Shadows of Memory

Tree and Flower Awards, Men, First Place
Tree and Flower Awards Nominee





 Shadows of Memory

The characters are the property of the Tolkien estate. No profit has been, nor will be made from this story.

That one may smile, and smile, and be a villain – Hamlet – Shakespeare.

 With grateful thanks to Raksha and Virtuella for editorial assistance and Cairistiona for help with the plot.

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 other 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.

He had no idea how much time had elapsed before he woke again. His head was swathed in bandages and throbbed painfully, as did his side. 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.

He 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 were injured. The child was unharmed," 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, 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 he know? Moreover, how had he fallen into Denethor's power so helplessly? To what child did he refer?

"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. He had 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 it out when reduced to semi-consciousness by his injuries? Yet, it would be most strange for Denethor to attack him. Although a cold and proud man, 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.

Denethor 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 hostility of the Steward's heir had always saddened Thorongil. They were so alike in looks and intellect that they almost could have been brothers. Denethor was unusual for a lord of Gondor in these latter days, for in him, as in Thorongil, the blood of Númenor ran true.

Thorongil could only surmise that Denethor's love for Gondor had made him determined to cling to the right to rule it - at all costs. Not that Isildur’s heir would be such a fool as to try to proclaim himself king.

Aragorn had dreamed often of reclaiming the throne of his fathers and reuniting the long sundered realms of Arnor and Gondor. He had wondered whether Elrond's fair daughter would look upon him more favourably if he wore Gondor's winged crown. But he would not make such a claim at the price of harming the land that he loved. Even the revelation of Thorongil's true name and lineage could provoke another kin-strife! It would break the old Steward's heart to choose between the son of his heart and the son of his blood.

But why was Denethor now showering him with kindness, hovering at his bedside and bestowing a fraternal kiss? 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 he come to be here, in his bedchamber? It was the custom to share with a friend or relative, 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 she had gone to visit her kindred at Dol Amroth.

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, confined to his chambers with a fever, 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!

The entire situation seemed wrong, out of sorts. Either Denethor was a would-be assassin or had taken advantage of some unknown calamity. Thorongil could not make the pieces fit together no matter how hard he tried! He rammed his fist into the pillow and succeeded only in aggravating the pain in his ribs.

After a while, he 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 seemed gentler.

Somehow, Thorongil managed to get out of bed without disturbing his unwanted sleeping companion. He had to hold on to 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 over his nightshirt.

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 fine soap and thick towels that lay there now. He splashed water on his face, wishing fervently that his head did not hurt so much. Thankfully 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. He knew not how long Denethor's benevolence 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 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 looked different.

"I would speak with the Steward. Where is he?" Thorongil enquired. To his relief, he no longer sounded as if he were drunk.

"He is sleeping yonder tonight, sire," the man replied, gesturing towards the chamber that Thorongil had recently vacated.

Just then, Denethor appeared. 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 mildly. "Please tell me if you want to go out again. Come now, let us return to bed."

His escape attempt foiled, Thorongil slumped dejectedly on the bed. His best strategy 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 warm milk and sing him a lullaby; things were strange enough already.

"Why did I not think of it before?" Denethor said suddenly and went to the door where he ordered 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 his 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 he had believed him to be when he had treated him for a nasty slash from a Southron blade. He had hazarded the use of the herb when the life of the Steward's heir had been uncertain. It seemed, though, that his decision had cost him dear.  

On from room to room I stray,
Yet mine Host can ne'er espy,
And I know not to this day,
Whether guest or captive I. -Sir William Watson (1858–1935)


Denethor now regarded him with what appeared to be genuine bewilderment. He had no idea the man could play-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 in the elderly serving women when they freshened the rooms.

Denethor’s keen grey eyes looked puzzled. 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 cried.

Denethor took a small sip from the glass. "It does not taste that bad," he said. "Come, 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.

"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, though, 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 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 anew; it was all so confusing!

