Out of Exile: Chr. 16 - A Story
"I've brought the prisoners, Teran. His Majesty asked me to bring them down here and wait for the trial to start."
Teran nodded, his deep brown eyes sweeping over Aramir curiously. Then he held the door open and the three walked in silently. Aramir glanced around the room in remembrance, noting the long, wooden table and the huge windows in the walls that were letting the early morning sun into the room. Teran moved away from the group and over to where the Captain of the Itir stood, conversing quietly with one of his men. Upon hearing whatever Teran had to say, he nodded briefly and walked briskly over to where Kellian stood next to Janst.
"Good morning Kellian," he greeted formally, but with a smile. "I see the King gave you my message. I need to speak with you about the trial, although I know you know the procedure. If you'll come with me..." he gestured to the table, but before turning to sit down he caught Aramir's eye and smiled briefly. Aramir smiled back.
The Exile watched as the two sat down, feeling suddenly lonely. He didn't have long to dwell on the feeling before someone came up behind him and firmly grasped his arm. Whoever it was led him over to a corner of the room. Another of the Itir did the same to Janst, although they put him in a different corner than Aramir, to the Exile's great relief.
"I thought I would be seeing you again," a voice said from behind Aramir. The speaker moved into view and Aramir smiled ruefully.
"Well hello Kern. Yes, I seem to remember someone daring me to come back."
Kern smiled slyly. "Now I wonder who that could have been," he teased thoughtfully.
Aramir shook his head, a small smile upon his face. Kern turned away from him-technically, he was not to have any association with the prisoner. Aramir stood in the corner for nearly 45 minutes. He felt extremely bored and lonely as he watched the Itir converse with each other in quiet tones. Once, he would have been among them, talking and laughing, or making them laugh-he had always been good at that. He would have been the man standing in the middle of the room, easily twirling his sword around his hand, tossing it into the air and deftly catching it. But not now. Now he stood in a dark corner of the huge hall, hands tied behind his back, under guard. And yet, despite all of his feelings, the strongest one he had was that of hope. Hope for what might possibly come, if his luck held. Odd that such a feeling would come at a time such as this, but he did not doubt that perhaps there was hope for him after all.
As he watched the Itir move about the room, he suddenly noticed something. There were only nine Itir. It made sense to him that two of them should be with the King and Princess, wherever they were, but not three.
"Kern?" he asked out of the corner of his mouth.
"Mmm?" Kern answered without turning around.
"Where are the other three Itir?" he asked.
"The other two, you mean. There are only eleven right now."
Aramir's eyebrows raised in interest at this information.
"Odd that the Exiled member should suddenly appear now," Kern mused thoughtfully.
Suddenly the door opened and the another of the elusive group entered the room. He crossed the room to where Kellian sat with Lee and leaned over to say something. Lee nodded and rose. He raised his hand in a sign that Aramir recognized well, and all of the Itir save Kern, Kellian, and Janst's guard left the room. Aramir raised his eyebrows again. Kellian rose from the table and walked over to speak with Kern.
"The trial will begin in about two minutes. Ronan will ask the Princess to give her story before we bring Aramir and Janst in." His eyes caught Aramir's and he smiled in encouragement. "He asked that we bring them to the Hall and wait outside."
Kern nodded and Kellian left to speak to Janst's guard.
"Who is Ronan?" Aramir asked curiously.
"The head of the Council," Kern responded.
Aramir nodded. He knew about the Council- they, along with the King, had exiled him. But he knew more than simply that. The Council was a small group who aided the King in making decisions in Minas Tirith. While the King made most of the laws concerning the land of Gondor, he and Council often decided matters in Minas Tirith together. Aramir could only think of two reasons why the King had asked the Council for a decision in this matter. One was that the Council, though many years ago, had exiled him in the first place. And although he had been exiled from all of Gondor, he had come back to Minas Tirith. The other reason, which almost seemed the more logical of the two, was that the King knew too much about the matter to make an impartial decision. He had spoken with Aramir, seen him with his daughter, and witnessed Janst's outburst against Aramir.
Aramir's thinking was cut off when Kern turned to him and raised an eyebrow. "Ready?" he asked.
Aramir nodded, feeling oddly confident. They filed out of the room, Kern behind Aramir, another Itir whom Kern had identified as Arin behind Janst, and Kellian in front. They marched down the hall at a steady pace, not fast, but certainly not slow. About halfway to the Great Hall, Kellian dropped back, whispered a few words to Kern, and then took the other's place behind Aramir. Kern moved up to the front of the group, assuming leadership. Aramir smiled to himself, feeling even more confident now that his best friend stood behind him, both figuratively and literally.
