24. The Trial
It was several days later when King Théoden summoned his Court to sit. He held a Court of Justice usually at the beginning of a new month and petitioners, or people with a complaint or grievance that could not be settled elsewhere would come before him. Occasionally there would be a need for justice to be dealt out to wrong-doers, but it was most unusual for a special court to be convened for such a purpose.
Also there had been much debate and important meetings going on to discuss the state of the war, the impending threat from Mordor and when the riders should leave for Gondor so there was scant time left for other matters. However, King Théoden had taken a special interest in the case of Grando Spandif and he also felt that his crime was important as a precedent since no such charge had ever been brought before in the kingdom of Rohan.
Merry had gradually told Éomer everything that had happened to him, Drâmym and Ŭnomer had been questioned and the whole story put together. The circus owner stood accused of kidnapping, false imprisonment, cruelty and, most importantly, wrongful subjugation and lack of respect to an equal species. Another charge of stealing had been proposed but was firmly rejected by the King as he pointed out that it gave Merry the status of ‘property’, which he was not.
A counsel was appointed for both Spandif and the Crown. Grima Wormtongue the King’s own counsellor had agreed to plead the case for the accused and Éomer would act on behalf of Merry. King Théoden, of course, would preside.
The Court was assembled in the main hall of Meduseld, Aragorn, Legolas, Gimli and Gandalf were all present and would probably be called upon to bear witness, as were the riders, Drâmym and Ŭnomer. Spandif’s son was also there, along with a few other people from the circus. Théoden entered the Court in his official robes and took his seat.
The prisoner was brought from his cell, not looking much the worse for a few nights locked up.
As the charges were being read out, Théoden held up his hand to pause the clerk, "Wait, where is Meriadoc? He should be here."
"By your leave my Lord, we were not sure if he would be up to hearing the whole proceedings." Aragorn stood up to explain. "He is not fully recovered from the ordeal yet. I think it would be adding further suffering to him."
"Then you may not accuse this man." Wormtongue interjected. "By the law of Rohan, the victim or accuser must be present if his or her case is to proceed."
"This is merely a ruse to try and bring a physically damaged and potentially confused witness to give account." Éomer stood up in obvious anger. "He is using an antiquated precedent to gain an unreasonable advantage for this man."
Théoden thought for a moment. "The law is the law." He decided. "I agree that it will be painful for Meriadoc to hear the evidence, but I fear the only other alternative would be to let this man go untried." He beckoned to the ranger. "Will you go and fetch the young Holbytla, Aragorn? He shall sit by me in the Court, if you think that will help, and I will make certain he is not too distressed."
Aragorn agreed that it would probably help and set off to find the hobbits. It was not too much of a search as he guessed rightly and made straight for the kitchens. The insatiable pair were sitting at the scrubbed wooden table with several bowls and plates around them – all empty but for a few crumbs. Yomyn was bent over the kitchen range, busily preparing some new delicacy.
"Merry," Aragorn sat down beside him, wondering how he was going to react. "You have to come to the Court now. The man who locked you up is going to be tried and you have to be there." The ranger took a deep breath, "I know I told you that if you talked to Éomer you wouldn’t have to go to the trial, well the laws here are slightly different and I'm sorry but I'm afraid you must."
"Oh," Merry acted less than enthusiastically and felt about on the plates in front of him, although he undoubtedly knew he had eaten everything. "We were just explaining to Yomyn about second breakfast and I think he’s getting the idea now."
"Well, you can have your second breakfast later." Aragorn smiled at the prevarication.
"Then it would be elevensies or even luncheon," Merry sighed with mock exasperation, "you never did understand second breakfast, Strider."
"You’ll have to teach me properly some day." The ranger agreed. "In the meantime, I’ll ask Yomyn for something you can take with you, but you have to come now. King Théoden is waiting for you, he has taken a special interest and has asked that you sit at his side."
