Disclaimer: I wish I owned Balian, Aragorn, Legolas and the rest of them but I don't. I'm just borrowing them without permission but with every intention of returning them when I'm done.
A special thank you to Laurelindorenae for making a beautiful trailer for this story. You can view it here at http colon double slash youtube dot com slash watch?vykkPZPiO92s Thank you, mellon-nin.
Chapter 35: The Return of the King
Balian followed the angel —for his guide could only be an angel— past the place where the souls were being judged. "Your time has not come yet, Balian," said the angel. "That is why you are not permitted to go in. The Lord God has purpose for you in all the different worlds. That is why He has made you immortal."
"I thought the One and the Valar made me immortal," said Balian.
"Do you know what they are?" asked the angel. Balian shook his head.
"The One refers to the Lord God, and the Valar are the angels who administer to Middle Earth and the Undying Lands."
"Which world do you administer to?" asked Balian. It seemed like an insolent question but he was curious. The angel smiled.
"Yours," he said. "I have been watching you since the day you were conceived. It should have been my brother Gabriel's task but as usual, he had been sent down in human form to deal with evil that had escaped from Hell."
"If Gabriel is your brother then that makes you..."
"I am Michael, often called the Right Hand of God by you and your kind."
Balian gaped. He was talking to the Archangel. Michael looked at him in amusement. "Come," he said. "We are nearing Purgatory and there are people who want to see you." As Michael spoke, figures appeared in the distance and began running towards them. They were dressed in white, like everyone else that he had met since coming here. As they neared, Balian recognized his father Godfrey, his mother, and a few of his friends. He was speechless with joy and he could not move. Was this all a dream? His mother reached him first. She was in the bloom of youth again and he could hardly recognize her.
"Balian," she said, throwing her arms about her son. "What happened to you? I wasn't expecting you so soon."
"I hope it's got nothing to do with that bastard Guy," growled Godfrey. His hair was thick and dark again and all the lines had gone from his face as if they had been smoothed away by a divine hand. "Brother John told me how he tried to send Templars to kill you, and very nearly succeeded. But you have some strength in you, and some dumb luck."
"He told us about what happened at Jerusalem too," said his mother. "I am so proud of you."
Balian grinned bashfully, then the grin faded. "Mother," he said. "I'm sorry about what happened to Guillaume. I didn't mean to kill him but I just couldn't control myself..."
"It's alright," said his mother. "We all make mistakes. The important thing is that you saw fit to redeem yourself. That's all that matters, mon petit bonhomme."
Balian glanced around. "Where's Brother John?" he said when he couldn't see the permanently cheerful Hospitaller. Godfrey chuckled.
"Can you believe that Hospitaller?" he said. "He went straight to Heaven!"
Balian and his parents spent many more moments in conversation. They told him about life in Purgatory and he told them about his latest adventures. Godfrey could not stop himself from laughing when Balian mentioned how Gimli and Legolas called him 'Nanny Balian'.
"It's not that amusing," said Balian with a scowl.
"Trust me," said Godfrey "If you've been in Purgatory for as long as I have, anything remotely amusing is worthy of a laugh."
"You haven't been here for that long, Godfrey," said Balian's mother.
"It's time to move on," said Michael. Balian left his parents and friends reluctantly and followed the Archangel. He glanced backwards. His father had his arm around his mother and they were all waving at him. Then they faded into nothingness.
"They have gone back into Purgatory," said Michael.
"I miss them already," said the man.
Images flashed through Legolas' mind as soon as his skin made contact with the palantir's surface. The seeing stone showed him the White Tree of Gondor and its buds. 'What's that got to do with anything?' he wondered. The palantir was getting out of control. The elf gasped in horror as he found himself staring into the eye of Sauron. Sweat beaded on his skin as he struggled to control the stone. Pain shot through his body as Sauron's voice sounded in his head. Just as it threatened to overwhelm him, the palantir was knocked from his grasp. His eyes flew open.
