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The Acceptable Sacrifice
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
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43
43: The King's Hope

43: The King's Hope


Another week passed, and those of the Fellowship who dwelt in the house in the Sixth Circle noted that Aragorn was becoming somewhat moody. One moment he would be engaged in whatever was happening, but let a silence fall and his expression would become distant; interrupt him in such a withdrawal and he could be at the point of being snappish.

The Man who’d been abusive toward his wife and children was brought back before the King for judgment after three days. His attitude was far more subdued after the days of confinement when none within the prison wished to speak with or to him. He was given seven years of service in Annúminas, aiding those involved in rebuilding the city. He was granted permission to write to his wife once a month, but was warned that if his wife sued to have their marriage contract declared null it would be granted.

The King examined him sternly, and his voice was cold. “You cannot understand how blest you have been to have a woman come to love you to the point of wishing to share her love, her life, her body with you. To repay that willingness with abuse, to seek control at the cost of her trust and the trust of your children, to kill the child of your union because it cried and disturbed you--that is beyond my understanding.”

“You would allow her to break our marriage?”

“It is you who already has done so. Does your marriage contract not call upon you to honor and respect her, to forsake all others, and to protect her and the children she bears you from harm to the best of your ability?”

“Well, of course.”

“How have you done this when you have struck her repeatedly and left her covered with bruises, or when you broke the arm of your son and then refused him the aid of a healer until after it healed incorrectly, when one daughter has learned to fear Men and what they can do to a child from you, and when you have killed the infant born to you last? Have you loved and honored and respected the woman who consented to take you in love and delight? Have you forsaken all others save her? Have you protected her and your children from the evil which threatened them--in you yourself?”

The Man simply stared at the King as he sat upon his high throne.

“I demand an answer from you.” The King’s voice was implacable. “Have you fulfilled the clauses of your marriage contract? Have you shown her love and honor?”

The Man tried to take his eyes from those of the King but found he could not. At last he said, “No, I have not.”

“Have you forsaken all others save she who accepted you as husband?”

“No, but a Man has needs....”

“You have not the will to hold your needs in check during the days of her courses, during the last few weeks of her pregnancies when she cannot accept you while she brings your children to birth, or when she is tired, fearful, or merely out of the house doing what must be done for the needs of your family, and so you have turned to others and have forced a child to accept you? Great will and control of themselves have I seen in most within Gondor, such that this people has conquered and held off the threat of Mordor for most of over three thousand years; yet somehow you are exempt from the self-control demanded of all others in the manner in which you have cared for your wife and children?”

The Man flushed painfully. “I have always reined in my own fear.”

“But have you even attempted to rein in your lust and temper when it is your own wife or child who is before you?”

Again it took a good deal of time before he answered, “No.”

“Have you truly sought to protect your wife and children from the greatest danger within your home--from yourself?”

“No.”

“Have you therefore kept your marriage contract intact?”

“No.” The anguish within the Man’s voice could be heard by all.

“Do you question that your wife has the right to ask to have the contract declared null, since it is you who has broken it repeatedly?”

“No.”

“Good. Being honest with yourself is the first important step to learning to change yourself. Know this--I will not advise her to do this, and no one else will advise her to do this either, although none will hide from her that this is something she has the right to do. If at the end of seven years she will accept you back, then and only then may you return to Gondor, and you and she will dwell either within the city or upon the Pelennor where your treatment of her and your children will be monitored. If she will not accept you back, you will be branded upon your forehead and hand with an A to indicate you have been abusive, and you will be allowed to settle within Arnor. If, however, you ever show signs of allowing your temper to run freely over others or you show abuse to any other woman or child, you will be arrested again and imprisoned for the remainder of your life. Is this understood?”

“Yes, my Lord King.”

“So be it then.” At a gesture from the King the court scribe recorded the judgment against the Man, and he was led again out to the prison to wait the next party going North to Arnor.

