73. Final Judgment and the Light of Kings
Final Judgment and the Light of Kings
Water, wine, and rolls were provided at the back of the hall, but few seemed to want them. Several left, obviously not wishing to see this final act of judgment by the King. When the time was done, all remaining gathered again. The King entered from his private quarters, this time accompanied by his wife, and together they walked up the steep stairs. The King was obviously very tired and his eyes shadowed. Yet he sat upon his throne, straight and tall, his wife seated in her chair at his side. Again the high Lords sat upon their chairs, although Moritum's was still empty.
"Bring in he who was Varondil," he said quietly.
A few moments later they brought him into the room. He was wet, and the windows were splashed with rain, for the storm had broken at last. Behind him came several of the apprentices and their families, having been advised by pages sent out earlier that this hearing would take place in the late afternoon.
Varondil's face was white and drawn. He looked up into the face of the King above him and began to tremble.
"Varondil of this city, you have been found guilty of perversion of the worst sort, of abusing your authority as a master of apprentices, of causing bodily and spiritual harm to innocents, of corrupting innocents, of committing acts of such sorts you have driven at least seven youths to their own destruction, of dealing with slavers to obtain youths for your use, for breaking your marriage contract to your wife, for trading for youths with information to the detriment of this realm, for suborning an official of your guild, for lying in legal documents filed with your guild and the city, for unlawful imprisonment, for slavery in a realm where such is against the law.
"Whom have you given information to from outside our realm?"
"No one, Lord King," the Man whispered.
"No one? Not even a patron from the South?"
"There was no--"
"Several of your illegal apprentices were brought directly from Umbar. What is the name of the one who sent them to you?"
After a long silence, he said in a strained voice, "His name is Landrion, Lord King."
"How did you meet this one?"
"I was--was trying---" He swallowed. "I was seeking a boy to use, and spoke to one who knew--sources."
"Who was this?"
"An innkeeper in the first circle named Alangorn."
Faramir straightened. "Alangorn of the White Blossom was found guilty under my father of smuggling slaves and goods. He was executed fifteen years ago."
The King sighed. "So it was over fifteen years ago you began this importation of illicit apprentices?"
"Yes, my Lord King."
"What kind of information did Landrion desire?"
"Troupe movements. Which troupes were most likely to be overtired and easily beaten. Which captains paid the least attention to the needs of their soldiers. Who was most open to bribery. The deaths of important people who would need to be replaced, and which possible candidates for replacements were most likely to be open to corruption. When certain officials would be out of the city. What new laws were under consideration. Who might be moved to make certain--proposals favorable to Umbar or her lands. Which officials were most open to blackmail. When an official might be found alone to set up--set up a compromising situation. Who was in heavy debt, and who held questionable paper. Where agents and slaves could be filtered into the country most easily. What ports were most open to smuggling. The like."
"So you served as spy as well as bawdmaster?"
The sculptor's voice was a toneless whisper. "Yes, my Lord."
"What other sources did you use to obtain children?"
"A merchant of children from the folk of the Dunlendings."
"How did you meet him?"
"His name was given to me by Landrion of Umbar."
"Did he ask you for any information?"
"Yes, for the names of individuals from Rohan who might be open to corruption."
"What did you tell him?"
"I knew none, my Lord."
"What did he say then?"
"He wished to know who dealt with the Rohirrim on a regular basis here in Gondor, particularly those within the City."
"You were asked to make a total list of all the apprentices you have had over course of your mastership. Did you bring it?"
"Here, Lord King." He brought out a much-handled piece of parchment from inside his shirt, and gave it to the Steward, who brought it up the steps to the King.
The King smiled crookedly and commented, "On days like today, I wish my predecessors had been a bit less ostentatious in preparing this throne. It is pretentiously high, is it not?"
Faramir looked at the drawn face of his monarch, and his gravity broke, and he started to laugh in spite of himself. "You have had much exercise in ascending it, have you not? Perhaps it is why it remained empty so long."
The King sought to ease his shoulders and winced. "Unfold it for me, please."
He read through it at length, and gave it to Faramir. "Have it compared to the lists of apprentices filed over the past twenty years for him."
"I will, my Lord."
The King finally looked down at Varondil. "Your guilt has already been proven. What say you ere sentence is passed?"
"I--I...." Varondil gave up trying to speak, dropped his eyes.
"So be it, then. There is no real defense for what you have done. Even if it was done to you when you were still a child or youth, there is still every reason to desist from passing on this misery and guilt and horror. I could have you hanged several times over for what you did, but that would meet no purpose.