When they reached the Hall, they were greeted by one of the Royal Guard, who asked them to stand in the small room outside of the Hall until those inside were ready. As they stood, Janst somehow managed to make his way over to where Aramir stood. His face was contorted with rage as he faced the other. Aramir said nothing, choosing to ignore the Captain of the Guard. This only made Janst angrier, but just as he opened his mouth to say something undoubtedly horrible, the doors to the Great Hall swung open and the Guard motioned them in. Kellian swung Aramir around and looked deep into his eyes. Everything that the Elf wanted to say and could not was summed up in that look. Aramir nodded, giving the Elf a half-smile.
Then they were in the hall. Aramir stared around in awe. For all the times that he had been in this room, and he had been in it many times, the splendor of the Hall never ceased to hold him spellbound. It was a huge room, the largest in the palace. Used mainly for celebrations, it was also used for trials, a combination that had always amused Kellian and Aramir. On both sides of the centre isle were rows of seats, and in the walls were huge windows, shades drawn to let the bright, warm sunlight into the room. The high ceiling was colored brightly with paintings depicting great triumphs of past men of Gondor. Aramir's favorite was that of King Aragorn Elessar, Anduril in one hand, the green Elfstone on his brow. Today, however, Aramir chose not to stare up at the ceiling. Instead, he kept his eyes forward, avoiding the glares of the numerous people gathered to witness the trial. He saw no Itir, but he could feel their presence, the black figures hiding in the shadows. He stared down the long isle to where Arodan and Isilmë sat, waiting. The thrones of the King and Princess sat on a black marble dais at the end of the room, which, in turn, was set upon a larger dais of the same stone. The stone was polished to such a shine that one could look into it and clearly see their reflection. Aramir briefly recalled a time he had seen Kellian staring into the stone and had teased him about being vain and having to check his hair. The result of that comment had been a mock battle in the middle of the Hall which ended only when Lee had come in and broken it up, much to the friends' disappointment.
They walked past the front of the rows of seats, past where the Council of twelve sat. As they did, Aramir stole a glance at Ronan, then man who was to have so much part in his fate this day. He was a big man, with long dark hair and an equally long beard that made him look older than he probably was. He stared back at Aramir as the young man walked past, and Aramir, who did not look away, caught a fiery spark of intelligence in his eyes. Ronan's face showed no emotion as he eyed the Exile.
They walked up the three small stairs onto the large marble platform. Aramir stood on the right side of the dais, Kellian behind him, and Janst stood on the left, Arin behind him. For show as well as precaution, both Itir had their swords out. Aramir's black eyes drifted towards the King and Isilmë, who sat in silence, waiting and watching. Isilmë sat at her father's left side, looking perfect, in Aramir's opinion. Her dress was perfectly smooth, matching her icy blue eyes, which stared out into the mass of people. Her hair fell softly to her shoulders, held back from her face with a small silver circlet. She looked proud and aloof, and Aramir felt a fleeting moment of pity for her, for mixed into her proud look was one of clear discomfort. Lee stood behind and slightly to the left of the King, and another Itir stood behind the Princess. They also had their swords drawn, held loosely at their sides. Aramir caught Lee's eye and winked. Lee made no show that he even saw this, but Aramir knew that he had. All four of the people on the dais bowed respectfully to the King.
King Arodan's stern grey eyes drifted from Aramir to Janst, then raised to his people. He nodded once, and Aramir and the others slowly rose to their feet and turned to face the crowd gathered to witness the trial. Aramir stared around the hall; there must have been at least a thousand people there, and most of them, he realized, had probably not even been born when he was exiled.
Ronan rose quietly to his feet and cleared his throat. Aramir knew that the trial had already begun with Isilmë giving her testimony, so Ronan must be standing to question Janst and himself. He took a deep breath to clear his head and waited patiently.
Ronan turned to Aramir. "Aramir Nárëgond of the Wild, once bearer of the crest of the Itir, who carries the blood of the Orcs in your veins," he began, his deep bass voice echoing throughout the hall. "You stand here accused of breaking your exile by returning to the city of Minas Tirith. How do you respond to this accusation?"
"I am guilty of this which you accuse me," Aramir answered respectfully. Of course he was. He wouldn't be here if he hadn't broken his exile. He said nothing else, however. He knew that trying to justify his return would be pointless just now.