"Idiotic elf!" cried Aragorn. The palantir was on the floor, with its cloth covering hastily thrown over it. "You should never have tried that! I tell you, you are going to be the death of me, Legolas Greenleaf! Are you alright? What did you see?"
"I saw the White Tree," gasped Legolas, trying to regain his breath. "And I saw its buds. Aragorn, does the White Tree have healing properties?"
"I don't know," said Aragorn "but there ought to be something about it in the library."
Balian glimpsed Heaven through its gates of lustrous pearl. From what he had seen of it, it was a spectacular place. It was full of light and birdsong. Children in the bloom of health plucked plump fruits from the trees while animals romped about their feet. Even the rats were well-fed and glossy. They lazed about in the sun and had no fear of being caught and killed. Brother John was waiting for them at the gates with another young man whom Balian could not recognize. The Hospitaller was wearing his usual amused smile. The young man beside him had dark hair and a neatly trimmed beard. His features looked as if they had been carved by the finest heavenly sculptor and his skin, although pale, glowed with health. They were both dressed in robes of pure white and their heads were wreathed with golden halos.
"Hello, Balian," said the young man beside Brother John. Balian might not have recognized his face but he would know that voice anywhere although it sounded somewhat strange now that it was not muffled by a mask. The blacksmith tried to kneel but Baldwin stopped him. "We are all equal in God's eyes," he said.
"So, have you found your purpose yet, my young friend?" asked Brother John. His smile was benevolent, as was Baldwin's.
"I believe I have," said Balian.
"I see that you took my words to heart," said Baldwin. "I spoke to God about you. All your trials and ordeals were tests, much like Job's. You didn't pass the tests very well though. You lost your faith, but the Lord God forgives you."
"He told you that?" said Balian. "When all of that happened, I thought He had forgotten me, or perhaps he didn't know me."
"He knows you," Baldwin assured him. "And He told us to tell you that you have a long and difficult road before you."
A few hours later, after having looked through hundreds of volumes and consumed several glasses of wine, Aragorn and Legolas found what they were looking for. "It says here that unopened flowers from the White Tree can act as an antidote to any poison," said Legolas.
"But it's sacrilege to harm the White Tree," said Aragorn.
"At the moment, I'm ready to commit sacrilege if it's going to save Balian's life," said Legolas.
Aragorn stifled a yawn. The sun was already high in the sky. The third day had begun. "So how do you suggest we get the buds?" asked the man. "There are elite guards guarding the Tree and I don't think they'll let us just walk in and pick the buds off, even though I am the uncrowned King.
"We need to create a diversion," said Legolas. "I think we should talk to the rest of the Fellowship, and Faramir, Éowyn and Éomer as well. We need some of their ideas."
Balian and Michael continued on their journey back to the world of the living. Through an archway of black stone, Balian could see Hell and the souls that were in there, seething with pain as the eternal fire burned their flesh but never consumed them. Something made him stop in his tracks. In amongst the souls of the damned, he could see his Jocelyn, trying to reach out to him. There were purple ligature marks on her neck where the rope had been. Her entire body was on fire and some of her skin had charred but it was not killing her. She called out to him although the fiery winds drowned out her voice. Tears ran down her face, leaving glistening trails. He could see her lips forming his name. She tried to run to him, but demons grabbed her by the arms to pull her back. Balian gave a cry and tried to rush into Hell to save her and he would have done so if Michael had not caught him in time. "You can't go in there," said the angel. "If you go in there now, you'll never get out again."
"I'm not leaving her alone in Hell!" cried Balian as he struggled against Michael's grasp. "Damn it! She's my wife! I have to save her! She doesn't deserve this..." His voice cracked as tears spilled from his eyes. "She really doesn't deserve to be damned."
The hobbits were very keen to help although Gandalf did limit the amount of involvement that Frodo could have. "You're not well enough yet, Frodo Baggins," said the wizard.