Merry and Pippin, (because Merry flatly refused to go without him) were led into the Court by the ranger. Both the hobbits were clutching a gingerbreadhobbit and looking very small and vulnerable. Merry was still visibly bruised and bandaging was evident around his neck and wrists. He also had the scrap of Gandalf’s cloak tied around his shoulders, it had become as a talisman for the hobbit now, although some might have seen it as more of a security blanket. He had to be guided down steps and it was obvious to onlookers that he was blind.
Pippin too aroused much sympathy, his arm in a sling, face pale and drawn, although that was probably caused by opium deprivation, and his eyes darting anxiously from his cousin to the ranger, tugging at Aragorn’s sleeve to ask a silent question. Grima Wormtongue began to wonder if his strategy had been so wise after all.
Two chairs were brought and set beside the King and Merry and Pippin sat there hand in hand, their feet dangling. Théoden patted Merry reassuringly on the shoulder. "Don’t worry Meriadoc, this should not take too long."
Spandif was required to stand as the charges against him were read out. He was asked to plead his guilt or otherwise. Grima interceded, "Master Spandif wishes to plead to the Court that he is innocent by circumstance."
"Very well," Théoden indicated to Éomer. "State the prosecution."
"The case my Lord is this." Éomer began. "The accused, Grando Spandif, encountered two Riders of Rohan, Drâmym and Ŭnomer, on the road while they were escorting Master Meriadoc Brandybuck a Halfling of The Shire to Edoras. Spandif attempted to negotiate with the two men to purchase Master Brandybuck, an attempt which they scarcely took note of, it being so impertinent and ridiculous."
Éomer continued. "Later on the road the two riders were attacked by orcs and separated, Master Brandybuck being carried off with Drâmym who was wounded. In spite of being blind Master Brandybuck almost certainly saved Drâmym’s life by removing the arrow from his back and bandaging him and wrapping him in his own blanket." A twitter of amazement and admiration ran around the Court at the reported feats of the little hobbit.
"Drâmym then became unconscious and as Master Brandybuck sat beside him, the travelling show run by the accused came past." Éomer turned towards Spandif as he spoke. "Master Brandybuck pleaded assistance from the man, but instead of helping him, the halfling was taken by this large man and put into a small cage alongside his captive animals. He was poked and prodded with a stick and stripped of his clothes, save the small rag, which is still about his shoulders, as he refused to part with it. He was left exposed to the cold and rain and the heat of the day and when he became sick with fever, still this man did nothing to help him. He exploited him by charging admission and exhibiting him in a cage like an animal."
Théoden glanced anxiously at Merry who had sat silently throughout the accusation, The little hobbit made no move but large tears were running down his face and he sniffed slightly. This was not lost on the other members of the Fellowship either, but they knew that to make an overt fuss of Merry in front of the whole Court would not make him feel better – with one possible exception. Pippin looked at his cousin in bewilderment, he had no idea what was being said, although he guessed it was to do with Merry being so cruelly treated and he started to cry because Merry was.
Théoden lifted his hand to halt the proceedings. He came round in front of the hobbits blocking the view of them from the people present and knelt down to talk to Merry, This action from the King caused a ripple of wonder from the local people of Rohan. "Do not be upset Merry," he said, offering his own silken 'kerchief for the hobbit to use. "You have made Pippin cry also and he knows not why he is crying."
This made Merry laugh through his tears a little. "Silly hobbit!" He gave Pippin an affectionate nudge. Then added more seriously, "I’m sorry my Lord, hearing it just felt like it happening all over again and it made me sad. I remembered feeling so lost and lonely."
"I know, and you were very brave, but you have to be brave again now so that Spandif can be taught not to treat anyone else like that."
"All right." Merry agreed.
Théoden remembered something else then. He whispered, "did you know that he even tried to buy Pippin from Aragorn!"
Merry gave a sudden and indignant intake of breath. His whole stance and attitude changed as only a hobbit’s can, as his grief for himself gave way to indignation and anger on behalf of his cousin. He scrubbed at his red eyes with the 'kerchief and stuck out his determined chin. "I won’t get upset again," he promised.
Théoden smiled and squeezed his shoulder. "Good." The King then resumed his seat and signalled for the trial to continue.
Éomer had finished the statement of accusation now and gave the floor to Grima to state the defence.
