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Broken Trust

Chapter 2: The Punishment

by imaginigma

Last Chapter:

Ragoth’s eyes gleamed and he sneered, “Then you accept the punishment we order?”

“Yes.”


°°°°Chapter 2: The Punishment°°°°

The wind was biting into his skin and he felt a shiver race down his spine. The sun was hidden by heavy grey clouds, painting the world in a milky and bleak light. No other sound floated through the small and isolated village than the sound of crunching feet on the white snow and the occasional cough of one of the humans.

After finding the stolen goods and identifying the criminal, the men ordered the rangers outside. Complying, Aragorn and his men followed the men to the middle of the village. It did not taken them long to reach the small market square, which was surrounded by shabby looking huts and houses.

A fountain, long dried and abandoned was located in the middle; ice had covered it and small icicles hung down from the structure. But the fountain was not he only thing that attracted Aragorn’s attention. The place was filled with people; men, women, and even some children could be seen.

Their faces showed curiosity and excitement, but here and there Aragorn could see fear and concern. Some others looked positively overjoyed, but Aragorn had no idea why. Nevertheless, deep inside he knew that he was to find out soon.

Having reached the middle of the market place, Ragoth turned and eyed Aragorn smugly. The other tall men who had searched their packs had followed the rangers, making sure that none of them tried to escape, or even attack them. But they should not have worried. Aragorn had no intention to leave, and he knew that his men would not leave this village without him.

But now, seeing the assembled crowd and the evil grin on Ragoth’s face, Aragorn wondered if his decision had been the right one. Absently he heard Ragoth give some orders to two broadly build men, who disappeared quickly down a side street, crunching the snow under their feet.

Brugion and Haemon had stopped behind their Chieftain, their faces clearly showing that they would let no harm befall their leader and friend. But Aragorn’s gaze was not directed at the two seasoned rangers.

Cederic was standing some feet away, his posture speaking of unease and nervousness. He had not missed the angry and disgusted look that he received from Brugion, or the strange look that Haemon gave him. Confusion and fear stood in his eyes and his hands fidgeted with the hem of his cloak.

He licked his lips and adverted his leader’s eyes; it was clear that he had no intention of revealing the fact that it had been his pack on not that of Aragorn. Hugging his cloak tighter around his shoulders and shifting his weight, the young ranger stared straight ahead, trying to ignore the looks Brugion and Haemon bestowed upon him.

Aragorn sighed inwardly. The moment Ragoth had emptied the pack, his heart had constricted in his chest and his stomach had felt as if someone had hit him. He still could not truly believe that Cederic had betrayed him thus, but he knew that it was so. Deep inside he felt that the young man was no criminal, and he even thought to know the reason for the theft.

Aragorn knew that Cederic had not stolen the apples for himself, but for his parents. The winter had been hard, the rivers frozen over. For a fisherman in bad health it meant a hard fight for survival, perhaps even a fight that could not be won. Nevertheless, a theft was a crime, and Aragorn respected the laws of Arda.

But, he did not want the young man to suffer for what he had done, not by the hands of these village people. Years of travelling the lands of Middle Earth had shown Aragorn that people, as good hearted and friendly they might be in good times, turned to be harsh and cruel in hard times. Whatever punishment the villagers had in mind, Aragorn felt that it was a punishment he did not want Cederic to endure.

And after all, he was the young ranger’s Chieftain; he had sworn to protect his men, save them from harm and shield them from pain, with his life or death. This was no different. If one of his men failed, then he had failed. Every punishment that they deserved, was one he deserved.

Suddenly, the men Ragoth had send away returned, carrying with them what looked like a leather bag and two pieces of rope slung over their shoulders. The croud opened to let them through, and the men guarding the four rangers tightened their grips on their weapons.

When the two men carrying the supplies reached Ragoth’s side, the tall man nodded at them and took the leather bag. He did not open it, but gestured at the two strong built men to step to either side of him. Both now held a piece of crude rope in hand.

