Epilogue: The Last Steward
26 September, 30 IV.
The torches guttered, as the lofty doors at the far end of the hall swung open. Aragorn saw the flames twist and flatten, and he knew that his time of private grief was over. Still, he did not turn to greet the Men who paced silently down the length of the Great Hall toward him. He kept his eyes on the flames, on the bier they guarded, his hands clenched tightly on the white rod that lay across his knees.
The younger of the two men halted well back from the foot of the dais. The elder moved up to the lowest step, where stood the Steward's chair, and waited in respectful silence for his King to acknowledge him.
At length, Aragorn spoke without turning. "Is it time?"
"That is for you to say, my king," Faramir answered.
Aragorn sucked in a deep, steadying breath and pushed himself slowly, awkwardly to his feet. He had spent all the watches of the night seated on this stone stair, saying and saying again the farewells that he could not believe in his heart and shedding the tears that seemed never to end. With the coming of day he had found calm, if not peace, and his eyes were dry. But his body was weary, stiff with age and cold, and he felt every moment of his one hundred and twenty years hang heavily upon him. Faramir made as if to help him rise, climbing another step toward him and reaching a hand to catch his arm, but Aragorn stilled him with a gesture. He met Faramir upon the lowest step and paused to lay the staff of Stewardship across the arms of the Steward's chair.
"I am grateful that you are come," he said. Turning his desolate gaze on the younger man, he added, "Both of you."
"You need only ask, lord. We are yours to command."
Aragorn shook his head wearily and turned to look at the flickering torches again. "This is not a time for commands, my friend, but for shared grief and bitter choices."
Abandoning his formal manner, Faramir caught the King's arm in a firm clasp and said, earnestly, "You know that I and all my people stand with you, in any choice you make. Do not fear us, Aragorn, and do not doubt yourself on our behalf."
"That is why I called you here before the rest. I must be certain that you understand," Aragorn murmured.
"I do. I would have it no other way."
The dark head turned, and eyes that seemed to swallow the light, so profound was the emptiness behind them, met Faramir's unflinching gaze. "I will not be forsworn."
Tears sprang to Faramir's eyes. "And I would not have it so."
"What of you, Elboron?" Aragorn shot a piercing look at the young man who hovered well behind his father. "Do you accept the decision of your King? Can you be content with the future he has chosen for you?"
Elboron stepped swiftly forward and dropped to one knee before his lord, fair head bowed, one hand clasping the pommel of his sword. "I am content, my lord King."
"Rise and let me look upon you."
The young man stood as gracefully as he had knelt, and he lifted his head to meet the King's eyes. Aragorn gazed into his face, reading the pride, the wisdom and the acceptance there, all of it overlaid with a veil of sorrow that leant him a gravity beyond his years. He strongly resembled Faramir, both in face and character, and never had Aragorn felt a moment's doubt of his loyalty or his skill as soldier and statesman.
Mustering the travesty of a smile, he placed his hands on Elboron's shoulders and kissed him lightly on the forehead. "You are a solace to me, son of Faramir."
"What of Caladmir?" Faramir asked softly. "What of Boromir's son?"
Aragorn released Elboron and stepped back. Once again, his eyes strayed to the torches and the figure lying so still between them, and he made no answer.
"Is he not also worthy of his King's love?"
"Aye. Worthy indeed."
"Is he not to take up his father's honors?"
Aragorn felt afresh the weight of his terrible loss, and his shoulders drooped beneath it. "Boromir's children will have all that I can in honor give them."
Before Faramir could speak again, Aragorn turned away and climbed the wide steps to the top of the dais. Faramir followed, and together they approached the bier. The torches flickered in the currents of their passage, seeming to draw away from the men as they came.
Aragorn cast them a look of loathing. "Who placed torches so near him?"
"The Guard kindled them as a sign of respect. They knew no better, and Boromir can no longer be troubled by them."
"Aye, and yet I cannot but shudder at the sight of them."
"Nor I." Faramir gave the baleful lights a final, darkling glance, then he stepped up beside his King and gazed down at the figure laid out before them.
There, upon a litter draped with white and silver cloth, lay Boromir, son of Denethor, Prince of Anórien and Steward of Gondor. His hands were folded quietly upon his breast, empty, and his head was bare of all save the black cloth that covered his eyes. Age sat lightly upon him - as it did upon all true heirs of Númenor, even the lesser ones such as Denethor's sons - but injury and illness had harried the flesh from his bones, leaving his features drawn and seemingly harsh. To Aragorn, who knew that face more intimately than he did his own and who had seen death in many guises, he looked neither unnaturally stern nor newly at peace. He simply looked dead, as all men did when the passion and fire of life had left them. It was because Boromir had burned with a hotter fire than most that his emptiness now brought such unbearable pain to those who looked upon him.
In the watchful silence, Aragorn could hear the hiss and snap of the torches and feel Faramir's grief like a living presence between them, breathing chill and damp and festering dread into the air. His own grief lay in the stupor of utter exhaustion, subdued for a time but at a terrible cost. It had taken him all the night to do it, wracked his body and spirit almost beyond endurance, and always with the certainty that the pain would rise again in all its virulent strength to sink its poisoned claws into his heart. But not until his duty was done and his friend laid to rest in the House of the Kings, where Aragorn would one day join him.
