear responsibility for our survival. Celador, Captain of Ithilien, who came to our aid with all speed! His men held the banks from the enemy, and he himself suffered at their hands!”
Another shout erupted as men echoed Celador’s name. The ranger blushed and bent his head, smiling. The captain beside him threw an arm around his shoulder and shook his hand. Tiror’s face carried a wide smile, and he turned to Aragorn. “Beside me here is a man many of you do not yet know, though, saw him you may have upon the banks, upon the ramparts, and among the house of healing. From the north he came, our kin from long ages past, a man of Arnor, Thorongil! I praise him, as well!”
“Thorongil!” the room shouted at once. They raised their cups and drank to him, and Aragorn smiled wide, and saluted the Men of Gondor in return.
The feast continued with many in high spirits. The men sang songs to their comrades and drank to their hearts’ content. Deep voices raised high in song filled Aragorn with warmth. He ate and drank his fill, and talked with Celador and Tiror as old friends. There was much he wished to know of them, and he spent much of the evening asking of their histories.
“Little is there to say of myself,” Celador said, finally, after Tiror had finished his tale. “I am of Anorien, from a small village where men and women farm and raise livestock. A far cry from the walls of Minas Tirith and the Pelennor,” he said, making a jab at Tiror and his upbringing.
“And how did you two come to know one another?” Aragorn asked.
Celador laughed, “We entered the Steward’s service at about the same time, and I had ridden to Minas Tirith.”
“Looking to make a name for himself, he was!” Tiror leaned over and shouted over the noise.
Celador shook his head, “Nonsense, I merely wished to do more than farm, as my father and his father before him had done. And I met Tiror in the city, and he was trained for war it seemed, already. I took to mail and plate poorly. But, he shone in it, and I was envious.”
“Indeed, he would never make a Tower Guard, but I could not look away from his speed and his grace. Such skill with a bow I could never master! Though we conspired together at night to strengthen our weaknesses, I believe we knew that we were destined to take branching paths,” Tiror said.
“We found our paths, indeed. Though they split at Osgiliath, and Tiror stayed at the garrison there, I left for Ithilien. My heart was glad to be among the wood and wild lands, so similar to those I grew up roaming. But, heavy my heart was, always being so far from Tiror,” Celador said.
“But such a fine pair you make! Each complementing the other, such as you would hope to find in any pair; your strength holds up the other where he may be without. I am glad that my errand led to your reunion,” Aragorn said.
Tiror and Celador toasted him and laughed, “To Thorongil! The Eagle of Cair Andros! The Reunifier!” Other men heard the shouts of “Thorongil” and “Eagle” and lifted their voices and cups, too, though they knew not of what the captains spoke.
“Now that our fight is won, it comes time for us to depart once more. Though, it will be a joy to have peaceful days and nights between then and now. Thorongil, tomorrow, we shall all speak again, and your fate, not our meetings, will be the subject!” Tiror said, raising his cup once more and finishing his ale.
The following day, Aragorn met Tiror, Celador, and other captains in Tiror’s chambers, where they gathered around the same table as before the battle. Tiror was busy discussing further plans with his men, and how they would refortify the island and the surrounding environment to hunt for the remnants of the enemy. Scouts and some of Celedaor’s rangers were preparing to leave to seek the trail of retreat. Tiror estimated they had lost several hundred men, and many more wounded. Celador’s rangers were weakened by half, and the grief of their loss showed on his face.
Aragorn stood beside the door as the other captains left the room, with only Tiror and Celador remaining at the table. Tiror called Aragorn and he sat down with them. “Our thanks to you, Thorongil, for your warning, and your service in the hour of need,” Tiror said.
“I wished to speak with you, Tiror, about the message I received in Pelargir, and how I came upon it,” Aragorn said. This piqued Tiror’s interest, and Celador’s also, and they exchanged glances before Tiror beckoned Aragorn to continue.
“Alcaron had news of this attack, but far west, in Pelargir. That did not land upon me at the moment, but near to the battle, I had time to think of the circumstances, and I found them to be unusual,” Aragorn said.
