Morning of May 2, 3020
The two men sat down on a pile of unused lumber to survey the results of their planning. The men built it swiftly and the labor was no small thing, especially since none of them had ever built one before. "Aye, 'tis a grim thing to have to construct. I would much prefer supervising the building of a shed or a stable that would be of use to the living." The two sat looking up at the doleful structure which lay beneath cloud-smeared skies which seemed to stare back down at them balefully.
"Aye, such work as this is not a pleasant one for a craftsman," the other replied.
"Wood should never be put to such an evil use," murmured his companion.
"Have you heard if it will be done in military fashion?" the man asked as he turned to the other carpenter.
"Nay, nay, 'tis spies they are executing and their ilk does not deserve any formalities, though, of course, ten men have been detached from an eored to bring out the prisoners from their cells and escort them to the scaffold. They say that old Swidhelm has been called up to act as executioner. I do not envy the duty."
"Nor do I," replied the other workman, "but he is provost and he was executioner for the last hanging two years ago."
"Well, the gallows is built surely strong enough to hold them all without its falling down." He sighed and said ruefully, "I didn't like my part in supervising the building of it. These hands," he said as he extended them palm outward and looked at the heavy callouses upon the fingers and palms, "the labor was done honestly and with good craftsmanship, but I will take no commiseration for engineering its design and construction."
"Nor will I," the other said in agreement. "'Twould be blood money."
"Let us be leaving now. Our work here is finished and I have no desire to behold the execution, though it is public. Some say that a public spectacle like a hanging serves as a warning for any who would be tempted to commit crimes, but I cannot say that I have any liking for it. Come to my house now. My wife will have my breakfast ready for me and I welcome you to join me, if you have any appetite for eating."
The carpenter and his chief assistant walked away from the scaffold without a glance behind them and made their way to the house of Ceorl, the carpenter, where his good wife was just putting the finishing touches on the breakfast she had prepared. The two men, though, did not make the haven of the house before they heard the sound of muffled drums coming from the direction of the guardhouse.
Adibe portrayed by Eowyn
Debanni portrayed by Madurz
Vardamir, Elfwine and Leofen portrayed by Hobbitness
Narrator, Ceolwulf and Eomer portrayed by Angmar
Narrator: Grim-faced tight-lipped guards
clad in full helm and mail and with spears in their hands led
Ceolwulf and Vardamir, their hands bound behind their backs, as
other guards flanked them from behind. Ceolwulf, his face expressionless
and his lips silent, plodded ahead of Vardamir. No words had he
spoken since the day before.
Vardamir: *Vardamir walks in a daze, staring at all his surroundings, looking past the people he sees to the green of the fields, the distant ridges. He tries to savor every detail of the landscape, to memorize the smell of the plants, the tang of body heat from people and horses, for this is his last look at the world.*
Vardamir: *No longer does he expect Ceolwulf to give any response to his words or his glances. Vardamir only scans the crowd briefly to see what expressions the people wear.*
Narrator: Candon had been removed from the cell which he had shared with Adibe and Debanni the night before. When he left in the keeping of Lord Elfstan, his guardian, to make his home with him, alone now, the two women wait for the soldiers. They have little time to speak alone, though, for when the cell door is opened and they are told to pick up whatever possessions they had, it is time for them to be escorted back to the border of Gondor. The commander of the guard says, "So you will learn your lesson well, you shall both witness the hanging!"
Narrator: Soon they are taken from the guardhouse and are told to wait with the guards at a distance away from the gallows, but they are close enough to see everything that goes on.
Narrator: Eomer King and his council, all save Lords Aldor and Garmund, stood a distance away from the scaffold. Eomer was talking to Lord Eanwulf when the first sound of the drumbeats were heard. The men all fell to a silence deafening in its grimness as they awaited the appearance of the condemned. The guards about the king and his councilmen stood at rigid attention, spears held aloft at their sides.
Narrator: The dreary cadence of the drums seemed to beat a doleful dirge and mark each step of the condemned and their guards as they proceeded to the scaffold. The forward guard parted as the group came to the steps of the scaffold, and their commander turned and looked at Ceolwulf and Vardamir and said with chill words, "You can either walk up the steps on your own as men or be lifted up them like craven cowards."
