Burden of Guilt

Grin and bare it !

These characters all belong to the estate of J.R.R. Tolkien and New Line Cinema with the exception of Caranthir who appears by kind permission of Evendim. This story was written purely for pleasure and not for profit.

Aragorn looked more closely at the goats and suddenly realised what they were eating.

"You are not having these too!" He yelled as a bearded Billy goat made a grab for the leg of his drawers. The animal retreated, carrying a piece of the fabric in his mouth.

"What has happened?" Faramir asked anxiously, as he scrambled out of the water.

"The goats appear to have eaten our clothes and towels." the King replied grimly." It even took my white tree!" He gestured to the torn leg of his drawers where before there had been an embroidered White Tree of Gondor, one of his few vanities.

"No!" Legolas cried, scampering after a goat, which had a piece of his tunic hanging from its mouth but by the time he had reached the animal it had devoured the cloth completely.

"They have bitten through the ropes and the horses have strayed! " Faramir announced, unable to conceal the rising panic in his voice.

"They cannot have gone far." Aragorn tried to sound soothing."Roheryn is Elvish and they are very loyal to their masters."

Legolas returned from his futile chase, looking totally dejected." Whatever am I going to do? " He wailed." I suppose one of you wouldn't lend me… "

Faramir blanched. He had a great admiration and respect for the Eldar, but the prospect of walking back to Minas Tirith stark naked was the stuff of his worse nightmares.

"The King and the Steward of Gondor have their dignity to maintain. Maybe the goatherd will return and be able to help us." Aragorn said firmly, placing a protective hand on Faramir's shoulder.

Despite the warmth of the late afternoon, the Steward's skin felt icy to the touch. He felt irked with Legolas, for upsetting Faramir as he could have kept some of his own clothing on instead of boasting about the perfection of elves.

"Very well." Legolas sighed .He wandered back to the bank to look for something to cover himself with and alighted upon some gigantic leaves which he started to gather.

"Do not touch those!" Aragorn called. " They are poisonous and cause a painful rash!"

"To mortals maybe but surely not for elves?" Legolas dismissed his concerns airily.

" I have not seen an Elf affected, but then these plants do not grow in the Elven realms." Aragorn conceded.

Legolas walked back up the back, clutching a bouquet of the giant leaves round his middle. He brushed his long golden hair back from his face with his free hand.

"You worry too much, Aragorn. "he said, "These leaves will serve as covering until we find something better. I think they are just the right size to cover me."

"Bad goats come back!" a shout heralded the belated appearance of the goatherd, a young boy of about eleven summers. He was roughly but more than adequately clad in rough breeches, a tunic and a cloak

Legolas ducked behind Aragorn at the boy's appearance, while Faramir shivered and crossed his arms defensively across his chest.

The boy stopped when he saw them and stared with eyes wide as saucers.

"Please could you help us? " Aragorn asked politely." We need some of your clothes from you, we will pay of course!"

The boy looked him up and down for a mere second them with a piercing scream fled.

Aragorn sighed with dismay." I fear he misunderstood our predicament. Either that or he took some of the clothing himself as it was a lot for goats to devour!" he said. "Come we had better try and find our horses and someone who will help us."

They started to run across the Pelennor .The meadows were green again after the carnage of the battle fought there, maybe made even more lush now they were fertilised with the blood of so many. The only reminder of what had occurred was a bare patch where the remains of the fell beast had been burned and nothing would grow on that spot now.

Aragorn and Faramir soon found themselves tiring, for although both had spent many years wandering in the wild, they had little such exercise since Aragorn had become King. Their pace slackened and they walked in dejected silence with Legolas bringing up the rear, for although the elf was tireless, he preferred to stay close to his human companions in his current predicament.

Much to their relief eventually they reached a farmhouse where a plump young woman was hanging some washing out on a clothesline. Their eyes brightened at the sight of several shirts, a pair of breeches, and some bed sheets.

