THE KING RETURNS
May 1, 3020
For twelve long days, Ceolwulf and Vardamir had been fettered to the wall by their hands and feet while their trial awaits the arrival of King Eomer. The king had been inspecting a new military tower being built on a spur of the White Mountains. Adibe, Debanni and Candon have fared far better than they, for although they have been imprisoned in a prison cell in the guardhouse at Dunharrow, they have at least been allowed freedom to walk about their cell. Although they are prisoners, all have been treated fairly and given adequate food, drink and blankets, but still the guards have been cold and gruff to them. Oslaf was a young man beloved by those who knew him, a good friend, courageous in battle, and his death was mourned by all. He was buried in a mound among many others in Dunharrow; the barrows of those who had died during the Battle of the Harrowdale Valley and the fell winter that year and the year before. Feelings were high and against Ceolwulf and Vardamir, and if it were up to most of the people in Dunharrow, they would have been torn limb from limb by now, but, no, things must be done in good order and the trial must wait until the king returns.
Eomer King had already been apprised by dispatch delivered by courier shortly after the spies were captured. He had tried all during this time to reserve his opinions until he had heard words from the lips of the spies himself, but he knew in his heart that they were guilty and must pay the penalty for their crimes - death. The puzzling matter, though, was the fate of the women and boy. Eomer was loath to pronounce death sentences upon any of them. He had thought as he had ridden to Dunharrow with his escort, he would as soon slay the villains with his own sword as he would to talk to them. Eomer was a man of strong passions and a quick temper.
The day of the trial, May 1st, had arrived, and after eating their breakfast, Eomer King and his sister Eowyn were escorted by a few guards the short distance to the hall, where the doors were opened to them amid bowings and greetings. Hand in hand, Eomer and Eowyn walked to the end of the hall, where his throne rested upon a dias and then he escorted her to a chair to the right of his throne. After she was seated, he bowed to her and the council, then took his seat upon the throne.
The council was already assembled on chairs on either side of the king and princess. The king and Aldor, head of the council, discussed matters of interest to both kingdom and kin and then Eomer said he was ready to hear the trial. "Guards, bring the accused," he said, and from an antechamber guards ushered in Ceolwulf and Vardamir, both bound with their hands behind their backs; and Adibe, Debanni and Candon held lightly by ropes on their wrists in front of them.
The hall was silent. "I will speak to the prisoner Ceolwulf first," the king said. The king was not in the mood to talk to an Easterling spy, but since one of the men had maintained that he was an Eorling, Eomer felt that he should let the man have his say. "Prisoner," Eomer said, his voice flat and cold, "I have been told that you claim your name is Ceolwulf son of Elfwine, and that you were a member of the King's Knights. How can this be," Eomer said, his voice agitated. "Your hair and beard are dark brown and few Eorlings have such an appearance. Speak, man, but do not attempt to lie, for I will know by your eyes whether you speak falsehood or truth!"
"My lord," Ceolwulf looked the king in the eyes, "indeed I am Ceolwulf son of Elfwine and I fought at the First Battle of Isen, Helm's Deep and Pelennor Fields, where I ran like a dog, much to my shame. I was captured during the battle and later taken as a slave to Nurn and then back to Gondor, where my comrade Vardamir and I escaped. I..." Ceolwulf hung his head and then looked back to the king, "thought 'twould be best to fight the Enemy from within His own territory and so Vardamir and I turned bandit, though we were none too successful at that trade."
The king interrupted. "I am in dismay at all that you have said, and I do not know if I believe anything of your tale, and you speak much too rapidly. Tell me simply, man, what is the cause of your brown hair and beard? Do you have kin from the South perhaps? Or from Dunland?"
"Nay, king, my beard and hair are the color of all Eorlings, but I dyed them with the stain of walnut husks to disguise my appearance, for among the people of that land, I, among all the others, would surely stand out."
Eomer leaned forward and looked at Ceolwulf intently. "The man is a good liar and very cunning, but I am not so gullible as to believe his tale. I will hear him, however," he thought. "Now you say," he addressed Ceolwulf, "that you and your friend became highwaymen who were not successful and this was done, you say, to fight against the Enemy. I could, perhaps, grant some degree of belief to this part of your tale, but why of all places would you and your company be in the Paths of the Dead. Outside of Mordor itself, there are few places that have such a dire reputation as that!"
The counsel's voice was a low hum affirming what Eomer had said.
"King," Ceolwulf said, "the captain of the band of outlaws, one Captain Algund by name, and our band kidnapped the wife, daughter and son of a wealthy Southron lord and held them for ransom. The Captain, however, betrayed his part of the bargain and returned only the lad to his father in exchange for a rich ransom. The Captain, blackheart that he was, withheld the Southron's wife Adibe and his daughter Debanni for his own foul uses."
A look of incredulity crossed Eomer's face and he sat back in his throne with a loud thud and rested his hand on the arm of his throne. "Do you expect me to believe such tales as this!" Eomer said angerily. "That I cannot do. Falsehoods, all falsehoods! You speak nothing but lies! Guards, take him to the other side of the hall, and if he speaks again, tie a gag about his mouth. I will not listen to such lies in this hall."
"My king," Ceolwulf pleaded, "please listen."
"Silence! Gag this man and remove him!" One of the guards beside Ceolwulf drew a large handkerchief out of the sleeve of his tunic and stuck it firmly between Ceolwulf's jaws and bound it tightly behind his head.
Eomer turned towards Aldor. "What is the name of the next villain whom I must hear?"
