Part of the Undying Friendship Series
Written for The Tolkien Tango Prompt #34: Beggar
By Nieriel Raina
22 F.A., Minas Tirith, Gondor
Barsador sat on his mat, a broken half-figure of what he used to be. The crowd cheered, their calls ringing out around him. "He touched me," a woman's voice carried over the masses.
Barsador knew the king would not touch him, not look at him. Elessar would pass him by unseen. It was impossible to get closer, he could no longer push his way through the crowds as he once did in service to his lord. Now he sat on his mat, blocked from view as his view was blocked. Once he had been a mighty man, a soldier in the King's Guard just like the men leading today's procession through the city — but no more. Injured during a campaign against marauding Dunlendings in an uprising two years ago, Barsador's life had forever changed.
He had been forgotten by his fellow soldiers and unable to stand — even crutches proved impossible to maneuver with both his legs so damaged — Barsador had been reduced to begging in order to provide any support for his family. His useless legs —withered and frail — caused most to overlook him. As a beggar, he was despised by the common people, and had become a burden to his family. He should have died that day.
The cheers increased in volume. The people crowded closer together. He fought to keep his eyes on the stone before him. There would be no help for him today — no compassion shown. In the excitement of the King's visit to the market, Barsador would be given little in the way of alms, and that meant less to give his wife to buy food for their children.
His eyes strayed upwards towards the cheering. People scuffed by, bumping and crowding him. He pushed back. His arms were still strong — strong enough to maneuver him around his home, dragging his legs behind him. But there were so many people! A foot overturned the small clay pot holding the few coins that had been thrown his way that day. They scattered, ringing over stone as they rolled under many trampling feet.
"NO!" he cried, stretching out his hands to recover those coins he could reach. "Give them back!" Feet stomped on his fingers, and he pulled them back, gripping only two coins tight in one fist. He could only watch as eager hands picked up the rest of his meager earnings. No one returned any of it to him.
His fist clenched tighter around the metal in his hand. Two coins. Just two! His children would go hungry this day.
Over the cheers, a forceful voice cried out. "Make way! Make way for the king!" Barsador dropped his eyes. He had no wish to see hope pass him by.
Strangely, the crowd began to quiet as cheers turned to hushed whispers. The noise near him faded, but he had no reason to look up. Tears ran down his cheeks, and he held his coins to his chest. No one would take these from him! They would have to kill him first!
A hand gripped his shoulder, and at first he jerked back. "NO! Leave me!" The hand dropped, and a gentle voice spoke. "I know you." The sound was deep and cultured and familiar. Barsador looked up into steel-grey eyes and gasped. Elessar stooped before him, concern and recognition clear in his expression.
"M'lord?" How could the king know him – show him, a crippled wreck of a man any regard? He had served in the guard, true, but never close to the king or his family.
"I remember not your name," the king continued, "but I never forget a face. You served in my guard, did you not?" The king's gaze drifted to Barsador lame legs.
Barsador squirmed uncomfortably. He had no wish for pity. What little pride he had left, he drew around him like a cloak and forced himself to hold his head high and look the king in the eye. "My name is Barsador, m'lord. I served five years." He swallowed hard, his gaze and pride faltering. "Until I was no longer able."
Barsador nodded. "Aye."
Elessar frowned, sweeping him with a knowing gaze that alarmed Barsador. The king was displeased with him! He lowered his eyes. What else could he do? He could not walk, could not stand. There was little work for one such as him. He knew no trade, and none had been willing to teach a lame man. Apprentices were younger and could carry their wares to the market. He could not.
"And what do you do now?"
Barsador looked up, startled. Was it not obvious? "The only thing I can to provide for my family," he answered in a hoarse voice, rough with his emotion. His fingers loosened over the two coins cradled against his chest. "It's not much," he admitted, his tongue seeming to loosen with the king's regard. "But there's not much else I can do. I tried to learn a trade, but none would take me."
Elessar cocked his head, a small smile tipping his lips upwards. He squeezed Barsador arms, feeling the muscle there. "You are still strong," the king noted.
"Aye, I still use my arms as I can, but I can't stand. No one wants a lame apprentice! What else can I do?" Hopelessness filled him. Not even the king could heal his broken body.
Elessar sat back on his heels, one hand coming up to rub his bearded face. He looked deep in thought. "How many in your family?" he asked after a few moments.
"Four, m'lord. Myself, my wife and two girls – one six and one eight." Why would the king want to know about his family? Was it possible he might give him some coins? Provide some assistance? Hope stirred in his chest, but he fought it. Even if Elessar had not passed him by, kings did not involve themselves in the lives of every day men.
"Can you read and write?"
Barsador bit his lip. For the first time in his life he found himself grateful for the fact his father — a merchant — had forced him to learn the art so he might help in the shop. "Yes, but not so well…" It would not be enough, he knew. Shop keepers did not read much; most of what he knew had to do with the sale of goods and keeping track of the inventory.
"Are you willing to learn?" the king asked, raising a brow.
The look encouraged him. "Aye, I'd learn, if someone could teach me…" His speech faltered as he realized what he was saying. What was he thinking? Of course the king knew those who were educated, those able to teach! The question, however, was why would a king help a man brought so low?
Elessar smiled. "Oh, I know someone who could teach you. In fact, she has need of someone to help entertain a busy little boy. What of your wife? Would she wish work? She could bring your girls, of course. The youngster I am thinking of could use some playmates near his age." The king's smile turned to a grin. He seemed to be fond of the boy of which he spoke.
Barsador could not help but smile back. "My wife loves children, m'lord! I know she'd be willing. She'd asked around about such work before, but most people, well, they care for their own houses and children."
Elessar nodded. "I understand. But there are some who have other duties and need a hand from time to time. Your wife, if she is willing and it meets with everyone's approval, could be of much service to this family I speak of. It would require you move to the Citadel, however. The job comes with private rooms, you see."
Barsador's eyes widened. Live? In the Citadel? Near the king and all those lords and ladies? He gulped. "Th-that'd be mighty generous, m'lord."
"We shall give it a try then. We shall let your wife and daughters meet the boy, and see how it goes." He turned and looked up at a man behind him. "Lord Steward, will you see this man safely home, and have his family brought before the Queen."
Barsador gasped, his jaw dropping. His head shook of its own accord. Elessar glanced back at him with a sheepish grin. "You see, the boy I speak of? He is my son." He turned back to the Steward, who nodded.
"It will be done as you say, my lord."
Giving Barsador another squeeze on the shoulder, Elessar stood. "Very well. My lady wife will see you learn to read and write well. Then you will be able to help the captains. They could use a secretary to free some of their time, but the right person has not come along until today." He winked. "I look forward to meeting your girls. I hope they will teach Eldarion a thing or two."
With that, the king was swept back into the throng, leaving Barsador gaping after him. He glanced up as fine boots came into view, and found the Steward looking down on him with a compassionate smile.
"Was it a dream?" Barsador asked in awe. Surely it had not happened? Kings did not note the crippled and destitute, did they?
"Perhaps," Lord Faramir answered, bending at the knees to look him in the eye. "But sometimes dreams come true." He motioned to a couple soldiers to come help take Barsador home. And as they lifted him, it seemed as if a great weight fell from Barsador's shoulders.
Perhaps there was reason yet to hope.