"I'm fine," insisted Frodo. "I look worse than I feel."
"Then you can't be feeling that great, Frodo," said Pippin. "Have you looked in the mirror in the last ten years?"
"Pip," said Merry in exasperation. "This isn't the time to joke."
"I can pretend to faint," offered Éowyn.
"Faramir and I can pretend to fight," said Éomer. "They will help if they see the future King of Rohan trying to kill the future Steward of Gondor."
"Can it be the other way around?" said Faramir.
"If you really want. Then while they're trying to separate us, oh, and help Éowyn who's fainted from fear for her dear brother's life, Legolas can sneak up to the Tree and pick off a couple of buds."
"Aragorn and Gandalf should involve themselves in the fight too," said Merry "then the guards will really need to help."
"What about us?" asked Frodo.
"We can call the guards over to help," said Pippin.
"What about me?" asked Gimli.
"You can, err, look after Balian?" suggested Aragorn.
"What?!" said the dwarf. "I'm not his nurse!"
"I have to tell him this when he wakes up," said Legolas. The elf had a gleam in his eye. "Nanny Balian and Nurse Gimli, the invincible pair."
"You are going to be in so much trouble when the lad wakes up," growled Gimli. "Wait and see, elf."
It was duty as usual for the four Guards of the White Tree, or so they had thought. They could see and hear quite clearly the bickering between Lord Faramir and Éomer of Rohan and the two were coming to blows while Lady Éowyn and their friends tried to pull them apart, to no avail. The men went down in a heap. "Somebody help!" shouted Peregrin Took, the Halfling guard of the Citadel. There was no one else around so the guards of the White Tree left their posts.
"Quickly!" said another Halfling, an esquire of Rohan. "The Ringbearer's underneath them!"
"Mr. Frodo!" cried the Ringbearer's companion.
While the guards were busy with the 'fight', Legolas sneaked out from his hiding place and ran to the tree. He quickly plucked a handful of unopened buds and ran off with them towards the Houses of Healing.
The guards had managed to pull the quarrelling lords apart, wondering how they could've cooperated to destroy the enemy if they could come to blows so quickly over a grievance which none of them could remember. They went back to their posts, none the wiser as to what had happened to the Tree and its buds.
In the Houses of Healing, Éomer pressed a cold wet cloth to a bruise on his face where someone had accidentally kicked him. Aragorn was grinding the buds to a pulp while the others watched on. He added water to the paste then spooned it into Balian's mouth. There was no response. Some of the precious liquid trickled from the sides of the young man's mouth. Most of it just stayed inside. Frowning, Aragorn massaged Balian's neck to induce a response. Balian's throat moved as he swallowed. The King repeated the procedure until the blacksmith had downed most of the mixture.
"Now what do we do?" said Gimli.
"We wait," said Aragorn.
Balian could see his own body below him. His friends were crowded around his bedside. He could hardly recognize himself. He looked as if he was wasting away.
"Go on," said Michael. "It's time for you to go back."
They waited. One hour passed, then two, then three. Just as they were losing hope, Balian's eyes opened. The first things that he saw were his friends' worried faces. He smiled weakly at them. "I'm back," he whispered.
Merry and Pippin gave a whoop of joy and started clapping each other on the back. Everyone else's faces were split by grins. Éowyn bent down to kiss his forehead. "Welcome back," she said.
"How do you feel, Balian?" asked Aragorn.
"Great, as usual," muttered Gimli.
"I feel fine," said Balian.
"No, really," said Aragorn.
"My belly hurts," admitted Balian.
"So it should," said Legolas.
"You had this great big nasty spear in you," said Merry. "I wanted to warn you but I wasn't quick enough."
"You're never quick enough, Merry," said Pippin.
"Oh, be quiet, Pip."
"And Guy?" said Balian.
"In prison" said Gimli with a satisfied smile. "We didn't want to judge him until you woke up or...well, you know."