"Vardamir," he said.
"If I must listen to such foolishness as I have from the other one, I will quickly dismiss him and have him summarily gagged in the same manner as the other."
Vardamir stood, guards to either side of him, in front of the king. "What are you claiming to be, Southron spy!" Eomer exclaimed and looked to Vardamir. He thought to himself, "If the law were changed, I would kill them both here and not bother to take them outside!"
Lady Eowyn, Adibe and Candon portrayed
Debanni portrayed by Madurz
Vardamir, Sigbert, Garmund and Beorngar portrayed by Hobbitness
Narrator, Eomer and Aldor portrayed by Angmar
Vardamir: *Vardamir clenches his bound
hands behind his back, seeing no way out of this predicament.
If he tells the truth as Ceolwulf did, he will be silenced in
the same way. He does not fear death, for it is a passage to the
One, but to die painfully as a criminal...that he does dread.
Nor does he wish Ceolwulf to die either.*
Vardamir: *But he has no honorable choice but to speak truthfully. He says in a clear, steady voice, meeting Eomer's eyes sadly* What can I say, Your Majesty, other than the truth? Though I know it is well nigh impossible to believe! But I swear to you by the Lady Elbereth that my friend and I do not lie. We are escaped slaves turned highwaymen. I am Vardamir of Gondor. I was captured at Pelennor Fields and forced into slavery. I escaped with Ceolwulf, and because he desired revenge on our enemies in Mordor, we joined a band of outlaws. Their leader was a traitorous Dunedain ranger, but many of the men were also escaped slaves, sympathetic to our cause, that of the West.
Vardamir: As Ceolwulf said, the leader was killed during the kidnapping, and we were forced to flee our pursuers and take the women with us. *He nods to Adibe and Debanni* We intended to come here to seek sanctuary...but the women's presence casts doubt on us. I say to you that this is your countryman who was thought dead, Ceolwulf son of Elfwine. We will swear any oath you ask of us to prove that what we say is true. We are at your mercy. *He bows respectfully*
Eomer: Liars are quick to swear any oath, for the truth is unknown to them! *Eomer retorts* Do not think that we treat those captured in war harshly, but you are all spies and cutthroats and subject to the harshest laws! You have come here to spy upon us and then to go back and lay plans with your evil leaders to wage war upon us! I do not believe you *he says loudly, his face growing red*
Eowyn: *Eowyn looks over to Eomer and says softly in Rohirric* Let us now hear the women and lad ere we pass judgment upon the men, though doubtless they are deserving of death.
Eomer: Nay! *he retorts* I have not finished talking to this one!
Eowyn: *She nods* Very well, my lord.
Vardamir: *Vardamir closes his eyes, stifling a grieved sigh. He almost hangs his head, but catches himself, and stands erect, remembering the noble blood of his Elvish kin.*
Eomer: Why *he says in Common* did you choose to travel upon the Paths of the Dead? Answer me that *he says, almost rising to his feet in his anger*
Vardamir: *Vardamir looks hesitantly to the gagged Ceolwulf, then turns back to Eomer* My lord, I went because Ceolwulf, our leader, chose that course. When he was a slave in Mordor, Ceolwulf suffered grevious tortures, and now he has fits of madness. It was in one such fit that he insisted that we take the Paths of the Dead. *He groans inwardly, thinking how impossible this story sounds.*
Eomer: *Eomer closes his eyes and looks upward at the ceiling in frustration, fighting to gain control over his temper.* You come here with these unbelievable tales, expecting us to believe them!
Eomer: *Opening his eyes again, he looks to Vardamir* Do you think we are a land of fools? I can bear no more of this! Take him away and gag him like the other! *he shouts*
Vardamir: My lord, my lord, we are telling the truth! I swear on the life of your dead King, Theoden!
Eomer: *Eomer stands to his feet and walks down the steps of the dias. Reaching Vardamir, he draws his sword* Do not take the name of the king in idle swearing!
Eowyn: *Eowyn's eyes narrow and her jaw clenches. How dare this insolant spawn of the Southland use the name of our uncle in derision! She remembers how, during her captivity in the Dark Tower, her uncle's severed, rotting head was brought before her on a plate, his staring eyes glazed, his face contorted in agony. The Witch-king had mocked her, laughing at her sorrow and anguish, reminding her that under enchantment, she had so willingly submitted to him in his bedchambers, calling him beloved and most dear, and forgetting that he had cruelly slain her uncle.*
Eowyn: My lord! *Eowyn cries and quickly moves to Eomer's side, her eyes flashing angerily* Do not slay him in the hall! If you must sully your sword with his foul blood, then do so outside, as is the custom of the kings of the Mark!
Vardamir: *Vardamir instinctively steps backwards, then falls on his knees and bows deeply* My lord, I beg your pardon! *He thinks, "I would never beg my evil masters for anything, but these are friends, equals...though they do not have Elvish blood. There is no shame in humbling myself before this King.*
Eomer: *He clenches the hilt of his sword so tightly that his knuckles grow white* I swear I will kill him! Such words, such words of dishonor to my uncle!
Eomer: *He grabs Vardamir by the neck of his tunic and draws him up to face him* You are the spawn of the Dark Land truly to speak such words in mockery of my uncle!
Vardamir: 'Twas not mockery, my lord. I am sorry to have given offense.
Eowyn: Take this villian outside! *Eowyn repeats, her hands clenching at her sides* Do not defile the floor with his blood!
