Burden of Guilt

Measure for Measure

These Characters are the property of the Estate of J. R. R Tolkien and New Line Cinema. This story has been written for pleasure and no profit has or will be made from it.

For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again.

The Bible;Mathew 7.2

Mahrod glared at the assembled company who jeered at him angrily. Aragorn raised his hand for silence and ordered the prisoner to face him. As he showed no sign of obeying, the guards forced him to turn around. He scowled contemptuously at the King but was unable to endure the suppressed fury in stern grey eyes for more than a few seconds before turning away.

"What do you have to say for yourself, Mahrod, son of Bergrod?" Aragorn enquired, "How do you plead to these most grievous charges against you?"

Mahrod did not reply for a few moments and Aragorn braced himself for a display of false contrition, which he had learned to harden himself against since he had become King. The most hardened criminals were masters of hand wringing, insincere tears and many promises to reform, which were invariably broken as soon as they were released.

"Why did you conspire against the life of Lord Faramir, Steward of Gondor and Prince of Ithilien?" Aragorn asked for a third time, his patience beginning to wane.

"Why shouldn't I, as he ruined my life?" Mahrod sneered contemptuously, though he could not bring himself to look at Aragorn," Had me half beaten to death he did, when I was just having a bit of fun! And if that wasn't enough my wife went and left me and the rest of my family threw me out all on account of oh so virtuous and self righteous Lord Faramir!"

"That's not true!" a woman called from the crowd, "I was going to leave you in any case after the things you did to me that no decent man would! Your crime was just the final straw!"

"Peace, good lady!" Convention demanded that Aragorn rebuke the woman but his tone was kindly. "How many lashes were you given, Mahrod?" he continued in a much sterner tone.

"Twenty five but the no good lieutenant that beat me did it very hard!" Mahrod said sulkily. "It just weren't fair!"

Aragorn turned and consulted with one of the Lords at his side, who then held up a scroll.

"It is written here," the King said," That the penalty for committing rape is death, so it seems that Lord Faramir was exceptionally lenient with you! When did you next see Lord Faramir after he dismissed you?"

"The only place I could find work after he ruined my life was in the City Prison," Mahrod replied, obviously not impressed in the slightest by his former Captain's mercy. "I was there doing my duty on the mid day of September when they brought in Lord Faramir, after he committed treason by attacking the King of Rohan. Now, I don't say that I haven't been a rogue in my time, but I was never a traitor and I was determined to give him what he deserved! I was doing my duty, I was, when he comes along and gives me a clout with my own whip!" He looked accusingly at Aragorn.

The crowd tittered and murmured approvingly at the revelation.

"Lord Faramir is no traitor and it is for the law to decide who is guilty or not," Aragorn said coldly.

"Where is Lord not a traitor Faramir then?" Mahrod asked, "If I beat him like you say I did, he should take off his fine clothes before us all and let us see his scars on his soft and delicate flesh!"

"That is out of the question!" Aragorn snapped, feeling very relieved indeed that Faramir was not present to be distressed by this man's outrageous behaviour. "No one would thus demean so noble a gentleman! Are you impertinent enough to believe all these good witnesses would lie?"

Eomer, who since the Warden of the Houses of Healing's testimony had been gripping his sword so tightly that his knuckles were white, finally lost his temper. To the surprise of the spectators, he leapt from his seat and strode forward until he was nose to nose with Mahrod.

The guards hesitated awaiting Aragorn's orders. Eomer was himself a King, and kings were not to be trifled with in their opinion.

Aragorn nodded to Eomer, indicating that he should speak.

"Would you doubt the word of a King?" Eomer demanded, " I have seen my brother's scars and I was shocked by them, I Eomer Eomundsson, veteran of many a fierce and bloody battle! I swear it before all here assembled and call on my trusty blade, Guthwine to bear witness!" He drew his sword and placed his hand against the blade, a gesture used by the Rohirrim to solemnise an oath.

"Indeed, I fought with my brother, but it was a mere squabble and he is no traitor! We may not always see eye to eye but he is part of my family and no one, least of all scum like you, gets away with hurting him! If any scars are to be revealed, how about yours? For if my brother injured you as you claim, you must still carry the evidence of it on your body!"

The crowd roared their approval. Aragorn was about to deny Eomer's request, for vile though Mahrod undoubtedly was, he would not stoop to humiliating a prisoner. Eomer was too quick though, and drew his sword, and with it slit Mahrod's tunic and shirt. He stared closely at the bared back before announcing contemptuously: "Whoever flogged you, did so with goose feathers!"

The crowd tittered, craning the necks for a better look.

Eomer turned, levelling his blade at Mahrod's throat and looked him in the eye. For the first time, the criminal shivered.

"I could cut your throat now, you cur! That would be far more honourable a death than you deserve though, " he said, sheathing his sword again.

Inclining his head to Aragorn, the two Kings exchanged a faint smile. Without another word, he turned and left the Hall.

At a nod from Aragorn, one of the guards removed his cloak and draped it around Mahrod.

The crowd murmured their disapproval at this gesture of compassion towards the prisoner.

As if no interruption had taken place, Aragorn raised his hand for silence before saying, "Mahrod, son of Bergrod, having heard the evidence and carefully considered it, I now pronounce sentence upon you."

