Gimli looked up from his supper to marvel briefly at his friend Aragorn. In appearance he was still the dark, weather-worn Ranger who had seen them steadfastly through so many trials and perils. Yet here in the flickering torchlight of Dunharrow, conversing with his two elven foster brethren, he seemed somehow more… regal to Gimli, more prepared to take up the monarchy that was his birthright.
As the conversation turned away from the recent victory at Helm's Deep and towards the precarious position of Gondor, Gimli found occasion to remark, "The people of the White City will be glad to see their King returned, indeed!" The comment prompted several exclamations of "Hear, hear" from Halbarad and many of the other Dúnedain Rangers present, as well as from Elladan and Elrohir. Aragorn, however, gave only a thin smile.
"Let us not think too far ahead, my friend," he said, pushing a bit of food around on his plate with his fork. "The road to Minas Tirith and to victory lies ahead of us still, and it will not be an easy one. And even if we could walk into the City with no intervening trouble, still…" Aragorn trailed off, finally spearing a piece of meat. "Never mind," he sighed. "We come to it when we come to it."
"Come to what?" Lady Éowyn, their hostess, inquired mildly. "You are Isildur's Heir, are you not? What would be the problem?"
"The Steward of Gondor will not be quick to yield power, I think," Aragorn said. "Especially," he added, gesticulating with his fork for emphasis, "to a man who was once his rival, under a different name."
"Oh…" Gimli nodded. He had heard Aragorn mention his time in service to Ecthelion, the previous Steward, using "Thorongil" as his alias. "But still…" Gimli persisted, "he cannot deny the coming of the rightful King, can he?"
"Denethor is a proud man, Gimli, not unlike to Boromir in that way. And yet he is also very shrewd, and subtle in ways that our late companion was not." He paused, looking grim (and if anyone had mastered the "grim foreboding" expression, it was surely Aragorn, Gimli thought). "No, I fear he may not cede the throne without some sort of struggle, at the very least."
"Then your friends will aid you in that struggle!" Legolas, sitting beside Gimli, chimed in. "When we reach Minas Tirith, Gimli and I can create a diversion so that you may claim the throne unnoticed by Denethor!"
Aragorn rubbed a hand over his eyes. He suddenly looked very, very tired. "I don't think it works like that, Legolas," he sighed. "Now, can we please talk about something else?"
"Masterful, Legolas!" cried Gimli, quickly warming to his friend's idea and summarily ignoring Aragorn's plea. "You and I can attack the Tower Guard, thus drawing the Steward's gaze away from Aragorn!" He gave the Elf a hearty thump on the back, which caused the archer some momentary difficulties with the mouthful of wine he had just swallowed.
"I don't think that would—" Aragorn started, but he was interrupted by Legolas, now recovered, who was determined to get at this "diversion" notion from every possible angle.
"Or, barring the possibility of an attack, could not someone attempt to seduce the Lord Denethor so that he might be blind to Aragorn's approach when the time comes?" he asked. "All we would require would be a beautiful woman sympathetic to our cause, with a forceful and determined personality, preferably possessing a working knowledge of politics!"
All eyes at the table went immediately to Éowyn. The King of Rohan's sister-daughter twisted her mouth slightly at this unexpected reversal, but bore the gaze of her dinner guests with admirable equanimity.
"I would gladly attempt to seduce the Steward of Gondor," she said, looking at Aragorn, "if I were first permitted to ride into battle in service of my country. What say you, my lord?"
Now everyone's attention was shifted to Isildur's Heir, who looked markedly uncomfortable, and who proceeded to mumble something about "you are needed here," and also possibly something about "brother would have my head on a pole."
"What did you say?" Éowyn asked, narrowing her steel-grey eyes.
"I said, 'probably not'," replied Aragorn, staring at his plate.
"Fine, then!" she cried. "I have had enough experience being leered at by unsavory politicians to last several lifetimes, anyway!" Swiftly she pushed back from the table and rose as if to leave.
"My lady, I meant no—" Aragorn started, but Éowyn would not permit him to finish.
"I'm going to get dessert now! It's trifle, tonight! And you'd better like it!" And with that, she stormed from the dining hall in a whirl of golden hair and palpable frustration.
A rather awkward silence ensued.
"I can't remember the last time I had trifle," said Halbarad.
"If the White Lady is unwilling," Gimli ventured, a gleam in his eye, "then perhaps you could attempt to seduce the Steward, Legolas, for in looks and manner sometimes you are not unlike a— ow!" He winced as the Elf's hand connected sharply with the back of his head.
