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In the Court of the High King  by Dreamflower

Chapter 17

The guard banged the large spoon against the bars on the door, startling Clodio and Dago from sleep. Dago sat up abruptly with a curse; Clodio blinked owlishly, and shook his head to clear it before sitting up slowly. From the scant light coming through the small window, it appeared that the two hobbits were being awakened even earlier than usual.

And then Clodio recalled just why they were being wakened early: today they would receive their judgments from the King. He felt a wave of stomach-dropping fear. What was going to become of him, of them? He and Dago had avoided talking about it ever since they left Rohan, and now it was too late. He wasn't sure that he even wanted to know what Dago thought of it.

The guard had brought them a somewhat larger than usual first breakfast: toast and an apple in addition to the ubiquitous plain porridge, and tea. He placed the tray down, and said, "Eat up. You will not have time for a 'second breakfast' today. I will come back in half an hour to escort you to the bathing room, and then you will need to get ready. You are due in court at the third hour." He backed out and pulled the door to with a clang, and then there was the jingle of keys and the snick of the lock.

Dago picked up one of the bowls of porridge and the apple. "This is ridiculous," he muttered. "It's not going to take us anywhere near three hours to eat this stuff and then take a bath and dress."

Clodio shrugged, and began picking at his own meal. He knew he needed to eat, to keep up his strength; he didn't want to grow light-headed and perhaps swoon in front of everybody. Having done that before, he knew it was humiliating.

The porridge seemed even more tasteless than usual, and even the apple did not seem to have much flavor. The tea was no more than lukewarm by the time he finished sipping it. Dago had barely touched his tea, though he had devoured his food. Clodio had forced himself to eat all the apple and most of the porridge when the guard returned to escort them out.

When they stepped from the cell, they were handed a folded towel with a pile of clean clothing on top, as they had the last few times they'd been taken to the baths. But the clothing was not simply their own spare clothing which they had brought along into exile.

"What's this?" asked Dago.

"It is what you will be wearing from here on out. There is a second set put by for you when you are taken to wherever it is that you will go after judgment. You are privileged. Since special clothing had to be made for the both of you because of your size, the King asked that the style be close to the style of your own people."

He opened the door to the bathing room, and gestured for them to go in. He went out and shut the door; they knew he'd be standing right outside.

This was their second bath since arriving at the Citadel, so they were not surprised at the two tin tubs filled with warm water. For Men, these were merely hip baths, but the two of them could submerge themselves completely and relax their bodies, if not their minds. There was a pile of clean folded flannels on a wooden bench that was bolted to the wall. They put their new clothing down on it and each took up a flannel; lumps of brown soap were in a basket next to the flannels, and they each took one of those as well. They turned their backs to one another as they disrobed and quickly got into the water; neither spoke as they took their baths and then sat and soaked until the water began to cool.

Dago was the first to get out; the towels were huge, and completely enveloped him. When Dago was completely covered, Clodio sloshed out and wrapped himself in his own towel. By the time he was nearly dry, Dago was almost dressed.

Clodio studied the new clothes in surprise: a grey shirt of a serviceable linsey-woolsey fabric; a pair of darker grey calf length breeches held up by braces such as Shirefolk wore; and an even darker grey vest--it was not a weskit as it did not button closed, but hung open in the front--with a device on the back of a white square with black lines on it. Clodio stared at it for a moment before he realized it was a representation of a barred window!

They put their soap back in the soap basket and threw their wet flannels into a bucket by the door. Dago rapped at the door and the guard opened it, and looked down on them. "A proper pair of gaolbirds you look now," he chuckled, and herded them off to the office of his captain, as both of them flushed.


"Eat up," said Mistress Poppy firmly to all the hobbits seated around the table. The plates were laden with a fine first breakfast set before them by Avor and Tadiel: hot rolls of a savory bread laden with bacon and onions, scones full of dried berries, coddled eggs, fruit both fresh and stewed, and plenty of hot tea. Yet as wonderful as it all smelled, most of the hobbits found they were merely picking at the food.

