Mask of Virtue

Tree and Flower Awards, Aragorn, Honorable Mention
Tree and Flower Awards Nominee


Mask of Virtue.

The characters are the property of the Tolkien Estate.

Warning - This story is rated PG13 and not suitable for young children.

With thanks to Deandra and Raksha.

Chapter one - Clothes maketh man

Aragorn sighed deeply,shifting in his uncomfortable 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 that 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 a 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.

Don't judge a book by its cover.

The next morning the citizens of Minas Tirith were still talking about the dangerous criminal who had posed as a Guard in the Court of the Fountain. The people were also discussing the new ruling that the Guards must have their faces uncovered. Opinion was strongly divided whether it was a good idea or not.

Aragorn had slept badly. He felt strangely troubled by the haunted look in the young criminal’s eyes. Whatever had driven the man to take such desperate measures? Ostopher seemed to have such an open and honest face.

During Aragorn’s years of service as Thorongil, he had encountered men who had received letters breaking off a betrothal. Many a maiden had grown weary of waiting for her lover to return from fighting and chosen another, but none of the men had reacted like Ostopher. Aragorn had seen men under his command weep and rage against the perceived fickleness of the gentler sex, but not one had deserted.

Although Aragorn could ill spare the time from his other duties, he decided to try Ostopher’s case himself rather than leave it to the magistrates. Maglor had died during the night without regaining consciousness. Ostopher was now charged with two capital offences: the attack on a Citadel guard and his murder, along with the lesser crimes of assaulting prison warders and escaping from his prison cell. Since he would have to sign the warrant for the young man’s execution, Aragorn desired to learn what had made him commit such dreadful crimes.

Aragorn summoned Faramir and asked him about Ostopher’s original crime. The Steward soon returned with a scroll detailing the trial. It seemed that a wealthy jewel merchant in the second level had been attacked and left unconscious. Some precious stones from his shop had been found in Ostopher’s house, thereby proving the man’s guilt.

“What made the attack even more shocking,” Faramir added, “was that rumour had it the criminal was courting his victim’s daughter. He knew the family well and often dined with them. It was a cruel betrayal of the worst kind.”

“Had Ostopher committed any previous crimes?” Aragorn asked.

Faramir shook his head. ”No, at least none that were ever discovered. The young man was said to be a hard working carpenter who was skilled at his trade. One of my Rangers knew him. He had made some furniture for his mother who was highly impressed by the quality of the workmanship. He was making a good living and had no need to steal. Alas, when greed enters a man’s heart, it destroys him!” Faramir said sadly.

“Alas, indeed,” Aragorn replied, suspecting Faramir was referring to his brother as well as to Ostopher. "Greed has destroyed far better men than this young fool I am trying today. May his fate be a lesson for others! I would have you accompany me while I judge the trial. You have the Númenorean ability to see into human hearts, and I would value your insights.”

“Certainly, my lord,” Faramir replied.

The Great Hall was packed with interested spectators when Aragorn and Faramir took their places.

When Ostopher was brought in the crowd booed and jeered. Minas Tirith respected her Citadel Guards and the murder of one was seen as an affront to every honest citizen. Ostopher walked stiffly as if in pain, his head bowed. He raised his head and stared at his accuser with a sad grey gaze when Aragorn addressed the crowd telling them what the prisoner was to be tried for. To the King’s horrified astonishment, a spark of what could only be described as joy seemed to glitter in Ostopher’s eyes when he learned he was charged with murder. Aragorn exchanged a glance with Faramir. He nodded. The Steward had seen it too.

 The King listened carefully as the first witness, the chief warder at the prison, was called to give his evidence.

“I gave Ostopher a letter the morning he escaped,” said the man, slurring his speech slightly as if drunk. “He read it and went berserk, attacking me and the other guards. We were lucky to escape with our lives, we was!”

“What injuries did you and your comrades sustain?” Aragorn enquired.

“Er, a black eye and a cut lip, I think, my lord,” said the warder.” I can’t quite recall.”

Aragorn raised his eyebrows and curtly dismissed the man.

The next witness, a soldier’s widow, described how she had discovered Maglor lying in the alleyway. “ I was very shocked, my lord,” she said. “To see him lying by his doorway wearing only his drawers! It wasn’t proper at all! I’ve never seen such a thing in the City before. Lord Denethor would never have allowed it! Folks were always dressed proper in his day! It was such a shock what with Sergeant Maglor being a respectable Citadel Guard and all!”

Aragorn, who had been struggling to keep his attention during this rambling account, suddenly pricked up his ears.