Aldor: *Trembling, Aldor the Elder and Sage rises to his feet* My king! *he says, his voice hoarse* Let us not be hasty here! Hear out the women first before passing judgment! Please, I entreat you, my lord! *he says, his voice placating*
Eomer: *Eomer looks upward again, fighting a great struggle to keep himself from dragging Vardamir outside. He rolls his head, still looking upward, his hand white upon the hilt of his sword, the other hand on Vardamir's collar. "Still," he reasons with himself, "the elder has long been renouned for his wisdom and it would do him dishonor not to heed his words."*
Eomer: For now, Lord Aldor, for now *he said, his voice a harsh, grating whisper. Then releasing Vardamir, he turns suddenly away from him and walks back and seats himself upon his throne, Eowyn following behind.* Take him to the side of the hall and gag the wretch! I will hear no more words from him!
Narrator: *Quickly the guards gag Vardamir and roughly drag him to the side of the hall.*
Eomer: *The endless wars and raids, the spring of dearth and the long fell winter have turned a rough people into a harsher one. Eomer has little patience to hear what he considers the words of spies.*
Eomer: *"They try my patience!" he thinks. "I will listen to their dupes, the women and the lad, but I will not listen long! I vow by the memory of my ancestors!"*
Eomer: Bring the elder woman before me! *he commands*
Narrator: *The guards touch Adibe on the shoulder, urging her forward*
Adibe: *Adibe is led by the guards to the throne of the king. She keeps her head bowed and upon reaching the dias, she bows low to the floor, her forehead touching the cool stone. She wonders what torments that she and her daughter will be subjected to after their setence is proclaimed, and what of the young boy, what will these fiends do to him?*
Eomer: *Eomer's fist thumps the side of his throne. Between clenched teeth, he rasps out* What manner of foolishness is this! Rise to your feet! What is your name? *he asks, barely able to speak because of his anger*
Adibe: *Adibe rises to her feet and casts a glance towards the king's boots, not daring to look at his face* Adibe, lord, is my name. I am the wife of Lord Ashtum of Harad, ruler of a fiefdom in Southern Gondor.
Eomer: Southrons! *he shouts* Spies! Your ancestors came long ago and sailed up the River Isen to attack Rohan! Do you think for one instant that you would find welcome in this land! *he says, his face convulsed in bright red* You come as spies, all of you, and you expect me to believe that you came pleading sanctuary! *he says, his anger almost too much now for him to bear*
Sigbert: *Sigbert, a former soldier, now a concillor, sits tense in his chair, his arm muscles bulging as he grips its arms. His grizzled old face is flushed almost as red as Eomer's.*
Sigbert: *Since the man who claims to be from Gondor profaned the name of Theoden, Sigbert has fumed silently. But a corner of his mind remains open to reason, and in this corner he still tries to weigh the strange testimony of these intruders. One small voice in his head, much fainter than the voice of his rage, says, "Perhaps their story is too strange to be false."*
Adibe: My daughter and I were taken here against our will. *Adibe says quietly* We were journeying back to our city in Southern Gondor after a sojourn in Minas Artano - I believe it was once called Minas Tirith - during the month of great celebration. It was when we were close to the borders of our own fiefdom that a band of highwaymen assailed us, and my daughter, son and I were taken and held for ransom. It is as the man called Ceolwulf says; the leader of the brigands returned my son to the men of Lord Ashtum, my husband, but still held my daughter and me captive. The leader was slain, and Ceolwulf took us northward to the evil path, with the forces of Lord Ashtum always behind us. We are not spies, lord. *She falls silent and looks at her feet*
Eomer: *He looks from Adibe over to Ceolwulf and Vardamir and then back to her* I can understand how these two ruffians would kidnap you, for it is apparent that their minds breed only violence and corruption. Perhaps they have made you, your daughter and the lad so fearful that you say now what they have told you to say before. I deem that you have been influenced by the both of them and it is no longer necessary for you to speak.
Eomer: I dismiss you *he says* Guards, take her with the others! *His fist stops its incessant drumming on the side of his throne and he feels himself calming a bit after talking to the woman. Remembering the plight of his sister in Mordor, he thinks "Poor woman. She has been terrorized by these two blackguards."*
Eomer: *He watches as the guards escort her to the side of the hall.* Now bring forward the younger woman! *he says, his voice growing kinder and more sympathetic*
Garmund: *Garmund, a councillor who has never served in the military because of his lameness, shifts in his chair and clears his throat. He turns to Eomer King* My lord, perhaps we might consider the possibility that there is some truth to their words. Though I myself find it highly unlikely, it would be a tragedy if this were the real Ceolwulf son of Elfwine, and we executed him. And the woman does not seem frightened to me, except for being intimidated by this trial. *He bows to Eomer*
Eomer: *He looks to Garmund* Your words ring with wisdom, Lord Garmund, and I agree that should there be any possibility of innocence that we not mete out false judgment. However, I know that the peoples of the Dark Land have the words of their Master at the ready in their mouths and they but speak them, for that is how they have been trained.
Eomer: No doubt the two men have been trained in the use of words that are cunning and though they are untrue, they sound fair. Do not worry, Lord Garmund, I shall not mete out judgment that is too quick. I would hear the younger woman speak and test the truth of her words
Garmund: My lord, if they are from Rohan and Gondor as they say they are, then they are not people of the Dark Land.
Sigbert: *Sigbert blurts out* As if that were possible!
Eomer: Lord Garmund, both the men have dark hair and the one has a dark beard. It is unlikely that they have ever set foot in Rohan before the night that they began their spying journey. And look at the woman. See how dark their features are? And the one woman confesses that she is of Harad. I will speak now with the younger of the women. Bring her forward.