"It matters not who the seductress—er, seducer, is!" Aragorn said, sounding very exasperated. "Denethor is a wary and seasoned man, and would not be waylaid by temptations of the flesh when graver matters are at stake! Now, could we please, please talk about something else?"
"Of course," Halbarad said solemnly. "For the Prophecy of Malbeth the Seer foretold that the Heir of Elendil will come from the North, driven by dire need." He paused and surveyed the assembled company. "Never, to my knowledge, did Malbeth say anything about the Heir of Elendil bringing 'diversion' or 'seduction.' Besides," he added, "that kind of thing is hard to render poetically. Even in free verse."
"Yes. Thank you," said Aragorn, looking relieved.
"And Denethor is only one man, is he not?" the Ranger went on. "Surely the people of Gondor, themselves, would rejoice to see their true King leading them!"
"Hear, hear, Halbarad!" said Elladan. "For the citizens would chafe at being deceived or slighted…"
Elrohir now took up his brother's position, his voice tinged with an edge of fervor: "…And if they were denied the true leader that the majority would doubtless… ah… elect to have, then 'twill be but a matter of time before the masses rise up against those who would oppress them!" This pronouncement was met with another enthusiastic round of "Hear, hear!"
"Still," countered Legolas, "if all I understand is true, Denethor is a skilled ruler of men, and may still present an obstacle to Aragorn's ascension to the throne, no matter what some of Gondor's citizens may think."
"So?" A clear, strong female voice rang out at the other end of the table. Éowyn, having regained her composure, had re-entered the dining hall, dessert-laden servants in tow, and was standing with her hands on her slender hips. A hint of a smirk graced her fair face. "Just assassinate the bastard."
"Beauty in simplicity!" exclaimed Gimli, clapping his hands in approval before digging into the serving of trifle that had been set before him a moment ago. "Why didn't we think of that first?"
"You could even make it look like an accident," Éowyn added, primly folding her napkin in her lap as she took her seat once more.
"Though should the truth of such a matter ever come to light, it would mean grave consequences for Aragorn and his supporters," Halbarad frowned.
"And let us not forget," Aragorn added, looking as though he were making quite an effort to control himself, "slaying a man simply because one would prefer not to deal with him is… oh, well, just completely depraved!"
"Yes, yes, I suppose…" Gimli grumbled. Then he remembered that it was Aragorn's job to take the righteous and noble stance in any discussion such as this, and so decided not to begrudge his friend this outburst.
"Aragorn," Legolas began, "is it anywhere specified that you need to become king of Gondor, explicitly? Could you not acquire another position, in which you could hold much of the responsibility of ruling your people without completely deposing Denethor as head of state? You could be Vice-Steward, perhaps, or Prime Minister, or Acting Head Chancellor, or—"
This seemed to be the last straw for Aragorn. His grey eyes widened as he stood up from his chair to interrupt the Elf.
"Look!" he shouted, casting down his fork upon the table, "I did not, repeat, did not pledge my service to a Halfling, slog through the Mines of Moria, battle countless legions of orcs, and before it all spend years and years tramping about the wilderness, so that I might become Vice-Prime-Acting Chancellor of anything! I am Isildur's Heir, and I will be King of Gondor and Arnor! And furthermore, in order to do this I will deal with the Steward in my own way, and none of it will involve diversions, seductions, assassinations, or…or 'elections'!" He turned and walked swiftly from the hall.
Once again, there was an awkward silence, during which there was much prodding of trifle with spoons. Finally, Elrohir gave a light chuckle.
"That doesn't sound like a terrible amount of fun," he said.
"No," Elladan assented, a smile playing at the corners of his mouth. "But then, our foster brother always was a bit of a tavor-hîw, was he not?"
"He's under a great deal of stress at the moment," Halbarad reminded them.
"Still," said Legolas, "there remains the question of Denethor, yet unresolved."
"True," Gimli agreed. He reviewed the discussion of the past half-hour in his head, and found himself a bit miffed at how his single remark had sparked such a row. There was nothing, however, that could be done for it now. At any rate, they had a long day ahead of them tomorrow, so perhaps it really did not bear thinking about for the time being.
"As for the Steward, well… sometimes these things have a way of working themselves out," the Dwarf said, settling back in his chair. Absently, he reached into his pocket and drew out his pipe. "Smoke, anyone?"
tavor-hîw n. Sindarin colloquialism; exact meaning unknown. Literally, "viscous woodpecker" or "sticky woodpecker." Possibly used to denote an individual lacking in sense of humor or jollity; see Westron equivalents, "stick-in-the-mud" and "wet blanket."