"My Lords," he began, "The man accused is guilty of nothing more than ignorance and lack of experience with this particular species." Wormtongue moved towards the hobbits. "These creatures were not in his experience and his questioning of its escorts gave him no reason to suspect that a halfling is anything more than an exotic pet, or so he believed the King of Rohan thought of it."
Grima moved to face the Court arena. "The creature spoke a language alien to his own and he could not understand anything it said, so assumed it was not speaking as such, but merely making noises. Furthermore, when the two men were asked if they would be willing to sell it, they merely claimed it was not theirs. At no time did they say it was not a thing to be bought or sold. They rather indicated that it was a pet of the King's." Grima indicated towards the pair of hobbits seated at the side of Théoden, "as would indeed seem to be the case."
At this a gasp ran through the Court and the King looked like thunder. "Looks are most deceptive then, Grima," he interrupted, "I offered Merry my protection when he was in sore need of help, that is all." Théoden realised in his anger that he should not interrupt the man's defence. "But please continue."
Grima bowed deferentially, "Thank you, my Lord. I would like to call Aragorn son of Arathorn to bear witness in this case. His testimony I believe to be most important in establishing Master Spandif's innocence."
Needless to say there were several raised eyebrows at this statement but the ranger shrugged and stepped forward. "Very well, ask your questions," he invited.
"Now, as I understand the story," Grima began, "you first encountered these halflings at an inn in the town of Bree in the country of Eriador, where you offered them your protection."
"I hardly see how that is relevant to the current matter," Aragorn replied, "although, yes that is true, what of it?"
"Since then you have dragged them all the way from Rivendell through the Mines of Moria, allowed them to be stolen by orcs – twice. Under your 'protection' they were held captive in Orthanc, where one was beaten and blinded and the other had his wrist broken and was stricken deaf and dumb." Grima shrugged at Aragorn, "you might have protected your dog better!"
Merry jumped up in anger at the insinuation, "None of that was Aragorn's fault," he shouted. "Pippin and I got into all that trouble on our own!"
"Peace, Merry." Aragorn put his hand on the hobbit's shoulder, pushing him gently back down on to the chair. "As Meriadoc said, I was not instrumental in any of these happenings. That I failed to protect them was not by calculation, but by circumstance."
"Nevertheless," Grima was warming to his subject, "you sent the blind little thing off with two strangers, with its wrists in manacles and a metal collar round its neck, dressed in rags. Was it any wonder that Grando Spandif thought it was for sale?"
"Those were very special circumstances. There was a greater threat to Merry if he had stayed where he was." Aragorn explained. "He had to leave at once." The ranger was anxious not to give too much specific information away regarding the Quest and in particular, of course, the Ring. "As I understand, this man Spandif was clearly told that Merry was not for sale."
"Why did you not accompany the halfling yourself?" Grima continued. "Surely under these special circumstances it needed your protection more than ever."
"I would have," Aragorn remained very calm under the needling voice. "But the other halfling, Peregrin needed my help even more – he was so ill he almost died."
Merry choked out a little gasp at the memory of how sick Pippin had been and how anxious he had been for him.
"Really," Grima's face melded into a self-satisfied smirk, "so ill that you started feeding it a deadly and addictive narcotic? Interesting ways you offer protection, ranger."
"That's enough!" Éomer interceded, "Aragorn is not on trial here. Why do we have to hear these ridiculous accusations?"
"You are well informed, Sir." Aragorn inclined his head slightly towards Grima, "but I administered the opiate as a remedy, not as a poison. Peregrin is almost recovered now."
"Indeed," Grima decided to go for the kill. "Is that why when you arrived at the Court of Meduseld you had the smaller of the halflings on a leash, like a dog? If that is how you treat these creatures, what are ill-informed men like Spandif supposed to think?"
Once more there was a ripple of surprise and indignation that ran around the Court.
Aragorn took a deep breath before he summoned up his reply. "I put a piece of cord around Pippin's wrist merely to keep him close to me. He was obviously developing a very serious dependency on the opium. I am not the only one who carries the drug, many soldiers keep supplies of it and I feared he might try to steal more, as he had earlier."