“Hmm, I do think you are right in that regard at least,” Tiror said. “From one border to another, Gondor has enemies, so it may not be so strange for news of their plans to be found far and wide.”
Aragorn thought for a moment, “Aye, that may be true. Perhaps more shall come from the enemy? Were they conspiring for strikes upon your realm on both fronts?”
“It is possible. I cannot speak to the duties of Lord Alcaron, and how he may have come across such intelligence,” Tiror said. “His duty he fulfilled in this case, however.”
“That I do not doubt!” Aragorn said, regretting that his inquiry may have been seen by the captains as disparaging a lord of Gondor. “Also, the night of the battle, I thought it strange that the enemy would send such a force across the river itself, unless they knew of such weaknesses in your defense as the postern door to the south, and other such places.”
Celador spoke, “Many spies range through Ithilien. I and my men attempt to thwart them as best we can. Though, our numbers are fewer than I would like for such a task.”
“This I fear is how Alcaron came into possession of intelligence from the enemy. Common thugs attacked him at the Leaping Fish, where we met. But, it was not a common thug who came to finish the deed,” Aragorn said.
“I see your meaning. More skilled than the hired muscle, with more wit than an orc?” Celador asked. Aragorn nodded.
“You may be right, Thorongil, and there may be eyes and ears within Gondor that wish to see and hear our plans, and who wish to do us harm,” Tiror said. “But, that is for me to discover here at Cair Andros, and for Celador in Ithilien. Now, we must discuss your fate. Though I cannot bind you to stay at Cair Andros, I feel it is now my duty to send you to Minas Tirith.”
Aragorn looked at him and then to Celador, “I do not wish to interfere with the laws and customs of your realm,” he said. “If I must stand before your Steward and explain my purpose, I shall do so.”
Tiror shook his head, “I do not send you on that road for judgement. Quite the contrary. Celador said you came south to aid Gondor, and though that you have done, there is yet more to do. If you pledge your strength for more than one day and night, I believe the Steward, and his council shall have say over where they send you.”
“I would have you return with me to Ithilien, if I could,” Celador said. “This errand has decreased our numbers, and your sword would be welcome.”
“A charge I would gladly accept, if I am thus ordered,” Aragorn smiled.
“Celador speaks hastily,” Tiror rolled his eyes. “He is to stay here until he is able to fully walk again. His wound will take time to heal. But, you shall leave today, and guards I will send along with you. They shall carry this,” he held up a piece of paper. “I have described your deeds, with Celador speaking on your behalf, as well. Ecthelion will greet you warmly, if you present this to him. And thus, he may know your skill before he decides where next to send you.”
Aragorn stood, and took the paper from Tiror. He smiled warmly, and Tiror stood and shook his hand. Aragorn leaned across the table and shook hands with Celador so that the ranger did not have to stand. “Two greater captains I could not have dreamed of meeting,” Aragorn said.
“Nay, three Captains of Gondor stand here, today,” Celador said. “For if Ecthelion does not deem it so, you shall always have such a place among my company.”
“We would be honored to have the Eagle of Cair Andros here, and any man will welcome you, should you return,” Tiror said. He tapped his finger on the chest of Aragorn’s cuirass and the eagle there.
“Farewell, my friends. I wish happiness to you both! May this time of healing be a reprieve for you, before duty calls you once more,” Aragorn said, and he bowed to them both.
Though he had seen it only days before, the Rammas Echor filled Aragorn with wonder still. A broad wall of at least twenty feet in height. As Aragorn traveled with three other soldiers on horseback from Cair Andros along the Ithilien Road, and then west through ruined Osgiliath, they came upon the Causeway Forts. Two towers stood on either side of the wide road, and a great iron gate stood open. The wall ran in either direction as far as Aragorn could see, and several leagues lay between them and the great city of Minas Tirith.
