Where The Grass Grows Green II: On Bended Knee: 6. The Thoughts of Their Hearts

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6. The Thoughts of Their Hearts

Warnings: same as last chapter


The Enemy's intentions these first months of his victory have never become fully clear. He, who seldom waited for his enemies to act, did not press his advantage against Gondor and the realms of Men, as had been expected. We now know that he moved to secure the last Rings of Power that until then had eluded him – the Elven Rings hidden in Lothlórien and Imladris, and their Bearers – before turning to Gondor with her captured King and broken armies. This plan was sound, and should have been anticipated by the Wise, but the main strike had been directed towards Gondor before the regaining of the Ring. The defeat at the Morannon, and the capture of the leaders of the West, changed the situation. Having already secured one of the Bearers, and with Gondor's might broken, the Enemy could afford to let the invasion of Gondor wait a few days.

His mistake, it would later be shown, was his dismissal of Rohan.

Gaining the White City, the Lieutenant of Barad-dûr did not pursue Éomer king, nor did he press onwards to the conquest of Rohan. Partly, it is guessed, this was due to his need to subdue all parts of Gondor, and to establish the Enemy's power in that land. The people of Dor-en-Ernil, of Belafas and Dol Amroth, more than any others, delayed this, refusing to bend before Mordor. Threats to the hostaged King did not sway them, for the lord Elessar was unknown to them then. But the Enemy had plans for him more important than to be killed to subdue the fishermen of Dol Amroth.

They mean to break you.

He knew. It would have been more of a surprise if they had not. It was the method that confounded him: he had expected pain, not this boredom. This un-knowing. This darkness where he almost doubted what he felt.

Like water eating away the stone, one drop at a time. Or the wearing down of stone steps, one footfall after the other; with time deep groves are formed.

And in time he, too, might be worn by the smallest of pains.

That is how they will break you.

He knew.

"I know," he told the darkness. "I know!"

But knowing did not help much. They had seen him fight. That servant of Sauron had seen him on his knees. Had studied him. Had gauged his reactions. Seen his fight against his bonds, his guards. Had, Aragorn had no doubt, had reports from the guards about that first night before the Black Gate. From the healers.

The Mouth of Sauron must have thought his mind would be easier to break than his body.

And is it not?

Aragorn laughed.

"No," he told the darkness. "My body will break before my will. Have I not forced that slave to look away every time our eyes have met? Did I not wrest the palantir from Sauron's power?"

The darkness did not answer, and he could feel the earth underneath his fingers again, the stone at his back. He got to his feet and walked back and forth as far as he could reach for the chains. It was still dark, but the darkness seemed lighter.

Until the small voice crept back:

What if you cannot?

In the early days of the occupation of Gondor, the Enemy made few demands that the Steward could not in good conscience fulfil. The first weeks were full of practical tasks, such as the recalling of the people that had fled the City, rebuilding the buildings needed to house both the returning people and the soldiers of the Enemy. The lord Faramir was also charged with the task of disarming the soldiers of Gondor, a painful task but not unusual, nor unreasonable. Harder was the command that all edged tools, even such as were needed for a butcher's or a wood-cutter's trade, were to be turned in; the Mouth would have no weapons in Gondor unless it was in the hands of his own men.

Though harsh, it was not pointlessly cruel. Meat was scarce, but it was the firewood that caused the Steward most worry.

In the unnatural darkness that prevailed these first months of the Enemy's triumph, more wood was needed than the time of year would demand, both for warmth and for cooking. Scraps of wood from the destroyed buildings could be gathered and used, but it was not enough, nor was all the wood small enough that it would be used in the hearths.

It was not until the Mouth was satisfied that all weapons were handed in, and the re-instated Council of Gondor had passed the law – all in proper order according to the customs of Gondor, except for the King's approval which had not mattered since the time of Mardil Voronwë – that no man or woman in Gondor could own or bear any edged or pointed weapon in public, nor own any knife larger than a kitchen-knife, unless approved and appointed by the King or his officials, at the approval of Mordor.

None dared to comment that the first woodcutters and butchers were approved quickly once meat and firewood became so scarce that even the leaders of the Emeny's army were running low.