"You will go first to the Houses of Healing, where you will be gelded. You will remain there in servitude for the rest of your life--unless you are found even fondling another, at which time you will be returned to custody, then taken out and hanged summarily at the next dawn. Do you understand?"
Varondil looked up into the eyes of the King, turned white, and fainted away. The King sighed and signed he should be removed.
"So has judged the Lord King Aragorn Elessar Envinyatar Telcontar of Gondor and Arnor."
Gilfileg came to Ruvemir and asked him quietly if he would remain, and suggested Celebgil go back to the house in the Sixth Circle. He led Ruvemir and Armanthol again to the private audience room, then through it to the chamber where the King had examined his hip before. The King came in a few moments later accompanied by his wife, who steered him into a chair and signaled her brothers to come forward.
"Take no notice of what he says, Elladan, Elrohir. Ease this now."
Aragorn did not even try to resist, but sighed loudly. One of the brothers unfastened the scarf. and the other untied the placket laces of the tunic, then assisted in easing it over the King's head. Again the Man winced as the shoulder was moved.
There were scars on the King's chest, old ones, mostly, with one fresher one from what appeared to have been a flesh wound below the left shoulder. Elladan ran his hand over this wound, sang over it. Arwen sighed. "I ordered water to be boiled just ere we went into the throne room," she said, "and they were to bring it here afterward."
Just then a door opened and two servitors came, one carrying a basin of steaming water, and the other a tray on which lay clean cloths and a couple of fresh leaves. Elrohir and his sister smiled in relief and thanked them, took the trays and set them on a nearby table. Elrohir took the leaves and rolled them between his hands and breathed on them, then set them in the water, held the basin near the face of the King. The scent was of running streams and green growth. Aragorn breathed deeply of it, closed his eyes; and much of the tension began to run out of his face. Ruvemir could see the shoulder muscles relax, the body ease. Elrohir took one of the cloths and dipped in into the water, wrung it out, handed it to his brother, who carefully ran it over the King's shoulder again and again, then set it down on the tray and began massaging the muscle, rubbing deeply and continuing his song. There was a brief look of pain, then easing as the Elf gently shifted to rub both shoulders, then moved around to the Man's back and continued from there. The breathing of the King became deeper and more regular, almost the rhythm of sleep.
Several others came into the room, paused near the doorway. Gilfileg looked up at them from where he stood near his cousin, and Ruvemir could see him tensing somewhat. He looked to see who it was who had entered, and saw Legolas, Gimli, Prince Faramir and his wife, and Prince Imrahil and the two of his sons who were with him. Behind them was Eregiel, who was smiling across at Gilfileg encouragingly.
At last Elladan stopped and pulled his hands away, and it was plain that the King felt some regret that the massage was over. He straightened and opened his eyes.
"My Lord King, we did not mean to interrupt," said Prince Imrahil.
Aragorn merely shook his head. "No, my wife has finally convinced me to allow our brothers to ease my shoulder is all. And it feels much better, I must say. But better is the soothing of the athelas, I think, after the evil dealt with today." He reached for the shirt and now was able to put it on by himself.
Elladan held the green scarf. "I think just for tonight you ought to continue to wear this, Estel. It will keep you from reinjuring it. And tomorrow--"
"I know, exercises." The Man smiled. He allowed his foster brother to replace the scarf, checked the movement of his fingers. "They move more easily."
"The pathways are eased."
Aragorn stretched, and nodded in relief. Then he looked first to Gilfileg and then to Prince Imrahil. "There is a particular reason I wished you to attend on me tonight. As you can tell, still another of my kin from Eriador has arrived in the capital, and in this case the arrival has perhaps more meaning than the coming of others. Gilfileg's father was Gilthor, grandson to Argonui by his younger daughter, Nienoreth, the youngest of five children he fathered. Argonui's oldest child was Aradorn, my own grandsire. Gilfileg is closest in blood to the line of Kings after myself and Melian.
"There is more. You already know that many of the Dúnedain of the North have, as I did, served in Gondor's armies and in the Rangers. Before I came south to serve as Thorongil, Gilthor came south and served under his own name, and was, for a time----"
"Arien?" interrupted the Prince.
Gilfileg nodded. "Yes, I am son to Gilthor of Eriador and Arien of Dol Amroth."
"Then he found her ere he rode north."
"Yes, although it took him over a month to do so. Their stories of what happened during that time were fascinating."