He 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 when Finduilas was feeling too ill to make intelligent and stimulating conversation? 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 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. Denethor stood with his left side facing Thorongil as he raised his arms to don a shirt. That was the side, which had been wounded only a few months ago. The healer had been killed and it had fallen to Thorongil to tend the grievous wound. Despite his best efforts, Thorongil knew only too well that 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 expected you to awaken any moment," 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 returned.

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 and tried to get out of bed, but failed dismally. As soon as he attempted 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 Denethor.

He felt much better, though, when he returned, and felt able to sample one of the steaming mugs of tea. Denethor pulled the covers around him 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 detail about his captive's symptoms.

"Tell me how you feel, my lord," 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, while he unwrapped the bandages and examined 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 flee.

"You will not escape my attentions so easily, by asking for a healer who does not exist!" the healer said, and laughed ruefully. "Little wonder that the Warden 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 he 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 Beleg?"

"Yes," said Thorongil quickly.

"Everyone confuses similar names at times, my lord," the healer said cheerfully, as he wound a clean bandage around Thorongil's head. "You are fortunate your thick 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. "Shall I apply more comfrey ointment?"

"No," Thorongil replied tersely, determined not to allow this healer to examine him further in Denethor's presence.

"I ought to examine them just in case. You were severely bruised in the accident," the healer persisted.

"No!" Thorongil snapped in a tone that allowed no argument. "Later. I am tired now."

"He was very sick just now and passed a restless night," said Denethor. "I have the salve here for when he needs it."

"Very well, I will wait until tonight before examining them again," said the healer, as if humouring him. "It is best you do not exert yourself. I will mix you some willow bark tea to ease the pain without making you sleepy. I will leave a draught of 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 by 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 settle our little one's stomach."

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. He grimaced and put the mug down; its contents still unfinished, much to Thorongil's dismay. Still, maybe he had consumed enough to make him sleepy and allow his escape. 

Whither shall I go from thy spirit? or whither shall I flee from thy presence? – Psalm 139.7

"The tea is cold and tastes rather strange," Denethor. "I will send for some fresh. Would you like breakfast, Aragorn?"

Thorongil flinched at this fresh use of his true name. "I will just have some toast, please," he replied. He still felt 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.

Denethor saw his look of surprise and said, "I did not wish to order anything that might cause your nausea to return, mellon nîn. Shall I assist you to a chair 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 toast, but let Denethor hold the cup for him again, willing to endure that indignity, 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?" he suggested. "Or would you prefer a game of chess?"

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 a 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 together with a grey cloak. 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.

He cautiously opened the door a few inches. Fortunately, it was well oiled. Two guards stood at the far end of the corridor. He crept along, concealing himself in shadows and doorways. He dodged into an alcove when he saw a comely maidservant approach with a basket of laundry. The girl paused to wink flirtatiously at the guards. Thorongil 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 was as if they had all been mysteriously replaced overnight.

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!

A woman, holding a little girl by the hand, pushed through the crowds and thrust a bunch of flowers towards him. "Thank you for saving my daughter, my lord!" she exclaimed shyly.

Before Thorongil could ask her what she meant, she had curtsied and scuttled away with the little girl.

He was alarmed to see a handful of Southrons in their colourful robes mingling with the Gondorians. They carried baskets of goods like merchants, but they must be surely enemy spies. Thorongil thought how strange it was that they made no attempt to disguise themselves to avoid the hangman's noose!

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, desperately hoping he could disappear down one of the pathways leading away from the fountain and 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. The flowers dropped from his hands, their petals scattering in the breeze. He heard someone running towards him. Denethor's arms caught him as everything went black.

Powerless to resist, the semiconscious Thorongil was carried back inside. This time, he was taken to a different room. The new chamber appeared to belong to a woman, from the way it was decorated. A thick carpet covered the floor and various ornaments were dotted around together with vases filled with spring blooms. A full-length mirror stood by a large wardrobe, while a small loom and spinning wheel occupied one corner. The walls were draped with fine tapestries, again oddly similar to the ones he recalled from his childhood at Rivendell.