Harsh as the ban against weapons were, some of Mordor's edicts proved harsher. Too harsh for the Steward to follow without complaint.

In the dark, Aragorn recited the stories and the songs of the past, his childhood learning. The long tales from when the world was young. Of the light of the Trees. Of clear voices singing in the star-light. Of breaking waves and the call of the gulls, and of the coming of Elves and Men. And the stories turned dark, and there was valour and despair and Aragorn sang through his tears and let the old words lament the new fear.

Lo! Húrin Thalion in the hosts of battle
was whelmed in war, when the white banners
of the ruined king were rent with spears,
in blood beaten; when the blazing helm
of Finweg fell in flame of swords…

No. It was not a song to lift the heart. He searched for others, for the songs of his manhood: those he had learned in other lands — lands of green grass and sun.

Horselords, listen …

Yes. Thundering hooves, the wind of speed blowing in his face, and horns. Horns, horns; great horns of wild joy and the freedom of running horses.

Far south in the city of stone
The worthy lord sat in war-troubled thought.
Counsel the Steward of the Stonemen sought;
Wisdom to win victory in war.
No kin nor kindred close they had 
And enemies all around drew near.
Then Mundburg's master his mind turned 
North to Horselords for help in need…

But in the darkness his mind would falter, and turn back to the lament and fear; the words of that lay echoing in his mind. Over and over in the lonely days and nights.

That field yet now the folk name it
Nirnaith Ornoth, Unnumbered Tears:
the seven chieftains of the sons of Men
fled there and fought not, the folk of the Elves
betrayed with treason. Their troth alone
unmoved remembered in the mouths of Hell
Thalion Erithámrod and his thanes renowned.
Torn and trampled the triple standard
of the House of Hithlum was heaped with slain.
In host upon host from the hills swarming
with hideous arms the hungry Orcs
enmeshed his might, and marred with wounds
pulled down the proud Prince of Mithrim.
At Bauglir's bidding they bound him living;
to the halls of Hell neath the hills builded,
to the Mountains of Iron, mournful, gloomy,
they led the lord of the Lands of Mist,
Húrin Thalion, to the throne of hate
in halls upheld with huge pillars
of black basalt.

One song alone could his heart not bear to remember.

The Lay of Leithian.

The Lieutenant of Barad-dûr wrote many letters and reports to his master during the conquest of Gondor, but the letters were written on the thin sheets made from reeds that some of the people of Harad use – a most fragile paper — and are so corrupted that they are now difficult to read, the ink faded or the paper destroyed by time. But the parts that still can be read, I have copied that they might be preserved. Here is given the pieces that speak of the king Elessar, and of the Steward, lord Faramir.

"Elessar is a proud and arrogant man," states the first readable sentence. "He does not compare to his forbearers, much less to the leaders of Your servants, my Lord, but he is stubborn, and he will not be swayed by reason or pain, for he bears pain well. While it is true that all men will break under torment when the pain becomes too much, I deem that he will be left useless to You, should we rely on pain alone. This much I have learned from my dealings with him."

The following words cannot be read, but a little further down, they become clear again.

"… first dealing with him, it became clear that Elessar thinks highly of himself and of his own importance. His claim of kingship and arrogant belief that his forces could stand against Your might, show this clearly, but also in my meeting with him I sensed this arrogance. At the time the wizard was of greater concern, but I marked that he seemed to think the wizard his servant, leaving it to him to do the talking.

His misplaced pride became even clearer to me the second time Elessar came before me. He refused to repent his misdeeds and make amends by serving You. I could see that he expected to be punished for this, but in accordance with Your will I dismissed him.

Since his defeat, Elessar have been granted little freedom. This I have done to impress upon him that he is at Your mercy and have lost all power except what You chose to grant him. To reinforce this lesson, I have ordered that he is to always be bound in some way, even when he is locked in. This continued discomfort wears on him, more so, I suspect, than he lets show.

But his will are not to be broken by this alone.