Frodo watched Pippin’s face as he listened to the judgment, and saw that both relief and compassion could be seen in it, and he was glad for it.

After the day’s audiences were over, Frodo joined Aragorn, bringing with him the written evaluations he’d done of several lords and a master merchant he’d met the previous evening while dining with the King in the communal dining hall within the Citadel. As he handed the reports to his friend, he looked up at the furrowed brow with some concern. “This one yet disturbs you?”

“I am hard pressed to understand the self-deception this one has practiced, allowing him to become abusive toward his wife and children. Yet we see such repeatedly in Mankind. Are we so flawed?” He sighed, and looked down at Frodo, who today wore Gondorian dress. “You look well today, small brother. How is your hand?”

“There is some cramping of the muscles, but not the insistent throbbing that has required direct attention.”

“Well enough, then.”

“You have been rather distracted, Aragorn.”

The Man sighed as he led the way into the gardens behind the Citadel and sat on the bench there, indicating Frodo should sit beside him. He laid the papers down on his other side, pulling the dagger from his belt and laying it on them to keep them from blowing away should a breeze spring up. He reached down to take Frodo’s hand and massaged it, saw the brief signs of pain followed by more signs of relief. “I am sorry,” he said at last. “I find that at times my own patience is stretched.”

“Patience with what?”

But Aragorn merely shook his head. Only with Gandalf did he appear willing to discuss what bothered him, but all the others heard was the Wizard advising the Man to continue possessing himself with patience, and to not allow himself to fall to vain fears so close to the completion of the appointed time. At that Aragorn stood some time simply looking at the Istari, then turned and left his presence, and no one knew where he went.

Faramir had promised all to take them into the archives of the city, where the largest collection of books and documents known among the Men of Middle Earth was housed. The chambers where it was kept were carved from the spur of rock on which Minas Tirith was built, and he explained there was an entrance from the Citadel itself. When at last he went to lead the Hobbits, Legolas, and Gimli down the winding stair into them, however, he was alarmed to see the paling of the face of the Ringbearer, and the growing discomfort in the eyes of the gardener. Suddenly Sam looked at Frodo, whose face was damp with perspiration, and said, “We can’t go on this way, my Lord. Please forgive us,” and he drew Frodo back out of there.

An hour later, when the King was free of a private audience with representatives from the Beornings who’d arrived the previous day and wished to discuss trade and allowed tolls for use of their fords, Faramir sought him out and described what he’d seen in the faces of Frodo and Sam.

Aragorn sighed. “It probably brought back the memories of the imprisonment of Frodo within the orc tower,” he said. “You will need to take them in through the entrance in the Sixth Circle. I’d warned you that the circular stair might not be manageable for them.”

“So I see, Lord Elessar. I had thought you meant by the warning that their legs might be too short, yet the steps to the stair are remarkably shallow and I couldn’t understand the concern. I grieve I didn’t take into account the capture of Lord Frodo by the orcs of Cirith Ungol.”

The two of them searched and found the two Hobbits sitting near the base of the dead White Tree. What drew Frodo there he couldn’t say, yet both seemed attracted to it. Frodo felt a compassion toward the tree he couldn’t easily explain to others. Now they sat, accepted by the four Guards of the Tree, Frodo gently stroking the dead bark. Aragorn gracefully dropped to the ground by them, Faramir more slowly following his example.

“The Tree comforts you, small brother?”

Frodo shrugged. “It waits for its child to take its place, Aragorn.” He continued to run his fingers down the bole of the tree. Suddenly he turned his face to Aragorn’s, his blue eyes thoughtful. “I look at it, and seem to see what it was like when it was fully alive, before it faded; I seem to see the one which will, I hope, replace it, young and as full of hope as the name your brothers call you by; I seem to see another White Tree, far away, calling out to its own child and grieving as it has for a thousand years to receive no answer. I think it will be happy only when this tree is laid to rest and its child growing in its stead.”

