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After a merry but uneventful journey from the southern harbors, the whole party at last approached Minas Tirith on the afternoon of the third day. They passed through the newly rebuilt Rammas Echor by the South Gate, closest to the gleaming city walls. Giddy with glad anticipation, Imrahil threw decorum to the wind and spurred his horse into a gallop. His guard, his two younger sons and the Elves were happy to keep pace with him, leaving their companions to follow in their own time.
They slowed to declare themselves as they drew near to the Great Gate, or rather the place where the Great Gate should have been. It was still no more than a temporary barricade hastily erected in the gap left by the armies of Mordor in the otherwise impenetrable black stone of the outer wall.
“How unfortunate that so fair a city should still be so scarred in the hour of its glory,” Thranduil said, apparently with genuine regret.
“Fear not, my lord,” Legolas assured him. “We have heard that Gimli and his friends have completed a mighty commission for King Elessar. Very soon all will be set right.”
The guards dragged the barricade open to admit the Prince of Dol Amroth and the other guests of the King.
The long switch-back path they were obliged to follow in order to travel up through the city allowed Imrahil to regale the Elvenking with tales of his part in the defense of that place during the war. Thranduil attended the tale closely, apparently morbidly fascinated by descriptions of the evil siege engines and other implements of destruction which had caused the lingering damage along the walls and ramparts.
“All the foul creatures of this world seem to take perverse pleasure in ruining grand and beautiful things,” the Elvenking lamented. “But I have it from a very near source that Elessar will soon be seeking the services of my Elves and of Thorin’s Dwarves to restore the glory of this place.”
“I do not doubt it,” Imrahil agreed. “There is a very great deal to be rebuilt in these new times of peace, so much that the work can seem overwhelming. Fortunately, there were some beautiful things even the Dark Lord could not bear to destroy, and the hoarded wealth of Mordor will suffice to pay for the ruin wrought by its servants.”
They mounted the incline onto the third level, and Imrahil’s heart immediately sank. A thick mass of people was gathered ahead in the street around a passionate orator who had planted himself on a broken plinth once reserved for a statue of King Hyarmendacil. He apparently had little fear of the King’s justice, and his vociferous tirade held such a crowd rapt that the royal party was obliged to stand their horses. Their approach was noted by only a few.
“It is an outrage against the blood of our fathers that the lands which they defended would now be freely ceded to a race so wholly unconcerned with the affairs of Gondor,” he was saying. “If Ithilien is not firmly taken back in hand, it may be that we shall never wrest it from these deathless people. Perhaps they have tired of their own realms, or perhaps the war has driven them to invade our borders, but we must stem the tide at once or in years to come it may be that Gondor shall no longer be the inheritance of Men. Now even the Elvish king has come to appraise his new province, a figure of such black rumor that even others of his own race shun him, a tyrant and a drunkard who has reigned by hostile magic in the darkness of Mirkwood for centuries, hunting the Men of the north for sport and committing acts of unspeakable bestiality with his harem of hounds!”
Thranduil laughed before Imrahil could object, startling the crowd. It was a strong and pleasant sound, but not without a perilous air. “Baldor of Lamedon, I presume,” he said. “You must tell me more about myself.”
“The lord of the woodland rabble,” Baldor said, boldly turning on the royal party. “Come to dump your superfluous princes and sate their avarice with our lands? I have a great deal more to say, if indeed you have the stomach for it.”
Imrahil had heard enough.
“Be silent, for once and for all, Lord of Lamedon,” he said, “before you irreparably shame your King in his own city!”
“I have stomach enough for many things more poisonous than you, little Man of Gondor,” Thranduil assured him. “I find this absurd furor you have incited on my account not altogether unamusing.”
The grim banter elicited a titter from the crowd, not all of whom it seemed were entirely convinced by Baldor’s inflammatory allegations.
“Laugh while you can,” Baldor rounded on them. “But mind you keep your daughters close while this master of wolves flaunts his power among us, despoiler of orphans and usurper of the victories of others.”
“Seize him,” Imarhil commanded, his patience at an end, and the two Swan Knights attending him pushed through the crowd to drag Baldor from his perch. “The King will hear of the way you comport yourself before his guests, and you will abide by his judgement.”
“The King knows the Lords of Lamedon are fearless, for it was he who named them so,” Baldor declared as the Swan Knights bound his hands. “I do not fear to speak the truth!”
Imrahil urged his horse forward, forcing the spectators to make way for them. A handful cheered as they passed, Baldor still protesting his righteousness as he was marched after them. Whether they applauded Baldor's principles or his removal from the street, none could say.
“I must apologize for his insolence,” Imrahil said as they approached the fourth gate. “Elessar allows his lords a fair amount of latitude, but he will be grieved to hear how his hospitality was tarnished today.”
“If we have any quarrel in Gondor, it is with our friend to the rear, not with Elessar or with you,” Thranduil assured him. “But if he should content himself with merely trumpeting the fevered imaginings of desperate men, then I shall be content to ignore him.”
“The trouble arises with those who have taken his words to heart,” Legolas said darkly. He was less flippant about the matter than his father, for he had been living under the shadow of Baldor’s growing influence for years.
