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The Acceptable Sacrifice
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
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37
37: The King's Gift

37: The King's Gift


Slightly better than an hour before dawn Angrapain was awakened by a guard and a healer. “What do you folk have,” he complained, “against a Man getting a full night’s sleep?”

The Guard grunted. “You are to sit up and drink the draught he has brought.”

“Whatever for?” Angrapain asked.

“The first part of your sentence will be carried out in an hour. If you wish for it to be bearable, I suggest you drink the draught.”

The Umbari gave the guard an amazed look. “Lord Wasnior would never allow your people to brand me,” he insisted.

“Never allow?” asked the guard. “How does he intend to oppose it when his ship is already halfway to the Pelargir?”

Angrapain’s expression became uncomprehending. “But they would never agree to such a thing!”

“Considering how our Lord King Elessar managed to show exactly how ill prepared your delegation was to deal with the presence of a King within Gondor and Arnor and how Lord Wasnior’s lies were exposed, I suspect the three who have left our capitol will be ill-disposed to argue for further leniency for one who has embarrassed them and another who has been caught slaving within our borders. I again suggest you drink the draught brought to you.”

Angrapain drank the draught, then sat back upon the cot, his knees drawn up before him, watching the door anxiously as the two who’d brought his draught left to visit another cell.

Shortly later he heard a cell door open, and rose to peer out through the bars on his own cell. He saw a Man being led toward the entrance to the prison, four guards walking about him in formation.

The Warden of the prison followed them out of the cell, stopping to watch after them near the door to Angrapain’s cell. The Umbari asked, “Where do they take him?”

“Out of the prison and down through the city. He is to be hung before the city walls at dawn.”

Angrapain watched after with surprise. “What did he do?”

“He is the former servant who betrayed his people and lord.”

The Umbari found himself feeling light-headed, and retreated to his cot.

A time later the door to his cell opened and the healer entered, checking his pulse and eyes. “He’s about ready now. He will feel the pain, but will not fight it overmuch and do himself a permanent injury.”

Angrapain was led to a square outside the prison where a portable forge had been brought; he was made to sit in a chair and bound in with leather straps. They gave him a cloth steeped in bitter herbs to bite upon, and only when it was firmly in place between his teeth did the healer give the signal he was ready.

“Angrapain of Umbar,” the Warden said, “you are to be branded for approaching a visitor to this city with indecent proposals in hopes of learning information detrimental to the rule of Gondor.”

Finally the iron was brought out and it was applied to him. He was grateful when he passed out from the pain, and awoke in a dormitory of sorts where the healer who’d attended him earlier was applying ointments to his burns. In the bed next to him lay Belladon, awake but seriously dazed, his burns also being dressed. The healer checked his eyes and felt for fever. “You will recover quickly enough, you will find,” he said. “But it will probably be at least a few more weeks before any goes North to Arnor to take you to your work assignment.” He was given a small amount of poppy juice in wine and allowed to sleep. For the next few days he and Belladon were kept under observation and the dressings over their burns changed frequently, and then they were returned to their cells to await the word that they were ready to be taken to where they must labor.

*******


The feast of welcoming for the guests from Rhovanion was successful. Frodo was apparently was able to stomach what he was served well enough, and the rest ate heartily. Again the King led the dancing, partnered with Lady Rhiannon. Tonight Lord Faramir danced several times with Éowyn, while Éomer and Aragorn each danced with her once. Frodo resisted the urging to join the dancing. “No,” he answered, “When my endurance improves, but not yet.”

Frodo did speak with several lords from Rohan, Southern Gondor, and two who’d come from the lands of the Dunlendings, and endured a good deal of flattery from a group of ladies from the Ringlo Vale. He was sufficiently tired he wished he could leave about an hour after the meal was finished, but stubbornly remained until the end.

He awoke in the night as a nightmare of being sought by the Eye began, and lay breathing deeply and forcing himself to think on other things, finally let himself drift off again, dreaming this time of sitting in the garden of Bag End, he on the ground and Sam on the garden bench with his pipe in his mouth and his favorite ale mug beside him, the two of them talking. Then he realized the great spider Shelob was creeping up behind Sam and was ready to bite the gardener as he himself had been bitten. He tried to warn Sam, but now he was paralyzed as he’d been when first bitten, and he could do nothing to warn Sam of the danger creeping from behind him.