Since he is proud, we humiliate him. We take from him his movement, his sight, his speech. We leave him helpless and alone. Only the guards, and if needed a healer, see him. He is given no tidings, and I never let him know how closely I have him watched. All to impress on him of how little consequence he is.

One exception I will allow, to observe the bond between the Steward and Elessar. I admit that I do not fully understand why the Steward would so quickly come to care for one that would have taken away his rule, but I have seen that it is so. The Steward…"

The rest of the letter is lost.

One night, if night it was, they came for him. Dragged him out — though he would have walked willingly. Out of the room, out into the air. Out into the streets.

The streets were silent beyond his guards. Night-silent. He could not see where he was taken, but the road rose and rose. Up. Up the levels of the City. They passed through one tunnel; Aragorn could hear the echoes of their feet. They passed two, then more, until he was taken inside once more. Down stairs and through doors that rang of metal. And then they reached their end.

He reached whatever end they meant for him. He was yanked to a halt, pushed down – kicked down – until he was kneeling. And they left. They left him kneeling, chained to the floor, alone in the silence. He could hear nothing above his own breaths, and his own blood pounding in his head. No footsteps. No clang of metal doors. Nothing.

They have not left.

The door had not closed; there were still guards with him. Aragorn tensed, waiting for them to begin whatever they had taken him there to do.

But nothing happened, and nothing continued to happen.

The body cannot stay alert forever. His mind told him that he was not alone; that he had to stay awake. But his body could not. He would nod, and catch himself before he fell, and soon he would nod again. He almost missed the footsteps when they came.

There was movement around him; he could feel it. The wait was over, even so he was startled by the first touch: the light stroke of fingertips in his hair.

"Elessar," said the Mouth, and Aragorn tried to move away from his touch but the chains were too short. Aragorn could feel his breath on his face. "Hast thou learned to fear, since thou shrinkest from me?"

Aragorn shook his head.

"No?" said the Mouth, and there was dark amusement in his voice. "If it were true, I would say nothing to it, for I have been most lenient to thee; thou hast not been put to torment, or given over to the Orcs. Thy wounds have been tended, and food and drink given to thee. I have not given thee reason to fear me. But thy own actions belie thy words: thou fearst me."

Aragorn did not move. The Mouth continued to stroke his fingers through his hair, moved them down to his face. Aragorn fought to stay still, to show him nothing. The Mouth was silent for a while, then he spoke again.

"Elessar," he said, and Aragorn wished he would not use that name. "While thou hast idled thy days away, all of Gondor has fallen to my hand. Thy Steward has been broken to my will, and through me the will of our Lord. I have time to turn to lesser concerns, until the word comes and I go to claim all lands in the Great Lord's name."

Breathe in, breathe out. Breathe in, breathe out.

He listened to his own breaths, the beating of his own heart; used them to block out the words that fell on him, to let the voice wash over him and trickle away. Not let the poison enter his mind.

They mean to break you.

Aragorn closed his eyes behind the blindfold, closed his ears against the Mouth, and waited for the torment to begin.

It was not until later, when they left him chained to the floor and he heard the door ring shut and the footsteps dwindle, that he understood that the torment had already begun.

Most of the laws passed in these early days were no different than any conqueror would demand, for the Mouth's first aim was to strengthen his hold on Gondor. But a few were not.

Once such was the law for widows and unwed women.

"All women above the age of seventeen that belong to a household that can not account for all their men-folk – whether by the men presenting themselves or by showing the body before burial – are to serve in the barracks of the soldiers no less than two days and nights each week, until such time that order has returned to the land of Gondor and its people have come fully under the rule and protection of Mordor and its ruler – their liege-lord."

"Uncle?"

Imrahil was sitting on a narrow bed, the only furniture in the room. Though not in any of the prisons — of which there seemed to be more of every day — the room was still a cell. Locked door. Windows small and barred. Guards outside the door. But the bed was clean, with pillows of eiderdown and warm blankets, and the mattress stuffed with clean straw. The Prince was still recovering from his wounds.

"Uncle."

Faramir stood beside the bed. In his hand, he held the scroll which he had given prince Imrahil to read.

"Uncle, speak to me."

"Tell me that it is not true." Imrahil turned to face Faramir and his face was of one who thought he had seen the worst happen, and been wrong.