Ragoth turned towards Aragorn, an evil smirk adorning his face, and the sinking feeling in his stomach returned full force. When the tall human ordered him to lay down his cloak and strip his shirt, Aragorn knew that this was not going to be pleasant.

A shiver raced down his spine involuntarily as he opened his worn leather cloak, but it was not only because of the chill air that assaulted him immediately. Whatever was hidden in the bag, it made him regret having ever entered the isolated village.

Finally, Aragorn had taken off his cloak, tunic and shirt, standing in the cold air bare-chested. Resisting the urge to wrap his arms around himself to keep him warm, he looked at Ragoth with calm eyes. Aragorn had no intention to let this man see his unease.

But he should not have worried, as the tall man had directed his attention at the bag in his hands. Looking up and seeing Aragorn standing in the cold air, without so much as shivering outwardly, his smile seemed to falter for a moment, but then he opened the leather bag and reached inside determinedly.

When his hand came out of the bag, clutching a long black object, Aragorn sighed inwardly, closing his eyes for the shortest of moments. He could hear his men shift behind him, could actually hear their suppressed gasps.

He shook his head once, and without looking behind him knew that Brugion and Haemon had understood him. He heard Haemon curse under his breath, but knew that neither he nor Brugion would attempt to stop the village men. The two older rangers knew as well as he did that they would now not be able to leave the village unscathed, should they try to flee. Such an action would result in an open fight, and although Aragorn felt that they would make it out alive, they would be forced to fight their way to freedom, thereby certainly injuring and perhaps even killing some of the inhabitants of this village. It was a risk that Aragorn was not willing to take; after all, these were innocent people and they had wronged them, not the other way round.

He took a deep breath, and his eyes locked on the object that had so far been hidden in the bag:

A worn but strong looking leather whip.

Turning the whip in his gloved hand, Ragoth’s eyes never left Aragorn. The smug smile on his face told the rangers that this man was enjoying what he was doing, and that he would make sure that his victim would not escape.

With a gesture of his hand he ordered the two men who still hold the rope in hand to seize Aragorn. Immediately, Haemon and Brugion stepped forward, hands on their swords. Their postures spoke of defiance, and for a short moment Aragorn was not sure if they would follow his silent orders and stay back.

Hesitating, the village men gazed at the rangers, and then back at Ragoth, who looked slightly annoyed. Once more gesturing at Aragorn, Ragoth tightened his grip on the whip.

The same moment the two village men stepped forward, Brugion and Haemon did the same, effectively blocking their Chieftain from the men. Sensing the tension and fear of the villagers, Aragorn stepped forward as well and placed a hand on Haemon’s shoulder.

Meeting his Chieftain’s gaze, the ranger shook his head, not willing his Chieftain to sacrifice himself to this cruel sentence, “Strider, you cannot….” But Aragorn interrupted him, “I can, and I will. This is my decision.”

Sending a quick look to Brugion, he continued in a whisper, such that the other men would not overhear what he had to say, “Please, my friends. Do not make this more difficult than it already is. Do nothing foolish. They will not let us leave without the punishment being performed. My decision stands, so do not try to convince me otherwise. And whatever happens, make sure to keep and eye on Cederic.”

With that said, Aragorn turned away from his men, and without another word stepped up to Ragoth and the two strongly build men. Grumbling under their breaths, Haemon and Brugion stood where they were, watching the scene unfold before their eyes, while Cederic seemed to be rooted to the spot some feet away.

Convinced that Aragorn would neither flee nor fight them, the men wound the rope around his wrists, one standing at each side of him. As Ragoth gave them a signal, they stepped back, forcing Aragorn’s arms to spread to the side, so that he more resembled a bird that had spread its wings than anything else.

As if the two villagers were still fearing that the ranger would try to escape his punishment, they pulled the rope so taught that Aragorn could feel his muscles bend and stretch, making his arms hurt even more than they already did due to the cold and frosty winter air.

