PartIII Chapter 2.3
Aragorn and Éowyn to the Library of Gondor, Minas Tirith
20 September 2989 in Third Age
Aragorn appeared, and momentarily stood transfixed, overwhelmed by his journey. He looked about, but Éowyn was not to be seen.
‘Was Éowyn safe? Was she safe?!’ the thought raced uncontrollably through his mind.
All was silent. He stood at the end of a long windowless corridor. It was just dawn, but none of the sun’s early breath touched here, only from the northern part of the passageway, which appeared at its furthest extremity to turn a corner, was a glimmer of light filtering and calling Aragorn forth.
Concerned, he strode out in heavy uneasy strides:
‘Where was she?!’
In turning the corner Aragorn was relieved and gladdened to see that Éowyn stood further along. She appeared untouched by Dark’s influence. She appeared safe!
He hurried towards her, and she looked around at the sound of his steps, and smiled. She too had been dazed by the journey, and on the moment of her appearance, was concerned that Aragorn had not stood somewhere near.
As he reached her, he took her hand kindly in reassurance that all was well, and they conversed quietly. There was no sign of Sauron’s influence upon her or of her knowing that he was close. Gandalf’s swift action had saved her.
Aragorn quickly continued to the far end of the corridor, checking that no-one was there to observe their appearance. As Gandalf had told, here were the rooms of the ‘Shaman’, ‘Cartographer’ and other dignitaries of the city, announced by their titles fixed onto the row of doors. However, that of the ‘Protector of the Books’ was not to be seen. Gandalf had warned them that with the journey in advance of the dawn, their positioning on the chronomap would be off their mark, and that they would need to locate Raalta’s actual room. However, as most dignitaries who took lodgings here would have travelled with the Steward to Dol Amroth for the memorial of Finduilas, there would be few to observe them; these strangers to the city and this time.
Strangers clad in travelling raiments denoting those who had journeyed a far distance by horse. Light taupe cloaks of the softest woollen fabric that fell to the floor, fastened at the neck with a brooch of gleaming gold and blue sapphires, depicting the stately ships of Pelargir, that city’s emblem. Broad hoods concealed their faces and the only other clothing discernable were sable kid gloves and, as they walked, boots in like leather, embossed with the insignia of Pelargir. This was attire which would be recognised as that of nobility who had travelled from the distant city. But no-one stirred; so on this dawn of this time, the strangers passed unobserved down the corridors, looking for the Protector of the Books.
From the window at the end of this hallway, although the sun itself was not yet visible, Éowyn saw the first flush of its saffron rays reflected off the shadows of the ebony evening sky. This amber hue filled her with reassurance that, though she knew of the might of the power that had seen them travel safely here, and the one who relentlessly sought them out, all else seemed to be proceeding as on any day, here the dawn replacing the night.
All seemed as Gandalf had described. The building was one of the oldest constructed in the city. Made of massive white slabs of stone, bolstered with rigorous precision, these walls stood solid and proud, unadorned except for the occasional bronze candle-lights, all of which at this time were unlit, and painted wall-hangings. These pictures, painted by long forgotten artists, depicted scenes of the history of Gondorian realms.
However, they did not stop to admire these works of art or honour the heroes of the scenes, they had Raalta to find. They retraced Aragorn’s steps following the corridor south. It became clear that the corridor formed a large rectangular gallery. Some doors were labelled, others were not. They saw chambers denoted for the ‘Keeper of the Seal’, the ‘Treasurer’, judicial and council positions, but not one for the ‘Protector of the Books’. They had almost returned to the northern corner, where Éowyn had appeared, and were conversing in whispers what would they do if they could not find the chamber, when they came upon a door, without title, but alongside which lay an open-lidded chest containing an illuminated manuscript with a note, which Aragorn bent down to read. Aragorn looked up and smiled at Éowyn, reading in a hushed voice what the note said:
To be returned to the Hall of Records.
Secretary, Privy Council
then in a confident tone:
‘We can be assured that Raalta resides here.’
As he stood up, his attention was captured by the painting above the chest; for despite the murky light, the characters rose from the canvas and beckoned him. An Elf was prophesizing some doom to a King of Gondor. His face stern and forlorn. Aragorn, could not make out the details of the story, but assumed it was Glorfindel prophesying to Eärnur, son of Eärnil II, after the battle of Fornost, that he should not fight the Witch-king of Angmar, for ‘not by the hand of man will he fall.’ (Tolkien, ‘The Siege of Gondor’)
What Aragorn did not see was that it was not Glorfindel, but an Elven seer prophesying to a future King. Aragorn stood entranced by the picture, although he did not know what drew him to it. He looked at both characters. One hand of the Elf was outstretched as if he was pleading to the King, who seemed distracted and looking beyond the forest in which they stood, his glaze fixed to some far-flung world or person, who was deep in his thoughts. In his other hand the seer held a marble tablet on which a scene had been etched. Aragorn moved closer to the painting, to within inches of it. He looked fixedly at the tablet, but he could not make out the details - it was as if some scene had been painted, but was now erased, just leaving a scoured palette upon which a new picture – a new record - a new future - was to be drawn. Aragorn shuddered as a grim coldness enveloped him; the Elf seemed to be calling to him, but he could not fathom his message.
Éowyn walked to Aragorn, gently joining his gaze, and asked:
‘Aragorn, what draws you to this picture?’
then in a tone of restrained urgency, not wishing to demand his attention:
‘The dawn has broken, and we must see Raalta. We have much to do.’
Aragorn broke away from his gaze, and replied soulfully:
‘A haunting scene Éowyn, of a harrowing prophecy. But we cannot linger here to uncover its secret – perhaps later…?’
Aragorn moved to the door and knocked; forceful blows, of someone of influence calling for urgent attention.
Éowyn smiled to herself, this was not how she would have sought admission.
At the sound of the knock, came a rustling and then movement within the room. Both waited, then the door opened slowly, creakily, and there stood a man, of an age like Gandalf, shorter than Aragorn, but with a heavier build. He was totally bald, but with a scraggy grey beard, a round weather-beaten face, pale hazel eyes that glinted, and an eager and infectious smile. He wore a floor-length robe of brown wool tied slackly in the middle with a frayed cloth belt, and on his feet were rustic leather-woven sandals.
Both Aragorn and Éowyn stood open-mouthed. This was not at all the person they had expected. As Gandalf had spoken of Raalta, a Maia as he was and an esteemed scholar of considerable influence in the realms of Elf and Man, they both expected a person of more imposing statue and presence.
As they stood there, Raalta recognizing them as foreign nobility, spoke in a genial but respectful voice, not reflecting any dismay or annoyance at this unexpected early-morn disturbance:
‘Yes, Lord and Lady, may I be of assistance? I suspect you have ventured to my chamber in error. I am merely the Protector of Gondor’s Books. You surely seek the wing for royal visitors?’
‘We seek your pardon Master Raalta, but we have come on a mission for the Wizard, Gandalf. We have his introduction and instructions,’ Aragorn responded respectfully on the basis of Gandalf’s esteem of this Protector, ‘May we present these to you?’
‘From Gandalf, wise and dear friend. I have not seen him for an age. Come, come and sit in here, out of the cold corridor. Please excuse the state of my humble abode,’ with these words Raalta ushered them into his chamber.
Humble it was; a tiny drab room, with unlined stone walls, which had a greyish-tinge of age and neglect, and the vaulted ceiling, was covered with raw wooden beams. There was a small table in the middle of the chamber, on which were scattered books, some open, others shut piled high. The only other furniture were two slatted chairs, a walnut bookcase stacked with papers and manuscripts, that looked like it had suffered from years of use and had a decided lean on it, and at one end a bed covered with a coarse woven rug in the colours of the forest, of browns, greens and ochre. The bed was pushed against the wall above which was a single window, which would have looked out over Pelennor Fields far below, but now was covered by a rough-hewn timber shutter.
Raalta hurriedly cleared some of the books that were strewn on the table and chairs, stacking them rather hazardously on the bookcase.
‘Please be seated, may I - may I take your cloaks’, he said in a fumbling manner, obviously not being accustomed to greeting or dealing with guests of such standing.
In unison, Aragorn and Éowyn, insisted that this was not necessary, Aragorn ushering Éowyn to one chair, and standing along-side it.
‘Oh no, please you take the other chair,’ Raalta pleaded.
‘Thank you, but I think it would be easier if you sat to read the letter,’ Aragorn replied graciously.
‘No, dear Sir, you sit here, I will read the letter over near the window,’ insisted Raalta.
Raalta went over to the window opened the shutter and pulled out a chest that was underneath the bed, and sat on this. As he read the letter, he mumbled to himself,
Pleased to introduce, Lady Silmariën and Lord Meneldur of Pelargir,’ at which point Raalta looked up and nodded to Éowyn and Aragorn,
Need to consult the Great Books…
‘Ah the Great Books,’ Raalta again looked up from the letter and nodded again to the two.
Aragorn and Éowyn looked at each other, both shaking their heads in disbelief and thinking ‘could this be the scholar Gandalf had mentioned in such deferential terms’.
Need secure lodgings for up a day or so. For reasons of the sensitivity of their mission, these should not be within the royal visitors’ quarters, but somewhere where they could have easy access to the Library.
‘Ah, Gandalf is concerned to keep his mission secure and hidden from prying eyes. He is well to be concerned, for there are dark goings-on-here,’ Raalta muttered to himself and his visitors, ‘The quarters I can organise with no trouble. There are chambers vacant not far from mine, but they provide only the most basic lodging.’ He looked at Aragorn – who gestured agreement with his proposal.
Having satisfied himself that Gandalf’s request was clear, Raalta turned to Éowyn and Aragorn and said in an affable voice, as an old monk would converse with his parishioners:
‘Gandalf has a remarkable knowledge of all things of Middle-earth, second only to Saruman, who you might have heard of, the Wizard of Isengard.’
Both Aragorn and Éowyn answered with a simple ‘Yes.’
‘Ah, Gandalf and Saruman….’ Raalta continued then stopped mid-thought,
‘How different they are…Saruman holding close all he knows, Gandalf… always seeking to share his knowledge, always seeking that deeper understanding for himself, and others… ‘, then bringing himself out of this lost thought:
‘I presume Gandalf could not come himself.’
‘That is correct,’ Aragorn replied, ‘he has urgent work to do in… (he was going to say in Isengard, then remembered Gandalf’s warning, although Raalta was completely trustworthy, it was better to steer him from declaring any facts that may lead Sauron to their purpose), the Shire.’
‘Yes, he has a real love for those of the Shire. Well, when do you want to start?’
Aragorn and Éowyn said again in unison: ‘Immediately.’
Then Éowyn added:
‘We have only a short time in Minas Tirith, for we have other places to visit on our journey.’
‘Well, that should present no problems, now that the Wizard of Isengard has left.’
Aragorn responded, concerned:
‘Saruman was here recently?’
‘Yes, he is a frequent visitor to the Hall of Records. He has the authority of the Steward to do so, and is considered the leading scholar on the history of Middle-earth. But there is insidious arrogance in that Wizard,’ then obviously checking himself from saying anything more added, ‘he left a few days ago with the Steward for the memorial of our Lady.’
Aragorn whispered to Éowyn:
‘He must have travelled here prior to leaving with Denethor for Dol Amroth. Gandalf calculated this correctly, but the timing was very close..’
and before she could reply, Raalta was talking about arrangements for the study of the Books and lodgings. What they heard was he could take them to the Library, but he would need first to arrange lodgings with the Yeoman.
