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Murder Most Foul  by Larner

A warning, this is not a bright, happy story--anything but.  I've indicated that this is a crossover--of sorts.  Inspired by a real-life murder case that keeps unwinding and has been doing so since May of 1993, I have taken many of the circumstances involved in the West Memphis Three case and have set them in Middle Earth.  The story starts with a murder and will go on from there.  There are hints of sexual perversion, child abuse, spousal battering, incest, discussions of what happens to bodies after death, descriptions of animals scavenging on bodies found in wild places, and other unsavory doings, as well as corruption in local governments and the courts.  I have tried my best not to be so graphic as to be offensive, but it is best to be forewarned.

Although this story is based in great part on actual events and many details from the real murders are contained within it, it still remains a work of fiction, and the characters are not intended to be accurate depictions of their real-world counterparts.  Indeed, they are in fact original characters with many of the same attributes as the real people involved, going through similar circumstances, but still very different in most ways.

If I do manage to insult those who may be drawn to see themselves in this work of fiction, I do apologize in advance.  But following this drama has managed to consume a good deal of my time and energy for twelve or thirteen years now, and I wished to explore how sometimes the justice system appears to fail spectacularly.  If only we had a Berevrion in the real world to set things right anywhere as effectively.

~--(*)--~

Beta by Fiondil.

Murder Most Foul

 

Prelude - Evil at Day’s End

Two days before Midsummer, 3018, Steward’s Reckoning, a mark before sunset 

            He’d been sleeping in a roofless byre not far from the northern road from the borders of Rohan through Anórien.  He awoke to hear three small boys approaching, leading two ponies toward his hiding place.  They must have come from the nearest village, which was about two miles to the west.  Once there had been a farmstead here, but it had to have been abandoned at least ten years ago, he’d judged by what ruins were left.  The houseplace had been burned down, and most of what stonework had gone into it had apparently been carried away to use in building structures elsewhere.  Indeed, he rather suspected that the stone walls about the village to the west had probably contained most of the stone salvaged from here.

            He glanced through a chink in the stones at the back of the byre toward his horse, hidden behind a line of low berry bushes on the edge of the stand of trees that had served as the farm’s woodlot, then turned to examine the situation.  He could not risk word of his presence in Gondor reaching the ears of anyone likely to send troops to investigate.

            He saw no sign of any adults about.  It was late for boys of this age to be out on their own, for the evening meal would be placed on the tables of most homes in the region within the next mark, he knew.  It was probable, then, that their parents had no idea where they were, and most likely were ignorant of the fact their sons had left the village.  He raised himself slowly, until he could peer at the boys through a crack in the ruined gate to the stall in which he lay.

            “You are certain you won’t be afraid, here alone, Nedron?” asked the child with the darkest hair.

            “Better here than back there with him,” declared the one with the broadest chest.  “Thank you for bringing me out.  I’ll sleep here tonight, and tomorrow I’ll head for the White City and seek my fortune.”

            “How long do you think it will take?” asked the third child, one with a purple birthmark on the back of his neck.

            The broad-chested one shrugged.  “Perhaps a week,” he said, “since I must walk.”

            The dark-headed boy shook his head.  “That’s not going to be enough food, then--three apples, a loaf of bread, that much cheese, and that sack of dried meat.  When my ada and me went to visit my daeradar’s farm it was a day’s ride, and we ate that much along the way.”

            “There’s only one of me,” the runaway explained.  “I won’t eat as much as two of you, and I know how to tickle fish, and have a strike-a-light with me.”

            “You don’t think he’ll look for you, do you?”

            “Him?  Not likely—not till Nana’s ready to come home from the alehouse.  He doesn’t care what I do when she’s not home.”  The bitterness was plain to hear.

            Just then the watcher’s horse snorted, and the boys looked about in startlement.  “I heard a horse—a big horse!” said the boy with the dark hair.  “Maybe he’s looking for you anyway!”

            “But we don’t have a horse!” the runaway said.

            The one with the birthmark looked around.  “Maybe it’s spies!” he whispered.  “Spies for—for the Enemy!”

            Not good—certainly it was the truth!  He’d have to dispose of them, then—no good letting them return to the village with word that some stranger was hiding out on the abandoned farmstead east along the road.  From what they’d said, no one would think to look for them for some time.  He ought to be able to dispose of them easily enough.  He should have time to do things right.

            None of them saw as he rose silently to his feet, lifting a stone from the floor.  A strike or two to the back of each head ought to do nicely with a minimum of sign as to what had happened to them.  Those two had their backs to him, after all.

            And the plan worked--he was able to immediately knock the one with the broadest chest senseless, and the other two stood, frozen in shock as the child fell.  He took advantage of the others’ immobility to treat the second boy as he had the first, but the taller one with the dark hair fled—or at least he tried to flee.  The spy had him before he got more than three steps outside of the byre.  He grabbed hold of the boy’s wrist and dragged him back inside the structure, placing his hand over the boy’s mouth to keep him from shouting out, pulling the child close to his chest.  But the boy bit him, and he reflexively struck the child with the back of his hand, slapping the boy violently against the ruinous wall.  There was a sickening crack, and the boy crumpled to the ground.

            The Master would not have approved of the word he uttered.  This one would not waken from his encounter with the wall, so he’d best finish off the other two swiftly as well.  Two more strikes to the heads of the other boys, and after checking to see that no one else was in the area, he turned the children face up to examine them.  Yes, one was already gone, and the others would breathe their last fairly soon.  No, none of them would tell of seeing a Man of mixed breeding with the White Hand of Saruman on his breast sleeping in the ruined byre, sending soldiers after him to ascertain his business.  Now—to find a way to dispose of the bodies so that they would not be found particularly swiftly—the longer the local people searched for their sons, the further along his road he would be before anyone was likely to search for strangers.  He was to meet his contact from Mordor two evenings from now, and he still had a long way to go to reach the banks of the Anduin.

            Best not to leave them here—it would be obvious they were killed by a passerby, and most likely a spy; trackers would be dispatched immediately, he knew.  But he’d crossed a bridge not that far away that led over a drainage canal—it might take days to find them if he were to hide their bodies there.  He would possibly be heading northwest through Fangorn Forest back toward Isengard again before the boys were found.

            He went out and brought the ponies into the byre where they would be out of sight of anyone passing on the road—just in time, as it proved.  He placed his hand over the muzzle of the smaller beast, which was proving skittish at the scent of blood, just as voices could be heard approaching from the east.

            “Come on, Garestil!” someone called.  “Keep up, won’t you?”

            “Don’t be so impatient.  He is smaller than we are, and must take three steps to our two,” another admonished in lower tones.

            “I’m coming!  You could wait for me!” said a higher, younger sounding voice.

            “We are waiting,” the second assured him.  As the smaller youth came up even with the taller three who walked together, he added, “And the potter had a good deal of praise for you.  You did well today!”

            The youth Garestil puffed out his thin chest.  “I did do well, didn’t I?”

            He who’d not spoken before answered him, “Yes, you did.  And I’ve finally mastered juggling four balls!  Perhaps soon he will allow me to try knives!”

            “You’ll only manage to cut off your foot,” the first to speak grunted.  “And some tumbler you will make with one foot!”  He went down on his knees, going forward.  “Behold, the mighty one-footed tumbler, juggling balls and plates for your entertainment!” he proclaimed in a loud voice, and the others laughed good-naturedly, the youth Garestil’s laughter starting after that of the others as if assuring himself that it was indeed time to express his appreciation of the humor. 

            “Well, we must hurry.  Even now the gates will be closed, and we will need to convince Hanalgor to open to admit us,” cautioned number two, leading the way forward more rapidly.

            The half-breed peered after the four youths as they disappeared down the Highway, undoubtedly on their way to the village he’d passed on his way eastward.  He would have to wait for a time lest others still traveled the road, he realized, so he sat down for a time to resume his rest, listening for any further traffic.  A few wagons and horses passed him a time after the youths, and then all went quiet.

            Finally, three marks before dawn with no one else passing on the road, he decided it was safe to remove the bodies elsewhere.  He stripped the small corpses and bound them with the laces from their boots, one end of a lace to a wrist and the other to the corresponding ankle to make it easier to carry the bodies out of the byre.  He would loop the bindings to the pommels of the saddles on the backs of their own two ponies to carry them to where they might be better hidden.  It took some time to calm the ponies so he could load them properly, and he hung two bodies wrapped in their cloaks over the larger of the two of the animals, and the heaviest body from the saddle of the smaller, younger pony along with the children’s clothing, which he’d bundled inside the largest of their cottes.  At last he mounted his own horse and led the ponies back toward the village, following a disused and rutted track, looking for signs of the canal.  He was most grateful for the light of the full moon, as that aided him in the going.  He crossed a field that had not been worked for some seasons, and saw another tumbledown houseplace against the horizon.  At last he saw there was a thick line of trees and vegetation ahead, and beyond it another farmstead--an active one this time.  But lines of trees such as this generally indicated a source of water....

            These were lowlands and had once been swampy.  In order to farm them a wide drainage canal had been dug to draw the water away from the fields, and in a thickly brushed  gully surrounded by trees he found a smaller ditch had also been dug to drain runoff from the fields he’d just crossed, the ditch also now filled with water.  It wasn’t particularly wide or, he found when he explored it, deep; but it would be deep enough for his purposes.  Pleased at what he’d found, he climbed out of the ditch and went to the waiting, snorting ponies.  He found the pony carrying the one bundle had wandered a bit--well, let it be for the moment--it wouldn’t go far.  He lifted the two slighter bundles off and unwrapped them, and lifted them up, using the ties he’d done to carry them.  It took but a moment to carry them down into the gully where he pressed them into the mud at the bottom of the ditch, just below the surface of the water.  Then he went up.  The other pony had moved away from the canal, near the head of the ditch.  He finally caught it and tied its reins fully about a young tree, and removed the heavier bundle, unwrapped it, and lifted it up by the ties as he had the other two; then taking the bundle of clothing in his other hand he headed down into the gully by the nearest path.  He soon had this one disposed of as he’d done with the others, and grabbing some fallen branches he first swept away possible footprints before using them to press the bundle of clothing and the shoes, except for some of the small clothes he’d saved as trophies, also down into the mud.  When all was hidden to his satisfaction he went back up and gathered the ponies.  In normal times he’d eat the animals, but his master had given him plentiful supplies as well as the horse stolen from Rohan’s grasslands, and he’d stayed his errand long enough.  No, he’d have to dispose of them as well.

            He found a footpath leading toward the larger drainage canal, and he led the animals along it.  Soon he saw where a thick beam of wood had been laid to make a bridge of sorts, allowing those from the farmstead and village side of the canal into the woods on the east side of the great ditch to search, he suspected, for berries and truffles and other natural sources of foods in their seasons.  He led the ponies down the steep slope until they got near the head of the beam.  There he swiftly struck each one where it would do the most good with the blade of the smaller knife from his boot, and, with the strength of his kind, he dropped them into the water, one each side of the beam.  Then he turned back toward the way he’d come, and slid slightly as he went up the slope to where his horse waited.  He slid his trophies into his bag and once again headed eastward.  He ought to reach the Anduin in two days’ time, and the master’s contact should be waiting for him.  Putting his recent activities out of his mind for the moment, he whistled as he rode.

 *******

            The other wanderer to pause as sunset approached near the site of the ruined byre was a feckless youth originally from Dunland.  Having heard there was more chance for one of his ambition in Rohan or Gondor than in the hill country his folk inhabited, and finding himself disliking the insistence his parents made that he continue helping with the farm from which they scratched their living, he’d headed south.  But with the growing fear those of Rohan were beginning to feel toward the white spider of Isengard and the loyalty he’d bought from the Dunlendings, the young Man had found no welcome within the Mark, so he’d turned his feet eastward.  In Anórien, however, the only employment he could find was on the very farms he’d hoped to escape by leaving his own land, so he’d continued onward. 

            He found for a time employment in a tavern not far from one of the watch posts for the Beacons.  During the four months there he developed a taste for the liquor served; the third time he was caught sleeping off his own drinking in the back room of the tavern while patrons helped themselves to the product he was supposed to be dispensing for brasses and coppers, he was shown the gates to the settlement and sent packing--once he was awake enough, of course, to go.  He’d continued on eastward and finally south toward Minas Tirith.  He’d work on a farm or with a carter long enough to have sufficient money to purchase food and sufficient spirit to satisfy him for a week or so, and then continue on.

            In Minas Tirith he’d been first able to find employment in an inn as a cook--until one night he brought his spirits with him into the kitchen, and while very drunk managed to accidentally start a small fire.  He found his way to another, rougher establishment where he’d washed dishes, until the second time he didn’t show up for his shift and was found passed out in a pantry.

            He quit drinking for a time after that and managed to obtain a position with an individual who imported pottery from Dunland and leatherwork and horsehair goods from Rohan.  He did well for himself for the eight months he abstained from drink--his new master appreciated his knowledge of Rohan and Dunland both and his ability to speak the languages of those lands.  But then one Highday evening he was invited by one of his master’s clients to a tavern, and before the evening was over he’d been quietly inveigled into following a new companion into the back alley, where he was struck over the head and robbed of all he’d carried on him, including the keys to his rooms in the lower Second Circle and his master’s offices.  When at last he woke and found his way home he found his rooms had been rifled and all of any value taken from him; and when he showed up at his work the master stormed at him that due to his carelessness the place had been gone through, records stolen or destroyed, and the strong box located and emptied.

            After that he’d resumed drinking, finally accepting a small wage and a place in a storage shed for a fruiterer’s shop for sweeping the place daily and helping sort through for produce that had begun to rot.  He was allowed to eat whatever was felt to be of too poor quality to sell to the populace of the city, so he didn’t starve.

            Now, however, he’d determined the best hope for him would be to return home to his parents’ farm, so he’d set off north and then west, again working for a few days here and there to get sufficient funds to purchase food and drink so he could make it the next few miles....

            Until this day at sunset, when hearing a terrible noise he crept toward the ruined byre on the abandoned farmstead and saw--saw what was happening there, what that great, overly muscular figure was doing to those boys!  At that he’d turned and crept away until he found the road and, certain he couldn’t be heard by the figure in the byre, began to run, running eastward at a rate he’d never attained before in all his life.

            At last he spotted the walled village, its gate not yet closed for the night, and darted within.  He saw the familiar bulk of a tavern and hurried through the courtyard to the outhouse.  It was then he realized that sometime during his flight he’d managed to bash himself into some obstruction and hadn’t even noticed--he had a deep gouge on his arm and bruises all down one side.  He looked at the awful gouge and thought on what he’d seen, then, sitting on the outhouse bench, he leaned forward and began retching, just as another patron opened the door and started in, pausing in revulsion at the sight of this stranger so involved.  He’d turned and hurried back to the tavern, and the barman had come out to check on him, forcing his way in and realizing the outhouse’s occupant was both ill and injured.

            The Dunlending youth was too involved in his own misery to answer the questions put him or to come out at the Men’s insistence, and at last they left him.

            There was a bucket of fresh water there for purposes of cleansing hands and face before folks returned to the taproom, and having found it the youth washed himself as best he could, his mind clearing as he cleansed away the worst of the blood and vomit.  He was a stranger--and a Dunlending.  The folk here were unlikely to deal well with him; and if those boys were from here, once their absence was noted they would most likely blame him for it.  And if the bodies were ever found--he shuddered to think what he was likely to suffer in that case.  No one here was likely to accept his word he’d had nothing to do with it, and it was probable he’d be hung out of hand, if not spitted on a sword or spear and allowed to die slowly and painfully of a gut wound.  No, he’d best leave now, before the rest came back.

            He checked outside the outhouse and saw none waited in the courtyard.  He crept out, then carefully checking both ways approached the tavern’s kitchen.  A few meat pies sat cooling on the worktable, and the cook could not be seen.  He grabbed two of the pies and folded them in his shirt, then set himself to slipping out of the village as best he could.  The gate was closed now, but he found a lower place in the wall where he was able to scramble up on a refuse bin and climb over it.

            Once outside he crept eastward until he was certain he’d put at least three miles between himself and the village, at which time he returned to the road, at last taking shelter in a haystack for a farm.  After sleeping a few hours he returned to the road.  He was overtaken in time by a train of wagons heading toward Rohan, followed half an hour afterwards by a single wagon that had dropped behind to reseat a lynch pin on the axle.  The carter, happy to have company, allowed him to ride with him, and together they talked as they drove westward, the youth leaving his benefactor as they finally came in sight of the rest of the train paused to camp for the night.

            No one in Gondor ever saw the young Man again.

 *******

            And in the darkness of the night, creatures stirred about the banks of the drainage ditch.  An otter came down and entered the water, and swam about the body of the one near the head of the ditch, climbing onto its back and biting at its shoulder, pulling at the side of the child’s face with its claws, seeking to expose more of it.  The buttocks were more fleshy; it bit at one of them, then was frightened off as an owl flew low over the surface of the water.  When it sought to come back a muskrat had taken its place, and defended the body with a good deal of vigor and defiance.  Further down the gully a fish ventured up the ditch from the canal, and worked at tasting the body of the first of the two who lay there.  The otter reentered the ditch midway between the placement of the single body and the other two.  Again it approached the child it had visited before, but again the muskrat chased it away.  The otter turned down the ditch and realized that there were more food sources available, and climbed upon the nearer child’s back as it had done earlier.  It scratched at the child’s arm and again sought to gnaw at this abundance of meat.  It licked at the caked blood about the head wounds.  It chewed on the back of an ear.

            Again the owl swooped over, clawing at the otter as it was focused on the child’s body.  The pain of the talons catching at it drew its attention to its danger, and the otter turned and bit at the owl’s leg, which had failed to get a good purchase.  The bird screeched in its pain, and the otter, the other talon withdrawn, dove beneath the surface and swam for the deeper water of the canal itself, seeking the place nearest its burrow where it typically entered and left the water, looking to lick its wounds in peace.

            Rats and muskrats came and prodded the bodies; but they were too large and freshly killed to easily prey upon as yet.  At one point a wild dog approached, but was chased away by a number of smaller scavengers.

            No one, however, sought to dissuade the badger when it came.  It entered the shallow water near the third child, and worked frantically trying to release the delicate face from the hold the mud held on it.  Eyes and cheeks were usually soft, after all.  It managed to do a good deal of scratching to one cheek and worried at one of the ears.

            Several of the rats did their best to bite the bodies here and there, or dug at them with their claws, until a snake came gliding through the ditch and took one of them from in the midst of them all; the rest fled.

            Then the ditch was quiet as the sky greyed in the east.  Night hunters and scavengers were now looking to return to their dens for the day; a different group became active.

            Father turtle had burrowed into the mud for the night just above the point where the ditch joined the canal, and as Anor shone more fully down on the ditch and the water temperature began to rise he awoke and clawed his way out of the mud.  Smelling the scent of carrion within the water he began working his way toward the source of the scent, stopping when vibrations indicated Men were passing through the gully.  Once they were gone and all was again still, he continued on his way until he found himself at the nearest body.  The hind-parts were presented, considering the manner in which the body had been tied and then pressed, face down, into the mud.  There was soft flesh here, and he came closer to examine it, bit here, bit there, then found a goodly body of soft tissue.  The body didn’t move--it was plainly dead and ready for the eating.  Satisfied it could take its time, the great turtle opened its horny beak and bit down, severing the tender sac, pulling soft skin off adjoining members, glad to have this wonderful, filling meal.  Having finally secured its prize, the turtle turned toward the canal, swam down into it until it found its favorite sunning spot, there pulling itself out to eat at its leisure.

            Smaller turtles followed their father, biting and clawing, each leaving its mark.  A few weasels examined the bodies as well, digging their claws into the flesh to try to get a better purchase.

            Meanwhile, down in the mud under the bodies, the mud-dwelling crustaceans began awakening and congregating about the bodies, each leaving its tiny, bloodless wound as it found enough flesh to provide a more than ample meal for such small creatures.  Some of the larger such creatures that sifted the mud about the clothing managed to break the suction that had held one shoe down; then a second one.  The cured leather of these items was not particularly succulent, so they returned to the bodies.

            Near noon father turtle returned, crawling up on the back of one of the bodies and, like the otter, trying to get at the face, turned as it was slightly to the side.  The marks of its claws were left on the child’s shoulder and cheek when more vibrations indicated that Men had returned again to the wooded gully.  The turtle slipped rapidly into the water and swam under the surface back into the canal.  The crustaceans burrowed back down into the mud.  Rats and weasels slipped away and into hiding.

            Before the scavengers could return again, one of those who’d come into the gully this time had scurried back to the village, summoning village guardsmen.  Within an hour the bodies were lifted out of the water and laid on the banks, and one of those who’d found them, looking at the damage done to the genitals of one of the bodies, proclaimed, “Danárion has done this, seeking to offer worship to the Nameless One!”

            And those who’d come agreed--all knew that Danárion of Destrier had a bad name and had interest in subjects that were best left alone.

            Father turtle, later in the day, returned to the ditch, but the source of the delectable meat he’d enjoyed was now gone.  So it turned back toward the canal, where it soon found an unwary fish.  Soon it was back at its sunning spot, completing a second meal for the day.

 


A Letter to the King’s Majesty

             Aragorn looked at the pile of letters laid before him by Iorvas, who’d brought them from the messengers who handled correspondence from the realm to the Citadel, and shook his head in dismay.  He’d not yet taken a proper secretary.  The two who’d been so employed by Denethor were no longer in residence:  the older one had wished to retire after his former master’s death, and it had taken only a quarter mark’s interview with the younger one for the new King to decide this one was most unsuited to work beside him.  Aragorn had no patience to deal with the arrogance and judgmental attitude the Man displayed toward those who’d wasted their time sending unsolicited correspondence to the Steward of Gondor; and unfortunately he could see how the secretary’s attitude would have been approved by Denethor son of Ecthelion.

            So, until he could locate and approve of someone who would do satisfactorily in this capacity, the King was reduced to allowing Galador son of Garenthor, the Master of Protocol, to so serve him.  It was not precisely a successful arrangement, for Galador’s priorities often were at odds with those of the King.  However, when it came to knowing the lines of precedence and natures of the nobles of Gondor and the lands each ruled Aragorn had come to agree with Faramir that no one had greater knowledge within the White City.  He only hoped that either Faramir or Galador could soon come up with a suitable candidate to serve as his main secretary, one who would allow Aragorn himself to set the tone within the his offices.

            Galador had obviously recognized the seal on one missive, for he took it and used his letter knife to open it, examined it swiftly, and gave an ostentatious sigh.  “Alas, my Lord,” he said, “it is from the lord of Anwar in Anórien--the matter of the murder of the three boys from the village of Destrier.  They plan to hang the oldest of the three youths found guilty in a month’s time and require your signature on the new death warrant and the appointment of one to witness the hanging for the Stew--for the Crown.”

            “What is this?” Aragorn asked, reaching for the message, which the Master of Protocol surrendered most reluctantly.

`          “Your Majesty, it is not fitting you should sully yourself with such matters.  It is a most unsettling situation--just under a year ago three small boys disappeared from their homes in the village of Destrier.  They were sought by the village constables and their parents on that night, and the next day at dawn a larger search was made, ending with the finding of the boys’ bodies in a ditch adjacent to a farmstead a fifteen-minute walk east of the village near a common woodland where the children of the village commonly played or were sent to gather wood, or fruits or greenstuffs for meals.  A youth of eighteen was identified as most likely guilty, and within a few weeks another youth who lived near the first, a simpleton by report, admitted he had seen the murders, seeing how both this Danárion and his friend Carenthor had inveigled the children into coming across the beam that served as a bridge over the drainage channel, then dragging them back into the small woods where they killed the children and hid their bodies.  A most horrible situation, and beneath your dignity to examine.”

            “And why is it beneath my dignity to investigate?” Aragorn demanded, his voice with a hint of ice that Galador had learned to respect.

            “It is said,” Galador said most carefully, “that the three youths sought to offer this death to the benefit of--of the Dark Lord.”

            Aragorn paused.  He’d sojourned within Rhûn, Umbar, and Harad and had seen how worship of Sauron had been encouraged there, and how temples had been built where deaths most horrid were offered for Sauron’s benefit.  Precisely how Sauron managed to harvest much of the life-force of the victims of these rituals was not appreciated, but somehow he’d been able to use them to build up his strength and the potency of his evil will until, although he could not yet take a proper bodily form, he yet was able to wield power over hosts of tens of thousands of orcs, trolls, wargs, and Men as well as the fires of Oródruin and even some of the weathers of the world.  “They sought to honor Sauron?” he asked, amazed any within Gondor would think to do such things.

            “Apparently, my Lord.  It is a most distressing affair.  It is likely that these three had little appreciation for what they did.  However, the one said to be the leader and whom they seek to hang had in his possession a copy of the Book of Shadows----”

            “The Book of Shadows?” Aragorn barked, not knowing whether to be appalled or to laugh aloud.  “Someone still keeps that thing?”

            “You have heard of it?”  Galador appeared amazed.

            “Of course I’ve heard of it,” his Majesty the King responded.  “Do you think I’m unaware of the hoaxes of the Dark Seekers of Turgon’s day?  One of my closest advisers is Gandalf--Mithrandir, after all.  I have no intention of allowing those dark times to occur again, when folks were encouraged to name their neighbors and acquaintances as dark sorcerers and raisers of demons.”  He shuddered--tales had been told during the times he served as a Captain of Gondor’s hosts of how an obscure lordling from Dor-en-Ernil had begun unmasking Sauron’s allies hidden within the southlands of the realm, in time rising higher and higher in the respect of much of the land as he found more and more traitors and would-be dark wizards on all levels of society.  Then he’d sought to name a younger sister to the Prince of Dol Amroth to that number, and his power had unraveled swiftly.  Ecthelion, as Turgon’s heir, had come to question both the findings of this Macardion of such widespread evil among folks of all stations and, more importantly, his methods of identifying them.

            He’d come specifically to investigate the charges brought against the Prince’s sister, and had learned she’d been denounced first by a former servant who’d lost his post after having been caught stealing from his employers twice, and after charges had been made by three maids of the household that he’d sought to importune them, with more women both within and without the Citadel of Dol Amroth coming forward once he was gone to indicate they, too, had suffered from his attentions, abuse, and threats.  The Prince’s sister had supported the maids, and so earned the former servant’s hatred.

            The second of the denunciations had come from a young Man from the city of Dol Amroth who’d become enamored of the idea of becoming the lover of the Prince’s sister.  He’d begun following her, learning her schedule and being at her intended destination on her arrival, sending her unwanted gifts and suggestive letters, and in time had managed to catch her cut off temporarily from her guards and had declared his love for her in such terms he quite frightened her.  He’d been brought before the Prince, who’d ordered him to leave his sister alone and to avoid her from that time on.  He would have done worse to the young Man, but his sister, having determined this one was not quite right in his head, had urged mercy on him, particularly as he was the only surviving child of his father remaining to his widowed mother.

            The third to denounce her was a minor lord of Lebennin who himself had been under assault by Macardion and who’d sought to put his persecutors off himself by giving a name he’d never dreamed the populace would take seriously as a follower of Sauron.

            Ecthelion had been sickened by what he’d found, particularly the use of the Book of Shadows as a means of identifying malefactors.  Reportedly this was written instructions penned by Khamûl of the Ring-wraiths on how to perform rituals pleasing and beneficial to the Dark Lord.  It was learned it had actually been written by Macardion himself and included all the rumored actions thought to empower Sauron, most of which Aragorn had learned to be false.  While in Umbar, Rhûn, and Harad he’d spoken with individuals who had visited the Red Temples and had observed Sauron’s rites, and had even entered one himself.  Ecthelion had received the reports of the spies his father kept in those lands, and what Aragorn had learned tallied exactly with what Ecthelion reported he’d been told.  The reality was dark enough; the details written into The Book of Shadows indicated Macardion himself and those he counted as his friends and advisors had imaginations that were inflamed with tales that were fantastical, in some cases impossible, and even worse than the reality of Sauron’s worship.

            Macardion was eventually confined to an institution that offered care to those known to be mad; but Ecthelion hadn’t been able to find all copies of the Book of Shadows to see them destroyed.  Aragorn had seen two copies himself--Adrahil of Dol Amroth had kept one as a reminder of how the evil imaginations of Men could bring worse darkness at times than Sauron himself; and a minor lord in Anórien who had hosted the Lord Captain Thorongil had once shown him a copy that he’d kept as a curiosity.

            Now he was casting his memory back--the lord who’d shown him that--the lord who’d possessed a copy of the Book of Shadows­--had been lord of--of Anwar.  “I see.”  He looked at the letter he’d picked up that had lain immediately underneath the one that Galador had opened first.  It was written upon a grade of foolscap he knew from his own days in Gondor was commonly used by public scribes, and on examining the seal he saw the symbols that indicated this was so, with a special scrawl it seemed all such folk would adopt automatically once they were so licensed indicating this had been dictated to Seragon son of Seragil of Anwar in Anórien.

            Galador was noting the seal and sign as well, and gave his Lord an uncertain glance.  “That was not sent by a lord of the realm, Lord Elessar.”

            Aragorn paused in the act of lifting the seal to look up into Galador’s eyes.  “Is not a farmer or woodsman from Anórien as much one of my subjects as are the lords and ladies of the realm?  I am not ruler only of those who are born to title and privilege, but to all those who live within the boundaries of Gondor and Arnor.  Remember, Galador, that the two to whom we most owe our continued freedom lived as a scholar and a gardener in their own land.”

            Galador dropped his eyes, accepting the correction with more grace than Aragorn was accustomed to seeing in the Man.  “I apologize, my Lord,” he said.  “You are, after all, right there.”

            With an abbreviated nod, Aragorn turned his attention back to the letter in his hands.  The seal lifted, he unfolded the missive and began reading.

To our honored Lord King,

            I am at a loss what to say, for we’ve not had a King before for so very long, but it is my hope that you can help me if you will.  I’ve sent letters to our Lord Steward Denethor, but all the answer I ever received was that word of my request would be given him, and naught else.  But we cannot wait longer for aid, my Lord.  For they say my son is to hang within a month, and for a crime that he could not have committed.  Oh, sir, cannot you send one to learn the truth of it all?  I have begged Lord Benargil to examine the facts of the case, but he says that as the magistrates and Master Enelmir have judged the case and he cannot see that they have done aught wrongly in the judging that he can do no more for me.  They will not listen, my Lord--my son did not do this--he was gone for a time, yes, visiting with his friend who lives on the opposite side of the village from us; but after that he returned home again and went not out--I swear to it; and there was no time for them to have gone so far to do so foul a deed.

            Dear my lord, please to send someone--anyone with wisdom and not superstitious fear of the darkness--to examine the case against my son--my son and the others, for they have judged the three of them and condemned them all--my son Danárion to the rope, his friend Carenthor and Garestil to life in the quarries.  None of these is any kind of murderer, my Lord, none of them.  I am certain that Garestil said only what was taught to him, for he is not one born to understanding.

            Again I beg of you, our Lord King--send one to us that my son not die the death for what he did not do.  Only if your servant agrees with the rest will I come to accept that my son will be ever lost to me.  Know only this--there are those in our village who have imagined evil of him in their hearts, for he is not of the same mind as the others his age, and his dreams are of other things.  It is only because he is not as the rest that they would cast blame on him instead of seeking to know the truth.

 

Written for Vanessë of Destrier

this third day of May of the year 3019

in the manor town of Anwar in upper Anórien

 

            He took a deep breath and looked to his Master of Protocol.  “I wish for you to please call for my kinsman Berevrion to attend on me, as well as Prince Faramir and Prince Imrahil, and if they are within the Citadel, please ask Prince Legolas and his brother Prince Tharen if they will join us as well.  I will meet them in the lesser audience chamber.  Do you know if there are other records of this matter of the murders in Destrier here within the Citadel?”

            “Lord Benargil and his secretary send regular reports on the quarter days as is customary, and as this was a case of capital murder there were monthly reports as well, I am certain, that being the standard for such matters.  If there are no records in the records room off the Steward’s office then they ought to be found in the archives.”

            “More reason, then, for me to meet with the Steward, is it not?  Then add to the list the master of the realm’s archives.  I will look to their arrival there within a half a mark.  And ask the master of the archives to bring with him such as he can find to hand on the matter of Danárion of Destrier.  I would know the full extent of the case before I sign such a thing as a death warrant or send one of mine to witness an execution.”

            “Yes, my Lord,” Galador said as he watched the King set aside the two letters from Anwar and turn to the next letter in the stack.  He bowed deeply and withdrew to gesture the page who waited nearest, asking him to find several of his fellows and to summon those the King had named.


A Deputation Formed

            Faramir was the first to arrive in the lesser audience chamber, accompanied by Master Frodo Baggins, who, on the request of the King had been researching how those injured in battle had typically been treated under the reigns of the last four Stewards.  The Hobbit had proved an excellent one to set to this purpose, Steward and King had both noted, for Bilbo had taught him how to effectively scan pages for certain words, then check the associated text to see if it was pertinent to the interests of the research.

            “You have no idea as to why Aragorn has asked you to come here?” Frodo asked his companion.

            “Only that the King would know if some matter just come to his attention is referenced in my father’s correspondence somewhat prior to his death, or so Galador was able to impart to me before he hurried off toward the archives.  Some matter of a crime known in Anórien, I believe he said.”

            “Then you don’t have direct knowledge yourself?”

            “I rather fear that after my brother left in search of Imladris to seek after the Sword that was broken, I was kept rather busy trying to serve in his place and yet meet my own responsibilities at the same time.  I have little knowledge of civil matters that might have passed within the realm unless they were particularly alarming.  Until three years ago Father would often consult with me regarding reports on such matters, for he appeared to value my insight.  Since then, however, due to my ability to foresee how those who’ve ever been among our enemies might direct their assaults and policies he kept me ever more focused on the movements of Mordor’s allies through Ithilien.”

            “At least your father allowed you to exercise some of your gifts.”

            Faramir smiled.  At that moment Imrahil entered with his second son Erchirion and Gandalf, followed in their turn by Berevrion and Faradir from among the Grey Company, Aragorn himself, and Legolas, Gimli, and Legolas’s dark-haired brother Tharen, who’d come as one of the representatives of Eryn Lasgalen in the deputation from Rhovanion.  Within a few moments Mistress Gilmoreth, the Housekeeper for the Citadel, and the maid Airen had followed them with trays of refreshment.

            Aragorn looked at the rest, his gaze settling on Frodo.  “You would come, small brother?” he asked.  “And not Sam as well?”

            “He’s consulting with those who work the gardens of the Houses of Healing and with the Herbmaster.  I fear his opinion of the Master Herbalist is somewhat less than flattering.  He says the Man is knowledgeable enough, but didn’t recognize two herbs as they grow.”

            Aragorn gave a slight snort of laughter as Galador and the chief archivist entered, managing to catch the door open as Airen and Mistress Gilmoreth withdrew.  “I certainly found his counsel less than useful when I sent to learn if any athelas could be found in the herb stores.  I will have to find out who his chief apprentice is and make certain he works by me, and by Sam while you remain with us, so that he is fully aware of what the growing herbs look like and how the Elves harvest and process them.”

            Frodo nodded as he accepted a glass of water poured for him by Erchirion.  He gave Prince Imrahil’s son a quiet word of thanks as he looked at the two documents Aragorn had brought with him.  “What are those?”

            “I’m not certain,” his friend said thoughtfully, “that as a healer I should encourage you to remain, Frodo.  These have to do with the investigation of the murder of children within Anórien a year past, and whether the case proves to be valid or false, I do not wish to overwhelm you by giving you yet more evil to contemplate.  Whether or not those who are considered guilty of the crime indeed slew the children, yet the fact remains that someone did, and after such evil as has sought to stain your soul already I would not wish to add to that with even more.”

            Frodo’s face had gone still.  In a quiet voice he said, “After what the Ring did to me, I doubt the murder of children would add much to the burden I already carry, Aragorn.”

            The Man gently touched Frodo’s cheek, and smiled sadly into the Hobbit’s eyes.  “Perhaps.”  He looked at where the archivist began setting out documents and a folder on a nearby table as he let his hand drop.  “So, you had received some of the documents and correspondence dealing with the case?”

            The archivist, one of obvious Dúnedain heritage and indeterminate age, gave a particularly solemn nod.  “A most troubling case, my Lord King.  Most troubling.  That ones as young as these three young Men should have been dabbling in the study of the Enemy and in emulating his ways is distressing, as is much of the testimony given in the trial.  Although some of that testimony is distressing in other ways as well, for it appears that not all who spoke before the tribunal headed by Master Enelmir were necessarily truthful.  That lies and distortions should be used in obtaining the sentence of death against one and enforced servitude of two others for the rest of their lives is, I think, unworthy and taints the justice shown.”

            Aragorn had straightened during the archivist’s statement, his attention focused.  “You say that lies were used?  How do you know that?”

            “As a young Man I often visited Destrier, for she who is now my wife lived there when I courted her.  Two stated that they saw the missing children riding their ponies in fields across the great drainage canal near where their bodies were found, and that later they saw the youth Danárion there; it is first impossible to see across the drainage canal from the side toward the village of Destrier due to a thick scrub of trees and high bushes growing along the length of the canal on both sides.  Second, the only place to cross the canal near the abandoned farmland whose fields they are reported to have been riding across is a wide beam.  Now, a Man could cross this with some ease; even a large dog might be cross it with impunity.  But no pony could do so, for it is narrower than the bulk of a pony.

