Burden of Guilt

Sackcloth and Ashes

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.

"We will recompense you fully, Master Miller. " Aragorn said. "I am the King."

The Miller threw back his head and laughed.

"King indeed! " He snorted. "How can you be the King? If you were, you would be wearing fine silks and velvets not sackcloth stolen from me! " He gestured towards Faramir." I suppose you'll be claiming next that this ragamuffin is the Lord Steward?"

" I am actually." Faramir looked as if he wished the ground would open and swallow him." We were swimming and some goats …"

"Be off with you!" The Miller snapped, quickly suppressing his laugher." If I catch you still here when my wife returns from market, you will be very sorry! I'm not listening to any more lies or slandering the good name of our King!"

The three sackcloth clad companions fled sheepishly from the mill leaving the Miller staring after them. They were obviously lunatics and yet there was something about the eldest man that intrigued him, it was as if he had an almost regal air about him, despite his appearance, something, which had stopped him from giving the impudent fellow a sound thrashing. Shaking his head at such thoughts, the Miller tidied up the scattered pile of sacks.

Aragorn and Faramir felt slightly more relaxed now they had acquired some clothing, however makeshift, while Legolas complained incessantly about how the rough sacking chafed his fair skin. It seemed a very long way back to the city.

"Look! " cried Legolas suddenly. "There are our horses! "

They craned their necks in the direction the Elf pointed and could just make out three specks on the horizon.

"They've strayed into a hayfield! " Legolas explained, his keen elven eyesight noting the details.

"Iavas loves fresh hay! It will be difficult to retrieve them. "Faramir groaned.

Aragorn gave his companions an enigmatic smile and then raised two fingers to his lips and gave a piercing whistle, paused for a moment and then whistled again.

Legolas regarded Aragorn doubtfully. Surely losing his clothes had not caused him to lose his wits as well? By contrast, Faramir, having unlimited faith in the King's abilities, waited hopefully, certain that Aragorn knew what he was doing, however odd it might appear.

"They are coming!" Faramir said joyfully, as the horses started galloping towards them.

"However did you do that? " Legolas asked.

" I still remember a few tricks I learned as a Ranger. " Aragorn grinned as he swung himself up upon Roheryn's broad back.

"We never learned that in Ilithien" Faramir told him, as he mounted Iavas, patting the chestnut's neck as he settled himself in the saddle.

Meanwhile, Legolas had realised there was no way he could ride astride, without incurring the mirth of the populace, not to mention breaking several laws regarding public decency and breaching the peace so he had to mount side-saddle and ride like a lady, a feat he found took some mastering as he had never sat on a horse in such a manner before. It took all his Elven agility just to keep his balance.

Faramir and Aragorn struggled to contain their mirth.

"Your golden locks are even fairer than my wife's!" Faramir chortled.

" Don't let your Lady hear you saying that or you will be wearing sackcloth for a long time to come!" Aragorn teased, ignoring the Elf's furious expression.

They urged the horses towards the city gates and were there within minutes only to be halted by the stern faced Guard.

"What have we here?" he asked. "Vagabonds on stolen horses!"

"We own these horses." Aragorn said coldly. He was weary, cold and itching from wearing the sackcloth. All he wanted now was a hot bath and some comfortable clothing.

The Guard shook his head."Those are fine beasts, fit for the King and his Nobles, not for the likes of you!" He drew his sword and levelled it at Aragorn's chest. "I'm arresting you in the name of the King!"

"I am the King." Aragorn's tone was at its most commanding as he glared at the Guard." Release us this instant!"

The Guard flinched at the authority in Aragorn's voice but continued undeterred. "I've no time for your impudence, you rascal! You cannot be the King, not dressed like that! I saw him at his coronation and he wore finery that a ragamuffin like you couldn't imagine in your dreams!"

Aragorn groaned inwardly, he was cold weary and uncomfortable and was in no mood for a lengthy argument. The prospect of being locked in a cell and hoping someone would be allowed to identify him was growing alarming. They could overpower the Guard, but the King was reluctant to harm someone who was only doing their job.

He was about to urge Roheryn into a gallop and hope the others had the wits to follow, when he remembered he was wearing the Ring of Barahir, the heirloom of the Heirs of Isildur.

"Do you recognise this ring?" he asked the man.

The Guard shook his head. "It looks as if you stole that too!" he said grimly.

"Send for the Captain of the Tower Guard!" Aragorn ordered. "He will know this ring and its owner!" He could only hope that whoever was on duty would recognise him or Faramir in such unorthodox attire.

He was becoming increasingly worried, especially about Faramir. The Steward had endured so much in the past that Aragorn feared being locked in the dungeons could badly damage his newly acquired self-confidence. Then there was Legolas, a woodland Elf, one of a species attuned to Nature, who might react very badly if confined in a stone walled cell.

The man hesitated, he had a good mind to march these ruffians through the street to the dungeons, but it was a long walk and he was due to be relieved soon. Then what was to be done with the horses?

Aragorn, Faramir and Legolas could only wait and endure the stares and titters of the passers by. A queue was building up behind them impatiently waiting to enter the city.

"Whatever do you three, think you are doing?"

Aragorn heard a familiar and querulous voice, shouting almost in his ear.

"Dame Ioreth!" He was so relieved to see her that he could have kissed her!

"If that is your idea of the latest fashion, Lord Elfstone, I am not impressed!" Ioreth said tartly." You look like beggars and ought to be ashamed of yourself encouraging Lord Faramir to dress like that to go out riding!" She turned to Faramir, "As for you, young man, your father would be ashamed of you to see you looking like this! He had his faults, did Lord Denethor, but he did at least see his sons were properly dressed!"

Faramir opened his mouth to protest but before he could do so, Ioreth continued,

"I just don't know what this city is coming to! Highborn Lords riding around wearing sackcloth! I don't care if it's some new fashion or even a new fangled religion, but it is not at all seemly. Maybe it's the fault of the Elf, I never could abide them, you cannot tell what gender they are! I thought this one was male, but as it rides like a maid, it must be a she!

Legolas turned the colour of a beetroot.

"Dame Ioreth, I assure you that." Aragorn began but was promptly interrupted.

"And why is there such a queue at the city gates, I would like to know? It was never like this in Lord Denethor's time! I've spent a long tiring day visiting my cousin from Lossarnach, who is staying at a farm near here. And I want to get home and put my feet up not stand here talking. Why my cousin was telling me…"

Aragorn gently but firmly placed his hand over her mouth to stem the ceaseless flow. She glared at him with a look, which would have proved fatal if looks could kill.

" My pardon, Dame Ioreth but I want to put to put my feet up too but cannot get a word in edgeways!"

Seeing the Guard advancing menacing, he removed his hand, only just in time to avoid being bitten, he guessed.

"Please, Dame Ioreth, tell the Guard, who were are, then we can all be on our way!" he pleaded.

"Is that ruffian annoying you, madam?" asked the Guard.

Aragorn held his breath.

"Yes, he is." she replied."

Aragorn sighed. It looked as if the prospect of shedding the sackcloth followed by a warm bath and a meal were receding into a distant prospect.

A/N. My heartfelt thanks to everyone who has left a review. Your comments were much appreciated and I am pleased the last chapter made you laugh! There is a lot of doom and gloom to come so I thought it would be fun to have some humour first though to some degree it foreshadows the angst.

I intend to explore Aragorn's upbringing a little more in a future chapter. Aragorn's vision in "Shadow and Thought" does indeed hold a clue as does some of the conversations in Chapters 38 and 42 of that story, but all will be revealed in due course as I see all my LOTR stories as parts of one long story!

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