“Surely there cannot be many who give credence to such rubbish.”
“Many more than we would like to admit,” Imrahil confessed. “It is an ongoing concern, and I believe Elessar harbors the very dear hope that you will give a better account of yourself during your stay here than that son of Angbor has done.”
“The truth will out!” Baldor called from behind, attending their conversation as well he might. “Gondor for the Gondorrim!”
Thranduil scowled, clearly annoyed, but he would not give his enemy the satisfaction of acknowledgement. “Ignoring him may prove more difficult than I imagined,” he admitted.
Back and forth across streets of white stone, they climbed the dizzying heights of the city towards the Citadel until at last they passed through the seventh gate and emerged onto the immaculate courtyard of the White Tree. It had thrived in the past years and was prepared now to put forth the first buds of spring.
Leaving their horses and hounds in the keeping of the palace guard, Imrahil led his sons and their Elvish companions through the heavy doors and into the King’s court.
The hall of severe black and white stone was occupied by many people from all walks of life waiting in the wings for a moment of the King’s time, as it ever was when he was present. As they entered, Elessar stopped a rather tedious recitation of petitions from Osgiliath and descended from his throne, his arms thrown wide.
“Imrahil!” he said with a brilliant smile, accepting the Prince’s official reverence before grasping his hand and clapping him on the shoulder. “I would have you here with us more often, my friend, but I know you prefer the charms of your own city.”
“I cannot deny it, my lord,” Imrahil agreed. “It was a pleasure to share it with our guests from the north.”
“I can well imagine it. Mae govannen, Thranduil!”
Elessar and the Elvenking caught one another by the wrist and shared a quick but surprisingly informal martial embrace which initially caught Imrahil off his guard. He supposed it should not have, for it was in keeping with the remarkable warmth and ease of manner which seemed to characterize all the woodland Elves when among their friends.
“Words cannot describe how gratified I am to receive you in Gondor, my lord,” Elessar said.
“I was powerless to resist your invitation,” Thranduil confessed. “For all my years, I have travelled entirely too little of this world. I would also see what my son and his companions have wrought in Ithilien.”
“They have every reason to be proud,” Elessar assured him. “Have you not, Legolas?”
“As you say,” Legolas smiled.
“I beg you all to forgive me, but I cannot tear myself away from my duties at present,” the King explained. “Your quarters have been prepared in the Steward’s House, and I would be pleased if you would dine with us tonight.”
“Indeed we shall,” Imrahil agreed, “but I regret that there is one matter I must submit to your judgement immediately, my lord.”
The King’s face fell as the Swan Knights marched Baldor before him, the Lord of Lamedon glowering impotently as he was displayed to the entire court.
“I can well imagine what offenses have landed you here, son of Angbor,” Elessar said. “Have you already so offended my guests that my march-warden has been obliged to place you in bonds?”
“I speak only truths which the Gondorian people have need to hear,” Baldor said.
“He speaks only ludicrous fantasies,” Thranduil countered. “I am not without patience, Aragorn, but I have not ridden three hundred leagues to endure this sort of petty abuse.”
Elessar raised his hand and nodded, well aware of his subordinate’s objectionable exploits. “Baldor of Lamedon,” he said, becoming a bit more severe, “I believe I made my position on this matter quite clear some time ago. I am reluctant to constrain you, my lord, but your insolence is becoming insufferable, and perhaps a command must now suffice when my assurances will not. I have heard the vicious tittle-tattle you have been bandying about, and I tell you now that if you cannot refrain from slandering my guests, I shall be forced to confine you to Lamedon until midsummer.”
“You cannot silence us all, my lord,” Baldor said defiantly. “The truth will out despite you!”
“No, I believe in time the truth will out despite you, son of Angbor,” Elessar said. “Gondor is more fortunate than many other realms to enjoy the presence of the Elves while they yet live among us, and it grieves me that you cannot see it. But I shall not allow grief on your account to spoil the New Year. You may hold your tongue from this day forth, or you may leave this city. Now, let this be the end of the matter.”
At a gesture from the King, the Swan Knights unbound Baldor’s hands and set him at liberty. Baldor rubbed at the light abrasions on his wrists with a sour look.
“This is by no means the end of this matter, my lord!” he said, defiant to the last. “I shall never stand idle while the heritage of our people is whored to the Elves.”
“You will come to regret those words,” Elessar promised icily, “but I would prefer that you arrived at that conclusion in your own time rather than be brought to it by force. I have given you the terms of your release; go your way before I reconsider.”
Cautioned but unrepentant, Baldor turned to take his leave but found the imposing Elvenking directly in his path. The narrow look Thranduil leveled upon him made it abundantly clear that the Lord of Lasgalen did not require Elessar to fight his battles. Then he favored him with a grim smile.
“Take this in memory of our meeting, Lord Baldor,” he said, placing in the other’s hand the rowan wood charm he had acquired in Pelargir. “Perhaps you will find it more efficacious than I.”
They enjoyed an intimate supper that evening in the King’s House. King Elessar and Queen Arwen Undómiel presided over the gathering of friends both old and new, the occasion gladdened by much mirth and a great deal of wine.