Aragorn and Éowyn managed to convince Raalta to see if he could make discrete arrangements, which would not involve informing the Yeoman officially of their presence.
Raalta, nodded in agreement, saying in confirmation of his understanding:
‘Yes, yes, Gandalf did stress that there was an urgency and need for concealment of your visit,’ but then added:
‘We will need to walk a distance from these lodgings to the Library itself,’ he hesitated in thought then continued, ‘it would be best to take the back route, but not to make it look like we were avoiding others – for that would raise more suspicion.’
Aragorn and Éowyn nodded in agreement.
Raalta then continued:
‘If you are ready, we should leave now, at this time, there will be fewer to notice us.’
Raalta put on a worn cloak of tawny loose-weave cloth, which he fastened at the neck with what seemed to be a brooch very similar to the one worn by Gandalf when he became ‘Gandalf the White’. Éowyn could not help thinking how missed-matched that this beautiful brooch should adorn this worn cloak, but Raalta did not seem at all to be conscious of the brooch’s beauty or this incongruence.
Raalta cautiously opened the door of his chamber, and stepped out, motioning to the two to follow him, down a rear slate set of stairs and then on to a narrow lane. No one appeared. Raalta then lead them through a colonnade made from limestone blocks lined by rambling hedges and across a flagstone walkway that took them across from one side of the tier of the City to the other.
As he walked slightly in front of them, he turned to them and whispered:
‘Many of the dignitaries of the city have travelled with the Steward to the memorial service of our dear Lady Finduilas. You have chosen an opportune time to come.’
Aragorn and Éowyn smiled at one another – a well-thought-out choice of Gandalf’s.
They crossed a cobblestone path, past the stables - the odor of horse and manure wafted powerfully through the air, but for both visitors, lovers of horses, a pleasing earthy aroma; for Éowyn, fond memories of Rohan in another time.
The sun was now venturing beyond the low horizon of an aquamarine sky; its shimmer glistened off the white facades of the buildings. A blustery breeze had sprung up across the fields and buffeted them as they walked; two souls travelling towards an unknown destiny.
As Raalta reached the gate to the seventh level, he could see that the Tower Guard stood there. He was hoping with all that had happened in the city and the memorial, and the early-morn time, this guard may not have been on duty. He turned to Aragorn and Éowyn, and in a breathy-voice said:
‘Did Gandalf give you papers of introduction for the Citadel’s guard?’
Aragorn pulled out the letter carrying the sign of Incánus, the name Gandalf was known by in Gondor, Raalta looked at it and confirmed:
‘It is what is needed. Just follow me. Gandalf has been here numerous times, as have other scholars to research in the Library. If you are asked any questions, give only the briefest of answers. The Guard will not expect more.’
So ushering them along, Raalta came to the Guard. This guard of the Citadel stood staunchly at his post – a tall man, dressed in the garb of these elite of Minas Tirith’s soldiers: a cream robe and black cloak, a breast plate of silver on which the emblem of the white tree was etched, jet-coloured boots and gloves. Upon his head he wore the winged helmet of Gondor, and by its inscription, this was a Captain of the Guards. He wore a sword and held a black-wood spear. He looked an impregnable sentinel of Minas Tirith’s highest fortress.
The Captain bowed in respect to Raalta and the royal visitors, and asked for the papers of Aragorn and Éowyn. Aragorn presented the letter to him. He read it, then said in an official but polite tone:
‘You come on behalf of Incánus, friend and ally to Gondor. You will be aware that the dignitaries of the city have travelled to the memorial service for Lady Finduilas in Dol Amroth, so I apologise for the lack of a befitting welcome.’
Aragorn explained that they had been journeying for some time, and will be continuing, after their visit to Minas Tirith, to travel on to Dol Amroth to pay their respects at the cenotaph of Finduilas then.
The Guard looked searchingly at Aragorn, nodded with approval of his words, then said:
‘Incánus has stated that you will be staying just a few days. Your horses and entourage…?’
They were not prepared for such detailed questioning, but spontaneously Éowyn answered that their party was on its way to the foothills of Mindolluin, were a seer from Pelargir now resided, so the others had proceeded directly there, dropping off the Lord and herself at the White City, and would be returning to join up with them.
The guard pondered on this explanation, then after a moment’s hesitation, turned and faced her, saying with reverence due her standing:
‘You will pardon my Lady if I say that it is unusual to see a woman interested in the writings of history,’
However, before Éowyn could formulate an answer, he added:
‘but I have heard that the women of Pelargir are more liberated in such things. Having six sisters, I think this is a fine thing, for there was a deal of wrangling in my family that women of Minas Tirith were not permitted to take on roles outside their home, but then I suppose that some would think that any change a bad thing,’ then with a roarous laugh seeing the shocked look upon Raalta’s face, he continued:
‘Well I hope dear Lord and Lady, that your time in Gondor will be fruitful. Here is a pass for the days of your visit, so you will not need to answer any additional questions from the Guards of the Citadel’,
and he presented Aragorn with a card carrying the emblem of the White Tree; he bowed in reverence to them, then stood aside to let them pass on to the Citadel.
The three walked away a bit shaken and very relieved, realizing how ill prepared they had been to answer such questions. But they did not stop to confer, for the Captain looked after them as they walked across the Court of the Fountain towards the steps of the Hall of Records.
On their way, they passed a number of people, who greeted Raalta. Raalta did not stop to introduce Éowyn or Aragorn, to their relief; he just returned their good wishes and muttered that he was late already for an appointment. No-one seemed to take notice of the strangers with him, and proceeded on their way.
On this walled fortress of the city, which rose 700 feet from the plains, stood the buildings of the court of Gondor. Around the walls were seven towers of glistening stone, hulking sentinels, yet dwarfed by the Tower of Ecthelion, which stood in the centre and loomed 300 feet high. Upon its pinnacle flew the standard of Gondor, now that of the Steward and not the Kings. As the party walked across the Citadel, Aragorn and Éowyn looked up at the Tower, this symbol of Gondor, and the sun now at quarter mast, made it shimmer as if it was fashioned from iridescent crystals.
In front and to the east of the Tower was the Court of the Fountain, where the White Tree of Gondor stood, now pitifully bereft of life. Behind the Tower, stood the Tower Hall, where the throne of the Kings was housed; to its west was the Royal Palace, residence of the Kings and Stewards of Gondor; to the north was The Hall of Feasts, where over the ages the grand banquets were held, although now it stood without such ceremony for years. To the far east was the Hall of Records; a commanding structure of alabaster blocks inlaid with panels of ornate carvings, and along its façade were a row of sculptured columns. As it stood blanketing the rising sun, an aura, like a glinting veil of pale tangerine, appeared.
As Aragorn and Éowyn were led by Raalta to the Hall, their gaze was drawn to this aura; its glow entrancing them.
Raalta scurried up the ivory granite steps, Aragorn and Éowyn following, and stopped before a pair of enormous timbered-paneled doors. These had been constructed from golden-oak trees of the Grey Wood, but over the Ages, their honeyed glow had turned an ashen hue. Across the panels were carved the symbols of Gondor and learning: the White Tree and Seven Stars, the Tower of Ecthelion, the book of knowledge and images of those scribes of Gondor who over the centuries had devoted their lives to the records and manuscripts held within. The panels were crisscrossed with thick braces of iron, and on which there was a huge bolt.
Raalta took out a brass chain upon which hung a set of keys of all shapes and sizes. Finding a certain one he unlocked the doors with a loud hollow clunk, then ushered them hastily inside, glancing back at the Captain, who was still following their course with interest. Raalta nodded at him, the Captain bowed courteously in return.
Aragorn and Éowyn stopped in amazement at the threshold of the Hall. Here was a vast room, almost the size of the Hall of Gondor, and on all walls to its immense domed ceiling, were rows of bookcases, filled with all manner of manuscripts, scrolls, books, tomes; some folio, others quarto, some bound in rich tooled leather of deepest carmine or indigo, others just volumes with torn parchment covers. The hall loomed as a giant cavern of books. Raalta saw their amazement, and in an assuring tone declared:
‘Do not be concernedLady Silmariën and Lord Meneldur, these are not the books to which you must refer to in your mission for Gandalf. The Library of Gondor has accumulated documents and manuscripts from all over Middle-earth and beyond. The Kings of old encouraged such an accumulation of knowledge, and what you see before you is the most extensive collection in Middle-earth – revered by scholars from the world of elves and the Maiar.’ He conveyed this with obvious pride, clearly being devoted to this collection.
‘But venture in.’
Aragorn beckoned Éowyn ahead of him. Raalta followed behind, closing the door with such a resounding thud that both Aragorn and Eowyn flinched with surprise. He then led them across the floor of patterned terrazzo mosaics towards the southern-most part of the Hall
‘Do you know all these books?’ Aragorn asked Raalta.
‘Every one of them,’ Raalta replied smiling.
Between the bookshelves, on each of the easterly and westerly walls were towering arched windows, but these were obscured by mahogany shutters – now bolted shut; protecting the treasures from the ravages of the fierce morning sun.
Elongated oak desks with benches were positioned at either end; gnarled by years of use by those who over the Ages had sat and read and absorbed the knowledge contained in the volumes, and pondered at what other insights lay to be uncovered.
At the southern end of the hall, was another set of doors, lofty sentinels, made of darker red oak timbers than those of the outer doors; but with the same carved motives. The artisans of Minas Tirith, lovingly and skillfully, had etched out the symbols and history of their city into the heart of these timbers.
Raalta stepped ahead of the other two walking at a slow pace, enthralled with what this Hall of Records guarded, and led them to these internal doors.
‘My Lord and Lady, in here – this is the inner sanctum of the Library’s archives, where only royals and renowned scholars are permitted to enter.’
Raalta’s bunch of keys was still in his hand, and he separated out a silvered one, and unlocked these doors. The doors opened into a less expansive, but elegant, chamber. On its northerly wall was a row of stained-glass windows, partially masked by wood and iron shutters, but through which the silvery-gold orb of the maiden morn cast an array of dazzling colours. From the figures standing, on horseback and repose, the chamber was lit by rays of luminous jade, radiant azure, blazing burgundy; flaring their way into their presence. It was as if a rainbow having fallen from high had shattered, throwing crystals of light into the room. Aragorn and Éowyn stood in wonderment, forgetting for that moment the urgency and anxiety of their search, mesmerized by this display of nature through a creation of man.
But Raalta, used to this sight, did not stop to comment on its beauty. As he spoke to them, pointing out the cedar desk pushed against this northerly wall, underneath the windows which were casting the spell; the spell was broken. The aromatic scent of the cedar exuded throughout the chamber and enveloped the two as if they were in the midst of the cedars of Firien Wood.
‘Here has sat the most distinguished scholars of men, Maiar and Elf. At any one time there might be many who would reference the records contained in the Hall, but only a few can access the books contained in this chamber. This requires assent by the Minister of Records or the Steward himself. However, both are currently travelling to Dol Amroth, and you have Gandalf’s authority, and his wishes carry sway with the minister...’ Raalta did not finish this sentence, as if the rest was understood or not something that he wished to discuss. But Éowyn filled the void of what was left unsaid by asking apprehensively:
‘Are there others to use the Library today?’
‘No My Lady, what monks and scribes remain in Minas Tirith, have in the absence of the others, been diverted to other duties today. You will have the Library to yourselves.’
‘Raalta, the Great Books of Gondor, where are they located?’ added Aragorn now intent on starting their search.
Aragorn scanned the bookshelves which covered the eastern and southern walls of the chamber, searching amongst the hundreds of leather-bound tomes and manuscripts for the Great Books.
