Format: short story
Genre: drama, mystery
Creators notes: With thanks to Raksha for help with the concept of Police in M-e.
Summary: A Mother pleads with Aragorn for justice for her son.
The Citadel Guards did an excellent job in policing Minas Tirith. They broke up the inevitable bar brawls, patrolled the streets, kept the citizens safe and arrested thieves and other offenders. Since Aragorn had become King, there had been a noticeable drop in petty theft for he had decreed the poor be provided with bread, blankets and the leftover produce on market days, which otherwise would have been thrown away.
Aragorn was loved by the ordinary people for measure like this and also because he made himself available to them at his weekly audience, where any citizen could bring their problems to him.
He would sit on a throne at the foot of the steps to appear less intimidating, with either Arwen, Faramir or Imrahil at his side to help him make difficult decisions.
Aragorn enjoyed these audiences as it brought him closer to his people and gave him a chance to help them.
He had just judged a dispute between two farmers over the ownership of a plough horse when a distraught looking woman came in. She ignored the usual formalities and rambling introductions and instead threw herself at his feet. “My lord, please have mercy on my son! He's a good boy, he is! Hear a mother's plea!” She started weeping, water dripping from her thin cloak from the rain which beat heavily against the roof.
“Please, rise, mistress.” He gestured to the nearby Guard to help her to her feet. She was a woman of middle years and worn features. Her clothes, though clean, were heavily mended. Aragorn guessed her son was guilty of petty theft. It still happened sometimes despite his reforms. If this were the case, he would give the lad a stern talking to, make him restore the item to its rightful owner and return him to his mother. Perhaps he had stolen a petticoat for her from a neighbour's washing line?”Now tell me what your son has done,” he said.
Faramir produced a clean handkerchief which the Guard handed to the woman.
“They say he stole something, sirs. The Guards found it in his room.”
“And what did he steal, Mistress? And please tell me who you are.”
The woman wiped her eyes and struggled to compose herself. “My name is Amarië, sirs. I take in mending. They say my son stole a diamond ring, but he wouldn't, sirs! I know my boy, I'm his mother. I'm a widow and my boy,Amroth is all I have.”
Aragorn looked grave, this was no petty theft caused by hunger or desperation, but a deliberate criminal act. Such an offence carried a sentence of ten years hard labour.
“We do not always know our loved ones as well as we think, Mistress Amarië. I am sorry, but the law must take its course.”
Amarië threw herself on knees again and clutched at Aragorn's robe. “Please listen to me, my lords. We are poor, but we have never stolen anything, nor would we. We are so grateful for the food you provide us with. Ten years of hard labour would kill my boy. He's a clerk to a merchant as his health is frail. He was injured when I gave birth to him. He could not even climb through the window as they said he did. And the ring they say he took is hideous! His nice young lady wouldn't want it. If you gave it me, I'd throw it away!”
There was something in Amarië's pleading that convinced Aragorn she was telling the truth. He glanced across at Faramir, who also had the gift of uncovering falsehoods. The two locked eyes and Faramir nodded.
Aragorn rose to his feet and beckoned a servant over. “Mistress Amarië, I can make no promises, but I will look into the matter and talk to your son and the Guard who arrested him. Meanwhile go with my servant to the kitchens where you can sit by the fire and dry yourself and have something to eat if you wish.”
“I've not come for charity, my lord, just to help my boy.
Aragorn smiled at her. “We offer refreshments to all who visit here from the highest to the humblest. I will send for you again later after I have spoken to your son.”
“Please let me see him, my lord!”
“You shall once I am ready to pronounce my judgement.”
“Thank you, my lord. You'll see he's a good boy, you will.” She got to her feet and curtsied then permitted the serving maid to lead her away.
“As the foul weather has dashed our hopes of riding this afternoon, we can try and ferret out the truth of this matter,” said Aragorn. “I would see justice done.”
“As would I,” said Faramir. “I am curious to speak to this young man.”
King and Steward quickly dealt with the remaining supplicants then ordered a plate of bread and cheese and fruit be sent to them to eat and set about enquiring who had arrested Amroth. The Captain of the Citadel Guards was able to answer at once when he appeared before the King. “It was Baran, sire.”
“Is Baran well known to you, Captain?” asked Faramir.
“He is, my lords. I've served with him for five years and he is an honest and honourable man. Everyone likes and respects him, even the criminals as he always deals with them fairly as you have ordered, my lord. Almost all the men he arrests are convicted.”
Aragorn sighed as soon as the Captain had departed and he had issued and order for him and Amroth to be brought before him. “If this Baran is as honourable and skilled at his job as his Captain says, it seems the young man is indeed guilty. I shall send for them both now.” He took a bite of a chunk of bread and cheese and chewed it appreciatively. “Nothing beats bread and cheese for satisfying hunger. I learned that in my Ranger days.”
The King had only expected to have time for a quick snack but he had eaten his fill and was just finishing an apple to leave a fresh taste in his mouth when Baron and the prisoner arrived. One glance told him why it had taken to long; the boy walked with a severe limp. His progress was further impeded by the chains that shackled him. Like his mother, he was cleanly but shabbily dressed. He had quite an open handsome face, which was disfigured by his expression of fear and anguish. He bowed clumsily and almost fell. Aragorn bade a servant fetch a chair for him.
Baran had an open honest face and was smartly turned out in his uniform as befitted a Citadel Guard. Aragorn recalled a crime he had dealt with several years involving a Guard who was anything but honourable, but he could sense this man was what he seemed to be.
“Tell me how you came to arrest Master Amroth,” said Aragorn.
