My Favorite Aragorn Stories
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The Sword of Elendil: 18. Chieftain's Justice
Aragorn woke in his own bed, gasping from the agony of fingers probing the wound in his side. Idhril bent over him, her intent eyes scanning his face.
He tried to smile. "Once again I am your patient."
"Be still. The wound is long, scoring into the muscle. A little lower and deeper and it would have spilled your guts."
He held his breath while she pressed a thick cloth to the still-bleeding cut. Her face contracted in worry. "This wound is in just the place that you injured when you fell last fall. Most unfortunate."
Wincing, he suppressed a groan. "Is that why it hurts so much?"
"Hush." Her fingers resumed their painful probing. At last she sat back. "I see no bone, and the muscle has not been cut as much as I feared. The ribs may be bruised again, but tight binding will aid that."
Aragorn gritted his teeth through the pain of the cleaning and stitching, but tears would water his eyes against the sharp rawness of the new wound.
Idhril poured hot water over herbs in a cup. "Sleep is what you need."
Aragorn eyed the cup with alarm. "I do not need the potion."
"Yes, you do." She held the cup to his lips. "Why is it that you brave men battle Orcs and Trolls but can't stand the taste of a little medicine?"
Dutifully, he drank the horrible stuff and then lay back, running his tongue around his mouth and swallowing to banish all traces of the taste.
Idhril rose from her bench. "Fíriel will watch you."
The girl appeared as if out of nowhere, her shy eyes big with responsibility.
Aragorn tried to lift his hand. "Wait—before you go, tell me of Daeron. How is he?"
"Better than he should be." Idhril grimaced with dislike. "The wound to the arm is deep, but it will heal. More serious is that he struck his head against the floor and lost consciousness. Now he says he does not remember what happened. He was astonished when we told him he had tried to kill the Heir of Isildur—or he pretended to be."
"He was like a man possessed. He wanted the death of one of us."
"He will answer for what he has done."
"Where is he?"
"In the lockup. We are treating his injuries as well as we can. When Hallor returns, the captains will decide what punishment he deserves." She turned to Fíriel. "I'll be back in the afternoon. Watch him close till then, and call for me if there is any change."
Fíriel stoked the fire and settled in a chair with her spinning. Closing his eyes, Aragorn turned his face to the wall. The wound burned like fire, but the memory of his rage against Daeron burned yet more fiercely. I would have killed him.
…The voice rang in his dreams. "Have you ever killed a Man, son of Arathorn? They die as easily as Orcs." He plunged his sword through Daeron's chest and throat. The man's dying mouth gaped like a fish's as he drowned in his blood.
Sticky gore covered his assassin's hands. Elrond stood before him, unyielding, the Elven light in his eyes like a god's. He raised his hand in accusation. "My son has used my gift to murder! The sword, the Black Hand, is now black with evil. He is Estel no more."
Banished from Rivendell, he hunted Orcs, but the monsters turned into Men at a cut from his blade. The wide sky wheeled and the stars turned. Barad-dûr rose above the plains of Mordor. Gil-galad and Elendil called the vanguard to the last defenses; Narsil flashed like a cold flame. King Elendil fell, shattering the blade beneath him. The sky spun, the stars turned. Another man stood before the Black Gate, holding the blade remade, glowing with the light of the sun and the moon. He died….
With the dreams again came fever, and Idhril dismissed Fíriel to take the watch herself, sternly dispensing potions when Aragorn waked. For three days he wandered the paths of the fever dreams, weeping with loss and rage. Whenever he woke, either Idhril or Fíriel gave him draughts and soothed his heated skin with cool, wet cloths.
On the third morning he woke to a clear head and rose from bed to sit in a chair in the solar. He breathed deeply of the soft late summer air. The rich smell of baking bread wafted from the ovens in the Great Hall. Through the window he could see the stables and the horses in the paddock. He thought of Brelach, his grief renewed, and wondered.
