The King’s Justice
As all prepared to return to the camp outside the town walls, Hardorn could be heard arguing with his cousin and King. “You ought to allow me to do this,” he said vehemently.
The Lord Elessar just shook his head. “I have done such before when I was a Ranger, as you well know.”
“Yes, but you are not a mere Ranger any more, Aragorn. It is not mete....”
“So, I ought to allow you to do this? Allow you to spare me the blood and death and horror of seeing the life flee? When you know full well that I will feel it anyway? What does this accomplish, Hardorn?”
“I will be as clean, swift, and merciful as possible, both to spare him and myself. I have the surgeon’s knowledge of the body to see it done right.”
“And I the warrior’s knowledge to the same effect.”
“I will not pass over what must be done always to others, and ask them to share my guilt in the doing. And I have told him I would do this for him. His family is considered great among his people. To have this done by one whose worth he does not know would further demean him in his own eyes to no good effect. He knows I respect him well enough to do this myself, and this is in keeping with the ways of their people.”
“He did not respect you well enough to keep from attempting to assassinate Lord Faramir.”
After a pause, the King replied, “I will not sink to his level.”
At that the Lord Halladan intervened, saying, “Enough, my brother. He does what he must.”
Outside the hall waited Butterbur and two other officials from the town of Bree. The King turned to them. “Does Ben Thorny still do carpentry?” he asked.
Butterbur said, “Yes, he does, but....” Then his usually florid face grew pale. “Big, or little?” he asked.
“Big. One individual. The one Hobbit who received judgment has not merited that.”
The innkeeper and the others all looked relieved. “It would not have gone well with the Hobbits who live among us if it had come to that,” commented the village headman.
“It would not have gone well with me, either.”
“One of the strangers?”
“Yes. I will need to fill the rest of the coffin with salt. We will not be able to return the body to his people for several weeks.”
“That could be a great deal of salt,” Butterbur said.
“I will send to Círdan at Mithlond to replace that of the village’s stores I must use in this. The replacement amount ought to be here within two weeks at most.”
With this final requirement met, the last of the party headed out the East gate. All the way back to the camp Hardorn looked at his cousin with grief and frustration in his eyes.
Gathering his Ranger’s cloak from Lasgon, the King disappeared into the forest, followed silently by Legolas, who alone could follow him among the trees. Taking one of the axes provided for chopping firewood, Hardorn found a windfall tree and proceeded to chop it to firewood lengths; and long past midnight the level of his frustration and concern could be told from the constant thud of the axe’s blade into the wood.
Before dawn Aragorn returned to the camp, changed into other clothing, and headed for a place on the northeast side of the town wall. He refused to have any accompany him save for two of his personal guard, and refused to have Pippin take that duty. “No,” he said. “I will not have a Hobbit see what must be done.” Unlike Hardorn, Pippin did not argue, merely bowed low.
When about an hour after dawn he returned, he found Pippin, Merry, Gimli, and Legolas waiting for him, Saradoc Brandybuck and Paladin Took with them. “All is in readiness in your tent,” Pippin said quietly.
Paladin Took saw the spatters of blood on the King’s clothing, particularly on the cuffs of his shirt; the white, set face; the too-still posture. Saradoc saw the gentleness which his son and nephew showed to their sovereign, and the delayed nod of the head with which the King responded.
Somehow a bathing tub had been procured, and was now filled with steaming water. Inside the tent, beside the Queen, were the two Stewards, the King’s sculptor, and Samwise Gamgee. Seeing the King enter, Sam took a couple familiar leaves off a nearby table, rubbed them between his hands and whispered something over them, then cast them into the water. He looked up solemnly at Aragorn’s face, murmuring, “I did it often enough for him, you know,” then gestured at the tub. He then gave a significant look at the others, and with a meaningful nod of his head indicated they should leave before him. Soon the tent was empty save for the King and his wife and the scent of green lands by clear streams. The Lady Arwen helped her husband disrobe, then saw him into the tub.
Two hours later the cavalcade broke camp, now accompanied by five individuals from the Breelands, including Barliman Butterbur. Aragorn was quiet, and rode among his guard without a great deal of animation, although his color was much improved from earlier. As they rode, Samwise Gamgee rode forward to join him, and offered his waterskin. The King looked down on him in wordless question.
