Rated T for mild violence
Disclaimer: These characters all belong to the estate of J.R.R. Tolkien. This story was written for pleasure and not for financial gain.
With thanks to Raksha and Deandra for editorial assistance.
Written for the Teitho "Bonds" contest where it was unplaced.
"Blest be the tie that binds
Our hearts in Christian love;
The fellowship of kindred minds
Is like to that above." – John Fawcett 1782
"The Crossed Swords" was tavern of somewhat dubious repute. Captain Thorongil usually strode past it without a second glance. Tonight, though, he espied three of his men making their way within.
Thorongil paused. They made an unlikely trio. The eldest, Galion, was something of a rogue, tolerated by Thorongil only because of his exceptional skills with the sword and dagger. The other two were Finarfin, a somewhat plodding fellow and father of five children, and Edrahil, a country boy, who had only joined Thorongil's Troop a few weeks before.
Thorongil had always believed it was up to his men to spend their free time as they chose, but made an exception to that rule when it concerned the new recruits. Unwary young lads away from home for the first time could easily get into trouble. The men had been paid earlier that day and knowing Galion, he would not put it past him to devise some scheme to persuade his companions to buy his drinks.
There were reports to be written at his lodgings, but Thorongil decided that they could wait. There would be no harm in enjoying a pint of ale first and keeping a discreet watch on his men at the same time. They were the first company in Gondor he had been given charge of and he took his responsibilities seriously, especially towards such as Edrahil, a lad almost young enough to be his son.
Thorongil entered the inn together with another soldier, who was dressed in the livery of the Captain General's men. He found a seat in a secluded corner from whence he could observe his men without being seen. If all were well, he would quickly finish his drink and leave without them ever being aware of his presence. He ordered a mug of ale. It was watery stuff of poor quality and Thorongil sipped it without enthusiasm.
Several others joined the trio of his men. His sharp hearing overheard Galion say to his companions, "You're in luck tonight lads, there's a game on. Here's your chance to strike it rich."
"What sort of game?" asked Finarfin.
"Dice," said Galion.
"Isn't that against the law?" asked Edrahil. "I thought Lord Ecthelion had banned gaming with dice for us soldiers."
Galion laughed. "What Lord Ecthelion doesn't know won't hurt him, or us either."
Another man at the head of the table took out the dice and called for bets.
Thorongil sighed. The fools! The Steward had recently issued a decree forbidding gambling as bad for morale. Cheating was rife and fights often broke out in gambling dens.
Thorongil rose from his table and strode over to where his men were sitting. "Galion, Finarfin, Edrahil," he said sternly. "You should know that you will be in serious trouble if you are caught. You could be thrown in the dungeons, not to mention squandering your hard-earned wages. Finarfin, you have five small mouths to feed, your wife would not be happy if you gambled their food away. Edrahil, your mother is relying on you to support her with your pay."
Edrahil leapt to his feet and saluted. "Captain Thorongil! Sir!" He looked scared out of his wits.
"I'm not here to punish you, lad, just give a friendly word of advice. I suggest you all leave here with me now."
Edrahil took a step towards the captain, Finarfin also made to rise, but Galion remained obdurately in his place.
Suddenly the door of the inn burst open and several guards burst in and hastened towards Thorongil and his men. "You are all under arrest on the orders of the Captain General!" the sergeant in charge cried.
"We weren't doing anything wrong," Galion protested in a sullen tone.
"Gambling is prohibited under the decree of the Lord Steward," said the sergeant. "Now come along quietly."
"My men were invited to take part in a game but they decided against it," said Thorongil. "No law has been broken."
"That's for the magistrate to decide," said the captain. "You'll most likely get thirty days in the dungeons then demotion to the ranks. Shame on you, Captain, for setting such a poor example!"
"The Captain wasn't p- playing," said Edrahil, stuttering slightly with fear. "He was ordering us to leave."
"That is the truth," said Thorongil. He drew himself up to his considerable height towering over the sergeant. "No crime has been committed. Now let us leave and go about our duty of defending Gondor."
"You were caught red-handed at a gaming table," said the sergeant. "You are coming with me." He gestured to his men who took out ropes and began to bind the man who had been holding the dice.
Galion made a run for the door closely followed by Finarfin. One of the soldiers raced after him in hot pursuit, but Galion kicked over a chair in the path of his pursuer, who stumbled and lost his footing. Galion and Finarfin fled into the night. Most of the other customers took advantage of the confusion to vanish into the alleyways surrounding the inn.