The Queen’s brothers, Elladan and Elrohir, were in attendance, fresh from an excursion to Fornost. They had very encouraging reports of the progress which had been made rebuilding that city, claiming that it now bore little resemblance to the desolate ruin which had been called Deadmen’s Dike for so many years.
Imrahil related the particulars of their journey across Belfalas and their encounter with Lords Falathar and Erellont in Pelargir. Beside him, Nerdanel shared the latest news from Rohan with the King and Queen, and admittedly took advantage of the opportunity to boast of their royal granddaughter’s accomplishments.
For himself, King Elessar was near bursting with excitement and anticipation over the elaborate New Year’s festival which would finally be put in motion in a few days time. They were expecting many more guests very soon, including the royal party from Rohan, Gimli and the Dwarves of Algarond, and Faramir from across the river in Emyn Arnen. The high ceremony and unmitigated revelry would soon begin with the rededication of the city and the restoration of the Great Gate. Then it would be north to Cormallen for a fortnight of feasting the like of which none of them had ever seen.
Their conversation continued easily into the deep of the night. Queen Arwen and Lady Nerdanel finally excused themselves, leaving the men to their own company. None of them was inclined to be the first to quit the group and break the convivial spell, and the ample supply of wine served only to further blunt their troubles along with their sobriety. Imrahil retained wit enough to thoroughly enjoy the singular experience of seeing the Kings and Princes of Gondor and Elven Greenwood laughing together like schoolboys, for the moment completely free of all official cares and concerns.
“The longer I consider the circumstances of the case,” Thranduil said then, “the more I begin to believe that your Lord Baldor may indeed have the right of it. Our insidious Elvish blood seems to have already reached some very deep places in Gondor.”
“That was perhaps inevitable,” Elladan observed, “as we are all akin somehow.”
“Indeed,” Legolas agreed, “and many times over.”
“Hold there,” Imrahil bade them, deeply interested. “Explain this great kindred conspiracy. I was not aware that the families of Imladris and Lasgalen were bonded in blood.”
“Oh, now you are in for a long and twisted tale!” Elessar warned him.
“Quit your moaning, Aragorn,” Thranduil demanded amiably. “Imrahil has asked, and I shall answer. As it happens, both Lord Celeborn and Lady Galadriel of Lothlórien are my second cousins once removed, as her grandfather and my father’s grandfather were brothers. Thus Legolas is twice a third cousin to your Queen Arwen and her brothers through their mother, Celeborn’s daughter Celebrían.”
Legolas, Elladan and Elrohir raised their glasses to acknowledge it.
“He is simplifying the truth,” Elrohir dared to comment. “Legolas is again our third cousin on our father’s side, though twice removed.”
“Yes, and more,” Thranduil agreed, “for here it becomes a bit tortuous. Have we lost you, Imrahil?”
“Please, say on,” Imrahil smiled. “I shall attend as well I may.”
“Very well,” Thranduil said, pausing briefly to collect his thoughts. “Their father, Elrond of Imladris, is my kinsman through his mother Elwing’s father, Dior of Doriath, son of my first cousin twice removed, Lúthien Tinúviel of celebrated memory. Elwing’s mother, however, was Nimloth, daughter of Celeborn’s brother Galathil, and therefore my second cousin.”
“Making our father at once your third cousin once removed and second cousin twice removed,” Elladan explained, distilling the genealogical tangle to its salient point.
“The same might obviously be said of his brother, Elros of Númenor,” Legolas observed, “making us some sort of distant kinsmen to you, Aragorn.”
“And to his heirs,” Thranduil agreed, “especially now that your Queen is four times our cousin.”
“Wait.” Imrahil held up his hand for silence, a bit lost amid the dizzying array of names and relationships. “Was not Galadriel of Lothlórien come from the Immortal West? How is she akin to lords of Middle-earth?”
“Her mother’s father was Olwë of Alqualondë,” Thranduil answered him, “the long-sundered brother of King Elu Thingol of Doriath. Their third brother was my father’s grandfather.”
“It all seems to come back to those three, does it not?” Elessar mused.
“Indeed it does,” Thranduil agreed heartily, raising his glass. “To our common Elvish forebear whose name none of us can recall, the father of Elwë, Olwë and Elmo of the Third Kindred in the First Age of this world. Long may his bloodline dominate Middle-earth!”
They all agreed with a lusty shout and drained their wine once again.
Legolas shook his head. “This is all quite apart from the fact that Imrahil boasts the blood of Mithrellas of Lórien,” he reminded them, “and through his house so does Faramir and the line of Stewards, and now even the heirs of Éomer of Rohan.”
Elessar threw up his hands. “I yield the point,” he said at last. “Clearly Baldor is correct. The ruin of Gondor is at hand.”
His facetious surrender set them all laughing again, for the memory of the Lord of Lamedon’s preposterous doomsaying seemed uproarious upon reflection. Even if a significant minority of the population had espoused his extreme opinions, who would dare assail them?
It would require something of greater consequence than Baldor of Lamedon to dampen this New Year.
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