A page appeared from the back of the Hall carrying two swords reclining on a velvet cushion. The blades stood out glittering against the dark material. One was an ordinary sword, sharp and ready for battle, while the other had a blunt point and was known as the Curtana. He knelt before the King and waited for him to select one of the blades. If the blunt sword of mercy was selected, the prisoner would either be released or granted a lenient sentence, if the sharp sword was chosen, the prisoner was condemned to die.

The crowd were now in uproar as the climax of the trial approached. "Flog him!" they cried, "Give him a traitor's death, hang him high, cut out his guts and despatch his quarters throughout Gondor! Let him suffer as he made our Lord Faramir suffer!"

Outwardly a picture of complete composure, none could have guessed the turmoil within Aragorn's heart. He wanted to strangle Mahrod with his bare hands or have him flogged until his back was torn to ribbons.

How he wanted to make him suffer as he had made Faramir suffer! He still had nightmares about finding his Steward beaten half to death. He knew all too well that had he not been gifted with exceptional powers of healing, his beloved friend and advisor would never have survived, so broken was he in both mind and body, due to this one man's evil.

He had always found the traitor's death barbaric, and had determined never to sentence any to it. Yet, was it not designed for such as Mahrod? Grisly it might be, but it acted as a powerful deterrent. Yet there were other ways he could decree an unpleasant death. There was beheading with a blunted axe, or shooting by inexperienced archers or boiling in molten oil.

Aragorn chided himself mentally for even thinking such things. He was standing here in judgement as King of Gondor, representing the impartial majesty of the law. He was Faramir's friend and protector, but that could not be allowed to influence his judgement anymore than could his upbringing amongst the peaceful Elves of Rivendell.

Mahrod had proved himself to be a menace to society and for that he must die. If he were imprisoned, he might escape and if exiled, he would only bring more suffering to those he dwelled amongst.

Holding the Sceptre of Annuminas in his left hand, he grasped the sharp sword of justice in his right and pointed it at Mahrod.

"Mahrod, son of Bergrod, I sentence you to death by hanging!" he said solemnly, looking at the prisoner straight in the eye, hoping to find some flicker of remorse. There was none. "You will be hanged by the neck until you are dead tomorrow at dawn."

Mahrod's response was to spit at him.

Ignoring the insult, Aragorn turned and swept regally from the Hall, the jeers of the crowd echoing in his ears. There was no doubt that they thought Mahrod had escaped lightly.

He went straight to Faramir's rooms, where the Steward was lying on the couch, his features drawn with pain.A pile of State Documents lay untouched at his side.He made to rise when the King entered in full regalia but Aragorn shook his head as he settled beside him, laying the sceptre on a nearby table.

"How many times do I have to tell you not to rise when we are alone!" he chided gently, grasping Faramir's hands "How are you feeling?"

"How can I not want to show you my respect when your full Majesty is revealed?" Faramir replied sighing," I itch and my arm and all of my belly is very sore."

" I fear there is a great deal of scar tissue inside you," Aragorn told him, "More than you or I could detect, but I used a good deal of rosehip oil and can only hope by tomorrow you will be healed. I will get you some salve for the itching."

" It will do later. What happened at the trial?" Faramir asked, feeling it was somehow inappropriate for the King to be rubbing salves on his back while still wearing royal robes.

"I have sentenced Mahrod to death," Aragorn said sombrely. "He has been convicted of treason and die as a traitor tomorrow!"

"I thought you said you would not order that gruesome penalty." Faramir said in horror.

Aragorn shook his head: "He will hang until he is dead and then be buried in an unmarked grave," he reassured Faramir, as always amazed that his friend was so merciful, especially as his pulse raced beneath his fingers at the mere mention of his attacker. "I dislike ordering executions but I will not tolerate any harming my Steward!" he added, looking contritely at Faramir. "It was I who was to blame though for putting you where you could be harmed. Can you ever truly forgive me?"

"How many times do I have to tell you that there is nothing to forgive? You never wronged me in any way." Faramir's grey eyes were full of love and loyalty as he met his King 's eyes. He then kissed him on the brow to underline his words, before being overwhelmed again by the urge to scratch his back.

"I will go and fetch the salve," Aragorn said rising to his feet and smiling at Faramir. His Steward was a true jewel in his crown.

"Change out of your robes first!" Faramir said sternly.

Aragorn laughed. "You sound like your wife or like Eomer!" he teased, " I wished you had seen Eomer at the trial today! He insisted on giving evidence and was quite magnificent as were all the witnesses!"

" I am certain he is telling Eowyn about it now as she took Elestelle to see him." the Steward replied as he tried vainly to reach a spot between his shoulders only to groan at the pain in his belly the movement caused.

"You will feel better tomorrow," Aragorn soothed, hoping desperately that he was telling the truth. The Elven treatment was usually highly effective but never before had he used it on that type of injury and he had no idea if it would work or not. Elves did not kick each other or use the cat of nine tails.

When Faramir awoke tomorrow, he would know whether he would make a full recovery or be maimed for life.

TBC

A/N

A big thank you to all my reviewers. Your comments are greatly appreciated. I have now passed the 1,100-review mark thanks to your kindness and support. I am truly amazed this story has proved so popular!

Do please tell me of any errors I make.

The Curtana is a blunt sword used at British coronations, which together with a sharp sword is presented to the Sovereign to represent justice and mercy.

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