Two healers were waiting there, the man he had seen earlier that day together with a much older man. Denethor dismissed the guards, telling them to wait outside the door. It seemed that this time there would be no escape.

The older healer produced a potion, which he politely, but very firmly insisted that Thorongil swallow. He knew from the smell it was intended to induce sleep.

"Let me go!" Thorongil cried.

"I am sorry, sire, but you need rest and quiet," said the older healer.

"You might do yourself further injury, my lord," said the other. "Come, let us help you undress and return to bed. We need to examine you to see if you have injured yourself further. It concerns us that you swooned. You have been over exerting yourself, we fear. "

"We have a clean nightshirt here for you," said Denethor, producing the folded garment from a nearby chair.

"No!" said Thorongil.

"Maybe we should just wrap him in blankets to prevent him escaping again?" the older healer suggested.

"No!" Denethor said sternly. "His dignity must be respected."

Thorongil had to bite his tongue ere he accused Denethor of being a hypocrite. What worse indignity could there be than to be imprisoned and have his jailors forcibly remove his clothing? The drug quickly took effect and he could only struggle feebly while Denethor and the healers undressed him under a blanket and applied a salve to his painful head and side. A nightshirt of finest linen was then slipped over his head and the covers pulled up to his chin.

Before he succumbed to the drug, he heard Denethor say in an agitated tone, "How could I have been so careless to let him wander off?"

"You were drugged, my lord, I can see that your pupils are dilated. You did well to awaken when you did," the older healer replied. "He is obviously very confused. It might be best to restrain him for his own good."

"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; 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. Maybe he will feel more himself when my lady returns. Would you like both of us 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 if one of you would stay. I will keep guards stationed outside the room at all times now."

Thorongil's heart sank still further at these tidings. And who was "my lady"? Surely they were not planning to bring some female healer to tend him?

Denethor and the healer sat down on chairs either side of the elaborately draped bed, more fitted for a queen than for a captive captain. They were obviously prepared to stay there. Even more bizarrely, Denethor patted his captive's hand and said "Ada, please try to rest, you will be well again soon."

"Ada?" Thorongil wondered. Why would Denethor who was much of an age with him address him thus? Perhaps he was already dreaming?

Within moments, he surrendered to slumber, unable to resist the sleeping potion 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; the room was illuminated solely by a dim lamp.

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 plot against him. For a man to be 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? Perhaps she had been drugged too?

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!

Thou, Whose almighty Word
Chaos and darkness heard,
And took their flight;
Hear us, we humbly pray,
And, where the Gospel's day
Sheds not its glorious ray,
Let there be light! - John Mariott

He cried out in dismay, 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 as to take you to my bed!" Thorongil exclaimed 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 share your bed?" Arwen sounded bewildered. "I am your wife!"

A guard knocked on the door. "Is everything well, my lord, my lady?" he called.

"There is naught for you to be concerned about, but please would you summon the Lord Steward here? Tell him that my lord is awake."

"Yes, my lady. We will send for him at once."

"My wife, lady? I beg you, do not jest so cruelly!" Thorongil protested to Arwen.

"It is no jest! Of course I am your wife. We wed five years ago come Midsummer; and I have borne your child!"

"Child? How can this be?"

"The same way that all couples have children!" Arwen retorted. She slid from the bed. Thorongil realised there was a crib in the room.

Arwen donned a robe over her nightgown and lit more lamps. She lifted a child from the cradle and climbed back in bed beside Thorongil, 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 a 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 birth right? 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 come you here," he asked softly, afraid 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 re-join 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 five years have passed since then."

"It cannot be! This is all some trick!" Thorongil protested. "Denethor has had me attacked!"