Suppressing a groan as one of the men gave the rope a harsh tug, Aragorn locked eyes with Ragoth. The man had watched the scene wordlessly, but now he stepped up so close to Aragorn that the ranger could have touched him, had his arms not been bound.

Sneering, the head of the village said, his voice so low that only Aragorn could hear him, “Oh, this is going to be a pleasure, ranger. This will teach you not to steal from others.”

And with that said, he turned and moved to stand behind the bound ranger. Lifting his head, Ragoth spoke in a loud and clear voice, so that the assembled crowd could hear him, “Hear what I have to say! This man is accused of stealing. He confessed his crime and accepts his punishment. His crime is a heavy one, and his attempt at lying to hide it from us adds to his sentence. Hear me now, his punishment, in consistency with our laws, will consist of fifteen strokes with the whip. And it shall be executed here and now, with you all as witnesses.”

Having finished his formal speech, Ragoth took a step back and shook out the long whip. The leather fell on the snow, and Aragorn had the feeling of a simulations gasp that rushed through the crowd. Complete stillness settled over the market place, like the calm before a storm.

Closing his eyes in anticipation of what was to come, Aragorn mused that it could have been worse; not much worse, but worse after all. Fifteen strokes was a hard punishment, as the small amount of twenty-five strokes could kill a man, but it was nothing that he could not endure.

He heard the whooshing sound as the whip rushed through the air, and when it connected with his bare back a moment later, all thoughts were driven from his mind. Never before had he felt a whip hurt so much; it almost felt as if the leather had cut the half of his back, and he could feel his warm blood trickle down his back.

Absently he heard Ragoth loud voice, shouting, “One!”. The crowd was silent, holding its collective breath. Then the whip connected once more with his back, and he jerked involuntarily, his arms pulling at the ropes that held him. Nevertheless, he stood straight and tall, no sound escaping his tightly closed lips.

And as Ragoth shouted “Two!” and brought the whip down once more a moment later, he was glad that he had taken the punishment upon himself. Cederic, he knew, would not have been able to live through this cruel punishment without screaming, therewith disgracing himself.

“Three!”, “Four!”, “Fife!”, “Six!”, “Seven!”, “Eight!”, “Nine!”, “Ten!”, “Eleven!”, “Twelve!”.

Aragorn could feel his body trembling, the strain on the ropes that held him was so strong that he feared his arms would be pulled out of their sockets. Cold sweat stood on his brow, and had he been able to see himself we would have noticed that his face was of a sickly grey colour. Tasting his own blood as he had bitten on his cheek to keep from screaming, Aragorn felt another shiver race down his spine.

He did not notice the crowd jerk with every new stroke, did not hear the curses that Brugion was muttering, or feel his blood run down his back and drip onto the white snow, turning it crimson. His ears had turned deaf, as had most of his other senses. The only thing he felt was the pain radiating of his back, and the only thing he heard were the exited yells of Ragoth, who seemed to hit him harder with each stroke.

Another white hot pain shot through his back, making him gasp involuntarily; he heard Ragoth scream, “Thirteen!”, and suddenly he felt his knees turn weak. He slumped forwards slightly, and had the ropes not been holding his arms high up into the air, he would have given in the urge and plunged to the ground. Valar, it hurt.

Taking a deep breath, he was nearly not able to stifle his scream as the leather connect again with his already bleeding back. Clenching his teeth and hearing Ragoth yell, “Fourteen!”, Aragorn ignored the trembling of his body and focused instead on one thought: Only one more stroke, and then it would be all over.

When the stroke came, it fell harder than any stroke had done before, and Aragorn jerked heavily in his bonds, feeling the rope cut into his wrists, breaking the skin and drawing blood. But to his utter relief, he had not screamed; he knew that his men would have understood, but he was their leader, after all, and such a behaviour would have disgraced himself.

“Fifteen!”