Debanni: *So detached from the life she knew, Debanni now faces a new challenge of her twisted fate. Once she thought her only destiny was to become an obeying wife to some stranger through no matter of the heart and bear children and live a life similar to her mother's with her father. Though not an appealing thought in the past, it was far better than what had befallen her in recent time.*
Debanni: *To be kidnapped and then abused in such cruel ways by the one whose death she rejoiced in, then to lose her beloved little brother. Then to follow these strangers on a quest into the unknown, only to lead them in a trial for their lives. But these strangers were all she had to trust and now depend on. They had not harmed her and her mother, and seemed they did not intend on doing so. During her time here in this place, she had developed a deep sympathy for her captors. Their tale of the past and how all came to be, she did believe and the one, Ceolwulf, she thought mad, caused her to feel an odd tug at her heart. His demeanor much changed, his eyes though still distant, are forlorn and not crazed. All she needed was her mother, but indeed now, this group now was all she had.
When called upon, her heart pounded faster than it already had been just listening to the others. Breathing hard when her mother spoke and now it was her turn.*
Debanni: *The guards place their hands lightly on her and then move her forward then release her but stand close at her sides. She bows low in front of the throne of the king but not in the same fashion as her mother since his temper rose at such action that was all too common to them. She lifts her head and her eyes move quickly from each stone-like face to the other then back down to the floor. Their stares weigh heavily on her. Her hands wring together nervously, for now she was about to speak on behalf of these men whose lives might be depending on what she says. Indeed this situation was most new to her and unpleasantly unexpected.*
Eomer: *Listening to the counsel of Garmund and talking with Adibe and remembering the sufferings of his sister, Eomer determines that whatever the women have done they do not deserve to die, but then again they do not deserve to live in this land, for their ancestors were enemies of Rohan long ago. Even now, some said, there were secretive ships which landed off the coast to the west. "Dealing with the Dunlendings, no doubt," he thinks, "and plotting wickedness." He turns away from his reverie and looked at the woman.* What is your name?
Debanni: *Debanni's eyes look back and forth to his face and the floor. She feared that reiteration of the same stories would further infuriate the king.* My name is Debanni. Daughter of Adibe and Lord Ashtum of Harad
Eomer: Is it true *he asks* that you were kidnapped by these two men? *he gestures towards Ceolwulf and Vardamir at the side of the wall*
Debanni: *She follows his gesture and her expression is sad as she looks to Ceolwulf and Varadamir* Yes, it is true.
Eomer: And do you know why they kidnapped you? Was it to hold you for ransom, or for their own evil designs upon you? Tell me true!
Vardamir: *Though he is gagged, Vardamir tries to smile at Debanni. He hopes his eyes will show his meaning. He can sense her sympathy for him and Ceolwulf, and is grateful to her.*
Debanni: I tell you and I speak true, that the intentions of the band they rode with were to hold us for ransom. *Her eyebrows began to furrow as she tried to keep from letting any tears well up in her eyes* However, their leader, who is not dead, had ill intentions. It was they, *she looks back over to Ceolwulf and Vardamir* who displayed anger at his manner and intention.
Debanni: *She hoped her words would be of help to their situation* And once they were free of this man, Ceolwulf took on leadership and since no harm was placed on us.
Vardamir: *Surprised that a victim of the kidnapping would defend them, Vardamir widens his eyes even more. Even Ceolwulf's face is growing soft towards the girl.*
Eomer: *He thinks to himself, "What could I expect her to say? They have put words in her mouth and trained her to use them. She is probably some hapless woman that these brigands stole away from one of their lords, whom they serve and whom they plan to use for their own purposes. Her tale is probably true in that light," he thinks.*
Eomer: *He smooths his hand across his beard on his chin and looks at her more closely. "Her eyes seem to speak the truth," he thinks.* That will be all, lady *he says and places his fingers toughtfully to his lips* You may take your place with your captors. Guards, lead her away
Debanni: *She bows again to him, though wishing to say more to help the situation but she was nervous that any more talk would be worsen it all. The guards step up and place their hands again gently about her arms and and lead her back to her place next to her mother*
Eomer: *He turns to his sister and then to the council and speaks to them in Rohirric. They reply to him in the same language and Eomer looks even more thoughtful. He nods his head to him and then turns back to the remaining prisoner, the boy Candon.* I will speak now to the lad *he says* Guards, lead him forward.
Eomer: *He watches as the boy, frightened and tense, is brought before his throne* What is your name, lad? *he asks, looking downward at him*
Candon: *Candon bows before the king and then looks up at the tall man seated upon his throne, both frightened and in awe of him.* I am Candon son of Bainion, lord.
Eomer: Candon, is either one of these two men kin to you? Father, brother, cousin? And if they are not, why do you travel with them? *Eomer asks, not unkindly*
Candon: Nay, lord, I am not kin to either of these men. I was of the village of Alfirin in Dor-in-Ernil, and lived with my grandfather Berenon the Cobbler, for my father fell at Pelennor and my mother died of an evil malady. A man from the Dark Land came to our village one day; he told my uncle he had to pay a great tribute in gold if he did not become a serf.
