The characters are the property of the Tolkien Estate. No profit has been, nor will be made from this story.
A Daniel come to judgment! Yea, a Daniel!
O wise young judge, how I do honour thee! - The Merchant of Venice. Act 4.scene 1. Shakespeare.
With thanks to Deandra and Raksha
Aragorn picked at his food morosely. He had little appetite for the delicious meal of roast duckling that the cooks had carefully prepared.
"What is wrong, Estel?" Arwen enquired. "I have scarcely seen you all day and now you hardly say a word."
"I am sorry, vanimelda," said Aragorn. "My duties as King lie heavily upon me today."
"Tell me what troubles you," Arwen pleaded, once the servants had cleared away the plates. She poured two glasses of wine from the carafe on the table and handed one to her husband. The Queen moved over to the couch and beckoned her husband to sit beside her.
"You do not want to hear of the evil in Men's hearts," said Aragorn, tenderly caressing her cheek. "Alas, dark deeds did not end when Sauron was defeated!"
"You should not seek to protect me, Estel," Arwen said firmly. "I have lived many years and seen all too many evils. Could any deeds be darker than the ordeal my mother endured? I was there when my brothers brought her home. I saw what the Orcs had done to her. I am your wife, sworn to share your joys and sorrows and help you to bear your troubles." Tenderly she patted his hand.
Taking a deep breath, Aragorn told her the story of Ostopher and Melian. "How can I kill a good and honourable man?" he concluded. "Yet, the law says I must punish him as he refuses to speak in his defence."
"In the North, a man has the right to avenge the honour of his kinswoman or betrothed," Arwen said thoughtfully. "The poor girl, that she should be thus abused!"
"We are in Gondor, though, with its rigid laws and customs," Aragorn replied. "I believe young Ostopher acted rightly to avenge his lady's honour, but the law sees him as a cold blooded killer whom I must punish."
"You have the prerogative to exercise mercy," Arwen reminded him.
"The mob would most mostly likely tear Ostopher limb from limb if he walked free," Aragorn said grimly. "A poor mercy that would be!"
"There are other ways to show clemency," Arwen said. "Did you not say the lad was a carpenter?"
"He is indeed, and according to Faramir, a good one."
"We have great need of skilled craftsmen to rebuild Annuminas," said Arwen. "Why not exile him there? His sweetheart could go with him if she chooses. They could start their lives afresh in the North."
"That is an excellent idea, oh wisest of Peredhil!" Aragorn exclaimed, embracing her warmly. "The people of Gondor might even think that exile to the North was a crueller fate than death! As for Ostopher, I think he might be happy in Arnor." The King looked pleadingly at his wife. "I know I have neglected you today, dearest, but would it grieve you if I went to tell Ostopher that he will not be executed? He is confined here, within the Citadel."
"Go with my blessing," said Arwen. "The boy will sleep better with the knowledge. I assume too, as you have become his Healer, you will wish to see how he is."
"I shall not be gone long," said Aragorn. Pausing only to place a tender kiss upon her lips and collect his healing supplies, he hastened to the detention chamber.
Looking far from happy at obeying his lord's command to enter alone, the Guard opened the door of cell, then closed it as soon as the King had entered.
Aragorn quietly approached the bed where Ostopher lay sleeping. The young man was now clad in an ill fitting nightshirt. Ostopher was obviously exhausted not to have awakened when the King entered the room. Aragorn stood for a moment studying him. Ostopher's face was tear stained, suggesting that once alone, he had wept again, either for his own plight, or that of his lady. In contrast to his appearance earlier that day, he now looked clean, and smelled strongly of soap.
Despite being propped up on several pillows, Ostopher's breathing was rather laboured, suggesting his injuries were troubling him. Aragorn decided to awaken him.
"My lord!" Ostopher sat up with a start.
"Easy now," said Aragorn. "How do you fare?"
"Well enough, my lord," the young carpenter replied, not very convincingly.
"Have you been treated well?" the King enquired.
"Yes, my lord. I was brought water to bathe in and food to eat. This bed is the most comfortable I have ever slept in." Ostopher hesitated, then swallowed hard. "When I returned from bathing, this was all I had been left to wear. Do I have to go to my execution, dressed only in this? A man came to measure me, for my shroud, I think!"