"Tell me that my eyes did not read those words," he said. "Tell me that the scroll in your hand never was. Tell me that they do not ask us to whore our women."

Faramir closed his eyes.

Imrahil turned away. "What do you want from me?" he asked. His lips were pressed so close that his words were hard to understand. "My blessing?"

"No, uncle," Faramir said. "Your counsel. The Enemy has not let his soldiers pillage our homes and carry off the women, not after our surrender."

"Your surrender," Imrahil said. "Our defeat."

"Uncle…" Faramir stopped himself.

"Since the surrender," he began anew, "the Enemy has not allowed any plunder and our women have not been touched. Yet. The Mouth claims that the women are only called to serve at the tables, or cook; or clean for the soldiers, nothing more."

"And you believe him?"

"No."

The silence stretched between them, into the time they did not have. Outside the darkness continued unchanged, turning night to day and day to night. Grass would not grow this spring, nor crops, and the enemy would take what food there was left for themselves. Come harvest there would be nothing to celebrate, only famine and hunger, unless the clouds would soon part.

It was Faramir who broke the silence.

"Uncle, I need some way to hinder this law, and yet make sure worse do not come from it. But I do not know how."

Imrahil looked at him. "You do not know how?" He smiled. It was strained and vain, but it was the first smile Faramir had seen Imrahil make. "Faramir, if you do not know how to avoid the wishes of you ruler… you managed well enough under you father."

"This is the Enemy," Faramir answered. "My father… there were no risks then. Not like now."

"There was risk then as well."

"Only to myself."

And therein lay the rub.

Imrahil choose to take a different route. "Why does the Mouth want you to get this law passed?" he asked. "He could let the soldiers take what spoils they want, and we could not stop them. You could not stop them. No, there is some deeper purpose to the Mouth's demands."

"Yes," Faramir answered. "And I do not know what it is. If I knew, I might know better what to do."

"You are the only visitor allowed, except the healer," Imrahil said. "If you do not know, I cannot be of much help. But I do not see much choice for you; if you let this law pass, they will pressure you further and further until you break. Until you cannot any longer resist, whatever they may ask, and you become a puppet, no better than any servant of the Enemy.

"If you refuse…"

Faramir sat down beside Imrahil. He did not look at his uncle but stared at the door. It was a heavy, wooden door, closed shut even against sound. Or so it would seem. Still Faramir hesitated. The Mouth had many ears.

"I cannot let this law pass," he said at length. "And I cannot refuse too openly."

"And my counsel," Imrahil said, "you do not need, son of my sister."

Faramir shook his head. "I do not. But I wished it all the same. I know, now, that such wishes are vain."

"When all choices are evil, good counsel cannot be had."

"Or given."

They could not bear to speak of the fears closer to them. Of the fate of loved ones, of the living and dead. Of their own fates which lay in darkness. Of what new horrors the Enemy might demand. And so they did not speak until their time had almost run out; until they could hear the changing of the guard outside, and both knew that soon one must leave, and the other stay. Then, at last, Imrahil spoke.

"Do you have news of the King?"

The door opened, and the guards called for the Steward to leave. Faramir rose. His answer spoken in a low voice, so as not to reach the guards at the door.

"None that I can trust."

He must have slept, because he woke up.

Aragorn lay on the floor, stiff and sore. He could not move, nor stretch, nor rise, and the stone was cold underneath him. Still chained down. Blind. Mute. And he could not move. And he was alone.

Fear took him then, and he could not push it back.

He began to fight against the bonds. Fought to move, to call, to be free. And nothing helped.

They mean to break you. But he did not listen to the voice. Alone. In darkness. Chains. Cold. Darkness. Alone.

He screamed, but only muffled sound were heard. Chains rattled, and did not budge. Did not break. Alone. Darkness. Cold. He fell into the red dark where he knew nothing but the struggle. He did not know how long he was lost; when he found himself again it was still cold, still dark, and he could not move.

It was even later that the Mouth returned. Aragorn was too tired to move, too tired to jerk his head away from the touch of his fingers.

