The characters are the property of the Tolkien Estate
The characters are the property of the Tolkien Estate.
A pair of star-crossed lovers
Warning This chapter may disturb sensitive readers
With grateful thanks to Deandra.
Still Ostopher hesitated. "It is hard for me to speak of it," he muttered.
"Why not start at the beginning?" Aragorn suggested gently. "How did you meet Melian?"
"I can scarce remember when I did not know her," Ostopher replied softly. "We played together as children and I loved her even then. When I grew to manhood, I realised I wanted her to be my wife. Melian is not only beautiful, but also good and kind, and devoted to her younger sisters. Her mother died when she was but fifteen years old, and she has been like a mother to them. We had planned to have her two youngest sisters dwell with us once we were wed. Her father provides for his family well, but has little time for his daughters."
Aragorn nodded sympathetically. "And what of Maglor?" he enquired. "Master Findegil said he was an old friend of the family?"
"Master Findegil treated Maglor as the son he never had!" Ostopher exclaimed bitterly. "Had Melian's mother not made him promise on her deathbed that her daughters should have husbands of their own choosing, Maglor would have taken Melian as his bride! She both hated and feared him. He would watch her all the time when he dined with the family, finding reason to brush against her or take her hand since she was about fourteen years old, and first blossoming into womanhood. The more his advances repulsed Melian, the more he seemed to desire her! He was furious when he learned she planned to wed me. A few days later her father was attacked, I believe by Maglor, who must have planted the jewels in my house. I was sent to prison for a crime I did not commit. Melian promised to wait for me, even if it meant she died an old maid. I knew she would never wed Maglor willingly. When her letter arrived telling me she had accepted Maglor's hand, I knew something dreadful must have happened."
"I understand now why you escaped from prison," said Aragorn, still soothingly rubbing the young man's neck and shoulders. He tried to keep his tone neutral.
"I went first to Melian's dwelling, but as her father was there I had no chance to speak to her," said Ostopher. "I then sought out Maglor. He was just leaving his house to go on duty, wearing his uniform. He was about to put on his helm when I asked him what he had done to Melian to make her consent to their marriage. He laughed at me and told me how he had taken her by force, boasting about how she had screamed and struggled, but to no avail."
Aragorn listened in horror. This was far worse than he had suspected. If what Ostopher said was true, Maglor was no better than an Orc! On the far side of the room, a shocked Faramir almost dropped the scroll he was holding.
"I struck him on the face in fury," Ostopher continued, his eyes flashing with anger at the memory. "He set upon me, mocking me for not having taken her first, all the while raining down blows upon me. I struck out to defend myself and he fell back against the doorway, hitting his head. He fell down senseless. It was then I thought to take his clothing from him and disguise myself. I planned to wait until sundown and then seek out Melian, so that we might run away together and seek a new life far from here!"
"What if your lady had no wish to be wed after what had happened to her, or if she carried Maglor's child?" asked Aragorn.
Ostopher had obviously not considered this. Yet, without hesitation, he replied, "Then I would have treated Melian as my sister. Had there been a child, I would have raised it as my own, and loved it because my lady bore it."
Aragorn exchanged a glance with Faramir. This was indeed something far deeper than simple youthful desire that Ostopher obviously felt for Melian.
"One thing still puzzles me," said Aragorn. "Why did you leave Maglor in the alleyway in full view of passers-by?"
"I wanted to humiliate him as he had humiliated my love!" Ostopher said fiercely. "I wish now I had taken all his clothing! My poor sweet Melian! How could any man use her thus?" The young man slumped visibly now that he had unburdened himself. Unable to maintain his composure any longer, he wept bitter tears. "I failed her! I should have been able to protect her, but I could not! I deserve my death, but I do not want to die yet! I had such hopes and dreams for the future!"
Aragorn hesitated for a moment, then, overcome with compassion, drew the sobbing lad against his shoulder. He gestured to Faramir. The Steward went to the door to call a servant to fetch some tea for the prisoner. A few minutes later, the servant returned with the hot, sweet liquid.
Ostopher's sobs were slowly starting to subside. Aragorn released the boy who shamefacedly wiped his arm across his tear-stained face. "Drink this," said the King handing him the cup, to which he had added a few calming herbs. "I have decided to delay sentencing you until I can determine if your story is genuine. A healer needs to visit Mistress Melian to discover if you are speaking the truth."
Ostopher looked horrified. "My lady has suffered enough!" he protested, "I would rather die than have her further distressed and her good name besmirched."
"You can put your mind at rest," Aragorn reassured him. "Mistress Melian will choose for herself if she wishes to tell her story or permit an examination. I will send a kindly and experienced midwife to visit her while her father is at his shop. If she is indeed with child, she will need help and care throughout her pregnancy."
Ostopher thought for a moment then conceded, "Your words are wise, my lord. I had not thought of that."
"As for you, Ostopher," Aragorn continued, "I want you to get dressed now. You will not be returned to the prison, but confined within the Citadel in a secure room. If I order the manacles to be removed, do I have your word, you will not try to escape?"
"Yes, my lord. I would not betray your kindness," Ostopher said fervently, adoration again in his grey eyes. He pulled Maglor's shirt and tunic back over his head, regarding the garments with no small measure of revulsion.
"I will have food and drink sent to you, and fresh clothing," Aragorn told him. "You will feel better once you shed Maglor's garb. I also want you to have a bath and then take rest to ease your ribs."
"Yes, my lord, I will do everything you bid me," Ostopher promised. "Thank you."
Aragorn called for the Guards to re-enter and gave his new instructions regarding the prisoner. Ostopher was to be taken now to a detention cell usually reserved for visiting dignitaries that became drunk and violent. He also ordered them to remove Ostopher's leg irons and treat him gently. The Guards looked none too pleased at their orders, but knew better than to disobey. Ostopher was taken to his new prison at a slow pace in deference to his injuries.