“Did you recognise the man as Sergeant Maglor, Mistress?” he enquired. “The soldiers who reported the matter to me had no idea who the victim was.”

“Well, they never asked me or I could have told them!” said the woman. “Maglor was my neighbour for well nigh on twenty years. He was a quiet enough neighbour but too given to fancies if you get my meaning, my lord.”

“Perhaps you could explain?” Aragorn coaxed her.

"Bravest in his troop he was, leastways according to him, my lord," said the woman. “But we know all soldiers are brave, don’t we? My husband, may he rest in peace, most certainly was. Then the past year or two he has been telling me he was getting married, but I never seen any young lady with him!”

Seeing she would ramble on all day in this wise, if not stopped, Aragorn thanked her and politely but firmly dismissed her.

The crowd muttered amongst themselves agreeing the Lord Denethor would never have allowed such goings on. Men attacked in the street wearing only their drawers! Whatever was the world coming to?

Ostopher was then brought forward, his hands and feet secured by heavy manacles. 

The crowd murmured angrily and shook their fists at the young man.

Aragorn studied the prisoner closely. He was a tall, obviously of Númenorean descent with the carven features and dark hair typical of his people. He faced Aragorn calmly, a resigned expression on his face, in stark contrast to his agitation of the day before.

“Ostopher son of Cirondil, “ Aragorn began sternly. “You are charged with escaping from prison and the murder of Maglor, a Citadel Guard. You are further charged with the theft of his clothing, then of impersonating him and resisting arrest. You stand before me facing death. What do you have to say for yourself?”

“I was sent to prison for a crime I did not commit,” Ostopher said firmly, looking Aragorn in the eye and not flinching when the King returned his gaze. “I admit that I fled the prison for reasons I prefer not to disclose. I struck Maglor twice, once in anger, the second time in self-defence when he set upon me. I did not intend to kill him, though I regret his death not at all! “

“Explain yourself!” ordered Aragorn.

“I would rather hang than have the honour of someone I hold dear besmirched,” said Ostopher.

“I have ordered you to explain your actions,” Aragorn said sharply. “I am offering you a fair trial and the opportunity to speak in your defence. Do you not understand?”

“I can say nothing more,” Ostopher replied. “I willingly accept whatever fate you decree for me.”

“That scoundrel ruined both me and my daughter!” cried an irate voice from the back.

“Let the man come forward to speak!” Aragorn demanded. ”What is your name?”

An old man came forward. He pointed an accusing finger at Ostopher. “I am Findegil, son of Caranthir,” said the greybeard in reply to Aragorn’s question. “That scoundrel there wormed his way into my household, saying he wanted to marry my daughter. My wife, may she rest in peace, left me with six daughters to provide for. The eldest is of marriageable age and I am eager to see her settled with a man of her choosing. She told me last year that she wanted to marry that good for nothing, who now stands before you, my lord. He seemed a decent enough fellow and earned a good living as a carpenter. Never was I more deceived in a man than I was in him! One day, when I was alone in my shop, Ostopher crept up behind me and hit me over the head and stole some of my most valuable jewels. I was certain the thief was someone who knew that I was working late that night. I usually leave well before the evening meal and take my most valuable merchandise home with me. The Guards searched the houses of my acquaintances and found the jewels in Ostopher’s home, so there was no doubt he was guilty. Not that my foolish daughter would believe it! She even refused to break off her betrothal until a few days ago. I was delighted when she suddenly announced she would marry Maglor, who was an old family friend. Now this villain here has gone and murdered him and I have to find another husband for the girl! May you only be blessed with sons, my lord! The sooner you hang that Ostopher, the better!”

“I never harmed you, sir,” Ostopher interrupted.

“Be silent!” Aragorn admonished sternly. He sighed inwardly. It seemed the reason for Ostopher’s misdeeds was all too clear now. ”I have one question for you, Master Findegil,” he said. “Did you clearly see Ostopher’s face when he attacked you?"

“No, my lord,” Findegil replied. “I was bending over my workbench engrossed in fashioning a necklace for a merchant’s wife. He wanted their family crest set in diamonds to mark forty years of marriage to his lady. I awoke in the Houses of Healing. A curse on the young villain!”

Aragorn dismissed the man. A grim picture was gradually starting to form in his mind. It seemed that Ostopher was indeed as wicked as the evidence suggested. And yet…he sensed no evil in Ostopher’s presence despite the overwhelming evidence.