"So, Elessar, thou hast learned to surrender to my will and the will of the Great Lord."

That made him flinch.

"The Great Lord has shown thee mercy, Elessar, hath thou but understanding to see it." He paused, and he must have given some sign for Aragorn was hoisted back on his knees. "Thou wilt learn, and be grateful for that mercy," the Mouth continued, and the gag was undone and fell from Aragorn's mouth. "Though it matters little; the Great Lord's purposes cannot be thwarted. Grateful or not thou wilt serve him."

Aragorn tried to speak, but his mouth was too dry. He shook his head in denial.

Fingers snapped. "Water," the Mouth ordered.

Movement around him. The sound of pouring water. A cup touching his lips, a hand tipping his head. Cold, clear water. Filling his mouth. Soothing.

Aragorn drank.

"Thou seest the mercy given to thee?" the Mouth said. "Unmerited, without condition."

"Not… not entirely." Aragorn swallowed. His tongue was thick and swollen and his words slurred; the water was not enough. Just enough that he could speak. "Not without conditions: you want something of me, you and Sauron, your master. For I am still alive, and you are here yourself."

A finger brushed across his face and Aragorn shrank from it. The Mouth laughed.

"The Great Lord wants many things," he said. "He needs nothing. Thou art alive because it pleases him that thou should be, and he pities thee; the Elves and the Wizards have used thee, and thou hath been their unwitting pawn."

"No."

"In truth it is so. The Great Lord sees and knows all things. He knows, far better than thee, the minds and plots of those that have stood against him before thou wert born. And he knows even thy thoughts."

At that Aragorn laughed. "You forget, Mouth of Sauron, or perhaps your master has not told you: I fought Sauron in the seeing-stone. He did not know until then that I lived, did not know I walked upon this earth until I chose to show myself to him. No, Sauron does not know my thoughts, nor my mind or heart."

Silence followed his words. The soft swish of cloth against his face told him that the Mouth had risen. Then nothing again. Aragorn waited. He would not offer words unasked; safer, if there should be any secrets left to keep. And speaking would not help him, not now.

"Thou art silent," the Mouth said at length. "Loudly thou speakest when thou thinkest none will hear, but in company thou hast no words. And thou wouldst be king? Tongue-tied even in such small company. Is thy fear that great?"

He means to break you. But even so…

"Thou hast not given me voice," Aragorn answered.

His head was wrenched back and he could feel the breath of the Mouth on his cheek. It did not surprise him.

"Do not presume us equals, Elessar," the Mouth hissed.

"I did not."

Aragorn had guessed what would follow that answer as well.

Was it worth it?

The question remained with him, alone in the dark afterwards. "Dost thou think it worth it, Elessar?" the Mouth had asked before he left. Aragorn had not answered. Could not answer. Not then.

Was it worth it?

Perhaps. Even though little had changed. Even though he hurt. Even though it still was dark, he still was alone, and he could not move. He still had some power, if only the power to anger his jailor.

Aragorn held on to that thought to the long hours that followed. Alone. In the dark. Where he could not move. He could not see. He could not scream. And he could not move.

When finally, finally, he heard footsteps and the opening of the door, Aragorn had no strength left to move even his head. Hands grappled him, and he heard the guards muttering about the stench. As if they have given him any choice.

They mean to break you.

But the knowing did not lessen the sting.

"Thou art a fool, Elessar."

Perhaps, Aragorn conceded. But not from lack of knowledge.

"A fool to believe the gray-beard and the Elves."

So thou hast said to me before.

"Did they tell thee thou wouldst be the one to vanquish the Great Lord?"

Just one of many. Not the one; that was Frodo. But that thought hurt.

"They sent thee, and hid in their forests and valleys …"

Gandalf did not.

"… but they hid in vain. Thy little army did not slow the plans of the Great Lord: the Elves, thy masters, have fallen."

That startled him. No. He shook his head. It is a lie, the time too short. But the Mouth laughed, and Aragorn did not know how much time had passed. He remembered the army passing on the day after the battle and he shook his head again. Hoping.

"The Noldor witch fell quickly, her golden wood burned and her people dead or captured. She should already be with the Great Lord."