Vardamir: Nay *he gives a soft, bitter laugh* we appreciate your generous offer, but we shall not be needing your assistance.
Vardamir: *He turns to Ceolwulf, even though he doubts his friend will understand him. The realization looms large in Vardamir's mind that if not for his rescue of Ceolwulf, he would not be here. Nor would he be condemned here if he had left Ceolwulf at any step along their way. But none of that can be undone now, and at this last moment, he views his friend in a light of pity.* Come, Ceolwulf.
Vardamir: *As he lifts his leg to ascend the scaffolding, Vardamir has the strange sensation of walking underwater. His limbs are heavy and the air around him is thick. He is that his strong body should show such weakness, fear even, and to combat it, he walks with surprising vigor up the stairs.*
Narrator: Two guards walked up the steps in front of Ceolwulf and Vardamir and four followed at their heels. Up above them waited the provost Swidhelm. When they all arrived at the scaffold's platform, the guards moved to the back of the platform and waited in readiness should the convicted lose their senses in their panic and try to rush over the side of the platform.
Narrator: The provost stood facing the king and his guards and the council and read again the list of charges and the judgment and sentencing of the prisoner. Ceolwulf never broke his silence but stood with head bowed and face grim and unreadable.
Narrator: The drums stopped. The provost and the assistant at his side turned to the prisoners. "If you have any last words, now is the time to speak." There was no response from Ceolwulf and his expressionless face remained unmoved.
Vardamir: *Here he is, at the actual moment of death, with his mind and body intact. The wood is hard under his feet, but he seems to float, weightless. It all seems so unreal that Vardamir finds himself strangely calm. His eyes scan the throng, and he notices Adibe and Debanni watching from a distance. They both seem distressed, and the girl especially looks near to tears. A slow smiles forms at the corner of his mouth to encourage them, then spreads across his face. He whirls around to the provost with a defiant grin.*
Vardamir: My lords *he announces* though we are innocent men, we give you heartfelt thanks for freeing us from this evil age, for our lives have been bitter indeed, and we are glad to quit them. Every day I spend waiting in the stone halls of Mandos, I shall thank the kingdom that sentenced us for crimes we did not commit. For they shall have helped us unwittingly. No evil shall pursue us there. *His face twists suddenly when his Ring heats and glows.*
Vardamir: I thank you, men of Rohan, on behalf of your knight here, and on behalf of my kin, your allies of Gondor. This, for a change, is a journey we are most eager to take.
Narrator: "Then if you are finished speaking, let us get on with it!" old Swidhelm said, all cold formality and solemnness. "Step forward," he told them. Ceolwulf was the first to step across to the trap door and he looked up at the two nooses dangling from the gibbet. Vardamir soon joined him.
Adibe: *So many troubles had Adibe and her daughter been through this evil month of April. It had all started when she and her family had been on the return journey from the ceremonies at the Temple, a glorious month celebrating the victory of the Great Master. It had only been a few leagues ere they would reach their home in Tarnost - their new home that they had not even lived in for a year. Before then, she had dwelt in Harad, a land of burning sand, oasises and mirages deep in the desert.*
Adibe: *She and her two children had been kidnapped by outlaws - her son returned to her husband but she and her daughter had remained, kept by the leader of the band, for his own evil designs. The parting of Adibe and her young son grieved her greatly, for he had been the pride and joy of her and her husband, the one thing that they agreed upon. Her eyes welled with tears, for she doubted she would ever see the lad again.*
Adibe: *Since then, the lives of her and her daughter had become dire and filled with peril, taken by the two outlaws Ceolwulf and Vardamir north to the mountains with her forces of her husband always trailing behind. Lord Ashtum's men would have killed the bandits, and that is why they ran, seeking escape to the lands of Rohan through a pass in the mountains rumored to be haunted by fell shades.*