He forced himself awake. Finally after lying there for over an hour, unable to sleep without the nightmares threatening to start again, he rose and dressed, deciding to go out and walk for a time. However, as he tried to slip out through Sam’s room, the gardener woke up.

“You havin’ another bad night, Master?” Sam asked, sitting up.

“Just can’t seem to sleep without one of the nightmares starting is all,” Frodo admitted. “Thought I’d just go out and walk a bit and see if I can get my mind into a different train of thought so I could sleep without them.”

“Good idea,” Sam replied. “I’ll come with you so as to keep you company.”

“You don’t need to do that, Sam. The ones from Umbar aren’t going to bother me any, now that most have left and the rest are safely in the prison.”

Sam, however, insisted; and feeling disgruntled, Frodo went out into the day room to wait.

The front door opened softly, and Legolas entered accompanied by his brother. “You are awake, Frodo?” asked the golden-haired Elf. “Nightmares again?”

“I thought I’d go out and walk them out,” Frodo said, shrugging. “However, Sam is insisting I not go out on my own.”

Legolas went forward and knocked on Sam’s door, and on the Elf’s assurance he and his brother would keep Frodo company Sam agreed to return to his bed.

It was so quiet in the city at night. Even the dog who lived in the house near the ramp didn’t appear to hear them as they walked by, and they walked down to the gardens of the Houses of Healing, let the porter there know they planned only to sit there for a time and talk and breathe in the green scents, and found a place where Frodo felt comfortable and sat to talk for a time.

“The usual places where the great spiders tend to breed and build their webs are showing no signs of new activity,” Tharen said. “Since the Ring went into the fire we’ve seen only eight of the beasts, two of which we’ve killed and the rest have simply retreated more deeply into the forest, acting more like common spiders. None of the webs have we found on the Elf paths or roads through the forest.

“Dol Guldur has shown little signs of occupation, and our adar has determined to cast it down completely. We have seen but little orc activity near it, and no wolf activity at all. The few bats we have seen appear to be just common ones, for there is a wholesome feel to them as they pursue insects.”

“Does one still fall asleep if one accidentally touches the water of the one stream?” Frodo asked.

“Yes, but its spell tends to last only a day now instead of holding one for days on end as it did when Bilbo and the Dwarves traveled there.”

“It appears that the evil from the Enemy is diminishing.”

“Yes.” Tharen smiled. “We have great reason to be glad you accomplished your quest to come to the Sammath Naur.” His smile faded. “It is only too bad that the Gollum creature was lost in the destruction of It.”

“I’d hoped to help him find himself again,” Frodo said quietly. “I thought if he could find himself, perhaps there would be--there would be hope I could find myself as well.”

“His actions saved you, and perhaps saved himself as well, Frodo Baggins,” Gandalf said, quietly joining them.

“But he died!”

“Do you think death is the end?” the Wizard asked. “Far from it, Frodo. But the final disposition of Sméagol is not your concern. And you were not lost.”

“I don’t feel that way, Gandalf.”

“Feelings can be deceiving, beloved friend.” He smiled. “Aragorn hopes you will attend on him in the Houses of Healing ere dawn, Frodo.”

“He’s coming down before daybreak? Why?”

“He has his reasons, and they are valid ones. He has learned that when he is active and focused on assisting others, he can better deal with--certain experiences; and having by him those he cares most for also helps.”

Frodo shrugged. “If he finds it desirable, I’ll gladly go with him. However, I shall probably wish to sleep much of the day away.”

“The nightmares don’t trouble you as much in daylight?”

“They don’t appear to be as common during naps as when I am trying to have a proper sleep.”

“Do you feel you could rest now?”

“Perhaps. I’m willing to try.” Frodo looked up. “If I were home in the Shire tonight, I’d have taken my blanket roll and the rug up to the top of the Hill to sleep under the stars.”

“Not as practical here, I suppose,” Gandalf commented as Frodo arose. “Well, I’ll see you back to your bed, then.”

Frodo thanked Thranduil’s sons, and walked back to the house, slipped quietly through to his room, and laid himself down still clad. After all, it wasn’t that long before dawn.

