When Imrahil finally awoke the next morning in a sea of ruffled bedding, he knew it was already very late. His head ached, his mouth was dry, and every sound seemed magnified out of all proportion. A piercing sliver of sunlight shone cruelly through the gap in the draperies.
“Good morning, husband,” Nerdanel greeted him with an insidiously cheery voice, returning from the adjoining room already dressed and with her hair plaited. She was plainly aware of his affliction and yet inclined to show him no mercy. “You were very amorous last night.”
“Was I?” Imrahil considered sitting up, but then thought better of it. “Forgive me, love, I do not remember.”
“No doubt.” She brought him a cup of icy water, fresh from the reservoirs of mountain snow melt. “Drink this, and you will soon be yourself again.”
Imrahil did as he was instructed. It made him a bit queasy, but he knew it was for the best. He finished it and held out his cup for more, which he then sipped more cautiously.
“I trust your raucous evening was worth the price?” Nerdanel asked.
“Oh, indeed it was,” he managed to smile. “My memory was not completely undone by drink, I assure you. Did you know that Thranduil is a blood relation of our Queen? I must confess many of the finer points were lost upon me, but later I shall have Legolas set the facts to paper.”
Ciryon appeared at the door with a fresh suit of clothes for his lord. Nerdanel accepted them on her husband’s behalf and requested that some breakfast be brought.
“Prince or no, you cannot lie abed all morning,” she said when the others had gone, pulling back the coverlet. “Your daughter is due to arrive this day, and I refuse to explain to her that her illustrious father is lazing about in a drunken stupor.”
Imrahil glowered up at her. “You are pitiless, my lady.”
It was a laborious task, but once he had pulled himself out of bed and washed in the cold mountain water he did in fact feel much refreshed. Half dressed, he was at last brave enough to pull back the drape and open the window to the bracing rush of fresh morning air. A stubborn chill lingered, but spring was upon them, touching the Pelannor with a delicate flush of green.
He could see several figures on the field below, and at last recognized Legolas and Thranduil on horseback, running the dogs. The revels of the previous night had apparently not slowed them much, if at all. Imrahil shook his head, envying their astonishing resilience.
“Are those our dogs out there as well?” he asked, seeing two familiar black shapes among the others.
“They are,” Nerdanel confirmed, giving him his jerkin for the day, grey, white and pale blue. “Legolas came for them this morning and asked if they were in need of the exercise. I did not imagine you would object.”
When at last he was completely presentable, Imrahil donned a light cloak and kissed his lady farewell. “I am away to Rath Dínen,” he said. “I have been remiss.”
“Indeed you have been,” Nerdanel agreed. “But I am certain she will not begrudge you one merry evening with friends.”
Imrahil left the Steward’s House and made for the courtyard, descending through the seventh gate and turning his steps toward the the grand complex of silent mausoleums built into the mountainous backbone of the city. It was usually his custom to visit the tombs immediately upon his arrival, but he had been delayed this time by glad company. Even so, as his wife had said, he did not expect it would be held against him.
The porter at Fen Hollen roused himself and unlocked the gate without a word. He had been guarding the Steward’s Door for many years and recognized the Prince of Dol Amroth by sight. Imrahil had been allowed his irregular visits to Rath Dínen since permission had first been granted by Denethor nearly forty years ago. To his knowledge he was still the only one so permitted to enter the tombs at will, save the Steward and the King himself.
It was a lonely walk down that forsaken street. As he entered the House of the Stewards, Imrahil lit a lamp to augment the cold light of the sun pouring through the skylight in the dome of the roof. The withered trunk of the Dead Tree now lay silently upon a bier of stone in the center of that space beneath the dome, the floor around it still scarred and scorched black from the funeral pyre of Denethor. He was now buried with the honor due his rank in an alcove nearby, the last of the Ruling Stewards, but Imrahil did not feel compelled to linger there. His feelings for his grim brother-in-law had always been conflicted, and he had not yet quite forgiven him for the ruin he had attempted to visit upon his family in his last madness.
Instead Imrahil stopped where he always did, beside the vault and effigy of Finduilas, his sister. He had never been able to completely understand the strange and devoted love which had bound her to Denethor. He would have preferred to have her buried in Dol Amroth, the home she had pined for, but he knew Finduilas would not have wished to abandon the place she had chosen in Minas Tirith, though it had sickened her to death. Whatever his faults, she would have wished to lie beside her husband.