Trumpets rang out as the riders approached and men called from high upon the towers. Guards greeted them and Aragorn did not draw their gaze, as they spoke in a friendly manner with the riders who accompanied them. Clad in silver plate and helmets, one carried a black banner with the Livery of Elendil upon it. The other rider handed to one of the guards a scroll and after reading it, the guard waved them through the gate. Aragorn rode between the two other riders, and they galloped along a dirt road that passed beneath pleasant trees and then into a wide plain with farms and small towns on either side.
The Pelennor Fields were green and plentiful, and men and women tilled the earth along the road, and crops grew in great numbers and colors. Small villages and towns dotted the great plain, and groves of trees stood here and there, providing peaceful shade for farmers and their children. The sounds that came from the farms and trees were all too familiar to him, as children sang and laughed from within and below the trees. Men called and shouted as the riders rode by, standing and stretching their backs. They called to their horses as oxen as they drove teams of them across plowed fields.
“Such a lovely place!” Aragorn exclaimed.
“Indeed, the Pelennor is home to many, and these people provide food and other goods to the city, as well as all of Gondor,” one of the riders said.
“They are protected by such strong walls, as well,” Aragorn said.
“Aye, the Rammas was built by Ecthelion, since the fall of Ithilien. No force of the enemy could breach it!” The soldier said proudly.
Aragorn smiled and nodded to him as they rode on, and approaching the city, the land rose and rolled gently with hills and stone before the mountains. As they rounded a final corner in the road, and the trees opened up, Aragorn saw before them a great sight. Beyond small hills, a great black wall, smooth and glistening like black glass, stood high above them, and rounded the hill to the north and south. It stretched on and its height was marvelous, with white banners flowing in the breeze and small towers and guardhouses at intervals. Rising above the wall, still, were the many levels of Minas Tirith.
He looked up and his mouth fell open as he marveled at the white stone and the great rock that spurred out from the mountain overhead. Aragorn could see each level as they stood, rising in smaller circles to the citadel, where high above the plain, a white tower gleamed in the sunlight. Aragorn held the reins in his left and shielded his eyes from the sun with his right, and the riders that trotted along beside him laughed to themselves.
“It is a wonder, is it not?” one of them said.
“I have never seen anything like it,” Aragorn said. “Even in Imladris, where the valley has beauty that I could hardly name, and the house of Elrond is like a jewel among trees, never have I seen such work by the hands of men. I dare say it could only be rivaled by few of the dwarf realms which I have seen.”
Aragorn could tell that his judgment pleased, and perhaps left a sour taste in the mouths of the riders. They rode quietly for a moment, and he thought he may have spoken ill of the city by comparing its stoneworks with that of dwarves, for the men seemed to take personal pride in the city, as if only the hands of great men could achieve such things.
At the great gate of Gondor, wide enough for some twenty riders to pass through shoulder-to-shoulder, the riders called out and a trumpet rang. With a loud grinding of gears and stone, the gates slowly opened and they trotted upon white stone into a courtyard with a street, Rath Celerdain, that ran along the first level and up to the second gate. They passed swiftly, riding east and west and the roads and levels folded back on one another and they rode through each gate until at last reaching the sixth level. There, they dismounted, and their horses were kept well in stables for soldiers and lords of Gondor. They walked the rest of the way, up the hill further and to the final gate, which opened on the citadel.
The courtyard reached far across the spur of the mountain, and was paved with white stone out to a parapet that divided the courtyard from the rocky spur’s peak. In the center stood a bare tree, surrounded by a fountain and a sward of green. Before the door of the courtyard stood two guards, wearing black garb embroidered with the Livery of Elendil. Their helms shined in the sun and wings of sea-birds extended from them. They were tall and fair, and even Aragorn felt small in their presence. Knowing the appearance of the soldiers who were with him, they allowed the three to pass into the courtyard freely, and Aragorn saw more of the Tower Guard standing watch by the tree.
At last, they entered a great hall of white columns and dark, marbled stone. Long it ran until it ended in a high chair, the throne of Gondor. But no man sat there, and only an aged man, with dark hair mixed with wisps of white, sat on a lesser chair below. The man stood and immediately the two men with Aragorn stopped and bowed their heads. Aragorn abruptly stopped as well, though he took steps further than the other soldiers, and he bowed also.