"Faramir told me you were hit by a falling tree," 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 it was an accident, the pattern of 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 know you are shy about uncovering yourself, but I am your wife! There is nothing improper. I have already seen your injuries while you were asleep, as soon as 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 horde 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 an accident. Why would an assailant beat you up on only one side?" 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.

"I think I should apply some more salve," said Arwen. "These bruises still look painful."

Just then a knock on the door interrupted them. "It is Faramir," a voice called.

"Come in!" Arwen answered. Aragorn 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 five years ago. You are the King of Gondor and Arnor, Lady Arwen is your wife and I am your Steward. I would never wish you harmed. You were injured when a rotten tree one of the gardeners was felling hit you. His little girl, who is deaf, ran towards her father unaware of the danger. You leapt into the path of the tree to save the child and were hit yourself."

"You must be Denethor! And why can I not remember an accident?" Thorongil protested. "Why am not in the Houses of Healing if I were injured?"

"Because your lady was away in Ithilien when you were injured, the healers asked my advice as to where we should take you to recover," said the Steward. "I thought you would be more comfortable in your own rooms and I was happy to look after you with assistance from the healers."

Thorongil peered more closely at the man before him. "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. Do you not recall the day you were crowned or your wedding day? Many people witnessed both events. There are paintings to commemorate them. I will fetch your crown and sceptre. 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 come to pass? Can a son of Denethor's truly be my friend?"

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. "Not even our thought bond?"

Thorongil shook his head.

"Would that not help restore his memory, my lady?" Faramir asked.

"He does not trust either of us sufficiently to lower the barriers in his mind and permit thought sharing," Arwen said sadly. "We must find some other way to help him remember."

"Denethor's son so close a friend I would allow him to share my thoughts?" Thorongil still sounded bewildered.

"Faramir 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!"

"Let me think who else would have known you all those 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."

Aragorn could bear no more. He burst into tears.

And the spirit of the LORD shall rest upon him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the LORD; - Isaiah -11.2

Faramir placed a comforting arm around the distraught King's shoulders.

Aragorn struggled to collect himself. "How came this Faramir to be my Steward?" he demanded, looking at Faramir somewhat accusingly. "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," Arwen said gently.

"My mother, Halbarad, even Denethor's little lad, all gone!" Aragorn said bleakly. “Is there no one I love left in this world?" This time he could not hold back the tears that flowed freely.

Arwen joined Faramir and they both held Aragorn in their arms, comforting him as one might a frightened child. "I love you, my dear husband," said Arwen. "I know that you love me too and our child."

"You love me too, as dearly as a father loves his son," said Faramir. "And that love I freely return."

This time, Aragorn did not recoil from their embrace. He recognised the genuine affection and concern behind the gesture. The three remained thus, the silence broken only by Aragorn's anguished sobbing. Gradually, although he felt unable to fully lower the mental barriers that divided him from his companions, he began to sense that he was surrounded by love. It seemed that Arwen and Faramir were bathing him in tender caring thoughts. It strengthened him.

At last, his tears spent, he rubbed his arm across his face. "What must you think of me, a King who weeps like an infant?” he said.

"You are recovering from a head injury," Arwen said calmly. "Few would show as much control as you have over this last day."

"You have always taught me that emotion is not weakness," said Faramir. "Your people love you as you will laugh with them, and weep with them too."

"My head aches so!" said Aragorn wearily. "Everywhere aches!"

"You should lie down again and rest," said Arwen. "We will both stay here with you."

"How can I rest when I do not remember?" Aragorn sighed. "I want to see the paintings of which you spoke."

Arwen sighed. "Some of the pictures you wish to see are in my sitting room," she said. "Come!"

Faramir handed Aragorn his robe and helped him don it. He cautiously stood up. He felt somewhat unsteady and was forced to accept Arwen's 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 and showed him a large painting, which depicted her beside him. Aragorn eyed the painting doubtfully. This was what he had always dreamt of, but could it have truly happened?