"What do you want to do with him?" said Faramir.
"Kill him," said Éowyn.
"Have him hung, drawn and quartered," suggested Éomer.
"I am only a man," said Balian. "Who am I to judge?"
"He can't go unpunished," said Aragorn.
"Maybe we should discuss this later," said Legolas, noting the fact that Balian's eyes were about to close again. "He's tired."
"So he is," said Gandalf. "Get some rest, my boy. You deserve it."
Balian's friends filed out one by one. Legolas was the last to go. He glanced back and smiled. Te man had fallen into a deep healing sleep.
For the first twenty days, Balian spent most of his time sleeping. His friends fed him broth and other easy to digest foods. He could not remember much about those first twenty days but the pain in his abdomen was predominant, although it diminished as time passed. On the twenty-first day, the man stayed awake long enough to hold a decent conversation with Aragorn. The topic was Guy. They finally decided to exile him to the lands east of Mordor. The King of Gondor felt pity for the nomadic peoples who lived there. It was Legolas and Gimli along with the hobbits who spent the most time with Balian. Aragorn was busy preparing for his coronation which was to take place two months after the fall of Mordor. The elf and dwarf regaled the bored young man with amusing tales of how the former ranger complained about ceremonial robes and keeping clean. Frodo told the story of his journey to Mordor. The blacksmith shuddered when the Ringbearer described the Dark Land. He wouldn't go there even if someone offered him a kingdom.
The day of Aragorn's coronation arrived. Balian demanded to be allowed to see it. The healers relented after much cajoling and he was carried out on a litter. Legolas had disappeared, probably to greet the elven delegations from Lothlorien and Rivendell. He himself represented his nation of Greenwood. Gimli was in charge of bearing the crown and Gandalf was to do the crowning.
Petals rained down from the White Tree as Aragorn walked up the steps and knelt before where the White Wizard stood, in front of the doors of the Citadel. The sky was clear. All the darkness of Mordor had been chased away. It was strange to see Aragorn with neatly combed hair and arrayed in such fine garments. The man looked uncomfortable in his new station. The gathered witnesses watched in awe as Gandalf placed the crown on Aragorn's dark head. "Now come the days of the King," he declared. King Aragorn stood and turned to face his people.
"This day does not belong only to one man," he said "but to all. Let us together rebuild this world which we will share in the days of peace." The King took a breath, and then began to sing in elvish. The crowds listened in rapture, Balian included, although he did not understand a single word. There weren't many kings who would sing for their people.
The song finished, and the King's subjects cleared a path to allow him through to greet the elven delegations, led by Legolas as a prince of Greenwood arrayed in silver. A simple silver circlet rested on the elf's golden head and Balian thought he looked very similar to the angels that he had seen. Legolas stopped before Aragorn. The two of them placed their hands on each other's shoulders. The King of Men spoke to the elven prince in a voice so soft that only Legolas could hear what was being said. The elf smiled secretively and glanced behind. Another delegation, led by an older elf with dark hair was coming through. Aragorn let his hand fall away from Legolas' shoulder and Legolas stepped aside to let the man pass.
Balian's eyes widened as the loveliest woman he had ever seen came up to greet Aragorn. She bore a standard with the White Tree and seven stars. She dipped her head in submission to the King. The blacksmith could see that her ears were pointed and realized that she was an elf. Aragorn took the standard away from her and lifted her face with his other hand so that he could look into her eyes. He handed the standard to someone nearby then brought his lips to the woman's in a passionate kiss. Cheers and wolf-whistles erupted. The joyous noise was deafening. 'So this is the new Queen of Gondor,' thought Balian. 'Aragorn is a lucky man.'
The King and his new Queen broke apart, breathless. Hand in hand, they walked through the crowd, greeting their subjects and their friends. Aragorn stopped before where Balian was and smiled warmly down at the younger man. "I knew you would be able to persuade the healers to let you come, my friend," said the newly crowned King of Gondor.