“Greetings! Come!” the aged man called, his voice deep, but warm. The three approached and stopped short of the chair and the aged man greeted each in turn. “I am Ecthelion, son of Turgon, Steward of Gondor,” he said to Aragorn.
“Well met, my lord. I am Thorongil, of the Dunedain in the North,” Aragorn said.
“Ah, indeed. Eagle of the Star, a fitting name for you!” Ecthelion said. Aragorn looked up at him in surprise, “A bird reached us ere you came, and Tiror spoke highly of your deeds at Cair Andros. The men there called you the ‘Eagle’, and now I see why. Such a fine cuirass!”
“Made in Pelargir, my lord,” Aragorn said.
Ecthelion dismissed the soldiers, who handed him a scroll and departed silently. “Come, Thorongil, let us speak together.” He led Aragorn out of the great hall and into a smaller chamber where they sat in gilded chairs at a round table, six other chairs sat empty around it also, and there were shelves of books along the walls, and many papers on the table.
“You have further word from Tiror, yes?” Ecthelion asked. Aragorn produced the scroll given to him at Cair Andros and handed it over. The Steward unrolled it and read it silently, nodding only at times, and then, he let it fall to the table. “Little more did he reveal here than in the messenger he sent earlier. Though he trusts you well, now, there is a strong practice to send double messages in times such as this, especially from our borderlands to the east.”
“Tiror wished I see you, to find a station in your service, be that at Cair Andros, or elsewhere,” Aragorn said.
“Aye, and such a station is well-earned, for Tiror has vouched for you, and such an honor I cannot ignore,” Ecthelion said. “But first, tell me of your journey here, for I understand you had some trouble in Pelargir, and were sent upon this errand which has now led you to my city.”
“Indeed,” Aragorn said. “When I traveled south, I expected to reach your city at leisure, but that was not to be.”
“Hm, Pelargir can be a dangerous place, though the lords there do as best they can,” Ecthelion rubbed his stubbled chin. “Such closeness to the sea and to our enemies.”
“I found the city quite fair, local trouble aside,” Aragorn said.
“Lord Alcaron’s trouble,” Ecthelion said. “I tell you, that man seems to attract such perils, and how I do not know!”
“I have asked that myself,” Aragorn said, though more gravely than Ecthelion.
The Steward’s mood changed, “Oh? Of what do you speak?”
“I spoke to Tiror after the battle, and we pondered such a question among ourselves, and Celador, his companion, a ranger of Ithilien,” Aragorn said.
“Yes, I know Celador, and he is a valiant man. I could never hope for a better pair as Tiror and Celador to protect North Ithilien,” Ecthelion said.
“I judge them the same as you,” said Aragorn. “But, we pondered the nature of Alcaron’s warning, and how he came by such news so far west. For, by the time I reached Cair Andros, and with little delay in Ithilien, the attack was imminent, and Tiror had prepared for many days.”
“Hmm, this is strange, indeed,” Ecthelion said. “Though, I suspect Alcaron did his duty as best he could. As I said, many enemies hide in Pelargir, and many of our own people have fallen to the shadow, I fear.”
“I wished not to press the point at Cair Andros, for Tiror and Celador seemed uneasy as I may have hinted at Alcaron’s loyalty,” Aragorn said. “But, whether he did so knowingly, or not, I find his role thus far to be strange at least.”
Ecthelion sank back in his chair and sighed. He rubbed his forehead with one hand. “I fear there is more afoot in Minas Tirith than I know. I believe you have made a fair point, and that you may be a man to uncover the truth, here. Tiror was right, and I do wish to find a station for you in service to Gondor. However, I do not yet think that it is at the border, defending walls or gates. Would you enter my service, publicly we shall make it, though, your task remains private?”
Aragorn straightened, “I would, my lord.”
Ecthelion smiled, “Excellent! Then, we shall have you appear at court tomorrow. There, I will honor you, Thorongil, Eagle of Cair Andros, and Captain of Gondor! But, following that, you and I shall speak again, and with my trust, I shall send you on another errand, and I hope you prove yourself once more.”