Chapter 11 -- Renewal

"This is your realm, and the heart of the greater realm that shall be. The Third Age of the world is ended, and the new age is begun; and it is your task to order its beginning and to preserve what may be preserved." 'The Steward and the King', The Return of the King


June 1

Everyone donned their cloaks, then Alcaren carried Frodo outside and settled him on top of a piece of the ruined wall. The other hobbits scrambled up to join him, and the two Men, along with Legolas, Gandalf, and Gimli, grouped around them. The stars glittered above, but tendrils of cloud were beginning to obscure them. Frodo looked up and smiled.

A cold wind began to blow from the southeast, bringing the scent of rain. Frodo drew his cloak tighter, his dark curls whipping about his face.

"Gandalf, when did it last rain in Mordor?"

"I do not know," Gandalf said thoughtfully. "Sauron held sway over all aspects of his realm, including the weather."

"Now that the Dark Lord's hold on this land is ended, the rains are allowed to fall once again," Aragorn said. "Streams, rivers, and lakes will be renewed, grasses and trees will once more take root, and animals will eventually return."

"I know that Legolas found a few plants growin', but..." Sam looked doubtful. "Can the land really come back? Will there really be crops and trees... someday?"

"You have only to look at your own Shire for the answer to that, Sam," Aragorn said. "Eriador – including the Shire – is so fertile and rich partially due to something similar that occurred long ago."

"What do you mean?"

"I will tell you a very old tale. Lands now drowned beneath the Sea included a far-northern mountain..."

The hobbits, always eager for a new a story, were instantly quiet and attentive.

"The First Age ended with the destruction and remaking of large amounts of our Middle-earth," Aragorn continued. "Lost to the Sea was Thangorodrim -- the volcanic mountain at the heart of Angband, the stronghold of Morgoth. When Thangorodrim exploded, the lands surrounding it were most likely the same as those now below us – blackened and covered in ash. As the rains renewed such land, they became very fertile."

"The Shire was once like that?" Pippin motioned toward Gorgoroth Plain.

"It may very well have been," Aragorn said. "Given time, Mordor will also be valued and rich someday, and I hope that willing hands will labor to help make it so. These lands will be settled and at peace."

Frodo smiled up at him. "I feel that way now," he said. "At peace."

"Are you ready to tell us what you learned here?" Merry asked.

"I remembered who I am," Frodo replied. "I'm Bilbo's heir; he trusted me with his secrets, and his greatest treasures. I'm a hobbit who loves his home; to draw evil away from the Shire, I was willing to leave it and perhaps never return." He closed his eyes for a moment. "And I'm also... the Ringbearer. I did the best I could, for as long as I could." He opened his eyes, and gazed in the direction of the Mountain for a long moment. "I think... I did the best anyone could have."

"Then you have learned one of the greatest of all lessons," Aragorn said. "Frodo, if someone can look back at their life and know they did their very best, in whatever circumstances in which they found themselves..." He put an arm around the hobbit's shoulders. "You have found a treasure greater than the one you lost."

"I realized something else, as well," Frodo continued. "Here, in this dreadful place, I lost all hope; and, thanks to Sam, found it again." He looked up at the King. "What had you planned to do with this tower?"

"That is a very good question," Aragorn said. "What do you wish me to do with it?"

"I want you to use it," Frodo said firmly. "Reclaim these lands, Aragorn. A few days ago you said that no threat or embodiment of evil from this area should be allowed to haunt your people. This place shouldn't haunt them, either. Mordor will not always be a place of dread; perhaps, in, time, it will not even be known as 'Mordor'. The lands now have hope of renewal, as you said, and perhaps they will even be home to future generations of Men. You could begin by renaming this place... Minas Estel."

"How fitting," Gandalf murmured.

"Sam thought of it," Frodo said, smiling proudly at Sam.

Aragorn nodded approvingly.

"It shall be as you wish, Frodo. Perhaps, one day, Minas Estel will take its place with Minas Tirith and a rebuilt Minas Ithil – towers of hope, all three."