            “There is a stone bridge over the canal about a mile from the south gate to the village where the road crosses it; but where the children’s bodies were found and where it is said they were seen riding, the track north from the road toward the abandoned steading was quite narrow and overgrown.  As all admit that farm has remained empty, it is unlikely that any approached that way.  The proper farm lane that led into the steading, in fact, came from still another abandoned farm quite some ways east and south along the road.  It is one of the reasons the steading was abandoned, that after its last holder died none was willing to ride such a circuitous route to bring produce to market, particularly as orcs and hillmen would on occasion assault travelers along the road.”

            “So you do not see ponies following such a narrow path into the farmstead?”

            “Children might have gone that way on foot, but not on ponies, my Lord,” the archivist agreed.  “However, as the bodies of their ponies were found within the canal near the east end of the beam it is obvious that the children were already east of the canal to begin with.  Another thing to note is that the road at that point does not go strictly east-west, but northwest to southeast as it passes the southern walls of the village of Destrier.  So it continues for two miles until it passes the second abandoned farmstead of which I spoke.”

            “Who said that the children were seen riding there?” Aragorn asked.

            “One was a woman who lives on the farm adjacent to the canal on the west side, and another was her daughter.”

            “How was it established that those convicted of the murder were the ones who committed this deed?”

            “One of them, a rather simple youth named Garestil, was convinced to make a confession, my Lord.  And it is a most horrible tale he told.”

            “Was a record made of this confession as it was given?” Faramir asked.

            “Apparently, but it was not sent here to us--or not that I am aware of, unless it remains in the records room adjacent to the office that was your father’s, my lord Prince.  But they did employ a scribe to copy precisely what was said--such is attested to in the warrant issued for the arrest of the three youths.”

            Aragorn gave his Steward a significant look.  “Will you have any idea as to how to search for these documents amongst your father’s records?”

            Faramir’s brow furrowed somewhat.  “I believe that with Master Frodo’s assistance I ought to be able to find them fairly swiftly, if they are there.  It would have been easier had Taerion remained, perhaps; but as I have ever found myself as much at odds with Orgilador as you did when interviewing him, I also am happy to see him elsewhere than here within the Citadel.  I worry, however, that with his attitude he might cause mischief elsewhere throughout the realm.”

            “Oh, I found other employment for him, as secretary to the Master Herbalist in the Houses of Healing.  I suspect he and Master Varadorn will suit one another admirably while doing little serious to impede the work of those who truly labor within the Houses of Healing.”

            There was laughter from several sides.  “Then he is at least close enough I might call upon him if I find there is need of his assistance in searching the records,” Faramir said, relief in his tone, “although it is to be hoped that won’t be necessary.”  He took the letters from before Aragorn and read them.  “How few there are who will willingly believe the worst of those whom they must love as parent or child,” he finally said.

            “Sometimes,” Aragorn answered, “they are right.  In this case I would prefer to find out this youth’s mother is correct.  The execution of one newly come to adulthood is ever a matter of grief.”

            He turned then to Berevrion and to the Elves.  “I would send one to examine the records of the trial, one whose ability to seek out the truth from the falsehoods I know and trust.  Berevrion, would you go to Destrier and Anwar for me?  Examine the case, the records, and the witnesses if it is found needful.  Examine where the bodies were found and do your best to determine how it was the children actually died.”

            “You are the healer trained by Lord Elrond himself, not I, my lord cousin,” Berevrion said.  “I would probably not recognize if determinations made are accurate.”

            Legolas and his brother Tharen exchanged glances and spoke together in the tongue spoken by many within their father’s realm before turning their attention back to the High King of the Men of the West.  Tharen suggested, “My father sent one of our healers with the deputation that accompanied me.  He is not as knowledgeable regarding complaints of Men as is Elrond, but he knows the body and its structures well enough, and would appreciate better what those who examined the bodies first could tell.”

            Aragorn slowly nodded his head.  “If I were to send with him a battle surgeon whose expertise I trust from among those who served in Ithilien, I suspect we should be well covered.  Let me think on this and consider who might accept this duty for me; and if you would consult with your healer?”

            Berevrion seemed relieved.  “I can go through the records and examine witnesses well enough; and with such assistance it would help greatly.  However, as a northerner, even as kinsman to you, will they trust me enough to allow me free access to all I need to see?”

            Faramir sighed thoughtfully, then smiled as he turned to Prince Imrahil.  “What think you, Uncle, to Erchirion being made a part of this deputation?  Elphir would be needed here at your side for the time being; but Erchirion would be honored there as your son and my own cousin.”

            The Lord of Dol Amroth examined his second son’s eyes.  “What think you, Erchirion?”

            The young Man considered.  “It would certainly give me more experience in reviewing legal cases to see to it that true justice has been given, and will assist all as we of the South and those of the North learn to cooperate and work together more efficiently.”

            The King smiled.  “So let it be done, then,” he said.  “I wish it to be known throughout the realm that when justice is offered in the King’s name it is true justice and properly rendered.  And to know already some of the information on which the verdict was apparently rendered is false is enough reason, I would think, to wish to re-examine the whole.”  Again he thought.  “For all they call you the Scribe in the Breelands, Berevrion, I would have a proper scribe by you to help organize all you learn.  I will consider this, also; and with the agreement of all concerned, your party will leave for Anórien in four days’ time.”  He looked again at Faramir and Frodo.  “Think you this enough time perhaps to find your father’s own records within his records room?”

            The archivist looked from King to Steward.  “I would be willing to assist you in this, also; and I will have some of my own assistants search further in our records as well.”

            Faramir and Frodo exchanged glances before the Man considered the archivist and then Aragorn.  “What we do not find immediately we can send after, I’d think,” he said.  “But I, too, would not wish to see any Man hang when his true guilt is in question.”

            Aragorn sighed, then poured himself some wine, signaling the rest to do likewise.  “Then, gentlemen, let us ever seek to see proper justice offered within the combined realm.”

            All raised their glasses, solemnly saluting, “To justice.”


Legal Scribe, Healer, and Surgeon

            At Prince Faramir’s suggestion, the King sent for the Master of the Guild of Lawyers for the Realm to recommend a suitable scribe accustomed to working with legal cases and documents.

            “I could think of several young lawyers and legal scribes who might serve well in this capacity, Lord Elessar,” the Master commented.  “It might be a matter of interest to Master Alvric, who is in most matters regarding the Guild second to myself and who has often served as Counsel to the Steward and the Council for the realm; however, he has many responsibilities and serves as a magistrate in the tribunals of the lower city.  No, perhaps someone else who has studied under Alvric, perhaps one who knows the ways of that portion of Anórien well.  Anorgil son of Gilflorin of Anórien would serve well, I believe.  He was born and raised some fifteen miles east of Destrier, and five miles from Anwar, and he is a deft one at examining testimony and documents and spotting statements that are at odds with the rest of the facts.”

            The Master examined the documents the King had set out upon his desktop.  “I remember when this matter came to the attention of our Lord Steward Denethor--the mere thought any would seek to strengthen our Enemy was enough to raise his most controlled fury.  Yet he found disturbing the statement by a constable who had searched the place where the bodies were found later in the day that when he went through that area shortly after dawn there were no signs to be seen regarding the ritual it is said was worked there.”

            Aragorn examined the Man’s face and considered this further indication that there were unresolved questions regarding the case against this Danárion and his co-conspirators.  “I see,” he said.  “More reason to look more closely at the case as it was judged, then.”

            The Master agreed, “It will do no harm to be certain that the justice meted out is indeed merited, my Lord.”

 *******

            Harolfileg of Eryn Lasgalen and the court of Thranduil looked on his lord’s sons with disbelief.  “You would have me go with a group of mortals to examine the murder of children slain a year ago?” he asked.  “And what do we of the Firstborn have to do with the doings of the Secondborn?”

            Legolas gave the healer a stare that was distinctly cold.  “And what have I done for much of the past year save work alongside mortals for the safety of all of the Free Peoples?” he asked.  “It is little enough that Aragorn asks of us, that one trained in healing and knowledgeable about the structure of the body should accompany Lord Berevrion to examine this case to see whether or not what is told of the crime is accurate.  But if you are too fine to work alongside mere Men....”

            Harolfileg grew white at the dismissal he heard in the voice of his Prince.  “If it is your will, Legolas,” he said stiffly.

            Tharen, who’d stayed silent through most of the interview so far, commented, “We were sent to offer honor to Elrond Eärendilion’s fosterling, who brings together the best of our lineage and that of mortals.  Lord Berevrion is also of the lineage of Elros, as Aragorn’s kinsman; he has been accepted as one who may enter Imladris whenever he has need, and is well acquainted with the sons of Elrond, having ridden out with them against the Enemy’s creatures for most of his life.  He is courteous and well spoken, and speaks both Sindarin and Quenya well.  I do not believe you will find working alongside him and those who will attend on him too onerous a business.”

            “But you spoke of Elessar sending also a battle surgeon.”

            “Yes, so he purposes.  He will have more knowledge of the reactions of the children of Men to the injuries the victims of this assault experienced, and it is likely that those who examined the bodies will speak more willingly to one of their own than to one of us.  But it is likely that, once trust is built between the two of you, between you and the surgeon the truth will be easier to find.  Also, you will be better able to read the memories of Earth and Trees to learn what they might tell than any Man.”

            “But will they listen to me?” Harolfileg asked.

            “Berevrion of the Dúnedain will not allow your words to go unheeded,” Legolas assured him.

            “If you are certain,” Harolfileg sighed, resigned to accepting this duty.

 *******

            “That was well done,” the King told the battle surgeon.

            Bariol son of Erengelib accepted the King’s praise with a combination of pride and satisfaction.    “It is ever a pleasure to see such a wound successfully closed.”

            A woman, seeking to prepare a fowl for her family’s meal, had cut herself deeply with the knife, and had been brought hurriedly to the Houses of Healing where she had come immediately under Bariol’s care.  When the King arrived, the surgeon had administered herbs to help her remain calm and to relieve the pain, and was beginning his work, and the Lord Elessar had watched with approval as Bariol saw the wound thoroughly cleansed and set the stitches. 

            The surgeon bent over the woman.  “Shall we see if all seems to be working properly now?”  He leaned over the woman.  “We shall not ask you to do much movement, for we would not wish the stitches to be torn out before the flesh itself has a good chance to mend; but if you will move first your thumb, but a small bit?”  When she was able to comply, he smiled reassuringly.  “Now, each finger in turn.  Ah, then it is well with you so far.  We will want you to remain here overnight so that we can watch to see that you have not been weakened by loss of blood, and so that the wound may be examined for any signs of infection tonight and in the morning.  I will now bandage the hand and arm to help keep them from moving too much and to keep all properly clean and protected, and you will then be taken to a bed where you might rest and recover both from the immediate pain of the injury and also from the herbs given you to ease you while the stitches were set.”

            As he wrapped the hand and arm, Bariol told her, “I shall direct that a light meal be brought to you now, and that a better one be sent in two hours’ time.  There will be more herbs to help prevent infection and to ease what pain might follow and to stave off swelling.”

            “Thank you, Master,” she murmured.  “But my family—the fowl was never cooked!”

            The King laughed.  “Oh, but I can understand your concerns.  Where within the city do you live?  Then I will send word to the nearest inn to send a meal at my own expense for your family, that they not go in want while you must be here.  Is there one nearby who can watch over your children and see to the cleaning of your kitchen while you remain here?”

            Once Bariol was finished, the King held his hands over the bandages, allowing himself to feel deeply into the wound, listening to the Song as it was now echoed through the woman’s blood and breathing, evaluating the warmth of the blood flow.  “I sense no indication that there is danger of infection,” he murmured.  He drew upon the Elessar stone he wore, and briefly a Light could be discerned about him, focusing on his hands; and the goodwife gave a gasp of some surprise as warmth seemed to fill her arm, wrist, and palm.  Then her entire body appeared to relax, and her eyes opened wide with relief.  “The pain is less, my Lord,” she murmured in wonder.

            Soon Mistress Ioreth was supporting her out of the room, and the King was giving orders and a gold coin to a page to see to the needs of the woman’s family.

            Once the grinning youth was gone, the Warden of the Houses came to them.  “They have found the body of that Ranger who went missing a few days ago,” he told them, his eyes filled with sorrow, and led the way to the mortuary room.

            They donned protective garments over their own clothes and wrapped clean gauze about nose and mouth to filter out the worst of what foul odors might issue from the body before they went in to examine the corpse, which lay partly on its side, the legs drawn up, on a slab of polished stone.  “The body is still stiff,” Bariol said on attempting to move an arm at the elbow.  “He’s not been dead more than two days.”  He looked to see where the blood had settled.  “And this is the attitude in which he’s lain since he died.  If you can help me, my Lord, to see the clothing removed?”

            “He vomited heavily ere he died,” commented the King on examining the state of the dead Man’s cloak and shirt.

            Bariol was examining the head, feeling through the young Man’s hair with thumb and fingers.  “No blows or cuts to the head or face that I can find, my lord,” he said.  “Leaves, twigs, and dirt in plenty, though.”  He leaned over to examine the face more closely.  “More signs of vomitus about the mouth, and some blood mixed in it—see, here, especially in the corners, and even here in the nostrils.  And I’d say that a gore crow has been at his face here about the eyes, and that a fox has worried at his hand there.”

            Removing the leather armor and shirt proved difficult, but there were no wounds other than scratches to be found on his hands and arms, and none at all on his torso or back.  They worked a boot free, and in it Aragorn found, caught between the leather and the fabric of his trousers, a spray from a bush known to produce poisonous berries, complete with a couple of leaves and three fruits, one of them fully ripe and recognizable.  “Look here,” he said.  “This may have caused the mischief.”

            Bariol sighed through the bandaging about his mouth.  “Indeed!  The fine weather must have caused it to ripen early.

            All flinched at the foulness of it as the breeches and small clothes were cut away from the remains of the Man.  “Flux,” Bariol announced, perhaps needlessly.

            “And a bloody one,” agreed the King as he peered closer.

            As they worked to cleanse the body, on the backs of its thighs they found seeds from the berry, and even some undigested fruit.  “This one was never taught to properly recognize which berries are to be avoided, I’d guess,” Bariol indicated.

            The Lord Elessar was more closely examining the ruined shirt and cloak.  “He vomited up much of what he’d eaten, but not nearly enough,” he agreed.  “See the remains of skin and pulp here, and here?”

            The Man had been missing for five days, having somehow lost himself from his company.  He was young, and was one of the last sent to join the Rangers of Ithilien before the war ended.  “To have survived the war, but to have fallen so to his lack of training and inexperience!” Bariol mourned.  “First he becomes lost, and then in seeking to live off of the land he manages to poison himself.”

            “You will write up the report on the fellow’s death and give it into his captain’s hand?” asked the King.

            “Yes—I will see to it tonight.”

            “Good.  I will write to his family, then.  And I have something I would ask of you.”

            Once they’d rid themselves of their protection and cleansed their hands and arms fully, the King led Bariol to one of the rooms where the healers and surgeons might withdraw to record what precise procedures they had used on their most recent patients, asking one of the aides to bring them refreshment.  “I have a request to make of you, if you will agree,” Aragorn began.

            As the discussion went on, Bariol was becoming increasingly uncertain as to whether or not he would accept the commission laid on him.  “I have heard of this,” he said at last.  “A horrible thing, for one to seek to make such an offering to empower our greatest Enemy.”  He shook his head.  “I cannot understand how any should wish to become one such as the Black Númenóreans,” he continued.  “And it is said that the leader of the youths was found in possession of a copy of the Book of Shadows.”

            “So we are told,” Aragorn agreed.  “However, you are aware, are you not, that the Book of Shadows itself was found to be false?”

            Bariol straightened.  “False?  You are certain of this?” he asked.

            “The Lord Steward Ecthelion was very certain,” the King explained.  “In questioning Macardion and his closest associates it was learned that they were the original authors rather than Khamûl of the Ring-wraiths.  Particularly as the book was written in a form of Sindarin common to Dor-en-ernil and not any form of Adûnaic--and I assure you that the little correspondence ever found from Mordor was ever written in the Black Speech or the form of Adûnaic spoken in Umbar.  Between Ecthelion and Mithrandir the work was exposed as a fabrication of Men of Gondor.”

            “I didn’t know,” Bariol said.  “But it is said that there are rites of horror described within it.”

            “The spies of Turgon and Ecthelion agreed with what I learned on my own sojourns within Rhûn and Harad and Umbar,” Aragorn sighed.  “Those rites described in the Book of Shadows are not what was practiced by those who offered worship to Sauron.  Again, they are fabrications of the minds of Men, and would do nothing to empower such as he.  Why Men must seek for worse evil than that which ever faces us I cannot understand.

            “However,” he continued, “because of the perverted fancies described in the book, what might have been done to those children would be terrible, and in some ways even worse because it purposed to effect what it could not in fact do.  If these youths did indeed visit these rites on the three children then they deserve most serious punishment indeed.  However, I wish to be certain.  And I ask if you will be willing to cooperate with one of King Thranduil’s healers in the examination of what was learned was done to the bodies of the children.”

            Bariol considered for a moment, drinking deeply from the mug of light ale that had been brought to them.  At last he set his mug down and straightened.  “It would be an honor to work at the side of another Elven healer.  I take it he did not train under Lord Elrond?”

            “I am uncertain if he ever did, although in the long life he has known it is certainly possible he might indeed have done so,” Aragorn said consideringly.  “But if he will agree to teach you some of what he has learned in his years of service you would undoubtedly find your own knowledge and skills further enriched.”

            “Then, as you request it of me and for the honor of perhaps learning more from those of the Eldar who practice our craft, then I will agree, my Lord King.  However, I sincerely doubt that it will be found the three youths are innocent.”

            “That may well be; however, as we have already been apprised that certain details given of the circumstances leading to the crime have been at least exaggerated if not fabricated, I would be certain.  I do not wish for any in my realm to be executed for what was not done, or to be punished for more than he actually did.”

            “Then I must rejoice that we have you now as King,” Bariol said.  “Then I will see to preparing for the trip to Anórien, my Lord.”

Deputation Mounted

            Anorgil son of Gilflorin listened to the request made of him by the Master of his guild, and, rather reluctantly, agreed to go to Anórien with the deputation being sent by the new King.  The day after his interview with the Master he went up to the Citadel where he attended the morning’s audience as an observer.  It was the first time he’d had a chance to see the King about his duties rather than as a rather marvelous figure striding through the city after receiving the Winged Crown from Lord Faramir. 

            Certainly King Elessar had put his own distinct stamp upon the realm soon after his accession.  The Lord Steward was now the Lord Prince Steward Faramir of the province of Ithilien.  It was said the King himself had called together the bulk of those who served in the Citadel to let them know that he would know each and all who served him, no matter how lowly the position the one might hold.  He had included Mithrandir, Elves, Dwarves, Men of the North-kingdom, and the Pheriannath in meetings with the nation’s Council, as well as those who’d come to give him honor from Rohan and Rhovanion.  He’d made that Guardsman who’d slain the porter at the gates to the Hallows Captain of the newly formed White Company that served as the guard and personal troops for Prince Faramir, finding a way to meet the letter of the law in banishing him from the White City yet rewarding him for his faithfulness to his beloved Captain.  He’d even granted certain lands to Lords Iorhael and Perhael for their maintenance--Anorgil had been employed in copying out the orders granting the deeds to them and making over all rental and lease and payment agreements to their names and arranging for rents as they were received to be paid into special accounts until said diminutive lords were able to set up appropriate accounts in their own names.

            Most of the early part of the audience was standard enough:  three lords from distant portions of the realm presented themselves to swear fealty to the King and realm and have their positions confirmed.  In each case, Prince Faramir and Prince Imrahil and others obviously in the confidence of the King spoke to the Man’s character and how well he had done in the pursuance of his duty to his demesne and its people and to the realm at large.  Two were allowed immediately to swear their oaths of fealty and were confirmed readily; one was questioned more deeply, requested to send to have certain records brought to Minas Tirith immediately to have them reviewed, and was told that a month would be given to the review of those records before a decision would be made as to whether or not he would be allowed to continue on as lord of the city given into his protection.  The Man left the King’s presence with a member of the Guard of the Citadel in attendance, and his face was white with anxiety as he passed Anorgil.  The legal scribe found himself pleased with this, for indeed this particular lord and his closest associates had a reputation for exploiting the lord’s holdings.

            Two of those who’d been held in the Citadel’s prison were brought before the King to have their cases heard.  Anorgil had helped prepare some of the documents Prince Faramir was now placing before the King, so he watched the proceedings with interest.

            “You have been accused of spying within Minas Tirith for Landrion of Umbar,” the King said to the first of the two prisoners.  “It is interesting that your actions are not to the benefit of Umbar as a whole, but for one particular lord within Umbar.”

            The prisoner did not answer.

            “Do you admit or deny guilt?” the Lord Elessar asked.

            The prisoner focused his gaze midway up the steps of the dais and held his tongue.

            “And what benefit might you receive in return for spying for Landrion of Umbar?”

            Again no answer.

            The King sighed, rose to his feet, affixed his sword’s hangers to his belt, and came down to stand before the prisoner.  “Look into my face,” he directed.  Reluctantly the prisoner complied.  “I would prefer not to convict you solely on the say-so of others when you have every right to present your own case, to deny incorrect accusations, to defend or explain yourself.  Do you understand?”

            At last the Man gave a single nod, obviously not trusting himself to speak.

            “Let the record indicate the accused has indicated understanding through a gesture of assent,” the King directed.  He looked back to the prisoner.  “Are you from Umbar?”

            At last the Man answered aloud, “No.”

            “What land saw your birth?”

            “Gondor.”

            “Where in Gondor were you born?”

            “South of Pelargir some six leagues.”

            “Have you visited Umbar?”

            Something in the tone of voice in which that last had been asked evoked the answer, “Yes, twice.”

            “When did you first visit there?”

            Anorgil was impressed by the ability the King showed in forming his questions.  At no time did he make suggestions as to the answers he wished to hear--ever he asked questions the Man must answer himself.  And the story eventually came out, sorry and sordid--and prolonged--as it was.  When at last all facts were made known and the King returned to his throne, none was in question as to the facts of the case.  And the King’s ruling was just, and in keeping with the Man’s actual complicity with the accusation of spying.  His son, age fifteen, had been approached in Pelargir by an agent sent from Umbar specifically to find a family member of this Man, a census taker for the realm, and corrupt that family member in such a manner the individual could then be convinced to flee Gondor to avoid the shame earned by his actions.  It hadn’t taken much to get the census taker’s son into just such a situation; and once he went aboard his “friend’s” ship he was taken immediately to the estate of Landrion of Umbar, and the census taker was manipulated into passing numbers and positions of troops stationed along the river to Landrion, who fed them to those directing the building of the fleet of Corsairs.  It was either pass the information or his son would suffer for his father’s silence.  And now the Man was certain his son would die, as he’d been told that unless he now kept his silence when questioned before the Steward--or now the King--of Gondor the young Man would be killed in a prolonged and particularly gruesome and painful manner.

            Aragorn sighed as he took his seat on the throne of Gondor, beneath the stone canopy made in the guise of the very warhelm-shaped crown he wore.  He called forward his spymaster.  “In this case we cannot face you with the one offering the testimony, as that one’s own safety and life depend on our agent remaining unknown to the lords of Umbar,” he said.  “And so we will depend on the report as read by our own spymaster.”

            The Man’s head bowed with extraordinary grief as he heard word that his son had in truth died shortly after arriving in Umbar.  Unwilling to write letters to his father to convince him to turn traitor to Gondor, the youth had refused to do the bidding of his “host,” who tried to beat him into compliance.  The beating had been too severe, and the boy had died of his injuries.  The ear sent to intimidate his father had been cut from his lifeless body; and the body had been consigned to the river by Landrion’s folks, but retrieved almost immediately by those keeping watch on the wily Black Númenórean and identified and examined by a skilled battle surgeon who had determined the ear had indeed been removed after death rather than before it.

            “So, it was all for naught,” the bereft father whispered.  And he accepted the punishment--and mercy--shown him by his new King with far greater dignity than any had looked for.  Seven years laboring in the north in rebuilding the city of Annúminas, with perpetual exile from the land of his birth; nor would he be granted any public office of trust again.  However, after the third year his wife would be allowed to join him in Arnor if she so chose, and to bring the remainder of their children with her.  And he could use his saved earnings from his labor to set up a new life for himself, and for his family as well, if they agreed to remain at his side.

            And the second trial, of a Man who’d broken into what he’d thought to be an empty house and surprised the owner at home in his bed, killing the resident to keep from being identified by him, was marked by the same careful questioning, the same requirements that all evidence be made available, the same respectful demeanor displayed to all who gave testimony.  One person who had come forward claiming knowledge of the case was shown to have made up his story in order to make himself appear important in the eyes of others; he was made to stand to one side.  The others proved to be telling the truth, although one young woman was admonished not to embroider the tale beyond its facts.

            In the end he was given twelve years in the quarries in the hills overlooking Lake Evendim, to be followed by residing in a particular village within Eriador for the remainder of his life where his story would be known by all, with the warning that if he ever reoffended he would be hung summarily.

            As for the one who’d perjured himself--he was sent to the prison behind the Citadel for a month’s time, and was to be given ten lashes midway through his stay.  “And if you are ever called upon to testify before any court within the city or Gondor at large and are found to have lied or misrepresented what you know, it will be twice as much the second time, and three times as much the third time.  Do you understand?”

            Shocked to find himself treated with the same coldness shown to the housebreaker, the Man was sweating and shaking with anxiety as he was led out.  At that the King turned to the woman who’d started to add details.  “You have seen his judgment?”

            “Yes, my Lord,” she whispered, clearly disturbed.

            “You do not need to embroider truth, for it is capable of being fair and foul enough on its own not to need embellishment.  And if you are ever called to testify again before any court of the land, speak to what you know and no more, or what happened to him will happen to you the next time.  Is that understood?”

            “Yes, Lord Elessar,” she said more clearly.  “Yes, I understand.”

            Anorgil was smiling with admiration by the time the audience was dismissed.

            The King had not fully withdrawn--he’d stopped to deliver the Winged Crown to the Keeping of Lord Húrin and was now speaking with what at first appeared to be a child, but who proved to be the Cormacolindo himself.  It was the first chance the legal scribe had knownto see any of the Pheriannath closely.  Lord Frodo had to him a presence that impressed Anorgil with its gravity and native dignity.  All thought of how youthful his size made him appear was forgotten when he saw the competent and thoughtful expression.

            “Did you find it too harsh, Frodo?” the King was asking.

            “Actually, Aragorn, save for the branding I can’t truly say I’ve seen any of your judgments to be too harsh.  I still think the branding is barbaric, although I understand your reasons for ordering it.  But understanding something doesn’t mean I have to like it.”

            “No, small brother, I do not ask you to like it, or even to deny you find a judgment too harsh if you feel it to be that way.  I ask only the truth of you----”

            “As you did the young woman?  Yes, I fully understand.”  And the small one gave a smile that lit his features, and that brought an answering smile to the face of his friend the King. 

            But both had become aware of Anorgil’s approach, and turned to face him inquiringly.  The herald who’d followed the law clerk from the back of the Hall came forward.   “My Lord Elessar, Master Anorgil son of Gilflorin of the Guild of Lawyers for the realm.”

            “Thank you, Terendor.  And if you see Lord Erchirion and Lord Berevrion, will you ask them to please join us in the lesser audience chamber?  Thank you again.”  The herald murmured his willingness to so serve the King and withdrew as the Lord Elessar turned toward Anorgil and gave a brief bow of his head.  “Master Anorgil--your guild master sent you about the situation I wish to see properly investigated in Anórien?”

            The legal scribe made a respectful bow to the two of them.  “Even so, my Lord King.  I was born near Destrier and Anwar and indeed spent much of my own apprenticeship in the halls of Lord Benargil’s father, who died some seven years since.  I know the area well enough, although I will admit I have many memories that are less than happy from my childhood and youth.  It is here in Minas Tirith that I am now at home.”

            “And what do you know of the case against this youth--this Danárion of Destrier?”

            “Little enough, although my father sent me copious letters regarding it.  I fear my father has ever been given to the purveying of gossip, and I cannot believe all that he tells me.”

            “Do you still keep any of those letters?” the King asked, his attention caught.

            Anorgil gave a deep sigh.  “I admit that I do, my Lord--all of them, in fact.  As much grief as my memories of my father give me, yet for some reason I cannot understand it proves very difficult for me to throw away aught that he has sent to me.”

            The Pherian was examining him.  “Then you and your father have become estranged?”

            Anorgil was certain he must be flushing.  “It is a somewhat difficult situation, Lord Iorhael.”  He saw the discomfort in the Pherian’s eyes and how pink his cheeks were becoming and paused, confused.

            The King interposed, “My friend prefers to be addressed as ‘Master Frodo’ rather than as ‘Lord Iorhael,’ sir.  Such address is not used among his people.”

            “I see,” the lawyer said, rather uncertainly.  “I apologize if I caused any offense.”  At a nod from the King he continued, “My father is a garrulous individual and, unfortunately, is also much given to drink.  To support us my mother took service in Lord Astúrion’s keep as chief housekeeper; but always my father found the means to take possession of at least part of her pay to provide for his vices.  How many times we proved short when it came time to pay our rents or for just the purchasing of food for our household I cannot begin to say.  It was embarrassing to have to go to the taverns to bring my father home, him unable even to walk on his own; and even worse to have to go to the Lord’s prison to fetch him because while deep in drink one of his companions had again managed to manipulate him into a situation which led the constables to take him in charge.

            “The one good thing I can say is that his drinking does not make him particularly maudlin or arrogant, as it does others; indeed whilst drunken he tends to become even more amiable than is usual with him.  But he does become careless and perhaps too expansive and generous for his good.”

            “So there is the memory of embarrassment between you,” Master Frodo commented.

            “Yes, unfortunately.  I hope it is not similarly uncomfortable between you and your father.”

            The Pherian shrugged, a slightly twisted, self-deprecatory smile on his face.  “Alas, as my parents died when I was yet a child I never suffered through the common experience of finding myself embarrassed by them--although they were also spared the horrors of dealing with me during the years I was terrorizing the folk of the Marish.”

            “Bilbo never embarrassed you?” the King asked, his eyes alight with curiosity.

            “Bilbo?  Embarrass me?  No--he taught me to appreciate being outrageous when it’s appropriate.  Although I cannot imagine that your foster father ever embarrassed you.”

            The King gave a most elegant shrug.  “My adar, embarrass anyone?  Not, I fear in the last five thousand years at the very least.”  He turned back to Anorgil.  “My father died fighting the orcs of the Misty Mountains when I was but two years of age, so I, too, was fostered by others, although my mother remained by my side until I was an adult and must take up my duties as Chieftain of the northern Dúnedain.”

            “You were fostered by your mother’s people?”

            The King’s expression was wry.  “Nay, since the days of Valandil my line has ever been close to the folk of Rivendell, and it was there I spent my childhood, protected from the agents of the Enemy who sought to slay me that the prophecies not be fulfilled.  Now come, and let us go where we may speak more easily.”

            The King led the way out of the throne room to a chamber used for more private audiences.  There were several lower cushioned seats here, and Frodo was soon settled in one of them.  A knock heralded a young woman servant carrying a large tray.  A platter of light fare was soon settled on the table beside the Pherian, and the King himself was pouring out a cup of juice for him.  “You are comfortable, Frodo?”

            “Comfortable enough,” the Halfling replied.  “Although I’m not certain what you will do with all the furniture you’ve had made shorter for us once we are gone.”

            “To hear Gimli speak, at least through my reign and hopefully that of my son, when that day might come, there will ever be Dwarves visiting here within the White City; and it is my hope that the same might be said of Hobbits.”

            The Ringbearer shrugged.  “I will regret leaving you, Aragorn, but I feel it in my heart that we are needed at home; and how long Bilbo might linger who can say, now that....”  He did not finish, as if his friend understood well enough what was not spoken aloud.

            The maidservant set out goblets and pitchers of wine and more juice as well as more refreshments for the King and himself and those yet to come.  “Thank you, Mistress Airen,” the King said courteously to the young woman, again with a respectful bow of his head, and Anorgil noted how, young as she was, she automatically smiled in response and held herself with more dignity as she gave her curtsey and withdrew with her now empty tray. 

            Frodo watched after her, smiling slightly.  “You already have charmed most of the staff here, Aragorn,” he noted.  “I fear she will always be half in love with you.”  He met his friend’s eyes, and his thoughtful smile widened.

            There was a brief knock at the door; the King turned and said, “Enter,” at which time one of his northern kinsmen entered, accompanied by Erchirion of Dol Amroth.  They were greeted with a casual nod of the head and a quiet, “Welcome, Erchirion, Berevrion,” before the King returned his attention to Anorgil.  “And what might I offer you, sir?  It appears there is a choice between an excellent vintage from Lossarnach or pomegranate juice.”

            “The latter, if it please you,” the scribe returned, only realizing the possible impropriety of being served by his King as he accepted the filled goblet from the other Man, who saw the others served before taking a measure of wine for himself and folding himself onto one of the higher chairs, indicating the rest should also seat themselves.

            Anorgil sat down with a feeling of unreality.  He could not imagine having known such apparent casual acceptance of himself by the late Lord Denethor; and knowing what he did of Master Galador, who had served as Master of Protocol to the Citadel for as long as Anorgil had dwelt in the White City, he suspected their new King undoubtedly shocked and dismayed the Man innumerable times a day with his habits of informality.  Anorgil found himself fighting the sudden urge to grin at the thought.

            Now he found himself the object of interest of all four of his companions.  Lord--Master Frodo was sipping from his goblet, regarding him over the rim of the cup as he drank.  The King took an appreciative swallow, then set his own goblet on the table by him.  “So,” he said, “you left Anórien perhaps as much to flee your father’s reputation as to seek proper advancement for yourself, then?”

            “Indeed, my Lord,” Anorgil agreed.

            After a brief silence, the King asked, “What can you tell us of your father’s observations of the investigation of the events surrounding the death of these children?”

            Anorgil gave a thoughtful frown as he sipped at his juice.  He swallowed and held the goblet between his hands before beginning, “Apparently it was believed by some from the very beginning that this Danárion was most likely the murderer.  A market guardsman spotted a shoe floating in the shallow ditch where the bodies were later found; he sent the boy he had with him to fetch the constables from Destrier.  One of the gate guardsmen, attempting to recover the shoe, slid into the ditch, almost on top of the body of the first child.  That accident released the body from the mud.  A second gate guardsman then entered the ditch voluntarily and removed the body, laying it on the bank of the ditch.  It is said that the condition of the body indicated the child had been savaged.  Looking at it, the market guardsman commented that it appeared that at last Danárion had slain someone.”

            Erchirion straightened with interest.  “Then this young Man was known for his violence toward children?”

            “No, he was never known for being particularly violent.  I believe my father wrote there had been perhaps two fights in which he had been involved--one in which several boys had begun tormenting him before their friends, speaking more and more outrageously until they provoked him into a fight, and one in which he sought to confront the youth who had won the attentions of the maiden to whom he’d been paying court for about a year’s time.  My father wrote that the maiden’s parents did not approve of her accepting the attentions of a young Man with so few prospects as this Danárion, for I must tell you his home was desperately poor.  At one point she convinced the youth to elope with her, and they fled the village toward the west, apparently planning to enter Rohan and perhaps thus be beyond the reach of her father to fetch her back again.  However, they appear to have not planned this flight very well--when night fell they found an abandoned woodman’s cote within which they took shelter.  Danárion prepared a bed of bracken for her, and wrapped himself in his cloak and lay down across the door.  Here they were found near dawn by the maiden’s father, accompanied by two among the market guard--one, I believe, was the one who later found the shoe floating in the ditch where the bodies of the boys were found--while the more senior of the market guards and the father of the maiden had been friends for many years.  Anyway, the father took his daughter home, but Danárion was placed in the gaol in Destrier but then removed from there to the madhouse within Anwar.”

            The rest straightened with surprise.  “The madhouse?” objected the Dúnedain warrior from the north.  “Are the young Man’s brains addled?”

            Anorgil found himself shrugging uncomfortably.  “I cannot say for certain, my Lord.  It appears at least that the older of the two market guards thought so, for he often carried Danárion there when he and the youth ran afoul of one another.”

            The Lord Elessar himself appeared troubled.  “This Danárion was such a thief that he must be taken in hand so often by the guards for the market within Destrier?”

            “Nay--according to my father on occasion Danárion had been known to take fruit from trees surrounding homes within or just without the village, and once the preceding year he’d been caught sneaking a dry loaf from the discard box at the back of a baker’s stall----”

            Now the Pherian’s face clouded.  “You say that this lad--boy’s home was desperately poor?” he asked.

            “Even so, my--Master.”

            “And the baker was concerned that one who is known to be desperately poor would take bread from the discard box?”  When the others turned their attention to him, his cheeks grew more colored, although the rest of his face appeared paler.  “I am a Hobbit, after all,” he said in apparent discomfort.  “Rarely do our bakers have many of their loaves become sufficiently stale they will not sell--in fact, most such loaves tend to be sold in lots to goodwives who intend to make bread pudding, and the little that does not sell that way will be sold at much reduced price to farmers to be fed to pigs.  But no baker will usually begrudge a lad or lass who scrumps from that store, particularly if it’s known that one’s family knows limited means.  And there are always some bins of the more bruised fruits near the stalls of our greengrocers that are intended for the same purpose--intended to make cider or perry or other juice, or to sell to those who have pigs, but from which it is expected hungrier lads and lasses might take a piece or two to stay their hunger.”