‘Ah, the Great Books, they are not stored on these bookshelves; over here my Lord.’
Raalta led them across to the western wall of the chamber. This was made of panels of ebony from trees hidden in the deep-heart of the forest on the western-most reaches of the White Mountains. The intense jet panels had intricate low-relief carving with honey-coloured sandalwood inlays, depicting the mighty Anduin’s voyage from the Misty Mountains to the Bay of Belfalas. Here was the river’s journey passed the forest of Mirkwood; then the bleak woodland of Fangorn; through Rohan, the homeland of Éowyn; into the Emyn Muil, once the northern-most borders of Gondor; cascading over the Falls of Rauros and along the wetlands of the Nindalf; then its winding through Osgiliath, once the fortress of the stars and Gondorian capital; passed Minas Tirith, the seven-tiered citadel of the Kings, and at its end, rushing passed Pelargir, Gondor’s primary port, anxiously making its way to the bay. As Éowyn looked at the wall, she had the impression that the sandalwood and carvings flowed across it, vibrant, alive; as did the Anduin across Middle-earth.
‘They are stored in here,’ Raalta continued with some satisfaction that this pronouncement would shock his two guests.
‘In here?’ Aragorn repeated, then realized that the carving of the Anduin’s journey did more than adorn a wall.
Raalta put down the bunch of keys which had opened the doors of the Hall of Records and now this special chamber. He pulled up the left-hand sleeve of his robe, and revealed a resplendent silver amulet. This was inlayed with an iridescent disk of lapis lazuli, and encrusted around this, were smaller stones of brilliant blue. Raalta turned the disc and it came loose from the amulet. He placed this into a slot in the wall depicting the White Tree of Minas Tirith, then stood back. Immediately there was a rumbling sound, as if the wall had come alive and was groaning. Along where the Anduin flowed, two doors started to open – slowly and laboriously as if they were awoken from a ceaseless sleep. Gigantic panels of ebony, straining under the weight of their movement, moving seemingly at their own will, until they stood perpendicular to the wall.
Aragorn and Éowyn looked in awe at the doors as they opened, then at what these revealed as their treasures...
‘The Great Books of Gondor,’ Raalta announced with pride,
‘From the order of Anárian, the scholars of Middle-earth, they took the words of the Master and the records strewn across the Ages of Men, and for generations made the writing of the Great Books their life work.’
On recessed shelves of the same ebony, stood more than seventy volumes of parchment bound in boards of wood covered in raw umber leather. On their spines were six embossed bands, in between which had been tooled the seven-star design of Gondor and lettering in high-relief gilt.
Éowyn overwhelmed by this sight, remarked reflexively in dismay:
‘But there are so many.’
Raalta responded sensitively:
‘They chronicle all the events of the Ages from the creation of Middle-earth until now. But do not be dismayed, I know which books contain which period, so I can assist at least to find from which of the Books Gandalf wishes you to study.’
‘Thank you’ Aragorn replied, trying to overcome any suspicion arising from Éowyn’s comment, ‘that would be most helpful. How would you suggest we proceed?’
‘Come, sit here,’ Raalta said, ushering them to the desk under the windows. This gives you ample light and air. We can start with one or two books from the period you seek, which I will bring to this desk, and then bring others, as your study progresses.
Éowyn glanced at Aragorn, then responded, trying to counter her previous comment of dismay, by saying, ‘Thank you Raalta, this will suit us well.’
Aragorn said nothing straightaway, concerned about what information to release to Raalta. He recalled Gandalf’s comment that they should proceed with caution in releasing the details of what they sought, in case it put Raalta and others at risk.
‘We have a number of periods to cover Raalta, but if you could show us where we can find reference to the periods from the commencement of the Third Age.’
‘Ah, that would be contained in five books.’ Raalta indicated the five, but as they were too heavy to carry in one go, he pulled one out at a time, and with Aragorn placed them on the desk. Each was labeled in gilt with the date and realm.
Éowyn took off her cloak, folded it and placed it at the end of the table. She was dressed in a robe of the finest emerald-green wool, the colour of the grasslands of Rohan after the first rain of spring. It was of the simplest design, high-necked and flowing. She wore no ornament except for an argent pendant around her neck. Raalta recognised it instantly as that of Gandalf. Her lustrous strawberry-blonde hair cascaded loosely across her shoulders and down her back, with strands overlaid and braided with emerald ribbon. Both men looked at her, but she was not conscious of their stares, so intent was she to start her search.
She lifted the top Book and brought it to her seat, closest to the window, and opened it at the title page. As she did a puff of age-old dust rose and she breathed in its antiquity. The title page and frontispiece were richly illuminated, gilt lined and carrying the image of the emblem of Gondor and another she did not recognise. The parchment was of a mellow beige colour, and surprisingly, felt soft to the touch. Intermixed with the illustrations there was a scribing in a graceful exquisite hand. As she turned the pages, ever so carefully, an aroma of ages-past wafted into the air and enveloped her. This was not the first time Éowyn had seen or referred to such manuscripts, and she was used to reading the elaborate calligraphy. In Rohan, her tutor had been a monk from an order in Alburg, her home city. When the young children of Éomund and Théodwyn were orphaned and brought into the household of King Théoden, he travelled with them. He taught them the history of their line and Rohan from such manuscripts, inspiring in Éowyn a reverence for these works.
Here a story unfolded in words and illustrations. It gave the history of the life in this time and realm, of that of the King and his subjects, of the profound and everyday, of the tragedy and of the joy, of a people struggling with and against adversity. Éowyn was profoundly moved by the whole experience, the sight, feel and smell of the Book and of the unfolding of the chronicle of this world; she felt the history of the Age seep from the pages into her being.
She was jolted back into their now, by Raalta who had moved to where she sat, saying:
‘Here are quill, ink and parchment for your use. I must leave you now to make other arrangements but, and I offer you my apologies in this regard, as I am responsible and there is no assistant of mine here today, I must lock the doors with you inside this chamber. No-one will disturb you.’
Aragorn relieved for this assurance that none would see or interrupt them, replied:
‘We understand Raalta; we have no problem with this. We appreciate the extreme care needed to protect these Books.’
Raalta took leave of them both, saying that he would not be long, and proceeded towards the door. Aragorn, took his leave from Éowyn, and caught up with Raalta as he walked into the Hall of Records.
‘Raalta, in addition to the Great Books, Gandalf requests that I ask you for the manuscripts relating to the prophecies of the Elves.’
Raalta hesitated; he looked intently at Aragorn, then said, in a solemn voice:
‘The prophecies of the Elves. Gandalf seeks something …?’, then keeping his gaze on Aragorn, as if he was trying to reach into his mind, ‘Gandalf must have complete confidence in you to reveal that these exist.’
He hesitated again, as if torn by a dilemma:
‘If Gandalf trusts you so, then I see no harm in doing likewise. Their existence is guarded and the manuscripts themselves hidden, but I will get them for you.’
Aragorn could sense Raalta’s hesitancy, so responded:
‘When you return will be sufficient. But if you could leave them on the table over here. I have some private work to complete – for Gandalf.’
‘For Gandalf… then the maiden does not need these, or to know. I understand,’ Raalta whispered, then without further words, walked to the doors of the Hall, opening, then shutting them behind him. The bolt clanged heavily as he did, its booming-sound echoing through the Hall.
Aragorn returned to Éowyn, and reassuredly said:
‘We are alone for now, where do you want to start?’
‘We had better start from the words of The Light,’ Éowyn heedfully pulled the book she had opened towards her, adding:
‘I do not like not being fully open with Raalta this way.’
To which Aragorn replied in a voice tinged uncharacteristically with apprehension:
‘Éowyn, it is as Gandalf advised; these precautions are necessary for the sake of the Quest and Raalta himself.’
Aragorn took off his cloak. Still the simple Ranger at heart, he would have been more comfortable to travel in the unrefined raiments of the Dúnedain, but as he was meant to be a Lord from Pelargir, Gandalf had convinced him to be attired in such a manner. He was entirely robed in black, with a jerkin of broadcloth under which was a long-sleeved shirt of finest samite. His finely-tooled knee-high pelt boots covered worsted britches, with broad-patterned stitching along each leg. His hair hung to his shoulders, in ranger style; this Gandalf could not convince him to change, other than to have it pulled back with a rawhide tie and to have his beard neatly clipped. Éowyn looked up from her book and scanned the handsome rugged face. The fervid sepia eyes, strong gothic nose, and lips that portrayed the resolute but reserved soul hidden within.
Aragorn threw his cloak over one of the chairs, then unbuckled his sword and placed it on the table. As he did, Éowyn smiled, for Anduril defined Aragorn’s kingship and he rarely let it go from his side.
Aragorn took a volume from the pile and sat at the end of the table. Éowyn had re-commenced reading the volume before her, not wishing to linger in her gaze of him. A sudden desperation came upon her, she needed to refocus her attention on the book and not him, she needed to find a sign, and urgently.
Aragorn observed the intensity of Éowyn reading and wishing not to disturb her, he asked hesitantly:
‘Éowyn, how are you approaching your search?’
Éowyn looked up and at him, and replied in a soft yet decisive voice:
‘I am looking for some reference to a female child being born to the household of a King. Whoever destroyed all records of her as a Queen, may not have been able to destroy records of her birth. Once I have located this, then I can see who disappeared as an adult, then…’, she lingered on this thought, for though formulated it was not fully resolved.
Aragorn completed her unfinished words with:
‘Ingenious, as always Éowyn.’
Éowyn smiled at his kind support, but added less assuredly:
‘Only there are hundreds of years and realms to cover.’
‘I am sure Éowyn, with your connection to her, she will direct your course, and I can help until Raalta returns.’
‘And then, he will provide you with the documents for your search,’ Éowyn replied, but she was careful not to intrude on his task. Aragorn had not revealed to her all the details of his search, and she did not want to force his hand on this.
Guardedly he responded:
‘Yes, Raalta has confirmed as Gandalf told, that there are Elven manuscripts kept here in a secreted place, but until he returns I will continue your search in Book 2.’
‘I am most grateful for your help until then,’ she responded, thanking him further with her eyes, and in so, betraying those feelings she held to herself; with fleeting embarrassment, she averted them back to her reading.
Aragorn sensed her vulnerability, but knew she would not want him to do so, so he said nothing in reply. He opened the book with care. He was not one of learning, nor was he moved as Éowyn was by the experience of touching the Book itself, but as he turned the pages he felt the power of the history it portrayed, and the future it would help foretell.
Both sat without talking, reading through the words, looking for the birth of a princess.
A time passed, and Aragorn sighed, then looked with disquieted eyes over to Éowyn, and asked:
‘What if she was not born a princess?’
Éowyn looked up pensively and replied:
‘It is one thing I have feared, but I know of no other way to find her, and I have a strong sense from everything that I have felt about her that she was. So I will continue until this thinking leads no-where.’ Then, casting her eyes away from his, she returned to her search.
They continued in silence, and the minutes passed into an hour, then the silence was broken.
Aragorn stood up hearing the bolt of the door being opened, and as he walked to meet Raalta, he passed Éowyn; he put his hand on her shoulder to reassure her, saying kindheartedly:
‘I am sure you are right.’
Éowyn looked after him walking to the door. She said nothing, but her heart spoke as it quickened its pace, but she gave this no lingering thought, and returned to the Book.
Raalta entered, puffing:
‘Everything has been arranged successfully,’ he said as he met Aragorn.