Aragorn’s face was very solemn. “Yet how do I find the sign that the hope is fulfilled, that the new line of Kings I embody will take root as would this ones child, and bloom and grow here, here before the Citadel of the city?”

Frodo shook his head. Again he examined the King’s face. He gave a slight smile as he looked deeply into the Man’s eyes. “When will you take a wife and begin begetting children that the land knows you are not the end of your line, but instead the starting place? Tell me that, tall brother?”

Aragorn’s face softened at the title given him by Frodo. “When indeed, Frodo Baggins of the Shire? I wait for the sign that I am accepted and the roots are taking, and already you bid me to bloom and bring forth fruit?”

“Isn’t that how they tell that the tree has indeed accepted its new planting and that the soil has accepted it--when it leafs out, when its blossoms open and bring forth new life?”

Sam gave a chuckle. “Guess he’s indeed learned somewhat about gardenin’ in the years he’s been by me and the Gaffer.”

Aragorn laughed aloud. “I suppose so indeed. I must again begin to devil poor Gandalf, I suppose.” He stretched and rose. “Faramir told me of the abortive essay down the stairs from the Citadel into the archives. He didn’t realize the memories the narrow stair would evoke. Shall we try the other way, down in the Sixth Circle? I think you will find it far more pleasant.”

“There is another way?” Frodo’s face brightened with renewed hope.

“I’ll let you in on a secret of this city--there is almost always another way. Denethor taught me more than one way up from the walls in the days before his distrust supplanted the early friendship we first knew, and there are two main entrances to the archives.”

“Two main entrances? How many minor ones, then?” Sam asked.

Faramir laughed as he rose and held out his hand to Sam. “That would be telling, Master Gardener. Only come.”

After spending a delightful time among the shelves and stacks, Frodo was allowed to take two tomes with him, and Sam one, and all returned to the afternoon outside the cavernous holdings of the city’s archive. “To think I’ve passed that daily and didn’t realize where the doorway led,” Frodo said, smiling at the entrance. “I’ll not pass it by often without looking in now, I think.” He gave the books to Sam. “Will you take that back to the house for me, please, Sam? I think I’ll go down to the stationer’s shop in the Fifth Circle and see Master Iorhael for a time.” He looked up at Aragorn’s face. “You do have some to entertain at dinner, don’t you?”

The Man sighed. “Unfortunately, yes. Well, enjoy your time with Master Iorhael. I’m glad enough to know you have some friends here.” So saying he laid his hand on Frodo’s shoulder, then Sam’s ere he drew away. He and Faramir gave bows, and turned to go back up the ramp to the Citadel.

“Do you think as he really knows secret ways up through the city?” Sam asked as he and Frodo watched the two Men go.

“I’m certain of it. Aragorn’s not given to idle boasting, after all,” Frodo replied. “Well, I’m off.”

“Do you think as the White Tree will ever be renewed, Master?” Sam asked, staying Frodo a moment.

“I think so, Sam. I think so.” He smiled and turned to head down toward the Fifth Circle.

Master Iorhael was entertaining a new pupil, the daughter of a cloth merchant who hoped to do more than just pretty pictures. She sat at the low table with paper and drawing sticks before her, working on a drawing of a bowl of fruit that lay in the center of the table. She looked up as the door opened and the King’s Friend entered. She smiled at him, seeing the pale features, the gentle smile on the intelligent face, the memory of fear faced and tiredness suppressed hiding at the corners of his eyes.

Iorhael straightened, smiling broadly. “Master Frodo--a joy to see you as always, my friend. Welcome, welcome indeed! Come and meet young Mistress Albeth. You are smiling. You have had a good day, then?”

“Ah, yes. Aragorn and Faramir have taken me into the archives, and I’ve had a pleasant time examining books of lore and poetry. I know that Bilbo has access to all of Lord Elrond’s library there in Imladris. But this would be such a joy for him. I hope he can come here one day.”