Candon: My grandfather signed a paper, but there was an unspoken part of the bargain: that I would have to train to be in the army of the enemy when I turned twelve. He did not want me to serve the evil soldiers who killed my father, and neither did I, so he sent me with these men, for they promised to take me to Rohan where I could find sanctuary. I am not a spy, lord! *he pleads desperately*
Eomer: *Eomer thinks to himself, "How remarkable are these people! Each one has a tale more amazing than the other. I would wager that the lad has played pickpocket for these outlaws in cities all over Harad and then Gondor. I cannot believe anything they say, and it would take someone far wiser than I to determine which one is the greatest liar among the whole band."*
Eomer: Thank you, Candon *he says* No doubt under the right circumstances, you will have a chance to grow up true and stout of heart, but 'twill be far away from the clutches of these outlaws!
Eomer: Guards, take him with the others *he says and waits until the guards remove the boy and take him to his comrades along the wall*
Eomer: *Next to be called before Eomer are Leofsige and then Byrtwine, who were the men who captured Vardamir, Adibe and Debanni. They give their testimonies as witness and Eomer listens, deep in thought They thank him and then he requests that they take seats amongst the crowd that has assembled for the trial. He waits until they are seated and then he calls the last witness, Beorngar, who saw Ceolwulf slay Oslaf son of Oswald.*
Eomer: Beorngar, you have reported that you saw the prisoner, one Ceolwulf he claims to be, slay Oslaf son of Oswald. Now please bear witness of that fact before the counsel, my sister and me.
Beorngar: *Beorngar, a tall, wiry Rohir, stalks to the center of the room. He bows to Eomer, then turns to Ceolwulf and spits at him. Then he faces Eomer, a rigid muscular arm pointing at Ceolwulf, and speaks in a voice taut with rage* I saw this villain kill Oslaf son of Oswald, unprovoked, in a mad fury!
Beorngar: We intercepted the spies at our borders before they could do any harm to our people. We were about to lay hands on them when this man struck out with his sword and stabbed Oslaf! I saw Oslaf fall myself, I heard him hit the ground and cry out in pain before he died!
Beorngar: And afterward, I saw the body, and the bloody sword in this man's hand! *his voice grates hoarsely as it rises* He is a spy! They are all spies! They came here to destroy our people! How dare they profane our land, our people, the name of our dead king! If they were who they say they are, Oslaf would still be alive!
Debanni: *Debanni closes her eyes tightly as tears finally spill from the corners. Oh, how these days have brought her so much grief!*
Eomer: *Listening intently to his testimony, Eomer looks at Beorngar, then looks over to Ceolwulf and Vardamir, a look of pure hatred on his face. He settles back on his throne and thinks to himself, "Guilty as I knew. It was not necessary to hear the words of Beorngar. I read his report. His words there were as clear as the daylight. These two men are spies! The two women, who knows what they might be!"*
Eomer: *A look of exasperation momentarily crosses his face and he reflects more. "What of the women and the lad? They should be sent to Dunland. Nay," he thinks, "there is naught but one thing to do with them. Send them to the eastern border under guard and tell them to leave these lands and never come back under penalty of death! Harsh, perhaps, but while they remain here, ever do they pose a threat of spying. I believe that their plot, which failed miserably, was to travel through Rohan and then meet the agents of the Southrons in Dunland, and there report upon all our activities. The men will hang upon the dawn and the women shall be banished from this land! The saffold will be built as soon as I pass judgment upon them. The counsel will concur with me and it is obvious even old Aldor, who always cries, 'No haste! No haste!,' must be convinced of their duplicity!"*
Eomer: Your words are truthful, Beorngar. Now we will make speedy work of these villians! Guards, take the prisoners to an antechamber. I must confer with my sister and the council alone!
Beorngar: *Beorngar bows to Eomer.*
Eomer: Lords of Rohan and the Lady Eowyn, what do you say!
Aldor: *Lord Aldor rises slowly to his feet and turns and faces king, princess and council* My lords and lady *he says, his voice quivering and hoarse* I cannot help it! I am... *he hesitates* persuaded that they are telling the truth, far-fetched though it may be.
Aldor: I say we should not act upon this now while tempers flare so hot. Wait a month and let your anger burn down. I know I am old, but still it is said that wisdom comes with years. If I possess any, this is my advice. Wait. Take time. Speak to these prisoners again in a month and temper your judgment with mercy!
Aldor: *Having forgotten to bow, he bows now and then takes his seat*
Eomer: *He looks patiently over to Aldor* My lord, my opinion is that these men are guilty and the women merely unwilling accomplices. I say mercy to these women and boy and death to the men! *The council, except for only a few, agree*
Garmund: *Garmund rises and bows* Your Majesty, my Lady, my lords, I must agree with Lord Aldor. It is not proven that these men are spies, nor that Oslaf's death was intentional murder. If we condemn them, we condemn them on a suspicion only. We must have further proof. And there are things that speak against their guilt: the woman was not afraid of them, and the girl was sorry for them. She grieved when Beorngar struck the one who claims to be Ceolwulf. Let us consider this carefully and not in anger. *He bows again and sits down, a little heavily because of his lame leg.*
Eomer: My lords, I hear the words of all of you, but still I cannot be dissuaded of my judgment. I have seen many men with eyes that speak of guilt and if ever have seen guilt written in the gaze of others, it is in these men! *he says, his voice agitated*
Eomer: *He looks towards Eowyn* Lady Eowyn, have you aught to say on this matter?
Eowyn: Yes, I do, my lord. *Eowyn stands up and walks forward, turning to face the king and council, bowing to all.* We have heard many tales this day, some more strange than others. But what does one expect from those who hail from that evil realm? Even if they are indeed innocent, they are most likely thralls, doing the will of the Enemy. In that case, they are to be pitied, but they are known brigands and of an unsavory lot. How can we believe their words? Robbers and thieves will say anything to spare themselves, for they are all craven and untrustworthy.