‘Thank you Raalta,’ then almost in a whisper, Aragorn replied:
‘Can we now find the documents I seek? Apologies for my pressing you in this way.’
‘There is no need for any apologies. Gandalf has always worked under some urgency or other. Come with me into the main Hall, what you need is located with the records from the Eldar.’
Raalta put down a document he was carrying on the other end of the table from where Éowyn was sitting. He asked of her search, she confirmed that it was progressing and that she would appreciate his counsel when she had covered more of the history of the realm she was studying.
Raalta took his leave and walked into the Hall, Aragorn following closely behind.
On the wall adjacent to the Royal Archives, he clambered up some steps that he pushed to the bookcase. He took out some manuscripts, placing these on the shelf, and pulled from what was obscured by these manuscripts, a reed box.
‘I think in this is what you are looking for,’ he said, handing the box to Aragorn, who placed it on the nearest table.
Raalta walked back into the Archives and to Éowyn.
Aragorn sat down at the table. The box was unadorned – not what one would think would contain such treasures, but then, what better way to hide the importance of the work hidden within.
Aragorn opened the box and saw that it contained a number of scrolls, papers and manuscripts. In amongst these there was an Elven-leather covered manuscript, embossed with the symbols of the Eldar. It was written in a hand he had seen previously in Elrond’s house. These were the prophecies of the Elves of The Journey, written in Quenya, the venerable language of the High Elves. Although Aragorn understood the Elven-tongue, it was a laborious exercise for him to understand the meaning of these prophecies, for there were hundreds and, as Gandalf warned, they were written in riddles and contradictions. After several hours, he looked up. From where he was reading, he could see through the doorway to where Éowyn was sitting. She was surrounded by the Great Books, a number lay open, and she was writing absorbedly. Raalta sat at the other end of the desk going through some documents that he had picked up. Aragorn, stood up, and prowled around the Hall. Éowyn looked up, saw his troubled pacing, but said nothing, too consumed with her search, and sensing that he would not want her words now.
Raalta announced it was after mid-day, which neither Éowyn nor Aragorn had realised, and suggested that they break for food and drink. Éowyn tried to say she could not stop now, but Raalta was politely insistent:
‘You need a break my Lady. Even Gandalf took a respite from study and would expect me to make sure you to do so.’
Éowyn eventually agreed, but insisted that they return as soon as possible. Aragorn returned all the papers to the box, recording where he was up to. As Raalta led them out of the Hall Éowyn leaned close to Aragorn and whispered:
‘You may have been correct.’
Aragorn consoled her, taking her hand and saying caringly:
‘We have this afternoon and the morrow.’
Having requested that they not join any visitors to the Citadel, Raalta had made arrangements for food and drink to be provided in a small building adjacent to the Hall of Feasts. This was where scribes and monks took their meals after hours with the records, rather than returning to their lodgings, a level below. However, as no scribes or monks were on duties at the Hall of Records that day, there was no-one to observe them. As they walked out of the greyish light of the Hall, the daylight dazzled their eyes, and for a moment they stood blinded, although shielded from view by the column-alcove. As soon as his eyes acclimatized, Aragorn looked around and saw that no-one was in this part of the Citadel.
The sun was in full bloom, glistening in a sea of cobalt sky. There was a light breeze blowing through the heat of the mid-day, and wafting on these waves was the perfume of the gardens near the House of the Healing, mixed with that of the aroma of the stables, both just a level below. All seemed as if on a normal day in Minas Tirith, although it was without its Steward and dignitaries. It would be some ten years before the shadow of Mordor would be cast across Gondor. But today, in this time, for the occupants of Minas Tirith there was no sense of danger and of the war to come.
The three now looked at the scene before them. There was the Citadel Guard in the distance at its entrance, and judging by his size, this was not the Captain who had interrogated them, but another who was presently distracted in talking to what looked like a livery-boy; who apparently was delivering news from the stables. On the other side of the Tower, at the entrance to the Tower Hall, a group of people were gathered, engrossed in conversation. At the farthest end of the Citadel, the guards of the Palace, in the absence of the Steward, were not scrutinizing all the happenings on the Citadel. Otherwise they would have noticed the three leave the Hall of Records and walk behind the Hall of Feasts.
This dining hall, was a modest building in the white-stone of Minas Tirith, built in the shadow of the Hall constructed for the city’s banquets. This hall catered for the needs of visitors and others who required meals and other refreshments, but were not of the nobility or there not on a feast day. Luckily the guards took their meals in their barracks, and did not use this hall. The building had none of the artwork or stonemasonry of the other Halls. An undecorated paneled door, which Raalta unlocked with one of his keys, led into a rectangular lobby, off which ran a dimly-lit corridor.
‘I have requested the room that Incánus … Gandalf, always dines in when he visits Minas Tirith. There are others here, but in this no-one will disturb you,’ Raalta announced in a whispering voice, as if fearful of being overheard.
And indeed, as Raalta ushered Éowyn and Aragorn into the chamber, voices from down the corridor could be heard; a number of animated voices talking earnestly on some matter.
However, with Raalta’s assurance, Éowyn and Aragorn felt secure from inquisitive eyes in this chamber. The room had a provincial charm about it, with white-washed walls and ceiling, and a well trodden wooden floor. It contained an unpolished table and bench, and its only adornment was a tapestry wall hanging which fell from ceiling to floor, covering the middle-part of the end wall.
Éowyn and Aragorn found that food had already been laid out for them – plain but wholesome faire; plates of roasted chicken and veal, bright yellow cheese and seeded rye bread, with a jar of the lime chutney that Minas Tirith was famous for. In a pottery jug was a straw-coloured ale with a creamy froth, a brew from a local village; and in an earthenware dish, overflowing with purple-peel figs, plump green grapes and crimson berries. Both Éowyn and Aragorn had not realized that they had not eaten for hours, so such a spread was a pleasant and welcomed sight.
Raalta apologized that he had to leave to attend to a pressing matter, but that he would return in short time. He confirmed that they would not be disturbed, but that they should not open the door of the chamber to anyone but himself. He passed plates to the two and filled their glasses, then as he left, locking the door to the chamber.
Apart from the brief period in the Library, and that time in The Light when Aragorn had spoken privately to Éowyn, this was the first occasion when the two had sat down together since they had met again in this time. And although much had passed between them in the Third Age, and now in their journey together, both were caught up acutely in the task ahead, and a ponderous silence ensued.
Aragorn passed Éowyn the plate of meats and cheese, and she placed a slice on her plate. She began to eat, and while thankful for the sustenance she felt the food giving to her, she could not relax enough to eat; she felt the time and her task slipping away. She was immersed in thought when she heard Aragorn say:
‘Perhaps you have started too early.’
Éowyn looked at him, pondering at his words, then with a sudden realisation exclaimed:
‘Too early, no! I think I have started too late!’
But before she could explain, for she had just realised that while the Nazgûl had appeared in Middle-earth in 1300 of the Third Age, in fact she just recalled being told that originally they had arose in 2250 of the Second Age (disappearing into the shadows in 3440 and then re-emerging in 1300 TA), so she had not started early enough, Raalta appeared at the door. Patently he had rushed from wherever he had come; beads of perspiration lay on his brow, and was puffing from exertion. He shut the door with a thud, and rushed over to where they were sitting.
‘Leave everything, we must depart forthwith, I will explain later.’
Raalta picked up the cloaks, placing Éowyn’s around her shoulders and giving Aragorn his, then taking Éowyn’s hand, in a less than his usual refined manner, ushered her towards the tapestry. This hid an alcoved doorway, which he opened with one of his many keys, and hurried them both into a shadowy passage, closing and bolting the door behind him. He had taken a candle from the room and lit it, and with its fragile flickering light, led the way to some roughly hewn steps descending into darkness. They hastened down the flights of stairs, with Raalta muttering as they descended into the blackness:
‘They will not locate our position…. not too much further down,’ almost as if he was reassuring himself as well as the other two.
As they descended, their footsteps disturbed the grime of centuries and set a film of dust swirling about them, restricting their breathing and making them gag. As they stepped, things unseen, scampered passed their feet, and cobwebs hanging from the low-set ceiling, reached out for and covered their hoods and faces with their snarling threads.
They continued ever down. Raalta’s breathing became laboured, as did theirs, for the air was thin and dank, and the blackness oppressive. No sound but their steps and the scurrying, and a coldness pervaded, which sliced through their cloaks and chilled them to the bone.
The candle was barely throwing any light now, and they stumbled down the stairs. However, Raalta kept up the pace, leading them onward into what seemed like a never-ending gloom.
Then Raalta stopped. The staircase opened up into an alcove utterly devoid of light. Only the candle hinted at the dimensions of this space. Éowyn thought that they must be in the bowels of the City.
‘Dark as the pits of Moria,’ she thought to herself.
Scattered around were what seemed to be packing boxes but these were covered in a caliginous layer of dust, and a spider had enveloped the entire space in a colossal web of labyrinthine patterns.
Raalta cast aside the web, then dusted off the boxes and motioned to Éowyn and Aragorn to sit down. Éowyn sat down, but Aragorn insisted that Raalta take the other. Raalta accepted his offer and sat there for a minute catching his breadth before saying in a quavering voice:
‘An agent from Saruman has arrived at Gondor. He has seen the King’s Counsel of the Arms, who has remained to run the City in the absence of the Steward, with advice from Saruman that he believes that the Great Books are in danger from Sauron spies.’
‘We are no spies from Sauron,’ Éowyn retorted.
‘I know my Lady, but it is a ploy to stop access to the Library from others. Saruman must be concerned about the information that Gandalf is trying to collect. In any case, the Steward is not available, and they search for me, for I am the only other one with keys to the Royal Archives. They have positioned guards at the entrance to Hall of Record for protection.’
‘Then what can we do, we have yet to finish our task’, uttered Éowyn in despair.
‘Do not worry. To give us some time, the Yeoman has been told that I am in prayers and cannot be disturbed until the afternoon.’
‘But if they get access when you return, they will find the Great Books on the table,’ exclaimed Éowyn.
‘And the manuscript, I left,’ added Aragorn.
‘Ah yes, it would be dangerous to provide them with evidence such as this. But there is a solution. It requires of me to trust you, which because of Gandalf’s words, I am willing to do. We must make our way into the Hall through the archive entrance.’
‘I thought there was only the one entrance to the Hall,’ Aragorn uttered surprised.
‘Yes, no-one but Gandalf, one other and I know of this entrance, through these secret staircases, and now you both will know.’
Éowyn and Aragorn looked at each other, then at Raalta:
‘You can be assured your secret will be safe with us,’ Aragorn declared sincerely.
‘I have already trusted you to bring you here, and telling you this,’ Raalta continued solemnly.
Éowyn felt humble and embarrassed, for they had not been frank and honest with Raalta about their task.
‘However, it is best that we only know what we need to know, just in case’ Raalta added, as if he wished to ease Éowyn’s unspoken concerns.
He looked at Éowyn,
‘Can you manage an equal number of steps, but this time ascending? You see we have come to a pathway at the base of the City, it crosses below the seven tiers, and then we must go up to the Citadel through this staircase.’
‘I am fine, but I am concerned for you,’ she replied.
‘There is no need, but I will take the steps at a slow pace, I must apologise for my feebleness.’
Before Éowyn could reply, Raalta stood up, went across the archive, and then by pulling a lever on the wall, a doorway, honed from the stone on the wall, appeared and through that, a staircase that seemed to spiral ever-up, but then was lost in the blackness overhead. The air was stale and damp, and a rancid odour poured down.