Adibe: *But escaping actually seemed pleasant to Adibe then, for her husband did not love her nor appreciate her and she just welcomed a chance to get away for a while. He never did, and to make her pain even worse, he desired another wife, one much younger than she, a maid only in her teens. It would not have been so bad if she had been loved, and they both had treated equally, but she knew her husband would dote on the younger woman and Adibe's treatment would worsen greatly. And now she and her daughter were to be sent back, across the eastern border back to Gondor. They knew little of that land and she feared they would never make it back to their home in Tarnost.*
Adibe: *And if she did, she would be returning to a situation not much worse than the one she was in now: back to her husband, who would probably welcome her home with the plummeting of his fist. Many times she had cursed the day that she was born, and this was one of them. The tears flowed freely now and she looked to her daughter. She wished that her life would have fared better; no one deserved this*
Adibe: *How would they fare, wandering back through Gondor? Would they be killed? She did not care so much if she died, but she wanted her daughter to be able to live and have a happy life. But alas, she feared that was not to be: they both were cursed with evil dooms and their lot was a sorry one. Silently, she uttered a prayer to the Dark Master in her mind, for safety and protection, but she had little hope in any power anymore.*
Debanni: *Debanni's face is contorted in an expression horror as she looked between Vardamir and Ceolwulf. She tried to form a smile on her face when in return To Vardamir's, but it was weak. Her eyes closed as he spoke. Though she did not know what was to happen to them when they left the camp over two weeks ago, she never thought such an event as this would occur. She wishes she was able to clutch her hands over her heart as it ached for the men, but her wrists are bound behind her back. Her tear filled eyes rest on Ceolwulf and then spill the warm streaks down her face. Her emotion is surprising to herself. She had been so scared and confused, for she was young and had little outside experience of life other than what she knew in her own land.*
Debanni: *Debanni's biggest influence was her mother and though she admired all her mother was, the life she led was a dire one and having had this idea of the future in her mind for long years always brought such sadness and despair. There was a slight hope when they embarked on this foolish journey with the men she now gazes at, that she could escape that fate and perhaps find some bit of happiness. Now a stranger in this land of enemies, she was even more scared and confused....of the present, the future of the shattering feeling in her chest.*
Debanni: *She wishes Ceolwulf would only look up once to her, but she knew he would not. She gasps and presses her lips together to stifle a sob and looks to her mother and just wants to be able to collapse into her arms like a small child again.* Oh, mother! *her pain and fright so evident as she looks back to the men, the scene was one that would haunt her in nightmares for a very long time to come*
Narrator: "The placards," the provost intoned in cold dignity and his assistant, holding two signs, walked behind Vardamir and Ceolwulf, looping the twine about their necks so the placards could be clearly viewed by all: "Vardamir, Southron. Hanged for the crimes of spying and accomplice to murder" and "Blodenhand, Southron. Hanged for the crimes of murder of Oslaf son of Oswald and the crime of spying against the Mark."
Narrator: The assistant stepped away and the provost walked forward. Then standing behind Vardamir, he put a black hood over his face and tied it with a rope about his neck. He moved over behind Ceolwulf and after placing a hood about his neck and tying it, he walked away from him. The drums began to beat again and all was in readiness. Nothing remained but for the lever releasing the trapdoor to be triggered.
Elfwine and Leofen: The thunder of hooves is heard in the distance. In a matter of seconds, two Riders gallop into the square. The crowd parts to avoid being trampled. The two ride hard straight up to the scaffolding where the condemned men stand. The Riders wear their full armor, having left the front lines immediately after hearing that a man claiming to be Ceolwulf had been captured.
Elfwine and Leofen: Elfwine and Leofen draw their swords. "Stop!" the older Rider bellows in a deep voice. "The execution cannot continue! You must not kill my son!"
Elfwine and Leofen: The soldiers dismount without even tying up their horses, then charge up the stairs. "I am Elfwine son of Aldhelm, and this is my son Leofen," the Rider shouts. "One of the condemned claims to be Ceolwulf, my firstborn, who was thought dead at Pelennor! Remove their hoods! I must see if it is he!"