Eomer: Lady Eowyn, I have deemed that these men came here as spies and would report to the Enemy's agents in Dunland all the dispositions of our forces. Giving reports in great detail of how many men and horses presently serve in our cavalry. They would gauge all they saw, gathering information wherever they went and upon whatever they saw. They are dangerous. I mark that well! They must be punished for their treachery. Let them hang!
Garmund: *Garmund says quietly from his seat* My lord, think of the guilt that will be upon us if it truly is Ceolwulf son of Elfwine.
Eomer: Lord Garmund, I do not believe that this man is the one known as Ceolwulf, who perished at Pelennor last year. He died in honor. This man taints his memory by taking his name. If for no other reason than that, he should die!
Garmund: Ceolwulf's father, Elfwine, and his brother, Leofen, still live. They fight now in the eoreds. They could settle the matter of this man's identity. Let them be called here to see this man, to see if he is their kinsman! We must not risk the guilt of killing the son and brother of these men without giving them this chance, for their own sake if nothing else!
Eowyn: *Eowyn, now seated again, leans back slightly. Her brow furrows and she bites the inside of her cheek at a painful memory that was summoned forth unwittingly by the words of her brother and the elder council members. What if the tale of Ceolwulf and his companions is true? Her own tale was much stranger than his. Riding into battle in disguise, witnessing the fall of her uncle, captured by the dread spectre of Angmar, enchanted by strange potions which made her mind feeble and her body weak. Her heart becomes troubled.*
Eomer: Lord Garmund, I know you are a man of sound counsel. *He pauses, thinking* If this were a lesser crime and the evidence less, there would be much more to ponder before we acted. We have witnesses, men of the Mark, who captured these men, women and lad as they came by secret through the hidden pathway. No one comes from Gondor now who is a friend. They were bent on treachery and villiany. Generally spies who cross over the mountains are quickly found out as these were and quickly dispatched at the place where they are found. That should have been done with these men. They should have been killed where they stood.
Eomer: *He hesitates* But I think because of the women and lad with them, our men showed them mercy. I have none for spies. I rule them guilty!
Eomer: *He rises to his feet and stands in front of the council* Lords of the Council, what say you?
Eomer: *The lords discuss the guilt or innocence of the prisoners, and all save Lord Aldor and Lord Garmund rule "Guilty." When Eomer recommends mercy for the women and lad, they concur, but all agree that the three should be banished, never allowed to cross over the borders of Rohan again.*
Eomer: What is your judgment, my lords? *he asks* Death! *all save two exclaim* DEATH, DEATH! *Lord Aldor and Garmund bow their heads and sit there in silence.*
Eomer: Then *says Eomer* it is the judgement of this council of lords, the opinion of Lady Eowyn and me that these two men should die by hanging. I shall order the scaffold to be built immediately and all should be in readiness by dawn. Let them hang by the neck until dead!
Ceolwulf: Ceolwulf broke his silence. "My king," he said, "I have shed innocent blood! Therefore, do not let the house of Elfwine bear the shame of one of its sons by name. When the placard which will hang about my neck is inscribed with a name, let it be writ that my name was Blodenhand, and do not mark my disgrace to my father's house. I am deserving of death for the crime of cowardice at Pelennor and the crime of murder of my countryman, Oslaf son of Oswald. I would rather that my death came by my own hand and that my life should be ended upon my own sword, Helbrand, but if such is not to be, I can bear it. I have naught else to say, but let the doom fit the crime." He bowed his head and said no more.
Eomer: *Eomer then turns to Vardamir and says* Do you have words you wish to speak now?
Vardamir: *Vardamir's face is flushed with rage* Aye, that I do, my lord!
Eomer: Then say them! *he shouts*
Vardamir: *Vardamir steps forward and addresses the entire court. His voice is quiet but trembles with surpressed fury* May Eru have mercy on this kingdom! For we are innocent men. We are not guilty of these crimes! I have done no wrong, and Ceolwulf killed his countryman by accident, thinking in the dark that he was a Southron!
Vardamir: You will send two helpless women to fend for themselves in the wilderness, and condemn a young boy, your ally, to fight for Mordor. And my blood and the blood of your own knight Ceolwulf will be upon your heads! May you find mercy from Mandos for our deaths!
Vardamir: *He bites his tongue against more angry words, and steps back beside Ceolwulf, breathing heavily.*
Eomer: *Eomer, enraged at the words of Vardamir, looks at him angrily. Then lifting his head slightly, he folds his arms upon his chest* I would expect a Southron spy to take the name of the One in idleness and mockery! Silence now! Speak no more, or I will have you gagged! *Eomer looks at him sullenly, a thundercloud etched against a leaden sky*
Eomer: Let the next prisoner speak! *he says* Let the woman, Adibe, speak.
Vardamir: *Vardamir looks down, clenching his teeth until his jaw aches. Then he glances desperately at Ceolwulf, but his friend remains deaf, unseeing.*
Adibe: My lord *she says fearfully* do not kill these men! Though they captured my son, my daughter and me, they have not treated us evily. Have mercy upon them, and mercy upon us!
Eomer: *Imperiously, Eomer says* There can be no mercy for Southron spies and murderers! They will pay for their crimes with their lives. There can be no mercy for such as this, only justice! Have you finished, speaking, lady?