That should not have been said outside Lórien, not even to me. But that was in another time. Now… now Sauron would know the bearers of the Three.

"And the half-breed, and all his house; they are even now being taken to Mordor. All that survived."

He fought not to move. Not to react. He means to break you. Breathe. He lies.

But the Mouth bent close; close enough to feel the tension in his body. Close enough that he could feel the heat of his breath on his neck. In his ear.

"None escaped."

He held still. Still he held.

"They say his daughter is most beautiful. I shall soon know the truth of it."

He fought. Then Aragorn fought with newfound strength. The guards holding him swore, but what he heard was the Mouth of Sauron laughing.

"Unless her beauty already has been marred by the orcs…"

Aragorn did not hear the rest of the Mouth's words. Sickness welled up within him, and he no longer fought the guards or his bonds. The hands let go of him and he fell, convulsing on the floor. He gagged. He could not breathe.

"Remove the gag."

"My lord, it…"

"You will die, slowly, if he does."

The guard obeyed. Aragorn coughed and spat, and gagged on the smell and the taste. And then he retched again. And again. Again, until his heaves were dry and his stomach cramped, and still he could not stop. They left him, and he did not hear their parting words; too sick to sense anything beyond his own body and the one name echoing in his mind:

Arwen!

When next they came for him, the Mouth kept his distance and the guards' muttered complaints were louder.

"What would they think of thee now, Elessar?"

The voice moved around him, and Aragorn moved his head to follow.

"What would the elves think of thee? Thy men? Thy people? What would they think of thee if they could see thee wallowing in thy own filth and sickness?"

The voice was different, as if the Mouth spoke through water. Or a cloth. Aragorn coughed, and said nothing.

"They would wash their hands of thee." The Mouth laughed. "And washing they would need; thou art filthy."

At that Aragorn grew calm and still. He lifted his head, and though his sight was taken he looked at the Mouth and showed no fear. His voice was rough, he formed his words slowly and with care, but his speech was clear.

"The filth is yours. Thine and thine servants; thy hospitality is sorely lacking."

There was a short pause, and then one of the guards cuffed his head.

"Mend thy manners."

"When thou mendest thine."

"Thou wouldst make demands, Elessar?" But he heard laugher in the Mouth's voice.

"Leave me," Aragorn answered. "I grow weary of thy words. If thou fearst me so that thou must deny me movement even behind locked doors; deny me sight even when there is no light; deny me speech when there is none to hear, then go back to thy master, Slave of Sauron. Thou wilt fear me even in my grave."

"Thou thinkest thou canst anger me with thy words, Elessar. What doest thou hope to gain? Not thy words and deeds it is that govern thy fate, but thy Steward's obedience."

"Lord Faramir has not seen me." Aragorn had to stop and swallow before he could continue his speech. "Thy…" he coughed and straitened himself again. "Thy words betray thee; Faramir must trust in what lies thou tellest him."

"Not entirely." Aragorn could hear the sneer in the Mouth's voice. "Show our guest to his bath."

Hands hauled him to his feet and he was dragged away, down corridors and up stairs. When they stopped, he was first given the same bath had he had been given before. The guards' laughter rang in his ears whenever he was pulled up, mocking his desperate gasps for air. But it did not last long. After just a few dips, he was given some respite. He lay on the floor, coughing, while around him the guards moved. Words were shouted, but he could not make out their meaning.

Before he could recover completely the hands were back, but this time they merely released his bonds. The light blinded him and his limbs were stiff and swollen, but he tried to move, wary of what they next intended.

"Strip."

He hesitated, or was he merely too stiff? It did not matter; the guards stripped off his shirt, ripping it in their impatience. He managed to fight them off before they could take more.

"I am able to remove my own clothes," he said. His eyes had adjusted somewhat to the light and he could see a tub of water standing there. A bath? Unless they mean to deceive you. But they could easily have cut the clothes from his body while he was bound, or overpower him again and tear them from him. With all the dignity he could muster, he took off the remaining clothes and stood naked before them.

"Get in, and wash yourself well – if your filth can be washed from you."