            The King’s expression was becoming amused, and the cheeks of the Halfling were flushing more.  “Ah, yes, here your reputation has preceded you,” the Man said.  “Yes, on occasion Bilbo would tell me tales of your more inventive exploits within the Marish, Frodo.  He rather reveled in them, in fact, and was always pleased to relate how it was his beloved ward had come to be known as the Rascal of Buckland.”

            Master Frodo’s cheeks were even redder, if possible.  “He didn’t!  You mean that Lord Elrond was regaled with tales of how I’d planned raids on gardens and crops throughout the farms surrounding the Brandywine?”

            “My beloved friend, Radagast the Brown himself recounted one tale of finding you hiding within the stall of an abandoned byre, where you’d been chased by a particular farmer’s dogs.”

            “That was Radagast?”  The Pherian’s expression was deeply pained, and he rubbed at his brow, and then his left shoulder as if it were aching somewhat.  “I was caught cowering in terror like a bairn by another of the Wizards?  What was he doing within the Shire?  I thought he made his home somewhere east of the Misty Mountains!”

            “He has been known to make journeys at times into Eriador, seeking to assist in healing those lands worst hurt by the Enemy’s creatures over the years.  Adar told me he would come west once or twice every century.  I overheard him telling Gandalf he’d been visiting within the Old Forest at the time, and felt distress call to him from the lands west of the Hay.  He said he went expecting to find damaged land, and instead found a Hobbit lad whose fëa was remarkably bright and who was in great distress.”

            “Apples and plums,” Frodo sighed.  “That was the last time I stole anything.”

            “Did you take food from these boxes and bins?” asked the northerner, his own eyes alight with amusement.

            “Me?  Of course not!  I was too young to be that hungry before my parents died, and we had our own orchard and gardens that saw to our needs when I was child; and my uncles would always see to it that I had sufficient pocket money I might throw a greengrocer a copper whenever I was taken by hunger within one of the markets and felt the need for a pear or bunch of grapes.  Those bins were intended for the needs of those who couldn’t afford even a brass or two.”

            Lord Erchirion’s curiosity was now obviously roused.  “Yet you say you stole from farmers?”

            “You have to understand--scrumping has a long tradition within the Shire, and I was out to make a reputation for myself that would counter the idea I was a mam’s lad, for so several of the older and less pleasant lads within Brandy Hall called me.  For me it was less the need to get more food than it was the exercise of speed and wit.”

            “Yes--there’s one tale told of you using a kitten and a very young child to distract a farmer while you and a few others stole all his ripe tomatoes.”  The King was smiling.

            Even the Halfling smiled.  “Ah, yes, that one was masterful.  And Bilbo told you, did he?  When Gandalf sent you to meet me what a scoundrel you must have expected to see.”

            “Nay, I expected to see the finest Hobbit the Shire ever produced as I was assured by both himself and Bilbo, and so it proved.”  The affection was plain to be seen in the King’s eyes, and his small friend responded to it without thought, his color easing and his brow smoothing.  “But you must remember that Bilbo had stories to tell of his own scrumping exploits from when he was a teen, so it was not just you about whom he bore tales.”

             “This Bilbo is related to you how?” asked Erchirion, his eyes alight with curiosity.

            The Lord Elessar interrupted, “Ah, as Gandalf would hastily explain--you do not know what it is you ask, for once a Hobbit embarks on explaining a relationship with another Hobbit you will ordinarily receive not an answer but a lecture that tends to go on for quite some time, along with glances into the family trees of several lines--although I must say that Frodo has been less prone to such delvings into genealogy than are Merry or Pippin.”

            “With Pippin along, I’ve not needed to say much of anything,” Frodo responded wryly.  “Bilbo used to say that as Bagginses we were related by blood to fully half the Shire, and related by marriage to better than half of the remainder, allowing me to call upon family ties from the Hay Gate to beyond Greenholm on the Western Marches, and from the northern wastes to the southern borders of the Shire.  Suffice it to say Bilbo is my first cousin on my mother’s side and my second cousin in my father’s side, once removed each way.  He was also family head for the Bagginses, and had the right after the death of my parents to see to my final placement, although my mother’s family at first insisted on keeping me within Brandy Hall until at last Bilbo felt I’d had enough of careful treatment and insisted on taking me to Bag End with him, eventually adopting me as his heir.  Is that enough for you?” he asked the second son of Prince Imrahil.

            “When he turned a hundred eleven Bilbo decided to leave the Shire permanently,” the King added.  “He left Frodo as family head for the Bagginses and as Master of their home of Bag End in Hobbiton, and went east with Dwarves headed to Erebor, then returned to Eriador where he was invited by Lord Elrond to make his home in Rivendell.  Last fall was the first time Frodo had seen Bilbo in seventeen years.  I came to know Bilbo there, and he told me much about his beloved younger cousin.  That one day I should meet Frodo and come to think of him as a brother none save Bilbo ever expected, I think.”

            “Which brings us back to my questions about the discard bins in the markets for your villages,” Frodo said.  “Among our people, who must eat more frequently than Men, or so we have learned, as I said those who are poor are welcome to take a piece of fruit or two; and our farmers expect a certain amount of scrumping of their crops--indeed, during their teens it is likely they indulged in such activities themselves.  It is during those years our appetites tend to be at their greatest, as we enter the growth spurts that precede adulthood,” he explained.  “That a merchant among Men would begrudge the right of the poor to take from that which would be given to pigs is disturbing.”

            “I am not certain that any of the merchants from whose discard bins Danárion pilfered sought to lodge a complaint against him,” Anorgil admitted.  “From what my father wrote it appears that it was the market guard himself who took his position perhaps too seriously, ever seeking to take this Danárion into charge for this reason or that.  And from what my father stated, the youth did not seek to bridle his tongue sufficiently to placate the guardsman.  When he could not convince those who governed the gaol to hold the youngling, then he would carry him to Anwar and claim once more the youth was a danger to himself and the countryside; they would keep him for a few days, make certain he was properly fed, then release him to walk back to Destrier, where the market guard would again seek some excuse to take him in charge.”

            “And why did this guardsman see this Danárion as mad, then?” asked the northern lord.

            “Apparently because he sought knowledge of how to speak with spirits,” Anorgil said with a shrug.

            “Spirits?” asked Erchirion.

            “Yes--there is a tradition amongst the commoners of Anórien that it is possible to communicate with spirits, especially with those of certain trees, usually the greatest and oldest amongst the trees to be found in that land.  These are often spoken of as ‘father trees’ and are not marked for cutting.  Not that such as you are likely to understand how Men of any wisdom might come to believe in spirits,” Anorgil added, he was certain flushing once again.

            “You expect us not to appreciate belief in spirits?” the King asked, his brows raised.  “Berevrion rode with me from Dunharrow in Rohan through the Paths of the Dead to the Stone of Erech and on to Pelargir, followed by the shadow hosts of the Oathbreakers, and it was with their aid we took the Corsairs of Umbar.  Both Frodo and I have survived visits to the Barrow-downs of Tyrn Gorthad where wights of malevolent intent sought to take us and use us to their own dark purposes, and both of us have traversed the Dead Marshes.  I have also sojourned in Rhûn, Umbar, and Harad, and even sought to know what occurred within the Red Temples where dread offerings were made to Sauron’s benefit.  Oh, my friend, I have too much experience to disbelieve in spirits.

            “As for the spirits of trees, especially those referred to as ‘father trees’--well, I have heard the tales of Old Man Willow within the depths of the Old Forest between the Barrow-downs and the High Hay that marks the eastern boundaries of the lands of Frodo’s people, and Frodo, I’m told by Pippin, actually encountered him; and I have now met a few of the Ents of Fangorn Forest.  I suspect that the great trees treated with respect by your folk are either huorns or deeply drowsing Ents, and should be indeed treated with the greatest of respect and circumspection if you would not rouse them to cause you harm.  And as to the matter of communicating with trees--you must remember that I was raised by Elves and have spoken with the greatest Silvan lords lingering within Middle Earth.  Our companion Legolas, Prince of Eryn Lasgalen, can tell you much of speech with trees, for he often speaks with the trees of his land.”

            “You are saying there are such things as spirits?” asked Anorgil, again feeling as if he were entering a state of unreality.

            “Well, there are certainly wights,” Frodo said, shivering and huddling deeper within the cushioned chair.  “And what were the--the Nazgûl but the spirits of those who could not fully die and leave the Bounds of Arda?”  His face had gone pale, even his cheeks seeming now greyish as he looked to the King.  “As for Legolas speaking with trees--didn’t we see him doing so frequently during our journey together?”

            The King nodded his agreement.  “Elves are able to learn much of trees and even the land itself, particularly when such are at peace.  There have been times when he has even heard the voices of the stones themselves, which caused great consternation to Gimli, that Legolas heard stones before he, a Dwarf, did.”

            The Pherian was nodding, color slowly returning to his face.  For the first time Anorgil noted the gap where one finger of Frodo’s hand was missing as once more the Hobbit rubbed at his left shoulder.

            “What significance is there given within Anórien to belief in spirits?” asked the northern Dúnadan, the one named Berevrion.

            Anorgil shrugged.  “Many believe that those who believe in spirits worship the Dark Lord.”  Looking at the faces of the others within the room he saw varying degrees of disbelief.

            “The Valar protect us from such foolishness!” muttered the King.  “Does this market guardsman believe such a thing?” he asked.

            “So my father says.”

            Those within the room exchanged looks.  At last Lord Berevrion looked back to the clerk.  “My Lord Cousin here has asked Lord Erchirion and me to proceed to Anwar and Destrier to conduct a full review of this case.  When first I heard of it I thought that perhaps all was in order; but the more I hear, the more questions I have as to how properly the investigation and trial were carried out.  We are to leave the day after tomorrow.  Would you please send your father’s letters on the case to the Citadel tonight, and I will review them tonight and tomorrow, before we leave for the north?”

            “If you so desire, my lord,” Anorgil said.

            “Thank you.”

            “Who goes with us?” Anorgil asked.

            “A battle surgeon, and a healer from amongst the Elves of Eryn Lasgalen at the request of Prince Legolas and that of his brother, Prince Tharen.  It is hoped that what is told to us of the state of the bodies when they were found will give us a better idea as to whether or not the children were truly sacrificed to the purposes of Sauron the Accursed,” Berevrion answered.  “And we will take with us two to serve as guardsmen, one of the northern Dúnedain to attend on me and one of the Swan Knights of Dol Amroth to attend on Lord Erchirion.”

            “You take none to attend on your persons?” the clerk asked in surprise.

            “We are not incapable of caring for ourselves,” the older Man pointed out.  “And the fewer who go, the less stress we will put upon the resources and staff of the Lord of Anwar during those times we must accept his hospitality.”

            “I am not certain how well this Elvish healer might be accepted,” Anorgil said thoughtfully.

            The King straightened.  “Elves number among the ancestors of most of the northern Dúnedain as well as among the ancestors of the House of Dol Amroth,” he pointed out.  “For them to object openly to the presence of an Elvish healer would be an offense against both my kinsman Berevrion and Lord Erchirion as well as to me.  After all, the founder of my line’s claim to royalty was Elros Peredhel who became Elros Tar-Minyatur of Númenor, son of Eärendil and Elwing, descendant of both Lúthien Tinúviel of Doriath and Idril of Gondolin.”

            “But that is considered by most within Gondor a matter of legend,” Anorgil began.

            “Not to my foster father,” noted the Lord King Aragorn Elessar Envinyatar Telcontar, the great brooch upon his breast flaring with a green fire as the light in the room was caught by it and thrown back in healing glory.  “He who raised me as his own son after my father’s death is, after all, Elrond Peredhel, also son to Eärendil and Elwing and twin brother to Elros Tar-Minyatur.”

            For a third time a feeling of unreality overcame the clerk.  Times of legends appeared to have overwhelmed the land of Gondor with the return of the King.

Lord Benargil’s House

            Benargil, Lord of Anwar, examined the letter just delivered into his hands with some concern.  “What is it?” asked his friend Enelmir, who served as his seneschal and as the magistrate for the tribunals held in the smaller villages and towns surrounding Anwar as well as within Anwar itself..

            “I’d expected this to be the signed death warrant for that boy--that Danárion--you know, the one who saw to the deaths of those three small boys from Destrier.”

            Enelmir knew full well about the case, as he had been the one to hear it and had been the one who’d declared the three young Men accused of and tried for the murders guilty as charged.  “And it’s not?”

            “No.”

            “Who is it from?”

            “Apparently the King’s Majesty himself,” Lord Benargil answered him.  “He sends a deputation to Anórien to examine the case against the three youths to assure himself that the findings are just--or so he says.”  He dropped the offending missive upon the desktop beyond the tray bearing refreshments and reached for his wine goblet, drinking from it as if it had the power to cleanse not only his palate but also his mind as well of the implication that justice within his area could be less than proper.

            “And who is it who comes?” Enelmir asked.

            “Lord Erchirion of Dol Amroth, Prince Imrahil’s second son, accompanied by one of the Lord King’s own kinsmen from the north, one he states is a guardian of the law amongst the Northern Dúnedain.  They will be accompanied by others--a battle surgeon and a second healer and a legal clerk from the Guild of Lawyers--one who has served both the Master of the Guild and Lords Denethor and Faramir in the past.”

            “A battle surgeon?  Why a battle surgeon?  And then why a second healer?”

            “How am such as I to appreciate how the mind of the King works?  After all, what do we know of him, this heir of Isildur come from the wilderness that the northern kingdom has sunk to?”

            “He’s a canny warrior, by all accounts, and fluent in Adûnaic, Rohirric, Sindarin, and even Quenya.  It’s said that he also speaks Haradric and Rhûnic, although how those who sent me that word could know I do not understand.  And he’s a canny one for reading the mind of the populace.  Making our Lord Faramir a Prince as well as retaining his services as Steward was masterly, as was the justice given that guardsman who it’s said somehow managed to save the life of Lord Faramir after slaying the porter before the door to the Hallows.”

            “Well,” Benargil said, staring suspiciously at the letter as it lay upon the desktop, “I do not look forward to entertaining this kinsman of the King.  What will such a one know of courtly courtesy?”

            “And when are they due to arrive?” asked Enelmir.

            “Tomorrow, apparently.”

            “That does not give you much time to prepare for their advent.”

            “And what does that mean for you, Enelmir?  For you must gather together all the records of the proceedings for their inspection, you must realize.”

            “The clerk has all well in hand, I am certain,” Enelmir answered, stung.  “And what can they do?  You yourself have looked over the records of the trial and have agreed with me that I followed the law properly.”

            “They might take exception to you allowing that guardsman to testify in the trial.”

            “Hanalgor?  He helped to see to it that justice was served.”

            “But the claims he made--there was, after all, little to support what he said.”

            “My lord--he only served to prove that this Danárion was indeed focused on the black arts....”

            “But to say that the wearing of black proves that--the realm’s own colors, after all, are black and silver.”

            “But to enjoy the songs written by the likes of Suleirion--my Lord Benargil--the Man’s lyrics are seditious at best!”

            “Yet the music is certainly moving.  My son and daughter both enjoy his work, and my son will play the tunes upon his lute for hours at a time.  Ah, well, those who heard the evidence were, after all, convinced of his guilt.  Who are we to go against the judgment of the people?  Well, summon Dalrieth for me that I might have her make ready quarters for those who come.  I suppose the two healers would do well to share a room--would you not agree, Enelmir?”

 *******

            Benargil stood upon the steps that led to the gate to the Keep of Anwar, watching the arrival of the party sent by the King.  Young Erchirion of Dol Amroth was easily recognizable, and rode his roan gelding with the loose ease of youth.  Beside him was an older Man, broad-chested yet of a slender appearance, what with his height; with the muscles of a trained swordsman.  He wore well-worn riding leathers of a faded brown, and a newer cloak of silver-grey caught at the shoulder with a silver star.  Something about that silver star struck Benargil as familiar, although for the moment he could not say what it brought to mind--something, he thought, from long ago.

            The battle surgeon was easily recognizable, a compact individual with the cloak brooch of knife and serpent that was the sign of his profession.  By him rode one who obviously did not relish his ride in the saddle.  As the Man turned his head Benargil found himself recognizing him--Anorgil son of Gilflorin.  The lord of Anwar began to unconsciously stroke his beard.  Anorgil had done part of his apprenticeship in the law here within the Keep, back when Benargil’s father Astúrion had still been lord.  He’d been a stickler for procedure, as Benargil remembered it.  Anorgil was painstaking, and far too insistent on following logic.  If Anorgil was to assist this northern lord he was likely to insist on seeing all records, and was also likely to criticize what he saw as being anything but logical.  Benargil found his shoulders going stiff.

            But it was the one who rode behind the Men and before the two guardsmen who accompanied the party that was the biggest shock--this was no Man at all, but--but an Elf!  An Elf?  What was an Elf doing as part of this company?  Yet it could be no other race--taller even than the northern lord, slender and lithe, his dark hair long and sleek, with an elegance to him that appeared arrogant to the watching Gondorian.  His temple locks had been braided and drawn back behind his ears that, yes, indeed were pointed.  His brow was smooth, and it was impossible to guess at how old he might be.  A bow and quiver hung negligently over his shoulder, along with a finely made red bag fastened with an elaborate knot.  His garb was as elegant as his seat upon his horse, a white stallion very much in keeping with his master’s appearance.  That horse had none of the breeding of the steeds of Rohan, Benargil judged, although there was no question it was blooded.  There was no saddle or bridle to be seen upon the animal.  A look about the Elf, and Benargil could see he carried a long knife at his belt that was as beautiful in appearance--and as deadly--as its bearer.

            Benargil felt his skin crawl.  Stories told of Elves made it plain that these were unearthly, unnatural beings--beings with whom it was best Men have little commerce.  That he would be called upon to entertain such a one was--distressing.

            There were no servants in the party, which was unusual.  This realization both eased him and disturbed him.  True, he would not have to feed extra mouths while these were within the Keep; but his own servants would most likely be called upon to serve these--guests. He unconsciously tugged on his beard as they turned up the causeway from the town toward the Keep itself.  That this visit was likely to be uncomfortable for him as host was becoming increasingly obvious.  He forced his expression into what he hoped was a genial smile and came forward to greet them.

            Within an hour’s time Benargil was returned to his own rooms to prepare himself for dinner, and there he sank down onto the edge of his bed, shaking.  “This is going to be a disaster!” he murmured to himself.  His son and daughter, who’d watched the arrival of the King’s deputation from the roof, were both fascinated by the Elf, and he’d had to advise Dalrieth to prepare another chamber as swiftly as possible, it having been made plain that the Elf would not take kindly to staying in a room shared with any Man.  Part of what had served to convict Danárion of Destrier was the fact he’d stated repeatedly he wished to meet with Elves, an ambition the folk of this region found ominous.  He’d tried to dress as he thought an Elf might dress, and had spoken of Elbereth and Manwë, and what it might be like in the Blessed Realm.

            The people of this section of Anórien, however, preferred to think of the Valar with suspicion.  Knowing that the Great Enemy had come to Middle Earth from the Undying Lands, they’d become convinced that all who dwelt there were as he; and when they rose for the Standing Silence their reverence went no further than where the Star Isle had once stood.  Many were still convinced that the Elves said to dwell in the Undying Lands held to themselves the secrets of immortality, and believed that Númenor had sunk beneath the waves not due to the overweening pride of Ar-Pharazôn but to the malice held toward Men who sought to share the blessings of eternal life.  To be asked by the King to host an Elf!  How would this be seen by his people, particularly in relation to the investigation of this case?

            A knock at his door, and his body servant entered.  Peldrion cast an eye over him, then gave a nod and retrieved from the wardrobe a clean surcoat of a dark blue that Benargil favored.  “Here, my lord--this will become you well and will give your guests a most favorable impression of you.”

            “Thank you, Peldrion,” Benargil answered, truly grateful this time, unlacing the tunic he’d been wearing and reaching for the clean one set out for him, then allowing the servant to assist him in settling the surcoat over his shoulders, fastening it with a great brooch his wife had gifted him with at mettarë.  On it was pictured a great dragon surrounding a large cabochon of amber in which a perfect spider had been trapped, the dragon faced by a Man armed with a two-handed sword.  Again this was an adornment that he treasured greatly, and seeing it shining upon his breast gave him a feeling of greater confidence.  Feeling he’d done his best to prepare himself, he allowed Peldrion to comb his hair over his bald spot, and went down to dinner heartened.

            He found the northern lord, Berevrion, sitting at a table in his library, Benargil’s own secretary Galdrod fussing about at his elbow.  Sitting across the table from Berevrion was Anorgil, as stiff and uncomfortable in posture as he’d ever been.  “Yes, my Lord,” Galdrod was saying, “this is the transcription we have of the trial--I copied it from the record made by the scribe Umbardacil who was assigned to make a master copy by Master Enelmir.”

            “And Master Enelmir is the magistrate assigned to hear this case?”

            “Yes, my lord.”

            “He is a member of the Guild of Lawyers within the province of Anórien?”

            “Yes--due to his great friendship with our Lord Benargil he is highly placed within it.  And due to the diligence with which he has pursued this case to its conclusion he is being considered as a possible successor to our current Guild Master when he retires, which all suspect will occur within three years.”

            “Who is likely to follow Enelmir as magistrate?”

            “Most likely Master Fendril, my Lord.  Master Fendril served as the one to build the case against the youth Danárion and his fellows.  He has served in such capacity several times now, and has been a most successful one in bringing together the information and evidence that has allowed malefactors to be made plain.”

            “Was there one from the Guild of Lawyers who assisted those accused of the crime?”

            “Yes, my lord, young Master Caraftion of Pustien, a village some miles north of here.”

            “He was experienced in providing defense to those accused of serious crimes?”

            For the first time Galdrod sounded uncertain.  “Actually, my lord, Master Caraftion has mostly been employed in the transferring of property and businesses and the crafting of wills and writing of agreements.  He did assist a Man accused of stealing a horse from his neighbor and helped to win his freedom, and has served as counsel to a seller of used goods who has been accused on various occasions of having knowingly accepted stolen items.  However, he has been active as a lawyer and a member of the Guild for only four years now.  This case was the first in which he was called upon to offer assistance to those accused of such a serious crime.”

            “How many murders have there been within Anórien in the past ten years?”

            “In the last ten years, sir?  I believe about sixteen, my lord.  There was the case in which----”

            Berevrion cut him off.  “Only sixteen?  That is commendable.  Were any of them before this one in contention?”

            Taken off his guard by the interruption and this question, Galdrod had to think on this one.  “There was one five years back in which Drevendor of Amon Dîn was killed, and all were surprised to learn a resident of Anwar here was the murderer.  It was Master Fendril who proved the case against him, arguing again before Master Enelmir.  A most disturbing case in the end--all had thought the object was theft, for Drevendor had been a merchant of some note who traded between Gondor, Rohan, and the Dunlands, and had become very wealthy due to trade.  But Master Fendril had argued convincingly that it was much deeper and uglier--that Dorndrol of Anwar had caught Drevendor importing pagan images and was disturbed with them and had so sought him out to slay him.  Of course Dorndrol’s wife and family sought to make stories for him to imply he could not have traveled to Amon Dîn at that season to assault Drevendor, but they only sought to excuse him by fabricating tales to explain his time.”

            Benargil was concerned by the exchange of glances between his northern guest and Anorgil.  He came fully into the room.  “I myself reviewed that case, also, and I assure you it was rightly settled, Lord Berevrion.  But now is not the time for further consideration of legal matters--my servants will have dinner ready to serve at the table shortly, and we should all prepare to go into the dining hall.  Your other companions--they will be ready when the gong is struck?”

            “I believe so,” Berevrion said, “although there is a chance Master Harolfileg may choose not to dine with us.  He has had little to do with Men in his life, and came only as a favor to the Lord King Elessar and the Prince of his own people who is now a close friend to our King.  Prince Legolas Thranduilion of Eryn Lasgalen has been one of the Fellowship of the Ring, after all, helping to bring the Ringbearer and his companions from their own land through the wilds of Eriador and the vale of the Anduin to Amon Hen where they parted ways.”

            “And you have met the Lord Iorhael?” asked Benargil.  “Do come to the Great Room--my family will meet us there, and they will be most pleased to hear tales of those who saw to the defeat of Mordor.”

            Reluctantly Berevrion rose.  He had apparently cleansed himself from the dust of the ride from the capital, and Benargil saw that he now wore a clean surcoat over a shirt of a rich golden color and dark trousers.  His boots were of a foreign mode and well worn, but also were well cared for and had probably been expensive when new.  He’d left off his sword, but had the sheath to a well cared for long knife in his belt.  On one hand he wore a signet ring, and a bracelet of twisted gold, silver, brass, and copper wires about his left wrist.  A writing case hung at his belt alongside a scrip of well-worn purple leather.  He followed Benargil to the Great Room, where Benargil’s son sat draped crookedly over a chair, his leg over its arm, playing upon a lute, and his daughter and wife sat in seats by the fire, both with embroidery frames in their laps.

            “Lord Berevrion, my wife Marien, our daughter Belrieth, and our son Wendthor.  This is Lord Berevrion of the northern kingdom, my chicks.”

            Wendthor winced visibly at the endearment, and Belrieth’s cheeks flamed with embarrassment.  Lady Marien rose to her feet, setting her needlework aside as she did so.  “Lord Berevrion?” she said.  “And of the north-kingdom, are you?  There are yet lords and ladies among you?”  Her brow arched in inquiry as she indicated a chair where he might take a seat.  She watched as Anorgil entered behind him, and her expression warmed.  “Anorgil?  You have returned to Anwar?”

            “At our Lord King’s request am I come at his kinsman’s side, Lady Marien.”

            “As for your question, my lady,” said Berevrion as he took the indicated chair, “there are yet lands that have remained relatively untouched, mostly high in what was Arthedain or in the Angle north and west of Rivendell, where we of the northern Dúnedain have dwelt in accordance with our ways, even after the death of Arvedui and the purported fall of Arnor.  The father of my house was close to Elendil himself, one of the seven princes to captain the ships of the Faithful from Númenor, Eldecar by name.  Our family had close ties to the Elves of Tol Eressëa, and often traded with them.  Thus Ar-Pharazôn’s decision to sail to the Undying Lands to seek to conquer them so as to supposedly take the secret of eternal life by force was considered a great betrayal by my family.  Eldecar sent to his friends among those who dwelt on Tol Eressëa such warning as he could contrive ere he followed our Lord Elendil onto the ships that left the Star Isle before Pharazôn’s great armada could set sail westward.  The storm loosed at the breaking of the World drove my great-father Eldecar’s ship west and north with that of Elendil himself, and so they came at the same time to the shores of Arnor.”

            “So you are the lord of a city there in the northlands?” asked the girl Belrieth.

            “Of a region rather than a city.  Only now can we look once more to build great cities as we once did,” Berevrion said.  “When we return northward our Lord Halladan, brother to our late Steward Halbarad and now appointed Steward of Arnor after him, will see to the rebuilding of Annúminas on the shores of Lake Evendim, and once more we will have a proper citadel.  Always we have had two royal steadings, there in Annúminas and at the royal fortress of Fornost.  Much of Fornost has been rebuilt in the last thousand years, for Angmar’s folks did not seek to hold it after the fleeing of their dread lord.  It was there that our Lord Aragorn Elessar was born, in keeping with tradition, although they did not remain there long.  The Enemy ever sought those of the line of Kings to slay them, and even Fornost was not safe for his parents to remain in for any length of time.

            “My father was lord of a region not far west of the Misty Mountains and some fifty miles south of Angmar.  We have a walled keep known as Tirith Fuir where those of the region might retreat during incursions of orcs from the east or Men from the north, and we have managed to hold it now for some eighteen hundred years.  There has never been a large city in the area, and the villages scattered about the region we oversee are small and mostly hidden for their own protection.  Now, at last, we will begin to grow as a people and nation once more, and once again our cities will rise and our fields fill the land as has not been known since the days of Arvedui.”

            “You have known the King all his life?” asked Belrieth’s brother.

            “Nay--not all his life, for he spent eighteen years of his first twenty in the vale of Imladris, under the protection of Lord Elrond himself, after his father was killed by orcs.”

            “Imladris?”  Wendthor sat up in interest.  “Isn’t that the land that our Lord Captain Boromir sought as a result of his dream?”

            “So our Lord King has told us.  And it was there in Imladris, that most know as Rivendell, that they first met, your Lord Captain and our Lord Aragorn Elessar.”

            “And this Lord Iorhael--the Ringbearer--what of him?  What sort of Man is he?” Benargil asked.

            Berevrion’s lip twitched.  “Lord Frodo is a most gentle and intelligent soul, and extraordinarily sensitive and sensible.  However, I must tell you he is, properly speaking, not a Man at all.  He is a Hobbit of the Shire, a small land in northwestern Eriador, much of which comprised the farmlands of Cardolan in its day.”

            “A Hobbit?  I’ve never heard of Hobbits before,” Benargil objected.

            Berevrion smiled, “I would be surprised if you had, for outside of the Shire and the Breelands I do not believe there remain any other settlements of the people.  Even within Eriador few know of them save those who frequent the ancient King’s Highway between Tharbad and the site of Annúminas.  There at the crossroads between the north-south highway and the east-west road that runs between the passes above Rivendell and the Elven havens of Mithlond on the Firth of Lhûn there lies the village of Bree, chief of the four villages of the Breelands.  A day’s ride west of Bree lies the Brandywine Bridge, which marks the eastern boundary of the Shire and the main entrance into that land from the east.  Our King Argeleb the Second granted that land, long emptied of inhabitants due to the evil wrought there by the Witch-king of Angmar, to two Hobbits and all of their folk who would follow them west of the Baranduin River.  They are a small people, slightly better than half the height of a tall Man, most of them; and are among the most successful farmers in all of Middle Earth, I’d deem.  Perhaps alone in the northlands, the Breelands and the Shire have prospered in the past several centuries.  It has been our duty to guard the borders of these lands as well as our own, and once again the guardianship we have offered them has paid off well.”

            “Once again?” questioned Lady Marien.

            “Rarely do Hobbits of the Shire leave their own lands; but ever when they do so they seem to unwittingly end up saving quite a good number of folks.  For a people so peace-loving it is uncanny.”

            A gong sounded.  Benargil raised his eyes to those of Anorgil, who’d remained standing just inside the doorway, leaning against the wall, his arms crossed over his chest.  He’d usually stood thus even in the days of his apprenticeship.  He nodded to himself as he rose.  “Shall we go into the dining hall, then, my friends?  That was the gong for dinner.”

            The Elf had come to the dining hall after all, and followed the battle surgeon into the room, taking the place indicated by Lady Marien, there beside the surgeon and opposite Wendthor.  He stood quietly behind his chair until the others approached the seats suggested by their hostess, obviously waiting for the Standing Silence.  All turned west together for a moment before all turned again toward the table and one another, and at the gesture of the Lord of the Keep all sat.  Berevrion and Erchirion were seated near lord and lady in keeping with their rank; Harolfileg was seated just above the saltcellar, while battle surgeon and legal clerk were seated just below it.  Basins of rosewater were brought first for the cleansing of hands; the Elf watched what those before him did in the situation, then followed suit with a measure of grace that made the simple act appear markedly elegant, nodding his thanks to the servant who held bowl and towel as, Benargil noted, did both the northern lord and Lord Erchirion as well.  It was plain the surgeon was unacquainted with such an act, although he did creditably well at following the examples of those seated with them.

            Benargil waited until those with the basins had moved down toward the members of the household seated beyond the King’s party to effect introductions.  “This is my seneschal, Enelmir, and his mother, Mistress Niniel.  He has his own household, but since the death of his wife some eight months since he and his mother have taken their meals primarily with us.  Master Enelmir is one of the magistrates of our region and is, as I believe you were already told, Lord Berevrion, highly placed in the Guild of Lawyers for Anórien.  Enelmir, this is Lord Berevrion of the north kingdom; Lord Erchirion, second son of our honored Prince Imrahil of Dol Amroth; Master Bariol, who serves the realm as a battle surgeon and who was, I understand, sent on the direct request of our Lord King himself; Master Anorgil, whom you know from the days of his apprenticeship as a lawyer and student of the law of the realm; and--” he paused, uncertain what honorifics he ought to use, “--Master Harolfileg of the Elf Kingdom north and east of us and east of the great river, who again came on the request of our Lord King.  I understand, Master Harolfileg, that you are a healer of your people?”

            “I am,” came the reply, uttered in a clear voice that had the overtones of music to it.

            As servants brought the first course and set it before them, those taking the meal exchanged looks.  “And with whom did you study?” asked an elderly bearded Man with a black cap atop his head, sitting further down the table from the guests.  He hastened to add, “Oh, and I am Master Bilstred, personal healer to Lord Benargil’s keep.  Here is my wife Dalrieth, who serves now as housekeeper for the Keep, and our daughter Lyrien.”

            Dalrieth most of the guests had already met as they were shown their rooms.  Lyrien was a woman of around thirty years, whose face reflected rather a severe aspect.  She had obviously been a woman of some beauty in her youth, but disappointment and loss had left their marks upon her, apparently leaving her somewhat aloof and wary of life.  She nodded her acknowledgement of the introduction, but failed to look directly at any of the guests--or any other individual sitting with them at table.

            Harolfileg answered slowly, “I have studied the art of healing over the period of many yeni, Master Bilstred.  My daeradar was one who studied under those few healers who had themselves studied within the halls of Estë and who came from Aman with the Exiles among the Noldor.  In my youth I studied in Eregion and Lindon before I joined Lord Oropher and his son Thranduil in Eryn Lasgalen.  I am perhaps not as great a healer as is Elrond of Imladris, for I did not inherit as did he and his sons and the descendants of his brother Elros the healing hands that are part of the legacy of Eärendil and Elwing.  But my knowledge is great enough, I deem.  Certainly, considering the evil wrought in our realm by the Enemy during the centuries he dwelt in Dol Guldur, our people often suffered greatly at his hands, and my skills were too oft needed.”

            “And you know personally our new King?” Bilstred asked.

            The Elf gave a most elegant shrug.  “I have seen Lord Elrond’s fosterling perhaps thrice ere this--once in the days of his later childhood when my lord came to Imladris and I accompanied him; once some fifty or sixty sunrounds back when he came with Mithrandir to meet with Thranduil in his own halls; and two sunrounds ago when he brought the creature Gollum to us for his safekeeping.  He is himself a healer of some note, one worthy of the respect even of us among the Firstborn.  But that is to be expected of one of the descendants of Elros Peredhel, particularly as he was raised in Elrond’s house.”

            “Peredhel?” asked Wendthor.  “But that means ‘half-elven,’ does it not?”

            “Yes--Elrond and his brother Elros were, after all, the sons of Eärendil and Elwing, who were the descendants in their turn of Lúthien and Beren, Idril and Tuor.  Aragorn Elessar, as the direct descendant of Elros Eärendilion, has within him the blood of the Eldar and the Lady Melian, after all.  A worthy Man indeed is he, and he has been honored by the Elves of Middle Earth all of his life.  It is a grief to many of us that he cannot be expected to remain as King and lord of your people much more than another century; but should he, as is expected of us, marry our beloved Arwen Undómiel, it is to be hoped his son may choose to remain with you perhaps as long as three centuries, for in him will the blood of the Eldar run more truly even than in the veins of his father.”

            “A century?” asked Enelmir.  “But you said you met him a Man grown some fifty or sixty years back!  No Man lives to that age!”

            “He is the Dúnadan.  The lords of the kingdom of Arnor have commonly lived well over a hundred sixty years, if they were not slain else,” Berevrion said.  “I myself am also in my eighties, and am considered to be in my late middle years.  Those of Númenórean descent in the north kingdom have managed to keep our blood purer than is commonly seen here in Gondor, apparently.  It is likely my kinsman Aragorn Elessar will live two centuries before he accepts the Gift.”

            “The Gift?” asked Lyrien, interested in spite of herself.

            “The Gift of mortality,” Berevrion explained.  “This was granted us mortals by Ilúvatar Himself that we need not know the great weariness with life many among the Firstborn experience.”

            “So we have been told also,” agreed Harolfileg.  “I have seen that weariness take many who have suffered many losses over the yeni of their lives.  I am told that many of the Secondborn fear death, although I cannot understand quite why.  There have been those among us who have found being forced to live on when all that they had labored for and loved so intensely was lost due to the actions of the Dark Lords, who have railed against the fate that does not allow them easing.  Many have faded, while others have grown most bitter.”

            “One does not need to be an Elf,” muttered Lyrien, turning her attention to the dish before her, “to know such bitterness due to loss.”

            While most of the guests looked on the woman with compassion, Enelmir gave her a glance of exasperation and contempt.  “Do you think, madam, that you are the only one to lose what you once had?  Such is a common enough experience in this world.”

