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The Sword in the Tree
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
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3
To allot to every man his due

Justice is the constant and perpetual will to allot to every man his due.

Domitus Ulpian (100 AD - 228 AD)

With thanks to Raksha.

Disclaimer – The recognisable characters in this story all belong to the estate of J.R.R. Tolkien. This story was written for pleasure and not for financial gain.

A loud knock awakened the sleepers just before dawn.

"Come in!" Aragorn called sleepily.

The young serving maid who had shown them to their room the night before entered, followed by a lad carrying a basket of firewood. "Your pardon my lords, but Éomer King said that you must have a fire," she said, her pleasant face flushed with embarrassment. "Éomer King was most annoyed when he found out I hadn't made one up for you."

"Do not worry, you are here now," the King said soothingly. He then pretended to fall asleep again. The pretence last only moments before he did indeed fall into a light slumber. He woke up again and beheld the fire burning merrily in the grate. He threw aside his share of the quilt, pulled off his outer tunic and kicked off his boots, which woke Faramir,

"It's hot," Faramir murmured sleepily without opening his eyes. "I hope I am not developing a fever."

"They have lit a fire for us," said Aragorn. "I am warm too. Just take off your tunic and throw the quilt aside."

Faramir yawned. He threw off the quilt, and then promptly fell asleep again before he could shed his tunic.

When it was time for the two friends to rise, the room was pleasantly warm enough for them to wash and change into fresh clothing before breakfast.

"What shall we do about the feathers?" asked Faramir, eying his stuffed nightshirt doubtfully.

"Just leave them," Aragorn advised. "The servants no doubt will think it is some strange custom of Gondor.

"They will think us like children who need stuffed toys to comfort them while they sleep!" Faramir fretted.

"No matter," said Aragorn. "No doubt speculating why two warriors stuff a nightshirt with feathers will entertain the kitchen maids for many a dreary winter's night!"

Breakfast was served in a small chamber, which had become Lothíriel's solar since her marriage. The King and Queen of Rohan greeted their guests warmly with enquiries about how they had slept to which Aragorn and Faramir informed them that they had spent a comfortable night and were well pleased with the chamber they had been allocated.

During the meal, Aragorn often found his gaze straying to Lothíriel. He regarded her with a keen healer's eye. She looked tired, but that was usual for a woman about to give birth. There was something in her eyes, though, that troubled Aragorn, a sad haunted look, which with a slight shudder, he realised reminded him of Finduilas. The two women, aunt and niece, were so alike they could have been sisters; both were tall and slender, with dark hair and blue-grey eyes. But why should Lothíriel appear so sad? Éomer obviously doted on her and she on him. No shadow from the East threatened Lothiriel as it had Finduilas. Éomer's letters had been filled with accounts of how his people had taken her to their hearts and how well she fulfilled her part as queen. Perhaps she feared the impending birth, or was worried she might disappoint Éomer if she bore him a daughter instead of the son he longed for. That was the most likely explanation. Aragorn wished though, that she did not remind him so much of Finduilas.

After breakfast was over, Lothíriel excused herself saying that she expected a visit from her midwives that morning. Éomer had important duties and was not at liberty to entertain his guests. He invited Aragorn and Faramir to witness his weekly audience with his people.

"I would take you to see my herds, my friends," he said apologetically. "Folk often come great distances to see me, though, and I cannot let them down."

"Of course your duties must come first," Aragorn reassured him. "Faramir and I will be interested to see how you settle disputes in the Mark."

Éomer took his place on the great gilded chair in the Golden Hall. Beside him sat Aragorn and Faramir.

The Hall was crowded with people all of whom desired to speak to their king. Many folk had brought some of their harvest produce as a gift for their king and queen. One old woman had brought a charm that she requested be hung over Lothíriel 's bed to aid her delivery , while other women had brought enough raspberry tea to supply the needs of a dozen pregnant ladies! Éomer received all the gifts with a word of thanks and a warm smile.

Then those seeking justice had their say. Most of the complaints followed a similar pattern, a dispute with a neighbour over land, a stolen horse, or a plea to be excused paying the grain levy after a bad harvest.

Éomer listened patiently to all the grievances and dealt with them as fairly as he could. Aragorn was impressed by his brother king's wise judgement, as well as his patience in dealing with the most trivial and tedious of problems.

Only once, did Éomer look across to Aragorn, after two men had argued before him over the ownership of a horse for the best part of an hour, neither willing to concede an inch.

Éomer first looked baffled at the whispered words of counsel and then he suddenly smiled. He stood up and said loudly." I would see this horse.

"It is outside, my lord," said one of the men, who had told them his name was Carl.

"He stole it!" protested the other claimant, a man called Aelfred,

Éomer left his throne and went outside, followed by the two claimants and his guests.

"Bring the horse here!" Éomer ordered sternly.

Carl untethered a fine looking chestnut filly and brought it before the King. One of Éomer's grooms held the stallion's reins.

"I desire you both to walk 50 paces away in opposite directions," Éomer told the two men. "When you have done so, you must both call the horse when I command you to."

Looking somewhat bewildered, the two did as they were bidden. Aragorn whispered something to Faramir and both men smiled.

"Call him now!" Éomer commanded.

" Firemane, come hither!" shouted Carl.

"Sunset, come to me!" called Aelfred.

Éomer nodded to his groom to release the horse, which cantered eagerly towards Aelfred and nuzzled him happily.

"The horse is yours, Aelfred Ericsson," Éomer pronounced. "As for you Carl Aeredsson, you will repay the value of the stolen horse and give Aelfred a foal from your herds in compensation."

"He must have had an apple for her!" grumbled Carl.

"I had my hands held wide and they were empty," said Aelfred, still joyfully stroking his filly's velvety nose.