"Grandfather was most upset, and wished after her leaving that he'd questioned Gilthor more closely, perhaps found a reason why he was suitable for her."
"I hope had he known my father's circumstances he would have been relieved to find she married almost as well as one can among our kindred.
"You did not come south as have so many of your brethren?"
"Oh, yes, I did in my turn. However, I was seen as an aberration among the forces of Gondor, and was not admitted to the regular army but to the Rangers."
"Why was this?"
"I am left handed."
The Prince considered this, then smiled. "I would have had no compunctions against taking you in my troupes, but most of Denethor's folk would have looked at you as if you were moon touched."
"So it proved. The only one who would accept me under his command was Captain Boromir, who was newly come to his rank."
"So you became a scout, then?"
"Yes. I served under him for three years and had planned to take leave soon to come south to Dol Amroth, or perhaps to Minas Tirith if your family was there then, and meet you and tell you of my mother. However, I was kept from this by capture."
"Capture by whom? The Rhunim?"
"Yes, by the Rhunim. I was scouting for activity near the Black Gates when I ran into a patrol of Orcs and had to go to ground. I was checking to see if all were clear when the slight movement was seen by an Orc who apparently could stand sunlight better than his fellows, and his arrow caught me in the side. I fled east, pursued by a troupe of Orcs, until I finally crossed into Rhun. This troupe was more intent on capturing me than most such groups were--they pursued me for three days before they finally let go. I had not been able to remove the arrow's point, and I am fortunate it was not poisoned. As it was, I had become very weak, and after I removed the point the wound became infected. I passed out near a small water seep, and was found by members of the d'Bouti tribe. Ba'hastir of the d'Bouti recognized I was a scout from Gondor, and claimed me as a slave. I convinced them that I had only been in the army of Gondor for three weeks rather than three years, and held to that story even during torture. They finally believed me after they relieved me of two fingers on my right hand and a toe."
"So, they sought to maim your sword hand."
"Yes, not realizing that was not my sword hand after all. I was fortunate they did not realize the import of the reversed hangers on my sword's sheath."
"How long did you remain with the d'Bouti clan?"
"That was a long time to remain enslaved!" Elphir said, his eyes wide with surprise.
"Yes, far too long."
"Could you not have escaped?"
"I could have done so within eight months of my capture, I believe. However, before I went south to Gondor, as I went to get the permission of our chieftain to do so--" he gave Aragorn a sidelong look "--he had one of his moments of foresight, and told me that if I were given the care of children I needed to keep care of them until they chose the warrior's way. Ba'hastir decided he wished me to serve his grandsons, and to teach them of our ways so they would be better able to deal with us should they come up against the soldiers of the West one day."
Imrahil asked, "His grandsons? And his grandsons----" His own eyes widened. "His grandsons are now----"
"Moritum, Ifram, and Shefti b'nto Agharan of the d'Bouti tribe."
"Do they know?"
"Ifram and Shefti do, although I do not know if Moritum does as yet. It was almost as much a shock to recognize them and learn they were the ambassadors to Gondor as it was to see a Hobbit of the Shire riding easily in their company along a road in southern Lebennin, or to realize an Elf was watching over the company."
Faramir smiled. "I remember you now, when you came back, begging my father to allow you to rejoin my brother's troupes. He took your report, and then dismissed you, forbade you to go back to Osgiliath or Ithilien. Was going on about how a scout needed to be able to handle bow and sword, and you could do neither, and would not listen when you tried to explain there was no impediment."
"I am not certain how much of that was real concern, my Lord, and how much of it was his suspicion of those of us who were from among the Lost."
Imrahil sighed. "After the leaving of the Lord Captain Thorongil," he said, giving his King his own sidelong look, "he did become extremely suspicious of anyone suspected of having come from the Northern Dúnedain who did not immediately follow orders."
Aragorn looked down. "So I understood from the reports of those who returned North, many of them before their usual term of service would have been expected to be finished." He looked to his Steward. "He was becoming a difficult person to deal with by the end of my own service. He had divined who and what I was, and was certain I would take the throne ere he had any chance to serve as Steward. Yet we were friends of a sort when I first came, before envy took him. It grieved me to lose his friendship, for we had much in common." He sighed. "I had a brief glance of him in the Palantir as I wrested it from Sauron, and was shocked at how much he had changed. His Dúnedain blood was strong enough he ought not have looked so much his age. You and I look and, I think, feel more of an age than he did at his ending. He ought not to have looked that much older than I, as he was but a year older than I to begin with."
