25. Crime and Punishment
The justice system in Rohan selected ten of the King's subjects present in the Court to vote on the innocence or guilt of the accused and this was done by a secret ballot (*see A/N above). It did not take the clerk very long to count up the papers. The majority was 9 to 10 in favour of a guilty verdict. What was not clear was what the man's punishment should be.
The showman was brought to stand in front of the King and Théoden asked Spandif if he had anything to say to the Court that might influence how he was sentenced.
"I am truly sorry, my Lord if I mistreated the creature. I am an honest man of business and I…"
Théoden held his hand up to silence the man. "Master Spandif, if you have an apology to make, I suggest you make it to Master Meriadoc and not to me. He was the one wronged by you and, even if you cannot understand all he says, I think he can understand you."
Spandif looked rather uncomfortable at this prospect. "You mean apologise to the hafing? But are you sure it understands… that is I never understand what it's saying…"
"I don't believe you understand anything!" Gandalf interrupted loudly. He knew it was not his place but the wizard was nearly at the end of his patience. "Meriadoc has a Eriadorian accent, that is all, just as your accent is from far below Harad in the South East if I'm not mistaken. But you both use a version of the Common Speech; if you listen carefully you will understand him. Perhaps you just do not wish to!"
"I-I'm not sure, perhaps… I did understand a little of what it was saying, but I will not…"
"Enough of this!" Gimli stood four-square, his axe at his side. "With due respect, my Lord, I would put his head on the block now. I would sooner suffer an black-hearted orc to live, than this ruffian."
"Gimli speaks for me." Legolas stepped forward dagger in hand. "Why do we waste words on this callous charlatan, or even a noose? Does your justice allow for the disposal of such malevolent evil, Théoden King? If so I should be willing to offer my services."
Spandif looked from the dwarf to the elf – two other new species he was beginning to understand only too well. "Let's not get angry, I meant no harm. I will apologise to it if that makes…"
"Apologise?" Éomer narrowed his eyes at the man. "That is a small payment to offer. Do you think that is all that is required of you? You almost killed this little one. Perhaps we should put you in a cage in your own circus with no clothes, with your eyes bound against the light and see how you fare!"
There was a general hubbub throughout the Court, with many people shouting for the man's immediate execution and others wanting to see Éomer's scheme of humiliation carried out first.
"No! Please." Spandif wrung his hands together in dismay. "I truly meant no ill. I do not deserve death for an honest mistake, nor to be treated like one of my own beasts. I'll say sorry to it and…"
"Don't call me 'it'," A small voice cut across the general noise and into Spandif's bumbling prevarication. "Do you understand that?"
Spandif turned towards Merry, who had stood up, his fists clenched at his sides. "What?" The man asked.
"It!" Merry repeated. "I - am - not - an - it! - I'm - a - he - or - him. My - name - is - Mer-i-a-doc - Brand-y-buck." Merry very carefully enunciated every syllable so that the man could not help but understand him.
There was a stunned silence, even from those howling for Spandif's death or public humiliation. No one, not even Gandalf, had ever thought to correct the man's constant reference to Merry as it, and yet that was at the core of the whole of Spandif's attitude towards the halfling. The Court was so quiet that it was possible to hear Merry's ragged breathing as he drew in deep breaths to calm his fierce heartbeats as the adrenaline raced through his veins, his fists still tightly clenched.
Pippin stood resolutely at Merry's side looking anxiously around at all the angry looking people and then back at Merry who now looked equally angry.
Théoden finally broke the tension. "What would you have us do to him, Merry?"
"Do?" Merry shook his head in dismay; revenge was not a particularly hobbit-like concept. "I don't know, nothing. Just tell him not to call me it and make him let all the animals in cages go free."
"Very well." Théoden turned to Spandif once more. "You are a showman, or so you claim. Let us see how good an apology you can perform for the benefit of this Court. That at least I will have from you to begin. After that we will see what follows."
Spandif had been badly frightened by the threats of death and public display. But more importantly, he had suddenly understood what Merry was saying and how he had been demeaned by his, Grando Spandif's callous treatment. He went to where Merry stood and dropped to one knee before the halfling.
Pippin immediately pulled Merry away and put himself in front of the man. This surely was the cruel person who had mistreated his cousin, why were they letting him come near to him now? Legolas intervened and gently took Pippin to one side and put his hands to his face.
'Let the man talk to Merry, I promise you he won't hurt him.'
Pippin looked sceptically up at Legolas who nodded his head encouragingly towards Spandif. The hobbit looked from Spandif to Merry and back at Legolas, obviously weighing the circumstances. Nobody interfered and Merry waited patiently for his cousin's directions. Eventually Pippin took Merry's arm and carefully led him back to stand in front of the kneeling man once more.
Spandif took the small hand and bowed his forehead to touch the back of it. Merry started slightly at the touch. "Master Hafing," he began. "Merryadok – I am deeply sorry I treated you so badly. I am undeserving of your mercy but truly grateful for it. Please grant me your esteemed forgiveness as well."
"Yes, but you must let all the animals free." Merry had decided after his ordeal that no living thing should ever be kept in a cage. "Will you do that?"
"But some of the creatures may be dangerous." Spandif told him, surprised at how well he was beginning to understand the strange speech, now that he made an effort. Also Merry was becoming accustomed to making himself understood in this part of Middle Earth. "They might kill people. Especially the big cats."
"Then take them back where you got them." Merry said simply "Let them go there." After a moment's thought he added. "And never capture new ones – ever!"
"It is my living." Spandif said in dismay.
"Then find a new living." Merry said simply. "You are a showman – make a show of something else."
"Do you require nothing more from this man Meriadoc?" Théoden interrupted, "What kind of punishment would you deem appropriate?"
Merry thought for a moment. "Just that," he said simply. "He must find a new living."
There was a hum around the Court, mostly of twittering surprise. Legolas and Gimli looked at one another and shrugged. Aragorn glanced to Éomer who shook his head in mock disbelief. Gandalf just smiled.
Pippin broke the moment by noisily scratching on the slate with the squeaky chalk, Legolas watched over his shoulder at what he was writing 'tel Merry not 2 bee sad eny mor and laff lik hi ust 2.' The elf quietly reported this message to Merry who smiled at Pippin's positive approach to everything.
Théoden came up behind Legolas so that he too could read the message. He took it gently from Pippin's hands and looked thoughtfully at the words, then stroked his beard as if considering a new idea, "Hmm," he muttered, "something to make Merry merry again – why not?"
"Very well," Théoden turned to Merry putting his hand on the hobbit's shoulder. "Merry, the mercy you show speaks volumes of your race and especially of you. I would not discredit that nobility which you have demonstrated by overturning your judgement for something more vengeful."
The King turned now to Spandif. "However, I will not make it that simple for you. You have committed a grave crime and your repentance needs to be seen."
Théoden turned now to address the general Court. "You and all of Edoras are invited to a grand show here in two days' time, courtesy of Grando Spandif. It will be spectacular and most entertaining." He then added quietly to Spandif, "…and will contain no cruelty or wild animals. But it had better be very, very good!"
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