Aragorn did not answer the guard, but he looked at him. A man of Harad, like the rest; tall among his own men, but Aragorn towered above him. When he caught his eye, the guard could not hold his gaze.

"Go back to your master and tell him that I require no attendance for my bath."

"Just get in, or you will be attended whether you wish or not," the man grated through clenched teeth.

"Your men are too poorly trained for such service."

Aragorn lingered a moment longer. He could see the man clench his hands into fists, but neither he nor the other men lifted their hands against him. Aragorn waited until the man was about to move before he walked over to the tub and sat himself down.

The water was warm and clean with scented oils, and soap with which to wash. His cuts stung a little, but the warmth soothed stiff limbs and bruises. Aragorn ignored the guards and let the water warm him, and loosen the dust and dirt and sweat and filth that layered his skin, before he began to wash it off.

The king was kept apart throughout his stay in Minas Tirith. Except for his guards– all enemy soldiers from Harad or Umbar– few people were allowed to see him. Among those few was a healer of the Haradrim whose name has been lost. His report, however, survived.

"Elessar of the North did not suffer any grievous hurt during his stay in the Stone-city, and he was, with a few exceptions, treated well. Better, at least, than our leaders would have received in the Northmen's care.

I noticed, in the time I was given responsibility for his well-being, only a few incidents of neglect from the guards, and only one of those was clearly the result of ill-will.

In the confusion of the siege and battle when the Stone-city fell, the prisoner was left without food or water for at least one day and two nights. This negligence was understandable, if unfortunate, and it was remedied before the prisoner's life was in danger. But the other incidence happened under no such mitigating circumstances, and posed a far greater threat to the prisoner's life.

Following the order of the Mouth of our Great Lord, food and water was never given to the prisoner at regular hours. This has little influence on a man's body as long as he is given enough to sustain his life. But about one week after the Stone-city was taken, the guards waited too long. Perhaps they were angry, for several of the soldiers that had been wounded died from their wounds at that time, or perhaps they simply did not think, but they left the prisoner without water for almost three days.

They realised their mistake when the prisoner did not move or speak when they at last saw to him, and I was sent for.

I have no doubt that he would have been dead within the day from lack of water, and it took five days before he fully recovered. The guards claimed that they had offered him both water and food, but that he had denied them. That must clearly be a lie, for the prisoner's fingers bore marks that he in desperation had scratched at the door and the floor, and he would surely have taken water before being so reduced, had he the chance. In my dealings with the prisoner he always behaved with as much dignity a prisoner could keep, and I do not believe he would go digging in the ground unless driven by the desperate thirst which makes the strongest man weak and drives the proudest to begging. And even so, Elessar of the North would not, I deem, be reduced to begging had he chosen this manner of death. Also he drank readily when I gave him water.

The Great Lord's Mouth was informed of the incident, and it was never repeated.

Twice I was called upon to watch over the prisoner's torment. When I was called the first time, I expected him to be under questioning; my orders were to clear him for a whipping, should he be fit, and the guards would not dare neglect their duties again. Furthermore, I would have been called sooner had the prisoner fallen ill. Unless weakened by questioning, the prisoner would have been strong enough that no healer would be needed to clear him.

I found, unexpectedly, that the prisoner was in his bath when I arrived. Yet another testimony of his mild treatment.

It eased my duty, for I was able to study him more closely. He had already washed himself most thoroughly when I arrived, and at my order fresh towels were brought. I did not wish that he should dirty himself using his clothes to dry off. Moreover, the Mouth of our Lord had charged me to find any hidden hurt that might have been overlooked.

The prisoner had new bruises on his chest and arms, and on his back, but all other marks were old and fading. The cut on his face and on his neck were the exception; they were slow to heal, I noted, and the one on his brow most so. His wrists, too, bore marks both old and new, as if the prisoner had newly fought his bonds. His grip was a little weak; still it was the cut on his brow that worried me most. I had to lance it until it bleed clean once more: the second time, though enough time had passed that it should have been healed.

I had fresh water fetched to clean the cuts; though the prisoner was cleaner than I had yet seen him, the used water stank and was most unclean. I did not wish to risk further corruption to the wounds.