In that thought lay his torment and his hope. The gift of Ilúvatar was bitter indeed, for those left behind, yet it was given at the last to all Men. Even to a King out of legend. With Queen and realm on the one hand, calling him to his labors among the peoples of Middle-earth, and the hope of a dear friend's greeting on the other, he felt himself drawn upon a rack, torn and bloodied with the agony of loss and delay.
Aragorn knew that such doubts could not last. He knew that he must open the doors to the Hall, suffer the body of his Steward to be carried out, and see it brought to the Silent Street, never to return. Then he must take up his crown and his duties again, despite the wound in his heart and the empty place at his right hand, and none must guess how close he came to choosing the other road while he sat alone and wept the darkness away. Such were the burdens of a King.
Drawing that kingship about him like a shining cloak, Aragorn straightened his shoulders and lifted his chin. He wore no ornament upon his head save a bright star, bound with a slender fillet of silver - the same he had worn at his crowning, upon the Pelennor Fields - and yet it seemed as though the high, wingéd helm of Eärnur gleamed and flickered upon his brow. Turning a kindly gaze upon the Man beside him, he said, softly,
"It is time. Summon the Guard and bring the Halflings to me."
They stepped from the cool dimness of the antechamber into the brilliant sun of an autumn morning, yet it appeared to Aragorn as though the city had been covered with a blanket of snow. White hung from every window and parapet, fluttered from the roofs of buildings atop staves and pikes, adorned the garments of every creature who flocked the streets of the silent, mourning city. Flowers, banners, scarves and bits of fabric woven into clasps or lacings. Great silken banners hung from the upper windows of the Citadel, sheathing the stone in gleaming white. The Tower Guard, resplendent in their black and silver livery, wore sashes of white silk tied from shoulder to hip, covering the device of the tree and stars, in remembrance of their Captain's fabled ride from the city gates. Even the White Tree herself had chosen to honor the fallen son of Gondor. Though the last flower of the year had long since fallen from her branches, one great bloom had opened in the night, a delicate and sweet-scented gift hanging just within reach.
Aragorn stepped into the Court and, under the eyes of the waiting throng, approached the Tree. Behind him, four guardsmen carried the bier to the edge of the greensward and halted there. To either side of the litter stood small figures that might have been mistaken for children among the tall Men of the South, had not their fame gone before them and their bearing proclaimed them princes of their kind. Merry and Pippin had ridden up to the gates of the city a bare week past, arriving unlooked-for and only just in time to greet their old friend, the Steward, before he slipped beyond reach of their voices. It was Merry who sat with Aragorn through the last days of Boromir's illness and Merry who placed a farewell kiss upon his brow as he died. Now it was the Hobbits who stood with Aragorn at Boromir's side, in the shade of the blossoming Tree.
Bowing to the Tree in a gesture of reverence, Aragorn reached up to pluck the flower. Turning back to where his friend lay, he lifted the flower to his lips and kissed it, murmuring a few words in Elvish, then he placed it gently on Boromir's breast, over the embroidered device of the Horn of Gondor. Beside him, Merry gave an undignified sniff that sounded more poignant and gracious in Aragorn's ears than all the speeches of the Wise. He placed a hand lightly on Merry's head, as he had seen Boromir do countless times, and kept it there as he turned to face the silent crowd.
"I am humbled by grief and have no heart for words." His voice, though low and rough with long weeping, carried easily throughout the Court and seemed to ring in the streets below. "Now would seem the time for lofty speeches, but I know not what to say. Of my own loss I cannot speak. Of the loss that all of you, all Gondor and indeed all the race of Men have suffered, you know as much as I. Boromir is gone."
He had to pause, to swallow the tightness in his throat. Then he went on, "The line of ruling Stewards is ended. The House of the Stewards in Rath Dínen lies in ruins, never to be remade. And Boromir, son of Denethor, last Steward of Gondor, will lie forever at Elessar's side in the House of the Kings."
A soft murmur of surprise went through the host, and Aragorn raised a hand to still it. His eyes skimmed the faces turned to him, reading their mingled sorrow and curiosity, marking those he knew, those he loved, those he pitied among them. The King's eyes rested longest on a quiet, withdrawn figure clad all in sober black, who stood a little distance from Faramir and Éowyn, eyes downcast, with her three children close about her. She wore no ornament upon her stark garments save a white gem on a chain about her neck . A plain kerchief covered her hair, concealing much of her face as she stood with her head bowed. Aragorn knew well that face, and he felt a moment's gratitude that she did not lift her head. He did not think he could bear to see her pain when his own was yet so fresh and so terrible.
His gaze moved from Gil to the young man at her side, and he felt his heart contract with sorrow and regret. So like his father in face and form, so like him in nature that Aragorn often felt that he was watching Boromir's youth unfold before his eyes when he looked upon him. A young warrior only just grown into manhood, with the light of hope and high courage burning in his eyes as brightly as the sun upon the breast of Anduin. Caladmir. Jewel of light. Boromir's jewel, and the gift that he now left for Gondor and Gondor's King in this dark hour.