“Drink this, Strider, and don’t argue,” Sam said. Aragorn continued to look down on him for some time, but Sam’s expression didn’t change. “I’m not falling back until you do,” the gardener advised. “And you can stop looking at me that way. Didn’t work for him, and it won’t work for you, neither.”
Even the King could not resist that, and an unwilling grin cracked the stiffness that had enveloped him, and at last a single tear ran down his face as he accepted the waterskin and drank from it. Those who’d seen Frodo in the last two years of his time in the Shire felt recognition and a degree of relief as they watched the King drink deeply, then finally return the skin to the Hobbit. Sam nodded, commenting, “Good enough, then,” and fell back as promised.
Sure enough, the stiff posture relaxed, and eventually he even smiled at something one of his guards said to the other. When Rosie rode forward and held up Frodo-Lad, the King took the small child before him; soon the Queen saw to it that Melian was there, also. As Pippin rode forward with Elanor before him, Aragorn looked at him warily. “I cannot take her before me, too,” he said.
“Wasn’t going to offer her to you. I’m enjoying her company myself, but thought simply to have the two of us ride alongside you.”
Soon Merry was on the other side with Rosie-Lass, and shortly after the King was laughing at the foolishness with which Merry and Pippin kept their small passengers entertained. Those who came from Bree looked on with interest.
The noon stop was short. They were far along their way by the time they paused for the evening meal, and even then they resumed the riding after an hour’s time. Two hours later they were approaching a pavilion those who had gone to Gondor recognized, and they were welcomed by the Queen’s brother Elladan and Lord Glorfindel. Another light meal had been prepared for the Hobbits, and soon all were laying out their bedrolls on the prepared pallets. The King’s smaller pavilion had been set up nearby, and that night the two Elven lords spent a good long time
within it with Aragorn.
Finally Elladan came forth to where Sam lingered with Ferdibrand Took and Budgie Smallfoot near the fire outside the larger pavilion. “You did well, Master Gardner,” he said quietly. “Gandalf had told us you’d mastered the athelas draught to good effect for your master, and we are glad you were able to aid in the soothing of my brother.”
“It couldn’t of been an easy thing as he did,” Sam said quietly.
“No, it wasn’t. Nor would it have been any easier if another had wielded the sword. He’d still have felt it, no matter who carried out the execution.”
Sam nodded. Finally he said, “When I saw that one grab up that sword, I thought as the Lord Faramir was dead. How the three of them was able to be so swift to stop it--it was a marvel.”
“Well, we taught Estel ourselves, after all, and he has shared that teaching with all who are of his personal guard, including Peregrin Took.”
“I’m certainly glad,” Sam said.
“I don’t completely understand,” Budgie said slowly, “how he could feel the death of someone else.”
“We call it the King’s Gift,” Elladan answered. “It is very strong in him, as it is in the Lord Iorhael.”
Sam thought for a time. “Like as how you can hear the trees and all.”
“It is a variation on the Elves’ land sense, sensing the well-being of the people instead of the land. The land sense of Hobbits is similar to that of the Elves, although you respond more easily to tilled earth than to the wild lands. The effect when it manifests as the King’s Gift is the same, however, whether it is Dúnedan or Hobbit in whom it appears.”
Ferdibrand thought, then asked, “You mean that it was similar for Frodo? That when people hurt or killed others, he felt it?”
“If they are tied to him in some manner, yes. The Ring sharpened the King’s Gift in him, and then used it against him.”
“Then, he felt it when Lotho and the Big Men....” He didn’t finish.
Ferdibrand Took shuddered. “No wonder the King hates the memory of It so,” he said, “not to mention Sam.” He looked sideways at the gardener's Light.
Sam sighed. “You have the right of it, Mr. Ferdi.”
“You’d all best get to bed, then,” the Elf advised. “We leave early.”
“He asleep?” asked Sam.
“Yes, he is, as is Hardorn as well.”
“Good, then,” Sam responded. “Night.” He finished the cup of tea he’d been sipping from, then rose and walked into the pavilion.
“They look after one another, Sam and the King and the others,” Budgie noted as he and Ferdibrand prepared to follow Sam.
Elladan nodded. “They learned to do so as fellows in the quest.”