That afternoon Beleg came to him. "Again you frighten us, Aragorn."
Aragorn snorted softly. "It's not my intention. But I am recovering fast. Have you seen Daeron?"
"Does he remember now?"
"He says not. Indeed, he feigns great distress on the matter."
"Feigns—or truly cannot remember?"
Beleg shrugged. "He made no secret of his resentment from the day you came here. We've all seen it, and how little it becomes him. He will kill the Heir of Isildur for an old quarrel over a mere woman? I do not forget how he tried to kill my friend for the same."
"This 'mere woman' is my mother," said Aragorn through clenched teeth.
"Ah, I am sorry. I meant no disrespect."
Then mind your heedless tongue. Aragorn frowned, thinking back on Daeron's words. "You are saying now that Daeron tried to kill Arathorn? But no one has said that before. He claimed, rather, that Arathorn tried to kill him."
"That is a lie."
"Were you present? Did you see this fight? Was death the intent?"
"I was there, yes. When men take up swords, what else do they intend but death?"
"In such a match, they intend to show their skill in besting the other—at least I do. I had understood his fight with Arathorn as the same—in bitterness, yes, and no doubt with intent to shame him. But no worse."
Underneath his elegant brows, Beleg's bright eyes glittered with dislike. "I have always thought worse. He intended murder."
Aragorn frowned. "You say one thing, then another. Which is it? Why wasn't Daeron punished?"
The light in Beleg's eyes suddenly collapsed, as a fire extinguished with a spray of water. He shrugged. "Ah, what am I saying? Pardon me, I am not myself today. After all, Daeron lost his eye. Arathorn would not have him punished. Besides, no one thought he meant murder." He lowered his head; deep sorrow darkened his face and softened his voice. "I lost a wife, too—her death in childbirth, with our little son. There isn't a day when I don't think of them. But I try to keep it from poisoning my life. Now Daeron has ruined his. He will pay for what he has done."
"I am so sorry, Beleg," Aragorn whispered. The light of the day dimmed as a cloud passed over the sun.
By the time Ivorwen, Dírhael and Hallor returned to the Keep, Aragorn's wound had healed enough that he was helping Idhril in the healer's cottage, culling herbs, mixing ointments and powders, and attending on the various ills and accidents of the people of the Keep. Upon hearing the tale of Daeron's attack on her grandson, Ivorwen wept with distress, but soon she busied herself with her tasks as Warden of the Commons. Dírhael's deadly calm and Hallor's explosive fury seemed to Aragorn the opposite of what he would have expected from each man.
The next day, Hallor and Hawk called him to the map room. Hawk paced before the hearth; Hallor's pipe glowed as he drew vigorous puffs, slouched in his deep chair, eyes half-closed. "Tell us this tale again. I feel at last I have the presence of mind to listen without flying into a rage."
Aragorn again recounted the story, keeping as well as he could to a dispassionate tone. Afterward Hallor was silent for a long time, packing, lighting, and smoking his pipe, while Hawk continued pacing, his hands clutched behind his back. Finally Hallor roused. "In three days' time, I will call a moot for judgment. This matter must not poison the air of the Keep any longer. I am going to test Daeron's memory by prompting him with a false tale. We have told him nothing of what happened. We will see what is revealed, and judge accordingly."
"What is the punishment for this crime?"
"Attempted murder of the Heir of Isildur? Hanging, of course."
"No, I will not have it."
Hallor opened his eyes wide in surprise. "What do you mean? What else did you expect?"
"It was no assassin's act, but a sword fight—on my challenge, I would remind you."
Hawk slammed his hand down on the table so hard that Aragorn was sure it hurt. "And then he turned it into an assassin's act. Whether he remembers or not, that is what he did."
"The loss of memory may belie a murderer's intent. It could be a sickness of the mind."
Hallor sighed. "This is a difficult matter. If I'm convinced that he doesn't remember, and can't therefore answer for himself, I would consider exile from Thurnost. I have no wish to hang the man. For all his bitterness, he is a good Ranger. He has served our people well. And we can ill afford the loss of a man."