            Harolfileg gave their host’s seneschal an unreadable look before turning his attention to the woman.  “You are yet young, even for a woman of the Secondborn.  That you have known loss is not uncommon--so it is for most in this world, particularly in light of the war so recently won against the Enemy.  He and his creatures have left much of destruction in their wake.  Yet it seems perhaps you have lost more than is usual for one as young as you appear.  Tell me, child, what it is that you have lost?”

            “My husband and child.  Two years back orcs came through Anórien from the mountains to the north, and my husband went forth with those who sought to fight them, as was slain.  They slew most of the beasts and drove the rest away, but my own husband was lost.  His brother claimed his place, and now the estate went to him, and I was forced to return to Anwar.  Then, shortly after we returned my daughter, who would scramble up upon the windowsills, fell out into the courtyard--she lingered six days ere she died.  Now I am left with nothing--husband dead, what I’d come to see as my own home taken by another who will never be as good a caretaker for it as was my beloved, and daughter lost.”  There were tears in her eyes as she looked down on the plate set before her.

            “We grieve for you,” Anorgil said quietly.  “You were married to Faraster of Amon Dîn, were you not?”

            She gave a slight nod.  “Even so.”

            “A fine Man he was, as I remember.”

            She looked up to catch the clerk’s eye.  At last she said, “Yes, a fine Man, and a good husband he was to me.”  A good deal of the stiffness in her appeared to have lessened, just having had others listen to and accept her grief.  Harolfileg examined her with a thoughtful expression on his face.  She asked, “And have you lost any you loved?”

            The Elf shrugged.  “My adar was slain in the War of Wrath when my sister and I were yet children, and our naneth brought us to our daeradar’s home in Lindon.  Long she grieved ere she faded and followed Adar to Námo’s Halls.  I studied under Daeradar, as I said, for many years.  Then there came a call for those of us apt to healing to come to Eregion where there was need for our services.  My sister came with me, and we settled there under Celebrimbor’s rule--until the Enemy came.

            “My sister had taken a husband, Nargolin, from among the Noldor who dwelt in Eregion.  We survived the sack of our land and fled northward, back to Lindon, and then followed Oropher to Eryn Lasgalen.  Both Nargolin and I accepted the call to fight in the Last Alliance--I was one of the few among the warriors who fought under Oropher who survived; Nargolin was caught up by a troll and his throat was bitten out, and he died under my hands.  When at last I returned to my sister with word as to how her beloved had died, she lost hope and turned westward, finding her way to Mithlond, taking with her her daughter and younger son.  Her older son Barúil chose to remain here in Ennor and served in the guard for our lands.  Yrch from Dol Guldur slew him just ere the White Council drove the Necromancer from his fortress there.  His son was taken by the great spiders six years ago.

            “My daeradar was allowed to take ship to Tol Eressëa shortly after the Last Alliance.  I am now the last of my family left here in the Mortal Lands.”

            “And you never married?” she asked, fascinated.

            “I never said that.”  But something in the tone in which this statement was uttered indicated that the subject was one he would not discuss.

            There followed a time of quiet when all focused on the meal.  At last Lord Berevrion asked, “How was it that it was determined that the deaths of these children were intended to do honor to the Lord of Mordor?”

            Benargil paused with a bite of food halfway to his mouth, eyeing his guest with a degree of distaste.  Surely this could not be seen as an appropriate topic to discuss during a meal--or in front of children?

            Enelmir, however, was shrugging.  “One of the market guards from Destrier has made a study of the Dark Arts, and readily recognized from the wounds the children had suffered that this was true.  The removal of the manhood of the one child----”

            Benargil felt himself blanch, and saw a similar reaction from most of the other males in the party.  Enelmir, however, was warming to his subject and blithely continued on.  “Hanalgor has learned that such was seen as particularly pleasing to the Nameless One.”

            “Pleasing to Sauron?  How was this determined?”  Berevrion’s expression was skeptical at best.

            “Well, of course this would be pleasing to the Dark One, to have his enemies unmanned.  One without manhood, who is therefore unable to take part in the creation of life....”

            “As he was?” suggested Galdrod.

            “Even so.  It would reduce the individual’s potency in all things....”

            The Lord of Anwar gave a glance at his guests.  Anorgil appeared most uncomfortable, the battle surgeon’s eyebrows were well lifted, he wasn’t certain whether or not Erchirion had as yet understood the subject of the discussion, and the King’s kinsman appeared amazed.   The Elf was sitting back with an inscrutable expression on his face.  As for his wife----

            “Gentlemen!  I do ask that you remember that there are women and young ones at the table, and that you restrict yourself to more seemly talk?”

            “I am not a child, Mother,” Belrieth replied.  “And I have watched as horses were gelded.  I’ve not seen that it restricts the males in much, save that they are less combative and do not lose their heads when they are around mares in heat.  Would it do so much more to Men than to horses?”

            “It depends much on the age the individual is when he is gelded, my lady,” Lord Berevrion answered her, “much as is true of animals as well.  One of the Men from my village was injured falling from a tree, landing on a lower branch with his legs splayed on each side.  As a Man grown he could still know pleasure with his wife, even though he lost the sacs for his seed.  Yet a boy-child who loses the same does not appear to fully become a Man when he grows to the age of adulthood.  What precisely it is that is lost we do not as yet know.  His voice often remains higher than that of a Man grown, and he will not grow a beard as Men do.”

            “And is it the same among Elves?” Wendthor asked of Harolfileg.

            The Elf gave a most elegant shrug.  “We do not usually raise beards until we are most ancient indeed, so that is not an indication of manhood among us.  I’ve not met any among my kind who have suffered such an injury as you describe for the one from your village, Lord Berevrion; but I have seen a few warriors who were captured and so tortured by the Enemy’s creatures.  I have not seen that they are any the less capable warriors or craftsmen than they were beforehand.  However, I have never seen a young ellon who was so injured.  Seldom did those of our children who were captured come back to us, and those who did lost far more than simply their manhood.”

            It was a sobering thought, and all went quiet for a time, thinking on the reports of atrocities that had been made public said to have been committed by the Enemy’s forces.  At last Lord Berevrion said quietly, “Years ago my Lord Kinsman sought to learn for himself what it was like in those lands allied to Mordor, and so he journeyed to Rhûn and Harad, and even into the land of Angmar formerly ruled by the Witch-king, there north of our own lands.  The forms of--sacrifice--committed there to give honor and strength to Sauron did not involve such mutilation as is described here.  Indeed, when I have seen bodies in the wild with such mutilation, the wounds were inflicted not by Men or even orcs, but usually by animals, and normally after the body has lain in the wild for a time.  And those we found both here in Anórien and within Ithilien in the wake of the assaults, as well as those found between Osgiliath and Minas Tirith, were mutilated only with the removal of the victims’ heads, or on occasion the legs.  Orcs often eat the legs of their victims, no matter what kind they might be.”

            “But the means of binding the children’s bodies, each wrist to its corresponding ankle, indicates....”

            “Nothing of such violation ever was part of Sauron’s worship, either here in Middle Earth nor that described in the temple he had erected to Morgoth’s worship on Númenor.  However, the Variags of Khan will use such binding as a means of humiliating their prisoners and then to carry the bodies to the pits into which they throw them once they are dead--or dying.”

            Belrieth looked appalled but fascinated.  “The Enemy’s orcs surely didn’t eat the heads, did they?”

            “No,” Berevrion assured her, “not in the usual way of things when there is plenty of carrion for all the troop.  The heart, perhaps, but not the head.”

            Wendthor, as fascinated as his sister, asked, “Then why did they take the heads?”

            Anorgil, his posture particularly stiff, answered, “They used catapults to fling them over the walls to cause those of us defending the city to know dismay--to dishearten us that we lose our attention and resolve in standing against them.”

            Benargil saw the looks of shock on the faces of those present, and felt revulsion at the idea rise within his heart.  He had himself ridden with those who’d gone out of the city, once the orcs who’d guarded the roads against the Rohirrim had been routed by those sent out from Minas Tirith, and had noted the bodies of those killed by the Enemy’s folks had all been decapitated.  Now he knew why!

            “Among us, such tactics are referred to as warfare against the heart,” Harolfileg commented.  “Tear enough at the heart of those being fought, and oftentimes they will be bested by grief and terror alone.”

            The rest of the meal passed in silence, and Benargil was not surprised to see that several of the plates still held considerable amounts of food when they were cleared away.

Revelations of the North

            After dinner the guests returned to their rooms, to Benargil’s relief.  Anorgil had taken the transcript of the trial that Galdrod had given to Lord Berevrion, and the rest had indicated they would rest that night so as to be better prepared for the tasks facing them on the morrow.

            As Benargil prepared for bed, Marien commented from her dressing table, where she was brushing out her hair before retiring herself, “Well, that was not precisely the most comfortable meal we’ve hosted.”

            “Indeed not,” he agreed.

            “Will they be staying long?” she asked.

            He shrugged as he settled himself on the bed to unlace his boots.  “I cannot say, my love.  The King has sent them to look into the trial held for those boys from Destrier, and I do not believe that they will leave until they are convinced that we found rightly.”

            “And you still have no doubts as to their guilt, Benargil?”

            He shook his head as he finished with the second boot and slipped his feet free.  “How can I have any doubts now?”

            “But what they said of animals----”

            He rose, turning to face her.  “And what do they know of it?  Were they here when the bodies were found?  Did they see the nature of the wounds the children bore?  Our people did so, not any of these!  And our people are not incompetent.”

            With that he got into bed, and in moments she was beside him.  After a time she murmured, “You are tense.”

            “I cannot deny it,” he admitted, his eyes fixed on the ceiling above them.  “It is not the same world that it was before the defeat of the Nameless One.  And we cannot be certain of what more changes the realm will know under our new, northern-born King.”

            She sighed and snuggled closer to him.  “It cannot be but better than it was, husband.  We are at peace now, and the dawns are now clean, no longer stained by Mordor’s clouds.  Without the Enemy of all to direct them, we will see little of orcs from now on.  There is a feeling of—wholesomeness—to these guests, no matter how strange they might seem to us.  And isn’t it odd, thinking that there in the north there yet remained folk as much descendants of the Star Isle as any here in Gondor?”  She squeezed his shoulder, and settled more comfortably into her pillow, and was soon sleeping beside him, giving her soft little snores that he’d come to accept as a comfortable part of her.

            Sleep eluded him, however.  Why had their new King chosen to send such a deputation here, to Anwar in Anórien?  What if one of these chose to question the manner in which the trial had been held?  Or the inclusion of Hanalgor’s testimony?

            At last, after lying there for well over a mark, he rose and threw about him his night robe, slipped his feet into the quilted slippers he preferred to wear when he wandered the halls at night, and left his chambers in search of some warm milk, which usually helped him relax enough to sleep soundly at night.

            Peldrion sat on his chair in the hallway, outside the door of the chamber shared by the master and mistress of the Keep.  Seeing his lord emerge, he rose to his feet.  “If I might serve your lordship?” he said.

            Benargil gave a negligent wave of his hand.  “I thought I should go down to the kitchen for something warm to drink.  Is all quiet?”

            “One of our guests, the northern lord, asked for permission to go out upon the battlements.  He alone appears somewhat restless this night.  Shall I go down, my lord, and fetch up a warm pottage for you?”

            Benargil considered briefly, and gave a sigh.  “Yes, why don’t you do that?  I will go out upon the battlements and keep our guest company.  Bring it to me there.”  And pulling the sash that held his robe tighter about him, he went to the stair to the roof.

            Lord Berevrion stood near the northern edge of the battlements, looking off toward the distant Misty Mountains.  He turned at the whisper of Benargil’s slippers, nodding a wordless greeting to his host.

            “You find the bed not to your taste, my Lord Berevrion?”

            The northerner’s smile could be seen.  “Oh, it is comfortable enough.  It is only that I find myself wishing for my own family this night.  My wife and daughters must despair of my return at this point.”

            “And you live that direction.”

            “Yes.  Quite far north, of course.”

            “And you have a family of your own?”

            “As I have said.”  They were quiet for a time, and at last Berevrion said, “I apologize if our talk was disturbing to those of your household.”

            Shrugging, Benargil responded, “It is little enough, I suppose.  We have lived with war on our doorstep for so very long that I fear too many times such talk has left us all too unsettled to fully appreciate our meals.”  He ran his fingers through his hair, trying to arrange the strands that usually covered his bald spot.  “At least the skies are clear tonight.”

            “Indeed!  It is good to joy in the sight of Elbereth’s stars.  As we rode from Rohan to Pelargir, I fear none of us expected to see them in all of their glory again.”

            The mention of the Valië’s name left an uncomfortable tightening in Benargil’s stomach.  He sought to mask his discomfort with more questions.  “You have said that our Lord King was raised in secrecy in Imladris?”

            “Yes, indeed so.  Sauron has ever sought to destroy the line of Kings in the north as he did here in the south, and we had lost both Aragorn’s grandfather and his father Arathorn within three years of one another.  Several of our villages that had gone undetected for centuries were attacked, and too often reports of movements of orcs in the east would draw away our patrols just before Men from Angmar would attack from the north.  We could not allow any to patrol alone, for several of our Rangers were taken and turned to the Enemy’s purposes, and would return to gather news and pass it on to Sauron’s agents.  And always they sought word of the whereabouts of those who were Isildur’s heirs, or so we found.”

            Benargil found himself nodding, although he found the free naming of the Enemy somewhat disconcerting.  “And so he did here, until none was left close enough to Anárion’s lineage fit to wear the Winged Crown.”

            Berevrion sighed and straightened.  “All too oft Sauron sent disease where he could not send his forces.  Shortly after Arathorn’s death, one Ranger who had been missing for a week returned to us shaking as with ague.  In days the pestilence spread within the settlement, and those who had left to advise others of his return carried the plague elsewhere.  Arathorn’s young widow Gilraen became ill, as did Aragorn himself, and he barely two years of age at the time.  My mother served in the household, and on seeing the child lying as if lifeless, she went out in grief to tell all that the last of Isildur’s heirs lay dead.  The sons of Elrond had come to succor us in this time of our need due to the widespread illness, and they took counsel with Gilraen, and spirited away the child, leaving in his place a simulacrum for the funeral pyres.  Only seven among our elders knew that the child was actually yet living, and already beginning to recover from the illness, and it was decided to leave all others with the belief that the direct heir to Isildur was indeed gone so that Sauron’s agents would believe their purpose met.

            “The witnesses to his survival would go to Rivendell on occasion and see to it that he indeed throve and grew in grace and skill and knowledge over the years.  But even he knew not the truth of his father’s name, nor the place he would have among us when he was judged a man grown and should return to us.”

            There was a creaking of the door, and they turned to see that Peldrion approached, carrying a steaming mug of warmed milk for his master, and a goblet of wine for their guest, along with slices of toasted bread.  Both thanked him, and at his master’s wave of dismissal he returned downstairs.

            “So,” Benargil said as he sipped at his drink, “You did not meet him until you were both young Men.”

            “And so it was.  We were not told who he was, although the rumor had begun spreading among us that the heir of Isildur had actually survived the pestilence and would return one day to claim once more the role of Chieftain of the Northern Dúnedain.  I was among the youths who were learning the craft of Ranger under Baerdion, who has had the training of our young men for some decades now.  We were told only that this one’s father had fallen at the hands of orcs, and that he had been taken into the house of Elrond and raised by him.  What could we think of him?  He was taller than the average, and held himself as if he were a prince among the Elves.  His hair was long, and fixed in a warrior’s braids at the temples.  His clothes, although definitely serviceable, were yet of finer cloth than any of our own could boast, and he bore an Elven sword, although the worn bow he carried and that he said he’d been told had been his father’s, was definitely that of a Man. 

            “We called him the Elven Prince, and I fear we did not treat him well.  Peredhrion, we also named him, the Half-Elf’s son.  He took our disparagement of him somewhat hard, and set out to prove to us he was our equal.  Our equal, did I say?  Nay—he was in most things far better than we.  He had received his training in the use of sword and knives from the greatest of the Elven warriors, and he is the best Man I know in the use of a blade of any sort.  That he had training as a healer ought to have been our clue as to his parentage, but then all knew that Elrond of Rivendell is the greatest healer of our time, and we thought little of it that he should teach his fosterling such skills.  He could follow the track of a mouse through the densest of forests three days after it had passed that way, and was an unparalleled hunter.  Yet we continued to make things hard for him, until one among us went to borrow his extra cloak—without asking, of course, and found what he thought was an extra sword amongst his goods.  When he brought it out to show us and spilled out the Shards of Narsil----”  He paused and shook his head.  “Only then did we realize that the rumors were true, and that this indeed was Aragorn son of Arathorn returned to us.  After that he openly wore the Ring of Barahir upon his hand, and he cut short his hair and began to look more like unto a Man rather than an Elf.  His beard finally came in when he was six and twenty, and he allowed it to grow, and I must admit that it gave him more authority in the eyes of many when that happened.”

            Benargil considered.  “So, you questioned his parentage at first?”

            “But not after we returned from our patrol and accepted the Stars of the Dúnedain that marked us as having been chosen to protect those lands we have ever guarded, both our own and those of the settlements we have secretly protected over the past millennia.  For when we returned, we found that the Lady Gilraen had returned to the Angle, and that she waited amongst the mothers whose sons had followed Baerdion into the wilderness.  And even as my mother was affixing the star brooch prepared for me to my cloak, so was Gilraen giving to her son the Star of the Chieftain that had been his father’s.”

            “And he bears the Sword that was Broken?”

            “Indeed, although it is broken no longer.  That sword was reforged ere he came south with Lord Boromir and the others in the Fellowship of the Ring.  And it is no longer known as Narsil, but instead as Andúril, the Flame of the West.”  Berevrion turned and now leaned back against the parapet of the battlements, folding his arms.  “And, as the sword was reforged, so now is Elendil’s kingdom, and once again there is a King over both north and south, heir to both Isildur and Anárion.”

            “But to Anárion only through the distaff line.”

            “Perhaps, but the great lords of the realm have confirmed his claim, and he now wears the Winged Crown and the Star of Elendil.  Will you question his right?”

            “Not I!” said Benargil hastily.  “Although I find myself wondering how is it a mere Chieftain has risen to the status of King?”

            Berevrion straightened, his face now stern.  “Arvedui was the last of the lineage of Elendil, Isildur, and Valandil to style himself King of Arnor.  His son Aranarth would not claim that title for himself solely because there were so few left in the whole of the north that it hardly comprised a kingdom by any standard.  The Dúnedain left living were but a remnant of the great land Arnor once was, and we remained under siege by the Enemy’s creatures who lingered in the Misty Mountains and in Angmar, although that land’s dread lord had fled south to join his fellows in Minas Morgul.  And every time since that we have begun to flourish as a people again, the Enemy has sent disease and war against us, and once more our numbers would dwindle.  Our capital of Annúminas has lain in ruins for a thousand years, and the King’s fortress of Fornost was all but thrown down.  In the past century alone has Fornost begun to be rebuilt, but the work has been necessarily slow and done in secret.  Only in the past ten years has it been fit to house Men once more, and so it is that the family of Halladan, the second son of Aragorn’s mother’s brother, has been set there to see to the refitting of the King’s fortress once again.

            “Think of it, my Lord Benargil—no longer in the north is there a King with no kingdom, and a kingdom with no King here in the south.  At long last our population in Arnor has again begun to grow in what was the region of Arthedain, and what was Cardolan now flourishes as the Hobbits’ Shire.  And even now many of the waste places in what was Rhudaur are again being colonized, as the Enemy’s own people within those lands were too oft as stricken by Mordor’s policies and plagues as were those in which our own people hid themselves.  Tharbad is being rebuilt as we speak, and the Breelands on the crossroads between the King’s Highway and the East-West Road to Mithlond have never suffered as has the rest of the North.”

            “You say there is a land known now as the Hobbits’ Shire, and have told us that the Ringbearer himself is a Hobbit?”

            “Yes.”

            “Why have we never heard tell of such a people before?”

            His guest gave a brief snort of laughter.  “Oh, but I suspect that you have heard of them, but as halflings rather than by their own name for themselves of Hobbit.  A small people, and given to the ways of peace and to the raising of food.  Although ever those who have come forth from their land have proved fully worthy of praise and honor.  Argeleb the Second gave the lands that had been called Cardolan into their keeping, for Angmar had focused much of his malice there.  Indeed, it had been said that when the Witch-king and his dread Master should be cast down forever, it would be in great part by the hands of those who had dwelt as children on the banks of the Baranduin.  As it had been in that region that the Kings of Cardolan built their homes and strongholds, our enemies had taken that prophecy to mean that it was through the royal house there that the greatest threat lay to Sauron and his chief lieutenant.  So they set themselves to destroy that line of Elendil’s progeny.”

            “Then the prophecy proved vain in the end?”

           “Vain?  Oh, no—it proved true in a manner that no one could have expected.  It was the Hobbit Meriadoc Brandybuck of Buckland on the east bank of the Baranduin who struck the first blow against the Witch-king that laid him vulnerable to the deathblow given him by the Lady Éowyn; and it was Frodo Baggins, kinsman to Meriadoc Brandybuck, who carried the Enemy’s Ring to Its destruction.  And as a child Master Frodo dwelt at various times along the banks of the Baranduin, or the Brandywine as the Hobbits and the Breelanders call it.”

            “But it is said that one known as Lord Iorhael was the Ringbearer.”

            Berevrion smiled fondly.  “Iorhael is the translation of his name into Sindarin.  Both mean Wise One, after all.  But he prefers to be addressed as he has been accustomed, as Master Frodo Baggins.  Even the rulers among the Hobbits do not take upon themselves the titles of Lord or Lady.”

            “And such a one was allowed to carry the Enemy’s Ring south from Imladris?”

            “Yes.  No other would step forward to claim the task, for even your Lord Boromir realized from the warnings he heard as to Its malevolence that this was perhaps too great an undertaking for any born to rule and leadership as was he.  As for Aragorn himself—he recognized from his first encounter with Master Frodo that the Ring was seeking already to take and corrupt him—he refused to touch the thing at all.  It is suspected that none save a Hobbit might have thought to carry the Ring for any time without Its corrupting influence destroying Its bearer.  Remember, Sauron took thought for Men and Elves and Dwarves; but no ruling Rings were ever crafted for the mastery of Hobbits.”

            Benargil shivered at that, and gulped down the last of his cooling milk.

            After a moment, the northerner spoke once more, changing the subject.  “It has been told me that when this Danárion of Destrier was arrested, that he had in his possession a copy of a volume known as The Book of Shadows.  I find myself wondering how this came to happen, as I was also told there were but few copies of the work left after Lord Ecthelion as his father’s agent had most gathered and destroyed as an unsettling influence to the realm.”

            “It is not known how he might have come across such a work.  But those who have secretly worshiped the Enemy have been known to traffic in such things.”

            “Is it true that the boy’s family is desperately poor?”

            Benargil shrugged.  “They were more prosperous at one time.  But he who was husband to Danárion’s mother disappeared some years past, and it was believed he had been killed upon the road by the Enemy’s creatures.  Her first husband, he who was father to both Danárion and his sister, had been a drunkard and had often beaten his wife and children, and at her request their marriage was set at naught by my father when Danárion was still little better than a babe in arms.  She remarried, and her second husband accepted the two children as his own and did well enough by them until his disappearance.  In time her first husband returned to Destrier, and he appeared to have given over drink, and at last she took him into her home.  But then he began to drink anew, and all that was of substance within her possession was sold by him to purchase wine and stronger liquors.

            “When Danárion was a young boy his stepfather thought to see him prepared to a craft, and he was sent to the open school to learn to read and write.  But even then he was set apart from the others by the fact he dwelt not in his proper father’s house, and I am told he was oft the brunt of abuse by the others.  Before the disappearance of his stepfather he was apprenticed for a time to a saddler, but it did not last long beyond the time the Man went missing; and Danárion’s master dismissed him, for the last of his apprenticeship fees had not been paid to him.”

            “So, he could read and write?”

            “Yes, I am told he read as much as he could find, although his writing was not sufficiently good to make of him a public scribe.”

            Berevrion took another sip of wine before commenting, “But that could have been remedied, had any sought to take the boy in charge.  Is his mother still living with her first husband?”

            “I am told that she threw him from her home only shortly before the crime occurred, charging him as a wastrel.”

            “And good riddance, from what you have said.  So the youth had no skills to offer him proper employment?”

            “He might have worked as a potboy at the inn.”

            “One raised with a degree of civility, working in such a position?  Is the inn of which you speak a rough place?”

            Benargil considered the question.  “I have not been there myself, but I have been told it is no worse than most such places in the larger walled villages.”

            “Have the magistrates or constables had many complaints stemming from incidents there?”

            “No more than once or twice a week.”

            Berevrion’s expression once again turned stern.  “Once or twice a week?  In Bree, the Prancing Pony has but one complaint in a month, on average.  It seems this place is far rougher than the Pony.  Not, perhaps, the best of places for a youth who had been prepared for better things as a child.”

            “But at least it would have offered him employment.”

            “But is any employment at all of more value than keeping one’s self worth?”  For a time the northern lord was still, clearly thinking.  “Is it known how long Danárion possessed this Book of Shadows?”

            How could one know such a thing?  “I do not know, my lord.”

            “And he did not say how it was he came by it?”

            “He was asked.”

            “And what was his answer?”

            “That he found it.”

            “Where?”

            “Here, in Anwar.”

            “During one of the times the market guard from Destrier brought him here to the madhouse?”

            “Yes.”

            “And when would that be?”

            By the Powers, this one was persistent!  Benargil wracked his brain.  “I must suppose two years past, after he was found with that girl in a shepherd’s hut.  A sordid story….”

            “I’ve heard of it, and it does not appear anymore sordid than any other impossible love.  So, the market guard brought him here to the madhouse, where I am told they saw to it he was fed well and released to make his own way back to Destrier.”

            “Yes, my lord.”

            “Was he escorted to the gates to the city and released there?”

            “Oh, no!  No, they but opened the door and let him go to make his own way through the city to the gate.  He was seen by my housekeeper near the trash heap behind the Keep, in fact, searching through it for any castoffs that he might find useful.”

            “Did she chase him away?”

            “And why?  Those who are in need are welcome enough to aught that catches their fancy that has been cast away by those who dwell here.”

            Berevrion appeared to finish his wine, for he set down his goblet upon the parapet and again leaned back against the stone, folding his arms anew across his chest.  “I am told that there was once a copy of The Book of Shadows here in your keep, my Lord Benargil.”

            Now, this was enough to startle anyone.  “And how could you know this?”

            “One who visited this place during your father’s time remembers seeing it in your father’s library.”

            Anorgil must have told him this!  “Well, yes, there was a copy here.”

            “I would like to see it, if I might.  It would be well to read enough to appreciate just what foolishness those who read it might have found that excited their imaginations to do what Danárion is said to have done.”

            “We do not have it anymore.  Enelmir found it on the shelves some two years past, and was shocked to find such a thing within the Keep, and urged me to dispose of it.”

            “And you did so?”

            “Yes!  Of course I got it out of my house.  Imagine if my children had read such a thing.  Nay, I carried it myself out of the Keep and threw it upon the trash heap with my own hands.”

            “Two years past, you say?”

            “Yes.  And this is important?”

            Berevrion merely shrugged, and straightened once more.  “Well, my Lord Benargil, I must thank you for offering me your company.  But I do think I’d best return to my bed.  I am no longer as young a Man as I was, and I will not thank myself in the morning if I do not rest at least some tonight.  May Lord Irmo grant you soft dreams.”  He turned to take up the goblet and the tray on which the toast had been provided, and then gave Benargil an enquiring glance before reaching for his mug.  “I shall see these back into the hands of Master Peldrion and thank him for his thoughtfulness toward us.  Shall we go down, then?”

            And Benargil followed his guest back into the Keep, and returned to his bed and the company of his slumbering wife.  Ere sleep took him, he found himself thinking again, for some reason, of a visit he distantly remembered from his later childhood of Captain Thorongil.  How he’d worshipped the Man as a hero!  But what it was in his talk with Lord Berevrion that could have brought Thorongil to mind now he could not say.

            At last he slept, and his first dream was a remembered image of Captain Thorongil, wearing not the black and silver cloak of an officer of Gondor’s armies, but an older cloak of dark green, caught at his shoulder with a silver brooch in the shape of a rayed star, a great fiery gem in the center of it, as his father held out a book from his collection to show the soldier….

 

The Investigation Begins

            In spite of their late night talk, when Benargil first encountered Lord Berevrion in the morning he found his guest appeared anything but exhausted.  He was seated at table beside Belrieth and Wendthor, regaling the both of them with a tale of someone he’d met. 

            “He fixed us with quite the stare, commenting, ‘But here we’d become convinced that he had no family of his own!’” Berevrion was saying.  Both son and daughter were chortling with laughter.  “Then he asked us if we were the ones who used to ride through the Shire from the Brandywine Bridge, and we had to admit that we were indeed, whenever we found it necessary to go at speed from its eastern boundaries westward, or more swiftly from Bree to the Sarn Ford than we might go along the Greenway.  He nodded as if this were now what he’d expected to hear.  ‘I remember now,’ he said, ‘that this was one of the stipulations in the Charter, that we were to maintain the roads for the King’s messengers.  It’s only that we never realized that you might be those messengers!’”

            “And he is a Halfling?” asked Belrieth.

            “Oh, indeed he is, our Captain Peregrin.  A Halfling, and now a beloved Guard of the Citadel, attending on the King’s own person.  It is a position I doubt he ever thought to know in the days when he was visiting with his cousins in Buckland and watching us ride along the West Road from the Bridge of the Stonebow.”  Berevrion was smiling fondly.  “They can appear quite comical, the Periain, but it never does to underestimate them.  As Gandalf—Mithrandir, as he is better known here in Gondor—so often says, there is more to any Hobbit than you might imagine.”

            “And he fought before the Black Gate itself?” questioned Wendthor.

            Now the northern lord’s face became serious.  “That he did, and committed himself well indeed.  When he saw a troll seeking to tear the throat out of his companion from Minas Tirith, he struck the monster its deathblow, even though he was unable to avoid its fall.  It was almost the death of him, but at least three Men lived due to his courage and skill with a blade.  He says now that it was but chance he managed to catch the thing in its vitals, and perhaps that is true.  But he stood fast when others were scurrying to the side to greater safety, for none is more in care for the safety of his fellows than is a Hobbit of the Shire.  So we saw also with Master Meriadoc, who rode to the Battle of the Pelennor with the Rohirrim, with the Lady Éowyn herself—as the Witch-king stooped upon her when she alone stood in defense of Théoden King, only Merry rose in her defense.  Both Hobbits were honored in our camp at Cormallen, the day before the Ringbearers awoke and were restored to us.”

            Belrieth’s eyes were shining.  “And it was Théoden King’s niece who slew the Lord of the Nazgûl?  What a wondrous thing, that a woman should ride as a warrior!”

            “Women often train with the sword alongside the menfolk of Rohan, even as our women train with weapons in the north,” Berevrion said solemnly.  “It can be necessary when we Men must be away so often to defend all from the bigger forces set loose on us by our enemies.  If women did not also learn the use of weapons, how could our homes and children be adequately defended, do you think?  My own daughters are both skilled with the bow, and one has slain three attackers that can definitely be attributed to her arrows.”

            It was a sobering thought.  Benargil commented as he reached for the pitcher of juice to pour himself a cup, “And we had never given thought to the Enemy sending forces against those who dwell in the north.  Indeed, we think of all that lies beyond the Gap of Rohan as the Empty Lands.”

            “There is no question that far too much of what was Arnor is indeed empty, and has been so for many years.  Our own homes and settlements have been by necessity hidden from enemies, for Sauron has never forgotten that it was by the hand of Isildur that he suffered his great defeat the last time we fought him.  It took two thousand years of constant warfare for him to reduce Arnor to ruins, but in spite of all he could do he could not destroy all of the line of Kings there as he did here in Gondor.

            “Nor are the Dúnedain the only ones who have survived in spite of all Sauron and the Witch-king could do—Elves, Dwarves, and Hobbits also have held lands to the despite of our enemies, and each people has flourished in its own fashion.  Why, the folk of the Breelands have held their lands since before the coming of Elendil to these shores.  And east of the Misty Mountains there are still other peoples—the folk of the Eotheod from whom the Rohirrim knew their beginnings, the Beornings, the people of Esgaroth on the Long Lake and the merry folk of Dale, as well as other isolated settlements here and there throughout the valley of the Anduin and east of its reaches.  There are at least two great lands there held also by the Elves, and several settlements of Dwarves, the greatest being in the Iron Hills and beneath the Lonely Mountain.”

            “I thought that there were no Elves left in the world,” Wendthor said, his eyes drifting sideways to watch as Harolfileg entered the room alongside the battle surgeon.  “And no one thought that Halflings actually existed in Middle Earth.”

            “The Elves have fought against the Dark Lords since before the rising of Sun and Moon,” Berevrion said, bowing his head in respect toward the newcomers.  “We owe them great honor for teaching us to stand in the face of evil.”

            Did the Elf hold himself with greater pride at that acknowledgment?

            Enelmir entered, followed by his mother, and took his own seat at the table.  A swiftly hidden grimace of distaste crossed his features as he realized that the Elven healer was already present.  He accepted the dish of fruit offered by one of the servers with a grunt of acknowledgment, and turned to watch as Anorgil entered the room alone, the transcript of the trial in his hands.  “Does that answer your questions, Master Anorgil?” he asked.

            The law clerk shook his head.  “Indeed not, for I find several of my own questions have not been addressed.  No one saw any the three youths actually in the area of the ditch where the bodies were found, only somewhat nearby, but some time later than the younger boys are known to have gone missing.  And how is it that the woman and her daughter indicate they could both see and identify this Danárion alongside this girl from across the large drainage canal with only moonlight to illuminate the scene?    For both testified that they saw the two of them there shortly after the timekeepers rang the bell for the third hour after sunset, but the boys went missing half a mark ere the sun went down.  And why would Danárion bring this girl to the gully where the bodies were found from that direction?  Did she not also live within the walls of Destrier?”

            “A girl?” asked Berevrion, his attention on Anorgil and Enelmir.  “How is an unnamed girl involved in this case?”

            Enelmir colored, his face gone stiff.  “She is not believed to have taken part in the murders of the children.  And she does not live within Destrier—her family farms land south of the Highway toward Rohan.  Danárion had courted her for some months before the day the children went missing.  She was questioned several times after the discovery of the boys’ bodies regarding the possibility of Danárion’s involvement in the murders, and steadfastly refused to admit he had spoken of his involvement until this woman and her daughter came forward, saying that they had seen the two of them together on the far side of the canal.”

            “So the girl admitted then that he had bragged of what he had done?”

            Enelmir sniffed derisively.  “Indeed not!  Nay, in spite of there having been witnesses to the event, and those witnesses being her aunt and her cousin, still she insisted that they were mistaken.”

            Berevrion and Anorgil exchanged glances.  “I think,” the northerner suggested slowly, “that we had best see these places ourselves, and possibly speak with the witnesses and the girl.”

            “You would travel yourself to the place where the children were slain?” asked Enelmir, aghast at the suggestion.  “Whatever for?”

            “It has been told us that it is impossible for one to see across the canal into the farmland beyond to see anyone, and we would see if this is true,” Berevrion explained.

            “And who is it that has told you such a thing?” Benargil demanded.

            “The Master Archivist of Minas Tirith, whose wife is from Destrier,” the King’s kinsman answered.  Benargil cast a glance at Enelmir, and saw his seneschal was as disturbed by this as was he.  Lord Berevrion continued, “It is partly on the authority of the Master Archivist that my Lord Kinsman made his decision to send a deputation to look into the matter, for all within the Citadel speak highly of his integrity and his awareness to detail.”

            “We can take you to Destrier so that you might meet with the witnesses,” Enelmir insisted.  “But to go the ditch itself?  Certainly that is beneath the dignity of you all!”

            That was plainly the wrong thing to say, as the members of the King’s deputation present all looked to one another, and then all fixed the Man with measuring gazes.  At last Berevrion said with what Benargil suspected was deceptive mildness, “We have each and all fought upon battlefields, have searched the corpses of our enemies, and by necessity have done things of which we are not always proud.  How going to the place where the boys are believed to have died should be seen as being beneath us I cannot say.  Is that not so, Lord Erchirion?” he asked that worthy, who had just entered the room.

            “It was for this we were sent here by the King’s Majesty,” Imrahil’s son answered, “to seek to determine the truth of this matter.  And to do this, we must see the place where the bodies were found, or so I would think.”

            Berevrion turned back to face Benargil.  “But first we must learn what we can here.  When we have all broken our fast, we will begin a list of questions that must be answered in order to assure ourselves that justice has—or has not—been properly served in this instance.  And to do this, we will first need to review the transcript of the trial.  Was this trial held here, in your great hall?”

            “No—the counsel for Danárion insisted upon a trial by jury for the three youths, and the counselor for Carenthor agreed.  It was held, therefore, in the People’s Hall across the square, with Enelmir, who after all is my magistrate, as mediator and judge.”

            “And why was the trial not held in Destrier, where the children died?” asked Anorgil.

            “Anger was high there, and it was argued that in no fashion could justice be expected to be impartial if the trial were to be held there,” Enelmir answered.  “Indeed, Master Caraftion asked that if possible the case be referred to Minas Tirith, to our Lord Steward Denethor’s own court.  But that was impracticable, for none of the witnesses could afford to travel so far.  Not that this was a matter with which to distract the Lord Steward from the dangers facing us all.”