"We will catch them later," the sergeant said grimly. "No matter. A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush. Hold out your hands, Captain Thorongil."
"I demand to be taken to the Steward," said Thorongil. "I have done nothing wrong."
"You're not binding the Captain," said Edrahil.
"Silence, you impudent boy!" cried the sergeant.
"But he's innocent!"
"I said silence!" There was a resounding thwack as he dealt Edrahil a savage blow to the ribs. The boy gave a cry and crumpled to the floor, hitting his head as he fell.
"How dare you treat one of my men thus?" cried Thorongil.
The sergeant's only reply was to deal the Captain a similar blow, but Thorongil ducked and avoided the full force of it.
The sergeant gestured to his men, "Bind them and take them away."
"The boy needs a healer," Thorongil protested.
"Nothing wrong with him that sobering up in the dungeons won't cure," said the sergeant.
Thorongil made no attempt to resist as his weapons were taken and he was bound alongside Edrahil.
Thorongil was forcibly marched towards the dungeons while a semi- conscious Edrahil was half dragged, half carried along by the guards. Thorongil's protests at the boy's treatment were ignored.
The jailor stared when they reached the prison "Surely it can't be-?" he gasped.
"Yes, it is the great Captain Thorongil caught red- handed in a common gambling den!" said the sergeant. "Lock him up securely until he and his accomplice can be brought before the magistrate."
The jailor looked taken aback but did as he was bidden. He placed the man who had been running the dice game in a crowded cell full of rowdy prisoners. To Thorongil's relief, he and Edrahil were placed alone together in a smaller cell. In the near darkness, he could just about make out that it was bare apart from a pile of straw and a bucket in one corner. The sergeant threw them both inside and Thorongil heard his footsteps together with those of his men clattering along the stone passageway and receding into the distance.
As the door clanged behind him, Thorongil sank down on the straw beside Edrahil and took a deep breath. If there was one thing he truly disliked, it was confined spaces. Maybe it was because he had been brought up in Rivendell's spacious halls then roamed the wilds of Eriador and the Plains of Rohan. He sighed. Maybe he should not have sought out the land of his ancestral throne. He had only dwelt in Gondor for two years, but Ecthelion's heir, Denethor, had hated him from the moment they had laid eyes on each other. He had no idea why as there was no way that Denethor could have guessed his true identity. Maybe it was because Ecthelion had taken a liking to him and Thorongil returned that regard. He sensed that the old man was lonely and the burden of rule weighed heavily upon him. Thorongil suddenly remembered the soldier wearing the uniform of the Captain General's men who had entered the tavern with him. Denethor was forever seeking ways to discredit him. Doubtless, the man was one of his spies. Thorongil had noticed that he had left once he got up to join his men, but had thought nothing of it.
Beside him, Edrahil moaned. Thorongil was troubled about the boy. He had been brutally hit then fallen on to a hard stone floor. If only his hands were free so that he could at least examine him.
Just then, he heard a jangling of keys and the jailor, holding a lantern, entered the cell. The man looked troubled. "I'm sure there's been some mistake, Captain Thorongil, sir," he said. "My brother is in your troop and he thinks the world of you, he does, sir. Is there anything I can do for you, sir, while all this is being sorted out?"
"Could you untie me, please, so that I can tend to my man?" said Thorongil. "I give you my word I will not try to escape. I have need of light, a blanket and clean water and then writing materials."
The jailor scratched his head thoughtfully. "I can bring you a candle and some water, but writing materials and a blanket will have to wait until the morrow, sir, as I've none here and I dare not leave the prisoners unguarded to fetch some. I will loose your bonds now."
He untied Thorongil and scurried off. Thorongil felt the circulation painfully return to his hands. He rubbed them together while he waited for the jailor to return. At least it seemed he had found a friend in this grim place.
A little while later, the jailor returned carrying a pitcher of water with a pewter cup and a candle.
"I fear this boy could be badly injured," said Thorongil. "He should be in the Houses of Healing."
"A healer comes each morning to the prison," said the gaoler. "If he is not better by the morrow, the healer will decide if he needs to be moved. I'm sorry I can't help more, sir, but my children will surely go hungry if I lose my job. Please shout, sir, if you need anything else." He set the candle in a sconce in the wall.
