Cries of concern from the street indicated that the interchange had been seen by the King’s party as it passed on its way back to the ramp to the Citadel. Suddenly there were six people there surrounding the downed Man, and Aragorn himself was kneeling by Frodo. “Are you all right, tithen nín?” he was demanding. “What are the two of you doing here?”
“I came out to walk again--thought he’d gone back to his own place. But he’d come out also, apparently. Aragorn--his intentions--they are indecent!”
“But what were you doing here?” asked the King, then noted the bowl and the mushrooms. “Oh, I see. Were you kneeling when he arrived?”
“Yes,” Frodo admitted, the spots of pink on his cheeks, “facing that way.”
“And his talk was much as it was earlier in the day when we came by last?”
“Yes--he demanded to know why I did not see he was drawn to me----” He realized he was shivering. “I’m sorry, Aragorn.”
One of the sons of Elrond knelt by the unconscious Man, and now looked up. “He has been most efficiently knocked unconscious, Estel. A single blow to the point of the chin.”
“I’m sorry,” Frodo said again, “but I hit him twice. I’ve never had to strike a Man before. I had to make him lean over so I could----”
“You struck him, Frodo?” Aragorn asked, amazed.
“Well, yes, I did. I couldn’t allow him to go on as he was, Aragorn. I’m sorry--I promised not to strike more than once, but I had to this time.”
“You promised whom?”
“Mac. My cousin Merimac. He made me promise not to strike more than I had to, not to strike more than once unless I had to.”
“Why did you have to make such a promise, Frodo?”
“For fear I might injure someone seriously.”
“You’ve had to strike people before?”
“Yes, at home in the Shire. Tolman Smallburrow, Ted Sandyman, my cousin Lotho--they’re all bullies, you see. Sometimes I’ve had to stop them from hurting others. I think the last time was in Westhall, actually--a Bracegirdle was chasing two little ones.”
“Frodo! Are you all right?” Aragorn turned to see Pippin and Merry were both scrambling over the wall and running forward to join them. “What happened?”
“I had to hit a Man, Merry.”
“It’s been years since you did that last, I think.”
“He was making indecent proposals to you, Frodo?” the King asked.
“Yes--but you can’t blame him too hard, Aragorn. He was quite drunk, although he didn’t appear as drunk as he actually was. There are some like that, you know.”
Fury swept through the King. He rose completely. “Let’s get this one out of here,” he said.
He started to lean over to assist in lifting Angrapain to carry him out of the yard, but Hardorn stopped him. “No, cousin, this time I will do it. You shouldn’t sully yourself with the likes of this.” Hardorn leaned over, and with Elladan’s aid lifted the Man up and carried him out to the street while Merry and Pippin surrounded Frodo and drew him out, Pippin suddenly stopping as he realized why Frodo had entered the yard and looking sideways at Aragorn. Aragorn pretended he didn’t notice that sideways glance. It was always this way when they’d found mushrooms along the way, after all, and old Bilbo had been much the same in Rivendell.
Once they reached the wall Frodo sank onto it in reaction while the others fussed about him. Aragorn looked down at Pippin. “Pippin, go to the ramp and have them fetch three Guardsmen here.”
Pippin looked up, straightened, and saluted. “Yes, my Lord King,” he said formally, and hurried off to do his Lord’s bidding.
Aragorn felt Frodo’s pulse, then with a nod he turned to Angrapain. The Man was still unconscious. He felt the Umbari’s pulse and lifted an eyelid. “Expertly delivered, Frodo. Why didn’t you ever tell me you’d been so trained?”
Frodo looked at him, his cheeks pale. “Of what use is a proper punch in the outer world, Aragorn?”
Examining the unconscious Man and recognizing no serious harm had been done, and remaining senseless was probably the best thing for the moment, the King smiled. “Well, it was useful for precisely this purpose, Frodo--to keep such a fool as this from causing serious harm to others and to his people’s relationship with Gondor. I doubt that Wasnior realizes this one has come out again. But we cannot allow such insults to go unnoted. Where did you place the first punch, since I take it the one to the jaw was the second one?”
“To the gut, to make him bend over so I could do the second one.”
“Let me see your hands.”
As he allowed the Man to examine his right hand, Frodo said, “It’s set the missing finger throbbing again.”