“Ah, Fin,” he sighed, sweeping the dust from her tomb with his hand. “As often as I have wished you back again, I have never felt it so keenly as today. Minas Tirith will soon be everything you ever wanted it to be. I have looked after your son as best I could, as I promised. He is quite happy with his new wife, though he has yet to produce grandchildren for you. I now have two, a son by Elphir and a daughter by Lothíriel. She is very young yet, but she already has as free a spirit as you had.”
He paused, his words swallowed by the utter emptiness of the place. It was perhaps pointless, the attempt to bring news and comfort to the dead, but for a moment it made Finduilas alive again, if only in his thought. It was admittedly more for his comfort than for hers, for she was no longer alone.
Near at hand, a ceremonial tomb had been carven for Boromir. It contained no trace of his body, but only the broken Horn of Gondor which he had carried at his death. The stonework depicted three scenes from his final quest with Gandalf’s Fellowship of the Ring, his sounding that horn at their departure from Rivendell, again in the darkness of Moria, and the last during the battle at Parth Galen. The heroic end of Boromir of Gondor had already become something akin to legend in the wake of the war. Though they had long despaired of recovering his remains, Imrahil felt certain that whatever the fate of the spirits of Men, Finduilas had found her son.
He did not stay long. He never did; the awful solemnity of the place made him restless and in need of more lively company. As he took his leave yet again, Imrahil at last found it in his heart to acknowledge Denethor, however briefly.
“My lord brother,” he said, “may you find in death the peace which eluded you in life.”
It would have pleased his sister.
As he returned from the tombs, Imrahil found Ivriniel waiting for him outside Fen Hollen, as striking as ever in a lavishly embroidered gown of indigo blue and grey, a fine veil of silver over her hair.
“Paying your respects yet again, I see,” she said. “You have always been so much more faithful than I.”
“Finduilas would not fault you for having no love for the place,” Imrahil said, allowing her to take his arm. “Indeed, if your places had been exchanged, I expect she would have visited you even less.”
Far below, the trumpets sounded at the Gate, announcing the arrival of the party from Emyn Arnen.
“It would seem our celebrated nephew has arrived at last,” Ivriniel smiled.
They returned to the Citadel courtyard where they had only to wait as the small mounted company wound their way up the busy city streets. They were hailed as they passed, for in spite of all the other social upheavals in Gondor at present, the people’s love for the Prince of Ithilien was unaffected and unambiguous. The majority of their companions remained to encamp on the Pelannor beneath white and silver banners.
When at last they had left their horses at the stables and climbed up through the seventh gate, Imrahil was ready to welcome his sister’s son with open arms, embracing him in an honest and extremely indecorous fashion.
“Faramir!” he said when they had released one another. “We still see far too little of you!”
“Yes, it seems fate would have it so,” Faramir agreed with irrepressible good humor, “setting such weighty duties for us at opposite ends of the land. You might come to Emyn Arnen more often if we could but pry you away from your beloved sea shore.”
“I must admit the thought of visiting both you and our new friends the Woodland Elves at once is an intoxicating prospect.”
Faramir had always shared Imrahil’s abiding interest in all things Elvish, much more so than his brother Boromir. They had spent many delightful evenings together during the boys’ infrequent visits to Dol Amroth, pouring over the old legends and learning what could be known of the lineages of the great Elvish kings of ages past. Now it seemed those legends had sprung again to life all around them.
“Forgive me for neglecting you, Lady Éowyn,” Imrahil said, extending a familial embrace to her as well, though with a great deal more restraint.
“I do, and readily, my lord,” she said, accepting his endearments. “I know well how beloved my husband is.”
Their company also included Elphir’s wife, Lady Marien, and their son, Alphros, who had lately been visiting their cousin in Ithilien. The boy was a bit short for his eight years, but that was typical of their family, as Thranduil had surmised. He would come to match his peers in due time. At the moment, however, he looked nothing like a young prince of Gondor, clad instead like a proper little woodland warrior in grey, green and brown. There was even a circlet of twisted wire on his brow, and an impressively carven wooden sword on his belt.