Hawk said darkly, "We certainly cannot afford the loss of Aragorn."
Troubled, Aragorn shifted restlessly on his feet. "Have you considered the possibility that my memory is faulty? That some other thing may be at work?"
Hallor's eyes hardened and chilled. "Why do you say that?"
"Because it must be said. I nearly killed him, Hallor. I barely stopped myself."
Hallor's smile was bitter. "A natural reaction in the heat of the moment. What man has not felt that after such a wound, and such taunting?"
"And something happened to me last fall that we still cannot explain."
"And what am I to make of that, Aragorn? What would you have me do?"
"I do not know. If he has no memory, if he is ill, how can we send him into the wild? And if he is dissembling, if he planned all along to injure or kill me, it's the same question: how can we send him into the wild—we, whose task it is to protect the people?"
"Exile or death, those are the choices, Aragorn," said Hallor. "If we do not banish him, we must hang him. We have no means to hold a traitor or a madman. As for protecting the people, we must look to ourselves first. We cannot have an untrustworthy man—for whatever reason—in our midst. It would rob us of all effectiveness."
"I believe a fit took him," Hawk said. "But who's to say what caused it, whether it be bitter hate or madness? What's to prevent it happening again? We can't lock him up; we have no men to guard him. As for you—" Hawk swung around and looked straight in Aragorn's eyes. "You must tell us. Will you vouch for your truth? Or will you force us to doubt you?"
Aragorn met his eyes. "I speak the truth about this matter. I do not know the truth about the other."
"Then do not raise the other," Hallor snapped. "There is already enough talk—yes, there is more talk. Daeron is a surly fellow, but he is well respected by the Rangers. He is known as a brave and loyal man in a tough spot. We must not feed idle talk."
Anger stirred in Aragorn's heart, but he stopped his tongue.
Hallor tapped his hand with the bowl of his pipe. "As for sending him alone into the wild, I agree that we cannot do that. I do not think he is a traitor, but if I am wrong—he knows too much to be cast out. I would consider exile to the Grey Mountains, or some other remote post."
Hawk barked a harsh laugh. "You will burden Túrin with Daeron? Not a bad idea. He is ruthless enough for this challenge. He will not hesitate to put him to death at the slightest provocation."
"No question about that."
"Have I met Túrin?" Aragorn asked.
"You would remember him if you had. He is a bear of a man, hard as a rock, and a savage at heart. Like a hero of old, as befits his name."
"That would answer, if you must seek exile. I, for one, will not agree to a hanging."
"Are you always so forgiving of those who seek your death, Aragorn?"
"There is something here we do not understand. We can't take a man's life when there is such doubt."
"At the least, shouldn't you wait to hear what he says before you speak so firmly?"
"I heard him that day, Hallor. What could he say worse?"
"The judgment must be put before the moot. Twenty men are needed for such a case."
"There is one thing more," Aragorn said. "I would like to examine him as a healer before this is decided."
Hallor plucked his pipe from his mouth. "Out of the question. It would be very unwise for you to meet at all until after the judgment. But if you think you can get his cooperation, I will consider it then. Although I would ask, why do you wish to?"
"I owe it to him because of the scar he bears, that's my father's doing. And for my mother's sake." And because of the shame that grips me, remembering the terrible moment when I wanted to kill him. "I have some small skill with Elven healing, very little it is true, but it may be enough to help him, or at the least to judge his truth. Then, at least, he will be of more use at his post. As it is, Idhril tells me that he suffers from severe headaches and black spells. Elven healing can help this."
Hallor drummed his fingers on the table, regarding Aragorn with a thoughtful, steady gaze. "All right. You may ask him. And we will see."