"It is very easy to mistreat a creature that cannot even speak for itself," Grima pointed at Pippin. "Shall we ask it the true version of events? No, for it cannot speak and that is why, Aragorn, you can be as cruel to it as you claim Spandif was to the other. Perhaps you should be the one on trial here."
"But he is not!" Argued Éomer "and neither should he be. You have wandered a long way from a proper defence of the man, Spandif. Falsely accusing another of a similar crime does not absolve the perpetrator of the original misdeed. So what is your point, Grima?"
"My point is," Grima turned to Éomer to make his point. "My point is, that Spandif was ignorant of the nature of halflings, but all the evidence he saw of them in his first encounter, both from Drâmym and Ŭnomer and from Aragorn pointed to the fact that they are of a lesser species and could be treated like pets or livestock."
"Does that conclude your defence?" Théoden asked.
"It does my Lord." Grima moved to the side with a confident smirk.
Éomer moved to the centre. He called for testimony from Gandalf and Legolas and Gimli, who all confirmed the correct version of events regarding Merry and his condition when he was found imprisoned in the cage.
Then Éomer made a dramatic announcement, "My Lord I would like to command the testimony of a special witness, now." Everyone looked around the Court wondering who it could be. "I require the evidence of Peregrin son of Paladin of the Shire."
Théoden was as surprised as anyone. "But he cannot speak or hear." The King pointed out.
"He can read and write”. Éomer reminded him. "Let him have parchment and quill and we will have his account in this way."
"Very well." Théoden agreed. "Bring parchment and…"
Merry tugged surreptitiously at the King's robes.
"…what is it, Merry?"
The hobbit whispered conspiratorially, "I think Pip would manage better with a slate and chalk. He's not too good with a quill."
"That is an excellent plan." Théoden patted Merry's arm. "It will also be easier on supplies as the slate may be reused."
"Also good for rubbing out mistakes." Merry added.
A slate and chalk was procured from the castle schoolroom and given to Pippin who immediately started to write his name as Merry had so carefully taught him.
When Meriadoc had first realised that his little cousin, through no fault of his own, had such difficulty in reading and spelling he told him not to worry over it too much, but that he should learn how to write his future title as neatly and perfectly as possible, as one day he would be required to sign important documents when he succeeded to the Thainship. Dutifully Pippin had practiced, starting with a slate and graduating to a quill and parchment. Now the one thing he could scribe beautifully was Peregrin I, Thain of the Shire.
Éomer looked in surprise at the hobbit's grand signature then turned the slate over, so as not to spoil the hobbit's careful inscription and taking the chalk wrote his first question on the slate. 'How long have you known, Aragorn son of Arathorn?'
The little hobbit realised that it was now his turn to add what he knew about Merry's ordeal but Pippin's reading was not the best and he was not too sure about 'Aragorn son of Arathorn'. He pointed to the words and frowned. Éomer showed the slate to Gandalf who changed the words for 'Stryder'.
Once the change was made Pippin responded, writing carefully on the slate, his bottom lip between his teeth in concentration. 'long tym'
'And how does he treat you?'
'All the time?'
Pippin considered this. 'no onli wen im bad wiv thoes popys'
'Why did he tie a rope on you?'
Pippin had to think hard again to remember. 'becuz I stol hys popys'
Éomer read it out loud so that he could understand the words. Then wrote 'Did you mind the rope?'
'no - wen i wuz bord hi lett mi go and i fond meri'
"That's 'found' by the way," Gandalf pointed out.
'What do you think of Stryder.' Éomer wrote.
'hi s a gud fyter wyv a sord hi luks after mi an meri a lot wen he dusnt hav to and i trust hym hi wuz veri kynd to mi wen i wuz il an meri to'
This was a very long speech for the hobbit and took a lot of painstaking scratching with the chalk on the slate. Pippin even turned the slate over and rubbed out his signature to fit all the words in.
Éomer solemnly read this statement to the Court. "Aragorn is not on trial here," he restated, "but I think it important to refute the accusations being made about his character and attitude towards the halflings."
