Mask of Virtue.
The characters are the property of the Tolkien Estate.
With thanks to Deandra.
Clothes maketh the man
Aragorn sighed deeply, shifting in his uncomforatable chair, as he picked up yet another document that needed his signature. He was learning that being King could be exceptionally tedious at times. He wanted to serve his people, but found himself increasingly frustrated by his Council. In the name of 'tradition', they seemed to enjoy trying to block every useful suggestion he made.
A knock on the door interrupted his thoughts. "Come in!" he called.
The Captain of Aragorn's personal guards entered. "I have some disturbing news to report, sire," he said. "A dangerous and violent criminal, Ostopher son of Cirondil, has escaped from the prison. He received a letter this morning in which his sweetheart announced she was going to marry another. He went berserk, attacked the guards and made good his escape."
"Was anyone badly injured?" enquired the King, concern on his face.
"No, my lord. There was no need to send for a Healer. I would not like to be in Ostopher's shoes when he is recaptured though!"
"See that the City gates are locked and no one allowed out unless they can show they about their lawful business," Aragorn ordered. "Search the homes of the criminal's friends and family, and have all empty buildings searched. Let me know at once if anything unusual is found."
"Yes, my lord, at once!" The Captain bowed low and left the room.
Aragorn returned to his paperwork He spent the best part of an hour engrossed in the arcane details of a land dispute that required his judgement, before being interrupted again.
"Have you captured Ostopher?" Aragorn enquired of the now breathless Captain, who stood before him.
"No, my lord, but we found a man unconscious and wearing only his drawers in one of the alleyways on the Fourth Level. I assure you, sire, that such an improper state of undress is most unusual in Minas Tirith and…"
"Where is the man?" Aragorn interrupted what he considered needless rambling. "And who is he?"
"He has been taken to the Houses of Healing," the Captain replied. "The warder at the prison assures me he is not Ostopher, but no one has recognised the man yet. He is seriously injured."
"Summon Lord Faramir to me and place a double guard upon the Queen," said Aragorn." I think I will visit this mystery man."
With two heavily armed guards in front and two behind, King and Steward made their way to the Houses of Healing.
Aragorn tried hard to make conversation, but Faramir was still somewhat in awe of his presence. The King was still hoping a friendship would one day develop between him and the young man whose life he had saved. He felt that if he encouraged the younger man to work beside him whenever possible it might help him deal more easily with the sorrow of losing his closest kin, and the horror of almost being burned alive by his father. Faramir worked hard and never complained. Aragorn, though, sensed his Steward still felt a great deal of pain in both mind and body. The King grieved to see this and yearned to earn the younger man's trust in order to help him.
"There are grave deeds afoot in the City today, Faramir," said the King. "First, this Ostopher escapes and now an unknown man is attacked. Have you heard of Ostopher before?"
"He was tried and sent to prison during my father's rule," said Faramir. "The violence of his offence was much talked about as there is little crime in Minas Tirith. We were supposedly united in fighting the Dark Lord, which made his actions especially shocking."
"Let us hope he is soon recaptured then," said Aragorn.
"Yes, sire," Faramir replied and again lapsed into silence.
Aragorn went alone into the injured man's room and thoroughly examined him. The injuries were puzzling, a bruise on his face which looked to have been caused by a blow and a badly fractured skull. It would appear that he had been attacked, but the complete lack of bruises on his body was strange, were that the case. Aragorn tried to connect with his spirit, but in vain. There was a darkness there, which was oddly repellent. There was nothing Aragorn could do for him.
He called Faramir into the room. "It seems we have a case of murder to deal with," he told the Steward. "I fear this man will die ere nightfall."
The young Steward approached the bed. He studied the unconscious man for a moment, then exclaimed "Why that is Maglor! He was once one of my father's guards, and then was promoted to guard the White Tree. Why should anyone attack him? This is heinous crime indeed!"
In his mind's eye Aragorn could see the silent, helmed men who guarded the most sacred symbol of Gondor's heritage. Faramir had agreed with him that no longer should the Guards wear concealing helms, but the Council had protested loudly at such a slight to tradition. Aragorn smiled grimly. Everything made perfect sense now He knew why Maglor had been attacked.
"Tradition or no tradition, this is the last day that helms will be worn by the Guards in the Court of the Fountain!" Aragorn said harshly.
"My lord?" Faramir understandably sounded puzzled.
"Come with me and you will see," said Aragorn.
Aragorn summoned the Captain of the Guard and gave him instructions. He made his way to the Court of the Fountain with the still perplexed Faramir at his side.
"Guards assemble!" cried Aragorn as soon as they reached their destination.
Obediently, the men fell into step and lined up before him.
"Remove helms!" Aragorn ordered.
A shocked gasp echoed around the courtyard. A few hands started hesitantly to remove the headgear, but most did nothing.
"The King has ordered you to remove your helms!" Faramir said sharply.
"Beggin' your pardon, sire, but Citadel Guards wear their helms at all times," said one of the men in a shocked tone, as if he were being ordered to remove all his clothing and stand stark naked before Gondor's most sacred symbol. "Lord Denethor said that … ."
"Times have changed," Aragorn said sternly. "Now remove your helms or face the full weight of my wrath!"
This time the men did his bidding. That was; all save one, Aragorn could now see that he was slightly shorter than the others and had a somewhat sagging posture.
Aragorn drew his sword. "Remove your helmet or feel this blade!" he demanded sternly.
Slowly and reluctantly the concealing helm was removed.
"That is the escaped criminal!" cried the Captain. "Seize him!"
Ostopher tried to flee but found every possible avenue of escape blocked by soldiers. He was swiftly captured and disarmed.
"Let me go!" Ostopher pleaded. He continued to struggle with his captors. "You don't understand! I had no choice!" He sounded near to tears.
Aragorn was surprised just how young the prisoner was. He scarcely looked old enough to grow a beard. The young man looked haggard and wild eyed. A bruise disfigured his pale cheek.
"Take him back to his cell!" Aragorn ordered. "See that he is kept under close confinement but not harmed. He will be tried in the morning."
"How did you guess where we would find the escaped prisoner?" the Captain enquired of Aragorn as Ostopher was led away back to prison.
"I was certain there must be a connection between the escaped prisoner and the man who had been attacked," said Aragorn, "given the victim's curious state of undress. It suggested that he was attacked for his clothing. It was only when my Steward told me that Maglor was a Citadel Guard that Ostopher's plan became clear to me. The uniform of a Citadel Guard would be a perfect disguise until the hue and cry had died down and he could make his escape. Henceforth, in times of peace, the Guards shall go bareheaded. A uniform should never form a disguise to protect the wearer."
"Well said, my lord," said Faramir. "The masks we wore in Ithilien were suited only for times of war. Now the Dark Lord is defeated, no man should fear to show his face to the world nor be ashamed to. Strange and sad it is indeed that such a young man should stoop to such levels of crime and deception."
"Strange indeed," said Aragorn thoughtfully remembering the desperate look in the young criminal's eyes. It troubled him.
A/N This was originally written for the prompt "Uniform" on the AA list and grew into a multi chaptered story. It will be posted in two or three parts.
The Guards of the gate were robed in black, and their helms were of strange shape, high-crowned, with long cheek-guards close-fitting to the face, and above the cheek-guards were set the white wings of sea-birds; but the helms gleamed with a flame of silver, for they were indeed wrought of mithril, heirlooms from the glory of old days. Tolkien - The Return of the King.
This ficlet is set in the early days of my series of stories when Faramir is ill at ease still with Aragorn as their friendship does not develop properly until "Shadow and Thought." This story also refers to "The White Tree."