Just then the noon bells rang. Aragorn ordered the court to adjourn for the midday meal, after which he would sentence the young man to death. The thought repelled him. Why should this be? He was King and it was his duty to rid his lands of evildoers such as Ostopher. Justice in the North had been a very different matter. As Chieftain, Aragorn was responsible for judging wrongdoers, but serious crime was very rare amongst the Northern Dúnedain. They were too preoccupied eking out a meagre living and keeping Orcs at bay to turn upon one another.

Aragorn felt he needed air. Instead of joining Arwen as he usually did, he took a walk in the gardens.

He came across his Steward seated upon a bench. Faramir leapt to his feet.

“My lord, I am sorry, I did not see you approaching,” said Faramir.

“There is nothing to apologise for,” said Aragorn. ”Come sit beside me, I would hear how you perceive Ostopher?”

“My heart does not sense that he is as an evil man, nor a liar,” said Faramir. “Yet it seems clear enough that he murdered Maglor because he planned to marry Master Findegil’s daughter. Or is there more to this matter than meets the eye? Do we see the entire picture since Ostopher will offer no explanation.”

"Maybe he is protecting someone?" Aragorn mused.

“I would rather face death than have my lady’s honour besmirched,” said Faramir.

“As indeed would I,” Aragorn replied gravely. “However, since we know nothing of any threat to a lady’s virtue, I must pronounce the death sentence within the hour. Maybe I was deceived by Ostopher’s appearance? A king cannot be influenced by an innocent seeming face, or let an evildoer escape because he has an air of Númenor about him.”

The two men sat lost in thought for a few moments.

“Sire,” said Faramir, struck by a sudden flash of inspiration. ”If Ostopher was indeed set upon by Maglor, would he not bear some marks of violence upon his body to prove it? Could you not ask a healer to examine him? The law states that all possible methods may be used to uncover evidence when a capital crime has been committed.”

Aragorn smiled and clapped his Steward on the shoulder. ”Well spoken, Faramir! I will examine Ostopher myself for any injuries sustained in a fight. I can, perhaps, also persuade him to reveal what secrets he is hiding. I know many Elven calming arts that can make a man reveal the secrets of his heart.”

Too well did Faramir remember Aragorn's Elvish healing arts. He flushed with shame to recall how he had wept and revealed his pain and grief when the King had treated him with them. How weak he must have appeared in the eyes of his lord! He vowed inwardly it must never happen again.

Aragorn was so focused on the planned course of action with Ostopher, that he failed to notice his Steward's discomfiture.  Faramir made no comment as King and Steward rose from the bench together and returned indoors. Aragorn despatched a messenger to order the Guards to bring Ostopher to his study. He was determined to learn the whole truth if only for his own peace of mind. As Gandalf had been fond of telling him, death should not be dealt out lightly.

About half an hour later, Aragorn, having collected his healing supplies, was awaiting Ostopher’s arrival in his study. Faramir was with him, sitting unobtrusively in a corner, pretending to be engrossed in a scroll. “Enter!” he called when the expected knock came on the door.

Four burly Guards escorted the still shackled prisoner into the room.

“Remove the wrist manacles, then wait outside,” the King ordered.

“But, my lord!” one of the men protested. “He is dangerous and violent. We cannot leave you with such a man!!”

“You can and you will!” Aragorn replied sternly. “How can I examine him if his wrists are bound? I assume he has been thoroughly searched and relieved of any weapons? I wish you to wait outside the door until I summon you.”

“I would not harm my lord king!” Ostopher said indignantly. “You have my word upon it.”

The Guards reluctantly obeyed the King’s command. Aragorn and Faramir were left alone with Ostopher.

 Chapter Two - Blood will out.

“Sit down.” Aragorn gestured Ostopher towards the couch. ”I have some questions for you. He sat beside the young man and gripped both his hands, observing the red wheals left by the manacles on his wrists and his somewhat laboured breathing. The boy appeared to be in considerable pain. At close quarters he could see the dark circles under his eyes. Ostopher was still wearing Maglor’s clothes and was much in need of a bath. He noted the racing pulse, hardly surprising given the circumstances. “Have you close kindred?” Aragorn enquired to put the lad more at ease.

“No, my lord. My mother died giving birth to me and my father was killed a few years ago when a house he was working on collapsed.”

“How old are you?”

“I will, I mean would have been twenty three come Mettarë.”

Aragorn groaned inwardly. The lad was even younger than he thought. “Did you attack and rob the jeweller?” he asked suddenly.

“No, my lord, I did not.” There was no alteration in Ostopher’s pulse rate. “I would not harm a defenceless old man!”

“Have you been harmed in prison either when you escaped or after you were recaptured?”