Ceolwulf: *When the hood was tied over his head, he had shut his eyes tightly, his sight now as blind as his mind, lost in dark thoughts. Suddenly he thinks he hears the voice of his father, but pushes the thought away. "It cannot be," he thinks. "Let the trapdoor fall quickly. I am resigned. The Ring no longer troubles me."*
Eomer: *Eomer cries out* What is the meaning of this! How dare you come here and attempt to stop this execution! Your son? How can this be your son, Lord Elfwine and Leofen? He perished at Pelennor! This man is an impostor!
Narrator: *Old Swidhelm, baffled by this confusion, stays his hands on the lever.* My king, what am I to do? What is your will? *he sputters*
Eomer: *Listening to old Swidhelm, Eomer hesitates* Remove the hood. Let him look at the one who claims his son!
Narrator: Yes, my king *Swidhelm says obediently and with a sense of relief. He walks over to Ceolwulf and unties the hood about his head and stands there holding hood and rope*
Eomer: *Eomer says* Is this your son, Lord Elfwine?
Elfwine and Leofen: Elfwine and Leofen watch, holding their breath, as the provost lifts the hood off the man's head. As they look at him from behind, heir hearts sink when they see the man's dark hair. Leofen looks at his father, heartbroken. It is like losing his brother all over again. But Elfwine touches his son's arm and murmurs, "Let us go and look him in the face."
Elfwine and Leofen: When they move closer, they can see tiny flecks of blonde at the man's hair roots. Breaking into a run, they hurry around to face him. They look him in the eye, and the world stands still. Seconds stretch into ages as a thousand confused thoughts whirl through their minds. How can it be? Why is his hair dark? Why is his face grim and drawn? But there is no doubt in their minds. Leofen falls to his knees in shock, and Elfwine stands speechless, with tears in his eyes, for a long while.
Elfwine and Leofen: Then he takes a step forward and gently lifts Ceolwulf's chin. "My son, let me hear your voice, that I thought never to hear again!" he says in a quavering tone.
Ceolwulf: *Ceolwulf, blinded by the sun, stands there. Then he looks at his father and brother, at first uncomprehending and then suddenly recognition flashes in his tormented blue eyes* Father? *he says softly* Brother? *he asks questioningly*
Ceolwulf: *He looks down, an ashamed look on his face, as he stands there in confusion* I would fain not have you see me thus. But I have not always been this way; you know that.
Debanni: *She had only heard the rushing man's shouts, but she did not know what was going on now. The beating in her chest was rapid and her eyes were wide with surprise and question*
Elfwine and Leofen: *Leofen, who has been kneeling there dazed, comes to life at his brother's voice. He jumps up and clasps Ceolwulf in a tight hug, pounding his back and crying for joy* Ceolwulf!
Elfwine and Leofen: *Leofen* We thought you were dead! How...? Oh! *He pulls back from Ceolwulf at arm's length* It is so good to see you!
Elfwine and Leofen: *Elfwine puts a protective arm around Ceolwulf's shoulders* I know not what to say!...It is indeed good to see you! But how have you come to this desperate condition?
Elfwine and Leofen: *Anger flares in Elfwine at the agony he beholds in his son's eyes. Slowly and deliberately, Elfwine lifts his gaze from his son to the King. When it reaches Eomer, it is an accusatory glare.*
Eomer: Lord Elfwine, are you certain that this is your son? Could this be some trick of devilry and you are bewitched by this man? Nay, I think not *he says and closes his eyes tightly, his throat constricting* I... I... there has been some mistake.... *he sways on his feet in dismay and shock*
Eomer: *"No one believed Eowyn either and the tale that she told. She was true in her words. By Bema! By Bema!" He steadies himself and braces himself, stiffening his back as though he was at attention* Free them! *he commands* Free them!
Eomer: *"So wrong," he thinks. "Poor Eowyn! I am too impetuous, hasty in my judgments. All the kings before me must look down from their hallowed halls and turn their backs, marveling at my stupidity."*
Eomer: Bring them down! *he commands and old Swidhelm, his assistant and the guards swiftly act to comply with his orders.* Unbind them and take them to the hall! Give them refreshment, food, such as they need, and the women, they shall not be taken back to Gondor! Untie them! Treat them as I have commanded the men to be treated.