To set up the Great Hall for trial, a long table was placed on the dais, with a space before for the prisoner. Benches were lined up for the moot: the harbor master, the master of horse, farmers and craftsmen of Thurnost and the lands around—all sat grave and silent. Others gathered behind them in silent rows; men at arms stood against the walls and at the doors.
Hallor, Hawk and Ingold, newly returned to the Keep, presided at the head table; Aragorn, Beleg, Dírhael and Ivorwen sat behind the moot on the last bench. The doors opened, revealing Daeron, in chains, escorted by two armed guards. The guards brought the prisoner to the space before the judges and unchained him. But they stood behind him, swords drawn and at the ready.
Haggard and pale, Daeron kept his eyes focused on the floor. His arm was bound and set in a sling. The sight of that defeated face moved Aragorn to pity.
"Daeron son of Galdor," Hallor's voice rang out at its most commanding. "You stand here to face your judgment for your grave misdeed. The moot will hear your case and judge according to the laws of Númenor in these lands of exile. In Númenor of old such was the peace and prosperity of that beautiful land that there was little cause for judgment or punishment. But here, in Middle-earth, the laws of our people are harsh—of necessity. You are charged with drawing arms with intent to kill Aragorn son of Arathorn, the Heir of Isildur and by birth our chieftain. Therefore your assault is also treason. What do you answer?"
Daeron licked his lips and swallowed several times before speaking in a low, rough, guttural voice: "I am no traitor."
Hallor's voice rolled out, steady and full of authority. "Did you not attack Aragorn when he carried no sword to defend himself?"
"I do not remember."
"You lie. You jumped Aragorn from behind and tried to stab him in the back."
Daeron seemed to slouch sideways, as if to fall, when the guard on his uninjured side seized his arm and hauled him up to stand. Shaking, he spoke so low that no one could hear.
"Answer me," Hallor commanded.
"Then I deserve death," Daeron croaked.
"You sought to murder the rightful king of Arnor. Are you in the pay of Mordor?"
Daeron raised his chin. "No!"
"Why else would you commit this terrible crime? Why would you strike and wound your lord?"
"I don't know," Daeron whispered.
"I do know. I say that you are a bitter man, driven by hate to attempt murder—a crime that deserves hanging or exile."
Daeron turned ashen grey.
Hallor's eyes never left him as the heavy silence dragged on. At last he beckoned to Aragorn, and Hawk and Ingold as the judges, and, drawing them aside, spoke low. "What do you think?"
"You know my mind on this," said Aragorn. "Perhaps I am misled by my own wishes, but I believe him."
Ingold nodded. "Either he is a very good dissembler or he is telling the truth. And whatever else the man is, I have never known him for a liar. A bully, a surly man—yes, but I always rather wished he would make a pretense of civility."
"I cede to your judgment, Hallor," said Hawk.
They returned to their places, Hallor standing at the table. "Daeron, we question if your claim of no memory is real or not. Aragorn will tell how this evil deed happened."
Aragorn stood before the judges' table and looked steadily at Daeron, but the man avoided his eyes. He told the story, sparing no truth, even of his own near strike at Daeron's life. He watched the man carefully for signs of regret, or of memory, old or resurfaced. Daeron's expression grew more wretched, and his already pale cheeks sank into a ghostly whiteness, as the story progressed. No, this man remembers nothing. I will help him, if I can. "You sought my death, but I do not know why. Can you answer?"
"I am no traitor," Daeron whispered.
The three judges consulted before Hallor again took command of the proceedings. He turned to the men of the moot. "It is for you twenty to vote and decide: shall Daeron be punished for this deed? Upon your judgment, I will pronounce the punishment, if there is to be one."
Each man had two small stones: one black, one white. In silence, they cast their votes: eighteen for punishment, two for acquittal.
Two at least question my words, Aragorn thought. He strove for an impassive expression.
