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The evening before...
Clodio Banks felt decidedly green as the Guardsman with whom he rode turned away from the place where Fredegar Bolger and the delegation had been left. He was riding with Borondir; he glanced over at Dago, who was in front of one of the newer Guardsmen who had met the group in Edoras. Clodio did not remember this one’s name. He wondered if he looked as terrified as the Bracegirdle did.
His mouth was dry, and he felt a roiling in the pit of his belly. He had been spared the dungeon in Edoras, mostly due to Mistress Poppy’s interference, but she had declared that he was mostly recovered from the heart problems that had set upon him when they entered Rohan. He wondered what a dungeon would be like. Dago had refused to answer his questions on the subject.
On the journey from Edoras to Gondor, Dago had at least been more civil to him. They had held occasional conversations on safe topics, such as guessing how far the day’s travel would be, speculating on the meals, or the weather. Both of them had ignored what was uppermost in their minds: their fate at the hands of the High King. And both of them had also ignored their grievances with one another.
Clodio was not sure he would ever forgive Dago for turning Clovis against him; and of course Dago still blamed him and his sons for the actions that had brought their own activities to light. But since they were more or less alone—for the other hobbits studiously ignored them, except for an occasional world from the Bolger—it would have been entirely too bleak to forego one another’s company altogether.
The thought of his sons brought another ache to Clodio’s heart. He had ruined their lives. Clovis had been scornful in their last encounter, and let his father know it. Clodio found himself worried about his older son—Clovis was every bit as stubborn as he had been at that age, and he had to admit, far more spoiled. Cado seemed to have forgiven him, though, and Clodio held out hope that perhaps his younger son’s life would not be entirely miserable. But he could see no future for either of them, banished from the Shire as they were.
The horses were steadily continuing upward, something else that brought a shudder to the hobbit. He looked up, and saw looming before them a massive structure, casting a shadow into which they now entered. The horses stopped at a gate that pierced a wide stone wall, and Borondir dismounted and lifted him down. He could see that Dago’s guard did the same, and that all the other Guardsmen also dismounted. Another Man came to lead all the horses away, and Clodio and Dago were shepherded along towards the vast building ahead of them. Clodio looked up—he could not see the top of any of the towers, for they were too close. To his left, he could see a courtyard, a fountain playing beneath a tree. But they were led to the right, and around the perimeter of the outer wall. There a smaller door led into the vast building which he had learned was called the Citadel.
They entered into a passageway, and turned to a room to the right. It seemed a very large room to Clodio, though he supposed the Men might find it small.
Two Men stood there, one an older Man, grizzled and bearing a scar upon his cheek, who was dressed in the livery of the Guard, the other a younger Man, with a face so noble and stern and wise that Clodio was certain he must be the King—but no…
“My Lord Steward, Captain Beleg,” said Captain Targon. “Here are the two prisoners we have brought from the Shire, accused of treachery to their own people and therefore banished from their land, and accused of collusion with the wizard Saruman, and therefore brought to the King, that the extent of their guilt might be judged.”
“This one—“ he waved a hand, and the guard brought Dago forward. Dago was as white as Clodio had ever seen him, and he was sweating profusely, in spite of the chill of the evening, “is named Dago Bracegirdle.”
The Steward turned his eyes on Dago, who met them only briefly before looking away.
“And this one—“ Clodio felt Borondir’s large hands upon his shoulders, as he was given a slight shove forward, “is named Clodio Banks.”
Now Clodio tried to meet those stern grey eyes, but he too found he could not hold that gaze, and dropped his own eyes to his toes. He was reminded all too uncomfortably of the look in Frodo Baggins’ eyes when his collaborations with Lotho had been uncovered. He felt his heart begin to race, and he grew light-headed, swaying beneath Borondir’s grip.
“Is he ill?” he heard the Steward ask, as if from a far distance.