“Yes, I can imagine, particularly as the gap is now unprotected.” He began gently massaging the place where the ring finger had been lost, and worked his way up the hand to the wrist.
“Our Lord King!” announced one of the three approaching Guardsman.
Aragorn gave an inclination of his head. “I would have you carry this one to the prison behind the Citadel and see him incarcerated. Do we have any guards there who speak Rohirric?”
“Yes, my Lord, there are at least four who do so.”
“Good. I wish those who serve near his cell to speak only Rohirric while they are within hearing of him. I wish him to feel completely cut off from communication save when he is addressed directly, and that I would see done by the warden of the prison. He is to be thoroughly checked for weapons--he’ll undoubtedly have a boot knife and may have a variety of other weapons about him in pockets, hems, and sleeves. Be certain to look for strangling cords. Remove his belt and boots.”
Pippin returned with Sam, and together they took positions by Frodo.
The Guardsmen smiled at one another. The spokesman for them saluted, his expression satisfied. “I do not believe this will be difficult to perform, my Lord Elessar.” The three bent over the Umbari and lifted him between them and headed up the ramp to the level of the Citadel.
Gimli watched the three Guardsmen carry the unconscious Umbari past him, then continued on his approach to the party by the wall. “Now, what is that all about?” he asked. “One of those from Umbar causing problems?”
“Yes, one of Wasnior’s companions made an indecent approach to Frodo.”
The Dwarf bristled, and turning made as if to follow after the Guards as they carried their prisoner up the ramp. Aragorn restrained him. “Let it go, Gimli, for no real harm has been done.”
“Did you knock him senseless?”
“No--Frodo did that himself. It appears Frodo has several talents he had not earlier made known to us.”
Gimli looked down to the Ringbearer with added respect. “So, it appears that you weren’t left totally without a form of defense there in the Shire, then.”
Frodo shrugged, embarrassed. “We Hobbits aren’t totally vulnerable, Gimli. We are all good with thrown stones, and we have some excellent archers, particularly among the Tooks; and both wrestling and fisticuffs are enjoyed from time to time, although the latter isn’t usually considered quite respectable.”
“Frodo’s always been good with his fists,” Merry smiled. “He’s stopped many a bullying over the years. And let Ted Sandyman see him approaching with his temper up, and he’ll back off quickly.”
“I’ve not always been good with them, Merry--Mac had to teach me how, you know.”
“Then what are you going to do with that one and his fellows?” demanded the Dwarf of Aragorn.
“I will grant them their audience tomorrow morning. And then they shall all be sent packing, I think.”
“Good. Legolas, Gandalf, and I have been greeting the deputations sent from Erebor and Dale. They’d hoped to be here for your coronation, but were delayed by having to deal with the last of the orcs who held out against them. It appears that even more lands have new rulers as the new age begins, for both Dain and Brand were lost in the final battles. However, with the losses suffered among the goblins of the Misty Mountains, it is likely to remain relatively safe to travel throughout the valley of the Anduin for many years in the future.”
“Who has come from Erebor?” asked Aragorn.
Gimli smiled proudly. “Among others, my father, Bofur, and Dorlin.”
Frodo looked up with interest. “Gloin has come here?”
“Yes, as well as Bard, grandson of Bard the Bowman and new King of Dale. There is also a small deputation from Mirkwood as well, and Legolas has remained with them, as his brother Tharen is one of their number. And I am pleased to say that there is courtesy between my father and Bofur on one side and Thranduil’s sons on the other side.”
Aragorn smiled widely. “I rejoice that this is so. There will be a feast of welcoming for them on the morrow, for there’s no time to prepare for such tonight. Are the folk of the Dragon’s Claw treating them well?”
“Yes, they were much refreshed when I left them to come up and tell you. They will be following soon enough. I’ve already sent word to Master Balstador and Mistress Gilmoreth as to how many of each kind will need housing tonight.”
“Thank you, Gimli. I think they should all be housed in the Citadel, for I’d not see any of them importuned by those from Umbar.” Aragorn turned to Frodo where he still sat upon the wall. “Would you wish, friends, to join us for dinner, Frodo, Merry? It should be an interesting meal with so many come, and will serve to remove you from access by the Umbarians for a time. And I believe the cooks have mushroom soup on the menu.”