*******


“Who allowed him out of the Hall?”

“He came out one of the doors on the North side. We couldn’t watch them all, Rory.”

“Frodo! It’s all right, Frodo. You’re not alone, dearling.” Aunt Esme’s voice.

A pressure of an ear against his chest. Aunt Gilda, listening....


“Mr. Frodo? Lord Strider’s come, and wishes to know if we’ll go with him to the Houses of Healing. Says as it will ease him through the mornin’.”

Frodo opened his eyes, saw Sam leaning over him, the gardener’s hand lying on his chest, smiling gently. “Good morning, Sam.” He turned his eyes to the window and noted how dark it was still. “He’s certainly intent on getting an early start.”

“You didn’t bother to undress afore you laid you down again? Not quite proper, that, but then you was just gettin’ up early again after all.”

“Yes. Gandalf told me Aragorn wished me to attend on him this morning. Does he have a cup of tea?”

“Yes, he does. And he has your mornin’ draught with him.”

“I’d almost prefer he’d have forgotten it.” Frodo sat up and stretched, then rose and went to the privy. By the time he made the day room he was feeling decidedly better and fully awake.

“Restless night, Frodo?” Aragorn asked. He looked tired himself.

Frodo shrugged. “Some problems with the nightmares trying to return, but I knew what they were and would just wake up. Better than crying out and waking the whole household.”

“Not as restful for you, perhaps.” He handed Frodo the mug he’d brought with him. Frodo accepted it and drank it quickly, and then the cup of water Sam had brought for afterwards.

“I’m glad as Legolas and his brother took you with them,” Sam commented. “The two of ‘em are quite a sight together, the one gold and the other dark as they are. But no question, once you see the eyes, as they’re brothers indeed. Would you like some breakfast, Mr. Frodo?”

“I think just some fruit and juice.”

“If you’re certain,” Sam said, obviously feeling Frodo ought to be able to eat more than that.

“Have you eaten yet, Sam?” Aragorn asked.

“Yes, I have. I’ll walk over to the Houses of Healing with you. I’m helpin’ with the gardens there, not long after dawn.”

“I’d like to have you with me, also.”

“How about you, Strider?”

“It would probably be better if I ate later.”

Sam looked at him with concern. “Don’t tell me as there’s somethin’ wrong with your stomach, too?”

The Man looked away. “No, or at least not yet. We’ll see how the morning goes.”

“You anticipating problems this morning?” asked Frodo.

Gandalf and Pippin came in, the Hobbit yawning as he straightened his tabard. He smiled and gave a slight bow as he saw his King sat in the kitchen. “Morning, Lord Aragorn,” he said. “Where will I find you when I come to take my service?”

“I’ll be in the Houses of Healing, Pippin. And why, after addressing me as Aragorn before the court yesterday, are you using a title at this moment?”

Pippin shrugged as he grabbed out one of the winter’s stores of apples from the bowl of fruit kept on the table. “Sam was giving me quite the talking to afterwards about showing proper respect, you being the King now and all.”

Aragorn gave a short laugh. “Perhaps I ought to make Sam Master of Protocol alongside Galador.”

“You couldn’t do that--it would destroy the Man,” Pippin insisted around a bite of apple. “To have to share his office would wipe out his ability to know himself. I doubt he knows much else to do with himself but to worry about making certain of your lineage and seating at feasts and so on.”

Aragorn sighed. “I suppose you are right. Too bad, really.” He looked out the window with some anxiety. “I must leave now, or I’ll be between here and the Houses when sunup comes, and I’d rather not be there in the middle.” He finished his tea and set the cup on the table with an air of finality, rising and heading for the door, Frodo and Sam following after with looks of question aimed at one another.

Frodo had to hurry to try to keep up until a wordless exclamation of concern from Sam made the Man turn, and then, immediately contrite he turned to check Frodo’s comfort. “I’m sorry, Frodo--I’m a bit distracted, I suppose, and quite forgot you wouldn’t be able to keep up.” Certain Frodo had caught his breath he turned again and led the way, somewhat more sedately, on to the Houses, arriving still some minutes before the Sun would rise. The porter at the door smiled to admit them, and they found their way to the room where a small boy who’d broken his leg lay.

