Disgrace to Gondor
With thanks to Raksha and Virtuella.
Summary: Even when the battle is over, there is no respite for old soldiers.
Disclaimer: The characters are the property of the Tolkien Estate. This story is written purely for entertainment and not to make money.
Every day whatever the weather, the beggars lined the route to the market place. Most people simply bustled past averting their eyes, a few shouted abuse, other more generous souls threw a few coins into the bowls the men held out.
These men had once been Gondor's finest, brave soldiers who fought the Easterlings, Southrons and Orcs that constantly assailed the Men of the West and had been left permanently maimed in body or in mind. Few liked to contemplate that a similar fate might befall their husbands, sons, or brothers. These were the forgotten men; young men without close kin to care for them, and although many pitied them, few cared to note how many there were, sought to learn their stories, or even their names. Some of the beggars stared out of sightless eyes; some mumbled incoherently, while others tried to drown their sorrows with cheap wine.
Tonight a newcomer had joined their ranks. He was dressed in dirty, tattered garb with a hood that partly covered his face. One eye was missing and covered by a patch, he was also lacking in an arm, while the one that remained hung limply at his side.
"You are new here? Which battle were you wounded in?" his nearest neighbour enquired, a greybeard with only one leg. "I am Daeron and Orcs took my leg from me."
"I am called Barahir," said the newcomer. "I fought against the Haradrim in Ithilien."
"You are not of these parts," Daeron said suspiciously.
"I was born in the North," said Barahir. "I came to Gondor to seek my fortune in order to marry the woman I loved, but what woman would look at me now?"
"None with eyes to behold you!" Daeron snorted. "I would counsel you to have a care, Barahir, many of our number have vanished, never to be seen again."
"Maybe fair maidens have spirited them away?" jested another of the beggars, a lad barely old enough to be termed a man, whose face was badly scarred and was lacking a hand.
"Some chance!" retorted Daeron. "Even a whore wants paying double to look upon us with favour. They forget that although we are lacking a leg or an arm, we are still men!"
"I heard cries one night," said the lad.
"Cries of alarm rather pleasure, I'd wager," said Daeron. "Some reward we get, offering our lives and paying with our limbs to serve Gondor. Yes, have a care, stranger. We earn sufficient on market days to buy a meal and a bed for the night, but other days we are often unlucky and have to sleep out of doors."
Just then a woman passed by and threw a few coins into Barahir's bowl.
"They like a new face." Daeron sounded resentful.
"I will share what I earn with you," Barahir offered.
"I can see you are wet behind the ears, man!" Daeron snorted. "It is each man for himself here."
The market traders began to shout out what they had for sale that day and little more was said as the beggars strived to attract the eye of kindly passers by. Soon the market place became crowded and the beggars' bowls began to fill with small coins.
A plump well-dressed woman approached with a maidservant in attendance.
"Spare a coin for a poor soldier!" cried Daeron rattling his bowl.
"You should be ashamed of yourself!" said the woman. "Do you not know that the good ladies of this City run a refuge for such as you? You ought to be there, not pestering honest folk as they go about their business."
"Huh" snorted Daeron. "A fine shelter it is too, with more rules than the army and watered down beer! I would prefer the City gaol!" He cursed and spat in the dust.
The woman glared and continued on her way.
"The likes of her know nothing of men like us and our needs," Daeron told Barahir bitterly. He continued to curse under his breath until an old man threw a silver coin in his bowl, which considerably improved his mood.
"A good day," Daeron commented when the sun sank beneath the western horizon and the trader's had gone home for the night. "I've enough coin for a bed and a meal, and maybe a mug of ale too tonight. Are you coming, Barahir? There is usually room at The Guardsman."
"I would liefer sleep under the stars," Barahir replied.
"Please yourself," said the older man, "But don't say I didn't warn you if something comes for you in the night!"
"I think the Nameless One has some new weapon," said the lad, glancing around him fearfully.
"I doubt he would waste it on such as us!" said Barahir; wrapping his voluminous ragged cloak around himself as best he could with his near useless arm. By the time the moon rose overhead, the market place was deserted save for a handful of beggars sleeping in the meagre shelter provided by a labyrinth of twisting alleyways. The empty streets took on a vaguely sinister look in the dim light.