"Even I appear older than you, my Lord Aragorn," said Imrahil, "and yet in actuality I am the younger. The Dúnedain blood of the South kingdom is not as pure as that in the North, I deem."
The King shrugged, then suddenly straightened, looked distant, and then bowed his head, his face paling. "It is done now," he whispered, "for Abdurin." Both Elladan and Elrohir came behind him and each put a hand to a shoulder, while Arwen knelt before him and took his hands in hers. All remained so for some time until at last he said, "That was the third. It is over."
Armanthol looked shocked into Ruvemir's face. The King noted his look. "Yes, I feel the deaths I order--in a way. I cannot tell you how. Perhaps that is one reason why I order so few, why I hate this part of what I must do as King. I felt your father's death, also, but not so strongly--he was not one of mine, and he did not die on the soil of my lands. Yet, I had a part in his end, and so I was aware. But I cannot allow such as he to believe they can run rampant through the lands under my protection, assassinate those they please to meet their ends, for those deaths I also suffer. Do you understand?"
Armanthol shook his head. "No," he whispered, "I do not fully understand."
"Had I allowed Marcipor to take you, I would have felt that also."
"Why has it taken so long for them to do the executions?"
"Do you think such is done all in an instant? This city is large, and first they must get the proper spears for the doing. To get the weapons, to wend the way down through the streets of Minas Tirith, to be brought to the proper place, to prepare the condemned, for he who does the execution to prepare himself--all these take time. And now there is the need to do what must be done with the bodies. Already those who prepare for the morning's work are waiting, impatient, for them to move from the place so that they can set up the gallows beams. And I must feel that, also, and more strongly still as these I have directly ordered. Know this, when you know a death is necessary, be ready to accept the consequences, and be certain it is necessary before you order it. Otherwise it will come back to haunt you, one way or another."
"I did not know."
"It is part of what made what your father and Varondil and Abdurin did so heinous--they felt no responsibility for the deaths or actions they committed or ordered, much less for those who would suffer and most likely die as a result of their callousness and selfishness. When torture and death become merely part of policy to achieve ends, then the person who commits and orders such becomes hollowed and eventually quite spiritually empty. In the case of Sauron and eventually Saruman as well, they had lost the ability to feel save when others suffered, and so they must in time order more and more suffering, more and more deaths, for otherwise they had no indication they yet had any substance at all."
A servitor entered with a pitcher of wine and goblets, and Legolas began to pour out for all, looking with an unreadable expression into the eyes of his friend as he presented a cup to the King. "Drink and be comforted, Aragorn."
After a long time, the King spoke again. "It is part of why I so wished to restore Frodo, if I could. The burden of the Ring scoured his soul, and his was not the nature to survive such evil easily. Every death caused by he who created that thing Frodo felt as I do, and he had no idea at first what it was he was experiencing. The Ring delighted to allow him to suffer with those who suffered at the hands of Mordor; it delighted in showing him the torturers at their work, the callous taking what they desired from the joy of others, the diminishing, the twisting, the destruction. It is no wonder to me that his health began to fail, that the memories would fell him on the anniversaries of when he was most deeply wounded. The wounds of the spirit will weaken the body if there is no time given for proper recovery. To arrive home and find that the echoes of what he knew in Mordor were still occurring in his own land, to know his own were suffering--the healing tissue of his spirit was torn asunder by it, and that wound bled afresh. He was my brother of the spirit, a great King born in the body of a Hobbit in the land of the Periannath, one who felt each joy and each sorrow, who in the end was so hollowed he could no longer feel the joys echoing in his heart strongly enough to balance the pains.
"We must balance the joys with the griefs, we must, or it will destroy us." He sighed, and looked again to Faramir. "Perhaps that was what drained your father so badly, for he did not appear to seek the pleasures of life along with the responsibilities as our Adar insisted I do. He told me that if I did not do so, I would be lost in the end.
"And so I attend births, perform marriages, watch performances of plays and pageants, walk through the markets when I can, watch with pleasure as folk come to present my wife with flowers, hold my daughter. I feel the joy when the bridegroom comes to the bride. I know when the artisan looks with delight and awe at the product of his imagination, his hands, the inspiration given to him. I feel the pride as parent looks at the success of the child. I feel the satisfaction of the healer who sees his patient recovering. I feel the joy as the youth or maiden rides across the Pelennor on a likely steed and knows that moment of oneness with the horse. I rejoice with the singer, the teller of tales, the ones who lighten the darkness. All these help me to recover from the horrors of realizing just how destructive Men can be, and the need to order what I ordered this day."