Éowyn braced herself and then entered the staircase. She could feel her legs throbbing and quivering beneath her. She thought how Raalta must be in pain, but despite his warning, he was climbing steadily, but now not saying anything. The candle he carried spluttered, and Éowyn thought, how pitch-black and desperate it would be if it went out, how she imagined it was for Thráin in the pits in Dol Guldur. They climbed for an age in what seemed an endless time and space. Soon she was not aware of the odour anymore, just her breathing and the effort in taking each step.
The staircase wound upward through a number of landings; Éowyn surmised, representing the tiers of the city. On each of these, just discernible in the trembling sallow light, other shadowed doorways appeared set into the stone. But Raalta did not stop to explain, but left the other two to ponder, in their breathlessness, about where else this secret staircase led. As they ascended, the air appeared to get lighter, less putrid, and that from above the breath of a breeze was faned by some access to the open air. This almost imperceptible change gave Éowyn heart to continue, the others felt it too; and for weary souls of the three, it revived them like a fresh sea breeze on a hot humid day.
Then after it seemed they had climbed a thousand steps, Raalta stopped, he turned and whispered:
‘We are here.’
He went to the wall in front, and located a lever, which opened a low-hung doorway. They had to bend over to get through the opening into a cramped and dingy room. It contained a plank cot, a cabinet, table and stool, all in a state of disrepair. It was clear that someone, some time ago, had used this as a form of refuge. Here the dust lingered as a fine film in the air, but it was not caked-on the furniture as if unused for years. A bowl and jug stood on the cabinet, with a candle, which was now not lit, but which was half-burnt down.
‘You should stay here, My Lady,’ Raalta said to Éowyn, and he lit the candle on the table with the flame of the one he carried.
‘If Lord Meneldurcan come with me, we can put the books away where they belong, then return.’
In other times, Éowyn would have insisted on helping, but after the climb she was relieved to have been excluded. Aragorn pulled out the stool for her:
‘Here, rest; we will be but a minute.’
She thanked him, and he smiled at her acceptance of this, knowing in another time, she would have felt slighted.
Aragorn followed Raalta, squeezing passed the table, to a door, which Raalta had opened although Aragorn had not seen how, and through which they disappeared.
Aragorn and Raalta steeped into the Archives, from a doorway which had been concealed by the wall of bookcase. With the light from a window partly opened, they positioned the Great Books in their correct order in their cabinet and retrieved the papers Éowyn had been using. Aragorn picked up the box of Elven documents and gave them to Raalta, but Raalta motioned that Aragorn should take them with him, saying:
‘No-one knows that these records exist, they need not be returned, take them with you.’
Then Raalta stealthily opened the door to the main Hall. He went across to the step-ladder on the southern wall, which he had used to reach Aragorn’s documents, and as noiselessly as possible, conscious that the guards stood just outside the Hall’s doors, pushed it along to the far-end, away from the Eldar collection.
Aragorn had just entered the Hall as he did this, so Raalta went across to him, and in a serious tone whispered:
‘Just in case someone uses the ladder’s position to see what part of the collection was the latest subject of enquiry.’
Aragorn nodded in agreement with this strategy, amazed that this outwardly naïve and unassuming being would be capable of thinking of this maneuvering; but then he corrected his thoughts, this being was not as Raalta’s outward physical appearance would signify, for Aragorn was sure, that a prodigious power existed within.
Raalta took one final look around the Hall and Archive chamber, then feeling assured that no tell-tail signs remained, they went back through the doorway, closing the bookcase as they did.
Éowyn was relieved to see them return.
Raalta could see Éowyn looking at the box that Aragorn carried.
‘I could not keep one of the Great Books for you, as each has its particular place, and it would be obvious if everything was not returned as it was. The box that Lord Meneldurholds, only Elrond, Gandalf and I am aware of. I feel confident that even Saruman does not know of its existence, so it will not be missed. I must return the way we came and make my way to the chapel, from which I will emerge, and then come, as summoned to the Hall to open it for the Counsel.’
‘What if they have gone to the chapel and found you not there,’ Éowyn interrupted, gravely concerned in case Raalta was exposed.
‘Ah, even the Counsel cannot interrupt these prayers. In any case I have friends who will cover for me if this is the case, you need not worry. However, it would be wise for you to stay here. There is a window here, covered by these shutters, but I advise not opening it now. There is water and glasses, and I will see to other things we need while away, but my return may be some time off.’
Then Raalta produced from under his cloak, an aged manuscript, handing it to Éowyn, saying:
‘Not one of the Great Books, but one that Gandalf and I have found very useful in chronicling the Kings of Men and what is known of the history of the Nazgûl. One that was written as a supplementary reference to the Great Books, but will not be missed by those who will search the Archives.’
‘Thank you Raalta, this will be of immeasurable value,’ Éowyn replied gratefully, her hands shaking with excitement as she accepted his gift. It was precisely what she needed, but wondered if it went back far enough. However at that moment, she somehow felt that despite their secrecy with Raalta, which she regretted, he was aware of the nature of their search.
‘Do not despair if I am away for a lengthy time. If any urgency arises, I will communicate with Gandalf, and he will then contact you,’ he looked at each with a knowing smile, ‘we Maia share many abilities,’ then after a moment’s hesitation, ‘I know, I do not have the appearance of a Maia, but that is a story I will share with you in less pressing times,’ and with that he disappeared through the doorway that led down the spiral staircase.
‘Poor Raalta he will have hundreds of steps to descend and then climb again,’ Éowyn exclaimed.
‘He has more strength than his stature denotes,’ replied Aragorn, ‘and I sense he has many other powers, we have yet to appreciate.’
With these words, Aragorn poured out a goblet of water for Éowyn and himself, and sat down saying:
‘I wonder how long this water has been here?’
With all the anxiety of the journey down then up the steps over with, Éowyn became aware of her raging thirst, and gave little thought to his comment. She drunk from the goblet. The water tasted pure and chilled, as if it just had been poured from a spring rising in the peaks of the White Mountains.
‘It is wonderfully refreshing’, she declared, then opened the manuscript that Raalta had presented to her. In the dull fluttering light of the candle, she started her search anew, tracing the line of kingdoms of men from the Second Age.
It seemed that hours passed since Raalta left, and even though both were engrossed in their search, the chill of concern enveloped them. Everything was deathly still, even the scurrying of the creature-inhabitants of this room, disturbed initially by their appearance, had stopped. It sent a strange sense of surrealness in the room; here they were, two strangers from a different time locked away, while outside, unbeknown and inaccessible to them, much would be happening.
However the silence and their thoughts were suddenly shattered by the distinctive clunk of the bolt of the doors of the Hall being thrown, and then the sound of the lock on the doors of the Royal Archives being turned. Then following the sound of scuffing steps and some words, they heard the groaning of the doors of the Anduin opening. Then followed a muffled discussion, and although the words could not be discerned, the distinguishing tones of four voices could be made out, including that of Raalta and the Captain of the Citadel Guards. It seemed like an age passed.
‘Surely they must be finished checking that all the Great Books are in place,’ Aragorn whispered concernedly.
Éowyn said nothing, but her anxiety was rising, her mind racing with the idea, had they missed returning something that would alert these agents of Saruman to their presence and mission.
However, as the sun lingered before continuing its journey to the welcoming west sky, so they heard the doors of the Anduin straining on their journey back into the wall.
Then from just beyond their room, they heard someone walk to the bookshelf which hid their doorway, and they could make out that books were being taken from shelf, and after a fretful pause, returned.
They sat in silence. Éowyn found herself holding her breadth in anticipation of being discovered by those just feet away.
Again there was some talking, and a raised voice. Had the doorway been discovered?
There was a vigorous discussion from those unseen, and then echoing steps receding from the southern bookcase. The door of the Archives was opened, then locked, then there was a strange steeping then scrapping sound. Aragorn recognised it at once; it was the step-ladder, it had been climbed, then moved.
He did not explain, but in a reassuring but whispered tone declared:
‘They are leaving the Hall now – we are safe.’
They heard the footsteps moving farther away, and the bolt of the Hall entrance doors being opened then closed. Then nothing.
They looked at each other relieved that the danger had passed.
Aragorn then added:
‘Raalta will return soon and we will hear what has occurred.’
Éowyn nodded in agreement. They returned to their reading, to their searching the words of the past for answers for the future.
Time passed, but it was difficult, cocooned as they were, to gauge how long.
Aragorn got up and paced the room. He then went to the shutter on the window, opening it somewhat to get an indication of the time. He could see the glimmer of coral-coloured rays as the sun was making its way westward to its crowning rest for that day. The sky was a milky colour, and a hazy breeze brought the aromas of a day nearly spent. It was late afternoon. He sat down, and a pensive and perturbed expression descended across his face.
‘Valiant as he is,’ Éowyn thought, ‘he cannot stand being caged.’
Then looking at him more intently as he sat, eyes first on the manuscript then on her, she saw it was more than agitation caused by their confinement; she saw profound distress had engulfed him.
‘You have found something, something you dreaded you would find,’ she said, but as the words left her lips, they gasped with concern.
He said nothing at first, then rising and returning to the slit in the window that he had left:
‘Yes, Éowyn, if only Gandalf was here to consult.’
‘You can contact him.’
‘But it is too dangerous, especially with Saruman’s agents so close.’
She wanted to offer her help, but whatever it was he had found, she knew he would not release it to her until he was ready to do so, so instead she replied compassionately:
‘You could discuss it with Raalta, after all he has taken us into his trust, and he is a Maia.’
‘So is Saruman, and so was Sauron.’
‘But he is a friend of Gandalf, and has risked much to keep us safe.’
‘You are probably right Éowyn, but if my suspicions are confirmed, I must leave at dawn to consult Elrond and Galadriel.’
Éowyn was horrified. This was not what they had planned with Gandalf. They were instructed to travel together and she had not uncovered ‘her Queen’; she felt an overwhelming sense of betrayal by his wanting to leave.
He sensed her feelings, and added in the following breadth:
‘I do not want to leave Éowyn, and will stay to help you to find your Queen, but I must...’
‘Then how will we ever meet up.’
‘We will find her before I need to depart. We will determine where she is, and as I will not have time to return here, I will meet up with you there.’
Éowyn stood up, walked to the shadows of the far wall, wanting to find space to gain her composure. She was overcome by the vulnerability and despair she had felt with his words as he left for the Paths of the Dead.
He sensed her distress and went over to her.
‘You are the most courageous person I know, we will find her together, but I have no choice but to leave.’
Then after a pause in which he considered each word, he continued:
‘I promised you I would never treat you in this manner again, but I cannot tell you now what I think I must do, for I need Elrond and Galadriel to direct my course, and only wish that Gandalf was here to confirm what I have found. But The Light watches over us, Éowyn, of this I am sure, and will protect our separate courses for this next step, from where we will meet up again to do what we must do together.’
She looked at him, and saw the grievous pain in him. She had made assumptions about what he might have to do based on the words of The Light, but in looking at him now, she realised what it actually meant. She did not want to intrude on this, and she did not know what she could say that would help him in his decision. All she could do is reassure him that she would be confident in where-ever hers and his, duty lay, and so she declared with all the confidence she could muster:
‘Of course, we will find her. Then we can sort out how we can make sure we meet up to finish what we must do together.’
Her heart was breaking, for him and her, but she was determined not to have any of this show. Her eyes downcast, he looking with tenderness and admiration at her, she returned to the table, ready to re-commence her search, when there were footsteps on the stairs, and Raalta appeared in the doorway.