"I wouldn't miss it for the world," said Balian with a grin.
"If you hadn't defended this city in its hour of greatest peril, I might not be crowned here today," said the King. He bowed his head to Balian. "Thank you."
Balian blushed as the crowd around him followed Aragorn's example and honoured him as the defender of Minas Tirith. He caught Legolas' eye. The elf gave him a wink, as if to tell him to relax. The blacksmith looked across the sea of heads. The gratitude of the crowds and the King overwhelmed him. He opened his mouth to speak.
"I could not have done what I have done without the help and trust of the people of Minas Tirith," he said. "This credit belongs not only to me but to all who fought the evil. We should thank every man, woman and child who shed blood and sweat so that we can live in days of peace."
"Hear! Hear!" shouted a man from within the crowd. Soon, unanimous cheering filled the city of Minas Tirith.
With the King crowned and married, life returned to normal in the White City. Balian grew bored very quickly now that his health was improving and his friends no longer spent so much time with him as they were occupied with their own business. Legolas often stared towards the sea with a wistfulness that bordered on pain. Balian did not understand what was wrong with the elf until Gandalf tried to explain it to him. Afterwards, he was as confused as ever but at least he now knew that Legolas' affliction was called Sea-longing.
Five months after Balian took his wound, he was discharged from the Houses of Healing, much to his delight and that of the healers. Immediately, Legolas invited him to go sailing with him along the shores of Dol Amroth. Prince Imrahil had extended an invitation to all the Fellowship, but only Legolas and Balian took up his offer. The hobbits longed for home and buried under his workload, Aragorn could not leave Minas Tirith. Gimli had no desire to sail on the ocean and was busy planning a new gate for the White City.
The sea had seemed calm but the weather changed with unnatural speed. Soon, Legolas and Balian were struggling to keep their vessel afloat. The boat capsized just as a whirlpool formed. The elf and the man clung on grimly to a piece of flotsam as they were sucked downwards into the depths. Water closed in over their heads and flooded their nostrils. Then they found themselves on the surface again with no land in sight. The sun was just rising and in the distance, they could see a ship...
(Balian Voice-over)WHAT MAN IS A MAN WHO DOES NOT MAKE THE WORLD BETTER?
Balls of fire fall among the Greek army
(Cassandra Voice-over)YOU WERE SENT TO SAVE TROY...
Barbossa fights a Greek.
Balian: That will be the death of you!
Ragetti and Pintel peer at something.
Calchas: A sacrifice must be made!
Balian is bound and on his knees.
Silhouette of someone stabbing downwards with a knife.
Calchas: They must pay!
Hector fights Achilles.
Legolas struggles against someone holding him back.
Jack shrugs and grins.
Will fights a Greek.
Paris shoots an arrow.
From the author of CHANCE ENCOUNTER comes
CHANCE ENCOUNTER: PIRATE KINGDOM OF TROY
COMING TO FF-NET
3 August 2007
(PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN SECTION)
A/N: It's over. Thanks to all my readers and reviewers. You guys were the driving force behind all the chapters after the first one. Well, you guys and the characters in the story. Now I can work on the sequel, which will be fun (read: insane).
Still to come...
WE KNOW THE MAN WHO IS THE KNIGHT...
Balian turns. He is in the livery of Jerusalem.
WE KNOW THE BLACKSMITH WHO BECAME THE KNIGHT...
Balian hammers on a piece of hot metal in his forge.
BUT DO WE KNOW THE BOY WHO GREW UP TO BECOME THE BLACKSMITH?
A woman kisses a dark-haired man.
A priest baptizes a baby in a dark church.
A group of children torment a dark-haired boy.
A dark-haired adolescent stares at a girl.
THIS IS HIS STORY...
From the author of CHANCE ENCOUNTER comes
PRELUDE TO HEAVEN
NOW ON FF-NET
(KINGDOM OF HEAVEN SECTION)