Relieved the dispute was finally settled, Éomer returned to his throne where about a dozen petitioners were still waiting to be heard.

The next dispute was a long involved argument about sacks of flour a miller owed to a neighbour in exchange for grazing land for his mule. Aragorn felt his eyelids growing heavy. He leaned back in the comfortable chair provided and his head started to droop forwards. Faramir nudged him sharply in the ribs.

"Eh what?" Aragorn exclaimed in a loud whisper.

"You would have cleared the Hall with your snoring in ere long had I not roused you!" Faramir told him a low voice that no other could hear.

"Would that be such a bad thing?" Aragorn groaned as the two neighbours changed the drift of their argument, one claiming he had given his neighbour an especially large sack to repay his debt, the other countering that it had been full of holes so that little flour was contained in it.

From Éomer's expression, it was clear that he was sorely tempted to knock the disputants' heads together, but he remained admirably calm and diplomatic.

Aragorn wished fervently that he could sleep through the tedious argument, though he knew full well Faramir was right not to allow him to inadvertently insult his friend. In Gondor and Arnor, each subject had a right to appeal to the King, but most petty grievances were dealt with by village elders. Especially in Gondor, the people were far more in awe of their rulers and feared to come before them, an attitude encouraged by Denethor and many of his predecessors. Aragorn's thoughts were suddenly interrupted by the entrance of a man who staggered through the doors and unsteadily made his way towards the dais.

"Leofric Leifersson!" The door warden announced belatedly.

The new comer looked as if he had been in a fight as his face was bruised and bloodied.

"What business do you have with your king, Leofric?" Éomer demanded

Before the man could answer, he fell senseless to the ground.

"Clear the hall!" Éomer ordered." My audience for today is over. As for you two," he added to the pair arguing over flour, "I advise you to buy new flour sacks and have another neighbour fill them for you."

"My sacks are perfectly good!" grumbled the miller.

"Not another word from either of you!" snapped Éomer. "My decision stands."

The two neighbours slunk away still arguing.

"Shall I fetch a healer, my lord?" a serving maid enquired.

"Do not trouble yourself, I am trained in the healing arts," said Aragorn eager to do something useful after the morning's tedium. "Fetch me a bowl of hot water and some clean bandages."

"We will put him in a guest chamber once the guards have moved him," Éomer added.

"Yes, my lords." The girl hurried away, entirely unperturbed that the visiting High King desired to tend the injured man himself. Aragorn thought wryly about the servants in Gondor who always looked likely to swoon that he would so lower himself.

Two burly guards, members of Éomer's personal éored carefully carried the unconscious man into a chamber that led off to the side of the Hall and laid him on the bed there. The serving maid soon reappeared with the hot water and bandages. Éomer then bade her take a message to Lothiriel, to tell her they would be a little late for the midday meal.

Aragorn washed his hands and started to clean away the blood from Leofric's face and to examine his head. "He has a black eye and a badly cut lip," he pronounced, "I feared he might have serious head injuries but it seems he only suffered a light blow. Help me remove his tunic now, Faramir."

As Faramir eased the man into a sitting position, Leofric groaned and opened his eyes.

"Where am I?" he murmured.

"You are in the Golden Hall in the presence of your king," Éomer informed him." Now lie still while my friend tends your wounds."

A groan was Leofric's only reply.

Once the tunic was removed, it did not take a skilled healer to judge that Leofric had been in a fight. Most of his upper body was black and blue, his ribs covered in angry bruises. He groaned again as Aragorn gently felt them.

"You have badly bruised ribs, and at least one is broken," Aragorn informed him. He started to apply a salve. "It looks as if you have been a fight and suffered the worse of it."

"You should see Leif, then!" Leofric replied through clenched teeth.

"Who is Leif?" asked Faramir.

"My brother," said Leofric.

"What brought you here?" asked Éomer. "A fight between brothers has no need for my intervention."

"It is a long story, Éomer King," Leofric replied. He groaned again and clutched his head.

"Do not try to talk yet," Aragorn ordered. "Wait until your wounds are tended. I will mix you some willow bark tea to ease the pain."

"You are not of the Mark?" Leofric said, suspiciously eying Aragorn and Faramir.

"No, but I am a trained healer," Aragorn said firmly, finishing wiping the blood off Leofric's face. "This will need stitching."

Leofric scowled and muttered something uncomplimentary under his breath. "What about my horse?" he protested.

"I will ensure that it is cared for in my own stables," Éomer assured him.

"He doesn't take kindly to strangers," said Leofric. "He's a fine horse."

"My grooms are the best in the Mark," Éomer said indignantly. "Your horse is in good hands."

Aragorn handed his patient a mug of willow bark tea. "Drink this," he ordered.

"Is your healer trying to poison me?" Leofric spluttered after taking a sip. He would have spat it out had he not been in the presence of his king, who shot him a warning glare.

"It will do you good," Aragorn replied, completely unperturbed. "Drink it all up!" He studied the man carefully, while he prepared to stitch the gaping cut over his mouth. Leofric looked to be of about middle age, a typical Rohir, sturdily build with a long sandy blonde mop of hair and a shaggy beard, which was streaked with grey.

Leofric continued to scowl but made no further complaint. He stoically endured the stitching, declined the offer of the loan of a clean tunic from one of Éomer's men, and wriggled impatiently while Aragorn patched up his injuries. Only when Aragorn dried his hands to signal he had finished his ministrations, did Éomer give him leave to speak. "What brings you here today in such dire need?" asked Éomer.

"The people of our village need your help, Éomer King," Leofric said urgently. "Please help us before the sword in the tree is the dooms us all!"

TBC

A/n Readers might enjoy "Nightmares with Nightshirts" also on this site, which is a prequel to this story.

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