He was not sure if he had truly heard it, but he meant to have heard some disappointment swing in Ragoth tone. But Aragorn did not feel triumphant, merely in pain. He had long moved past the point to feel the biting cold on his skin, and for a fleeting moment he wondered whether the cold had numbed his back strong enough to lessen the agony of the welts that now decorated it.

His breath came in short gasps, and now that the punishment was over his ears started working again, and he could hear Ragoth order the two men who stood at this sides to release him. The rope was loosened and instantly his arms fell to his sides, the muscles cramping upon being released from the strain.

He swayed slightly, his eyes still closed, and just as he felt himself finally tumble to the ground, a strong hand was placed on his shoulder and another around his waist, stabilizing him and supporting him.

Haemon’s voice whispered into his ear, “I have you, Strider.” He nodded, and upon opening his eyes he saw Brugion shove one of the two rope holding villagers out of the way, his face showing his anger and the repulsion he felt towards the men.

Gripping the rope, Brugion removed it from Aragorn’s wrists as gently as he could, but the damage was already done. Blood trickled down his wrists and onto the snow, but Aragorn did not feel it, as the pain in his back overrode all other feelings.

Haemon removed his hand from around Aragorn’s waist, but still steadied him without being too obvious, and turned and looked behind him. When his eyes lit upon Cederic, he said, “Cederic, bring Strider’s tunic and cloak. Now.”

The young man hesitated shortly, but then he hurried to the discarded shirt, tunic and cloak and held them out to the older ranger. Taking the clothing, Haemon made as if to help Aragorn into his tunic, but Aragorn was quicker.

Shaking his head minutely, he turned and took his tunic from the ranger, and with a resolute movement pulled it over his head. The cloak followed swiftly, although it took Aragorn’s slightly trembling fingers longer than usual to close it.

Had the circumstances been any different, he would not have pulled on his clothing without the wounds being tended, but he had no desire to stay in this village any longer than absolutely necessary. Furthermore he had the distinct feeling that the villagers would not let them tend his wounds here.

Nodding at Brugion and Haemon and thanking them silently for their support, Aragorn turned towards Ragoth, his eyes as cold as a winter storm. He forced his wobbling legs to carry his weight and suppressed the pain that engulfed his whole being and wanted to be released in a loud scream.

Ragoth met his gaze unflinchingly, the leather whip still in hand. Only now did Aragorn notice the red sparkles on the otherwise white snow cover.

Aragorn nodded, and then told Ragoth, “The sentence has been carried out. Now we are free to leave.” It was a statement, no question.

The other man ground his teeth, and then brought out, “And make sure not to come back.”

Wordlessly, Brugion and Haemon took up their and their Chieftain’s pack. Silently asking Aragorn with his eyes whether he wished any help and seeing his offer rejected, Haemon nodded, but stayed at his Chieftain’s side nevertheless. Brugion stared at the crowd before them, and then he strode forwards, determined to leave this village as far behind them as possible.

Seeing Cederic hesitate, Aragorn gave him a stern look, then turned his back on the young ranger, and with Haemon at his side, he made his way slowly out of the village. Not once did he look back, he knew that Cederic would follow them.

But, before they left the isolated village that had brought him so much pain, Aragorn knew that there was one thing which had to be done. When his eyes found the one he was looking for, Aragorn changed his direction slightly and stopped right before the old innkeeper.

Hendloc’s cheeks were red and his eyes gleaming. Obviously, the old man had enjoyed the spectacle.

Locking eyes with the villager, Aragorn inclined his head and told him, “Master Hendloc, I am sorry for the trouble I caused you. It has never been my intention to exploit your hospitality.”

Gazing at the ranger who stood before him, Hendloc spat on the ground, right before Aragorn’s feet. Sighing inwardly, Aragorn turned, and walked out of the village, his back straight despite the pain and his gaze directed onto the wide and open snowy plains before him. He did not even look back when he heard the huge wooden gate close behind him and his men.

Tbc...

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Chapter name
The Punishment
Created
21 Jul 2006
Last Edited
21 Jul 2006
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188
Words
3291