Barahir settled himself for the night. He could hear the rats scuttling nearby. In the distance a dog howled. One of his companions moaned in his sleep, in the grip of dark dreams. Then all went silent. It seemed that all of Minas Tirith slept.
Suddenly a tall figure emerged from the shadow of the alleyway. He tiptoed silently amongst the sleepers until he came to Barahir, who lay a little apart from the others. He stared at the bedraggled, one-eyed man for a moment then drew a dagger and aimed between the sleeping man's ribs.
Two strong arms reached up and seized the hand, which held the blade. It clattered to on to the stones.
The sleeping beggars awoke and cried out in alarm and confusion.
The assailant was then pinioned firmly to the ground "Turgon! Little did I expect the murderer to be one of my fellow captains!"
Turgon was too shocked to put up a fight. "Captain Thorongil! What are you doing here amongst the likes of these?"
Thorongil smiled grimly. "It is I who should pose that question."
"Listen to me, Thorongil," Turgon pleaded. "These men are a canker that rot at Gondor's heart! Every time a man passes them, they think that he could be thus maimed if he fights; every woman imagines her son or husband brought so low if he takes up weapons against the Nameless one. They must be removed ere they sap the spirits of our people any further and drive us all to despair!"
"Shame on you for your cruelty and for thinking the sons and daughters of Gondor so spineless!" Thorongil retorted.
"What is going on here?" demanded a Citadel Guard, one of several who had rushed to the scene of the commotion.
Thorongil released his grip sufficiently to throw back his hood. His grey eyes glittered in the moonlight. "Arrest this man for murder and attempted murder!" he commanded. "The Steward will judge him tomorrow."
"Whatever were you thinking of, Thorongil?" Ecthelion's voice was a mixture of concern and reproach. "You could have got yourself killed! Sit down and tell me all! Do you want a glass of wine?"
Thorongil, now bathed and dressed in his black and silver uniform, took a chair in the Steward's study. He stretched out his long legs in front of the fire and took the offered glass.
"I wore mail under my rags," Thorongil said calmly. "One of my men, Baranor, was troubled and confided his misgivings to me. An old comrade of his was badly wounded a few years back and was reduced to begging in the market place. Baranor used to visit him and give him what coin he could spare. One day he found him gone without trace. When Baranor enquired of the other beggars if they had any tidings of his friend, he discovered that many had recently gone missing. I feared that someone was killing them, and wondered if might be a soldier, as the assailant was obviously someone who knew how to kill swiftly and silently, though never did I imagine he might be a fellow Captain! I decided to disguise myself. It was simple enough to conceal my arm beneath my clothing and wear rags and an eye patch."
"Well keep your heroics to the battlefield in future, friend! I would not lose my best Captain to an assassin's knife." The Steward leaned over and clapped Thorongil on the shoulder.
"Did Turgon say where he put the bodies before he was hanged?"
"He threw them down a disused well that he knew of. The sad thing was that the fool thought he was serving Gondor by acting thus. He has been listening too much to Denethor's tales of our bygone days of glory, I fear. It grieves me that some of our former soldiers are reduced to begging, but what is there to be done? They refuse the shelter offered to them by our good merchants' wives and they are too damaged in mind and body to learn other trades. We can scare afford to pay our fighting men, now that we are assailed on all sides, never mind those unfortunates." Ecthelion sighed, his venerable countenance looked troubled.
"What if my men and I made a derelict house fit for them to use when we are not on duty?" Thorongil suggested. "They would at least then have somewhere safe to sleep at night, and come and go as they pleased without the rules of the refuge run by the charitable ladies. Maybe some of the market traders would provide food? Better that they give away their unsold wares than leave them for the rats to feast upon."
"As always, Thorongil, you give good counsel," said the elderly Steward. "It shall be done." He leaned back wearily in his seat. "Ah, I grow old. Sometimes I wish that the King would return and relieve me of my burdens. But then, I wish too that Barad-dûr were thrown down and the Dark Lord defeated. Still, maybe an old man is allowed his dreams. Until then, let us drink to that day!"
"To a happier future, peace, and the Return of the King!" Thorongil raised his glass, a faint enigmatic smile upon his lips.
A/n. Written for the February Teitho contest "Trading Places" where it was first placed.