Adibe: They are not Southrons, my lord; they are not people of my race. Neither were they in the employ of my husband, nor one of our thralls.
Eomer: *Eomer, still standing before his throne, looks to Debanni* Let your words be heard before this court, daughter of Adibe
Debanni: *Debanni stands there in disbelief as she hears the sentence laid out and her eyes are wet with tears as she looks to her mother and then men, to the little boy and then to the king. They spill as Ceolwulf, Vardamir and her mother speak. Struck with a stabbing pain as she hears that Vardamir and Ceolwulf will be killed. Fearful and trembling as she thinks of her mother and herself alone only to find yet another horrible event in their terrible fate. How many more men like Algund would she meet when out of the protection of Vardamir and Ceolwulf and how long would they survive? She has an urge to pick up the small boy and hug her to him as she would in thinking of her brother.*
Debanni: *Vardamir showing obvious anger, but Ceolwulf was standing somberly and her heart went out to her, what should be, natural enemies...her misunderstood captors. Gripped by her many swirling emotions and now she was asked to speak. "What could I possibly say? There is nothing now to change this outcome." she thought. Her voice quivers a bit and now she looks to the king's eyes.*
Debanni: We have all said the truth today. You have listened and determined our fates. The words we speak now cannot change this. So what is it you wish to know at this moment? *she asks a question but she means not for it to be answered. A bold move it was and uncharacteristic for her, but she feels the weight of despair so heavy on her that she does not care.*
Debanni: The anger...the fear..the sadness in our hearts? *she looks to the group she has traveled a short amount of time with and then to the king and rests her gaze on the floor* I will not detail these feelings, but know that they are great *she presses her lips together tightly...yet they tremble and she closes her eyes and falls silent*
Eomer: Lady, the council, the Lady Eowyn and I have heard your words as we have heard the words of all of you. Still, we feel our judgment is sound and the sentence shall not be amended.
Eomer: Now let the boy speak. Come forward, lad.
Candon: *The boy looks up to the towering figure of Eomer King.* Please, lord, I beg you to change your mind! Do not kill Ceolwulf or Vardamir. They are good men! They are good men! And Adibe and Debanni, they are fair and kindly too. And if I am sent back into Gondor, the Easterlings and Southrons will catch me and make me a thrall.
Candon: *He begins to cry. To leave his poor old grandfather behind, only to be sent back, but with the chance of never returning! This is nothing like he had imagined, to be falsely condemned for being a spy when he was not!*
Vardamir: *When Candon weeps, Vardamir's anger turns to immense sadness, which is much more difficult to bear. His first impulse is to go to the boy, but when he arrives next to him he remembers that his hands are bound. After an awkward pause, he bends and quickly kisses Candon's forehead in the Gondorian gesture of farewell.* May Elbereth watch over you. *he smiles sadly, then returns to Ceolwulf's side.*
Eomer: *Eomer's face softens slightly and his visage is not quite so stern* As I have said to the Lady Debanni, the judgment of this court sees no reason to amend the verdict. Guards *he says as he looks from the prisoners to the guards at the side of the hall* Take them back to their cells.
Eowyn: My lord, pardon me for interrupting *Eowyn says appologetically as she rises to her feet* I pray mercy for the lad, for he is young and far from his home. He is a Gondorian; that is obvious by his fair skin and gray eyes. To send him past the eastern border would be to send him into peril: into death itself!
Eomer: Lady, *he closes his eyes and breathes deeply before speaking* I do not know what the lad is other than he was with a company of Southron spies. To keep him within the borders of Rohan would be harboring a serpent's spawn. At any time when we were at our ease and did not suspect, he would strike as quickly and as suddenly as a reptile. I cannot abide keeping such as this within the Mark
Eowyn: But the lad is only ten summers old, my lord! *she cries, utterly astonished by the words of her brother* If he is a true Gondorian by birth, he has not been under the influence of the Enemy long, and mayhaps the taint of that land can be cured.
Eowyn: *Her throat constricts as a sudden wave of unpleasant memories rises up in a black fury and beats down upon her heart like a cascade of spiked leaden weights. She knew how it was to be tainted by the darkness, heart, mind and body. Nothing so horrible had happened to this lad, though, only the misfortune of being born in an evil time and having his country conquered by a dreadful enemy. She felt deep pity in her heart for Candon, for when she was returned to her own people, she was mistrusted at first. Her mind being wrapped in the binding coils of spells of forgetfulness and misplaced love, she did little to dissuade their suspisions.*
Eomer: My lady, I think perhaps that you are letting the tender mercies of your gender influence you far too much here. You see before you a lad, but this is not a lad of Rohan, but a Southron, a spawn of spies and enemies. We cannot let this boy continue within the Mark. If we do, we do it at our peril! Do not think that I am unfeeling in this matter, for I am not, but by far more than I value this boy and his fate, I value Rohan, for in it lies the hope of the West.
Eomer: *He exhales in a loud sigh* Need I remind you of how our uncle was befuddled and deceived by one appearing all goodness and virtue, but inside his heart was evil? Let us not bring that misfortune upon us again, no matter how kindly disposed we might be by nature!
Eowyn: Grima son of Galmond was a man of years and the pupil of a traitorous Wizard, *the White Lady says slowly in a voice filled with ice* but this boy is a lad of ten summers. I highly doubt, my lord, that no matter how intelligent the lad is, that he could poison the minds of king, noble and thain and lead an entire realm almost to its downfall.