Ronan nodded, turning to Janst. "And you stand accused of treason to the crown for involvement in the kidnapping of Lady Isilmë, Princess of Gondor. How do you respond to this accusation?"
"I am innocent of any charge you may have against me," Janst spat angrily.
"Very well," Ronan nodded, turning back to Aramir.
"I now ask that you to justify your case to this Council and to your King. May Eru guide your words that you speak honestly before these gathered here."
Aramir nodded his head slightly, recognizing the words from other trials he had witnessed. He turned slowly to face Arodan and Isilmë and half-bowed in respect. "My Lord Arodan, Lady Isilmë-" he turned now to face Ronan and the people of the city "-honored Council of Gondor, people of Minas Tirith." He stared out into the crowd bravely. He knew that he did not have to say what he had just said; in fact, most said nothing more than that which would free them of punishment. But however respectful and civil it sounded, that had not been his main reason for saying it. He had said it to spite Janst. When it came the Captain's turn to tell his story, he would be caught in a trap. If he said nothing, he would sound disrespectful, but if he did address those as Aramir had, he would only sound as if he were copying the Exile. Aramir allowed himself a silent, satisfied smirk before beginning his story.
He told them everything, but from a formal point of view. He said nothing of his feelings for Isilmë, which resulted in him having to overlook a few parts in his adventure. He also left out almost all sympathy of the King, saying only that Lord Arodan had been kind enough to allow him to sleep in the Healing room instead of the prison.
When he was finished, he turned to Ronan and stared solemnly at the big man. "Such is the tale I have to tell," he finished. "May Eru guide your hearts that you may judge me fairly." Ronan nodded, and there was absolute silence in the Hall for nearly a minute as everyone stood or sat, thinking upon what Aramir had said.
Ronan made his way slowly back to where the Council sat, and they sat for several minutes, speaking amongst themselves about something or the other. Finally Ronan nodded and rose again.
"Although this Council knows the story behind you, we ask that, for the sake of those gathered to hear this trial, you would tell the story of your exile."
Aramir started. They wanted him to tell how he had been exiled?! How they had exiled him, how they had declared him a danger to the city. He bit down hard on his lip to keep himself from letting out an angry retort at Ronan. Taking several deep breaths, he quickly calmed down. They wanted to know it from his point of view. Ronan was not asking this to spite him. Nodding briefly, he began his tale, trying to sound as civil as was possible. The people listened in silence, never crying out, only listening intently. He told of his acceptance into the Itir, his friendship with Kellian, and of his long-kept secret, finally revealed. He told of Janst's horrible accusations, refuting them as horrid rumours. When he was done, he nodded again and fell silent.
Ronan nodded back to him and turned to the Council. After a brief conversation he turned back to Aramir, but when he spoke, it was to the King.
"This Council has no further questions to ask at this time. Has His Majesty anything to ask?"
"Nay, I have no questions," Arodan responded.
"And has Lady Isilmë anything to say?"
Isilmë looked as though she did in fact have something to say to Aramir, but whatever it was, she did not voice it. Instead she shook her head and answered, "Nay, I have naught to say."
Ronan nodded. "Very well then. Captain Janst of the Royal Guard of Gondor: I now ask that you in your turn justify your case to this Council and your King. May Eru guide your words that you may speak honestly before those gathered here."
Janst's face was a picture of rage as he turned, not to Ronan or the King, but to Aramir.
"I am innocent of all charges you accuse me of! It is he-" he nodded in Aramir's direction, "-who has plotted against the King and Princess. It is he who framed me for this terrible crime. He is the one-"
"Captain," Arodan interrupted. "You were asked to justify your case, not to accuse others of the crimes for which you have been accused. We wish to hear your story, not your accusations."
Janst's eyes narrowed further as he continued to glare at Aramir. Slowly he began to speak, telling his version of the story, in which he had rescued Isilmë. It would have been believable, Aramir thought, if Janst had had more time with which to plan it, but the story had several obvious flaws in it, and even the parts that were true were suspicious. Apparently, the Council thought the same.
"Captain, when Lady Isilmë was kidnapped, you found the kidnapper's ransom note. What were you doing in that room of the palace? Your quarters are on the opposite end of the house, and you have no business being there late at night." Ronan's voice was laced with suspicion.
There was a pause as Janst struggled to come up with a justification. "Something did not feel right. Can I explain a sixth sense? I felt that something was wrong and acted on that feeling."
Ronan nodded, clearly not satisfied but taking the answer nonetheless.