The child had been lying with his head turned away, facing out into the lightening dawn. He turned at the opening of the door, his face breaking into a relieved smile to see the King’s arrival. “Lord Aragorn!” he exclaimed. “It’s been throbbing so. Can you help it?”

Aragorn smiled and knelt by the bed, laying his hand over the carefully splinted leg with its roll of bandages holding it. After a moment of silent contemplation he began to carefully unwrap the leg. He checked the alignment of the splints, retied the main bandages holding them in place, and closing his eyes began to sing over the break, allowing his fingers to feel deep....

The Sun rose to the East and shone in through the windows, and Frodo lifted his face to her light gladly--then turned to Aragorn’s profile when suddenly the song he’d been singing stopped, and he realized his friend was biting his lip. Even the boy’s eyes were fixed on the King’s face and saw the grimace of pain there. Then Aragorn dropped his gaze and sat for a moment or two shaking his head, then purposefully returned to his singing as if in defiance of something. Frodo couldn’t for the life of him understand what had happened to the Man, although it was plain this was something he’d anticipated.

Then the song stopped again, but this time Frodo felt whatever it was that Aragorn did at the same time. A pause and twist in the fabric of their shared experience; a feeling of intense pain on his forehead, and Frodo was clapping his hands to it.

“Frodo! What’s wrong, Master?” He could barely hear Sam’s question through the pain he felt.

“My forehead--it’s like a burn!” And then the pain dimmed and he felt as if he’d lost consciousness, although he obviously hadn’t; then the pressure there was relieved and he felt a new pain on his hand.

“Frodo! Frodo, look at me, small brother. It’s not you, Frodo. It’s not you. Let it go if you can.”

Aragorn knelt before him, held his wrists, was pouring his own concern into Frodo. The Hobbit looked into a face almost as bloodless as his own, saw the pain he felt reflected there. The Man looked at Sam. “He’ll upset the boy even more if he remains here until he understands. Take him out into the passage; tell the healers to take him to an examination room where he can rest for a time. I had no idea he’d feel it, too!”

Sam drew Frodo out of the room. One of the healers was coming up the passage carrying a basin of steaming water and a packet of herbs and paused in concern to see Frodo’s expression. “Lord Strider said as I ought to get him out of there, and as he ought to be taken to another room where he can rest for a time.”

The Man listened to Sam’s explanation, then called behind himself. An elderly woman came forward, and at the Man’s direction nodded. “Come with me, then,” she said. “He’s feeling something he ought not to be feeling, the King indicated? I don’t truly understand, but know where he can rest. Come.”

They were led down a side passage to a room where there was a low cot, and Sam helped Frodo onto it, covered him with the blanket provided.

“Can you tell me the symptoms?” the woman was saying as Sam saw that his Master was lying down and warm.

“Just clapped his hands to his forehead like he was in great pain, talking about it being like a burn. Don’t know what it was all about, not for him or for Lord Strider--both of ’em seemed equally upset about somethin’.”

“Mistress Ioreth,” a page said, poking his head into the small room. “The King calls for your aid in reapplying the bandage about the splints.”

The woman looked surprised, but nodded her understanding. “Can you wait with these for a time?”

“No, Mistress, for I’m sent to summon Lord Mithrandir and the King’s brothers.”

The woman sighed. “I see,” she said quietly. She turned back to Sam. “I’ll see to it another comes to be by you until this is all sorted out,” she said. “I must go.” She and the boy left the room, and for a time the two Hobbits remained by themselves.

For Frodo the pain began to subside, and at last he sat up and shook his head. “I’ve felt nothing like that without the Ring's intervention for years, Sam. Is there a red place on my forehead?”

Examining it closely, Sam shook his head. “No, Master--nothin’ there to be seen. What did you feel?”

Frodo looked at him in perplexity. “I don’t know if I can explain properly, Sam. As if something burning hot were touching my forehead.”

“Have you ever felt this type of feeling before?” Gandalf asked from the doorway.

Frodo looked up at the wizard. “Not precisely like this, of course. I seemed to know when Suso Sandyman fell into the bonfire pile a few years ago and was burned so badly. And when Tolman Smallburrow hurt the Appledore girl--I felt her cry out in pain. Has someone been hurt today?”