Thorongil waited until he had left then untied Edrahil. He began to examine the lad, who was developing an egg- sized lump on the back of his head from where he had fallen when the sergeant had hit him. Thorongil pulled aside Edrahil's tunic. Already a spreading bruise was forming on his side. Thorongil carefully felt the boy's ribs. At least two were broken. Edrahil stirred and moaned, calling out for his mother in his pain and confusion. Thorongil murmured soothing words to him.
"Feel sick!" Edrahil suddenly cried as he regained full consciousness.
Thorongil grabbed the bucket and supported the boy while he retched violently.
At last, he ceased and stared at Thorongil in confusion. "What happened, sir? Where are we?"
"In the dungeons," Thorongil replied. He held a cup of water to Edrahil's lips. The boy sipped it then lay back on the straw. "We were arrested for playing dice."
"Not fair, sir, didn't even play. Hurts, everywhere hurts." He started to shiver violently.
Thorongil was relieved the boy knew who he was. He picked up the candle and held it in front of Edrahil's face. The pupils focussed on the light and constricted. Edrahil blinked "Light hurts, please, sir."
"You have a concussion and broken ribs. That is why you are hurting." Thorongil felt relieved that the boy seemed to be regaining his senses, but he was deeply concerned about him. He needed to be in a warm comfortable room in the Houses of Healing not this cold damp cell. He unfastened his cloak, flinching as he did so. He has escaped the worst of the blows, but would still most likely be covered in bruises as result of the sergeant's brutality.
Thorongil draped his cloak around Edrahil and lay down beside him. He placed a comforting arm around the boy's shoulders.
"The others, sir?" Edrahil asked after a few moments.
"They fled," said Thorongil.
"Troop has bonds, should stick together," muttered Edrahil.
"Soldiers should indeed stick together," Thorongil replied. His thoughts strayed to the others of his troop. They ranged from hardened warriors like Galion to untried country boys like Edrahil, but loyalty to Gondor and defending her from her enemies had forged strong ties between very different men. All save Galion, Thorongil thought grimly. He was loyal to no one save himself. Thorongil inwardly berated himself for not dismissing the man long ago. As for Finarfin, Thorongil felt more pity than anger. The man had come to his senses over playing dice, only to face being thrown in the dungeons. If he had not already been caught, his captain would say nothing that might help the guards capture him. He could only hope that Finarfin's wife and children would not suffer too much, as result of what after all, had been a minor transgression. They lived in a remote village, where hopefully Finarfin could earn a living working in the fields if he remained undetected.
He could not help but be disappointed that Finarfin had abandoned his comrades. He had hoped the bonds of loyalty between members of his troop would have been stronger. A disreputable tavern was hardly a battlefield, though, and while Finarfin was far from the most intelligent of Thorongil's men, he had always fought bravely alongside his fellows.
Edrahil shifted uneasily beside him.
"I wish I had something to give you for the pain," said Thorongil. He gave Edrahil another drink then held his hand a few inches above the boy's injured side and head, attempting to use his innate abilities to ease his pain.
After a few minutes, Edrahil spoke again, this time much more coherently.
"I am well enough now, sir. What will happen to now us, sir? How long will we be locked up here?"
"It depends on the magistrate, Edrahil. It is my understanding of the law that only repeat offenders are thrown in the dungeons for long. "
"My mother will be so disappointed in me," Edrahil said sadly. "And the cobbler's lass won't walk out with me again. And I've let you down, sir, I'm sorry."
"We all make mistakes, lad." Thorongil tried to sound comforting. At least a lowly recruit could not be demoted, while he would be stripped of his captaincy and most likely thrown out of Gondor as an undesirable. The irony of it all when he was the rightful heir to the Silver Crown! Maybe it was a mistake to have come to Gondor at all. He should have stayed in the North with his own people. Gandalf, though, had counselled him to broaden his horizons and the wizard was usually right. It seemed, though, that this time he had made a mistake.
"They won't just forget about us will they?"
"No, lad, they won't. And the jailor is a decent man. Now try to get some rest."
The boy needed little persuasion and Thorongil felt him relax beside him with the ease of the young. Best that he should sleep and gain some respite from his troubles. He would have to be woken at frequent intervals after a blow on the head, but he could rest for the time being.
Thorongil knew he should blow out the candle to save it, but could not yet bring himself to do so yet. Had Edrahil not been curled up alongside him, he would have been pacing the tiny cell. He had cherished such high hopes of winning renown through great deeds in Gondor and now he would be disgraced even though he had done nothing wrong.