Hallor raised his eyes to Daeron. "The moot declares you are to be punished. Therefore, for this deed, Daeron son of Galdor, I banish you for life from Thurnost and all lands of the Angle. We will allow your wound to heal, but then you must at once leave the Keep. You are exiled to the Ranger post at the Grey Mountains. There you may redeem some honor, if you yet have honor remaining in your heart. If you betray or disobey any order given to you by your captain, you will be put to death."
Daeron's head drooped still lower. "It is only what I deserve."
The grave eyes of the silent witnesses followed him as the guards shackled him and led him from the Hall.
"Do you still wish to examine him?" asked Hallor.
Aragorn ran his fingers through his hair. "More than ever. I do not trust how any of this seems."
"It would look well, with those two votes for his innocence. I did not like that."
"It's not that at all," Aragorn said. "Elrond taught me to never withhold treatment when it may be of some good. In this case, I believe it's my duty to try."
"Tomorrow morning, then," Hallor said. "Hawk will go with you."
Elven healing required rigorous preparation, beginning with a clean body and a clear mind. The next morning, after a soak in the bathhouse, Aragorn dressed and began his breathing and centering exercises, reaching into his own mind for the pathways that carried the power. When Elrond had taught him, he had said, "Until you reach your full power, you may still be able to bring aid to some, and it is your duty to try. Beware of pushing yourself too far. The power will never harm the patient, but an untrained power can be deadly to the healer." Aragorn only hoped that he could bring some healing to Daeron.
In the dark, chilly lockup, reached by tunnels through the black rock of the Keep's walls, Daeron was seated on his cot, head bowed. A small brazier stood outside the barred door, providing some warmth.
When Aragorn caught Daeron's eye, alarmed suffused his face, and he lurched to his feet.
Hawk unlocked the door and Aragorn entered, to stand before the prisoner. "I have some skill with Elven healing, taught to me by Elrond. It might help you. I can't promise that I will succeed, but I cannot do you any harm, that is sure."
Despair, hope, surprise, suspicion—all warred in Daeron's face. "Why?"
"Because I may be able to ease your condition, if you're willing. I can promise nothing, but I judge it worthy of a try."
"Why would you want to help me, who tried to kill you?"
The man's bleak despair convinced Aragorn even further that he truly did not remember. What lay hidden in those buried memories? "Will you accept it if I say it's not for your sake, but because of a promise I made to Elrond?"
Daeron kept to a long silence. Aragorn waited. Hawk stood outside the gate, watching Daeron closely.
"All right," Daeron finally said. "But only for this: I will not ask your forgiveness, because what I did is unforgivable. I ask only that you accept my horror at my own deed. I don't understand what happened. Whatever else I am, I am no traitor, Aragorn."
"I believe you," Aragorn said.
They went to the healer's cottage for the examination. Aragorn had Daeron lie down on a low couch, and he sat on a stool beside the bed. "Close your eyes."
First he crushed leaves of athelas into a steaming bowl of water, and allowed the wholesome scent to sweeten the air. He felt its strength in his body and mind, and watched while Daeron's breathing softened. Then, gently, he took Daeron's rough, callused hands in his own. Aragorn spoke the Quenya words that Elrond had taught him, and held Daeron's hands in a firm grip till he felt the tension leave his long, nervous fingers. The pathways indeed were open, and he recognized some power there, hoping fervently that it was enough. But nothing seemed to happen. In despair, he concentrated with all his will. At least I sense no evil.
At last he released his hold. "You may open your eyes."
Daeron's grey eyes held surprise, relief. "What happened?"
Smiling, Aragorn shook his head. "I hardly know. Perhaps nothing. Has the pain gone?"
"Not gone," Daeron answered. "But less. And somehow, I feel cleaner, if that makes any sense."
"That is good."
"Will my memory return?" Daeron asked.
"I don't know." He stood up. "Stay here and rest. The athelas will bring more benefit if you continue to breathe the scent."
"Thank you," Daeron said.
Aragorn smiled and bowed his head. He left the room, determined not to let the man see his sudden exhaustion. He went to his room, collapsed onto the bed, and slept for a long, long time.
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