He felt Borondir lift him, and could hear the voices of the other Men, though he could not hear them well for the roaring in his ears. But after an instant, he felt someone holding water to his lips, and then he realised he was being offered a few drops of the medicine that was kept for him, which Mistress Poppy had prescribed.
“Do we need to take him to the Houses of Healing?”
“The medicine that Mistress Poppy gave me for him should take effect soon. Perhaps it would be wise to send for a healer, but I do not think he needs to go to the Houses, my Lord,” said Borondir.
He swallowed the medicine and the water, and then licked his lips. Summoning up the nerve to speak, he said “I will be all right in a few minutes. The medicine will soon put me right.”
“Very well, Master Banks.” The Steward made a gesture, and Borondir placed him in a chair. It was far too large, but he pulled his legs up onto the seat and rested his head on his knees. He was already beginning to feel sleepy—an effect of the medicine.
Clodio must have dozed off, for the next thing he knew, he found himself waking up in a large cot.
“Well, look who’s back in the land of the living.” Clodio glanced over and saw another, identical cot, on which Dago sat.
“How long have I slept?” he asked.
Dago sniffed. “About two hours, I’d say. I’m glad you are awake. There was a young Man here, they said he was a healer. He said to feed you when you woke up, and so of course they are waiting to feed me at the same time.”
Clodio gazed at the room. If they had been Men it would have been very small. There was nothing in it at all but the two cots, and only about a foot between them. The walls and floor were of bare stone. There was a window. He blinked and shook his head, and looked at the window again. “The window?” he asked.
Dago gave a bark of bitter laughter. “The window, yes! No bars on it, and too small for a Man to crawl through, but nothing that would stop a hobbit. Except…”
“I stood on my bed to look out. There is a sheer drop below this window of hundreds of feet!” He gave a shudder.
“What? They brought us to the top of the tower?”
“No, the rooms on this side are built against the outer walls of this level. They’ve no need to worry about anyone without wings making an escape through the window.”
“What good would it do to escape?” asked Clodio bleakly. “We can never go home again.”
Faramir returned to his office in a thoughtful mood. Tomorrow the King would officially receive the delegation from the Shire. He smiled at the thought of how that was going to go—one more chance for Elessar to do away with some of the more constraining formalities of the Gondorian court. It would scandalize some to see the King descend the steps and personally welcome the hobbits. But it would be popular with even more of the people.
The Stewards had done their best over the centuries to preserve the kingdom for the eventual return of a King—but in preserving it, they had allowed much to simply stultify. Gondor had grown dusty and dry and stiff—only the rigours of the fight against the Enemy had kept the White City alive. His father had the weight of tradition on his back, and that, Faramir sometimes thought, as much as the fight against Sauron, had helped to make his father the hard man he had become.
Now the King had, in fact, returned. There had been jubilation in the initial aftermath of victory—the City had celebrated like none had known in living memory, from the time the Eagles announced the astounding news that the Dark Lord had been overthrown, through the coronation and the beauty of a regal wedding, the people had been carried on a tide of unexpected good fortune.
Then the celebration had wound down, and the people of Gondor were faced with building anew, and with having a King instead of a Steward. For some among the upper echelons of the Gondorian nobility, it meant digging out dusty tomes of protocol as to how things had been done in the days of the old kings. Instead of moving forward into a new Age, they seemed determined to turn the clock back almost a thousand years.
At first, Elessar and his Queen had wryly accepted the restrictions, in an effort to bring the more hide-bound factions gradually forward. But many of the old customs chafed, and some were simply no longer an option in this new world in which Sauron was no more.
And if anything could help the King to wake up the City, it would be the presence of hobbits!
Still, these two hobbits in particular could prove a problem. Not one beyond Elessar’s wisdom to deal with, Faramir was certain, but a problem nevertheless.
And tomorrow, after the delegation had been received, they would have a word with Master Fredegar Bolger about what might be done with Master Dago Bracegirdle and Master Clodio Banks.
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