He heard footsteps approaching the cell. He recognised the jailor's tread, but now there were several others with him. Armed men by the sound of their clanking weapons. Thorongil felt a rising sensation of panic. He had no weapon with which to defend himself and the injured boy. The marching feet drew nearer.
"What is the meaning of this?" Thorongil was startled to hear the familiar voice of the Steward. Ecthelion sounded very angry. Thorongil's spirits sank even lower. It was almost unheard of for the Steward to visit the dungeons.
"Why is Captain Thorongil locked in the dungeons?
"The sergeant who brought him here said he was caught playing dice, my lord," replied the gaoler.
"What nonsense!" snapped Ecthelion. "Thorongil isn't such a fool as to waste his pay gambling, and even if he were, only repeat offenders should be thrown in the dungeons. Why don't these guards use their common sense? Were they my son's men?"
"Yes, my lord."
"My son's a good boy but he can be over zealous at times in his desire to uphold military discipline. Ridiculous, though, to have my best captain locked up when he should be out defending Gondor! Now unlock the cell at once and release my captain."
The cell door swung open. Thorongil scrambled awkwardly to his feet.
"I must apologise for the way you have been treated, my friend. Are you injured?"
"Nothing but a few bruises, my lord, but Edrahil here has a concussion and broken ribs. He needs to be in the Houses of Healing."
Ecthelion turned to the guards with him. "Go and fetch a stretcher and see that this boy is taken to the healers immediately."
The men hurried to do the Steward's bidding.
Ecthelion peered at the still sleeping Edrahil. "Valar be praised that your man told me what had happened tonight."
"My man?" Thorongil could still hardly believe this sudden and unexpected change of fortune.
"Yes, Finarfin, I think the fellow's name was. He came to me when I was taking my usual stroll by the White Tree before retiring for the night and said you had been arrested for playing dice when in fact you were ordering your men not to play. The fellow looked half scared out of his wits, but I assured him he would not be punished so long as he was not caught gambling again. The other fellow who was with you will be severely dealt with if he is caught. From what your man told me it seems he might have been in league with the scoundrel behind much of the illegal gambling in taverns."
"I am certain Finarfin will never go near a gambling den again, my lord. He was about to leave the inn, as was Edrahil, when we were arrested. Galion was the ringleader who tried to lead his fellows astray."
"Now let us leave this place," said Ecthelion firmly. "Go and get something to eat and bathe, Thorongil. You are excused duty on the morrow, but I shall expect a full report the day afterwards. I intend to see that sergeant who injured your man is disciplined."
"If I may, my lord, I should like to first see my man settled in the Houses of Healing."
"Of course, my friend, but then you must have a thought for yourself."
"I will, my lord, and thank you."
The next day, Thorongil awoke feeling stiff and sore. When he dressed, he discovered a large spreading bruise. He had fared lightly compared to poor Edrahil, though. He applied a liberal application of salve to his injury then hastened to break his fast.
He then set out for the Houses of Healing to visit Edrahil. The boy had been sleepy and confused when he had left him the previous night and would no doubt welcome a familiar face. He was also anxious how the lad was faring.
He found the young soldier sitting up in bed looking thoroughly alert but utterly miserable.
"How are you feeling this morning, Edrahil?" Thorongil asked.
"Much better, sir, thank you. The healer said I should soon recover. But will they send me back to prison, sir? My mother will be so upset! I so wanted her to be proud of me."
"And so she will be, lad. The Steward assured me you are not in any trouble as long as you don't frequent gambling dens in future."
"Never again, sir! I promise."
"I trust you to keep your word." Thorongil smiled. "I think you will find too that the ale is of better quality in more respectable establishments than The Crossed Swords."
Just then Finarfin appeared. He started when he saw Thorongil and made as if to leave. Thorongil ordered him to remain.
"That was a very brave thing you did yesterday, going to the Steward," said Thorongil, clapping the man heartily on the shoulder.
"Well, I couldn't leave you and Edrahil in the dungeons, sir," said Finarfin. "We soldiers should stick up for one another."
"We should indeed," said Thorongil. "The ties that bind true-hearted soldiers together are like the bonds between brothers that no man can sever."
A/n. In my head canon Thorongil is in charge of two different troops while he is in Gondor. My stories "Full of Surprises," "Lavender's Blue" and "Voice in the Night" feature the second group of men.