It was to Caladmir, and to his silently grieving mother and sisters that Aragorn now spoke, though his words touched every creature who heard them.
"A King has many burdens placed upon him. Some are easy to bear, while others would break the will of any Man not upheld by honor and duty. Boromir knew this well, for in loving his King, he suffered for that King's choices as no other has. But he did it willingly, because he did love me. And I loved him - will love him always, though he lie in death a hundred years without me. Often I have been forced to choose between my kingship and my friend, and each time, my friend accepted that kingship comes before all - Gondor before all. For he, too, held Gondor's weal more precious than any bond of family or friendship.
"Thus, as the one whose burdens he willingly shared and for whom he willingly suffered, it is my right, my duty to carry on as Boromir began, for Gondor. So hear now the promises of your King, made for Boromir's sake.
"His family will dwell in my heart and under my protection so long as I live, honored for their own sakes as much as for his. They must make of their lives what they will, and while their King cannot give them advancement, their friend, Aragorn, will do his utmost for them.
"His princedom will revert to the crown of Gondor, held in trust until such time as I find another worthy to hold it. His brother, Faramir, is confirmed Prince of Ithilien and Captain-General of our armies. Faramir's children and his children's children shall rule Ithilien in the King's name, our beloved and most valued councilors, so long as his line endures.
"As for his Stewardship..." Once again, the murmurs whispered through the courtyard, but this time, they died of their own accord. Aragorn stepped from behind the bier and stretched out his hand to Faramir, who stood with Éowyn and Elboron on his left. Faramir approached, carrying the Steward's white rod in his hands. He knelt swiftly at Aragorn's feet and held up the staff across his open palms. Aragorn took it and lifted it high above his head, so that all gathered in the Court or upon the walls could see it, gleaming white in the sunlight.
Then he cried out in a voice rich with power and rough with tears, "Once, in a dark and fearful hour, as I lay upon the fields of Rohan and dreamt of death, I made a vow. I swore that I would have Boromir as my Steward or I would have none, that there would be only one Steward in Gondor, so long as I am King. Hear me, people of Minas Tirith, and bear witness to my sworn oath! Boromir, son of Denethor, dearest of friends, bravest of warriors, brother of my heart if not of my blood, is my Steward now and through all the days of my reign!"
At his words, a single trumpet sang out upon the walls. The white standard that flew atop the Tower of Echthelion fluttered brokenly down, felled by a knife stroke. So too fell the great silken banners that hung from the tower windows. And from every hand, from every house and every stretch of wall, the people cast down the tokens they carried in a soft, swirling white storm. The snow that had mantled Minas Tirith's walls now drifted down to lie at her feet, and every voice in the city rose in the ancient song of mourning for the last Steward of Gondor.
To the accompaniment of this lament, Aragorn lowered the staff and laid it reverently upon Boromir's body, like a champion's sword. Merry helped him to clasp the dead man's hands upon it, though the halfling could scarcely see for weeping. Then Aragorn bent to press a kiss to the cold brow and whispered, "Farewell, Brother. May the gift of Ilúvatar bring you light at last."
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Author's Note: For those of you who have made it this far and are reading this final note, I want to say thank you, from the bottom of my heart. I sometimes doubted I would ever reach this point and type that lovely word, finis, on the page. But here I am, one year to the day after I posted the first chapter, finished. I speak with utter sincerity when I say that I couldn't have done it without you all - those of you who wrote to me or posted reviews, and those of you who chose not to share your thoughts but took the time to read my epic - I am truly and deeply grateful to you.
Now, I know that some of you are shrieking at me (virtually speaking) and demanding to know how Boromir ended up with three children, how he died, what happened in the intervening years between Merry's departure and his funeral. Well, I'll tell you... No, not here, but at great length, as is my wont. I will start work on a sequel to "The Captain and the King" once I have recovered from the strain of writing this story and proven to my family that I still exist.
It may be some time before you see the second story. I am very tired and feeling a bit battered, and I need time to recuperate before I start all this again. I need time to write for the fun of it, not to meet a deadline.
If you would like me to notify you when the story is posted on the 'net, please send me an e-mail (my address is in my ff.net profile) and I'll make up a list.
My best wishes and deepest thanks, until next time...
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A couple of technical notes about the Epilogue...
The year 30 of the Fourth Age is 32 years after the destruction of the Ring. Boromir would be 73 years old, Aragorn 120, Faramir 68. Aragorn will live another 90 years and Faramir another 52 years. Imrahil, who is 95, will only live three or four years more (the exact date of his death is not known).
Elboron is the name given by Tolkien to Faramir's son... I think. I read it somewhere but can't remember where, so I'm not sure of my source. But I didn't make it up.
I did make up the names of Boromir's children (obviously). His son is Caladmir, which means "jewel of light". His daughters are Estellas and Merilin. Estellas, the eldest child, was named for Aragorn/Estel. Merilin is the Sindarin word for nightingale.