Aragorn smiled at him. "You were simply being measured for some suitable clothing. Prisoners are not hung wearing their night attire! Not that such details need to be of any concern to you; you shall not go to the gallows, but rather to the North, where I have decided to exile you for the rest of your days. Your sweetheart is, of course, free to accompany you, if she so chooses. Dame Ioreth examined her and she confirms your story."
Ostopher's grey eyes lit up. He slid from the bed and knelt on the stone floor at Aragorn's feet and clasping the King's hands, kissed them fervently. "My lord, how can I ever thank you sufficiently for such mercy!" he exclaimed.
"I doubt you will feel much cause for gratitude during a long northern winter!" Aragorn replied dryly, raising him to his feet. "However, I think you should prosper in Arnor. Your skills will be much in demand there, and you and Mistress Melian can start afresh away from wagging tongues and past sorrows. You must stay here for your own safety until you are able to travel. Everything will be provided for your needs. If you wish, you may walk in the gardens each day under escort and Mistress Melian may visit you. Now get back in bed, you need to rest."
For a moment Ostopher looked at the King, completely overwhelmed with joy, before obediently doing as he was bidden. "I can never thank you sufficiently!" he repeated. "Would it be allowed for me to have my carpenter's tools brought here?" he asked after a moment's thought. "I fear lest my skills have become rusty after so long without taking up hammer and chisel. Melian kept them safe for me after I was arrested."
"I believe that can be arranged," said Aragorn.
"Thank you, sire." Ostopher suddenly coughed and his body contorted with pain.
Aragorn poured him some water from a jug on the bedside table and handed it to him. The King watched while the young man drank, and then offered, "I can ease your hurts further if you wish, but I would need you to reach out with your mind to accept the healing I offer, as one receives a gift."
Ostopher hesitated for only a moment before saying. "I would be grateful for your help, lord," he said quietly. "What must I do?"
"Just slip your nightshirt off your shoulders so that I can see your hurts, then lie down. You will feel heat from my hands. Try to reach out towards me with your spirit."
Ostopher obeyed and bared his bruises again, albeit still with a certain degree of reticence, though he showed none of his earlier terror. He closed his eyes and was aware of the King standing beside the bed, gently feeling his cracked rib. Suddenly, he felt a warmth flooding through every fibre of his bruised body. Startled he opened his eyes, and to his amazement saw the bruises lighten from purple to pale brown, even as he watched. The King seemed to grow weary as the power flowed from his hands.
"You will heal quickly now," said Aragorn a few moments later. "It is time to rest and concentrate on regaining your strength. I am postponing your return before the court until you feel better and have something to wear. I bid you a restful night." With that, he smiled kindly at Ostopher, then left the chamber.
Aragorn had intended to rejoin his wife as quickly as possible, but when he passed the door leading to Faramir's apartments he decided that if he and Faramir were to work together in the harmony and friendship that he desired, he ought to tell his Steward what fate he had determined for Ostopher.
A servant led him to Faramir's study. Although it was well past suppertime, the weary looking Steward was seated at his desk studying a scroll. He jumped to his feet when the King entered.
"There is no need to rise," said Aragorn. "I came to tell you that I have found a way to show clemency to young Ostopher. I mean to exile him to the North for the rest of his days. The case seemed to be similar to that of Beregond."
Faramir's tired eyes lit up. "Your justice combined with mercy does you great credit, my lord," he said. "You have found a most reasonable solution to difficult circumstances, which gladdens my heart."
"You are worn-out, Faramir," said Aragorn. "Do not work too hard. Remember, I should like you to dine with the Queen and I one night."
"You will wish to be alone with your bride, sire," Faramir replied, looking uncomfortable. "I would not intrude."
"Happiness is to be shared," said Aragorn. "I might rule here rather than you, but I would not have you feel excluded. I value your counsel highly. Today, your insights have been of great value in deciding this difficult case."
"Thank you, sire." Faramir coloured slightly.
"Goodnight then," said Aragorn patting Faramir on the shoulder and wondering how long it would take before the Steward would be at ease with his new lord.
Several days later Ostopher was again taken to court and sentenced to a lifetime of exile in the North for escaping from prison and killing Maglor. At the same time, he was formally exonerated of the attack on Findegil. Ostopher was forbidden on pain of death to ever enter Gondor again without the express permission of the King. Some of the people were outraged that he had escaped death for killing a Citadel Guard, while others were convinced that leaving Gondor was a far worse fate than the hangman's noose! Aragorn took no chances and the young man was kept closely guarded.
