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Disclaimer - These characters all belong to the estate of J.R.R. Tolkien. This story was written for pleasure and not for financial gain
And judgement is turned away backward, and justice standeth afar off: for truth is fallen in the street, and equity cannot enter.- Isaiah 59.14 – The Bible
With thanks to Raksha
At Faramir’s insistence, Aragorn sent two guards on ahead when they arrived at Linhir. After some debate the King and Steward had decided to first visit the troubled region, and then make their way along the coast, visiting the towns and villages until they reached Dol Amroth where they planned to spend a few days with Prince Imrahil before returning home.
The guards soon came back with a report that the tax rebels were to being punished that very day in the town square, but everything was under control as the Lord of Lamedon’s retainers were preventing any trouble.
“We will enter the town quietly,” said Aragorn. “I should like to see how young Lord Mardil keeps order.”
“Is that wise?” cautioned Faramir. ”I know the young man is loyal, but his late father’s supporters may be behind the disturbances. Maybe we should wait until later?”
“If there is trouble in my realm, I need to understand exactly what is wrong,” Aragorn insisted. "It is not as if our wives and children are with us. We are warriors who can protect ourselves."
Pulling their hoods around their faces, the small group rode into Linhir. The entire population appeared to be assembled before the pillory. A battered and bloodied man was being dragged to the side by two burly retainers, while two more dragged a young man, seemingly just come of age to take his place. The first man was roughly shoved onto a heap of rotten vegetables at the side.
A soldier beat a solemn roll on a drum and a man richly dressed in heavily embroidered brocade stepped forward. “Bring the second prisoner forward!” he cried. “Hador son of Valacar, you are charged with refusing to pay your taxes and your punishment is to stand for an hour in the pillory where you will be whipped with twenty five lashes while the good townsfolk may throw what they please at you!”
“The taxes ain’t fair!” the young man protested sullenly. ”Why should we toil all day, and then go hungry, all on account of some King that we don’t even know is real, or but a figment of old tales!”
“Prepare him!” said Brandir roughly. Two soldiers secured the boy in the pillory, while a third drew his dagger and cut the lad’s shirt from his back. A burly man brandishing a whip came forward, cracking it menacingly.
“That man cannot be Lord Mardil,” said Faramir. “Mardil is not yet one and twenty, while this man is at least fifty!”
“You must be a stranger to these parts,” said a man who had overheard the Steward’s remark. “Lord Mardil is away fighting on the borders of Harad. He has left his Steward, Brandir in charge in his place. Lord Mardil is a nice enough lad, but his steward...”He spat upon the ground.
Suddenly a woman appeared from amongst the crowd and threw herself in front of the boy. She thrust a leather bag towards Brandir.” I have the taxes owed, my lord,” she said. ”Please take the money and spare my son! My husband is in no fit state to work,” she gestured towards the man lying on the rubbish. ”If my son cannot work either, the harvest will be spoiled and we will starve!"
Brandir smiled and reached for the money, which he pocketed, pushing the woman aside. He smiled grimly. ”The debt is paid, but the punishment still stands!” He gestured with the man with the whip to proceed. The whip cracked and swished through the air. The youth screamed in pain. His mother collapsed sobbing at Brandir’s feet. The steward ignored her.
“Hold! That is enough!” Aragorn stepped forward with Faramir beside him. The guards formed a protective cluster around their King..
“And who might you be?” Brandir enquired haughtily.
“Your King, Aragorn Elessar Telcontar, “ said Aragorn, drawing Andúril and showing the renowned blade to the assembly.” The man has paid his debts, so under the law he goes free. And even had he not paid his debts; the punishment is hard labour, not flogging.”
Brandir shrugged. ”Very well, my lord,” he said bowing low. “Since those that rioted could not be found, we sought to make an example of these three to maintain order.”
“And what sort of justice is that?” demanded Faramir.
“And who might you be?” asked Brandir.
“I am Lord Faramir, Steward of Gondor and loyal servant of the King,” said Faramir.
“It was much better when your father ruled, lad,” said a very old woman from amongst the crowd cried. ”Taxes were much lower then!”
”Let it be known that I will countenance no dissent in my name! My fealty is to King Elessar,” Faramir replied sternly.
“Good people,” cried Aragorn, turning to address them. ”I know times are hard, but the tithes are needed to rebuild our land, and see that none go hungry.”
“Tithe indeed!” sniffed the old woman. ”The tax has trebled at your command!” The rest of the crowd murmured their agreement.
A sudden realisation dawned on Aragorn. Mardil’s Steward was taxing the people at extortionate rates, and blaming the King for the increases, while he pocketed the money himself. He turned to face Brandir, but the man was trying to slip away amidst the throng., while his men had already made good their escape. ”Seize him!” he called the guards, who hurried to carry out his orders.
“Good people, I shall endeavour to right the wrongs done to you!” Aragorn promised.
A handful cheered, while the majority looked indifferent. The King turned to the woman who had tried to protect her son, who was helping her bloodied husband off the rubbish heap, assisted by the lad, whose back was disfigured by an angry weal. ”Mistress, permit me to aid your kinsfolk,” said Aragorn. “I am a healer.”
“I can look after my own well enough, lord,” said the woman. ”We don’t need no help.”
Aragorn looked at her for a long moment. “I will send officials from the City to take charge here,” he said. “Any overpaid taxes will be returned to you. ”With that, he turned and walked away.
After finding a suitable escort of former soldiers to escort Brandir to the City for trial, Aragorn departed the town. A handful of children regarded him curiously, while two women and one old man said thank you. Otherwise the people watched him leave in silence. Heavy of heart, he rode onwards.
“You have done your best,” said Faramir, bringing his mount alongside Aragorn’s. “I fear some people cannot recognise a pearl before their very eyes.”
“It is as much my fault as theirs,” Aragorn said morosely. ”I should have taken more heed of what was happening in my realm.”
“Next time you come this way they will strew your path with flowers,” said Faramir.
“I wonder,” said the King, urging Roheryn forward.
Mardil is mentioned in “Web of Treason”. He is the young son of one of the lords who plotted against Aragorn,who was allowed to keep his lands as he was serving as a loyal soldier to the King at the time.
I am pleased to be continuing posting my stories here again. I've been taking a break to complete a challenge which required me to write 31 prompts for “Back to Middle Earth Month”. You can read them on my LJ
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