The prisoner did not fight the treatment.

A naked man can do little against armed guards, still it seemed to me that it was they that feared him, not he them. None among them would meet his eyes while I was there. Towards me he acted with a calm dignity such as I have only seen in our most noble soldiers. And never in one un-clothed among his jailors.

The Northmen must in truth be without shame, or he would not have ignored his own nakedness thus.

Indeed, the people of the Stone-city are shameless, with no sense of propriety. Their young, unwed women walk with hair uncovered and unbound, and the people themselves walk with bare faces. Neither beards nor cloth cover them so that the thoughts of their hearts can be readily seen. And all but a few know not how to read the subtle language of the eyes.

The prisoner, however, needed no coverings to hide the thoughts of his heart, and even his eyes could not be read by me. I wondered at the time whether this, rather than a lack of shame, enabled him to appear clothed even in his nakedness.

But though I could not read the prisoner's heart, his body spoke of its needs and I need no translation to understand that language. And his body needed rest, and food, and clothes to stave off cold, and salves and bandages to keep his wounds clean so that they could heal; but most of all it needed water.

It was because of the prisoner's lack of water, and because I knew from the smell of the bath-water and his soiled clothes that he had been ill, that I advised that the prisoner should be given two days' rest before the whipping, and that he be given clean and warm clothes, food, and drink in that time. I also advised that he would not be subjected to further questioning. That was when I learned that the prisoner had not been questioned.

His bruises could not have been the result of unsanctioned neglect, for none of the guards were punished. The Mouth did, however, heed my advice and bade me oversee the prisoner's treatment.

'I will have him strong in body,' he told me. And I did my best to fulfil his command.

The whipping, when it took place, was led by the Mouth of our Lord himself. It was a simple punishment, which spoke of the importance of the prisoner and the care the Mouth takes in all his duties.

The defeated Steward was present as well, for the punishment was his rather than the prisoner's. It was clear that the Steward cared for him, though he spoke little at first. But the Northmen, as I have said, go barefaced and do not cover the thoughts of their hearts; the Steward wept with no shame.

It was a severe whipping, for despite his tears the Steward did not speak the words the Mouth of our Lord wished to hear. At one point I was concerned for the prisoner's breathing, for he was gagged and had swooned, and water did not rouse him: it was the lack of air, more than pain, which dragged him down.

When the Mouth would not have the gag removed, but threatened to continue the punishment despite the danger to the prisoner, the Steward broke, as the servant of our Lord had known. The prisoner was then allowed to recover. I was able to rouse him to coherence, and though he had not the strength to stand, he was well enough to speak, and even mock my attempts to measure his lucidity.

The remainder of the punishment was delivered without further halts. The prisoner was unresponsive after its completion."

...


Notes on quotations:

The first and last excerpt of poetry is quoted from The Lays of Beleriand (HoME 3), the second version of The Children of Húrin.

The middle excerpt is from my own poem The Ride of Eorl, posted here under Songs of the Mark. I have made slight alterations to the version given above.

"That should not have been said outside Lórien, not even to me". FotR, The Great River

A/N: My thanks to the people on The Garden of Ithilien and my beta JAUL for help getting the chapter into shape.

Also, I am now up to date on all the chapters so far posted. I will be posting chapters monthly after this, though next chapter is due soon.


This is a work of fan fiction, written because the author has an abiding love for the works of J R R Tolkien. The characters, settings, places, and languages used in this work are the property of the Tolkien Estate, Tolkien Enterprises, and possibly New Line Cinema, except for certain original characters who belong to the author of the said work. The author will not receive any money or other remuneration for presenting the work on this archive site. The work is the intellectual property of the author, is available solely for the enjoyment of Henneth Annûn Story Archive readers, and may not be copied or redistributed by any means without the explicit written consent of the author.

Story Information

Author: Ragnelle

Status: General

Completion: Work in Progress

Era: 3rd Age - Ring War

Genre: Action

Rating: Adult

Last Updated: 09/19/13

Original Post: 10/16/12

Go to Where The Grass Grows Green II: On Bended Knee overview

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