“Yes, but I’ll let Aragorn explain when he’s free to join us.”

Sam suddenly looked up at Gandalf, his face full of understanding. “Those Men as was to be punished this mornin’--it’s them, isn’t it?”

“Punished today? Which? You mean the ones Aragorn tried yesterday?” Frodo’s face was shocked.

“Yes. One was to be hung and the other two branded--branded on their foreheads and their hands.”

Someone was approaching from behind Gandalf, and the Wizard turned to speak to whoever it was, and they could hear murmured references to the King’s gift and branding. Something was given to Gandalf, and the other one retreated back toward the main passage.

“What happened to me, Gandalf?” Frodo demanded.

“All in due time, Frodo. All in due time. Let it suffice to know that what you experienced was indeed from outside yourself.” Gandalf entered the room with a goblet in hand. “Aragorn asked this be brought to you.”

Suspicious, Frodo asked, “What is it?”

“Apparently only a goblet of wine. But he thought it might help soothe your stomach as well as your attitude.”

“Sam says that two of the Men were to be branded?”

“Yes, the two from Umbar. Angrapain was to be branded with a D on his forehead and hand in order to allow all to see he was a degenerate. The other, Belladon, was to be similarly branded with an S as spymaster and slaver.”

Frodo looked horrified. “How barbaric!”

“It seems barbaric, but is far less so than what either could have expected in Umbar. Angrapain could have expected to be gelded without benefit of any draughts for pain, then would have been drawn and quartered and finally beheaded, while Belladon would have been slowly tortured to death by his fellow lords--if he weren’t hung up in chains. At least here when death is ordered it is quick and as merciful as can be managed.”

Frodo’s face was paler than usual when Aragorn walked into the chamber, his own face white as the linens upon the cot. Frodo looked up at the King with a glare of fury. “You felt what happened to them?”

“Yes, and to all three of them, while you appear to have felt only the branding of one of them--I must suppose Angrapain.”

“And you knew you should feel it, but ordered it anyway?”

“Would you rather I slapped them on the wrist and let them go to do it again, Frodo Baggins?” Aragorn’s own voice was as angry as that of the Hobbit, although his anger was more contained. “For that would be what Angrapain would have done--he’d have gone out and found some other young-looking lord or lord’s son--or perhaps a naive young daughter, and probably one not much better than a child--and would have approached that one, cozening and coaxing, and then reaching out to caress and finally forcing. I’ve seen it so many times in so many lands.”

“Tolman Smallburrow never did it again, once all were warned he was a beast!”

“You truly think so, Frodo? How do you know he hasn’t done it since you left the Shire?”

Frodo opened his mouth, but stared at the Man opposite him, seeing for once the true age of him on his face, seeing the disillusionment, the idealism stripped away by grim experience.

Aragorn continued. “Once a person’s desires have come to be tied not to love but simply to pleasure for its own sake, and particularly when they are tied to the pain and humiliation of the one used, that is all they can respond to from that day. They must take by force for they can find the fulfillment of their desires no other way. To change, they must go through very, very careful talks with others and the administration of pain each and every time they become aroused by the thought of inducing pain; and even then the desire they have learned to respond to will reassert itself. Morgoth and Sauron--such pleased them so deeply, for it was the only way they, too, could find release.”

Finally Frodo asked softly, “You have seen such, Aragorn?”

He was answered with a slight nod. “Yes, I have seen it, again and again, in every land I have sojourned within. Within the Shire perhaps you are a close enough people for the warnings to be passed once one of these beasts has been identified; but even there I suspect that the smaller and more remote villages may become a refuge for such in the end, there where the warnings hadn’t quite reached. Some I’ve seen in Southern Eriador, in Dunlend, in Rhun, one in Rohan and two here in Gondor, and three in the upper valley of the Anduin--it is hard to understand how they seem to get by with it year after year until finally we catch them and then begin trying to count the victims. If we were to go to Umbar, I’m certain we would find many there throughout their lands who have suffered under the hands of Angrapain.

“As for Belladon--my spies there had warned us of him as a slaver, tying the disappearance of well over forty to him in their land alone, and who knows how many in other lands? Among the four hundred we freed from the black ships at least thirty spoke the name of Belladon as the one who had chained them to the oars.”