“No, my lord. I was not beaten. Until I ran away the warders treated me fairly. There was one I feared, but no one laid a finger upon me. They…” Again the pulse rate remained steady. Ostopher hesitated and cast a longing eye upon the pitcher of water Aragorn kept upon his desk.

“You are thirsty?”

“Yes, my lord.”

Aragorn gestured to Faramir to fill a glass with water for the prisoner. It seemed the warders had found a way to punish the runaway without directly contravening Aragorn’s orders.

Ostopher thirstily drained the glass. ”Thank you, my lords,” he said gratefully.

Faramir retook his seat in the corner, his eyes never leaving Ostopher lest he try to attack the King.

“You are a carpenter?” Aragorn continued.

Ostopher’s eyes lit up. “Yes, my lord, as was my father before me and all my longfathers. It is said that the ship’s carpenter who sailed with Elendil was one of my ancestors. I was said to be good at my craft, my lord, and took pride in my work.”

Aragorn nodded; glad to have satisfied his curiosity as to the young man’s ancestry. Elendil had brought refugees from all walks of life with him, but nowadays it was rare to find such obvious Númenorean ancestry in other than the noble houses of Gondor. He shifted his position on the chair he had inherited from Denethor. “Did you make this chair?” he asked suddenly.

“Certainly not!” Ostopher replied indignantly. “It is a most ill designed piece of furniture. A chair should be comfortable as well as functional. Any good carpenter would tell you that!”

Aragorn smiled wryly. Rising to his feet, he laid his hand on Ostopher’s brow and concentrated trying to sense the essence of the young man’s soul. He sensed pain, anguish and fear beneath the outwardly calm exterior. There was guilt there too and rage as well as a strong will, but no trace of evil. The enigma remained why he should have committed such atrocious crimes.

“What happened when you attacked Maglor?” Aragorn demanded.

“I struck him. He struck me. I lashed out to defend myself. He fell and struck his head. I have said all that I desire to on the matter in open court, my lord.”

“Undress now, please,” said Aragorn sternly. “I am determined to learn the truth from you and the law permits me to use any means I find fit. as your tongue will not reveal the truth, maybe your body will!” He was deliberately harsh, offering neither a blanket nor reassurance like he usually would to a patient in more conventional circumstances. So far the only additional information he had gained was an account of how Maglor had struck his head, if indeed Ostopher was speaking the truth.

Ostopher’s eyes widened with unspoken terror. He hesitantly fingered the laces of his shirt.

“Do as you are bidden unless you would prefer I call the Guards back in?” Aragorn’s tone was like ice.

Ostopher reluctantly complied, albeit with typical Gondorian reticence. He removed his belt then drew his tunic and shirt over his head with some difficulty. Faramir collected the garments and placed them at the far side of the room. Ostopher sat huddled miserably.

“Put your arms by your sides and sit up straight!” the King ordered him.

Aragorn had expected to uncover some injuries but was shocked at the severity of the bruises now revealed. It was immediately apparent, even to the most untrained eye that the man had been in a fight. Ostopher had  huge spreading bruises across his chest and left side. Smaller bruises disfigured his upper arms. Somewhat shockingly, another vast bruise covered most of his belly. Punching a man below the belt was regarded a highly dishonourable way to conduct a fistfight.

Aragorn gripped Ostopher’s hands again. “Did Maglor do this to you?” he enquired.

“Yes, my lord,” Ostopher replied. “All save the bruises on my arms. I acquired those while being returned to prison.”

“Why did you fight with Maglor?” Aragorn demanded again.

“I cannot say, my lord,” Ostopher replied stubbornly.

Aragorn cheerfully could have shaken the stubborn young man. He remained impassive, saying nothing. Instead, he deftly examined the injuries. Ostopher gave a cry of pain when his side was touched.

“It amazes me that you are still standing,” Aragorn informed him.

“I had to,” Ostopher said simply. “I willed myself not to feel the pain while I was trying to escape.”

“You have at least one cracked rib. He pressed his ear to the young man’s chest. “Your lungs are sound but somewhat congested because it pains you to breathe as deeply as you should.”

Aragorn was faced with a dilemma. It was highly disconcerting to treat a man whose death warrant he was due to sign. Minus his clothing, Ostopher looked younger than ever, somewhat resembling a colt with his long gangling limbs. He had the broad shoulders and lean build of a true son of Númenor. Most likely he had been well muscled before his imprisonment. Such a young man would have been of great value in rebuilding the City, had he not turned to crime. Aragorn had a sudden flash of inspiration. He would use athelas to treat Ostopher’s bruises. The herb would relieve the pain and have a calming effect, which might make the boy more willing to talk, when combined with some Elven arts.