            “Are there more copies of the transcript for this trial?” Anorgil asked.  “I believe that we all need to read this together, so that we all know the issues that were brought forth and how they were dealt with at the time.”

            Benargil shrugged as he again exchanged looks with his seneschal and magistrate.  “I have a copy that was made for me, and I believe that each of those who served as counselors has a copy, as well as the one in the archives.  If you would wish to go to the People’s Hall, there our archives of justice are kept….”

 *******

            The People’s Hall was set up for trial, which Enelmir assured those of the King’s deputation was its most common usage.  “We are progressive here in Anórien,” he added importantly as he shepherded them through the main hall to the side rooms where clerks’ offices and the archives and private meeting rooms were situated.  “Many prefer to be judged by their peers rather than by a judge from the nobility who might have no idea of what their lives are like, you understand.”

            “A fine idea in theory, at least,” Berevrion commented quietly.  “However, oftentimes common Men prove those who are least likely to accept failure in what they see as their own, and are often unnecessarily harsh on those they perceive as being beneath them in status.”

            Enelmir appeared surprised at such a statement, and his brow was somewhat furrowed as he saw them into the archive room.  An older Man with a jaded expression sat at a worktable to one side of the room, apparently in the midst of repairing a decaying scroll.  He looked up as Enelmir closed the door, obviously annoyed at being interrupted in his task.  “And what is it that is wanted this time?” he asked, his tone abrupt.

            “These are the ones sent by our new Lord King to investigate the case of Danárion of Destrier,” Enelmir explained.  “My Lords Erchirion and Berevrion, this is Master Malthor, our archivist.”

            Malthor set his scroll down upon the table and examined them all, his brows rising with surprise as he saw that one in the deputation was an Elf.  “And what,” he demanded, “is there to investigate in the case of Danárion of Destrier?  There was never any question as to his guilt, after all.”

            “Then there were witnesses to the murder?” asked Erchirion.

            Malthor snorted.  “Witnesses?  After sunset on a night of the full moon, when most believe that the spirits of the dead walk abroad across the empty farmlands?  How do you think that such a thing might be true?” 

            “None will leave the village walls after sunset?” said Bariol.  “Then how was it that this woman and her daughter saw Danárion and his beloved walking beyond the canal?” he asked of Enelmir.  “Would youth and maiden not also fear the spirits of the dead?”

            The archivist waved his hand dismissively.  “Danárion, fear spirits?  Nay, he often said he wished to commune with such things to learn more of things of which decent people do not speak.”

            Berevrion eyed him.  “And how is it that you know this?”

            “Because he has said so to me!”

            “And how did such a one as Danárion came to be sufficiently familiar with you, the archivist of Anwar, as to make such a comment to you?” Berevrion pressed further.

            The Man appeared surprised by the question, and glanced uncertainly at Enelmir.  “Well,” he said, obviously weighing his words, “he would come here at times, when he’d been here in Anwar, and beg permission to poke about in the archives.  He was a curious soul, and always had questions to ask.  On occasion he would aid me in the repair of a volume or scroll, and he would ask me more of its subject than what he’d been able to glean in the time we worked upon it.”

            Berevrion gave a brief nod to indicate his understanding.  “So, you were kind enough to teach him skills in book binding and the repair of books and scrolls, were you?”

            “Well, of course!  Few are interested in such dry work that keeps them ever indoors, after all.  It is a relief at times to have another pair of hands to aid me.”

            “Was he clever at the task?” asked Erchirion.

            Malthor shrugged.  “Oh, not particularly so, I suppose.  But he would listen to instruction and do no more than I asked until he was certain he knew what to do next, which is far better than some I’ve had as apprentices have been willing to do.  Usually they grow impatient and will seek to take over before they understand just what it is that is needed.  This scroll, for instance—the apprentice I had four years past insisted he did not need my aid to see it pieced together and would work on it independently.  And look at what he did!  Oh, the scroll is all of a piece now, but there are many lines lost for he would not lay linen beneath it to hold the torn edges in proper alignment with one another that the letters might be whole once more.  Nay—that was too much to appreciate.  Instead he pasted one edge directly to the other, covering up much of the text on the lower piece.  Now it is all to be done again, and I will likely find myself having to guess at what was originally written that is lost as the paste is removed and I find the ink and oft some of the paper has gone with it!  At least Danárion would not do such a foolish and destructive thing!”  He glowered at the careless repair that was now obvious to all.

            “So, you would use his aid and speak to him of the information held in the scrolls and volumes he helped to repair or shelve?”

            “Yes.”

            “And what reward did you make him for his assistance?”

            “He asked none.  It delayed him having to return to Destrier and the home of his mother, and as I said he was ever curious and wanting to know more of what the records here hold.  I would allow him to read sometimes, and—well, sometimes when I had been required to copy out an older work that had begun to fade that it would continue to be readable, I would allow him to carry away the older copy that he might study it further, provided it was of a matter that interested him.  Oh—but I never gave him records that were current or that held information that should not be shared,” he added rather hastily, obviously concerned that he might be criticized for perhaps sharing information that should have been held private instead.  “There are histories here, after all, and even collections of tales….”  He gestured to indicate the lines of shelves that filled the rest of the chamber.

            “You say he was not a hasty sort, quick to decide he knew more than he actually did?” asked Anorgil.

            “Well, when it came to learning a new skill he would not go beyond what had actually been demonstrated to him, and he would voice the probable reasons for what he was shown and be right more often than not.  However, he was not always patient with others he saw as less intelligent than himself.  It was one reason I was surprised when it was learned that he had done this evil thing in company with Garestil son of Gardor.  Garestil is a simple soul at best, and Danárion never had aught to say of him that indicated he would do anything alongside the other boy.  He sneered at Garestil’s words and interests, in fact.”

            “You knew this youth?” asked Bariol.

            “No, I did not know him myself—the likes of Garestil have no interest in the written word and would not be likely to enter the archives for any reason.  Nor would he be likely to come within leagues of the Hall of the People, considering that it is here that public trials are held as often as not.  But he has a reputation for being easily impressed by demonstrations of strength and physical skill.  He had it in mind to become a tumbler, having seen such beings here in Anwar some years ago, when it was still sufficiently peaceful to allow the movement of such folk throughout the realm.  He and others sought to teach themselves the skills of tumbling and juggling, and traveled to the village of Hevensgil, some five miles this direction of Destrier, once each week to practice under the tutelage of a potter who had once worked with such a troupe. 

            “Now, the potter I know fairly well—he sells to my kinsman who dwells nearby the garrison of Amon Dîn, and often he approaches me with messages to forward when a shipment must be delayed or perhaps will be finished and ready to send before the time originally agreed upon.  When he has given me the message he would have me forward, he will often stay to speak of these youths, and how poorly prepared most are to actually entertain the public as they would do.  He was fond of Garestil, and in some amaze at the boy’s determination to become a tumbler in spite of his lack of success in demonstrating much talent for the art.  He was also surprised each time Garestil finally managed to actually master a particular skill in spite of his general lack of ability, and for this he agreed to continue to teach the youth as he was able and willing to learn.”

            Enelmir was plainly growing weary of such diversions from their purpose.  “We came to ask for the copies you hold of the transcripts made of the trial of the three youths.”

            Malthor appeared upset at this.  “But as was requested by Lord Benargil I sent our complete transcript to the Keep to the hands of Master Galdrod some days past.  We have no other complete copies, only the scribes’ work.”

            Berevrion straightened in interest.  “The scribes’ work?  Explain, if it please you.”

            The archivist threw out his hands to the side.  “When the trial begins, a separate scribe is given the task of noting the words of each one who speaks.  One, for instance, will take down the word of whoever sits as judge and mediator, one for the counselor who speaks for the accused, one for Master Fendril, who speaks for the prosecution, and one to take down the words of whoever it is who is being questioned.  Then there is a fifth who merely notes who speaks in turn and just enough of what was said so that we can take the work of each scribe and put it together to make a complete record.  Then Master Scribe Umbardacil takes these scribes’ works and from them prepares the final transcript of the entire trial.  His copy is given into the hands of Lord Benargil, and a second is placed here in the archives, one that might have been also made by him but that might be done by either one of his apprentices or by a professional scribe within the city’s walls.”

            Berevrion appeared impressed.  “It sounds as if it would be a good system indeed to make a complete record of a trial,” he said approvingly.

            Enelmir sniffed.  “As has been pointed out, we do try to be progressive in such matters in Anórien, and particularly here in Anwar.”

            “May we see the scribes’ work, then?” the King’s kinsman requested.

            “I suppose we can allow this,” Malthor said slowly.  “We do keep these records in case the copies of the complete transcript might be called into question.”  And so saying he rose and disappeared back into the shelves, Anorgil going along to receive the stacks of records as each was found.

            In time the members of the deputation were back in the outer hall along with Enelmir and Malthor, and Anorgil was apportioning the product of each scribe’s industry to them in turn.

            It was decided they would sit within the hall and read out the transcripts as if they were the ones who had taken part in the actual trial, with Enelmir seated where he’d sat in the trial, Anorgil taking the part of those who had counseled the three accused youths, Erchirion reading what had been said by Master Fendril, who had prosecuted the case against Danárion and his fellows, and with Malthor and Bariol taking turns reading the words of the various witnesses.  Berevrion sat where those who had formed the jury had sat, reading from the full transcript prepared by Master Umbardacil, while Harolfileg agreed to indicate from the master list of speech who should read next, should that be found to be in question; and with that order settled they began.

            By the time the bell for midday was rung they had barely gone through the reading of the charges against the accused, and all had to agree that they were terrible.  Danárion, Garestil, and Carenthor of Destrier had been accused of attempting to practice the black arts and necromancy, seeking to empower the Great Enemy by the ritual killing of children, hoping to receive favor and power given them in return for their worship.  They were charged with having waylaid the boys, taking them by stealth, and slaying them with violence after beating them horribly and seeking to dishonor their bodies, and after removing the manhood of one of the three children, then leaving the bodies in a shallow ditch where they were found the following day.  They then were accused of returning to their homes with none the wiser as to what had been done and pretending innocence of their attempt at necromancy.

            Certainly the description by Master Fendril, who prosecuted the case against the accused youths, of what had been done to the three innocent little boys, painted the deed well in the imaginations of them all, contrasting the cruel plans of the tainted young Men with the spotless nature of the three little children whose lives they’d stolen, seeking to offer the power of their spirits to the Nameless One for his own purposes.  As they returned to the Keep for the noon meal, all of the Men were agreeing that Master Fendril appeared to be a most artful speaker, capable of moving the hearts of those who heard his words.

            The one from among the northern Dúnedain who had come to serve as guard for Berevrion muttered audibly as he followed the deputation back to Lord Benargil’s house, “But we have already learned that fair and persuasive speech may hide a dark purpose, kinsman, having heard what followed when our Lord Kinsman Aragorn and the others went into the circle of Isengard where they sought to convince the traitor Wizard Saruman to come forth and aid them.  Almost his words convinced Lord Éomer that the Wizard was truly distressed by the coming of Théoden King into his domain, although all knew by then how he had betrayed Rohan and its people.”

            Berevrion glanced back over his shoulder at the one who served as his guard.  “I must admit you are right, Faradir.  But until we can read more, we will not know whether this Fendril speaks truly or with malice in his heart.”

The Reading Continues

            They ate swiftly and returned to the hall as soon as all had known the chance to refresh themselves.  Benargil had given orders that fruit and cold meats and cooled drinks be offered them as they continued their work, grateful that they did their investigations elsewhere than in his own house.  Wendthor followed them and sat on the benches where the public ordinarily witnessed trials, not far from where sat the Elf Harolfileg, listening as they took turns reading aloud.  Not long afterward his sister Belrieth and a companion also entered in, sitting quietly not far from Lord Berevrion.

            The proceedings ground to a halt, however, when they came to the place in which one of the gate guardsman who actually arrested the three young Men revealed how at last they came to know that it was indeed these three who had taken and killed the children.  Bariol was reading his part.  “We decided to approach the youth Garestil once more to see if he would tell us more of what he knew of this Danárion’s participation in the murders.”

            Anorgil, speaking for Master Caraftion who had sought to defend Danárion, read, “So, this was not the first time you had questioned Garestil?”

            “Indeed not.  In fact, we spoke, I believe, with almost all of the young people who live within and immediately surrounding Destrier, most of them more than once.”

            “The first time that you spoke with Garestil, what did he say?”

            “That he did not know who it was who had killed the children.  When we asked him if he knew if Danárion or Carenthor frequented the area where the children’s bodies were found, he told us that no, he did not, for he and Danárion lived on the west side of the village while Carenthor alone lived on the east side.  He said that he rarely went to that side of the village, only traveling the road southeast on a weekly basis when he went with others to Hevensgil to learn what the potter there would teach them of tumbling.”

            “And he gave you no idea as to who might have killed the children, that first time you questioned him?”

            “Well, he did tell us that Leverion son of Medril, who farmed the land just west of the drainage canal, was known to frequent the ditch where the bodies were found, and that he thought perhaps Leverion might have killed the children, for he was known to be a bully toward those he saw as vulnerable.”

            “Did you check to see whether or not this Leverion son of Medril could have slain the children?”

            “Well, we questioned him and he said that he did not do so, and his parents said that they believed he had been home all of that evening.”

            “They said that they believed he had been home?  They did not know?”

            “He has his own room within their house and they saw him enter into it and close the door behind him.  He did not come forth until the next morning, to their knowledge.”

            “Is there a window to his room that looks to the outside?”

            “Of course!”

            “Have you seen this window?”

            “Yes, on the day we approached his house to speak with his parents.”

            “Is it a small window, a mean one that allows in little light?”

            “Do you think his parents too worried for their wealth to allow for a window large enough to illuminate their son’s room properly when it is light outside?  Nay, it is comfortably large.”

            “And is it particularly high upon the wall?”

            “Nay—it is low, and they have built a windowseat on the inside on which he might sit and work on his projects or turn and look out upon their fields.”

            “Is the room high in the house?”

            “No, for the house has but a shallow loft in which their hands sleep.  The rooms in which the family dwells are all upon the ground floor.”

            “So, it is perhaps possible that this Leverion might have left the house through the window of his room and his parents might be none the wiser?”

            Erchirion interrupted, reading the words of Master Fendril:  “Why all of this focus on one who has not been charged with this crime?”

            At Harolfileg’s indication that Caraftion had responded, Anorgil continued, “I but seek to show that young Danárion here was not the only one who might have been abroad that evening, and that one known to taunt and threaten those he sees as weaker than himself might as easily have done this deed—indeed, more easily, for he lives alongside the canal and knows both sides of it well.”

            Harolfileg said, “You spoke next, Master Enelmir.”

            Enelmir gave the Elf a suspicious look, then read his own words.  “What does it matter what others might have done when they are not themselves charged with the deed?  It is of little import whether or not Leverion son of Medril might come or go as he pleases in secret when it is not he who was charged with the crime.”  He looked up and nodded to Anorgil to read Caraftion’s returning words.

            “But if it can be shown that others might indeed have brought the children to the ditch and slew them there----”

            “But no one’s words place Leverion in the woods to slay the children, but all know that Garestil was brought to place himself, Danárion, and Carenthor there.”  Enelmir’s eyes shone as they must have done when he spoke so to Caraftion of Pustien during the trial.

            “Yes,” said a new voice as one who had entered the hall unremarked arose from where he’d sat on a bench at the back and came forward.  “Yes, so it was that Garestil was indeed brought to place himself there—brought to do so by the very ones who questioned him!”

            Enelmir leaned forward, his expression cold as he looked on the Man who’d interrupted the reading of the transcript.  “What do you do here, Caraftion?”

            “I came to lodge a copy of a will I’ve just finished seeing executed in the archive here.  And you and these now replay the travesty of a trial that was given those three unfortunate youths?  For what purpose?”

            “You are unhappy with the results of that trial?” asked Berevrion.

            Caraftion glared at him.  “Had you been here, would you not have been so, sir?  To see three young Men—nay, not even men grown as yet—accused and convicted of deeds it cannot be shown even happened as proposed by Master Fendril who presented them as if they were proven fact?”

            “He did not prove his case, in your view?”

            “How could he?  He told all that the crime was done as a rite intended to please and enrich the Nameless One with the power raised from the children’s deaths, and so all believed it to be.  But what Garestil himself said indicated that there was no ritual enacted at all—that the three children merely chanced upon the three youths as they sat secretly drinking liquor stolen from the farmer Medril’s storehouse, and that the three youths for no reason at all fell upon them and beat and savaged them until they were senseless, then threw them yet living into the water to drown.”

            “Wait!” Erchirion said, raising his hand.  “They were drinking ale stolen from the storehouse of Medril, the father of this youth Leverion that you suggest might actually have killed the children?”

            “Not ale, but brandy distilled from the wine he presses from his vineyard.”

            “And the farmer reported the theft of the brandy?”  Imrahil’s son looked to Enelmir in question.

            “Yes, it was reported to the chief constable for Destrier, who investigated the theft and forwarded the report of his investigation here to Anwar for my consideration.”

            “And do you have this report in your keeping?”

            “I gave it to Master Malthor, who saw it filed with all such reports.”

            Berevrion turned to the archivist.  “If you would bring it?”

            In moments Malthor had returned with the report, which at Enelmir’s reluctant nod he presented to Berevrion.  The northern lord read it carefully, set the sheets in order, and placed it neatly to one side.  “On what night did the children die?”

            Enelmir answered, “Two days before Midsummer, a year ago, on the night of the full moon.”

            “But the liquor was found missing three days prior to that, according to this report.”

            “Yes.”

            “Who stole it?”

            “Is it not obvious?” Enelmir asked.  “Danárion and his companions did so!”

            “Three days before they intended to drink it?  Where did they hide it in the meantime?”

            “Who cares where it was hidden?  Is it not enough that Garestil admitted that they had stolen it?”

            “But Malthor here has told us that Danárion did not care for Garestil’s company.  Why would one as dismissive of those of lesser intelligence as Danárion has been said to be suddenly go against his own bent and steal liquor from a farmer in company with the likes of Garestil, particularly when they did not live on the eastern side of the village as did the farmer?  Would they not have been more likely to have stolen such drink from one on the west side, or from the parents of the girl that Danárion was said to be courting?”

            It was obvious that Enelmir had never thought to entertain such a question.  Caraftion’s lip twitched as if he were pleased to see Enelmir discomfited in such a manner.  “Perhaps,” the magistrate suggested, “it was Carenthor who suggested they steal from Master Medril.”

            “Was Carenthor one who spent much time in Garestil’s company?” asked Erchirion.  “Did he also travel to Hevensgil to learn tumbling?”

            “Carenthor was to have been apprenticed to a woodwright, to learn the carving of wooden screens and shutters.  He was skilled enough at reading and writing, but he had no interest in tumbling.”  It was Caraftion who answered the question.  “He told his counsel and me that he had played with Garestil when they were themselves small boys, but that he had little to do with him now that they were older, and so Garestil told me as well.

            “And why should they spend time with one another?” he continued, turning to glare again at Enelmir.  “They were both educated and had thought to be apprenticed to become artisans of one sort or another, while Garestil will most likely continue to aid in the roofing of homes and byres for the rest of his life—that or other unskilled work.”

            “So, Carenthor’s family was not poor.”  Berevrion looked between Enelmir and Caraftion.

            Enelmir eyed him somewhat uncertainly.  “They were not so poor as to be considered in poverty, as was Danárion’s household at the time.  They had almost saved sufficient money to pay Carenthor’s apprenticeship fees.  And then,” he added, again with a sniff, “they wasted their savings on hiring one to represent their son.”

            “A waste indeed,” Caraftion sighed, “considering how little Pardronë did on their son’s behalf.”

            “And who paid you?” asked Bariol, obviously curious.

            “Paid me?  I was appointed to serve Danárion, and received only a small stipend to do so, paid for from the public fund.  Those who came to speak on his behalf did so without pay, also, most of them paying for their own travel and lodgings.”

            “How small a stipend?” asked Erchirion.

            “Two silver crowns.”

            “Two silver crowns?  For all of the work that you did on their behalf?”  Erchirion appeared aghast at Caraftion’s nod.  “In Belfalas and Dol Amroth those who are appointed counsel to those who are accused of criminal acts are paid that much per week!  Why, we pay our servitors more than that!”

            “My lord—I would remind you that Anórien is not a rich province,” Enelmir objected.  “And in the last few years we have had to increase the number of soldiers we have fielded against assaults from both east and west—and north.  We have not the treasury to spend on providing counsel for those who will not support themselves.”

            “And how should three youths of such age as these support themselves?” asked Erchirion.  “Would you have accepted them in martial service to Lord Benargil?”

            “When they cannot provide weapons with which to fight?” Enelmir demanded.  “We would have to arm them ourselves….”

            “It is what we have had to do in the southern provinces.”  Erchirion’s voice was cold.

            “How about the fisherfolk of Langstrand?” asked Malthor.  “I am told that those who came from Langstrand to Minas Tirith were mostly lordless men who came armed with boathooks and fishing spears.”

            “Langstrand is far poorer than is Anórien,” Erchirion responded, “and they have no standing armies as do those here north of the White Mountains.”

            “Nonetheless, we are not a wealthy province,” Enelmir answered.  “And Anwar cannot afford to purchase great stores of arms to provide for all of our soldiers.  Yet we have patrolled the roads and fields and protected Gondor from enemies from all sides.”

            “Enough!”  Berevrion’s tone demanded obedience, and both the son of the Prince of Dol Amroth and the seneschal of the Lord of Anwar turned their attention to him.  “We of the north have had to scrape and make do for centuries to protect ourselves and those who live within our ancient borders as best we can, and we appreciate how difficult it is for those of restricted means to meet all of the needs of their peoples.  So, you tell us that had Carenthor and Danárion come to offer themselves as soldiers they would have had to provide their own arms?”

            “Yes.”

            Berevrion sighed.  “Each household within our villages has ever sought to provide its sons with a sword and bow each, although when that is not possible then our village heads and the Chieftain himself have sought to make up the lack.  And even the people of the Shire have stores of bows and arrows for their Hobbitry at Arms, although they do not teach the use of edged weapons.  But who are we to question the means of other places when we are not privy to their ledgers of expenses?” 

            Enelmir and Erchirion exchanged glances rather than full apologies, but it was plain that the argument was now to be considered to have been put to rest.

            Berevrion looked through the copy of the report on the theft of Master Medril’s brandy once more, pausing briefly on the second page.  “It says that the storage building was secured with a lock, and that no signs were found of that lock having been tampered with through the use of pick or other tools.”

            Enelmir nodded.  “Yes, whoever stole the liquor was most clever, and made certain that the lock was secure before leaving.”

            “But how,” asked Bariol, “could the lock be secured afterward unless the one who did so held the proper key at the time?”

            “Does it matter?”

            “Of course it matters!” Caraftion said.  “If the door was locked and must be unlocked and then secured anew with a key, then it is obvious that whoever took the liquor must have gained access to the key in order to do so.”

            “Yet it says here that Master Medril led the constable to the place where he keeps the key, and that it was properly on its hook.”  Berevrion showed them all the page where this had been written.

            Berevrion’s guard said from his place by the door, “Then it must have been one within the household who took the key and thus the liquor.  Were either Danárion or Carenthor friends with any who dwelt within Master Medril’s household and served upon his farm as hands?”

            “That is worth considering, Faradir,” Berevrion noted.  “Do any of you know the answer to Faradir’s question?”

            Enelmir shook his head.  “No, those who served on Master Medril’s farm at the time are all said to have been older Men, none of whom tended to spend time with mere youths from the village.”

            “Did this Leverion ever spend time with the three accused of the murder?” asked Anorgil.

            “No,” Caraftion answered him.  “He is a rather wild youth, and he has his own friends among those who farm the lands outside of the village.  He would not spend time with those who live within Destrier unless they would buy drinks for him in the alehouse.”

            Berevrion drew his hand across his eyes.  “And just why is it that I find myself thinking that it is this Leverion himself who stole his father’s liquor?  It says here that his sister indicated he might well have done so, although she would not repeat this accusation to their father.”  He dropped the report upon the bench beside him in disgust.

            Faradir from his place by the door indicated, “If it were one of our own, we would first look to the older sons and their companions.”  To that Berevrion nodded.  The guard added, “Nor would they agree to wait three days before drinking what they’d taken.”

            The matter was left at that, but it was obvious that those of the deputation were convinced that none of the three accused of the murders had anything to do with the liquor stolen from Master Medril’s storehouse.

            “Come, Master Caraftion, and sit by me while we continue,” Berevrion said.  “So far I have found nothing but questions as to how it was that it was determined that these three youths had to be the ones who murdered the three children.  Were the youths familiar with the boys?”

            “No.  The families of the three boys live on the southeast side of the village, and were near neighbors.  The parents of two of the children were sufficiently wealthy to provide ponies for their sons to ride, which is a sign of status among those who live in that portion of the village.”

            “And where would the children ride their ponies?”

            “There is a common grazing land south of the village, across the Highway from the village gate.  It was the habit of those children who had ponies to exercise their animals there each afternoon when their lessons were completed and their chores done.”

            “And where were the ponies stabled?”

            “There is a common stable adjacent to the village wall where most of those within that neighborhood kept the horses and ponies they owned, and each family saw to the upkeep of its own beasts.”

            Berevrion again nodded as if this was a familiar enough arrangement to him.  “And each paid a fee for the upkeep of the stable and for their share of the feed and hay their animals require?” he asked.  At Caraftion’s agreement, he said, “Then the children of this area would not need to pass through the portions of the village where the three youths lived on a regular basis.”

            “No, they would not.  They might encounter one another in the marketplace, but that would be probably the only place where they might have met at all, save that they might have seen Carenthor at the free school.  The parents of the children were known to one another, but although the mother of one of the boys had been friends to Danárion’s mother when they were younger, they had had nothing to do with one another since Danárion’s mother married his father, none approving of the marriage due to the nature of the Man.”

            Berevrion sighed, and reached again for the transcript of the trial.  “We were sent by the King to investigate this case, to learn whether the justice dispensed in the name of the realm was done properly.  So far, however, I find little that I may tell my Lord Kinsman was properly done.”

            “And you have come from Minas Tirith?”

            “I am Berevrion of Tirith Fuir, and am from Eriador, from the lands held by the northern Dúnedain.  I came south with the Grey Company to the aid of our Lord Aragorn, the Heir to Isildur, who preceded us at the side of the Ringbearer.  Now that he is the King Elessar, he sent me here, accompanied by these.”

            “And he wishes that true justice be done in the realm’s name?”

            “Even so.”

            Caraftion closed his eyes and pursed his lips.  “The Powers be praised!” he whispered fervently.

            Enelmir was bridling.  “And to suggest that we here in Anórien care nothing for justice--” he began.

            “Was justice truly sought here, or merely an end to an investigation that had so far led nowhere, and the removal of one seen as a disturbing influence who might be acceptable as a scapegoat to those who knew of the case?” demanded Caraftion.

            “Enough!”  Berevrion’s voice again indicated he would not accept further argument.  Enelmir and Caraftion glared at one another, but desisted obediently.  Berevrion looked to the rest.  “Let us continue.”  He looked inquiringly at the Elf.

            Harolfileg glanced at the text before him.  “Master Caraftion spoke next.”

            Anorgil glanced uncertainly between lawyer and magistrate, cleared his throat, and read, “So, he said that he suspected that Leverion son of Medril might have had something to do with the murders?”

            “Yes, he did.”

            “And you then let him go back to his own home?”

            “Yes.  It appeared he had nothing further to tell us.”

            “Yet you questioned him yet again?”

            “Yes, three weeks later.”

            “Why?”

            “Because we thought he might be persuaded to tell us yet more of Danárion’s involvement with the murders.”

            “So you went to his home?”

            “We had his father send him to the village hall.”

            “He is not yet of age.  Did his father come with him?”

            “No, for we told him it was not needful.”

            “And why did you feel that it was not needful for him to come with his son?”

            “We believed that the boy would speak more freely if the father was not there.”

            “They feared that when they began to press him to say what they would have him say that the father would speak against them, more like,” Caraftion muttered loudly enough for all to hear.  At a stern look from Berevrion he grew quiet once more.

            “When did he arrive at the village hall?”

            “A mark after sunrise.”

            “What was it that he told you?”

            “That he had seen the murders--”

            “No!  When first he entered the hall that day, when first you sat down facing him, what did he tell you?”

            “That he knew nothing certain, but that he had heard rumor that Danárion had committed the murder in company with a farmer’s son from Hevensgil.  It was a rumor that had been told to us by others, and one we had already dismissed.”

            “And what proof did you have that it was not true?”

            “We had questioned the youth from Hevensgil and he told us that he had not done this thing.”

            “Did you find evidence he had not left his home that evening?”

            “Well, no, we did not.”

            “Yet, on the authority of no more than his own word you decided that this rumor was false?”

            Enelmir closed his eyes and shook his head.  “I do not know why I allowed you to continue this questioning,” he said, opening his eyes again and turning his gaze on Caraftion.

            Caraftion caught the cautioning glance from Lord Berevrion and held his tongue.

            Bariol, who was reading still for the guardsman, continued, “There was no reason to disbelieve him.”

            Anorgil murmured, “Sweet Valar!  What reasoning!”  He sighed and resumed the dialogue.  “So, what did you do next?”

            “We determined to do the water test.”

            “What is this?” asked Harolfileg.

            “It has been found that in many cases if one questions an individual while he holds a finger in a basin of water, it can be told whether he speaks truly or falsely, as when he speaks truly his finger will hold still, but when he lies his finger will move, causing the water to ripple.”

            “And what if the person is frightened?” asked Harolfileg.  “One may be speaking truly and yet may be frightened, and in such cases the finger will move in the basin in spite of the truth of what is said.”

            Erchirion said, “It is for this reason that we do not rely on the water test in the south.  Those who are fearful or weak or whose limbs are not steady at the best of times simply cannot remain still enough for the truth to be divined from the water.  And we have found a few who are persistent liars can hold their fingers steady no matter how outrageous the lie being told.  Not even my uncle when he was Lord Steward put faith in it as a proof of either truth or lie.”

            Berevrion was nodding.  “But then it has been told me that Lord Denethor was skilled in the reading of Men’s hearts, as is true also with your cousin, Prince Faramir, as well as our Lord Aragorn Elessar himself.  Such individuals do not need to put reliance in such questionable means of divining truth as this water test.  Now, let us continue with the reading.

            Bariol repeated the sentence last spoken by the guardsman:  “We determined to do the water test.”

            “Who interpreted the water test?”

            “Hanalgor of the gate guard.”

            “Does he regularly interpret this test?”

            “No—the constable Amdir does this, usually.”

            “Why in this case did Hanalgor conduct and interpret the test?”

            “He knows more of the practices of those who traffic with the Enemy.”

            Now again the reading stopped as all within the deputation exchanged looks between them.  “And just how,” demanded Anorgil, “does the gate guard for a village such as Destrier become knowledgeable about those who traffic with the Nameless One?”

            “He has studied this for many years, and has read many of the writings of Lord Macardion on the subject….”  Enelmir appeared surprised at the laughter from Lord Berevrion and the cry of outrage from Erchirion.

            “He has studied the writings of Macardion of Dor-en-Ernil?” demanded Erchirion.  “Considering how he was unmasked by my great grandfather, grandfather, and Lord Ecthelion when he came to Dol Amroth as his father’s emissary to investigate how it was such as Macardion could name my grandfather’s sister as one who worshipped the Dark Lord, I am surprised that anyone within Gondor would dream of taking aught he wrote on the subject seriously at all!”

            “I do not understand…” Enelmir began but did not finish.

            Berevrion was shaking his head.  “My Lord Kinsman has told us all of what was told to him by Lord Adrahil and Lord Ecthelion of the investigation of Macardion of Dor-en-Ernil, and I had the chance before we came away to read their final reports from the Great Archive in Minas Tirith.  Macardion of Dor-en-Ernil sought to make himself important by pretending to knowledge he did not have of how it is that Sauron drew power from the deaths of others.  It was not for nothing, after all, that for many years when his stronghold was in Dol Guldur on the southern boundaries of Mirkwood that Sauron was known as the Necromancer.  And he did have established the Red Temples in those lands where he ruled or had strong influence where sacrifices were made in his name, and from which he did indeed derive strength.

            “Reports of those rites were sent to the attention of the rulers of Gondor, reports that Aragorn, when yet a young Man, confirmed on his own witness when he visited such a temple in Umbar.”

            “And how did one from Arnor know what was told to Lord Ecthelion or Prince Adrahil, or come to visit Umbar?”  Enelmir’s own demand bordered on the strident.

            Berevrion smiled.  “Our Chieftains have, from time to time, come south to Gondor and have even gone further, always in secrecy, to learn how things are done here in the southern kingdom and to learn more of the enemies of us all.  When he was young it was deemed right that Aragorn should do so, and he was given some years to do his own investigations of how it was here in Gondor and elsewhere.  So it was he sojourned in Gondor and Rohan, Umbar, Rhûn, Khand, and Harad, and later probed into Angmar, as well as visiting many lands in Eriador and Rhovanion so as to make himself knowledgable of those who would be his subjects, his allies, and his enemies—or so we hoped, and so it has proved.  He knew Thengel, and met Théoden first when he was but a child.  He spoke with Lord Ecthelion and Prince Adrahil, and even was known to Lord Denethor at the time.  And while in Umbar he managed to visit Sauron’s temple in the capital and saw sacrifice offered there, and has stated that it was obvious from reading one of Macardion’s Book of Shadows that the Man had no knowledge of what the true rites were.

            “Macardion was brought to Minas Tirith to stand before Turgon himself, and was unmasked as a fraud and agitator.  Ecthelion tried to see all copies of The Book of Shadows destroyed, but at least two copies survived, one in Dol Amroth itself and one here in Anwar.”

            “I know!  And I bade Lord Benargil to cast it out!”

            “Which he did—taking it to the rubbish heap behind the Keep with his own hands, or so he has told me.”

            Enelmir straightened, obviously feeling vindicated.

            Malthor sighed and rubbed at his beard.  “Then how was it that such as Danárion came to hold such a thing, there in Destrier?”

            Berevrion’s laugh was sardonic.  “Can you not think how it was he came by the copy he had?  Lord Benargil himself has told me that a guardsman from Destrier sought often to have the youth held either in the gaol in the village or in the madhouse here in Anwar; and how, when he was released from the madhouse here he would look to see what had been disposed of from the Keep into the rubbish heap that was of any worth that he might bring home for his own use or that of his mother.  And at least one of his times here in Anwar closely followed the day on which Lord Benargil sought to dispose of his father’s copy of The Book of Shadows.”

            Enelmir’s face went first pale, and then flushed furiously.  “He purposely sought out what I bade Benargil to destroy?” he blustered.

            “I doubt he deliberately sought it out,” Berevrion said reprovingly.  “I doubt that he had any foreknowledge of what he found or what it might mean.  He but found a book, and one on a subject on which he might have been curious.  Has not Master Malthor indicated that the young Man had interest in the written word and in the older records and collections of tales kept here?”

            Caraftion began to laugh, and his laughter became increasingly deep.  “And so--” he said, but had to begin yet again:  “And so it is that you have managed yourself to corrupt the youth of the region, Enelmir, by insisting that Lord Benargil purge it from his library!”

            Several of the others joined him in his laughter.  At last Berevrion bade them to calm themselves, and they continued the reading, although it was obvious that Enelmir was brooding on what he saw as an insult to himself and his lord.

            Malthor now read the part of the guardsman.  “He knows more of the practices of those who traffic with the Enemy.”

            “And did Amdir have any knowledge of what was learned from this questioning of Garestil of Destrier?”

            “Yes, for he stood by, as did several others.  Although he protested that Hanalgor did several things wrongly.”

 *******

            When they finished with the testimony of the guardsman regarding the test by water, Berevrion set down the full transcript he had with marked distaste.  “I would wish,” he said, “to stop here for the day.  Perhaps a good meal and an evening of diversion will make it easier to resume on the morrow.”

            “It is nearly the time for the evening meal,” Enelmir pointed out.  “I was told that a good white fish will be served to us this evening.”

            Berevrion grimaced.  “A white fish, eh?  I find my stomach would prefer either venison or perhaps a good joint of beef.”

            “There is an inn where they serve a good roast of beef,” suggested Anorgil.  “I could lead you to it.”

            Berevrion nodded in relief.  “That would be good.  Master Enelmir, if you would forward my apologies to Lord Benargil?  Master Malthor, will you take responsibility for the records and have them ready for us to continue tomorrow morning, perhaps at or just following the first mark after dawn?”

            In the end all within the deputation chose to go with the northern Lord, who invited Master Caraftion to join them.  And so it was that a much disgruntled Enelmir returned to the Keep, preceded by Benargil’s son and daughter, to take the evening meal with his lord and friend.

And What Is Truth?

            Enelmir found Benargil in his study, going over ledgers with Galdrod.  The Lord of Anwar looked up in question, asking, “Well, how went things?”

            “It is a disaster, my lord!” Enelmir answered.  “They question everything, including the efficacy of the water test, and have spoken of Lord Macardion as a madman!”

            “Macardion of Dor-en-Ernil?  Indeed, if I remember the talk correctly the Lord Steward Turgon did so name him, and saw him housed in the House for Those with Unquiet Spirits in Lossarnach.”