"Stay behind us! " Aragorn instructed Legolas as the three made their way to the woman. He was blushing scarlet at the prospect of letting a woman see him so inadequately clad, while Faramir's expression suggested that had he not been loyal to Aragorn he would have turned and fled. As it was he stood huddled miserably, trying to cover himself with his arms.

"Your pardon, Lady, but we wondered if you would help us, as we are in dire need of your clothing. " Aragorn said politely, gesturing towards the washing line.

The woman reacted by giving him a resounding slap across the face.

"How dare you, you impudent knave!" She shrieked. "Be gone or I'll set the dogs on you! I hoped now the King has returned that things would get better here, but they have gone worst! "

"But Madam, I am the King." Aragorn said with as much dignity as he could muster, as he rubbed his reddening cheek before crossing his arms defensively across his bare chest.

"King indeed, a lunatic more like!" She snapped. " Obviously the three of you have escaped from the asylum. You need locking up forever!"

Much to their dismay, she snatched her washing from the line and ran inside, slamming the door behind her.

"We should have waited and helped ourselves to the washing when she had gone. " Faramir said woefully. "We could have paid for it later. Has she hurt you? "

Aragorn rubbed his face ruefully.

" It could have been worse, she could have punched me in the eye! Whatever did I say to upset her so?"

"You asked for her clothes. " Faramir answered with a mirthless laugh, I think she thought you meant what she wore, not the washing!"

Aragorn flushed slightly at the implication.

" How dare she strike you that is treason? Whatever can we do now?" Legolas complained.

" I can hardly blame the poor woman, she could hardly recognise me in my drawers and we must have frightened her." Aragorn replied.

He looked around him and spied a mill a short distance away.

"Let us try that mill. " He suggested.

They set up at a fair pace, Legolas having to slow down to keep up with the two humans. He had now wedged himself between Aragorn and Faramir as the leaves were starting to wilt and he had lost several of them on the way. Both men were wary thoughand did their best not to get close enough for the leaves to touch their skin.

The mill door was open and much to Aragorn and Faramir's delight, a pile of flour sacks were neatly folded behind the door. They picked them up and started tearing holes in them to make makeshift clothing.

"Just what we need!" Faramir sighed with relief, as he was cold as well as miserable and embarrassed by their plight.

"What use are flour sacks? " asked Legolas. "We need clothing!"

"We can wear them. " Aragorn was already pulling one over his head. Like Faramir he was starting to feel cold and his flesh was covered with goose bumps.

"These? " the Elf was horrified. "But the material is so coarse!"

Aragorn had already torn a strip off a second sack. He then made a hole in the bottom of it, stepped into it, and secured it round his waist. The outfit was far from being either elegant or comfortable, but it was at least decent.

Faramir had likewise made a similar outfit for himself.

"Can't one of you at least let me borrow your drawers now?" Legolas pleaded.

"We itch as much as you, maybe more so as we are mere mortals! " Aragorn retorted. "You had better put on a sack or remain naked and treat the citizens of Minas Tirith to a glimpse of your elven perfection! "

"Mortals would be unable to appreciate elven beauty! " Legolas retorted as he reluctantly followed the others' example. "It itches. "he moaned as the sackcloth irritated his fair flesh.

" And just what do you think you are doing! " A plump middle-aged man, with greying hair and beard entered the mill, his face flushed with anger. "Stealing my flour sacks, I'll report you to the King's justices!"

TBC

A/N A very big thank you to everyone who has reviewed. Your comments are greatly appreciated.

Many of you guessed right about the goats, congratulations! I was inspired by a story my late Aunt told about a goat eating her Macintosh. I am sure they do prefer greenery but I thought it amusing for the purpose of the story as they have been known to eat clothing!

My characters are the same as in "Shadow and Thought" but as circumstances have changed so have their attitudes. I thought it would be nice to show them for a few chapters as they could be if writers like myself did not torment them!

The tragic events, which form the heart of this story, are yet to come and emerge from an unexpected quarter although "Shadow and Thought" contains the genesis of the catastrophe to occur later in the story.

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