“Grandda!” he said, hurrying toward Imrahil, too excited to manage more than a sloppy version of the deferential etiquette his grandfather’s rank required. “Where is the Elvenking? Have you brought him with you?”
Imrahil laughed. “I very much doubt that anyone could ‘bring’ the Elvenking anywhere unless he came of his own will. He has accompanied us, yes, but he and Legolas are quite busy just now running their dogs, or at least they were when last I saw them. You will meet him in good time, I promise you.”
“What is he wearing?” Elphir asked his wife.
“The Elves of Ithilien have all but adopted him,” Lady Marien explained. “They were so enchanted by his enthusiasm that they took special care to have him equipped as one of their own. I am certain we shall hear of nothing but the Elves and their king for many months hence.”
The entire party took themselves to the Steward’s House where the midday meal had been set out for them. Alphros dominated his father’s time with all he had to tell of his stay in Ithilien. Imrahil and Faramir had much to discuss, but they saved the gravest matters for another time. At present there was a great deal to hear about the progress being made against the lingering enchantments in the deep places of Ithilien, particularly around the mouldering heap that had been Minas Morgul. It was slow going, but the Mirkwood Elves — especially Legolas — had an intimate understanding of enchanted forests and how to properly cleanse them.
The day was drawing on to mid-afternoon when the Pelannor erupted in the glad blasting of battle horns. Rohan had arrived. Lady Éowyn greeted her royal brother on horseback and led him and his company through the north gate of the Rammas Echor where they would set their pavilions beside those of Faramir’s people. Imrahil and Nerdanel had been lingering on the green as well, ready to welcome their daughter and her family.
All ceremony quickly dissolved into the practical business of erecting the camp. Queen Lothíriel turned her horse away from her husband for a moment to join her parents, leading her daughter’s pony by the halter rein. Imrahil was ready to embrace her as she dismounted.
“Good day, father,” she said warmly, returning his affections. “Rohan has many charms, but I cannot deny that it is refreshing to see you and Gondor again.”
“Your mother tells me you have adapted well,” Imrahil commended her. Indeed, she looked her part. Her raven hair was plaited in the Rohirric fashion, her gown adorned with bold patterns of knotwork. “But enough about us; please reintroduce me to my granddaughter.”
Little Elfirien was looking at them severely from atop her pony, already adopting at will the bearing of a princess.
“This is your Grandfather Imrahil from Dol Amroth by the sea,” Lothíriel told her in a very clear and deliberate tone. “He came to see you once before, but you were too young to remember.”
Elfirien scrutinized her grandfather with a narrow stare. “Mama da?” she asked in that fractured dialect only parents understand.
“Yes, he is,” Lothíriel confirmed. “Will you come down?”
Still unsure of this new relation who was little better than a stranger, Elfirien instead held out her arms to her grandmother whom she had seen much more recently.
“I am certain she will come around to you in time,” Nerdanel consoled her husband, lifting the child off the pony and onto her hip.
Before Imrahil had a chance to respond, Elfirien was seized by frenzied excitement and demanding to be put down, pointing and babbling so quickly that even her mother could not follow.
Imrahil looked up and saw Thranduil and Legolas approaching them. At first glance, the Elvenking was clad no differently than any other of his companions, but a closer look revealed his jerkin to be highlighted with finer cloth, extensive embroidery, and other subtle embellishments. In any case, his presence was so intense that he could never have been mistaken for anyone else, whatever he may be wearing.
Elfirien ran toward him as if he had been a favorite uncle. Thranduil did not object, and gladly swept her up into his arms. “Well met again, little butterfly!” he said. “I promised we would be here when you arrived in Gondor, and here we are.”
“She seems to prefer your company to mine,” Imrahil complained with a smile.
“Forgive me the indulgence, Imrahil,” Thranduil said. “Children have been too few in Lasgalen for too long. Look what I have for you, little one.” He set her down and produced the silver pendant and chain he had brought from Pelargir. “This is the Balan whom we call Tauron. Your grandfather calls him Oromë, and your father calls him Béma.”
“Béma!” Elfirien’s enthusiasm made it clear that this Vala featured in many favorite nursery tales. She immediately held up her hair to allow Thranduil to put the chain about her neck.
“You will surely spoil that child before the week is out, my lord,” Nerdanel said, shaking her head.