"What do you make of his story?" Aragorn enquired of his Steward, once the door was closed and they were alone.
"The boy appears sincere, but it is hard to believe that a Citadel Guard should behave thus!" said Faramir. "I once had a Ranger who committed a similar heinous deed, but the Guards who protect the White Tree are Gondor's finest, in whom the blood of Westernesse runs true! Yet evil can be found anywhere, and the greatest might fall! For was not the Dark Lord himself one of the Maier, as was Saruman?"
"Indeed," said Aragorn. "History tells us that any might go astray. I suggest that we visit the place where Maglor was found. I plan as well, to call at the Houses of Healing, and find a suitable woman to see Mistress Melian. It puzzles me why the lady has made no complaint about Maglor's behaviour if he has used her so cruelly. It seemed that she was prepared to accept his hand in marriage."
"I would suggest Dame Ioreth visit the lady," said Faramir.
Aragorn looked surprised. "I do not doubt the good dame's skills, but this is a matter of utmost discretion."
"The lady chatters a good deal, but never about matters of consequence," said Faramir. "She can be discreet when needed. She has been a midwife and Healer since before I was born. When we were able to rescue female prisoners from the Easterlings, they were placed in her care. If anyone can learn what happened to Mistress Melian, it will be the good lady."
"Very well," Aragorn conceded. "I will ask Dame Ioreth to visit Mistress Melian, but first let us visit Maglor's home. There are many other tasks that demand my attention, but I would solve this mystery once and for all."
After a detour to speak to Ioreth at the Houses of Healing, King and Steward, accompanied by their guards, made their way down to the Fourth Level, and asked directions to Maglor's home. It was a small unkempt house, which contrasted sharply with the neat dwellings on either side. A narrow alleyway ran alongside the buildings. The only evidence of a fight seemed to be a shattered plant pot from a row on a wall, which divided the house from a neighbour's.
Aragorn studied the doorpost carefully. There, in a crack in the stonework, several dark hairs were lodged at about the height of a man. He drew Faramir's attention to his find.
"It appears that Ostopher's story is true," said the Steward.
"Indeed," replied Aragorn. "It looks as if it were indeed an accident. Had Ostopher sought to kill his victim, he would not have left him breathing, or where he would be found quickly. See, there is room behind the house, where a body could lie concealed for days while the killer made good his escape."
"This discovery hardly helps the young man, though," said Faramir. "The law makes it clear that killing a Citadel Guard, whether by design or accident, is a most heinous offence. For my own part, I believe Ostopher deserves mercy." He bent to examine the evidence then straightened up, his hand unconsciously rubbing his shoulder, still painful from his war wounds.
"Does your wound still trouble you?" Aragorn asked him suddenly.
"It is nothing, sire, a mere twinge," Faramir replied hastily. He dared not risk forfeiting Aragorn's regard by allowing his scars of mind and body to be revealed again. Seeing Ostopher breaking down earlier had been highly uncomfortable to behold.
The two men remained silent on their way back to the Citadel. Faramir returned to his own apartments, while Aragorn tried to deal with some of the vast mountain of paperwork on his desk. His mind, though, was not on the task. He kept thinking of the plight of the young couple.
The King was just about to put his work aside, and join Arwen for the evening meal, when a servant announced Dame Ioreth wished to see the King.
When the lady entered, she was in a state of high indignation. "How could anyone have so ill used that poor child you sent me to see?" she demanded of Aragorn. "How that poor, lovely girl has endured in silence, I shall never know! She was glad of a shoulder to cry upon, and after a while permitted me to examine her. Her injuries were still visible where that monster attacked her!"
"You mean to tell me that Mistress Melian was violated, Dame Ioreth?" asked Aragorn, struggling to get a word in.
"Haven't I just told you so, Lord Elfstone?" the woman replied, hardly pausing to draw breath. "The devil who used her thus even wore his helm, so she could leave no visible mark upon him when she tried to fight him off. At least I could tell the poor girl that she is not with child. She agreed to marry her attacker, as her woman's courses were late. I was able to reassure her that her ordeal was to blame for delaying them. Melian's mother made her promise on her deathbed to care for her sisters. She was terrified that should she appear to have lost her virtue, her sisters would suffer, and would never find good husbands. Not that her mother should ever have died, as I told Master Findegil myself, after his fifth daughter was born, that his wife should not bear any more children. Not that he'd listen to me, or his wife, as he wanted a son. Foolish man! One of his daughters could have taken over his shop when he grew too old to run it, and hired craftsmen to work the precious metals. Melian has a good head on her shoulders, but is far too beautiful for her own good to keep a shop." Ioreth was finally forced to pause to catch her breath.
"Thank you, Dame Ioreth, you have been most helpful," said Aragorn, dismissing her.
"I hope you plan to punish the monster who violated this innocent girl," said Ioreth, not moving towards the door.
"He was killed by Melian's betrothed," Aragorn told her.
"The lad deserves a rich reward!" Ioreth said as she left.
Aragorn sighed. In his heart he agreed with her. But how could he release Ostopher unless he agreed to reveal the full story? The people would riot if it seemed the murder of one of their beloved Citadel Guards went unavenged. Faramir was sadly correct. In the eyes of the law, a most heinous offence had been committed. The law failed to take into account the far worse deed that had led to Ostopher's actions. It would be kinder to send Ostopher to the gallows than free him to the mercy of an angry mob. Yet how could he send a good and honourable man to his death, whose only crime had been to seek to protect his lady?
The King buried his head in his hands. For the first time since their marriage, he went to join his wife with a heavy heart.
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