"And why," King Arodan asked, "did you take no Itir along with you when you searched out my daughter?"
A long pause followed, but Janst clearly could not think of an answer. "So perhaps I did hire Sirk to kidnap her!" he cried in anger. "Perhaps I did choose only those who knew of the plan to come with me. I knew what the reward might be if I rescued her. So I had her kidnapped, so I could rescue her, and claim my reward! Yes, I did it for my own good. But how can you compare my crime to his!"
Isilmë leapt to her feet. "And what could be more horrible than plotting my kidnapping just so you could take my hand in marriage? Aramir has done nothing!"
The crowd muttered its general agreement to Isilmë's statement.
"How can you side with him!?" Janst cried. "He is an Exile!! He has the blood of the Orcs in his veins!!"
"And you have the blood of the Elves in yours, Captain," Arodan pointed out. "It does not seem to matter."
"I resent that," Kellian muttered from behind Aramir, who snorted in amusement.
Suddenly, before anyone could react, Janst pulled his hands loose from the ties that held them behind his back. He spun around and tore Arin's sword from his hands before the startled Itir could even fathom what was happening. With a howl of rage, Janst leapt for Aramir, who dove to the side, tearing his hands free from behind his back. Janst swung the sword around, warding off anyone who came near him. Up on the small dais, Lee and the other Itir had moved protectively in front of Arodan and Isilmë, who were on their feet, watching in horror.
"Aramir!" Kellian cried, tossing his sword to the weaponless Exile.
Aramir caught the weapon just in time to block Janst's oncoming blow. The swords clanged and echoed through the hall. All throughout, people were on their feet, watching fearfully. Back and forth across the dais, Janst and Aramir fought to their full ability the fiercest fight Aramir had ever been in. Janst struck in swift, powerful blows, but Aramir knew his fighting technique well and was ready for each strike. The fight seemed to go on and on, and neither had the advantage for nearly five full minutes. Suddenly Janst reached into his tunic and pulled out a small knife. He threw it forcefully at Aramir, who reached out, caught it in his free hand, and sent it flying back at the Captain. Janst's eyes opened wide in horror and anger as he witnessed the Itir trick. He dove on his side to avoid the knife, then climbed back to his feet. With a terrible howl of rage, he leapt forward. Aramir met his blow head on, swinging his sword left, then right, left, right, left, right, and right again. Just as Aramir had intended, Janst was completely unready for this change in pattern. He gave a cry of surprise as Aramir's sword caught his own and sent it flying out of his hand. He then toppled over backwards as the Exile leaned over him with the sword, placing it on his chest threateningly.
"You would be dead if there were no mercy in my heart," Aramir hissed.
"Kill me then," Janst dared, sticking out his chest.
Aramir smirked at him. He knew that Janst wanted him to kill him, so that he would, in fact, look like a dangerous, evil, black-hearted person. Even if it meant his death, Janst wanted to see Aramir defeated. The Exile did not move. He kept the sword point on Janst's chest as Arin came forward and dragged the Captain to his feet. The Itir said nothing, only nodded to Aramir, looking impressed. Kellian came forward and stared at his friend.
"Are you alright?" he whispered, trying not to sound concerned for his prisoner.
"Yes, thanks to you," Aramir said with a smile, handing back the sword.
The entire hall seemed at a loss of what to do. Nothing like this had ever happened before, and no one, not even Arodan, seemed to know what he should do or say. The Council members were speaking in earnest with one another in such low tones that not even Kellian's sharp Elven ears could pick out what they were saying. Isilmë still stood on the dais, staring at Aramir in concern. Finally Arodan leaned over and took her arm, gently pulling her back into her seat.
At last, the King rose. "At this time," he said after clearing his throat, "It is customary that I, with the Council, meet to decide the fate of those accused. I feel that, despite what has occurred, this decision should still be made at this time." The King turned to the Council.
Ronan stood and nodded his head in agreement.
As if that were a cue, Kellian and Arin lead Aramir and Janst out a small side door next to the large stone dais. Aramir noticed that, while he was still unbound, Janst had been not only retied, but gagged as well. They entered a small, dim room and Kellian closed the door firmly behind him.
Chapter 11: http://www.theonering.com/docs/9357.html
Chapter 12: http://www.theonering.com/docs/9374.html
Chapter 13: http://www.theonering.com/docs/9424.html
Chapter 14: http://www.theonering.com/docs/9494.html
Chapter 15: http://www.theonering.com/docs/9583.html