"My lord," Alcaren said respectfully to Aragorn, "I know of many who might welcome duty here, and in the valleys below. It is not many days' ride from Minas Tirith, after all. Working to cleanse the streams and re-forest the far reaches of your realm..." He bowed his head. "It would grant new purpose to some who are weary of war, and have lost much. Taking part in the renewal of your lands would be joyous indeed."

At that moment, large, wet drops began to fall on everyone. Laughing, Pippin tried to catch them on his tongue. Frodo closed his eyes and let the rain stream over his face, delighting in every drop.

"Mr. Frodo," Sam ventured, "you're not plannin' on any other little trips, are you? You don't need to go prowlin' around the Mountain, or..."

"No," Frodo chuckled. "This 'little trip' was quite enough." He smiled gratefully at his friend. "I could never have done this without you, Sam." He looked around at everyone. "My thanks to all of you."

Legolas claimed the honor of scooping up Frodo and carrying him back into the tower, and the others hurried after them. Back in the common-room, wet cloaks were shaken out, then hot tea was passed around as everyone found a comfortable seat near the massive hearth.

"So, Pip," Merry grinned, "I suppose you heard that we're leaving tomorrow. What do you have planned for our entertainment on the way back to the City?"

Pippin instantly leaped to his feet. He went to his pack and extracted a small parcel, then returned to his place between Merry and Frodo. With a flourish, he tossed the deck of Gondorian cards in Frodo's lap.

"And no cheating this time."

"I didn't cheat last time, you crazy Took."

Aragorn noticed Alcaren standing alone at the far end of the massive hearth, smiling at the hobbits, and walked over to him.

"It is good to hear laughter, my lord."

"Hobbits are remarkably resilient." Aragorn nodded toward the gold marriage band on Alcaren's finger. "You wear your ring once more."

"Yes," Alcaren said softly. "When Frodo returned it, he told me that anything that carried with it good and loving memories should not be hidden away."

"He is very wise."

"He said that memories should be embraced, the good and the bad... that sometimes, they are all we have." Alcaren looked at Aragorn curiously. "Frodo said something else, as well – that I played a part in helping heal something in his heart regarding the Dark Lord's Ring, and Captain Boromir."

"Indeed?" Aragorn thought about that. "I believe I understand. One Man tried to take something treasured from him, but he found another who was willing to give up something treasured -- to aid him."

"Captain Boromir tried to take the Ring from Frodo?" Alcaren frowned. "I had not heard that."

"Few have," Aragorn said quietly. "The full story will be told, in time." There was another burst of laughter from the seated group, and Aragorn smiled. "Come, let us see what mischief is afoot."

"...and the next night," Pippin was saying, glancing at Legolas, "we'll play that game again."

"What game is that?" Legolas asked.

"We found out what Frodo and Strider have in common," Pippin reminded him. "So how about next time... you and Gimli?"

"A Dwarf... share something in common with... an Elf?" Gimli blustered loudly. "Hah!"

"I know one thing you have in common," Frodo said to them. "You are both my trusted friends."

"Hmmph," Gimli conceded, his eyes twinkling. "Very well, I suppose there is one thing we share. Now then, Peregrin, what are the rules of this card game of yours?"

"I'll show you," Pippin said, snatching the deck back from Frodo. "Do Dwarves know about cards?"

"I have seen such games played," Gimli replied, "but I have not tried them for myself."

"Really?" Pippin looked pleased.

"Uh oh," Merry groaned.

"You're terribly rich, aren't you, Gimli?" Pippin asked casually. "I mean, you found all that mithril here."

"Gimli gifted that hoard to the King," Alcaren reminded the young hobbit.

"I forgot about that." Pippin looked up at Aragorn with his most innocent expression. "Would you care to play a few hands, Strider?"

Aragorn sat down, his eyes twinkling. He took the cards from the young hobbit and shuffled them expertly.

"I'd love to."