‘Everything has been arranged, apologies for the time it has taken. The Counsel, Captain of the Guard and Saruman’s emissary have inspected the Archives and have confirmed that the Great Books are safe, and Saruman’s fears are as yet unfounded . But they have insisted that a Citadel guard be posted on duty at all times to watch the entrance to the Hall until the Steward returns. Of course, the Captain made mention of your visit, but I am confident that I convinced them that you had been called back to your touring party and had left Minas Tirith earlier this afternoon. And indeed a group of visitors did leave this afternoon, those that you heard in the Dining Hall earlier, so should the Captain check with the guards at the City’s Gates, this cover story should suffice for now. And in terms of your search, we have this access to the Great Books either by staying here or returning to the Royal Archives.
Aragorn, claustrophobia raging, replied:
‘Éowyn and I have still much to do, and if there is no chance of detection, we would find working in the Archives more desirable than here. In my regard, I am hopeful that with the document you have provided, that much of what I have sought has already been revealed and now only my interpretation needs confirmation.’
‘Ah, yes,’ Raalta sighed, ‘the prophecies are written in codes and riddles, but I am acquainted with the writing of the Elves, so if you wish, I may be able to assist your understanding,’ and then he continued in reassurance, ‘You can feel confident that you will not be disturbed in the Archives, for despite the suspicions stirred by Saruman, the keys remain in my keeping.’
With all in agreement, Raalta opened the door, Éowyn closed the manuscript and walked through the doorway into the Archive-chamber. Raalta then closed the bookcase. Éowyn was amazed how it flawlessly concealed the doorway and its entrance to the room, and beyond, the staircase.
Raalta walked over to the window and pushed a shutter marginally ajar. The warm light of the waning sun rushed in, giving solace to the three.
Both Aragorn and Raalta strode across to the northern wall, Aragorn lingering back as the doors of the Anduin groaned their way open.
‘Which of the Books do you need My Lady’, Raalta asked.
‘I think our search needs to start earlier Raalta, we need those books from the beginning of the Second Age; that world of men before the time the Nazgûl firstly appeared.
Raalta and Aragorn brought across the Great Books dealing with the world of the Númenóreans.
Éowyn picked up Volume One of this Age, as she did she felt an instant passionate connection to it. It was an overpowering feeling that engulfed her senses, but she said nothing to the others, who now stood in huddled conversation, this Maia and King. She opened the magnificent cover illuminated with a map of Númenór in a palate of gold-leaf, azurite, ochre and malachite. Éowyn started to read the words, and they spoke then sang to her, as from poignant notes of the lute beckoning her to read on, giving life to the words.
Aragorn and Raalta walked into the Hall, Aragorn taking the manuscript with him. She heard them talking, and in their softly-spoken timbre, she became aware of how similar Raalta’s voice was to that of Gandalf’s. She was pleased that Aragorn would have Raalta’s counsel, which she was sure would now confirm, and give him the confidence for the course of action that lay before him.
They did not return until the expiring rays of the sun now in its end-journey for the day, disappeared from the window. A biting breeze now gusted into the room, bringing with it the greyness of the day, as Éowyn’s efforts began to sap her energy. She closed the shutter, and lit the candle; it gave her a comforting glow and consoling warmness.
Aragorn appeared. He sat down beside Éowyn, and declared despairingly:
‘Éowyn, there is much I must tell you..,’ then he paused in tortured turmoil of how to begin.
Wishing to ease his feeling of obligation, she interjected consolingly:
‘Aragorn, do not feel you are compelled to tell me.’
‘I am not compelled Éowyn, but I wish to share with you what must be done, what I must do.’
Aragorn spoke in a measured somber voice as he looked at her. She saw there was pain in what lay before him, but his anguish and doubt no longer overwhelmed him.
Éowyn listened to all his words, and said with sincere sadness but strength:
‘You will need more courage now in what you face, than ever you needed on the battlefield. But I have no doubt that you will meet this trial with undaunted dignity and courage.’
She could find no other words, but she did not need them, for his eyes thanked her for her understanding, and he responded in appreciation:
‘Dear Éowyn, your friendship and trust give me strength to face that which lies…,’ then not wishing to dwell on this meaning, added: ‘but we have still much to do this eve.’
Aragorn looked over Éowyn’s shoulder at her writings and tabulations, years, cross-checking dates of kings, queens and the birth of princesses.
Éowyn had just come upon the story of Tar-Súrion, ninth ruler of Númenór. As she turned the page of the Great Book, there was an entry: Tar-Súrion’s eldest sister had journeyed to Middle-earth and had wed a Lord of Anduin, and made her home in the Northern Lands. Her daughter, Isilma, wed King Theod of the Northmen:
To King Theod and Queen Isilma, a daughter born in the Second Age on 29 September 1950; the child was blessed with ‘righteousness’.
There were references about two other children born to Isilma, both boys, one older than the princess.
Éowyn read on through the pages, the time slipped away. Aragorn lingered over her shoulder.
There were comments about the sons, but no other reference about the daughter. She turned the pages delicately, breathlessly, yes the sons had traveled across Middle-earth, and there were comments on associations with other Northmen. She looked across to the manuscript given to her by Raalta. There were references to the sons of Isilma, but nothing about the daughter. She looked at Aragorn still standing at her side, seeking some agreement from him about her find.
‘But what if the daughter just died,’ Aragorn reasoned reluctantly, knowing this would ruin Éowyn’s theory.
‘Then this would be mentioned,’ she replied in a quiet tone of confidence.
Éowyn showed Aragorn, how the Book recorded all births and deaths. They were ensnared by their search.
The night blossomed – but they did not feel the growing darkness – both in their time – and in another place.
There were comments about the rule of Theod after the tragedy of the death of the elder son, who was killed by some mysterious illness caused by an uncontrollable fever. But nothing about the daughter of Isilma; the princess had just disappeared.
‘See Aragorn,’ Éowyn exclaimed excitedly, not realising that she had uttered his name in her excitement, ‘The death of the eldest son has been documented, but nothing about the daughter. Nothing other than her birth, and her being blessed with ‘righteousness.’
‘Righteousness, righteousness….’ Aragorn declared,:
‘I recall something about a blessing about righteousness in one of Elrond’s manuscripts. I noticed it because it was such an odd blessing to give.’
He rummaged through the Elven manuscripts and found the one containing the Númenorim prophecies. He brought this back to where Éowyn was sitting, and flicking through the pages, then finding the prophecy he was looking for, announced:
‘Here it is, as I had remembered it, a blessing about righteousness’, although I had not read it right through. He sat down beside Éowyn and translated the Quenya for her:
To the child, the blood of Numenorim and Northmen
Named and blessed with righteousness,
Dire peril and an evil end would befall,
To suffer in death and remembrance denied,
Until her righteousness will be recalled,
and redeemed by The Light.
Instantaneously they knew they had found her, at least her birth. They needed now to find the date and place of her death.
At Aragorn’s reading, Raalta left his study at the other end of the table, and walked up to them, smiling, recognizing that a breakthrough in their search had occurred.
‘You have achieved much in this day,’ he said, in a gentle and caring tone.
‘But not enough,’ Éowyn replied.
‘But it is enough for now,’ responded Aragorn, ‘we all need to have some respite, to leave these confines for a time.’
‘You must take some nourishment and a break, for your midday respite was so disastrously disturbed. We can return soon,’ Raalta added. ‘We need only make our way to the landing below, I have a safe place, and supp will be have been prepared by now. Nothing will come if it is forced, and you need to give it time to let it find its way to you.’
Aragorn and Raalta convinced Éowyn to leave her princess’s whereabouts for a short-while at least.
Raalta led them through the doorway and concealed room, down the staircase one level, and at this landing, as they had noticed, through another doorway, and along a passageway. But the darkness was not as oppressive here as in their journey from the bowels of the city to the Archives. This stone passageway was higher and wider than the other and the air here was not filled with the stench of decay, but it was not this alone that bolstered the spirits of the two visitors to this time. Éowyn was feeling elated about locating the birth of her Queen, and Aragorn, though saddened by what decision lay ahead of him, knew that there was a chance that the future of the elves could be saved.
So with these thoughts, they followed Raalta along the passageway until it ended in what appeared to be the basement of a building. Aragorn recognised it immediately by the way the white stone was laid, that this was the basement of the residence of Raalta. They had descended to the sixth tier, and walked underground into a cellar level. Raalta led them along its corridor, where they saw no-one and no-one observed them, to a homely sitting room. He ushered them inside, and reassured them:
‘We are safe here, this is my building, and everything has been arranged with friends. I will go and collect our food, then return shortly.’
It was a comfortable chamber, although it had no windows. A fire had been lit, and a knobby table and bench made of Lebethron, stood to one side, and timeworn couch, with what must once have been vivid woolen covers, which had faded and frayed with its years of use, was placed on the other, before the fireplace. A thick-pile mat of olive green and goldenrod, adorned the hardwood floors, which showed the wear of years of treading across its boards. A taper-hoop chandelier hung from the ceiling, and although less than half of the candles were alight, they cast a friendly light throughout the room. This together with the sound of the crackling of the fire and the scent of the smoldering Lebethron put the two at ease.
Aragorn and Éowyn sat down on the couch, glad to be able to relax, and for this moment in time, not be overcome by what they knew was their duty to others, to all those in the past and those in the future.
Although Raalta had assured them that they would not be overheard, they spoke with muted voices. The fire stirred and comforted them, and they started to speak of times, once in an age long past, in their homes in front of fires. And for the first time, away from an immediate threat to contend with, which had characterized their relationship in that past, they spoke of their pleasurable memories of their youth, of the parents they knew, and the sadness when they were taken from them. It was a conversation of childhood joys and trials, and Aragorn, who once had been concerned of Éowyn’s struggle to find her proper place in a war-torn Middle-earth, listened to her, and understood. He had always respected her for her courage and determination, more heroic, in her stand against the Lord of the Nazgûl, than most men who would have faced such a formidable adversary, but he now saw the beauty and softness of her spirit - and so it began. He said little now as she spoke, he just looked at her, and she saw him looking thus, and blushed. There was an awkward silence, but this did not linger more than an instant, for Raalta returned, walking unawares into this moment.
He was carrying a tray, upon which there were bowls of steaming broth, roughly-sliced crusted bread and a flask of palest rose-tinted wine.
Aragorn and Éowyn, uncomfortable about what had just gone between them, jumped up from the couch, and walked towards Raalta. Aragorn took the tray from Raalta, and Éowyn walked with Raalta across to the table, and sat at his side. Aragorn, put the tray down, and then sat down opposite Raalta. But the awkwardness passed as they ate their meal and drank the wine. Having not really eaten all day, Éowyn having previously no appetite and then with the panic of their escape from detection, she thought the venison stew delicious and found the wine of the most delightful and refreshing flavour, and drank deeply of it.
The time slipped passed in discussion of what they needed to do, and a deep bond developed between the three who had survived a threat together just a few hours before. In respect of this bond, Aragorn and Éowyn revealed to Raalta the details of their mission, and Gandalf’s role in this. They did not explain how they came to be in Minas Tirith, or any of the powers of The Light or the other Quests, and Raalta asked them for no other details than those they revealed to him. For his part, Raalta spoke of Gandalf and his experiences with him before coming to Middle-earth, showing in this, his reverential regard for him. Aragorn asked Raalta when he had arrived at Middle-earth, for he had not heard his name mentioned with the other Maiar.
Raalta hesitated, the only time there was any hesitancy in any of them since they sat down to their meal, then said thoughtfully:
‘There is a convoluted history behind this, too long for the time we have now. But I am here because a wise spirit rescued me from a guileful evil,’ he hesitated again, then continued, ‘however, as I think we should return to your search, this is a story for the morrow.’