“I am sorry, Aragorn.”

Aragorn knelt and looked Frodo in the eye. “I am sorry to have loosed my anger at you, small brother. It is no easy matter for one who has the King’s Gift to order tortures or death, although there are some cases where each is needful. That you would share it....”

“The King’s Gift?”

“You know some such as Sam here who automatically know what is best to grow here or there, who know what the land will support with gladness? And who, when faced with a land mistreated by those who did not honor it will know what should be done to heal it?”

“Well, of course. Uncle Paladin is that way also, and Sam’s father, and Farmer Cotton and my Uncle Fortumbald--even my cousin Folco.”

“This is the common gift among the Elves, and is referred to as the Land Sense. In the descendants of Elros Tar-Minyatar, however, its manifestation has changed somewhat. We can feel those who are in our lands, and as we allow it to develop our awareness grows to cover further and further from our physical selves, often to the point we can appreciate specifically what is happening to individuals we’ve not yet met. Those pains which are a normal part of the rhythms of life--births and deaths and illnesses and minor accidents cause no more than a ripple in the pleasures I also feel--joy, love of one for another, laughter shared, contentment strengthened. But those which are unnatural I can and do feel, and strongly at that. You have known such over the course of your life?”

Reluctantly Frodo nodded. “It was part of what led me to feel uncomfortable in Brandy Hall--being surrounded by so many others, so many emotions that I couldn’t touch.”

“I’d not realized the King’s Gift could be shared with Hobbits, but perhaps ought to have done so. I suspect what you felt was the branding of Angrapain. After all you had little if anything to do with Belladon or the servant from Anorien.”

“But you felt all three?”

“Yes.”

“Then why do you order such things?”

“Because I feel what they do, which in the long run is far more painful for it affects so many. More rapes, more threats, more disappearances of wives, husbands, and children, more deaths from betrayals, more murders....” He sighed. “The servant’s pain is already over; and the soldiers of Anorien already have driven back those who made incursions into those lands and slew farmers and their families. Being branded as they are, if Angrapain or Belladon approach those they would tend to victimize they will be easily recognized and avoided; and if either seeks to leave his place of assignment he will be easily identified as one needing to be arrested before either attempts to harm others. Let Belladon learn what true work is, and a hint of what his victims have suffered. At least when he is done he will have wages from his work to aid him in his return to his own land.”

“And if they seek to hurt or slay others there?”

“It is more likely that they themselves will be slain.” The Man’s expression was bleak. “You will learn, Frodo, that there is little honor to be found among those who have lived ever serving Sauron. It was a surprise to find Wasnior was willing to speak the truth--a pleasant surprise.”

“Why did you wish Sam and me to be with you this morning?”

“To help me bear with the execution and the brandings. I did not expect you to feel it, too.”

Frodo gently reached out and touched the side of Aragorn’s face. “I’m sorry you have had to bear with such things.”

“It has been common enough in my heritage that Adar and my brothers have sought always both the strengthen it and to aid me to deal with it effectively.”

“But why would you wish it strengthened?”

“That I be more responsible in the leadership I offer; that I not order punishments improper for the crimes committed; that I truly care for my people and be willing to spend myself protecting them. Why did you learn to use your ability to strike a proper blow?”

The Hobbit considered. “That I, too, might protect those who need protecting, I suppose.”

Sam looked at the both of them. “You both tend to feel what others feel? Odd sort of gift to have, although I see as it could be useful.”

Frodo looked away, shaking his head. “I’d thought the--the sharing of pains inflicted would be over once the Ring was gone. I think it was why it was worse for me today, for I wasn’t--prepared for it this time.”

“Hopefully the sharing of joys will be strengthened for you to help you compensate,” Aragorn said quietly.

“Perhaps.” But Frodo didn’t appear to be too hopeful.

Why does this have to start all over again? he wondered in his heart.

It has ever been a part of your experience, Iorhael, the voice answered him.

I’d really rather not feel it at all.

Do you really? Would you really rather not feel when those around you are full of joy and pleasure? Does that not help you rejoice that you, too, live still in Arda?

But what deep joy have I truly known since It was torn from me? To feel the pains more strongly than the pleasures--a poor exchange, I think.


The voice didn’t appear to have an answer to that.

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