            “No!” objected Enelmir.

            “Well, yes, for he thought to see evil wherever he turned his eyes.  Although one would think even he would consider twice before accepting the accusations against the sister of Prince Adrahil of Dol Amroth as possibly true.”

            Enelmir shook his head, then resumed making his report.  “Then came Caraftion of Pústien, and little was accomplished beyond that.”  His eyes were defiant as he met those of Benargil.  “He questioned my judgments yet again before these.  But you, yourself, have reviewed the transcript of the trial and have declared that all I did was right within the law.”

            “And indeed I did,” agreed Benargil.  “Well, and where at they now?  Gone to their rooms to prepare for the evening meal?”

            “Nay—it appears that Lord Berevrion does not favor white fish.  So it is that Master Anorgil has led the deputation to a tavern where roasted beef is commonly served.”

            “Most likely the Drover’s Arms,” suggested Galdrod.  “Well, Mistress Dalrieth will be relieved, for she was bemoaning that she must find a way to see but five fishes served amongst so many.”

            “And why did she not think to have served the fish for a different meal?” Benargil asked him.

            Galdrod suggested, “They are fish, my lord, and are likely to turn bad if not prepared and served sooner rather than later.”

            “I see.  Well, enough of this for the day—let us advise Dalrieth that the guests dine elsewhere this evening, and prepare for our own meal.”

            So it was that each who sat down to the evening meal received a substantial portion of fish, and the talk at table was for the most part free of disturbing images.  Until, that is, as the fruit and cheese were served, Wendthor asked, “Father, what are your thoughts about the use of the test by water for determining truth?”

            Benargil saw that Enelmir’s expression had gone sour, and their eyes met briefly.  He turned back to his son to answer, “It is one test amongst many there are to try a man’s words to indicate whether he might be speaking truly or falsely.  However, we have been told we may not rely solely on the findings from the water test to judge whether the testimony is sound or a lie.”

            “And why is this, Father?”

            “I know only that from the days of the Lord Steward Turgon it has been the law in Gondor that the result of the water test alone is not be used as the basis for a finding of guilt, as it is said that the test is not sufficiently reliable to always properly distinguish between truth and lie.”

            “Then why allow its use at all?”

            Enelmir made shift to answer, “Because there is sometimes no other clear evidence of what truly happened, and particularly when the constables and guardsmen first begin to investigate a crime.  So it is that constables and guardsmen are taught its use as a basis to know when it is necessary to probe more deeply, when to seek for more evidence to prove the case.”

            “Why did the guardsman Amdir disapprove of the test of Garestil of Destrier conducted by the guardsman Hanalgor?”

            “Did he?” asked Benargil.  “I did not know.”

            “But it was told by the guardsman who arrested Danárion, in the trial.”

            Benargil carefully chewed and swallowed the the bite of cheese he’d just taken, and examined Wendthor consideringly.  “And you know this how?”

            “It was the last that was read today by the King’s deputation.”

            “You have been listening to them read the transcripts of the trial?”

            “Yes.  I will be lord of Anwar after you, and must prepare myself for the day when I will be the one to pass judgment.”

            Enelmir rolled his eyes, and Benargil shook his head in wonder.  Wendthor had indicated little curiosity as to how his father conducted his duties for several years, not since he’d looked into the crop ledgers for his father’s lands when he was but twelve summers and had closed them immediately, finding them too complicated to understand.

            But then Belrieth gave him even more reason for amazement when she said, “And so many times there was no proof that someone else was not lying or could not have done what was done, and yet it was still made to appear that only this Danárion and his friends were the ones who must have done so.  Look at the theft of the brandy!  How were these to have entered Master Medril’s farmhouse to take the key to the storehouse, go out and steal the brandy, then enter the house again to return the key and then slip away with the brandy, all unnoticed?  Is it not more likely that one of the hands or that the son took it?  No one would question any of them being in the house, or near the storehouse!  And it was possible for Master Medril’s son to slip out of the house to do anything on the night that the children went missing and no one would know!”

            “And you were there, too?” Benargil asked, aghast.

            “Mariessë and I went to the People’s Hall together.  We wished to understand why our new Lord King might question whether or not justice was done.  Neither of us felt that anything was proven of the guilt of the three youths who were found guilty, not of what we have heard so far.”

            “And it appears,” Wendthor added, “that neither Danárion nor his true friend Carenthor would have done aught in the company of Garestil anyway, for all that Garestil lived near to Danárion while his true friend Carenthor did not.”

            Marien shook her head in dismay.  “This is not a seemly subject for the two of you to even know about!”

            “But, Naneth,” Wendthor objected, “I will soon be twenty and of age.”

            “And I am of an age with Carenthor of Destrier,” added Belrieth.  “I, too, am seventeen.”

            “But, what was done to the children….”  Marien looked desperately to her husband for support.

            “That their bodies were savaged and ill used?” asked Belrieth.  “Do not think I am ignorant that such things happen, Nana.  I helped clean the bodies of those killed by the Enemy’s people that were found near the city gates, after all.”

            “And I did not wish you to have to see such things!” moaned her mother.

            “Perhaps not.  But it would not have been right to allow Mariessë to seek after her father’s body without the support of one who cares for her,” Belrieth said.  “We knew he was likely one of those who had died in the assault on those who sought to barricade the road against the Enemy’s forces, after all.  I mean—it could have been Father!”

            “And I would remind you, my lady,” added Master Bilstred from down the table, “that the two went accompanied by me, and that I am a healer.  Had either expressed too great a degree of distress I would have removed them both from the place.  What your daughter and young Mariessë did in helping to straighten and cleanse the bodies of the dead was a great and noble deed, full worthy of two gentlewomen of breeding and nobility.  You have every right to be proud of your daughter’s deeds that day.”  He sighed and speared a bite of pear that had been preserved in syrup and contemplated it for a moment.  “War leads so many to far too early an acquaintance with the cruelty it is possible to commit against others.”  He popped the fruit into his mouth, chewed and swallowed it.

            “What I don’t understand,” Wendthor said around a bite of cheese, “is why you were convinced to dispose of The Book of Shadows, Adar.  It’s not as if it were true, after all.”

            “And how do you know that?” Benargil demanded.

            “Because of the inscription our grandfather made on its opening pages,” Wendthor said.  “He wrote that it had been learned that the book was a fraud and forgery, created by Macardion of Dor-en-Ernil and his friends in order to bolster the claims that so many of the decent people of Gondor were in secret worshipers of the Nameless One, giving these jealous ones the ability to bring down those they were secretly envious of and to make themselves appear important in the eyes of the credulous.  He wrote that it was important to remember that evil imaginations are capable of being just as dangerous and destructive as the Enemy himself!”

            Benargil rose to his feet, leaning on his hands against the table’s top and staring at his son in consternation.  “And how do you know that?”

            “I read it some years ago, back when I was fifteen or sixteen summers, I think.  Why, Adar?”

            “And how many times have I told you not to address me in that Elvish tongue, Wendthor?”

            “Why not?”  It was plain that Wendthor was also reaching the end of his patience.  “It’s not as though it weren’t the official language of the realm rather than Westron, is it?  And don’t I remember you directing Master Bildred as my tutor to instruct me in it, as it is the tongue in which official correspondence is written?  And when I asked you why I must learn it, did you not inform me that if I were ever to visit the Citadel in Minas Tirith it is likely I would be addressed in Sindarin?  With that in mind, Father, why am I still forbidden to speak it in your presence?”

            Benargil did his best to suppress the flinch he gave in response to his son’s charges, deciding to focus on the trespass done when the youth read the book instead.  “And just why did you choose to read The Book of Shadows?”

            “Again, why not?  You and our mother were gone to Amon Dîn to attend on our liege lord there, and there was little enough to do here, what with the winter rains keeping all of sense within doors.  So, I read it.  It was written all in Sindarin, and Master Bildstred had told me I must practice reading what was written in that language.”

            “But it teaches horrid practices….”  Having said that aloud, Benargil found himself wincing, for even he had to admit it sounded weak and petulant.

            “Practices that are not even true,” Wendthor countered.

            “But it could unduly influence an inflamed mind.”

            Bilstred belched, and commented, “My Lord Benargil, remember that your own father noted that it had been identified as false teachings, written to convince the gullible that evil individuals can easily hide their true natures from their neighbors.  It appears that it was the product of inflamed minds already, and one as sensible as your son is not likely to take ill from it.  Nor has he!”

            Benargil straightened, uncertain as to what he could say in response.  His children were far more worldly-wise than he would see such young ones be.  But, then, they had just finished a most horrible of wars, one that had brought attacks directly to the gates of the city.  Young Mariessë’s father had been a younger son to one of the minor lords of the province, and had served as captain of Anwar’s forces for ten years, until the final assaults in March had taken the lives of those who had tried to bar the road against passage of the Enemy’s forces westward.  He’d managed to keep Wendthor within the walls of the city, where he’d led those who’d stood guard on Anwar’s gates.  After the siege on Minas Tirith was broken it was learned that Rohan’s army had avoided the Highway, led by the Woses through the darkness of their forest, bypassing the Enemy’s intended ambush and coming in time to the defense of the capitol.  But so many of Anwar’s soldiers had died trying to keep the road open for Rohan’s riders to come, and Belrieth and Mariessë had found themselves aiding the healers and older women in the preparation of the dead for burial.

            He sat down with what dignity he could muster.  It was now a new world, and it appeared that Anórien would no longer continue to remain as autonomous as had been allowed for so long.  Indeed, it was likely that such questionable amenities as sewers and public water systems would soon be forced upon them, the latest circulars from Minas Tirith indicating that their new Lord King was convinced that such things could help to stem the spread of diseases.

            And Wendthor, he suspected, would embrace such progress.

            But whoever would have thought that his son would have read The Book of Shadows before his father even realized it had been part of his own father’s library?

            “I wish that the King hadn’t sent this cursed deputation,” muttered Enelmir.

            “Why?  So that your judgment would not be called into question?” Wendthor challenged.

            Stung, Enelmir responded, “Why disturb a matter that had been set to rest?”

            Belrieth was shaking her head.  “But when it is very possibly a false justice, shouldn’t it be set to rights?  What if it were you who had been charged with trying to strengthen the Nameless One with a ritual that it is learned wouldn’t have benefitted Mordor at all?”

            “But we don’t know that!”

            Benargil found himself saying, “But according to what Lord Berevrion told me last night, the King himself when younger saw the rites that were truly practiced in the Red Temples where sacrifices that did strengthen the Dark Lord were offered, and that they were not as are described in The Book of Shadows.  The King has told many that the actual rites were not even as grim as what was written there.”

            “Did he really?” asked Wendthor with interest.  “I wonder what the real rites were like, then, for what was written in the book seemed both terribly cruel and rather silly.”

            “Silly?  How?” asked Belrieth.

            “The victims were to be dressed in thin silk, and annointed with clarified butter….”

            “Enough!” insisted Marien.  “Do not speak of such things at table!”

            “Your mother is right,” Benargil said, hoping to stop further discussion on the matter of the deputation.  “We will speak of other things now.  I had thought to suggest our guests join us in a hunt….”

 *******

            When advised of the return of the King’s emissaries, Benargil quitted his study, to which he’d retreated after the evening meal, and met Berevrion in the entranceway where Dalrieth was collecting the cloaks of their guests.  “And how was your meal?” he asked, seeking to be polite.

            “It was well enough.  I hope that it did not offer too much difficulty to those who prepare the meals, as we sent no prior word that we would dine elsewhere.”

            “Oh, no, it was no difficulty at all, I understand.  If you would join me, Lord Berevrion?”  So saying, Benargil led the way back to the study once more.  Peldrion had already left a tray with a ewer of wine and several goblets, and at a gesture from his host, Berevrion took a seat and poured himself a drink.

            “I understand that you have been reading the transcripts of the trial as it ran,” Benargil said.

            “Yes, although we find it is slow going, as we find more questions even as we read it.”

            “You do not believe it was conducted properly?”

            Berevrion was obviously trying to find a politic way of phrasing his answer.  “There—are—many interchanges that lead to question.  From what we have read so far, it appears that too many, such as Leverion son of Medril, were allowed merely to state that they were not involved at all and it was taken as truth with no indication that the guardsmen or constables did aught to truly establish that they could not have done otherwise.  And it appears that in the questioning of the youth Garestil he first indicated no knowledge of the crime at all, although he suggested that this Leverion was known to frequent the gully where the bodies were found, and later said merely that he had heard that Danárion had done the murder in company with a youth from Hevensgil, who also did not appear to have to produce evidence he had been elsewhere at the time of the murders.  And the acceptance as fact that the three youths said to have killed the children were drinking liquor stolen from Leverion’s father’s storehouse when it had to have been opened and locked again with the key, yet the key was found where it belonged, certainly leaves one incredulous.  It is highly unlikely that three strange young Men would be able to enter and leave the house twice and the storehouse once in order to take the liquor and to leave the key in its proper place, with all apparently in sight of those working the fields and with the mistress of the house within and undoubtedly busy about her own work.  It is very unlikely, you realize.”

            “But young Men such as Danárion and his companions are well known to do such things!”

            Berevrion looked at his host over his goblet.  “Perhaps, but then so are young Men such as Leverion, and he had a greater chance of taking the key and then the liquor, and returning the key to its place without others noticing it had been gone than would three youths from the village.  And it has been established that he could indeed have absented himself from his father’s house without the family noticing he was gone, by entering and leaving through the window to his room.  It is how I would have done so when I was a youth.”

            “But Garestil said that he saw Danárion and Carenthor kill the children, and later indicated that he, too, was indeed involved in the capturing and torturing of the three of them!”

            “And what evidence is there that his word was true?  How was this story won from him?  Through torture?  But under torture people will agree with anything suggested in order to end the pain.”

            Lord Benargil was offended.  “We do not use torture here in Anórien!”

            “That is a relief.  Not that I truly dreamt that you did so.”

            Somehow that declaration reassured him.  “I am certain that no torture was used.  Hanalgor knows well enough that it will not be tolerated, not since----”

            Benargil stopped, realizing that he had perhaps said too much.  Then he decided he’d best be open about that incident.  “I should perhaps tell you that when Hanalgor was first accepted as a guardsman within Destrier he was found perhaps too—eager to see his job done.  A boy of about twelve summers was said to have stolen a dagger from a market stall, and Hanalgor set out to force the child to confess.  He says that he did not beat the boy, although the boy and his father both complained that he did so.  But then the owner of the stall was able to coax his apprentice to tell him what had truly happened, and it was found that the apprentice had indeed taken the dagger to examine it, and managed to break the bindings on the hilt.  Rather than admit he had damaged the knife, he’d accused the other youth instead.  But the other boy had been brought to say that he had taken the dagger by that time….”

            “I see.”  The northern lord sighed.  “Too eager to impose justice, he had not taken time first to find the truth?  Are you certain that he did not do similarly in this case?”

            “But he knows that we must have evidence of guilt!”

            “We will need in time to question this Hanalgor, but first we will finish with the transcript of the trial.  Tonight we agreed that from this time foreward we will not interrupt the reading, but will write down our questions as they occur to us, and seek to answer them all in order.  It should speed the matter considerably.”

            Benargil felt reassured that he would be rid of these disturbing guests perhaps sooner than he’d thought earlier in the evening.  “But there is the question of who will be allowed to listen to the proceedings….”

            “Why should it be of any concern if others come to listen?  The only ones to do so as of now are your son, and your daughter and a companion, and Master Caraftion.  Do you not wish your son to learn how justice might well be reviewed when he follows you as Lord of Anwar?”

            “But of course!”  Well, there would be no way of asking Lord Berevrion to exclude Wendthor after that statement, he realized.  “But, to have young women there to hear the terrible things that were done to the children—I would not wish my daughter to hear more.”

            “Why not?  Is she subject to evil dreams?  Does she suffer from a weak stomach?”

            “Of course not!  Why, after the last push by the Enemy’s forces she was among those who helped to wash the bodies and prepare them for burial!”

            “Even those whose heads were removed by Sauron’s people?”

            Perhaps he’d said too much!  The lord of Anwar swallowed, accepting he’d been tripped up by his own honesty.  “Yes,” he admitted.

            “I will say this—if either she or her companion indicates they are sickened by what they hear, I will send them away.  Otherwise, if they remain and will listen silently and with respect, they may stay.”

            “And you are not willing to accept that the findings of those who voted them guilty is proper?”

            Berevrion pushed his goblet away from him.  “Not so far, Lord Benargil.  The more we read and the more we are told, the more it appears that there was too much a rush to judgment.  When anger within a community is at its peak is sometimes the worst time to hold a trial such as this.  There is too often such a strong desire to see someone—anyone—punished for the crime that the wrong individuals are condemned.  And know that I speak of this from my own experience.”

            The King’s kinsman knit his fingers together, and looked off into the middle distance.  “When I was six and thirty, my father gave me my first case to judge.  A young woman from one of the hidden villages under my father’s authority was found in the forest, unconscious.  She had been violated—brutally so.

            “A young Man in his twenties from a different village was accused of the crime.  He was big, and had a marked tendency toward hasty and heavy-handed actions toward others.  He had been smitten with the maiden for some time, but she had spurned him.  At the last market day before she went missing he had importuned her passionately, and she had at last grown angry and told him in very clear terms that she did not wish to see him again, that she did not love him and would not love him, no matter how many times he approached her.  Feeling his manliness besmirched, he cried out that he would not allow any other to have her if he could not.

            “Many heard his words, and when she was found in the woodlands where she’d gone to gather berries in such a state it was believed that he had made good on his threat.  Anger towards him was very high, and particularly amongst her family.  So it was that when his father insisted that the young Man had not left his side for the past three days and had been kept busy helping to rebuild a storage barn, the father eager to relieve his son’s hard feelings through harder work, we did not believe him.

            “We did not wait for the young woman to waken, and I found the Man guilty.  But before we could see him executed the case must be referred for review to Halbaleg as our Chieftain’s Steward.  It took three weeks for him to come, for he had many responsibilities to see to before he could come as far as Tirith Fuir.  As it happened, the woman woke two days before his arrival.  At first she was not clear in her speech, and we sought to calm her by telling her that we had taken the one who had done this to her, and that she was safe.  But after her father said this to her again and told the name of the one who was taken she became more agitated, and none seemed able to soothe her.

            “At last Lord Halbaleg arrived.  He read the record made of the trial, and appeared disturbed.  When I asked why, he said that I had not provided sufficient evidence to be certain that this was indeed the one who had assaulted the maiden.  On learning she had recently awakened, he decided he must speak with her.  Her speech had begun to grow more coherent, and at last she was able to impress upon him that we had taken the wrong Man.  But when she named the one she said had done this to her, she named one none could believe might have done such a thing.  The Man she named was quiet and rarely spoke of the thoughts in his heart.  Now, he had sought to woo her once, but she had put him off with soft words, explaining simply that she did not find her heart stirred by him.  He had drawn off at once, and none dreamed that he entertained fury in his heart at her refusal to accept his suit.  After the other uttered his threat so openly, this one saw his chance to have his revenge upon her.  He watched after her, and when he saw her enter the woods he followed after, and forced himself upon her savagely.  He then struck her hard on the side of the head and left her there, intending she should die of her wounds.

            “Halbaleg was able to question others who had not heard her story as yet, and was able to patch together the tale of this Man’s day, even finding a boy who had seen him follow the maiden out into the forest, and who saw the Man return, but not the maid.  They went through the Man’s house and found in it her undergarb, plainly the work of her mother’s needle, and recognized by the mother, who thought it had been found in the Keeping of the one charged with the assault.

            “He then questioned those who had worked with the father of the one taken as her attacker, and heard their complaints that I had not sought out their testimony, which confirmed what the father had said.”

            “And Lord Halbaleg released the young Man?”

            “Yes, although he did warn him that it was his own impetuous and unguarded nature and actions that had led to the misidentification of him as her attacker.  He was made to apologize for his words toward her, and warned that if he continued to make such threats toward anyone he would be punished.  I am glad to say he took this to heart, and did his best to be more temperate in his words and actions later.  He proved himself a good Man in the end, and earned the love of a good woman in the Breelands in time.”

            Benargil was surprised at how curious he felt about the matter.  “And he does well still?” he asked.

            But Berevrion was shaking his head.  “He died when the Nazgûl, garbed as riders in black, rode down those set to guard entrance to the Shire at the Sarn Ford, along with several others of our Rangers.”

            “And the one who actually violated the maiden?”

            “When faced with all of the evidence against him, he admitted freely enough what he’d done, saying he regretted he’d not hit her harder and made certain she was dead before he left her.”

            “What became of him?”

            “He was hanged.”

            The two of them continued in silence for a time, until at last Berevrion reached for his goblet and drained it, then pushed it away once more.  At last he spoke.  “It is for this that the laws of the Dúnedain have made it clear that before a Man is executed, if at all possible, the case must needs be reviewed by someone of higher authority, at least the one who serves as Steward if not the Chieftain or King himself.  Better a few guilty parties might go free for a time than that an innocent individual die the death for what he did not do.  And for this reason, whenever possible, Aragorn seeks to impose a sentence of service to the realm, that the one who has done evil may learn a skill that will serve him well in the future and so that, should he prove innocent in the end, there is a chance to set things right.

            “Do not misinterpret my words, however—our Lord King is not afraid to condemn those who deserve it to death, and has even carried out the execution himself on occasion.  But he will not do so unless he is convinced to the depths of his heart, by all of the evidence, that the judgment is true and well deserved—and needful for the good of the people.”

            With that Berevrion rose, bade his host good night, and retired to his chamber, leaving Benargil contemplating the nature of truth and how truth in some cases was to be determined.

 

Another Journey Made

            Wendthor and his sister went again to listen to the reading of the trial’s transcripts the following day, and following the noon meal their father went to the People’s Hall himself to observe what happened.  What he saw and heard disturbed him.  Each of those who were part of the deputation had pen and ink by him, and he saw them all writing frequently as they went through each piece of testimony.  Even Wendthor was taking notes, as, he realized, were Belrieth and her companion Mariessë as well.

            Now that he was hearing the words read aloud, even Benargil found himself questioning some matters that had seemed sound when he’d reviewed the case before.  How was it that Hanalgor, a mere guardsman, had come to read so much of the works of Macardion of Dor-en-Ernil to be seen as one truly knowledgeable about the Nameless One and what pleased him and gave him strength to return as he’d done?  Why had no one questioned Leverion son of Medril further on the matter of his father’s missing liquor or how the keys were where they belonged when his father led the constable to them?  And, if the three accused of the crime had taken the liquor, why had they apparently hidden it away at the time, returning to drink it three days later?  How had Garestil been induced to confess to having witnessed the murders, and then to embroider upon the original story to include himself in the actions that led to the children’s deaths, and yet to repeatedly recant what he’d said before and to refuse to testify against the others when the actual trial began?  And how was it that it had been determined that a particular knife said to belong to the youth Carenthor had been used in the killing of the children and the removal of the manhood of the one boy?  This knife, which was intended for a fisherman and had tines intended to help scale fish on the back side of the blade, had been found in a duck pond inside the eastern wall of Destrier, not far from Carenthor’s house, but also not far from the houses of at six other families.  And if Carenthor was said to be the one who cut the manhood from the child, then why was it that Danárion and not Carenthor was condemned to death?

            These questions were going through his head as the reading for the day stopped at last.  They were not through the whole of the trial, which had gone on for three whole days, but it was nearing the end of the transcript.  What was most disturbing to Benargil proved to be the portions that had been left out of the final transcript that had been given him, but that the scribes following the words of the counselors and Enelmir had yet recorded and that were found in the scribes’ works.  Often when a question was raised regarding whether or not the jury should be allowed to hear a particular testimony, the twelve Men who were to decide for guilt or innocence would be sent from the room and arguments, some of them apparently very heated, would be held in their absence.  And there was no question that Enelmir had ever favored Master Fendril in these arguments.  One lawyer from Lebennin who had studied how it was that an individual could be induced to give false evidence against himself was forbidden to speak at length on this before the jury, much less to indicate how it was that he had come to the conclusion that Garestil had been made to do so himself. 

            “But since Garestil has recanted his confession, by law we cannot reference it in the trial!” Fendril had argued.

            “But the fact remains that it is known throughout the region that he did offer a confession, even though few know the particulars of how it was forced from him,” Caraftion had responded.  “And so these three young Men are in a cleft stick not of their own making—all know that Garestil confessed, but not the truth of the nature of that confession nor of the inaccuracies it contains.  And this witness is not allowed to explain to the jury how it is that his very words proclaim that Garestil himself was not there in those woods or anywhere near the gully where the bodies were found!  He cannot show that Garestil to this day cannot say how it is that the children actually died!”

            Why had this argument not been there in the transcript he had reviewed?

            Nor had the constable Amdir been allowed to explain at length why he had objected to how Hanalgor had carried out the test by water of Garestil.  And one youth had been refused the right to confer with his own counsel before he must answer a question that could affect his own impending trial on an unrelated matter—that, too, had been ignored when Umbardacil had made his transcript.

            He did not go on the third day, and when the deputation returned for the noon meal all their faces were grave.  As for Belrieth, Wendthor, and Mariessë, who’d joined them for the meal, it was plain they were all outraged but were restraining themselves with marked effort.

            Berevrion said, soon after they had seated themselves following the Standing Silence, “We will need to go to Destrier this afternoon, and will stay there perhaps three nights.  We need to see for ourselves the place where the bodies were found and where the children are said to have died, and we need to speak with a few of the witnesses.  A healer saw the bodies and examined them?”

            “Yes, Avrandahil, who is from Belfalas.  He trained in Rohan, although he has had some training also from the court healers of Lord Forlong in Lossarnach.  There are some there who examine the bodies of those found to have died unexpectedly to rule that they did not die by the design of others.  Avrandahil lives in Hevensgil, although he serves wherever he is needed within the region under my authority.”

            Berevrion nodded.  “In the north when there is a question as to how someone died, if at all possible we call upon one of the healers who has trained under Lord Elrond, as they received extensive training on how to recognize cause of death.  And as the greatest of these among our own is our Lord Aragorn, we often do not need to go far to find one qualified to determine what has happened to the body both before and after death.  Good, then—we will definitely confer with Master Avrandahir.  Now, if you will grant us letters patent indicating our authority to question what witnesses we need to accompany those given us by our Lord King, we will finish our meal and prepare to go.”

            At this Wendthor looked up from the fowl upon his plate to meet his father’s gaze.  “If you will allow it, Father, I would go along as your representative, to see that all is done thoroughly.”

            Benargil took a deep breath.  Should he allow the boy to go along?  But, as Wendthor himself had pointed out, he was almost of age, and ought indeed to be putting into practice the teaching Bilstred had given him.  Nor, looking at the determined expression on his son’s face, did Benargil believe that Wendthor would agree to remain should he tell him no.  At last he nodded reluctantly.  “Then, go indeed as my representative, my son.”  He was surprised at how quickly the youth reverted to a pleased grin that reminded him strongly of the child Wendthor had been not so very long ago.  But somehow he knew that the young Man would not embarrass himself or bring shame upon his trust.

            “I will go as well,” suddenly announced Lyrien, to the surprise of Benargil’s entire household.

            “But why?” asked Lady Marien.

            “I was one of those who served as a scribe in the original trial,” she explained, “as Master Anorgil determined somehow on their first day.  He approached me yesterday to ask why some of the statements in the final transcript do not agree exactly with the scribes’ work I produced, and I told him what I knew of Master Enelmir’s instructions to Master Umbardacil to remove the portions of the trial that the jury did not hear, as such portions have no bearing on how the jury decided their case.  He and Lord Berevrion wish to question me further, and this is perhaps best done if we talk as we ride, that the time is not wasted.

            “Plus,” she added as if it were an afterthought, “I wish to be out in the countryside once more.  It grows stifling at times, remaining ever within Anwar’s walls.”

            “Where will you stay within Destrier?” asked Master Bilstred.

            “Uncle Normandil has a large house—I have suggested that we might seek to stay there while we are in the village.”

            “A good thought.  Perhaps I might accompany you as well, then.  It is long since I last spent time with my brother.”

            Lyrien’s expression grew remote at this, but as she could apparently think of no reason to object it was soon accepted that a party of eleven would ride west, including the members of the deputation, their two guards, Wendthor, the healer and his adult daughter, and Master Caraftion.  Benargil was glad that at Marien’s stern look Belrieth decided not to ask to go, too.  At least she was yet young enough to abide by her mother’s will.

            An hour after the noon meal was finished all gathered in the court beyond the door.  As they waited for their horses to be brought around, Benargil told them, “I have sent a messenger to Destrier for you, advising Master Nerwion that you are on your way, and instructing him to make all aware they are to cooperate fully with you.”

            “And we thank you for this, my lord,” Berevrion responded with marked courtesy.  “If we find we must stay beyond a third night, we will send to so advise you.”

            Very soon all were astride, and Benargil watched with mixed relief and apprehension as they rode down the street, Wendthor riding by the side of the northern lord, toward the gates to the city and the Highway west toward Destrier.

 *******

            The day was hot beneath a blue sky streaked with wisps of cloud, swallows swooping high after insects, and crows calling shrilly after the party as it passed the copses in which they took shelter from the heat of the day.  “I pray that it shall not prove too warm for Mistress Lyrien’s comfort,” commented Berevrion as they passed a party of Men and boys, stripped to the waist, raking the cut hay into shocks in a field to the north of the way.

            Wendthor, who felt lighthearted beyond his expectation to have been granted this responsibility by his father, glanced back over his shoulder at Lyrien, who rode, apparently brooding, behind Caraftion and between her father and Master Anorgil, Master Bilstred regaling the lawyer with some story while ignoring his daughter’s taciturn nature.  “Do not worry for her,” the youth advised his companion.  “She seldom complains of aught—or at least, she does not do so aloud.  Rather, she allows her silence to speak her disapproval instead.”

            “Have you been often to Destrier?” the Man asked, changing the subject.

            “Not often—perhaps five times in all of my years.  It is a dull place for one as young as I was the last time I was there, I fear.  There are few that we would consider sufficiently important to visit, and Father has gone there usually only to review the tithes gathered of the crops for the public stores.”

            “Did he go in the wake of the deaths of these children?”

            “No.  Why?  Ought he to have done so?”

            “Perhaps,” Berevrion said, looking about him.  It was obvious that this had been once a region rich with grain, the source of most of the flour used in the baking of Gondor’s bread, and the grains used in the brewing of its beer and ales.  Many fields they passed, however, had obviously lain fallow for too many seasons, and there would be much clearing of scrub necessary before some could be properly sown again.  For every two farmsteads they passed where the womenfolk hung out their wash upon the hedges to dry, they passed one or two with empty windows and gaping roofs.  “Enemies have passed this way many times, I would wager.”

            Wendthor became more solemn.  “Indeed.  From east and west they have come in the past ten years or more, and we have lost many people.”  He pointed to the ruins of a large farmhouse south of the road.  “That farm was my grandfather’s property, and it was once very rich.  The tenants were prosperous, and very kind.  I came here with my grandfather when I was, what?  Seven?  Their son was older than I and most gracious to as spoiled a child as I was.  He took me around the farm and allowed me to gather the eggs and to drive the kine in from the fields, and to bring food to the swine.

            “Three years later enemies came by night and slew all on the property, and burned the house and the fields.  We haven’t been able to find anyone who would take the place since, as close as it is to the road, as easy as it proved for enemies to approach it.”

            The expression on Berevrion’s face as he gave a nod of recognition reassured Wendthor that the northerner truly understood the situation.  “So many farms that used to line the road from Bree east to the High Pass were destroyed as well,” he said.  “We could not be everywhere.  So many died at the hands of orcs, wargs, and brigands, all of them encouraged by Sauron and his minions.”  He looked about once more.  “At least now there is a chance to bring people back to those lands that the Enemy of us all caused to go empty.  Gondor and Arnor will again be filled with fruitful farms and many people, and our cities shall be built anew.”  He smiled, and he appeared so confident that Wendthor had no choice but to believe the Man’s predictions would come true.

            In the late afternoon they passed another village.  “That is Hevensgil,” Wendthor informed his guest.  “The largest pottery in Anórien is in that village.”

            Berevrion leaned forward to examine the place as they passed it.  “So, it was there that the youth Garestil went to learn the art of tumbling,” he said thoughtfully.  “On our way back perhaps we should stop there and speak with the potter who taught the youths of Destrier who came to study with him.”

            “Young Men of Destrier came this far to study the skills of tumbling?” asked Wendthor.  “But how do you know?”

            “Master Malthor told us of it, and said that the potter spoke regularly of the progress of his students, and especially that of young Garestil.”

            Wendthor was now eyeing the village with more interest as they continued down the road.

            Perhaps two miles further they passed yet another ruinous farm north of the roadway.  On it the largest structure recognizable was a roofless byre.  Harolfileg had been riding not far behind them, and as they passed this his horse sidled away from the place with a snort of distress.  Berevrion looked over his shoulder.  “What causes your steed discomfort, Master Harolfileg?” he asked.

            “There has been evil here,” the Elf said.  “Not a recent evil, but one that has yet left its mark upon the land itself.”  He shook his head.  “I have heard the land lament more than once during our ride.  The Dark Lord and his creatures did much to destroy those who dwelt here.”

            Berevrion nodded as if he’d expected just such an answer, and turned his attention back toward the road ahead of them.

            All were ready for a rest by the time they reached the gates of Destrier.  Said gates were open, and guards stood smartly at attention to see them welcomed.  Nerwion, Master for the village, came forward to greet them, and hearing that they thought to stay with Master Bilstred’s brother led the way to the home of Master Normandil, a former merchant who had taken a house here after hiring others to manage most of his business.  As he led these guests to their destination Nerwion confided, “Indeed, I have been advised by Master Normandil that he hoped you would accept his hospitality during your stay, considering that by this time you must be familiar with his brother within Anwar and Lord Benargil’s household.  And,” he added directly to Bilstred and Lyrien, “I suspect he will be very glad to welcome your visit alongside the deputation from our new Lord King.”  He resumed his attention on Berevrion.  “Do tell us about our new King!  What is he like?  And it is true that you are one of his kinsmen from the north?”

            There was not a good deal of time to satisfy Master Nerwion’s curiosity before they arrived at Normandil’s home, one that proved larger and more private than that of Nerwion himself.  They passed through a stone archway into carefully landscaped grounds, in the center of which stood a house built of grey stone, large, three storied, with glazed windows and an imposing door of heavy wooden beams.  The door stood open, and waiting in its center stood Master Normandil, a Man a half a head taller than his brother, with eyes that proved shrewd and considering.

            “Welcome, my lords!” he said, bowing deeply.  “So, you have chosen to accept my invitation to stay in my home?  I am honored.  And, Bilstred—Lyrien!  How wonderful that you are here, too!  Enter; enter and be welcomed!  Danford—see that my brother’s rooms are prepared to house him and my niece!  The grooms will see to your horses.  And Master Anorgil, you have come with the deputation?  How provident!  You see, your father is also my guest, having been resident for the last two days, come here to Destrier from Hevensgil.”

            At this Anorgil’s expression had gone quite rigid, although it remained fixedly polite, and Wendthor noted that when he greeted Master Gilflorin it was with a marked lack of warmth.

            Soon all sat down to a sumptuous meal that had obviously been prepared in full expectation that they would indeed lodge here during their stay.  Master Nerwion’s wife and grown son attended the meal, the young Man seated at the side of Wendthor and obviously chosen to serve as a companion to Lord Benargil’s son.

            The first course was of white fish, of which Lord Berevrion ate only sufficient to be polite.  However, as during this course he was kept busy describing the coronation of their new King, none made any comment on this.  He explained that, yes, he was indeed a kinsman to his Majesty, being the son to the King’s father’s first cousin.  He had known the King since they were first judged ready to train with the Rangers of Eriador, and had become one of the Captains of the Rangers himself, going between the forces that patrolled the northern borders of the lands held by the Northern Dúnedain and those that watched over traffic along the great West Road.  He explained his duties as the head of the Guild of those who guarded the laws of Arnor, and spoke of how he had served on Aragorn’s Council for several decades.  Yes, he was aware of the trading that was done between the remnant of the Northern Dúnedain and other peoples, and would be glad to make those who governed that trade aware of Master Normandil and his network of merchants.  And what specifically did Master Normandil trade in?

            During the second course it was Normandil who did most of the talking, and not until the third course was served did the conversation become more general.  The specific matter that had drawn Lords Berevrion and Erchirion to come north from Minas Tirith into Anórien, however, was not discussed at table, becoming the subject of converse only after the meal was over and all had withdrawn into Normandil’s Great Room to sit at more ease over glasses of a variety of liquors that Normandil’s seneschal offered for their comfort—and, Wendthor suspected, as examples of the wares his master could offer in trade.

            “It was a bad business,” Normandil commented, shaking his head.  “I’ve discussed it often enough with Master Gilflorin, of course.  That three young people of such promise as these showed could choose to offer worship to the dread Master of our enemies?  Who could have imagined such a thing?”

            Gilflorin nodded his agreement with their host.  “Indeed!  As if Mordor required even more strength from the rituals attempted by three who were little better than boys themselves.  And there has been much discussion as to how it came to be that young Danárion could have come by a copy of such a terrible work as The Book of Shadows.”