The Hobbits looked at one another, and at last all agreed. “Good. Shall we go up now, then, or would you prefer to come up with the party from Rhovanion?” Aragorn then asked.
Sam decided this. “We’ll need to smarten up some, beggin’ your pardon. Best to come up with them, I think. And that way we can let Lasgon and Mistress Loren know.”
“Very good. Merry, Pippin, you have your weapons in case any others seek to cause difficulties? Well enough, We will go ahead, then.”
Once Aragorn and his party were finally on their way up the ramp, the four Hobbits looked to one another, and three of them scrambled one more time over the wall to examine Frodo’s find and fetch the bowl, making certain it was full before they turned back to their house.
Wasnior was sitting at a table in the day room for his house composing a report for Marcipor when the knock came. One of the servants went to answer the door, then came back looking both excited and concerned. “There is a Guard from the Citadel at the door, my Lord,” he said.
Wasnior looked from Dorath to Beslor. Belladon hadn’t returned as yet. Had he run into difficulties down in the Fifth Circle? Wasnior capped the ink, set the sheet of blotting paper over his writing and the ink bottle over that to assure the missive remain covered, and hastily repaired to the doorway. The Guardsman was pulling aside as Belladon approached, a small mead barrel under one arm, his expression carefully schooled to reflect only polite curiosity, the Guardsman from the sixth gate who’d accompanied him remaining on the main street. Wasnior also pulled back and to the side to allow Belladon to enter, and then stepped forward to face the one at the door.
The Guard at the door was indeed dressed as a member of the Guard of the Citadel, and was apparently of strong Dúnedain ancestry, with his clear grey eyes, dark hair, and fine features as well as the height and carriage of his lineage. Wasnior examined him briefly, then said, “I am Lord Wasnior. You have a message?”
The Guard gave a bow so perfunctory in nature as to approach being rude. “The Lord King Elessar sends word that he grants you and the three remaining of your companions an audience tomorrow at the second hour. He would have done so tonight, but embassies from Rhovanion have arrived but this afternoon, and he and his people have had to make haste to welcome them. A detachment of the Guard will arrive about a half mark after the bell strikes the first hour to escort you and yours to the Hall of Kings. And you will do well to have your goods ready to be taken back to your ship afterward. Our King has sent orders to make certain barrels of water and sufficient supplies to see you back to your own harbors be delivered there this evening.”
“My three remaining companions? What does this mean?”
“One of your company has been made a guest of the Citadel this evening. He made a most indecent approach to one of our Lord King’s guests, and has much to answer for.” With another limited bow, the Guardsman turned and headed back to the ramp, exchanging salutes with the one who’d accompanied Belladon before each turned back to their proper places, which for the messenger appeared to be back to the Citadel.
Belladon had remained just inside the passage, still carrying his barrel of mead. As Wasnior approached him they exchanged looks of concern. “Angrapain?” hazarded Belladon. “What has the fool done?”
Together they went to the circle of chairs at one end of the day room, Belladon abandoning his barrel on the table where Wasnior had been writing as they passed. Dorath and Beslor looked up with concern. “We finally get our audience?” asked Dorath.
“Apparently,” Wasnior answered. “Beslor, go up and make certain whether Angrapain is in the house.”
“We never heard him go out,” Dorath protested as Beslor rose.
“Means nothing if he decided to be quiet. Even when drunk that one can be quiet when it suits him.
Unhappily, Dorath nodded his agreement. They listened to Beslor’s steps as he went up the stairs to the sleeping quarters, then the hurried rush down them. They looked up as he reentered the day room, a scowl on his face. “He’s gone, and it looks as if he’s taken that dagger he likes with him--he’s emptied his personal chest.”
“He’d best not have done any harm to any of the Periannath,” growled Wasnior, “or he’ll find out what revenge means. I don’t think that the Lord Elessar is going to accept any insult toward any of them.”
“He was most upset by the Lord Frodo Baggins’s response to his earlier approach. If he has thought to take vengeance for a perceived insult....” Beslor didn’t bother to finish the thought. All shuddered. Belladon went to the barrel of mead and took it into the kitchen, bringing out again four beakers of the stuff. All swallowed their shares quickly.