With that Raalta, stood up collected the remaining bread and drink from the table:
‘For later,’ he commented, and then genially gestured for them to leave, leaving the subject as it lay.
Raalta leading on, with Éowyn, then Aragorn behind, they retraced their way back to the Archives. Again unseen; again undetected at this time by those that searched for them.
When they returned, a shutter over one of the windows was still ajar. It was now the deep-throes of the evening. Raalta had brought extra candles, and had lit them, but was concerned that the breath of their light might be seen from below. Éowyn walked over to the shutter in order to close it, but she glimpsed for a moment the Prussian blue sky shimmering with the sparks of silvery stars. On this glittering mantle, a crescent corn-coloured moon was aglow. All was still except for the call of a pair of falcons, flying swiftly to the west, to Mt Mindolluin, and safety. She thought with such a scene of serenity, who could believe that a festering evil was lurking just to the east; then a bitter chill came upon her and she shuddered. She closed the shutter tight.
And so closeted in unison, safely away from malevolent eyes, and in the glow of the candle light, the three of them searched. They searched for some trace of ‘her’ life, and of ‘her’ death.
But where had she gone to be brutally murdered? They looked at all the references from her birth. Was there anything unusual that occurred that could give them some inkling to her whereabouts?
‘We do not know her name, but she was blessed with righteousness,’ pondered Raalta. ‘Aragorn is there no other record of this in the Elven prophecies from Rivendell.’
Aragorn looked again, but he knew there was nothing else.
‘It is a strange thing to be blessed with ‘righteousness’. What about the brothers, were they blessed in any way,’ Raalta added.
Éowyn searched the pages.
‘No, there is no reference that they were,’ she confirmed.
‘Then if the first-born male, her eldest brother was not, yet she was, something special would have needed to have occurred at her birth. Is there no other mention of some extraordinary incident afore her birth?’ Raalta asked.
Eowyn turned the pages and read.
‘Yes, here is a story, which would have been around the time Isilma was first with this child; some Elven Queen had been saved from attack by a Northern King traveling from Carn Dûm.’
‘So the blessing was a repayment for this rescue. Is there a name of the Elven Queen?’ Aragorn asked.
‘No,’ replied Eowyn, but looking at Aragorn,
‘It said she was a Noldor Elf who came from Beleriand.’
‘Nordor Elf!’ both Raalta and Aragorn uttered simultaneously.
‘I have the copies of manuscripts on the history of Noldor Elves at the time of the Second Age, given to me by Celeborn. When he knew that I had copied many of the Rivendell manuscripts for Elrond and was bringing them for safekeeping to the Library, he had one of the Lothlorien scribes copy these documents, then seal them in a box to be kept incase, incase… I have no doubt that we are called upon now to do warrants the breaking of this seal to see what insight these manuscripts can bring upon your search.’
With this Raalta, with determined strides, left the chamber and entered the Hall, with Aragorn following behind. Raalta went the other side of the Hall from where the Rivendell and prophecy manuscripts had been hidden. His path lit by the moonlight entering from the window-slats flanking the main doors.
There stood an opulent ceramic urn on arabescato-marble pedestal. A present from the realm of Lothlorien, the urn was covered in gilt leaves and jewels, and was the size of a hobbit in height. It was delivered with the document box, as a way to conceal its existence. With minimum of sound, so as not to alert the guard who stood outside, Raalta turned the urn as the sun travels, and a panel opened in the marble. From the cavity, with some effort he pulled out an enameled coffer. Raalta looked at Aragorn and whispered:
‘I thought it better to hide the Elven manuscripts in different locations – that way if one is discovered, at least the others would be safe. And so it has worked for many years, for even Saruman is not aware of their existence – or so it seems.’
As Raalta spoke he sensed that this was not to continue in this time, but he said nothing.
Aragorn nodded and smiled, thinking of the tactical finesse in this strategy, but he did not pick up the change in Raalta’s demeanor as the realisation came to the Maiar of the intrusion of others in this window of time.
Aragorn looked out through the window-slats, but the guard was standing at the bottom step to the Hall, talking, he could see distinctly by the moonlight, to the Captain.
Aragorn picked up the coffer and carried it to the Archive chamber; Raalta stepping beside him.
Éowyn looked up from her workings of cross-checking the history of the Northern kingdoms, and as Aragorn entered the chamber, she stood up and walked over to examine the coffer he was carrying.
By its weight it had been made of a leaden material, then overlaid in a translucent enamel coating, which had been decorated in low-cut figures and pattern through the translucency. The figures seemed to depict a story, and within a pattern of crisscrossed lines, was delicate elven calligraphy.
‘Do you have the key?’ Aragorn asked Raalta.
‘Oh no, my Lord, there is no key, not at least in your terms, for you see there is no lock, there is a riddle to be solved,’ Raalta answered, ‘What do you see in the pictures,’ he asked.
‘I see an Elven Lord, speaking to others, pointing to a coffer’, then in surprise ‘this coffer!’ She waited for Aragorn to add something, but he did not, so she continued ‘and it appears that through a window a beam of sunlight strikes the coffer…’
‘Sunlight?’ Raalta questioned gently.
Éowyn looked more closely at the picture:
‘Raalta you are correct, it seems the source of the beam could be a star, one that gleams brightest in the heavens…’
‘The Star of Eärendil!’ Aragorn added.
‘Yes, the Morning Star. There is a connection of the stars and the coffer.’
‘Then how do we have this light shine, how do we call it forth, this night, and here?’ Aragorn asked.
‘Ah, that is the riddle’, Raalta answered, ‘see the way is written upon the coffer.’ He looked at Aragorn knowingly, but said no more.
Aragorn went to the coffer and translated aloud the Elven words, tracking them as the Morning Star journeyed across the sky.
Call Eärendil forth,
In his journeys high,
Through the morn and the eve.
When the lights are one,
All will be released.
‘What does this mean, do you know Raalta?’
‘I have puzzled at its meaning, but have not completely found its solution.’
‘Did not Celeborn give you the code when he gave you the coffer?’
‘’Ah Celeborn, he was an enigmatic Elf. He said the riddle would become clear when I needed to know…until this time I have never needed to open the coffer.’
‘But you have a clue, Raalta? We have such limited time and so much to do’, Éowyn half-pleaded.
‘All I can say is that I surmised since both the light of ‘the morn and the eve’ cannot be one in the sky, that the connection is between one in the sky and one elsewhere,’ he reasoned out aloud.
Éowyn, in an instant, saw the connection.
‘I see’, she pronounced confidently, ‘ if it is in the eve, and the evening star is in the heavens, as now, then we need only to work out where on the coffer the morning star, how ever it is represented, and put this in the light of the evening star…’
‘Amazing reckoning,’ Aragorn exclaimed in awe at her insight.
The coffer had been exquisitely enameled in gilt-relief, but these were in the shape of the mallorn tree and its flowers, but there was no star-like object depicted. Across the top and bottom there were crisscrossed lines also in gilt, but these did not form any star-shape. Aragorn walked with Raalta to the table, to see if the Rivendell manuscripts had any clue to finding the stars.
However Éowyn, firm in the belief of her reasoning, thought that the crisscrossed lines must have more significance than decoration. She traced her finger across their low-relief, and as she did some parts began to shimmer. She followed the outline of a hexagon, and the lines welled up and shone, until the outline was complete, making a glowing star. She said nothing to the others, now searching for the meaning from the other elven texts.
She was in a quandary about whether this was the representation of the morning or afternoon star, so she turned the coffer over, and despite following the same process over the lines here, the pattern remained unchanged. She reasoned that this Elven spell could sense the time of day, and had only brought to life on the coffer the star that was needed to complete the connection. As she watched it, the star was pulsating ever-brighter – as if with life, seeking out the star in the skies to make it one. And then it began to sing with a melodic soulful call.
Éowyn called over the other two, both who had now become aware of its song. She explained what she had done, and Raalta commented with a thrill.
‘It is calling out to the evening star. Take it to the window, let us see if the riddle has been solved and the spell is true.’
Aragorn picked up the coffer, Éowyn opened up a shutter, and Aragorn placed it on the ledge, the star-shape glowing into the night. The moment the sky was exposed, a beam of light, like a lightning flare, flashed down from the heavens and onto the star pulsating on the coffer.
In a chamber in another world, this connection was felt, and cursed.
For the three in Gondor, they stood back awestruck. Despite the flare, the coffer had not moved on the ledge, but now its lid had sprung open. Recovered from the sight, Aragorn went to pick up the coffer, but the enameled overlay glowed scarlet red. He looked back at Raalta and Éowyn, and uttered despondently:
‘If there has been such a transmission of heat to make the enamel glow red, then I am fearful all that was contained within would have been consumed.’
But Éowyn and Raalta did not for one moment fear this. If this was so, what point would there have been for this Elven spell?
Raalta walked across to the window ledge, it had only taken him a moment to do so, but now the coffer was no longer afire, and it was cool to the touch. Aragorn shook his head in astonishment, and picked up the coffer and laid it down on the table, its contents laid open.
Raalta reached over to close the shutter. He sensed that this event had been observed. He sensed the darkness of ‘his’ presence and expected some repercussion, but knew not how much time they had before the hammer would fall. He could not change what needed to be done, but knew that some dire consequence would flow from this connection, and its discovery. A bitter chill came upon him and he shuddered; he closed the shutter tight.
In the coffer, with some loose flaxen scrolls, was a pair of parchment books, which bore the tie and seal of Lothlorien, the golden mallorn tree. They were bound in plush maroon leather with gilded elven-lettering and embossed mallorn tree and leaf designs. Although only half the size of the Great Books, they rivaled them in beauty.
Aragorn and Raalta took a volume each, Raalta saying:
‘We need to look for an entry around the Second Age 1950.’
Éowyn could not read elven, so she waited for their find. She returned to her reading, her searching, but she could not concentrate, fretful to hear any discovery in the words from Lothlorien. A silence pervaded their space and time as the three were immersed in the words, looking for any sign of ‘her’…
An age passed, the candles sighing with the wait, sending dusky plumes of smoke tailing upwards and filling the room with the aroma of spent and seeping wax. Then Aragorn exclaimed:
‘Here it is, here, I am sure.’
Éowyn rushed to his side, and Raalta looked over his shoulder.
Aragorn summarised for Éowyn what he was reading in elven, and when he stumbled over the translation of a word, Raalta added it.
‘Galadriel was attacked by servants of Annatar, for the Dark Lord sensing her mistrust, wished to remove her influence, and… a Northern King, came to her aid, and was seriously wounded in the fray. He was nursed back to health by Galadriel, but wished to return to Carn Dûm to his wife, who as expecting… their second child.’
Éowyn gasped at these words. Aragorn took a quick breath and continued, his words rushing forward with anticipation, tripping up in places as he hurried to provide Éowyn a summary translation of this momentous revelation.
‘As reward for his bravery, Galadriel promised to visit Carn Dûm when the child was to be born, and bless the child with any ability that was within her power to give. On 3 January1950 Galadriel arrived at Carn Dûm; a princess was born on that day. A disagreement arose between the King and Queen on the gift that Galadriel should bestow. The King wished Galadriel to bless her with unending happiness, but the Queen insisted on the princess being given the gift of righteousness, saying’, and Aragorn translated this word-for-word:
I have seen so much of the will of evil poisoning men’s soul, I wish her to be able to stand up against all, to know and do only what is right.