Freddy looked at her; she was the only one eating with aplomb. "Come now, we'll get no second breakfast today; we'll be in the King's Court. What would it look like if you all start dropping of hunger. We've seen enough of King Elessar to know that whatever fate he has in mind for those traitors, it won't be anything too dire for our sensibilities! His concern for hobbits being what it is, he probably will be less harsh with them than they deserve. Haven't you observed him enough to know that by now?"

At her scolding, Berilac chuckled, and said, "You are quite right; we're being glum for no reason." He took up one of the scones and slathered it with honey before taking a large bite. Jolly followed suit with a large forkful of eggs, and soon the mood had lightened.

All were already dressed for the day, and ready to go up to the Citadel, to witness the judgment being passed.


In Captain Beleg's office the two hobbits stood uneasily at one side of the room. They had understood the guard's remark on entering there: two Men with manacles fastened to their wrists were also waiting. The Men wore shirts of the same grey linsey-woolsey as that of the ones the hobbits had been given, but worn over long darker grey trews, and with a surcoat of dark grey with the barred window device on both the front and the back. They also wore short boots also of dark grey, and they were clean-shaven, unlike most of the Men of Gondor. Their hair had been so closely cropped that the hobbits could not tell what colour it had been. It was a few moments before Clodio realised they were two of the Men they had seen one day in the exercise yard! He put his hand up reflexively to his head--would they shave his curls? he wondered.

The two Men were led away by other guards, and Captain Beleg turned his attention to the two hobbits. "We have no manacles that will fit you," he said. "But prisoners cannot go unbound before the King." He picked up two lengths of slender rope from the desk and came over to them, gesturing for them to hold their hands out. He bound their wrists carefully, not tightly at all, yet still the knots were not just for show. He could not help a shudder. He looked at Dago, whose face was as white as he had ever seen it. He guessed he was just as pale.

With Captain Beleg in front, and the guard who had fetched them walking behind, they were led away to judgment.


Aragorn smiled up at Arwen, as she placed her hand upon his shoulder, then he took a breath and became Elessar; he put on his "King-face" as he had heard Sam describe it once, and fixed his attention on the Court gathered before him. The Steward's chair was still empty, of course. It would be another week before Faramir returned, this time bringing Éowyn with him. But he had missed having his Steward with him the last few days.

There to his right, far down upon the floor stood all of the hobbits who had come from the Shire. It was interesting--from a distance, Fredegar Bolger bore a strong resemblance to Frodo, though that illusion vanished when one drew closer. But his hair was dark--though not as dark as his Baggins cousin, and there was a certain family resemblance about the forehead and chin. He was not quite so pale as Frodo, nor quite so tall. He was probably about the height Merry had been before the Ent-draughts. From this distance, too, it would be quite easy to mistake Berilac for Merry--the Brandybuck features were strong ones. But Beri was slightly fuller of face and slightly stockier in build than his cousin; and of course, now he was half a head shorter. He had barely begun to know the other hobbits yet, but he hoped he would get the chance to know them better while they were still in the City.

To his left he saw Maevor and Amdir, both of them standing patiently, waiting for their roles to be revealed. He had given these men a difficult task, but he thought that each of them would be up to the challenge he had placed before them. Master Maevor was a very practical sort, one with a sharp eye who would not let much get past him. Master Amdir, though absent-minded, was patient and dedicated and kind. He also loved what he did with a passion, and could pass that on to others.

There were very few other courtiers present this morning. To the people of Gondor these were minor crimes committed by people unknown to them, even if they were halflings. But he was slightly surprised to note the presence of Serindë of Dol Amroth and her son Thorongil. They very rarely left the Houses of Healing, though Thorongil might appear in court slightly more often than his mother. Then he saw her exchange an encouraging smile with Mistress Poppy, and realised she was there in support of a colleague.