Grima interjected, "But what is the point of this testimony, the halfling tells us nothing that someone else could not have done and with more ease."
"The point is," Éomer turned to face the body of the Court and parodied Grima's earlier stance. "The point is, that it is not difficult to see that a halfling, in spite of this one not being able to hear or speak, is a reasoning and intelligent being and not a creature to be bought and sold or exhibited in a cage. Therefore it would be reasonable to assume that anyone, even someone such as Grando Spandif must have been able to work that out and must have known what he was doing was wrong!"
There was a murmur of approval from the Court.
"To further emphasise my argument," Éomer gave Pippin back the slate indicating that he could keep it. "I now call for the testimony of Meriadoc son of Saradoc of the Shire."
Merry did not know he was going to be called upon to speak, but he remembered Théoden's earlier words about the importance of being brave and that the man had tried to buy Pippin, so he stood up and waited to be led to the centre of the floor.
"Tell the Court, Meriadoc, are all the things that were described by the other people about how Spandif treated you true?" Éomer had decided this would be a kinder approach than making Merry recount all the details himself.
"Yes," Merry agreed in a small voice.
"Can you also tell the Court how you felt about that?"
Merry said nothing for a few moments, gathering his thoughts. Then he started in a low whisper and there was total silence as all strained to hear him. "At first I was very angry and I rattled the bars of the cage and shouted. But they just laughed. Then I was frightened, especially when it thundered and all the animals got noisy. Then I was so very, very sad. More sad than I have ever been before. But it was because I thought I would die and no one, an-and Pippin, would know what had happened to me, because they would just throw me away like r-rubbish. And Pippin might think I had just gone off and left him. That made me feel lonely and sad." Merry paused a moment, he was shaking now and in spite of his endeavour to be brave, his eyes had filled with tears which ran down his cheeks making little track marks which he stoically refused to wipe away.
Merry gulped and continued. "They took my clothes off me and I got very cold, but I was also very ashamed, to be naked in a cage and not even be able to see who was l-looking at me. It was such a frightening feeling it made me feel utterly worthless. So then I thought it was a g-good thing the others didn't know what had h-happened to me." His words became punctuated with small involuntary sobs. "I was afraid for th-them to see me like that. Then I-I couldn't think or t-touch or hear any m-more. Like all m-my senses had given up the s-same as my eyes. And when P-Pip, when th-they came for me, I c-couldn't m-move." Merry was almost overcome with emotion now as the memory of the ordeal came flooding back. "I-I was scared that the c-cage would be my grave and that they-they would think I was s-so worthless I should b-be locked in it forever."
Éomer started to ask another question, but Gandalf stepped forward holding up a warning hand and shook his head. He could not bear to see young Meriadoc put through any more of this emotional pain.
"Merry, that's enough now." Gandalf knelt down next to the hobbit and put his arm around him pulling him in close. "Hush now Meriadoc, you must not think about it ever again. Do you promise me you will try not to?"
Merry buried his damp face in Théoden's 'kerchief and leaned into Gandalf's comforting embrace. "I'll try, I promise. I don't want to think about it anymore, ever."
Pippin had climbed down from his chair as soon as he saw Gandalf hug Merry and with tentative glances around at the official, important people and an anxious sideways look at Strider, had gradually edged his way over to his sad cousin and pulled at Gandalf's cloak.
The wizard drew Pippin in as well and whispered to Merry, "Did anyone tell you how much Pippin cried when you were lost? He loves you so very much; I think that was why The Valar helped him find you. That is a truly wonderful thing Merry, so if ever you think of this again, remember how it ended and that it was Pippin who saved you."
Merry sniffed and hugged Pippin tightly. "I will, Gandalf, thank you, that is a much better thought."
The Court was silent except for a few sympathetic sobs from the assembly and many silent tears to match.
Éomer waited while Merry and Pippin were led back to their chairs by Gandalf who stayed by the hobbits once they were seated, their legs dangling from the high chairs and tightly holding each other's hands.
"My Lord, Ladies and Gentlemen of the Court." Éomer announced. "I have presented my case to you in full. Now you must decide."
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.