"Lord Faramir, please ask that boiling water be brought,” said Aragorn.

Faramir went to the door and spoke to the Guards outside. Ostopher looked more terrified than ever. His thin body trembled.

Aragorn left him thus for a few moments hoping that he might speak. He did not. The King had rarely encountered such stubborn resistance from a captive before. Most were quickly persuaded to talk by his natural air of authority. Ostopher was proving the exception. Aragorn felt a grudging admiration for him. His natural compassion prevailed. “Put this round you while we wait,” he said, picking up the blanket he kept with his healing supplies. “There is nothing to fear, “ the King added in a more kindly tone. “I have never put a man to torment and have no intention of starting with you. Torture would bring me down to the level of the Dark Lord and his minions. I seek only to ease your pain not to cause any. I have been a Healer far longer than I have been a King. “

Ostopher thankfully pulled the blanket round his shoulders. His tense posture and ragged breathing suggested he was unconvinced by the King’s words.

A few moments of uncomfortable silence elapsed before a servant tapped on the door and handed a bowl of steaming water to Faramir. The Steward placed it on a table beside the King. Aragorn rummaged amongst his healing supplies and took two leaves of athelas, which he first breathed upon, then crumbled and cast into the boiling water. “Breath the vapours as deeply as you can,” the King instructed. He took a cloth and dipped it in the bowl. Ostopher recoiled in fear.

“Easy, lad,” Aragorn said softly. "I did this for the Ringbearer when he suffered similar injuries.”

”But he was a great hero while I am your prisoner!” Ostopher protested.

“You are both under my protection,” said Aragorn. He started to bathe Ostopher’s bruises with the athelas mixture.

Soon the young man’s breathing eased. He sighed and became calmer as a living fragrance filled the air. It was the bittersweet tang of salty air combined with roses and rue. Faramir, who had returned to perusing a scroll, gave an audible sign of contentment. The King gently dried the hurts then returned Ostopher’s belt to him. The young man thankfully secured it around his waist.

“I shall ease the congestion in your lungs before I allow you to don your shirt,” Aragorn told the young man. “It is an Elvish treatment, which is quite painless and pleasant to experience.”

“Why are you doing this, my lord?” Ostopher asked in bewilderment. “I shall die soon.”

“I would not have you suffer needlessly,” said Aragorn. “Have you not heard the Hands of the King are the hands of a Healer? “He applied light pressure with his fingertips to Ostopher’s chest and back. The boy visibly relaxed under his healing touch.

“I have heard the stories, my lord, and now I know they are true!” Ostopher’s tone was full of awe. He looked at Aragorn with something approaching worship in his eyes.

The King groaned inwardly. The thought of signing this young man’s death warrant was becoming ever more repulsive to him. A lad like this should be at the beginning of his adult life, wooing a lass and looking forward to marriage and fatherhood, not preparing to die!

“I still do not understand,” Ostopher continued.

“There is no need to. Just be easy,” Aragorn said in a soothing tone. His hands moved to the back of Ostopher’s neck, which he gently massaged using a calming art that Master Elrond had taught him. Aragorn felt the remaining tension ebb away from Ostopher’s muscles and the young man’s shoulders go limp beneath his hands as he started to breathe deeply and evenly beneath his healing touch. Ostopher’s eyes were closed as if he were on the verge of sleep.

“Dead men can tell no tales. Tell me now what truly troubles your heart,” Aragorn said softly.

“I can die content now my beloved is safe from Maglor,” Ostopher said dreamily, more to himself than Aragorn.

“But will the lady live content?” Aragorn enquired softly.

"It grieves my heart bitterly to leave her, but I have no choice,” said Ostopher. ”I could not protect her, so I deserve my fate though she does not!”

Aragorn said nothing for a few moments but simply continued his ministrations. ”Perhaps you would let me be the judge of that?” Aragorn said quietly. He turned to face Ostopher fixing him with a kindly but compelling gaze. He was starting to understand what had happened but needed to hear the whole story from Ostopher’s lips. “You speak of Master Findegil’s daughter do you not? What is her name?”

“Melian," Ostopher said dreamily. “She is the fairest lady that ever lived! We should have been wed by now!”

“What did Maglor do to her?” Aragorn demanded quietly yet firmly.” I would know the whole truth!” He had used every art he knew to loosen Ostopher’s tongue. If he did not speak now all his efforts would be in vain.

Chapter Three - 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 Maiar, 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.

 Chapter Four - 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.

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.

“There are hotheads who 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 tempered 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 the next month, 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.

The End


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