The Herald, Lord Dorlas, looked up at him, and he gave a slight nod as the signal. The Herald in turn nodded to the doorward, and the doors were opened.

"We call into the presence of the King the prisoners Clodio Banks and Dago Bracegirdle, to face the justice of the King. Captain Sir Beleg, bring the prisoners forth!" Dorlas proclaimed in a voice that reached every corner of the throne room.

Beleg escorted the prisoners forward, and about halfway to the dais he stopped and with a tap on their shoulders, signaled them to kneel. Bound as they were, this was slightly awkward, but both hobbits went to their knees.

King Elessar looked down upon them, feeling as he often did towards the malefactors who came before him, a mixture of anger and pity. Since they were hobbits, the pity was uppermost, but he reminded himself that being hobbits in and of itself did not excuse their actions. "Please read the charges, Lord Dorlas," he said, his own voice, though not quite so dramatic as that of his herald, also reached every corner of the vast room.

"The prisoners Clodio Banks and Dago Bracegirdle have been accused of, confessed to, and found guilty of, collaborating with one Lotho Sackville-Baggins, who in the Shire did unlawfully imprison his fellow citizens, seized property without compensation, and gathered to himself authority which by rights belonged to the Thain who is the rightful representative of the King in the Shire. Clodio Banks and Dago Bracegirdle were tried in the Shire and found guilty there by a consensus of their peers, and sentenced by them to forfeiture of all property and banishment from their homeland.

They are further convicted of collaborating with the Renegade Wizard Saruman, also known as Cúrunir, whose actions in the recent War resulted in hundreds of deaths, and in massive destruction of lands and peoples belonging to our Ally, Rohan. They are also convicted of conspiring to conceal their actions from those deputized by Your Grace to discover what took place in the Shire."

Lord Dorlas paused, then went on: "In addition, Dago Bracegirdle has also confessed to attempting to bribe one of Your Grace's Rangers of Arnor;* he has also been convicted of attempting to escape from custody while in route to Your Grace's justice."

There was a long silence, as Aragorn allowed the charges to sink in to everyone's minds, a reminder of that grim time when evil had sent its tentacles everywhere, even to a far-away land that should have been protected. Then he spoke.

"Clodio Banks and Dago Bracegirdle, after a thorough examination of all evidence sent to me from Lord Frodo Baggins, Deputy Mayor of the Shire, and Thain Paladin II, the Thain of the Shire, it is clear to Us that while you knew very well that what you were doing was wrong and that it would result in hardship for your fellow hobbits, you were ignorant of the larger issues involved. We are convinced that in your cases, you were mere cat's paws; however, you were motivated by greed and pride, and did not care about the troubles your actions visited upon others.

Ignorance of the Law is no excuse. However, it may in many cases, ameliorate the severity of the sentence passed."

He stood from the throne, and this time the force of his regard for the two before him made them look up at him. "You were both ignorant of the nature of the one with whom Lotho Sackville-Baggins dealt; you were also ignorant of the issues in the wider world that made your involvement with his schemes much worse than you ever intended. But your motives were selfish, and the results of your involvement mean that you must be punished. By Shire law you have already been punished for many of your offenses there, but your banishment from that land means you now have come under Our jurisdiction. We cannot allow wrongdoers to simply roam freely through the Two Kingdoms and perhaps victimize others. And your dealings at whatever remove, with Saruman, means your treachery affected Our Realm.

The sentence We would usually pass in such circumstances would be at least a year of hard labour, on the roads of Gondor, or rebuilding the walls of the Rammas Echor, or helping to maintain the sanitation of Minas Tirith or some similar task. However, We must also take into account your ages, and the fact that because of your race you cannot physically perform many of those tasks.

Therefore, you will be set to less onerous tasks, though your sentence will be longer to make up for that."

He sat once more on the throne. "Rise, Clodio Banks."