            “That has been learned,” Wendthor said.  “It was the copy of the work held by my grandsire Astúrion, which Master Enelmir found in our library and that he convinced my father to rid himself of.  Father carried it to the trash heap himself; and apparently a few days later, when Danárion was released from the madhouse in Anwar, he found it whilst searching for items that might be of use to his family.”  He sipped appreciatively at the liqueur he’d been provided with.  “But there would be nothing within it that could actually have benefited the Nameless One, as it had been learned that the book itself was fraudulent, not written by the Enemy’s servants but instead by Macardion of Dor-en-Ernil.”

            Caraftion, who was listening to the discussion but not taking active part in it, exclaimed, “Really?”

            “And you know this to be true, that the book was a fraud?” asked Normandil, his attention riveted on Wendthor’s face.

            “Yes—my grandfather indicated on its opening pages that this had been learned by the Lord Steward Turgon and his son, our late Lord Steward Ecthelion, during their investigations of the doings of Macardion when they determined he was a madman whose obsessions threatened the stability of the realm.”

            “And this was shared by Lord Ecthelion with my Lord Kinsman during a visit he made here during his younger years,” Berevrion affirmed.

            All straightened at this.  “Our new King has visited Gondor in the past?” demanded Normandil.  “When?”

            “As I said, he did so many years ago, although it was not—well, it was not precisely a visit of state.  He came under an assumed name and became known to Lord Ecthelion, who treated him with grave courtesy, recognizing that Aragorn had come from Eriador and was perhaps the Heir to Isildur.  Never would Aragorn answer the Lord Steward’s questions regarding his parentage with either yea or nay, for he came to honor both the Steward and his son, the late Lord Steward Denethor, and he did not seek to disturb their rule in any way.”

            “And why would he who was destined to become King of Gondor come in disguise?”

            Berevrion shrugged, playing with his glass.  “What can I say?  It was deemed proper that Aragorn, for whom great things were likely should it come to be that in his day the final battles against Sauron should be fought—well, it was deemed proper that he should be given time to study the lands over which he might be expected one day to rule.  And for this he was granted permission by our Council of Elders to come south for further direct education.  He would not be the instrument of discord, so he did not come here as the Heir of Isildur, but as one interested in learning ways of defense, trade, and the implementation of the ancient laws that governed both North and South in the days when Elendil was High King over both Arnor and Gondor.  As I said, Ecthelion suspected his origins and destiny, as did his son as well.  Aragorn came away with great respect for the capabilities and integrity of both Men, and he would do nothing to put forth any claims until he was certain that both lands would be willing to accept him as King with as little chance for destabilizing Gondor as possible.  He knew that only if he proved himself against Sauron would Gondor be likely to accept him as a candidate for the Winged Crown.”

            “I see,” commented Master Nerwion.  “It appears that your Lord Aragorn has proved most politic in his considerations.”

            “Indeed, our Lord King Aragorn Elessar is both politic and wise, but that is only to be expected of one of his breeding and training and education,” Berevrion answered him, his expression thoughtful as he considered the nature of the Master of the village of Destrier.  “But what else would be likely to be true of the proper Heir to Elendil and Isildur through the line of Isildur’s son Valandil, all of whom have been recipients of tutelage from the Master of Imladris?”

            “And it was Imladris,” Normandil noted, “that our Lord Boromir sought to find when he left Gondor nearly a year past.”

            “He found it at the last,” Berevrion told him.

            “But he came not home again to his father and the Citadel of Minas Tirith,” noted Master Gilflorin.

            “That he did not do, for the Fellowship was assaulted on the slopes of Amon Hen by Uruk-hai sent by Saruman the Traitor, and he fell there, pierced by many of their great black arrows.  So have witnessed Aragorn, Prince Legolas Thranduilion, and Gimli Gloin’s son of Erebor, who found him dying where he’d made his stand to defend the Ringbearer’s kinsmen.  Aragorn has told that at least three of the many wounds borne by Lord Boromir were mortal, and he could only ease the pain as Boromir took his last breaths.  They honored him as they could, giving his body to the river that it not be dishonored by any further enemies who might chance upon it, and they left in pursuit of those orcs who had taken Masters Meriadoc and Peregrin prisoner, seeking to honor your Lord Boromir more fully by taking up the rescue of those he had died defending.”

            “These two, Meriadoc and Peregrin—they are kinsmen who accompanied the Cormacolindo southward?”

            “Indeed.”

            “Did Lord Aragorn and his companions effect the rescue they undertook?”

            Berevrion smiled wryly.  “Nay—Masters Merry and Pippin were able to escape on their own when their captors were attacked by the Rohirrim, and were well away and in safety when Aragorn, Prince Legolas, and Gimli found the pyre the Riders made of the Uruks’ bodies.”  His smile widened.  “And both helped to protect many ere the war was won at the end.”

            Wendthor interjected, “Master Meriadoc rode to the Battle of the Pelennor with the Lady Éowyn of Rohan, and both struck at the Lord of the Nazgûl, bringing about his death.”

            Berevrion added, “And Peregrin helped save Lord Faramir from the fire that nearly ended his life within Minas Tirith, and was wounded saving the lives of at least three others in the battle before the Black Gate.  Both are greatly honored by all, as are the Ringbearers themselves.”

            “Ringbearers?  There are more than just one?”  Caraftion appeared amazed.

            “Frodo Baggins is honored as the Cormacolindo, the one who bore the Ring upon his breast to the Sammath Naur itself.  But his companion, Samwise Gamgee, is equally honored as the one who brought his master and friend through Mordor to that place.  Neither could have done the journey alone.  And there was a short time that Master Samwise bore the Ring himself before he could return it to Frodo.”

            “And this Master Samwise is the one they refer to as the Ringbearer’s esquire, then?” asked Normandil.  “I see!”

            “Indeed.  And two truer and more honorable individuals do not walk the surface of Middle Earth, or so I suspect,” replied Berevrion.

            “And our new King honors them as well?” inquired Gilflorin.

            “I have seen him in converse with Master Frodo, as the Ringbearer prefers to be addressed,” Anorgil said.  “They speak of one another as brothers of the heart.”

            Berevrion was nodding.  “So it is between them.”

            After a few moments of consideration, Master Nerwion ventured, “I do not understand why our Lord King interests himself in the doings of those in Destrier.”

            “The murder of three children is a capital offense,” the northern lord answered him, “and as the ruler of the realm he must sign the death warrant for Danárion and appoint a witness to the execution for the Crown.  But before he would do so, Aragorn seeks to assure himself that the justice dispensed in his name is true justice.  And there are those in Minas Tirith who question the testimony of some who gave witness in the trial.”

            “None within Destrier would lie regarding such a matter!”  Nerwion was bristling at the perceived insult against the integrity of his people.

            Gilflorin, however, signaling for his glass to be refilled a third time, shrugged.  “Medril’s wife is not precisely known for being the most truthful of individuals, and you know it, Nerwion.  Every time something of import happens within the village she insists that she was involved in some manner or another.”

            “Medril?” asked Master Bariol.  “Is this the Medril whose farm lies east of the village?”

            “Yes,” answered Nerwion.  “His wife and daughter saw Danárion and the maiden he last courted as they walked away from the gully where lies the ditch in which the children’s bodies were found.  She knows the maiden well, for she is the girl’s aunt, the sister of the girl’s father.”

            “If Danárion sought to court this young woman, why would he think to take her to see where the bodies of the children were found, hidden in the water?” asked Harolfileg, speaking for the first time since their arrival.  “Killing three children to honor the Dark Lord does not appear the type of act that would lead a maiden to look upon him with favor.”

            Nerwion’s wife commented, “Perhaps he thought to compel her through fear.  If she saw him as powerful, she might be better persuaded to allow him to rule her in other matters as well.  There are enough Men about who seek to dominate their wives through threats of violence, and who rule their children by means of fear.”

            There were mutual glances among the company at this observation, which none could dispute.  The Elf withdrew into himself, obviously disapproving of any who would depend on such tactics to rule their households.

            “What kind of questions do you intend to ask?” asked Nerwion.

            Erchirion shrugged.  “We have many.  We know that from the first opening of The Book of Shadows whoever seeks to read it is advised it is known to be fraudulent, for Wendthor has witnessed the inscription made there by his grandsire.  Why would the one reading the book ignore that warning and still seek to follow the rituals described therein?  How was this ritual supposedly carried out, as no signs of any ritual were reported to have been found anywhere within the area inside or immediately surrounding the gully where the ditch was found?  Why did the parents of the three young Men all insist that their sons went not out that night?  And if they went not out, how was it that Danárion was able to get to the home of his lady-love, whom we understand lives on a farm south of the village and across the Highway, bring her north unnoted in the dark of the night to the gully, and then lead her away again seen only by Medril’s wife and daughter but no one else?  Why is it none missed her in her own home?  Are her parents so careless in following the actions of their daughter?”

            Anorgil continued the list of questions to be answered:  “Why does the constable Amdir question the test by water overseen of the youth Garestil by the guardsman Hanalgor?  The other young Man held in the gaol after Carenthor was taken into custody—he admits that Carenthor was held separately from all others.  How was it that Carenthor was yet able to speak with him to admit his involvement in the murders, and to describe how it was he sought to strengthen his own manhood by seeking to devour that of the child who was dismembered?”  He ignored the revulsion shown by Normandil and those of Nerwion’s family to add, “And what of the charge that the story he told in court is not the same as what he originally told the guardsmen and constables who questioned him?”

            “And why were the arguments made when those who sat in the jury were absent as to what the jury would be allowed to hear, arguments that indicate that there was good reason to question the guilt of those accused of this crime, ordered not to be made part of the final transcript of the trial?” asked Wendthor.  “I will be Lord of Anwar one day, and I would not wish to find that indications of innocence were kept from me when I must review a case as my father was expected to review this one.”

            “If the children of the village who had ponies were known to ride in the common fields south of the village gates, how was it they ended up across the canal east of the village instead?  What would lead them to take their ponies into the disused fields there, and how would they get there?” asked Erchirion.

            Berevrion sighed and set his now empty glass on the table beside him.  “And there are so many more questions we would have answered for us,” he pointed out.  “But we have ridden a fair ways today, and should perhaps retire that we might meet early in the morning with the people of Medril’s farm.  After all, this is the place closest to where the bodies were found, and there are questions as to his son’s actions and the matter of the liquor said to have been stolen from his storehouse and drunk by the three youths on the night of the murders.  Also, his wife and daughter were witnesses questioned in the trial, having seen Danárion and the girl quitting the place where the bodies were found.  Master Nerwion, if you will have a constable attend upon us in the morning who can take us and show us the way to Master Medril’s farm, and who would take us also to see the place where the bodies were found, we would be most appreciative.”

            Reluctantly, Nerwion indicated he would have Constable Amdir there first thing in the morning, and the King’s deputation and Master Caraftion allowed themselves to be led to the rooms prepared for them.

 

An Evening’s Discussions

            “You’re not going to your rest, too, as if you were also a greybeard, are you?” asked Master Nerwion’s son.  “Come away with me—we will go to find some entertainment elsewhere.”

            “You are too young to sit around with us,” agreed Master Normandil.  “Surely our talk would bore the both of you.  Go out and enjoy the evening.”

            With that Wendthor allowed himself to be persuaded, and he went with the other young Man, taking with him his lute.

            “Do you play that?” asked his companion, whose name was Narvil.

            “Yes, or at least well enough to please my family and me,” Wendthor answered.

            “Can you play anything written by Suleirion?”

            “Oh, yes, I can.”

            “Good!” answered Narvil.  “My friends will like that!”

            “Where are we going?”

            “To the alehouse.  It’s not particularly far….”

            Soon they were entering the alehouse.  Narvil led the way to a long table at one end of the room where several youths between the ages of seventeen and twenty-one were already seated, mugs of ale before them.  Narvil briefly introduced his companion as the two of them drew up stools from a nearby table.  He glanced at those who’d been there on their arrival and asked, “And where is Leverion?”

            “In trouble with his father again,” noted a tall youth with fair hair.  “Seems that the keys to Medril’s storehouse went missing again yesterday morning and mysteriously returned an hour later, and the level in the barrel in which the brandy is aged has gone down—again.  Medril’s no longer willing to believe that others are somehow slipping into his house to steal the keys.”

            “So, we will not be able to slip out into the woods by his farm to drink his father’s brandy anymore,” predicted a much shorter young Man whose hair was the color of flame.  “Last night was the last time we’ll be drinking the product of Medril’s still.  And how much ale do you want, Master Wendthor?”

            “Just a single mug for the moment.”

            The red-haired youth nodded amiably and signaled the woman who served the tables.

            A heavier boy with dark hair shook a stray lock out of his eyes and looked at the serving wench regretfully.  “Too bad that Sparrow isn’t still working here.  She was faster, and would forget to take our coin now and then.”

            “Sparrow?” Wendthor asked.

            “Well, we called her that.  She worked here for five years, until she booted her husband out of her bed and her house a few months back.  He was a nasty piece of work and deserved it, no doubt.  But since then her brother has moved in to help her with the younger children, and he’s insisted she not work here anymore.  He’ll make certain that the marriage is properly dissolved and that no one equally unsuitable approaches her again.”

            “Her parents had warned her that Vangil was not fit to marry,” Narvil said.  “She came to work more than once with a blackened eye or a split lip.  But there’s just so many doors people will believe can be run into before they realize the Man was a brute.”

            The others agreed.

            “She’s better off out of here,” the red-haired youth commented.  “She’s been so easily distracted since her son died last year.”

            Wendthor straightened.  “Her son died last year?  How?”

            The heavier one was shaking his head.  “Oh, you must have heard of it.  Was one of those killed by that Danárion and his friends.  One of those three little boys, you see.”

            “Oh, yes.  I have heard of it.”

            “I still don’t believe that the three of them killed those boys,” commented another young Man.  “Well, perhaps Danárion might have.  But Carenthor?  I ask you!  For all his parents had planned to apprentice him to a woodwright, I doubt he could properly heft a woodcarver’s mallet, much less do what it’s said he did with the boys!  How was Carenthor to be carrying a child like Sparrow’s son about the place?  And can you really believe that he gelded the other child?”

            “But Garestil said he saw them do it!” insisted Narvil.

            The one with the fair hair made a sound of disgust.  “As if it weren’t possible to convince Garestil to say almost anything you want him to say at the best of times.  I’ll wager that Hanalgor only had to keep repeating the same thing over and over again until Garestil started agreeing that, yes, that was what happened!”

            Wendthor looked between the fair-haired youth and the other who’d expressed disbelief.  “Then you don’t think that the children were killed by Danárion, Carenthor, and Garestil?”

            The one with lighter hair shook his head.  “No, I don’t, at least.  But then, I’m but one, while most will believe almost anything ill that’s been said of the doings of Danárion.”

            “He tried to scratch my eyes out!” grunted a muscular youth who’d not spoken before, sitting as he was hunched behind a cup he’d apparently emptied more than once before the arrival of Wendthor and Narvil.

            The others laughed derisively.  “As if you’d not stolen his girl from him, and indicated he was lacking his manhood,” snorted the one who disbelieved Carenthor could have been involved.  “And it was to be noted at the time that the only one with any wounds from the encounter was Danárion!  He’s not precisely known for being a fighter, anymore than is Carenthor.”

            “His tongue is sharp enough, though,” Danárion’s former rival said.  “Could skin a cat with that tongue of his.”

            “Enough!” insisted Narvil.  “I for one don’t want to speak anymore about Danárion!  He had a nasty mouth and a worse imagination and reputation.  We’re better off with him gone.  I just wonder when they’ll stretch his neck.  Anyway, I’ve convinced Master Wendthor here to play for us.  He says that he can play Suleirion’s music….”

            All clapped when Wendthor played, and a few sang along with him.  It was an enjoyable evening, Wendthor thought when at last he returned to Master Normandil’s house.  As they approached the gate to the grounds he paused, taking Narvil by the forearm.  “Did Danárion, Carenthor, and Garestil really get drunk on Master Medril’s brandy on the night the children were killed?”

            Narvil, who was pleasantly intoxicated, laughed and muttered confidingly, “Them?  And how would they manage to get the key to the storehouse?  No, I assure you that we were the ones who enjoyed Medril’s liquor that time, and three days before the children went missing.  And no one knows!”  His laughter grew louder as he shook his arm free, bade Wendthor good night, and turned to head for his own door.

 *******

            Anorgil was going through the notes he’d been making on the investigation and trial of Danárion, Carenthor, and Garestil of Destrier when he heard a knock at the door.  He sighed as he set aside his papers and pen, corking the bottle of ink he’d purchased to carry with him when he was away from his own lodgings.  “If it’s Ada…” he muttered as he rose.

            It was.

            Gilflorin stood outside the door to his chamber, looking as awkward as Anorgil felt, his hands clasped uncertainly before him.  “Hello, my son,” he said.  “I wanted to talk with you….”

            “Adar.”  Anorgil wasn’t certain what else he might say to his father.

            They stood looking at each other for some moments before Gilflorin at last took the initiative and pushed by his son to enter the room.  He glanced about, and seated himself in one of the two chairs set before the hearth, looking meaningfully between the other and Anorgil.  Anorgil released another sigh, and came forward to take the other seat, then waited for his father to begin whatever conversation might follow.

            “You didn’t tell me that you were coming.”

            “There was no time to do so—I was asked to meet with our Lord King, was told I had been chosen to take part in this deputation, and had but a day to prepare for the journey.”

            “Nor did you notify me that you were in Anwar on your arrival.”

            “I am sorry—I must plead that I have been distracted by my duties.”

            “I almost never hear from you.”

            “I write regularly!”

            Gilflorin’s laugh was short.  “Oh, yes, you write regularly.  ‘Hello, Adar.  I am well.  I am kept busy by the Master.  I have helped prepare documents for so many people.  I must close—my duties indicate I must be at the Guild Hall early in the morning.’  That, Anorgil, is the typical letter I receive from you.”

            Well, he was right!  Anorgil felt embarrassed.  “I grieve I cannot find it in me to write more, Ada.”

            His father shrugged.  “Well, I must suppose it is more than I deserve.  Certainly many of my friends receive markedly less from their grown children.”  He examined his son’s face for a time before commenting in a soft voice, “I am sorry that I have proven such a disappointment to you.  I do wish you to know that it is a matter of pride for me that you have become so responsible a person in spite of my own lack of achievement.  And I never meant to be so poor an example for you to emulate.  Your mother did a fine job preparing you for your future.”

            “How did you learn that I was here in Anórien?”

            “I was here this afternoon when the message arrived from Lord Benargil that Masters Nerwion and Normandil should expect the deputation to arrive.  Normandil immediately offered to house you here, particularly as his niece was to be one of those who came.  He is quite fond of Lyrien, I understand.”

            “I did not expect to see you here.”

            Gilflorin shrugged.  “I visit at least once a month.  Normandil appears to find me amusing, and welcomes me for a few days at a time.  I will tell you that he has ordered the servants to see to it that my wine is well watered.  He does not appear to appreciate it when I become too—expansive.”  He looked about.  “And I appreciate being able to talk with others beyond Meris and Icarus.  As caretakers for as dissolute a soul as I’ve proved they are exemplary, and I do thank you for setting them to care for me since your nana died.  But neither appreciates the benefits of a good discussion.”

            “They have the reputation for honesty and loyalty and responsibility.”

            “But not for erudite conversation.”

            All Anorgil could do was to nod in response to that observation.

            “So,” Gilflorin said at length, “you are here on the King’s business.”

            “Yes.”

            “And why you?”

            “It was suggested by the Master that I might prove suitable.”

            “And you doubt the verdicts are just?”

            “Haven’t you indicated more than once that you found goodly portions of the testimony given and stories told to be less than credible?”

            Gilflorin’s brows rose at this question, and he answered, “Well, yes.”

            “When the answers given are questionable, does it not follow that the verdicts may also prove wrong?”

            Gilflorin suddenly smiled, and even began to chuckle.  “By Middle Earth and Over-heaven, if nothing else, I did teach you to think and question properly!”

            The observation surprised his son.  He stopped and considered the proposition, and found himself smiling involuntarily.  “Well, yes, I must suppose you have the right of it!”

            “Then I know that there is at least one lesson that I offered you that you have found profitable.”

            Anorgil smiled wryly.  “I am certain it will prove more than one in the end.  For one, you actually saw to it I learned Sindarin as well as Westron, which has stood me well in my studies and work.  And at least I do not believe as so many do here in Anórien that relieving oneself in flowing water will reduce the potency of my manhood.  Nor do I question the benevolence of the Powers.  After all, how else might it have been that one as lacking in martial skill as Master Frodo Baggins should have managed to breach the defenses of Mordor and reach the Sammath Naur bearing the Enemy’s Ring to the destruction of his armies and plans?”

            “Good question!”  Gilflorin’s expression became considerate.  “I will advise you—there is much anger here in Destrier toward Danárion and the other two.  I doubt many here question the verdicts as does our new King, and it may well happen that if you seek to see the verdicts overturned there will be those who will insist they are just and must be followed through upon.  Many here expect to be there to see Danárion hung, as if seeing him die the death will somehow put right all that has been shown to be less than satisfactory within the village.  Some appear to think that once he is dead, all their own trespasses against others will have been removed and set at naught.  A foolish conceit….”  His voice trailed off.

            It was a thought to be pondered.  “I thank you for the warning.”

            At last Gilflorin pushed himself to his feet.  “I suppose I ought to sleep.  You would not happen to have some wine within the chamber you might wish to share before I go?  No?  I thought not.”

            And rather absently he kissed his son’s brow and went out of the room, closing the door behind him.

 *******

            The healer Bilstred and his daughter stood inside the outer chamber of the rooms given to their use and looked about them.  Lyrien’s attention fixed on dust to be seen lying on the mantelpiece.  “Look at that,” she said with disapproval.  “This long after the Dark Lord’s defeat, and the servants still have yet to remove all of his ash from the place!”

            “Does it matter so much, Lyrien?”

            She turned on him.  “Do not Uncle’s servants care enough to see to it all of his house is cleaned, now that Mordor is no more?” she demanded.

            “I doubt they thought to check in here, as only we see these rooms in the usual course of things.  In other rooms where guests come and go I’m certain things would be better kept.”

            Her brief pique appeared to have passed, and she sat down heavily on the chair she’d always considered her own within her uncle’s house.  “Perhaps,” she admitted dully.

            He examined her as he took another chair.  “I thought that a good part in your decision to come to Destrier was to discuss with Lords Erchirion and Berevrion and the others how it was that so much was left out of the final transcript of the trial.”

            She shrugged.  “None seemed interested in the topic as we rode.”

            “So you said next to nothing to any save Master Anorgil?”

            She turned her head to consider him.  “He alone seemed interested in anything I might say.  You indicated that you wished to visit with Uncle for a time, yet you’ve barely said anything since we entered his house.”

            He did not address her observations, instead asking, “Are you so angry that I chose to come also?”

            She looked upward.  “I thought to have some time away from all that reminds me of Lord Benargil’s keep and my place there—as an unwanted dependent.  I was mistress of my own home, a wife and a mother, and it has all been taken from me.  No husband, no home that I might call my own, no child.”

            “And do you think your mother and I are without sympathy as to your plight, Lyrien?  We, too, grieve for the loss of our granddaughter----”

            “Yet you will not speak of her by name!”

            The grief of both could be easily seen.  At last she turned her head away.  “I am sorry, Father, for I ought to not take out my anger at life upon you and Mama.”

            He sighed and shifted his weight.  “I’d thought that perhaps your heart might be stirred again, Lyrien.  Perhaps by Enelmir, who is a good Man….”

            She looked at him aghast.  “A good Man?” she demanded.  “In what way is that pompous, self-righteous ass a good Man?  He has never even mourned the passing of his wife, although she devoted six years to her marriage to him!  Oh, he never abused her, but neither did he show her any love.  I suspect even their time in the marriage bed was more about their duty to produce an heir than to express any love for one another.  I doubt he found any pleasure in it at all, or that he gave her any.”

            He appeared pained by her outburst.  “But he is devoted to his duty----”

            She growled, “Devoted to his duty?  Oh, he is a stickler for justice—at any cost!  And to Mordor with mercy or truth!”

            “Do you question that this boy Danárion deserves death?”

            “Do I question?  Of course I question!  I’ve questioned it from the beginning, once I sat down in the Hall of the People to take down the proceedings of Enelmir’s court!  Every single time that Master Caraftion or the counselor hired by Carenthor’s parents spoke up to question an act or argument offered by Master Fendril, Enelmir ruled in favor of Fendril.  It did not matter how foolish the statement, or how outrageous the claim—Enelmir ever sided with Fendril.  Why even bother to offer a lawyer to counsel the accused?”

            “You’ve not said anything of this before.”

            “I took a vow to simply copy down the words of the one I was assigned to record and not to change them or make any judgments upon them.  I am not supposed to judge the actions of any—not accused, accusers, judge, jury, lawyers, witnesses—anyone!  I must remain detached, and to not allow the words of any to touch my heart.  I swear—if they could find any device that would take down the words in the stead of people they would do so.  Nor am I supposed to speak of what is said or done within the courtroom outside of it.  To do otherwise is to be—” her tone grew particularly bitter, “--unprofessional.”

            “Then, if it was not Danárion who brought about the killing of the children, then who was it?”

            “How is any to tell now?  Face it, Father—once the name of Danárion was spoken as one who might have done this thing, did they truly look to find out who actually committed this horrible crime?  For I tell you, it was horrible.  And the second crime was done toward those three youths—Garestil, Carenthor, and Danárion, for I am certain none of them had any hand in the deaths of the children.  No hand at all.”

            Bilstred considered his daughter thoughtfully.  Not in many years had she spoken so openly with him.  Certainly he’d never dreamed that she felt that justice had not been served in this case.  “Well, if it offers you any comfort, my daughter, it appears that our new King is willing to examine things more carefully.”

            “And I am glad.  It is said that he has restored hope to the kingdom of Gondor.  And for the first time since Faraster died, I begin to feel a glimmer of hope in my heart that things will not always remain dark within me, that I might one day again look to know pleasure and perhaps even joy and accomplishment once more.”

            He rose and came to her side, setting a hand on her shoulder.  “Then I will hope with you to see the truth uncovered, and to see you happy again.”

            He saw that there were tears in her eyes.  He leaned down to drop a kiss to the crown of her head, and bade her a good rest, and withdrew into his bedroom.

 *******

            Normandil looked at his two remaining guests.  “Well,” he asked quietly, “what will happen, think you, if they insist that all is wrong and Danárion must be freed?”

            Nerwion was shaking his head.  “Who can say, my friend?  None here in Destrier will be happy save for the families of the three youths.  There could be an uprising.  None wishes to think that a possible murderer walks yet amongst us.”

            They were quiet for a time.  At last Normandil said, “It could have been the father, Rindor.  He is outrageous enough to do anything, and appears half mad much of the time.”  He leaned forward to whisper, “And it is said that he abuses poppy syrup as well as strong drink.”

            “Yet the market guards say that he could not have done such a thing,” objected the Master of the village.

            “Just because they grew up near him,” suggested Nerwion’s wife.  “Who wishes to believe ill of one with whom one used to play at stones?”

            Nerwion shrugged, glancing in the direction of the guest chambers.  “If only I could know what they know or suspect….”

            But how were they to learn such a thing until those within the deputation chose to share such information?

A Visit to Medril’s Farm

            The farmer Medril fussed with his surcoat.  “But why are they coming here, this deputation of the King’s?” he asked his wife for at least the sixth time.  “Why would the King be concerned about the murder of three little boys he never met in an obscure part of Anórien?  It’s not as if such a case as this is worthy of the King’s interest.  Why doesn’t he pay attention to the defense of the realm or something?”

            His wife Anhildë, however, was too excited to worry about her husband’s concerns.  “I’ve reminded Lyssë to see to it she changes her clothing after she gathers the eggs, that she make a good impression on those in the deputation.  Who knows?  Perhaps one of them might be drawn to her and is young enough to consider her as a wife!”

            Medril gave her a despairing glance.  He doubted she would ever appreciate just what this visit might mean.  He’d been able to convince the guardsmen and Destrier’s constables that Leverion had had nothing to do with the deaths of those children who’d been murdered last summer.  But if they learned that the boy had been regularly stealing his father’s brandy from the storehouse, and that he was the one who’d done so before the boys went missing, it could be bad for their son.  And as much grief as Leverion caused them, still he was their child and they would defend him to the death!

            At this he went cold.  Had he just suspected Leverion of being involved in the murders after all?  But, no!  He couldn’t have done so, not their son!

            It wasn’t even a quarter of a mark later that they heard horses’ hooves on the track leading into the farm, and he drew Anhildë after him, out of their comfortable house and into the dooryard.

            Leverion came out of the barn and watched warily as Constable Amdir led the King’s representatives along the graveled way.  Medril stepped forward to offer them a proper greeting.  “Welcome, my lords!” he boomed, hoping he sounded properly sure of himself.  “It is a great honor to host you!  My son and hands will see to your mounts.”

            “I will see to my own steed,” commented one as he slid from his horse’s back, and Medril stopped, openmouthed, realizing that this was no Man, but apparently one of the mysterious Elves of which the old tales told.  Tall and stately, there was a special grace to this one as he flicked one of the dark braids of his temple locks behind his ear and placed his hand on the horse’s cheek, speaking to it in what must be an Elvish tongue.  His horse sported no bridle or saddle, and it was as beautiful and graceful as its master.  The Elf turned to Leverion.  “If you will show me where he might graze?”

            It took a time for Leverion to come to himself enough to realize what had been asked of him.  “This—this way, my lord,” he said uncertainly, and turned to lead the way to the paddock set aside for the horses of guests.

            The hands, assisted by Amdir and the guards, took the other mounts, and Medril led the way through the house to the covered porch at the back that looked out upon the sloped vineyard and the woodlot.  Lyssë was returning from the poultry runs, two baskets in her hands, and she gave a stifled cry of dismay when she realized their guests had already arrived.  She hurried to the dairy to see the eggs out of the heat of the day, and he knew she would go around the house before going in to see her dress changed.

            “I am called Medril.  And how may my family serve you?” Medril asked as Anhildë served out the cooled herbal drink and nut cakes she’d prepared for their refreshment.

            “I am Berevrion, Lord of Tirith Fuir in Eriador, and a kinsman of our Lord King Aragorn Elessar,” explained the one who appeared to lead the deputation.  “Lord Erchirion, second son to Prince Imrahil of Dol Amroth; Master Anorgil, originally of Anwar and now of Minas Tirith and an assistant to the Master of the White City’s Guild of Lawyers; Master Bariol, a battle surgeon whose work is admired by the King; and our companion who sees to his own horse is Harolfileg of Eryn Lasgalen, a healer in the court of Thranduil, King of the great Woodland Realm, who has come at the request of his lord’s sons, Prince Tharen and Prince Legolas.  Prince Legolas was a companion to my Lord Kinsman during the journey of the Fellowship of the Ring south from Imladris.  With us are Lord Benargil’s son, Wendthor, Mistress Lyrien of Lord Benargil’s household, and her father, Master Bilstred, brother to Master Normandil of the village.  Master Bilstred is Lord Benargil’s personal healer and the tutor to his children.  And I believe that you are already acquainted with Master Caraftion.”

            Medril gave Caraftion a swift glance and pointedly looked away again.  “And you have two guards with you?” he asked, feeling the sweat beginning to run down his back and hoping it was hidden by his surcoat.

            “Yes, Lord Erchirion is accompanied by a Swan Knight from his father’s retinue, and I by another of the Grey Company that came south from our strongholds in the north to our Lord’s side before the final battles.”

            “I see,” Medril murmured.  The credentials of their visitors appeared to be of the very highest in the land, although he could not for the life of him begin to understand why three in this company were healers, and one of those an Elf!  He indicated Anhildë.  “My wife, Anhildë.  Our son Leverion is showing—Lord--Harolfileg where his horse might graze, while our daughter Lyssë is within the house, and will join us as soon as she is properly attired.”

            “Yes, I saw her returning from the poultry runs.  I rejoice that she puts her duty to your household first, Master Medril.”

            He could detect no indication that this Lord Berevrion’s words meant anything more than what he’d said, and he began to relax.

            Master Anorgil took up the tale.  “When our Lord King received the request from Lord Benargil for a signed warrant to hang Danárion of Destrier at the same time he received a letter from the young man’s mother begging him to investigate the case against her son, he decided it would be best to err on the side of caution.  He has shown himself to be a merciful Man, and will not order the death of any if there is question as to the true degree of responsibility the condemned may hold for the crime for which he has been convicted.  Already he has shown remarkable wisdom in ordering the fates of several guilty of various crimes against the people of Gondor, and he would have the full facts of the case before he would see so young a Man sent to the gallows or his fellows condemned to hard labor for the remainder of their lives.”

            Medril gave a tentative nod of understanding.  “Then, this is likely to become commonplace throughout the realm from this time on, that he will send others to confirm that those accused of capital crimes are indeed worthy of the rope?”

            “We cannot speak to all cases, but I suspect that you have the right of it,” replied Lord Berevrion.  “My Lord Kinsman is known to be a just Man.  He prefers to be merciful when it is possible, although he will never allow anyone likely to threaten the peace of the realm or the safety of his people to endanger others.  Those who are truly guilty of crimes of violence tend to find him implacable, while he offers those he feels are able to serve well in the future the chance to redeem themselves.  And I have rarely seen him make a mistake in his justice or the sentences he imposes.”

            “Then what is it you would ask of us?” he asked as Anhildë took the now empty tray back into the kitchen of their house.

            “Only that you and the members of your household answer our questions truthfully, show us where they stood when they saw what they describe, and do not seek to embroider upon what they know.”

            Again he indicated his understanding, secretly worrying how it was that Anhildë and Lyssë were going to follow that last stricture.  He was well accustomed to their tendency to stretch the truth of whatever stories they might tell, but how would this apparently stern lord react to this habit?  Not well, he suspected.

 *******

            Anhildë had been sent to the stillroom in company with Master Bilstred and Mistress Lyrien while her daughter was questioned with the whole of the deputation, Master Caraftion, and Medril himself to stand as witnesses to what she might say.  Anorgil was to record what was said, and sat at a nearby table with his pen and ink at hand, clean foolscap before him.  The constable Amdir and Berevrion’s guard Faradir were asked to have Leverion show them the way to the gully containing the ditch wherein the children’s bodies had lain hidden, although they were cautioned not to enter it at this time, merely scout about it to make certain it had not been recently disturbed.

            “No fear of that,” Medril grunted.  “When such evil has been done there, no one will come near the place!”

            “I am glad this might be so; but still, there are some of evil imagination or morbid tendencies who will seek out such places as if there were some power they might find there,” Berevrion pointed out.  “If this has happened, I would be advised of it.”

            “Would you wish me to go with them to learn what trees and earth might tell me?” asked Harolfileg.

            The northern lord shook his head.  “Not as yet.  No, wait and go out with us.  I may well allow you to enter the gully first, however, if you will so agree.”

            Harolfileg shrugged.  “I will be glad to do so.”

            So the youth was not in the house, and the hands were busy about their duties upon the farm, and the mother where she could not hear what her daughter might say to those sent to enquire about the case against Danárion.

            “Do you often walk about outside of your home after the Sun has set, young Mistress?” Berevrion asked.

            She shrugged.  “On occasion,” she admitted.  “Not often, though.”

            “On the night that the children went missing, did you do so?”

            “Yes—my mother and I did so, together.  It was a fair night and quite warm, and the Moon was full.  It was quite bright, and we could easily see our way as we followed the path about the edges of the fields.”

            “When you walk out in the evenings, do you often take this path?”

            “Not so often after dark, but often during the daylight hours.  But that night, as bright as was the Moon, we felt no fear of stumbling across anything that might lie upon the path.”

            He smiled at her.  “I am glad you are not given to foolish imaginings as I am told is not uncommon in the region.  It has been said many fear that evil spirits walk abroad at such times.”

            She stiffened some, but answered him, “Oh, all know those stories, and I would be rightly concerned about them if I were alone.”

            “But not with your mother as your companion?”

            She smiled prettily.  “No, not with my mother at my side.”

            He nodded.  “Then tell me where it was you went and what you saw.”

            She took a breath and began:  “We were there on the eastern border of our fields when we heard voices, voices from across the canal.  We looked and saw them, Danárion and my cousin Argilien, walking in the fields where the last farmer used to grow his spelt.”

            “He grew spelt, did he?”

            She nodded solemnly.  “Yes, that was the field where he grew it, the one nearest the canal on that side.”

            “How did you know that it was Danárion?”

            “Oh, all know him.  He always dresses in black, and seeks to make his voice lower than it really is, and pretends ever to be quite solemn.  He threatens to take the blood of those who make fun of him, and tells us that he will conjure with it.”

            “And what does he say he will conjure?”

            “Spirits.  It is said that spirits are drawn to bowls of blood even as cats are drawn to bowls of milk, and so they can be caught and controlled.”

            Lord Erchirion sat behind Lyssë where she could not see his expression.  Medril saw that he was shaking his head and rolling his eyes at the girl’s words—clearly such things were not believed in the southern provinces.

            “What made it easy to recognize him that night?” asked the King’s kinsman.

            “Oh, he was dressed darkly, as was usual with him, and you could see the white streak in his hair----”

            “There is a white streak in his hair?”

            “Oh, yes!  It is said that he makes it white using cleansing water on but the one place.  All of the rest is black.”