Ioreth went to visit Melian again when her father was in his shop, both to tell her of Ostopher's fate, and to see if the young woman was starting to heal in mind and body. The elderly Healer found her patient somewhat wearied by women's courses, which did at least fully reassure the young woman that she could not be carrying Maglor's child. The bruises on Melian's body were fading. Her soul would, alas, take far longer to heal.
One day, early in August, Ostopher, flanked by two Guards, was taking his daily walk in the garden when a young woman approached him hesitantly. She looked pale, thin and drawn, but to Ostopher's eyes she was the fairest lady that walked the earth. "Melian!" he cried.
"You may withdraw to give them some privacy," Aragorn ordered the Guards. Together with his Queen; he had contrived to be present at this meeting. The Guards retreated, as did the King and Queen, to some distance away.
Ostopher and Melian approached each other rather tentatively. She hung her head and froze when he approached her. With a loving reverence Ostopher kissed her tenderly on the brow. A moment later, he was holding her in a loving embrace, as tenderly as one might hold a child.
"I think she will eventually heal with his help, though it may take a long time," said Aragorn.
"Maybe I can help the poor girl with some of the Elven arts to soothe and cleanse mind and body that my father taught me?" said Arwen. "I have heard mortals are usually more resilient than the Eldar to such an ordeal as Melian has endured, but mortal woman do, I think, still suffer a great deal."
"At least they have one another," said Aragorn as the young couple approached them. "I believe he will show her the patience and kindness that she needs to heal."
"My lord, my lady, Melian still wishes to become my wife!" Ostopher said joyously. "Her father has consented, though he refuses her a dowry, but we will somehow manage. I can work hard. Her two youngest sisters are coming north with us as there is no one else to care for them and they will keep her company while I am working."
"I would be happy to join you both in wedlock," said Aragorn.
Ostopher beamed, while Melian simply curtsied shyly.
Three weeks later, at first light on the day they were due to depart, Aragorn joined Ostopher and Melian in wedlock beneath the White Tree. At such an early hour, there were no passers by. Only those who wished to witness the simple ceremony were clustered around the sapling. Melian's sisters were all present, though not her father. The only other guests were Arwen, Faramir and Ioreth. Melian wore a a simple gown of blue linen adorned with exquisite silver and white embroidery, a gift from the Queen, who had befriended her.
"We shall forever be grateful to you for your kindness, sire," Ostopher told Aragorn after the ceremony was concluded.
"I am glad that I trusted my heart and decided to find out the truth about you," said Aragorn regarding the young couple fondly. In truth, he owed Ostopher the necessary, if uncomfortable knowledge, that the immediate application of the law did not always deliver justice, especially to the ordinary people. As King, Aragorn could influence Courts and Council to widen the scope of the existing laws to address circumstances such as that of Ostopher, where a man killed in defence of an endangered innocent.
"May we write to you?" Ostopher asked rather shyly.
"The Queen and I would like that very much," said Aragorn.
"There is something in my room I have made as a gift, which I hope you will accept, sire," Ostopher continued. "I hope you will like it."
"I am certain I shall," Aragorn said tactfully, expecting something like a wooden practise sword of which he already had far too many. Now farewell, and go with my blessing!" He stooped and kissed Ostopher on the brow, while Arwen kissed Melian.
"May Elbereth light your journey!" said Arwen.
Aragorn was kept occupied with royal duties throughout the rest of the day. As usual, he shifted uncomfortably on Denethor's hideous chair. He was still working late that afternoon on plans for rebuilding the City, when a servant knocked on the door. "The Guard from the detention chamber found this with a note for you, my lord," the man said.
"Let him enter!" said Aragorn.
The Guard entered carrying a chair. He put it down beside the King's desk, bowed and left.
Aragorn studied the item of furniture. It was beautifully made of polished wood, the arms adorned with carvings of the White Tree. Pushing Denethor's chair aside, he sat down in the new one. It was very comfortable, obviously the work of a master craftsman.
Aragorn sighed contentedly. Deciding the work could wait a little longer; he went in search of his Queen to show her his new treasure. As for Denethor's chair, unless Faramir wanted it, it would make good firewood for the coming winter.
A/N This story is an expanded version of two prompts written for the AA Group, "Uniform" and "Picture." A very big thank you to everyone who has reviewed.
Chapter 29 of "A Time To Reap" is now available on this site. I am also reposting "Shadow and Thought", which follows this story in chronological order.
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