“Perhaps,” Thranduil agreed. “I have paid my dues with this one,” he said, nodding at Legolas, “and now I may enjoy their smiles and return them to their parents when they become unpleasant.”
Lothíriel’s dark stallion snorted and stamped irritably, as if he expected a greeting as well. Thranduil quipped at him sharply in Sindarin, but then smiled. “I know this beast, my lady.”
“I took the liberty of riding him south that I might return him to you, my lord,” Lothíriel said. “He was quite piqued when you left him for Fréawyn.”
“That I can believe. Maethor has always been a jealous creature. I trust he behaved himself in a manner befitting the Queen of the Rohirrim.”
Rohan had not come unprepared. Several large wains were being secured and unhitched, conspicuously loaded with barrels of ale. They were of varied shapes and sizes bearing all manner of marks and seals, each promising a festive surprise.
“Son of Rohan,” Imrahil smiled, clapping Éomer on the shoulder and eyeing the barrels hungrily, “now the celebration can truly begin.”
Éomer laughed. “We are happy to play our part, lord father,” he said, “but I am afraid we cannot take full credit for the bounty.”
There were indeed some strange names branded onto some of the more peculiar barrels, establishments such as “The Golden Perch,” “The Green Dragon,” and “The Prancing Pony.” Those must have come from much farther north, and Imrahil was not surprised to recognize a small party of Dúnedain among the riders, as well as two small but unmistakable figures dressed in the livery of kings.
“Master Peregrin!” Elessar greeted them warmly. “Master Meriadoc! I am so pleased you were able to make the journey.”
“We never considered otherwise,” Pippin assured him. “Although we would not have been able to bring quite so many gifts without the help of your Rangers.”
“Sam sends his regrets, though,” Merry said. “His wife will have another baby very soon, and he couldn’t see leaving her for a party, no matter how grand.”
Imrahil was pleased to see the Periain as well. It was only fitting that as much of the original Fellowship of the Ring as possible be present for the occasion, and their infectious energy would doubtless do much to keep the spirit of the celebration alive despite a few troublemakers.
“You remember Imrahil of Dol Amroth, of course,” Elessar said.
“Of course!” Pippin smiled. “Although, with so many kings and princes and lords and ladies in one place, it may be difficult to remember everyone.”
“We had best refrain from prattling long titles and grand pleasantries at one another, or this New Year will digress into something resembling an Ent moot,” Merry agreed.
“Like her,” Pippin continued, catching sight of Ivriniel. “Who is the mutton dressed as lamb? I can’t recall her name.”
Imrahil’s lip curled in wry amusement. “She is my sister,” he said.
Merry swatted Pippin in the ribs. “You don’t have to say everything you think, you know.”
The spontaneous celebration which had sprung up around the Rohirric camp lasted long into the dark of evening, a scene of bright campfires, simple food, lively song, and good fellowship. Imrahil enjoyed having his family reunited again, however briefly, although his granddaughter had not yet had her fill of Thranduil’s company. The other children of Rohan seemed drawn to him as well, their parents warily following the example of their king and queen who obviously trusted these Elves with their princess. The crooked tales of Dernhere of the haunted wood seemed to be finally setting themselves right. The children were intent upon teaching Thranduil their language and songs, and demanding to know their “Elf names.” Legolas’ fox was slinking and bounding through the thicket of small hands desperate to stroke him, at once encouraging and evading their attentions.
Just as some were considering retiring to bed, the north gate of the Rammas Echor was opened once again and a lusty chorus of Dwarf song announced the arrival of Lord Gimli of Aglarond with his people. Several handsome draft horses pulled a great wain with a mysterious load cloaked in canvas. Gondor welcomed them with hearty cheers, because everyone in Minas Tirith already knew that they came bearing the grand new gates of the city. With them came King Thorin of Erebor and King Bard of Dale with their attendants.
Much as they would have enjoyed making merry, the Dwarves set to their task immediately. The ponderous barrier was hauled aside to allow them access to the work site. By morning all would be ready for the grand rededication.
Imrahil and Nerdanel retired to their quarters then, as did many others, leaving the field to those more tireless than they. After all, this was only the beginning, and they would be hard pressed to keep pace with the King’s plans without taking some sleep.