“It is a pleasant experience you wish for your kinsman.”

“Indeed. He taught me to love books and lore.” He looked down on young Albeth’s work. “And what kind of picture has Master Iorhael set you this day, young Mistress?”

He examined her picture and listened to her explanations, smiling, then pointed out how the shadow lay here and a highlight there. Albeth sighed and took out her ball of gum and used it judiciously, did her best to make the corrections he’d suggested, then smiled as the fruit began to display their rounded shapes more surely. The girl was delighted.

She continued to work, now overseen by Master Iorhael. He watched with interest as, having realized through the brief instruction offered by the Pherian how to appreciate how shadow and highlight defined curves, Albeth began to improve her work.

Frodo himself picked up a drawing stick and a large sheet of paper that lay nearby and began his own drawing. He, however, was focused not on the bowl of fruit before him but on an image he’d carried in his heart since the day of the coronation. He did a quick outline of the shape of the Citadel, framed by the branches of the dead tree, branches to the right holding, for those with eyes to see, the image of a woman he’d seen only in his brief sojourn in Imladris, the image of the Lady Arwen Undomiel. Again he felt the truth of that vision, that somehow the hope of both Tree and land was tied up in her future; but what this meant he had no idea.

He worked swiftly and surely, strengthening lines here, adding a shadow there, the hint of the water of the fountain playing among the dead branches, the King’s Standard breaking from the Tower of Ecthelion, the thought of the side of the mountain behind all.

A bright and shining drawing it was. Finally he paused, realizing it was done at last, only one final detail to add; and he carefully added what appeared to be a dragonfly hovering over the waters of the fountain.

“How lovely,” the girl breathed, standing and looking over his shoulder. “It’s so very beautiful, the Citadel caught in the branches of the White Tree like that. Master Iorhael told me you were an excellent artist, but I’d not have believed it if I’d not seen this.”

Iorhael himself stood up and came to stand over the Halfling’s other shoulder, looking down at the drawing. He took a deep breath. “Yes,” he said, “the hint of hope renewed. A beautiful drawing, indeed, Master Frodo. Your own artistry leaves mine in the dust.” There was an echo of longing in his voice.

Frodo looked up into the old Man’s eyes, seeing the indescribable emotion in his face as he examined the picture of a view he must find familiar. “Would you like this drawing, Master Iorhael?” he asked.

The Man looked surprised. “You wouldn’t wish to take it with you when at last you return to your own land and people, Master Frodo, to remind you of the White City?”

Frodo looked down at the picture. In some ways he did wish to take it with him, but at the same time realized this was unnecessary. “No,” he said at last. “I carry this image still and others more dear to me in my heart. No, I give it to you, in thanks for the friendship you’ve given me. And didn’t you say that such should be part of the payment you desired for the paper and drawing sticks and pen and ink you gave me--pictures I might draw? You are welcome to this and far more, you know.”

The Man’s face shone with a remarkable pleasure as he at last claimed the picture for his own. “I thank you, small Master--I thank you from the bottom of my heart. I’ll have it framed and hang it here where I may look on it whenever I am in the shop. Thank you, Master Frodo.”

As he returned to the guest house in the Sixth Circle Frodo smiled. His hand ached some, but no more than did his shoulder. As with the shoulder, this ache was becoming familiar, a simple part of his life. He’d completed a picture he’d carried in his heart for a month, and done it properly, and had brought pleasure to a pleasant, gifted Man, a friend in this land so far from his own. Would he ever go home? he wondered. Maybe he’d not make it all the way home again. But it would be no great sacrifice, he thought, to die here, surrounded by such friendship.

He ate lightly at supper, wished the others a good night, and went to his room to read, falling asleep in his chair with a rug over his knees and his book in his lap.

Legolas looked in on him and found him thus, called Gandalf, and the two of them together woke him enough to get him into his nightshirt and into his bed.

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