Pale-faced and sweating, Clodio awkwardly rose to his feet.

"Master Amdir son of Amrod, step forth."

Amdir blinked briefly, and then stepped from his place at the side of the court to the center, and gave a profound bow. "Your Grace," he said.

"Amdir son of Amrod, you have spoken with Us about the task we would have you undertake. Are you still of the same mind?"

"I am, Sire."

"The Crown thanks you for your willingness to serve."

"Clodio Banks, you are remanded into the custody of Amdir son of Amrod, Chief Archivist of the Kingdom of Gondor. You will dwell with him, and undertake any tasks he sets forth for you for a period of not less than three years and not more than five years. During the time you are in his custody, you are not to be abroad alone. You must at all times be with him, or with another responsible person he has chosen to accompany you, or with a Guardsman of the Citadel. He will report to me on a regular basis your behaviour, and will be responsible to see to your room, board and health.

If at any time you break the terms of your sentence or attempt to escape from his custody, you will be returned to the custody of the Crown, your sentence will be increased and will no longer be so light. Do you understand?"

Clodio nodded briskly, more than a little relieved. It would be hard to have to serve another, but the alternative was much worse. He stood rather dazed, until Beleg took him by the shoulder and drew him back a couple of paces.

The King turned his eye to Dago. "Rise, Dago Bracegirdle."

Dago stood up, not quite so awkwardly as his companion, but not gracefully either. He cast his eyes down once more, but when the King allowed the silence to stretch his gaze was once more dragged upward.

"Master Maevor son of Maldir, please step forth."

Maevor was prepared, and drew near to the center of the room with a well-practiced bow.

"Maevor son of Maldir, We have spoken also with you of a task We would wish you to do. Are you still willing to so serve?"

"Yes, Sire."

"Dago Bracegirdle, you will be remanded into the custody of Maevor son of Maldir, Chief Clerk of the Accounts of the Citadel. You will dwell with him in his quarters which are here in the Citadel and you will undertake any tasks which he assigns to you for a period of not less than four years and not longer than six. This sentence is longer because of your crime of attempted bribery of one of Our Rangers, and because of your attempt to escape the custody of those who were bringing you to justice. During this period you are not to be abroad unless in the company of Master Maevor or of a responsible person of his choice, or of a Guardsman of the Citadel. Because you will be dwelling in this Citadel, you may go about alone within its walls, but there will be areas forbidden to you where you may not go alone. Master Maevor will instruct you in this. He will be responsible for your keep and your health, and will report to Us on a regular basis about your behaviour.

If at any time you break the terms of your sentence or attempt to escape from his custody, you will be returned to the custody of the Crown, your sentence will be increased and will no longer be so light. Do you understand?"

Dago looked over at the Man to whom he would answer for the next several years. "I understand," he choked out.

Now the King turned his gaze to the hobbits of the Embassy, who had been there to witness the judgment. "Mr. Fredegar Bolger?"

Freddy gave a slight start, but quickly recovered and stepped forth with a bow. "Yes, Sire?" he asked.

"Are you satisfied that the justice we have meted to these two is neither too harsh nor too lenient for the crimes of which they have been convicted? Do you believe that this judgment will be approved by the Worthies of the Shire?"

"Your Grace," Freddy said clearly, "I believe that your mercy and your justice is right. These two have been fools, but you give them a chance to amend their foolishness. The greater part of their punishment is behind them, for they have already lost their possessions, their homes, their families and even their names among those who once knew them. If they would no longer be fools, they should take full advantage of the opportunity you have given them to learn wisdom and humility."

"Thank you Mr. Bolger. We trust that you will report to the Thain the conclusion of this case." The King gave another curt nod to Lord Dorlas.

"There being no further business before the King, this concludes the Court of His Grace, Elessar Telcontar, High King of Gondor and Arnor."


*As revealed in Chapter 55 of "A New Reckoning"


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