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3
Blood will out

The characters are the property of the Tolkien Estate

Blood will out.


~~~

“Sit down.” Aragorn gestured Ostopher towards the couch. ”I have some questions for you. He sat beside the young man and gripped both his hands, observing the red wheals left by the manacles on his wrists and his somewhat laboured breathing. The boy appeared to be in considerable pain. At close quarters he could see the dark circles under his eyes. Ostopher was still wearing Maglor’s clothes and was much in need of a bath. He noted the racing pulse, hardly surprising given the circumstances. “Have you close kindred?” Aragorn enquired to put the lad more at ease.

“No, my lord. My mother died giving birth to me and my father was killed a few years ago when a house he was working on collapsed.”

“How old are you?”

“I will, I mean would have been twenty three come Mettarë.”

Aragorn groaned inwardly. The lad was even younger than he thought. “Did you attack and rob the jeweller?” he asked suddenly.

“No, my lord, I did not.” There was no alteration in Ostopher’s pulse rate. “I would not harm a defenceless old man!”

“Have you been harmed in prison either when you escaped or after you were recaptured?”

“No, my lord. I was not beaten. Until I ran away the warders treated me fairly. There was one I feared, but on one laid a finger upon me. They…” Again the pulse rate remained steady. Ostopher hesitated and cast a longing eye upon the pitcher of water Aragorn kept upon his desk.

“You are thirsty?”

“Yes, my lord.”

Aragorn gestured to Faramir to fill a glass with water for the prisoner. It seemed the warders had found a way to punish the runaway without directly contravening Aragorn’s orders.

Ostopher thirstily drained the glass. ”Thank you, my lords,” he said gratefully.

Faramir retook his seat in the corner, his eyes never leaving Ostopher lest he try to attack the King.

“You are a carpenter?” Aragorn continued.

Ostopher’s eyes lit up. “Yes, my lord, as was my father before me and all my longfathers. It is said that the ship’s carpenter who sailed with Elendil was one of my ancestors. I was said to be good at my craft, my lord, and took pride in work.”

Aragorn nodded; glad to have satisfied his curiosity as to the young man’s ancestry. Elendil had brought refugees from all walks of life with him, but nowadays it was rare to find such obvious Númenorean ancestry in other than the noble houses of Gondor. He shifted his position on the chair he had inherited from Denethor. “Did you make this chair?” he asked suddenly.

“Certainly not!” Ostopher replied indignantly. “It is a most ill designed piece of furniture. A chair should be comfortable as well as functional. Any good carpenter would tell you that!”

Aragorn smiled wryly. Rising to his feet, he laid his hand on Ostopher’s brow and concentrated trying to sense the essence of the young man’s soul. He sensed pain, anguish and fear beneath the outwardly calm exterior. There was guilt there too and rage as well as a strong will, but no trace of evil. The enigma remained why he should have committed such atrocious crimes.

“What happened when you attacked Maglor?” Aragorn demanded.

“I struck him. He struck me. I lashed out to defend myself. He fell and struck his head. I have said all that I desire to on the matter in open court, my lord.”

“Undress now, please,” said Aragorn sternly. “I am determined to learn the truth from you and the law permits me to use any means I find fit.” He was deliberately harsh, offering neither a blanket nor reassurance like he usually would to a patient in more conventional circumstances. So far the only additional information he had gained was an account of how Maglor had struck his head, if indeed Ostopher was speaking the truth.

Ostopher’s eyes widened with unspoken terror. He hesitantly fingered the laces of his shirt.

“Do as you are bidden unless you would prefer I call the Guards back in?” Aragorn’s tone was like ice.

Ostopher reluctantly complied, albeit with typical Gondorian reticence. He removed his belt then drew his tunic and shirt over his head with some difficulty. Faramir collected the garments and placed them at the far side of the room. Ostopher sat huddled miserably.

“Put your arms by your sides and sit up straight!” the King ordered him.

Aragorn had expected to uncover some injuries but was shocked at the severity of the bruises now revealed. It was immediately apparent, even to the most untrained eye that the man had been in a fight. Ostopher had a huge spreading bruise across his chest and left side. Smaller bruises disfigured his upper arms. Somewhat shockingly, another vast bruise covered most of his belly. Punching a man below the belt was regarded a highly dishonourable way to conduct a fistfight.

Aragorn gripped Ostopher’s hands again. “Did Maglor do this to you?” he enquired.

“Yes, my lord,” Ostopher replied. “All save the bruises on my arms. I acquired those while being returned to prison.”

“Why did you fight with Maglor?” Aragorn demanded again.

“I cannot say, my lord,” Ostopher replied stubbornly.

Aragorn cheerfully could have shaken the stubborn young man. He remained impassive, saying nothing. Instead, he deftly examined the injuries. Ostopher gave a cry of pain when his side was touched.

“It amazes me that you are still standing,” Aragorn informed him.

“I had to,” Ostopher said simply. “I willed myself not to feel the pain while I was trying to escape.”