Prince Imrahil examined his liege carefully. "You truly feel that the spirit of a great king was given to that one?"
Aragorn's grey eyes smiled into those of the Prince. "Yes, my Lord Prince, I do. His Light was the twin to my own, and when I met him his shone far brighter than mine. He sparked my Light, set it shining as brightly as his own." His expression became more solemn as he looked down at his goblet, then he looked back up. "It seems we had much the same conversation before, in Casistir."
"I remember. You said that he helped you shed the habit of hiding yourself, your identity and your nature."
The King nodded. He thought for a time. "Always Frodo was driven to serve, to help build. It was what he was born to do."
Ruvemir considered. "His kin say the same, my Lord King. He was early born, and as a child he was subject to whispering in his heart, they tell me. When he was overcome with fear or grief it would become notable, and they feared for his life. After the death of his parents his cousins who fostered him sought to protect his health, but did so by restricting what he was allowed to do. He would be allowed to do nothing that might cause stress to his heart, and in the winters especially he would begin to fade, worse and worse each year. Only when he was allowed to serve others was he truly happy, when he was allowed to go out and see life as it was. After he went to Bag End and was made Bilbo's heir where he was no longer restricted in his activities, where he was actively encouraged to aid others however he could, both openly and secretly--only then did he begin to know good health and full happiness at last."
"Did they show you his will?"
"No," Ruvemir said, "although they told me somewhat of it."
"It was a marvel of complexity. It appears he had secretly been aiding over half the Shire most of his time since he came to Bag End."
"All hoped so he would one day become Mayor; but once the Ring came to him, even when it still slept, he never chose to run. He'd have made an excellent Mayor, I think. All spoke well of the time when he served as Deputy Mayor after the Scouring of the Shire, and did not understand why he gave up the post when he did. Mayor Whitfoot has not truly recovered from what he experienced in the Time of Troubles, and will not run again, I fear. You can see in his face he was weakened by what he endured. But the Lord Frodo realized, I think, that his own health was fading, his heart failing at last." Ruvemir thought for a moment. "He told only his cousin Fredegar Bolger what he felt at the Fords of Bruinen during their return, that the memories of that last ride and the stabbing at Amon Sul were lapped over what was really happening as they left Rivendell to return to the Shire, that he felt weakened and ill, that the coldness felt as if it were coming into his shoulder and arm again as if he'd just been stabbed, but that he had real pain at the same time. Budgie Smallfoot believes he might have had a seizure of his heart at that time, and that might have sparked much of the rest of his decline."
Aragorn, Elladan, and Elrohir exchanged looks. Finally Elrohir sighed. "Adar foresaw his health would not remain," he said quietly. "But he feared the scarring of his soul more than the weakening of his heart."
The Lady Arwen put her hand on her husband's knee. "Body and soul were scarred by the Quest. It was why I begged he be allowed to go with our father, why I gave him the pendant. His Light was returned, but he was subject to such pain. He deserved more."
The King nodded, placed his own hand over hers, looked up into her eyes. "If only he could have found such as you, it would have helped him so."
She looked down, then back into his own eyes, shaking her head sadly. "It scoured away that part of his being."
He sighed as he turned away, reached to his goblet to take another sip of wine. "I know," he said at last. "I am grateful I never touched the foul thing, and grieve he could not give It up ere that happened."
"It happened very early on. It could not be prevented by the time Its nature was known. He and Bilbo both were robbed of the ability to know that kind of love by It almost as soon as It came to them."
Ruvemir nodded his agreement. "Before Bilbo left It to him, the Lord Frodo had begun to look again at lasses within the Shire after his grief that the love he'd known from his Cousin Pearl had waned, but that stopped as soon as he found himself carrying It within his pocket. It was years before Lord Samwise began to suspect the Ring Itself was at fault for that."
Aragorn sighed. "And so it is that I have one more resentment against the works of Sauron, for the possibility of that kind of joy robbed from one who so deserved it, and who so desired it."
This is a work of fan fiction, written because the author has an abiding love for the works of J R R Tolkien. The characters, settings, places, and languages used in this work are the property of the Tolkien Estate, Tolkien Enterprises, and possibly New Line Cinema, except for certain original characters who belong to the author of the said work. The author will not receive any money or other remuneration for presenting the work on this archive site. The work is the intellectual property of the author, is available solely for the enjoyment of Henneth Annûn Story Archive readers, and may not be copied or redistributed by any means without the explicit written consent of the author.