Aragorn next studied an even larger portrait, which showed his old friend Gandalf placing the crown of Gondor upon his head. Faramir stood beside the Istar, the Steward's White Rod in his hand. Aragorn'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, Aragorn truly believed what she was saying. 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, and tried to remember more. He looked again at the wedding portrait. Elrond was not only giving his daughter to Aragorn, but also the sceptre of Annuminas This was the sceptre that Elrond said he would never surrender until he was proved worthy.

"Do I truly have the sceptre?" Aragorn asked Arwen.

"You do," she assured him, "the crown too. Faramir will fetch them for you if you wish."

Aragorn stared at her hard, and then back at the painting. He closed his eyes, struggling to remember. "It is starting to come back to me," he said. "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.

Faramir hastened to assist Arwen in supporting him. With one on either side of him they led Aragorn back to the bedroom and sat him on the bed.

Faramir had a sudden idea and 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 of the herb. He inhaled the refreshing vapours deeply.

"Let us bathe your bruises," said Arwen.

Too exhausted to struggle any longer, Aragorn nodded and lay back against the pillows. But although he allowed Faramir to remove his robe and Arwen to slide the nightshirt from his shoulders, he remained tense, as if poised for flight, clutching the covers around his waist.

"Just close your eyes and let us ease you," Arwen said gently.

"You have done this before?"

"Yes, you are my husband, "said Arwen.

"And you are my best friend," said Faramir. "We have often needed to care for each other."

While Faramir held his hands, Arwen gently laved the still livid bruises with a cloth. She started to sing softly.

Aragorn took more deep breaths. He felt the pain and tension slowly leaving him. He started to feel sleepy.

"Rest now, my love," said Arwen, easing his nightshirt back over his shoulders and pulling the covers up to his chin. Aragorn opened his eyes and saw Faramir standing by the bed holding the bowl from which the scent of athelas still wafted. Something stirred in his memory. 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. "Rest now, my friend, all will seem clearer in the morning," he said.

Sunlight streamed through the window when Aragorn opened his eyes again. Arwen was pulling back the curtains, while Faramir dozed on a chair. The little boy was sitting playing on the rug with a brightly coloured toy dragon. It was no dream then!

"How are you, my love?" Arwen asked her eyes full of concern.

"The pain has eased, but my mind is still hazy," said Aragorn. "I want to see the tokens of my kingship."

"Can it not wait until you have had some breakfast?" Arwen protested.

"If I am King, my people will need me to be whole," said Aragorn.

"I will fetch them," said Faramir, instantly awake. "I have the keys." He hastened from the chamber, still yawning.

Aragorn cautiously sat up. Today his head did not spin. He slowly got out of bed and stood up.

"Do you need help?" Arwen asked.

"I think I can reach the bathing chamber unaided if you tell me where it is," he replied.

"Just through the connecting door," said Arwen.

Aragorn found himself faced with three doors, but somehow he knew the one on the right as the correct one. Today everything seemed both familiar and unfamiliar at the same time. If only he could remember clearly!

He re-emerged, wiping his face with a towel, just as Faramir returned. The Steward was staggering under the weight of the two heavy boxes he bore.

"Show him the sceptre first," said Arwen.

Faramir unlocked a long box and took out the sceptre of Annúminas and handed it to Aragorn, who studied it intently. The weight felt familiar in his hands. Images began to form in his mind, mallorns in Lothlórien, four Hobbits, a dying man and athelas, his wedding day, a newborn child. Confused images, but they were memories!

"I am starting to remember!" he exclaimed.

"The old lore says that the sceptre conveys wisdom, said Arwen. It seems it might restore memory too!"

"My King!" Faramir cried.

Laughing and crying together, Arwen and Faramir both embraced him.

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.

Despite his the gaps in his memory Aragorn felt content for the first time since he had awakened after the accident. He knew enough Healers' lore to be hopeful 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.

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