“You have at least one cracked rib. He pressed his ear to the young man’s chest. “Your lungs are sound but somewhat congested because it pains you to breathe as deeply as you should.”

Aragorn was faced with a dilemma. It was highly disconcerting to treat a man whose death warrant he was due to sign. Minus his clothing, Ostopher looked younger than ever, somewhat resembling a colt with his long gangling limbs. He had the broad shoulders and lean build of a true son of Númenor. Most likely he had been well muscled before his imprisonment. Such a young man would have been of great value in rebuilding the City, had he not turned to crime. Aragorn had a sudden flash of inspiration. He would use athelas to treat Ostopher’s bruises. The herb would relieve the pain and have a calming effect, which might make the boy more willing to talk, when combined with some Elven arts.

.”Lord Faramir, please ask that boiling water be brought,” said Aragorn.

Faramir went to the door and spoke to the Guards outside. Ostopher looked more terrified than ever. His thin body trembled.

Aragorn left him thus for a few moments hoping that he might speak. He did not. The King had rarely encountered such stubborn resistance from a captive before. Most were quickly persuaded to talk by his natural air of authority. Ostopher was proving the exception. Aragorn felt a grudging admiration for him. His natural compassion prevailed. “Put this round you while we wait,” he said, picking up the blanket he kept with his healing supplies. “There is nothing to fear, “ the King added in a more kindly tone. “I have never put a man to torment and have no intention of starting with you. Torture would bring me down to the level of the Dark Lord and his minions. I seek only to ease your pain not to cause any. I have been a Healer far longer than I have been a King. “

Ostopher thankfully pulled the blanket round his shoulders. His tense posture and ragged breathing suggested he was unconvinced by the King’s words.

A few moments of uncomfortable silence elapsed before a servant tapped on the door and handed a bowl of steaming water to Faramir. The Steward placed it on a table beside the King. Aragorn rummaged amongst his healing supplies and took two leaves of athelas, which he first breathed upon, then crumbled and cast into the boiling water. “Breath the vapours as deeply as you can,” the King instructed. He took a cloth and dipped it in the bowl. Ostopher recoiled in fear.

“Easy, lad,” Aragorn said softly. I did this for the Ringbearer when he suffered similar injuries.”

”But he was a great hero while I am your prisoner!” Ostopher protested.

“You are both under my protection,” said Aragorn. He started to bathe Ostopher’s bruises with the athelas mixture.

Soon the young man’s breathing eased. He sighed and visibly relaxed as a living fragrance filled the air. It was the bittersweet tang of salty air combined with roses and rue. Faramir, who had returned to perusing a scroll, gave an audible sign of contentment. The King gently dried the hurts then returned Ostopher’s belt to him. The young man thankfully secured it around his waist.

“I shall ease the congestion in your lungs before I allow you to don your shirt,” Aragorn told the young man. “It is an Elvish treatment, which is quite painless and pleasant to experience.”

“Why are you doing this, my lord?” Ostopher asked in bewilderment. “I shall die soon.”

“I would not have you suffer needlessly,” said Aragorn. “Have you not heard the Hands of the King are the hands of a Healer? “He applied light pressure with his fingertips to Ostopher’s chest and back. The boy visibly relaxed under his healing touch.

“I have heard the stories, my lord, and now I know they are true!” Ostopher’s tone was full of awe. He looked at Aragorn with something approaching worship in his eyes.

The King groaned inwardly. The thought of signing this young man’s death warrant was becoming ever more repulsive to him. A lad like this should be at the beginning of his adult life, wooing a lass and looking forward to marriage and fatherhood, not preparing to die!

“I still do not understand,” Ostopher continued.

“There is no need to. Just be easy,” Aragorn said in a soothing tone. His hands moved to the back of Ostopher’s neck, which he gently massaged using a calming art that Master Elrond had taught him. Aragorn felt the remaining tension ebb away from Ostopher’s muscles and the young man’s shoulders go limp beneath his hands as he started to breathe deeply and evenly beneath his healing touch. Ostopher’s eyes were closed as if he were on the verge of sleep.

“Dead men can tell no tales, Tell me now what truly troubles your heart,” Aragorn said softly.

“I can die content now my beloved is safe from Maglor,” Ostopher said dreamily, more to himself than Aragorn.

“But will the lady live content?” Aragorn enquired softly.

It grieves my heart bitterly to leave her, but I have no choice,” said Ostopher. ”I could not protect her, so I deserve my fate though she does not!”

Aragorn said nothing for a few moments but simply continued his ministrations. ”Perhaps you would let me be the judge of that?” Aragorn said quietly. He turned to face Ostopher fixing him with a kindly but compelling gaze. He was starting to understand what had happened but needed to hear the whole story from Ostopher’s lips. “You speak of Master Findegil’s daughter do you not? What is her name?”

“Melian,” Ostopher said dreamily. “She is the fairest lady that ever lived! We should have been wed by now!”

“What did Maglor do to her?” Aragorn demanded quietly yet firmly.” I would know the whole truth!” He had used every art he knew to loosen Ostopher’s tongue. If he did not speak now all his efforts would be in vain.

TBC

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