Eomer: *He looks up at the scaffold into the eyes of Lord Elfwine and then to Ceolwulf and sees him standing like a ox bereft of understanding, and then to his brother and then he breaks the gaze, unable to look at them any longer. Suddenly, he turns on his heels and strides back to the hall, his guards and the council following behind him.*
Eomer: *His sister Eowyn rushes to greet him, the look in her eyes telling of her concern. Brushing her arm aside, he says* I am sorry. I am truly sorry for all, but leave me now! *he exclaims* I must go to my chambers and be by myself.
Eomer: *He strides away quickly and opens the door to his private chambers and slams it behind him. Then he sits down in a chair and holds his head in his hands.*
Elfwine and Leofen: *As soon as Ceolwulf is freed, Elfwine clasps his son tightly and is loath to let him go. Tears flow freely down the gruff soldier's face. He still can find no words to say for his character is as silent and dignified as Ceolwulf's once was. Finally Leofen laughs, "You must give him some room to breathe, Father, or he will suffocate."
Elfwine and Leofen: Elfwine steps back, but his smile fades when he looks into Ceolwulf's eyes again. He had expected his son to be smiling at Leofen's joke, but Ceolwulf's face is as blank and impassive as a statue.
Elfwine and Leofen: *Leofen notices too, and he frowns in concern.* Ceolwulf?...Come now, this day has changed from one of mourning to one of celebration! Will you not come with us to the hall? *He smiles brightly to coax a smile onto his brother's face.*
Ceolwulf: Where is my other brother and what of mother? *he asks, dazed*
Elfwine and Leofen: *Leofen and Elfwine share rueful looks. Elfwine answers* Mother is at home. She will be so happy to see you! *He decides now is not the time to tell Ceolwulf of the evil tidings of the death of his brother Hereric at the second battle of Helm's Deep.*
Ceolwulf: Home? *he asks and looks at them uncertainly* Was Edoras spared from the invaders?
Elfwine and Leofen: *Elfwine shakes his head and says sadly* Nay, it was not, and all was burnt. We are living in Underharrow now on the land where I was planning to build our summer home. All of the villages in the Harrowdale were burnt as well, but much rebuilding is underway. The family of Eadulf and Cynwise, a farmer and his wife who used to live in Underharrow, are helping build our new hall.
Vardamir: *Vardamir has been watching the bittersweet scene with mixed emotions. He meant his words of eagerness to quit this life. He is both disappointed and relieved at their rescue. Now he steps forward and bows to Elfwine* My lord, I am Vardamir of Gondor. I helped your son to escape from slavery in my city--in Minas Artano, once Minas Tirith.
Eomer rises from his chair and walks to the small table to the side of the room that serves as his desk. Picking up a sheet of parchment, he places it before him and takes a quill and dips it in ink. "By rule of proclamation, I, Eomer King, do hereby declare that the accused Vardamir of Gondor and Ceolwulf son of Elfwine are innocent of all charges of murder and spying and are hereby pardoned of all accusations and given their liberty as free men to come and go in Rohan as they will. The women, Adibe and Debanni her daughter, are summarily lifted from all burden of guilt as accomplices as is the lad Candon son of Bainon."
He pauses before writing the next words, trying to think of the right way to phrase what he needs to say. "I, Eomer King of the land of Rohan, do give my royal regrets and apologies to all..." he thinks to himself, "There is no way I can write this. There is no way I can loose face before the people." He wishes his uncle Theoden were with him and his cousin Theodred and that he had their counsel to guide him.
He pauses longer and his hand begins to move the quill across the parchment. "...all aforementioned people and..." his hand shakes, "...humbly ask their forgiveness. Signed, Eomer King of Rohan."
He goes to the doorway and seeing a servant walking by, he says, "Pray, good page, take this document to Lord Aldor who sits in the hall and tell him I bid him read it before the council this afternoon. Lord Aldor is also to send couriers throughout all the land to give tidings of this writ to all. Then he says, "Please have a servant bring me a tankard of mead. That will be all. Thank you."
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