As he hesitated at translating a word or thought from the lyrical elven words, he looked to Raalta, who added his understanding. The three were caught up in the emotion of the revelation as Aragorn continued:
‘Galadriel cautioned against the dangerous burden this blessing might impose on the princess, but the Queen was adamant. Galadriel blessed her so, gave her the symbol of the dove, and gave her the name…’
Aragorn stopped and looked at Éowyn, for here was her name, finally her name:
‘Hadiya, “gift of righteousness”.’
At this Éowyn cried out in delight:
‘Hadiya, Hadiya – we have her name at last, Hadiya - what a beautiful name!’
Far away in another place, Hadiya’s name was also heard.
Raalta shuddered as he felt this occur.
Aragorn smiled with fulfillment of the discovery, but then in reading further on, he hesitated, and a cloud of distress descended on his face.
Éowyn saw the change that came upon him, and insisted passionately:
‘What else is written Aragorn, do not hide anything from me – I must know.’
Aragorn looked at Raalta, and sought comfort and direction from him, for Raalta also had read on and knew what was written. Raalta calmly confirmed:
‘Éowyn needs to know it all Aragorn, you must tell her.’
Aragorn continued in a grave voice:
‘When Galadriel returned to her Lothlorien, she spoke to Celeborn about what had transpired and her misgivings with this blessing. Celeborn felt the distress of her premonition and consulted the Book of Elven prophesizes.’
Aragorn looked up from the manuscript and added to explain to Éowyn:
‘Both the realms of Lothlorien and Rivendell had their own version of this manuscript...’
Éowyn pre-empted his words:
‘And did he find what you found in that from Rivendell…’
He hesitated, then spoke quickly:
‘Yes, this confirmed Galadriel’s fears, for Celeborn found the identical prophecy on the fate of the one named in “righteousness”.’
Raalta looked at Aragorn. Éowyn noticed and asked:
‘Is there more, Aragorn?’ feeling that something still remained to be said.
‘Yes, there is a comment, someone has written in the book. Raalta, do you recognise the hand?’
Raalta bent over Aragorn, and looked at the flowing script:
‘Yes I recognise as that of Galadriel.’
‘Then it is as I thought, Galadriel has written:
The prophecy came to pass in the days before Erukyermë, at the ceremony of the doves.
Éowyn repeated the words:
‘Days before Erukyermë, at the ceremony of the doves - What does this mean?’
Aragorn shook his head saying:
‘I have never heard of a Erukyermë ceremony with doves.’
‘Nor have I…’ uttered Raalta, then he stopped abruptly with almost a yelp, the two shocked, looked at him…
‘Doves…doves…yes doves – I do remember something about doves and Erukyermë.’
‘In a Great Book? From where Raalta do you remember this?!’ Éowyn beseeched him, desperate for any clue.
Raalta did not answer, lost in searching for a dim memory…
‘Raalta?’ she repeated.
‘No, not written in a Great Book… but in some way related with them...’ he uttered this as he began to pace the room ‘It was in…no, no, no, not in a book at all…’
‘But it was written down, you saw it written down on…some piece of parchment..’ Éowyn tried to probe those memories, when he cried out:
‘Yes, Éowyn, on a piece of parchment... A love poem that mentioned Erukyermë and doves. I noticed it those many years ago because the Erukyermëinvolves three eagles, not doves. The parchment had been crumpled, as if someone had crushed it to throw it away, but then decided otherwise. It was in a chest the Anárians used to store all the artifacts they had found in their travels as they pieced together the history of Middle-earth,’ as he was recalling, he walked over to the bookcase containing the Great Books. He bent down to the bottom shelf, and pulled out an unadorned rectangular chest, and placing this on the table.
Aragorn and Éowyn stood by in anxious anticipation. Piece by piece he emptied the artifacts on the table. There were daggers of various sizes; goblets encrusted with rare gems; parchments rolled and labelled; wax ensignas; a container of coins; a hunting horn; a coral talisman; a crystal orb, that looked like a miniature palantir… but no crumpled parchment. The three took no notice of the objects laid out on the table, but looked dejectedly into the empty container.
‘Raalta are you sure that the parchment was stored here, and if so, could anyone have taken it?’ Éowyn inquired, so close, now so far from the answers she was desperately seeking.
Raalta cast his mind back to a time a decade prior, a time when Saruman had visited the Archives. Saruman had asked to inspect the artifacts of the Anárians, and just as they now had emptied the chest, so he had done. Raalta had been walking back into the Hall, when he thought he saw Saruman put something in with his papers. Raalta had not thought much of it at the time, but he remembered Saruman’s glance of embarrassment, however Raalta suspected nothing, after all this was the preeminent scholar of Middle-earth and trusted ally of Gondor; although there were other reasons Raalta knew not to trust him…but that was in a divergent time. This time, Saruman left and Raalta asked no questions, but now Raalta realised what Saruman had taken. Raalta was sure that Saruman stole the parchment on that day, and with the annoyance of being duped so long ago, he stated vehemently:
‘He has taken it, Saruman has the document!’
‘What is it Raalta that you say?’ exclaimed Éowyn, ‘what would Saruman know of Hadiya? What would he need the document for?’
Raalta thought briefly, then replied:
‘If the writer was instructed by Sauron to destroy all remnants of this Queen, and if Saruman was aware of this, then having this parchment would be a powerful weapon against that person.’
‘But who could that be?’ Éowyn asked.
‘I do not know. My thinking is probably too fanciful.’
‘No Raalta, I sense you are right,’ Éowyn declared somberly, then almost pleading, ‘But Raalta, you read the document, did it not have a date or the name of the writer on it.’
‘No, I am confident about this, for I thought it strange at the time.’
Aragorn interjected, trying to ease the burgeoning despair:
‘But is it not that all we have to do is find the date of this Erukyermëceremony.’
‘Yes, but it is that no Erukyermëthat I am aware of ever involved doves,’ Raalta responded, then sat down in a quandary, searching his memory for any reference of this festival containing doves.
The night had wound its way through to the early-hours, verging on its passing into day, and Raalta felt drained, so observed wearily:
‘I do not believe there is any point for us to continue now.’
Éowyn tried to object, but Aragorn agreed remarking:
‘Éowyn, it is very late, we have found her, her name and a link to a unique Erukyermë ceremony. I feel we are not far from uncovering the where and when of her fate. I must leave at dawn as you know, but I have spoken to Raalta, and although he has duties on the morn, he has willingly agreed to help you. You have all morrow. I cannot travel again until the day after when I have completed my task with… Elrond…’
With all that had happened that day, Éowyn now also felt exhausted, so conceded:
‘On the morrow things will become clearer – it is as you say, enough.’
Just beyond their sight, the moon struggled with the darkness of the night and the howling of a frenzied wind that had whipped a fury of thunder clouds that descended from the east and covered the sky with a menacing blackness.
None of the three saw this, protected within the walls of Minas Tirith, but Raalta sensed this fury, and knew what it meant.
Raalta and Aragorn returned all the Great Books, the Anárian chest and the Lothlorien manuscripts. Aragorn kept the manuscript of the Elven Prophecies, for he had much to discuss from it with Elrond and the others. This meeting had been arranged, but not by Aragorn making contact with Gandalf; Raalta had sensed the sinister presence of Sauron, and warned Aragorn it would have been too dangerous for him to contact Gandalf. So Raalta had contacted the Wise One, and through this protected channel, all had been planned. Sauron was close, and at points Raalta sensed his force, especially at the time of the connection between the Stars of Eärendil and when Hadiya’s name had been announced.
And so a wearied three retraced their steps, along the underground staircase, to the lodgings of Raalta. Again their passage was without discovery or incident.
Raalta took them to chambers on his floor, one for Aragorn close to his, and Éowyn’s at the end of the corridor. Raalta confirmed their safety:
‘Both rooms belong to monks, friends of mine, who left many weeks ago on a pilgrimage to ancient elven ruins on Methedras. They will not be returning until the end of the month. Apologies for the meager nature of these rooms, but at least here your presence will not be noticed.’
Meager the rooms were, but clean. Furnished as Raalta’s, but with a feeling of spartan existence and restricted scholarly pursuit; a bed, table and chair, no bookcase but a small number of books on a squat bureau. Éowyn was thankful for a place where she would be alone to think about the day. She lay down on the bed and pulled the duffle blanket up over her. She felt chilled by the cold and dark of the dying night. Her body felt drained but her mind raced mercilessly from thought to thought, from emotion to emotion. She thought with her mind in such agitation that she would never find any peace, but it was not long before she travelled into a slumber.
Aragorn however could not sleep. He still had the Elven prophecy manuscript with him and he went over the words and their possible meanings; looking for any interpretation other than what he feared, but no other came to him. Wearied and devoid of hope, he was desperate for some respite from the ominous foretelling. He blew out the candle, opened the window, lay on the bed and looked out into the darkness and saw the threatening thunder clouds racing over the city. He did not feel the chill of the dying night, his body distraught by what laid ahead. The dawn would come too soon.
Éowyn did not know what woke her. She opened the window and saw it was just before dawn. The charcoal sheath of the deep-night still covered the sky, but the thunder clouds that had lingered with menace over the city had dissipated, recalled to the east from where they had come. The moon shone palely, ready to give up its watch to the efflorescing sun. The stillness of the night brought an eerie quietness to the city, as if it was holding its breath in anticipation of a deadly blow.
Éowyn heard someone faintly calling out to her. At first she thought it was Raalta, but then realised it was a message from Gandalf far beyond Gondor. Faint, but clear, like the first morning breeze of Spring:
Look for the year 2000 of the Second Age, in the reign of Tar-Ciryatan.
Of Elves, his apprehensions were correct, the manuscript holds the key.
She realised the significance of the message, for her, giving her the date – the critical date from which to find Hadiya, and for Aragorn, Gandalf’s opinion, something Aragorn yearned to hear. But had the message arrived in time to give to Aragorn before he departed?
Éowyn jumped up and rushed out of her chamber. She hastened along the passage to his, ‘was it dawn already’ she thought ‘he surely will still be here. He must hear from Gandalf before he departs.’
She knocked, and waited what seemed an age. She heard nothing at first, and feared she was too late.
Then Aragorn appeared, startled to see her, and ready to depart. He motioned for her to enter his chamber, warily closing its door behind them.
‘I have a message from Gandalf,’ she announced animatedly, and repeated the message.
For the first time, she saw a glimmer of a smile appear:
‘See you have now a date with which to work with Raalta,’
and then with the seriousness that was Aragorn:
‘and I have my confirmation from one I trust. Raalta will look after you Éowyn. He will look after you in my stead. Send me a message of the exact date and location, and I will find you next with Hadiya.’
At his pronouncement of Hadiya’s name, they both felt the excitement and anticipation, for from nebulous words they had discovered Hadiya and the time of her demise; she, and the accomplishment of their mission, were now in their reach.
Through the window came the shimmer of the pre-dawn, as a vermillion and violet glow enveloped the horizon.
Aragorn took Éowyn’s hand and clasped it intensely but tenderly:
‘I must leave now …. May The Light protect you, dearest Éowyn.’
Éowyn walked out of Aragorn’s chamber, and turned down the corridor to go back to hers, comforted by his words. Aragorn stood in the doorway, looking after her.
He shut his door. He felt the protection of those from whom he now must seek answers and direction, and as the emblazoned dawn broke over Minas Tirith in this time, he journeyed backwards to the Third Age 2980 in Lothlórien, to the day before Arwen and he plighted their troth upon the hill of Cerin Amroth.