Baran saluted smartly. “My lord, a jewel merchant who owns a shop in the second circle summoned the Guards this morning and told us he left his shop unattended for a few moments to use the privy. The door was barred but the window was open as the weather was so hot before the rain. When he came back, a valuable ring was missing from the counter. He told me that the prisoner had been in his shop the day before and had been acting suspiciously. He only lives across the street from the shop so went straight to his house and searched his room. One of my comrades and I found the ring in plain sight on Master Amroth's bed.”
“Do you have the ring?” Aragorn asked.
Baran reached in his pocket and handed a small cloth bag to Aragorn. The King opened the bag and took out a ring with a large and badly cut diamond, which nevertheless sparkled even in the candlelit hall. Amarië was right about it being ugly. Arwen would never wear such a thing. He turned the ring over and looked at the back. A mark disfigured the gold as if something had scratched it.”
Aragorn handed the ring to Faramir to examine then turned to Amroth. “Did you take this ring, Amroth?” he asked sternly.
“I did not, my lord. I do not steal. I have no need to. I work as a clerk for a merchant. He does not pay me much as I am a cripple, but my Mother and I get by with the help you provide for us poor folk.”
“How then did the ring come to be on your bed?”
“I don't know, my lord. I was in the kitchen with my Mother since I awoke this morning. My master is away buying wares, so I was not at work.”
“Were you in the jeweller's shop yesterday?”
“I was, my lord.”
“And why was that?”
For the first time, Amroth hesitated. He flushed slightly. “I wanted to buy my sweetheart a silver pledge ring, but they all cost more than I could afford. I did not steal anything, my lord. I swear it! Please believe me! My sweetheart is fair enough without the need for fancy baubles and my Mother brought me up to be honest.” He buried his face in his shackled hands. “My poor Mother! What will become of her?”
“I shall look further into this matter and pronounce my judgement in due course,” said Aragorn. “Wait here at the Citadel. I will speak to you again later. No harm will come to your Mother, you have my word.”
Aragorn bade a servant take the Guard and the prisoner to an antechamber and asked for some refreshments to be provided.
Once the two were alone, the King turned to Faramir with a perplexed expression. “I can make no sense of this,” he said. “All the evidence points to Amroth's guilt, yet I do not believe he took the ring.”
“Neither do I,” said Faramir. “Maybe some clue lies at his home? We should visit it.”
“An excellent idea. Mistress Amarië should still be in the kitchens. She can show us her dwelling.
A short time later Aragorn, Faramir and two Guards followed Amarië through the streets of the Citadel. It was a long walk down to the second circle, but the rain had stopped giving way to a pleasant afternoon. The air felt fresh after the storm and the two former Rangers enjoyed being out of doors.
Amarië lived in a tiny shabby looking dwelling opposite and equally shabby Jeweller's shop. There were few shops on the lower levels. The prosperous merchants preferred the roomier premises higher up and the proximity to the market place. The Jeweller's was now shuttered but a window on the upper story of Amarië's dwelling was wide open. She invited the King and Steward inside and showed them to her son's room. The bed was soaked where the rain had come in. The mother hurried to check that a small pile off battered looking books beside her son's bed were dry. “Amroth loves to read and write,” she said. “He asked me to look after his books when they took him away.” She gathered up some worn parchments covered in notes in a neat hand and placed them on top of the books.“He was so happy to get a job as a clerk. Now he'll lose his employment. Have they hurt him?” She started to cry again. “He's so gentle, my boy. He even likes to feed crumbs to the birds at his window.”
Faramir found her another handkerchief. While he assured her son had not been roughly treated, Aragorn looked out of the window across to the Jeweller's. The window was small and high off the ground. There was no way a crippled man could have climbed through it. But how could the ring have come to be in his room?
Just then a crow alighted on the window sill. It appeared quite tame and showed no fear of the occupants of the room. A sudden flash of inspiration struck Aragorn. He took a newly minted shiny coin from his purse and laid it on the bed. Swiftly as lightning, the bird flew in, swooped and dived and flew off with the coin in its beak.
“We have our thief, but it is little use asking the Citadel Guard to arrest him,” he said. “I noticed a mark on the ring. The bird must have scratched with his beak when he brought his gift to the friend who fed him.”
“Well, I never did!” said Amarië. “I told you my boy was innocent! Can he come home now?”
“We will release him as soon as we return to the Citadel,” said Aragorn. “We will send him home in a cart so he won't have to walk. Why not prepare him a meal to welcome him home?” He reached in his purse and offered her some coins. “Why not buy him a treat from the market so you can feast together?”
“Thank you kindly, sir, but no. The bread you give us suffices to feed us. We need no charity.”
Aragorn sighed and put the coins away. “Your son will be home with you ere sunset. Now we must take our leave.”
Amarië dropped to her knees again and kissed his hand. “Thank you, my lord, for hearing a mother's plea.”
“It gladdens my heart that justice is done in my realm,” he said as they took their leave."You son is blessed indeed to have such a mother to come and plead his case."
Aragorn and Faramir walked briskly back to the Citadel, followed by their Guards.
“However did you guess about the crow?” asked Faramir.
“My Mother used to tell me a tale about a crow bringing gifts to a young girl who fed him when I was a small child,” said Aragorn. “They take shiny things to give as gifts. I am glad for Amroth's sake that I remembered the old tale.”
“I wish we could help Amarië and her son further,” said Faramir.
“I tried but she will not accept coin from me,” said Aragorn.
“Did you see how neat Amroth's handwriting is?” asked Faramir.
“Yes, he writes with a fair hand.” Aragorn beamed as a thought struck him. “We always need scribes to copy the text in the archives. I would pay him a fair wage. “
“He would soon earn enough to buy his Mother new clothes and his sweetheart a pledge ring then wed her due course,” said Faramir.
He had better warn her to beware of thieving crows lest they covet her ring,” Aragorn said dryly.