Vardamir: *Vardamir bows low in gratitude to Eowyn*
Eomer: *Eomer thinks, "My sister makes a fool of me before the council!" He looks to her, both warning and command in his gaze* My lady, your words amaze me! Appearances can be deceiving. Do not let the lad's look or demeanor influence you overly!
Eowyn: Then let the Council hear me! *she pleads, frustrated at her brother's stubornness. Turning to the council, she begins to speak.* My lords, it is true that I have the... tender mercies common to womenfolk *she forces herself to say the words, gritting her teeth and swollowing back the taste of disgust that rises in her throat* and it is true that my sympathies lie with the boy. But, my lords, how much evil could a ten year old boy bring, unless he was a wizard in disguise or possessed of a fell spirit! I highly doubt either is the case. Have mercy on the lad, I implore you!
Eowyn: I daresay the women would find sanctuary amongst their kin that now occupy Gondor, but the boy would return to a life of slavery if he is to be sent back. To come this far, to taste the sweet taste of freedom for a brief moment, only to be returned to thraldom and suffering. That would be a cruel fate indeed!
Garmund: *Garmund can see that the King is angry, so he chooses his words carefully.* My lord, your house has ever been wise. I pray you to consider the words of the Lady Eowyn. The lad does resemble a Gondorian: he is fairer than most Southrons. And even if he has been under the Enemy's influence, he is young enough for us to change him. He may even make a great Rider someday! Would it not be more beneficial to us to have this lad fighting for us, rather than to send him to fight for our Enemy?
Eomer: *Thinking to himself, "She uses the old wiles of women, appealing to our mercies and making us feel guilty when we heed them not," he furrows his brow in irritation, and beneath his beard, the skin on his left side twitches. He thinks, "What I fool I must appear before the council and they think my wisdom no greater than the lad before me! Garmund now echoes the words of my sister. Am I surrounded by enemies in my own court!"*
Eomer: Lord Garmund, perhaps I have been too quick in determining the judgment of the lad. Thereroe, I will leave the matter in the hands of my sister, the Lady Eowyn, and of the lords of this court.
Eomer: *He thinks to himself, "I am uncrowned before them all! These elders think me but a foolish pup who howls and then runs and scampers after his own tail, believing it to be some prey!" He sits down, sulking upon his throne* Let the court determine whether the boy Candon will stay or go, *he says, pausing, believing he has struck a point* let the Council determine under whose guardianship this boy will be reared.
Garmund: *Garmund shifts in his chair and looks around at the council. All are uneasy at the thought of caring for the boy. "If it is needed, I will take the lad," Garmund thinks, "but I am at a loss as to who is the correct guardian."*
Garmund: *He finds his eyes drifting to the Lady Eowyn...since she is sympathetic to the lad, perhaps she would make a good guardian. But it is not his place to ask that of her!*
Garmund: Perhaps...*he clears his throat* perhaps we should enquire among the families of the Riddermark and see who would take the lad.
Eowyn: *Eowyn looks to her brother and she smiles in gratitude to him* Thank you, my lord, for listening to my speech and granting mercy to Candon son of Bainion.
Eowyn: *She looks back to the council* Lord Garmund, I believe that is the wisest choice. If all upon the Council agree, then word should be taken to the people requesting that a kindly family take the lad as a fosterling.
Garmund: *He stands up and bows to Eowyn, smiling as he sits back down.*
Elfstan: *Lord Elfstan, Commander of the Homeguard of the Harrowdale Valley, a man who has never wed in all of his fifty-eight years, stands up, walks out and turns and faces the king, princess and council*
Elfstan: My king, the Lady Eowyn and the members of this court, as you all know, I have never been married, and no shouts of children have ever graced my hall. I will take this lad into my house and stand responsible for all that he has done. While undoubtedly, he is in the company of criminals, he is far too young to realize the gravity of the situation. With good tutledge and discipline, he will learn better and perhaps one day serve proudly among the Riders. I bow to your judgment in this matter. *He resumes his seat*
Eomer: *He turns to the court* My lords, what is your ruling on this matter of a guardian for this lad?
Garmund: *The council votes unanimously that Elfstan should be the lad's guardian.*
Eomer: *"A mistake," he thinks, "to harbor this spawn of serpents. But let the wisdom of my words come to fruit of their own accord and I will not be counted culpable in this matter."*
Eomer: *He rises back to his feet* Then if this is the ruling of the court, Lord Elfstan is hereby determined to be the guardian of the boy Candon and vouchsafe all that he does. I hereby declare that this session of the court is at a close. Let the prisoners be taken back to their cells, all save the lad Candon. Lord Elfstan is free to claim him as his own. I, Eomer King, have spoken, and do hereby declare the words of this court to be true! Now, my lords, those of you who can stay a while, I invite you to take the noon meal with me.
While the king, his sister and the lords take their noonday meal, Lord Elfstan excuses himself and walks to the doorway, which is opened for him by the guard. "Take me to the cell which lodges the lad Candon, and give me entry for I come to claim my foster son as you have heard the ruling of the court."
"Yes, my lord," one of the guards says. "I will take you there. Follow me," and the guard leads Elfstan to the cell.
"Bring him out," bids Elfstan, "but do not frighten the boy. He must be frightened enough. Soon the boy is led out and looks up at the older man. "Do not be afraid any longer, my boy, for I have been named as your guardian by the court. Do you have objections to this?"
Candon looks up at him, his eyes wide in confusion. "I know not what to think of this, sir, but I will go with you, if it is what you wish."
As they walk out of the guardhouse, they hear the sound of hammer and nail. The scaffold is being built.
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