            “Black, not dark brown?”

            She shook her head.  “No, it is quite black, and looks blue in the proper light.  He wore it long and straight, save it was shorter in the right side of his face than on the left.”

            “The right side as you look at him?”

            “No, the right side of his face as he looks at you.”

            “And he always wears it in this manner?”

            “Most of the time since three summers past.”

            “Do you know why?”

            “His father was seeking to cut it, but was drunken and could not cut it even on both sides.  Afterwards he left it that way, more to pretend it had been done a-purpose than for any other reason.”

            “And your cousin….”

            “Argilien.  Her name is Argilien.”

            “Argilien, then.  How was it you could recognize her?”

            She laughed.  “Even in the moonlight her hair is coppery, and quite curly.  None other anywhere near Destrier has such hair!”

            “So, you are certain that it was Argilien and no other?”

            “It couldn’t have been anyone but Argilien.”

            “How was she dressed?”

            “As she dresses when she helps in the milking—Uncle raises milk cows upon his farm.”

            “And how is it she dresses when she helps with the milking?”

            “Well, she wears her skirt kilted up so that it is not in the way of the bucket as she sits upon the stool.  And she wears a light-colored apron—she has three, each of a light color, but none quite the same color as the others.”

            “Could you see which one she wore that night?”

            “No—the moonlight was not enough to tell.”

            “And where was it that they were walking from?”

            “Oh, from the gully wherein lies the ditch where those boys were found.”

            “And where was it they went?”

            “They walked across the field.”

            “In which direction?”

            “North—they were going north.”  Her voice was less certain now.  “They were walking away from the gully, across the field, so they could only be going north.”

            “Why could they not have been going south?”

            “Because the woods are thicker to the south.  The fields are north of the gully.”

            He smiled.  “Ah, I see.  Could you hear them speak with one another?”

            “No.  It was too far.”

            “Yet you said that you heard their voices and that was how you realized they were there.”

            “We could hear voices, but it was too far to tell the words.”

            “Will you show us where it was that you were when you heard them?”

            “Yes.”

            She led them outside and across one field toward the eastern boundaries of the farm.  All could see that the trees and brush were high beyond the field they crossed.  At last they reached the far side of it, and stood upon a beaten track wide enough for two to walk side by side.  She led the way north alongside of it for a ways, and then stopped.  Pointing slightly southward, she said, “The gully is that direction.  We were here, near that tree.”  She pointed toward a tall tree with only two main boughs raised toward the sky.  “It’s a father tree,” she confided, “so no one will cut it.  It’s said that to try to cut a father tree will bring evil upon whoever endangers it.”

            “And you stood near here?”

            “I stood exactly here.”

            “And your mother stood where?”

            She pointed a few feet further along the path.  “There—she stood there.”

            “And you are certain?”

            She nodded.  “Oh, yes, I am certain.”

 *******

            Almost an hour later they had finished with the questioning of the mother and had followed her to where she said she’d seen Danárion and Argilien.  “We were here!” she said.  “We stood side by side, right here.”

            “And where were Danárion and Argilien when you heard their voices?

            “There, across the canal.”

            “Can you point to where it was they were?”

            “Of course!  They were----”  She paused, suddenly her face filled with confusion.  Her pointing finger wavered.  The canal itself could not be seen, so thick were the trees and brush along its western bank; and nothing could be seen of the land across it from where they stood.  Only here and there could they see the upper branches of those trees upon the canal’s further bank, and it was apparent that the area there was heavily wooded.

            “Which way is the gully where the bodies were found?”

            She pointed to the same area as had Lyssë—some distance north of where they now stood.

            Medril’s face was pale and set.  They had lied—the both of them!

            “Master Bilstred, will you please see Mistress Anhildë back to the house?  And until I come again I do not wish her to speak with her daughter.”

            “Yes, my Lord Berevrion.”

            Berevrion led the way to the area across from where both mother and daughter had indicated the ditch lay.  “Faradir!” he called.  “Are you and your companions still there?”

            “Yes, we are—and we’re fair being eaten alive by mosquitoes and gnats!  How much longer do you wish us here?”

            “Have young Leverion lead you north into the field where spelt used to grow.”

            “How far?”

            “Until I call to say it is enough.”

            They could hear sounds of conversation muffled by the distance and the brush, and then the sounds of bodies pushing aside shrubs and leaves.  Berevrion led the rest back down the path to where Lyssë had indicated she and her mother had been when they’d supposedly seen Danárion and Argilien, signaling for Erchirion to go to the spot on which she had said her mother had stood.  He beckoned the rest to find places in between the two of them, and said, “When you see anyone on the far side of the canal, say so; and if you can identify who it is, say his name.”

            Thrice Medril saw part of the head of one of three on the further side, but he never saw enough of any of them to say who it was, for all had dark hair.  He suspected that he was seeing Lord Berevrion’s guardsman, who was the tallest of the three, but could not say for certain.  Only the Elf could name the one he had glimpses of each time.

            At last Berevrion called, “It is far enough.  Return to the beam that bridges the canal.  We will join you in a moment.”  He then turned to the Elf and asked most respectfully, “Master Harolfileg, if you could please, tell us how high were, say, those particular bushes a year ago?”

            The Elf gave a brief yet most graceful inclination of his head and went forward, touching the bushes in question, bushes that were shorter than the rest.  At last he turned toward the Man and said, “They were but a span shorter then than they are now.  Mostly they have grown outward rather than upward.”

            Medril said, his tone heavy, “Then there is no way in which my wife and daughter could have seen how it was that Argilien was dressed when she walked through that field—if,” he added with some bitterness, “she did so at all on that night.”

            Berevrion nodded, his eyes compassionate.  “Even so, Master Medril.”

            “I beg of you to understand this—I do not believe that my wife lies out of malice, but merely to appreciate her own position in comparison to what is important on a particular day.  And my daughter—well, she has never been able to say to my wife, ‘But, Mother, you lie’.”

            As they turned to reach the beam themselves, Berevrion asked Medril, “What way is it that those who come to the canal from the village travel to reach this beam?  They are not allowed to cross over your fields when the crops are growing, are they?”

            He listened to the description Medril gave, and paused to turn and examine the fields and the common footpath those not from Medril’s farm would use.  “I see,” he commented.  And with no further speech they walked down the steep slope to the beam and crossed over it to the eastern bank of the canal.

            Faradir, Amdir, and Leverion awaited them in the shadows of the trees, which were taller on this side.  “The ditch where the bodies were found is that direction some twenty to thirty paces,” Faradir said, nodding northward.  “There is an old bridle trail, once cleared for horses or ponies to travel, just behind us some six paces, much of it now overgrown due to lack of use.  It is many years, I’d deem, since a horse could come that way, for the trees have leaned over it, seeking more sunlight for themselves.  Their lower branches are barely above my head in most cases, and they are quite stout.  A pony could come that way if it was led rather than ridden, not unless quite a small child or Hobbit was riding it.  And, thinking on Hobbits, they would love this place!  There is a small spring just a few feet that way,” he pointed at the ground to the south of where he stood, “that begins the route of a thin stream that travels parallel to the old bridle trail and the canal for about ten rods or so before it turns to spill into the canal.  And along the banks of the stream I saw many of the varieties of mushrooms that the Hobbits of the Shire and the Breelands favor.  I have seen many different berries, most unfamiliar to me, and a number of smaller trees and bushes that produce nuts of several kinds.  I saw rosehips still clinging to bushes in a clearing that direction, and it appears that a wild pig has been rooting for truffles.”

            His lord nodded approvingly.  “Indeed, a paradise for Hobbits this would prove.”

            “And before we go to the ditch where the boys were left, I would show you one more thing.”  So saying, Faradir led them eastward some twenty feet to where a deer trail turned south.  They pushed between two bushes on which delicate pink blossoms bloomed into a hidden clearing, small and secret.  Fallen logs had been arranged in a circle around what was plainly a small fire pit that had been recently used.  “The last fire was no more than two days past,” he said.  “And there is more.”  He pulled aside a fallen limb to which rattling brown leaves still clung with stubborn persistence, revealing a depression filled with the remains of clay wine jars.  He reached for one whose color was not yet dimmed by exposure to the weather and held it up.  “There was brandy in this.”

            Leverion appeared sullen, and was eyeing his father rather obliquely, with decided wariness.  Medril sighed.  “I know that my son has been stealing my brandy for quite some time.  He had me convinced it was the brother of one of our hands, who comes to visit at least once each seven-day.  But when I went into the village yesterday to confront him I learned he had fallen from a beam on which he stood, painting the frames of his windows, and has been in the healer’s house for most of these last five days, and so could not have been the one who stole brandy two days past.  I have had to accept that instead it is Leverion himself who does this.”

            Wendthor was grinning.  “And I have learned that when the brandy was stolen three days before the children went missing, it was drunk that night by Leverion and his friends!”

            Berevrion’s eyebrows rose, and he looked on the youth with approval.  “Excellent—then we now know that Carenthor, Danárion, and Garestil had nothing to do with the theft of the brandy then, and thus would not have had to return here to retrieve what they might have hidden away in the woods to conceal it from their parents, and so have a reason to settle by the stream.”

            Faradir was shaking his head.  “Oh, but Berevrion—I assure you that the ditch is no stream.  Nay, if it had water in it, it was from rains some days past.  Wait until you see it.”

            “In a moment.”  The northern lord examined Leverion severely.  “Why did you allow Danárion, Carenthor, and Garestil to take the blame for the theft then?”

            “Why not?  Do you think that I wished my father to know I was taking the brandy?  He would have had the lock changed and would keep the key upon him rather than setting me to watch it for him.”

            Medril felt his cheeks burn, realizing how it was that his own son had cozened him.

            The Elf was standing still in the center of the clearing.  “I sense no violence done here—drinking and laughter, yes; but no violence.”

            Now they turned to follow Faradir and Amdir to the ditch where the bodies had been found.  The walls of the gully were steep, and must be treacherous when wet.  “We had a rain some days ago,” Amdir said.  “It is the only reason there is any water in the ditch now.  So it was a year past—there was a heavy rain that went on for some three days about a seven-day before the boys went missing.  The water was higher then than it is now.”

            They pushed by a stand of low bushes and stepped over the raised earth over a tree’s root, and stood over the ditch itself.

            The water in it was brown with suspended soil, and its surface dusted yellow with pollen from nearby trees.  Shards from broken wine jars broke the surface here and there, and they could see the arm of a long-lost doll protruding from the mud on its far bank.  No, no merry stream this.  Flies and other flying things buzzed over the remains of a fish, perhaps brought here and abandoned recently by a water rat or weasel, and all could see the track of a large turtle where it had clawed its way out of the water and up the steep bank.

            Amdir pointed.  “The body of the first child was found here, and those of the other two that way some eighteen paces closer to the canal.  All were apparently pushed face-down in the mud at the bottom, which I will tell you is quite thick and cloying.  We found the first only because I was leaning over the water, my hand against the bole of that tree to balance me, trying to fish out the floating shoe that had been found, and my feet slipped and I slid down into the water, breaking the hold the mud had on the child’s body, allowing it to rise to the top.  The water was deeper then, coming to just above my knee.  Now I’d say it is no more than ankle deep, and perhaps might reach the calf in the few deeper places.”

            He looked about, and paused, his eyes fixed on a flatter area some few feet further away from the canal on their side of the ditch.  “There were found two footprints there, as if someone stood there for quite some time.  We poured liquid wax into them that we might compare the prints to the feet of others, although I cannot say what became of the casts.  Master Fendril had them last, I believe.  That area beside the footprints appeared to have been brushed with a fallen branch, but that was all that had been disturbed.”

            “Did you see any blood standing upon the leaves or ground or stems of grass, trees, and bushes?” asked Bariol.

            “No—none.  There was no blood to be seen save where the bodies were laid upon the banks after they were found, and that was but the weak seeping of fluid from the bodies of the dead.”

            “And in what position were they placed in the water?” asked the Elf.

            “When Vendrion found them, the bodies of the other two were definitely pressed face-down into the mud.  And Avrandahil, when he came here to see, pointed out what appeared to be the mark of a foot on the back of the child hidden here.  Now, the clothing was found pressed down into the mud with long sticks just there, at the child’s head.”

            “Were the sticks hard enough to use to beat the children?” asked Anorgil.

            Amdir shook his head.  “They might have been long, but were little better than the stalks of young shoots.  Most of the clothing had been bundled inside one child’s cotte, and it appears that three of the shoes fell free and had to be pushed into the mud separately.  One had escaped the clutch of the mud and had floated to the top by the time it was seen and I was called along with Hanalgor, Vendrion, and others of the gate and market guards who came in response to the call.  It was but chance that the children were found that day.”

            “And what time of the day was it that you came?” asked Bariol.

            “We were called here in the early afternoon, just after the seventh bell.”

            “One by the clock in the afternoon as the Breefolk call it, then,” noted Berevrion.  Faradir nodded.

            Amdir added, “But I had been here earlier in the day, just after the rising of the sun.  The gully and woods were yet darkly shadowed, so I bore a torch with me.  Then I noted nothing, not even the footprints, although they might have been there and I just didn’t see them at the time.  But then I followed the top of the gully on that side.  One could not walk along the ditch on this side—just down the path that we followed to come here.  There is a similar path that leads down to where the other two bodies were found, both coming from the same point at the top of the gully.”

            He straightened and gazed up through the tree limbs overhead at the blue sky beyond them.  “Yes, we all stood here and waited as Vendrion crawled along through the water on his hands and knees toward the canal, sweeping the mud with his hands in search of any clue….”

            “And wiping away other signs that might have told you more,” sighed Harolfileg, shaking his head.   Amdir flushed at the disapproval he sensed in the Elf’s words.

            “Were there any signs of any arcane rites to be found?” asked Anorgil.

            “There is a root there, and it appears that a rope has been used to bind someone to it.  Hanalgor thought….”  But Amdir did not finish the statement.  Caraftion, who held his own tongue, shook his head.

            Medril glanced at his son, then said, “When we were young and sought turtles, frogs, or fish here, we would secure our basket to the root there by a rope, letting the basket itself down partly into the water that whatever we caught would not dry out in the heat of the day.”

            Leverion nodded, “So we have done as well, my friends and I.”  He slapped at a mosquito as it landed upon his arm.

            Amdir considered the exposed root, his expression puzzled.  “Then the children were not bound there to await the knife?” he asked, turning his questioning gaze toward the farmer.

            Harolfileg and Bariol exchanged glances before turning their attention to the constable.  “You have said that there was no blood to be found upon the ground, surrounding leaves, grass, or stems to the bushes and trees, did you not?” Harolfileg probed.  At Amdir’s nod of assent he continued, “Then why do you believe that a knife was involved in the deaths of these children?  If, as you say, there was blood to be seen only after the bodies were laid upon the bank, and that the weak seepage from the bodies themselves, then it is most likely that no knife was used upon them, not while they were yet alive.”

            “But Hanalgor was certain that the one boy’s manhood was removed while he was yet alive.  He says that this was most pleasing to the Nameless One, to see his enemies reduced ere the life fled them!”

            Bariol indicated the spoor left by a turtle.  “Do not look for the actions of enemies when there are such creatures as turtles in the area,” he advised.  “That portion of the body is favored by such things.”

            Caraftion’s eyes lit with interest, while Amdir’s face greyed with revulsion.  “No!” the constable objected.

            Bariol shook his head.  “Oh, but yes.  One of the soldiers who served upon Cair Andros when I was stationed there was swimming in the Anduin with a few of his fellows one day when they had been granted a few hours’ leave.  A very large turtle was seen by them as they arrived at the river’s bank.  It had been sunning itself upon a rock, but slipped into the water as they arrived.  They thought little of it.

            “The day was hot, and all were sweaty.  A few thought to remove their small clothes, and beat them clean upon the rocks and left them to dry while they swam in the deeper water.  One of these was treading water when he felt intense pain, and at his cry the others looked and saw the glint of the turtle’s back as it swam away, the prize of his manhood in its beak and blood spreading quickly from the wound it had left.  I was called upon to treat him, and found the act had been quite swiftly and expertly done.  And those who watch for enemies along the banks of the river tell me that when they see the bodies of animals that had died, swept away by the current when they’d fallen or been chased into the water and then washed up upon the shore, it was not unusual to find turtles feasting upon the privates.”

            All of the menfolk shuddered at the mere thought of it.

            Harolfileg nodded.  “Do not always ascribe to enemies what is done regularly by our fellow creatures,” he advised.  “I was told by friends who had spent time in Edhellond that the Men who dwelt near to the old havens we once kept there would employ certain turtles to aid them to find the bodies of those believed to have drowned in the river or in the lakes to be found in the region.  They have the ability to scent the decaying bodies through the water and will seek them out in order to feed, and so will lead the searchers to the remains of the dead.”

            “But there were many wounds to be seen upon the bodies of the boys,” Amdir said.

            “Was there blood crusted upon the wounds?” asked the Elf.

            The constable thought.  “No, save in the hair and about the nose, eyes, and ears we saw little crusting of the blood.  There in the hair it was indeed crusted, and thickly.  But, then the bodies had been placed while they were yet living in the ditch, and the water undoubtedly washed most of the blood upon the bodies themselves away.”

            Harolfileg indicated the water they saw before them.  “Was the water then as it is now, with the silt suspended in it and the pollen atop it?”

            The Man considered the ditch for a moment as he scratched at an insect bite on his arm.  “Well, yes, although I believe the pollen was even thicker upon it then.”

            “This water is not living water—it does not move.  It merely lies still within the ditch until it dries away or sinks into the earth itself.  Only when there is heavy rain do I deem it flows at all, as it runs down the sides of the gully and fills the ditch and drains into the canal there beyond us.  Once the rain is over, however, and the last of the water runs off of the fields into it, then it lies quiescent again as it is now.  Stagnant water does not wash away blood or filth from aught that falls into it, not without active scrubbing, or a most prolonged period to allow the blood to soak loose.”

            Bariol asked, “You say that the blood was heavily crusted in the hair?”

            “Yes,” Amdir said.  “I touched it as I tried to find signs of any wounds to the skulls.  The hair was thick with crusted blood on all three of the boys.”

            The battle surgeon exchanged another look with the Elven healer.  “Then the bodies could not have been placed in the ditch immediately after their heads were struck,” he said.  “It takes time and exposure to air for the blood to clot so.”  He appeared disturbed. 

            Caraftion spoke for the first time, saying, “Yet, when the trials were held it was said that the boys were beaten and savaged, but were still alive when they were thrown into the stream and abandoned to drown.”

            Berevrion considered the muddy water before them with a grimace of distaste.  “Faradir was right--this is no stream,” he pronounced.

            “Nor were they thrown into the water,” noted Faradir, “not if they were deliberately forced, face down, into the mud at the ditch’s bottom.  You said that the healer who examined the bodies noted a footprint upon the back of one of the victims?”

            Amdir nodded.  “Yes—the one whose body was found here.”

            Bariol said consideringly, “Again an indication that the intent was to deliberately hide the bodies rather than to allow the water to take the lives of the boys.”  He asked Amdir, “Did this healer who examined the bodies check inside their mouths?”

            “Yes.”

            “Was the mud caked within them?”

            “Not thickly.”

            “How about their noses?”

            Amdir shook his head.  “No—one could see blood dried about the nostrils and inside the ears and about the eyes, but not any large amount of mud.”

            Bariol sighed and rubbed at his chin where a bite had begun to rise.  “More signs that they suffered primarily from the blows administered to their heads.”

            Caraftion slapped at his thigh in frustration.  “Why did Master Fendril object so to my request we bring the jury here so as to allow them to see where it was the children were said to have died?”

            Berevrion took a deep breath, and settled himself carefully on the sloped surface of the gully to remove his boots and stockings.  Medril was puzzled.  “What do you look to do, my lord?” the farmer asked.

            “I would see for myself just how thick the mud is here,” he was told, and Medril watched in surprise as the King’s kinsman himself tested the sucking nature of the mud at the bottom of the ditch.

*******

            Before they crossed back over the canal, Berevrion walked out into the field where the former resident had once planted spelt, looking toward the houseplace and the remains of barns and byres.  “How was it that those who dwelt here came and went?” he asked.  “It does not appear that they could have used the bridle path under the trees for quite some years.”

            “There is a wagon track that leads eastward there,” Medril explained, pointing.  “It comes out on the boundaries of what is now another abandoned farmstead about two miles east upon the Highway from the village.”

            “The one where the only remaining structure of any size is the byre?” asked Berevrion.  “We saw it as we rode from Anwar.”  He stood thinking.  At last he turned to his guardsman.  “Faradir, I would have you and Wendthor, if you will, walk that track.  Check for any sign that one might have approached the canal and the ditch from that direction.  You two should be able to return to the village within three hours, I would think.”

            “First we sit to be feasted upon by insects, and now we are to walk several miles in the heat of the day?” asked Faradir.  “You ask much, kinsman.  But we will do it.  But only if we are allowed to eat at whatever inn there might be within the village before we return to Master Normandil’s house.  A good meal and a mug or two of ale would do much to reward us for our labors, I’d think.”

            “Gladly,” Berevrion said, opening his scrip and bringing out a small purse from which he removed several coins.  “Let me pay for your refreshment, then.”

            Youth and northern Ranger set out across the fields while the others returned to the beam that crossed the canal.  As Amdir at Berevrion’s side approached the wood, he stopped, pointing.  “The bodies of the two ponies were found here, where they’d been dropped into the canal, one each side of the beam.”

            The wood was wide enough for a grown man to walk across it, but was indeed too narrow for a pony.  Berevrion paused, one foot upon the wood, to look behind him at the steep bank that had to be descended in order to reach the beam when coming from the old bridle trail.  He asked Amdir, “Were there signs of the ponies coming down this slope?”

            The constable nodded.  “Yes—one could see where the hooves slipped.”

            “Were they dead, do you think, when they were pushed into the canal?”

            Amdir again nodded, more slowly.  “They were killed by a blow to the side of the head of each with a knife, with the blade penetrating into the brain.”

            Bariol said, “It sounds like a butcher’s blow.”

            Berevrion commented, “Most horsemen would kill their mounts with a slash across the throat instead; but this would be a most—efficient—means of disposing of the creatures.”  Again he asked the constable, “And were there signs as to where the animals had been pushed into the canal?”

            But this time the constable was shaking his head.  “No, we don’t believe they were pushed.  They were found a small distance away from the bank, one on each side of the beam, and it was as if they had been dropped down into the water.  I was one of those who dove down to see if anything could be found and saw them as they lay.”

            “Dropped?”  Bariol’s voice sounded shocked at the idea.  “How could such beasts as ponies be dropped into the water?”

            “Dropped or thrown,” Amdir insisted.  “They were not pushed—the dirt and grass were not torn as they ought to have been had the ponies been pushed, and there was no scarring to the bank of the canal from the bodies scraping against it as they fell.”

            Berevrion asked, “Were there footprints to be seen?”

            “One—and again a wax cast was made.  But it was not as clear as had been those by the ditch.”

            “And did the boys’ parents recognize their son’s ponies?”

            “Yes.”

            “And there were but two ponies?” asked Anorgil.

            “One child did not have a pony, for his parents could not afford to keep one.  He rode behind Rindor’s son when the children were last seen, riding away from the homes of the two who lived on the same lane, headed for the gate.”

            Anorgil sighed.  “I will have much to record once we are back in the village,” he noted.

            “Indeed,” Berevrion agreed.  “Well, it is now time to speak with Mistresses Anhildë and Lyssë.”

            Medril felt his heart grow cold, wondering what punishment his wife and daughter might have brought upon themselves.

“Do Not Seek to Embroider upon the Truth…”

            As they walked back toward the farmhouse Medril asked, “And what do you plan to do regarding the tales told by my wife and daughter, my lord?”

            Caraftion interjected, “I do believe that the fact that no one could see what they said in the trials they saw should be made public, Lord Berevrion.  It might do much to relieve the surety all have that Danárion, Carenthor, and Garestil must have been the ones who killed the three children.”

            “But it would bring shame upon them----” began Medril.

            Berevrion, however, was shaking his head.  “I fear, Master Medril, that their shame must needs be made public, whether we should wish it or not.  It was in public that they claimed to have seen Danárion and Argilien walking together away from the site where the children’s bodies were later found, and so it is the public that should now know that this was actually untrue.  It does no one good to seek to shelter one’s reputation if by doing so we do injustice to another.”

            On reaching the farmhouse, Lord Berevrion retired briefly to the bathing room to see his feet and stockings properly cleansed.  Medril provided him with clean stockings he might wear to return to the village proper, and he saw to providing the company with a small but still sufficient repast.

            Anhildë and Lyssë had each been kept confined to her own chamber, and at last, when the meal prepared was set out upon the table, they were sent for and brought to Berevrion’s presence.  He looked at both with severity.  “I will not question either of you further at this time, nor you, Leverion,” he added, looking at the youth.  “This afternoon we are to meet first with the parents of the slain boys, and then with the parents of those who were convicted of the crime.  All of you will come to the village to the public hall as soon as can be arranged after we leave, and I ask, Master Medril, that you bring with you the hand whose brother was accused by your son.  You will be seated where you may hear all that is said by the others, and when we are finished with our conferences with these we will turn to the matter of your wife, daughter, and son.  Constable Amdir will remain with you, and will see to it that mother and daughter do not speak together until after we speak with you.  Do you understand?” he asked, focusing his attention on Anhildë.

            She appeared to be very frightened.  “Yes, my lord,” she said with uncharacteristic meekness.

            As soon as the party had finished with their meal they left, and Medril’s family prepared to follow them.  “You have been warned many times, Anhildë,” Medril told his wife as she prepared for their ride into the village, “that you should not continually claim that you saw this and that when you did not do so.  In this case it has served only to cast more suspicion upon our son.”

            She nodded in response, and when ready followed him out of the house to take her place on the bench of their wagon.  Leverion and his sister were already seated in their places on the second bench, and Amdir and the requested hand climbed into the tilt of the wagon.  One of the other hands went forth to see the gates opened and then closed behind them, and they set off for the village, for once none of them excited at the thought of the monotony of their days being broken.

 *******

            As the party that made up the King’s deputation entered the village hall, it could be seen that many from within the village had come to learn what might be made public during the meetings scheduled for the afternoon.  Master Nerwion was already there, and had provided watered wine and a selection of cold meats, fruit, and breads for those within the party in case they’d not yet enjoyed a proper noon meal.  Berevrion thanked him, and asked for a few minutes so that those who had just returned from Medril’s farm could refresh themselves somewhat.

            Within a quarter mark they were all seated behind a long table set for their use, facing another table at which the families of the dead boys waited.  Berevrion spoke a quiet word to Master Nerwion, and in moments these, too, had refreshments set before them.  Each appeared surprised at such offerings being made them, but appeared more relaxed and hopeful when at last Master Nerwion rose to face them.

            “My friends!” he proclaimed.  “As has been told abroad, our new Lord King has sent a deputation from the Citadel of Minas Tirith here to Anórien in order to look into the case presented against Danárion, Carenthor, and Garestil of our village for the murders of three of our own.  These have come at the request of the King Elessar himself to examine the case and to assure all that justice has indeed been served.  Here are Lord Berevrion, one of the King’s own kinsmen from the North; Lord Erchirion of Dol Amroth, whose father Prince Imrahil is uncle to our beloved Prince Steward Faramir; Master Anorgil of the Guild of Lawyers for the White City and son to Master Gilflorin of Hevensgil; Master Harolfileg from the court of King Thranduil of the great Woodland Realm in Rhovanion; and Master Bariol, a battle surgeon who served our soldiers in our battles against the Nameless One.  With them are Caraftion of Pústien, and Master Bilstred and his daughter Lyrien from Lord Benargil’s own household.  Lord Berevrion, if you will now speak?”

            Before he could do so, however, one of those at the families’ table rose, a tall, imposing Man with a tangled mane of hair and a beard to match.  “I’ve heard it told that you question whether or not the right ones were charged and found guilty of butchering our children,” he said, his voice booming with challenge.

            “And you are?” asked Berevrion with quiet dignity.

            “Rindor son of Baldor.  Sir,” the Man added, tempering his earlier bluster.  “My boy Bredwion was one of those killed.  This is his older brother, Dírhael.”

            “Your wife isn’t with you?”

            “She died three months back, still not having seen justice for her baby.”  Rindor’s bitterness was palpable as he fell back heavily onto the chair provided him.

            “I would first learn the names of the others who are here.”  Berevrion’s face and tone remained calm as he turned to face the next couple.

            “Tevern, my lord.  I’m a carter.  This is my wife Renalta and our daughter Anriel.  They saw the boys last but a quarter mark before they disappeared.”

            “And what was your son’s name?”

            Renalta answered him, her voice accented to show she was from Rohan originally, “Gilmar, sir.”

            A Man and a woman sat beyond them, the woman holding her daughter of about four years securely on her lap, with yet another Man sitting apart from them somewhat, his face closed.  It was the woman who explained, “I am Nedron’s mother, Nessa.  This is Nedron’s little sister Mardeth, and my brother Algorn.  And this,” indicating the one who sat apart, “was Nedron’s stepfather, Vangil.”

            “Master Rindor, Master Tevern, Mistress Renalta, Mistress Nessa, Master Algorn, Master Vangil.  Dírhael, Anriel, and Mardeth.”  Berevrion gave a slight bow to honor each of them.  “We grieve for the loss of your sons, and for the loss also of your wife, Master Rindor.  I will tell you this—you are the first to tell us the names of the children who have been slain, and so you give them presence here.  We do indeed seek justice for Bredwion, Gilmar, and Nedron.  But know this—it is not to anyone’s benefit to see Danárion of this village slain out of hand solely to assure yourselves that vengeance has been exacted before all are equally certain that it is indeed justice that is being served.”

            Rindor rose again.  “Are you saying that you plan to allow Danárion to escape hanging?  He killed my little boy!”

            “Did he indeed?  Did you see it?”

            “Of course not!  But Garestil has said it----”

            Caraftion interrupted, rising to face the Man defiantly.  “No, Garestil did not say such a thing!  Indeed, if you are to believe his words, the one who slew your son was Carenthor!”

            Someone who sat behind the families now surged to his feet.  “Carenthor, kill anyone?  Who could believe such a thing?  He is but a boy himself!”

            Rindor had rounded on him, bellowing, “A boy who sought to please the Dark Lord himself!  One who did unspeakable things with Danárion, and worse to my son!”

            Others began to rise, and it looked as if chaos would reign, but at that moment Berevrion leaned forward, his voice surprisingly low yet still commanding as he called, “Silence!”

            All stopped and turned to look at him, as if they had all forgotten his presence among them.  He looked each of those standing in the eye, including Caraftion, and directed, “You will all sit down.  Now!”

            They sat.

            He looked at the one who’d said that Carenthor was incapable of such an act.  “How is it that you know Carenthor?” he asked.

            “I teach in the free school, my lord.  Carenthor was one of my pupils until he was accused of this impossibility.”

            “And it is your opinion he could not have done this?”

            “Of course, my lord.  Have you seen him as yet?”

            “No, that has not yet come to pass.”

            “Carenthor is a sweet youth, quiet and eager to please.  It is not in him to harm another.”

            “He is intelligent?” asked Berevrion.

            The teacher shrugged.  “No more so than most others,” he admitted, “although he is able to capture the lines of a bird in flight better than any other I have taught to wield brush and paint.  And he loves to write poetry.  Although it is often poorly scanned, yet the images he offers the imagination are as pleasing as are his drawings and paintings.”

            “An artist, then?  Perhaps his parents’ desire to see him apprenticed to a carver of shutters and screens was well chosen, then.”

            “Indeed, my lord.”

            “And what does this matter?” demanded Rindor.  “It does not follow that because he is able to draw birds that he could not kill!”

            “Indeed, you are correct, Master Rindor,” Berevrion said.  “After all, our own crowned King is himself as able as any bard in both reciting the epics of our histories and in crafting a song in praise of a woman’s beauty and virtue, and yet he is perhaps the most deadly warrior you might ever face upon the battlefield or on the training grounds.”

            “I do not say that, faced between the safety of his family and an orc’s scimitar, that he could not find it in him to slay the enemy,” the teacher said.  “But to kill for no good reason?  And no one has ever accused Carenthor of honoring the Nameless One—never!  Indeed, his mother is from Rohirric lines, as is Mistress Renalta, and he has been raised to honor Lord Béma in all things.  He has ever been devout in that matter, and many of the drawings he does from his imagination are of the Hunter in pursuit of evil creatures, or standing over their prostrate bodies in victory with Nahar behind him.”

            “And why did you not speak to this in his trial?”

            The Man looked at Lord Berevrion with anger in his eyes.  “I wished to say this, but I was prevented.”

            “And who would prevent you from speaking to what you saw as the youth’s true nature?”

            “Master Fendril and the guardsman Hanalgor.”

            Those in the deputation looked to one another.  Berevrion cocked his head.  “And how was it they prevented you from speaking in his trial?”

            “They came to the free school a week before the trial was to start, and told me that I must not remain within the village until the trial was over and Carenthor and the others condemned.  Nor was I to answer any message sent me by either Master Caraftion or by Master Pardronë.  I had earlier tried to send word to Master Pardronë by way of Master Enelmir that I knew that Carenthor could not have taken part in the murders of the children, for he was in attendance in my classes on all days of the week in which the children went missing and were found dead, but I do not now believe that the message was given….”

            Here Rindor interrupted.  “And what does it matter that he was there in your classes?”

            The teacher looked to him as he answered,  “We were told, we who serve as teachers in the free school, that Garestil had said that he and his companions killed the smaller boys in the forenoon.”

            “But how could this be?” demanded Mistress Renalta.  “I last saw my son perhaps a quarter mark ere the evening meal was ready.  I looked out of my door, and saw the three of them returning from Nedron’s house, Nedron riding behind Bredwion upon his pony and Gilmar upon his, riding toward the gate as if they went toward the commons.  I called after them that Gilmar must return his pony to the stable, for it was time to eat his supper, but they did not answer or give any sign that they heard.  When all was ready to set upon the table for the children and myself, I sent Anriel to the stable to tell him to return home, but he was not there.  Nor were any of them to be seen in the commons, and those children who rode their ponies there said that they had seen none of them that afternoon.  None of them returned to our arms that evening, and it was the next day well after the noon bell had rung that they found first the boys, dead, hidden in the stream, and then the bodies of the ponies in the canal east of Master Medril’s farm.”  She was weeping openly, and her husband drew her close in comfort.

            The teacher shook his head in bewilderment.  “They went missing just ere the evening meal?”  At the assent of the two mothers and Master Rindor, he turned back to Lord Berevrion, his eyes distressed.  “But then why would Garestil be moved to say that he and the others came across the children in the morning and killed them then?”

            “You are certain of this?” asked Anorgil, leaning forward intently.

            “I am positive!” insisted the teacher.  “They brought with them the record of the questioning and his answers in which he admitted to seeing the murders, and read from it to us.  It was clear that he indicated that he and Carenthor and Danárion saw the boys riding their ponies along the lane where the boys lived in the morning, shortly after the first hour, and that they went to the woods on the far side of the canal and that the boys came after them with their ponies, and that they called to the boys, who abandoned the ponies and came to them, and that they then----”  He stopped, obviously unwilling to continue.  He lowered his head.  “It is not right to say what happened next, here before the children’s mothers and their sisters and brother,” he murmured.

            “You are certain that what was read to you were the actual words of Garestil?” asked Caraftion.

            “Oh, yes, for the record was written by Veredorn, who was one of my pupils when he was younger.  I recognized his hand!  He always serves the guardsmen and the constables to take down the words of those they question.  And the signature upon it attesting that this was a true record of the questioning was definitely that of Garestil.”

            Berevrion asked, “You recognized it?”

            “Of course!  It was almost the only thing he could write clearly, his name.  He was not particularly clever, after all.  His teacher was Mistress Celebríeth, who has patience to work with those whose abilities are less than the rest, and she labored long and long merely to teach him to sign his name so that when he was an adult in his own home he should appear as capable as any other.”

            Again those in the deputation exchanged questioning looks.

            Caraftion had now risen to his feet.  “But the record of his words that I saw was written by Master Umbardacil of Anwar, not anyone from Destrier,” he objected.  “And there was nothing in it to indicate what time it was when he first saw the children, or that the young Men saw them first within the village.”

            Berevrion’s face was growing quite stern.  “There were two separate stories given by Garestil as to what he saw, and when?” he demanded.  “But why?”  He looked again at Mistress Renalta.  “Did the children ever ride their ponies in the morning?” he asked.

            She was shaking her head.  “Never!” she said.  “Gilmar was not allowed to ride his pony in the morning—never, save on some special holidays when classes were not held.  And I walked him to the free school myself that last morning ere he went missing, as I wished to speak with Mistress Analisë.   The others were already there and in the room where she teaches the younger children, Bredwion and Nedron, in the corner with two other boys who are friends.  Gilmar shook off my hand and hurried to join them, for he would not be kissed farewell by me before them.”  Tears were running down her face.

            There was a stir at the back of the room, and it could be seen that Master Medril had just arrived with his family and Constable Amdir, and that they were being shown seats.  Berevrion nodded in recognition before returning his attention to the teacher.  “So,” he said, “you have said that Carenthor at least could not have been there to be with Garestil and Danárion to take the children in the morning?”

            The teacher was indicating his agreement.  “Mistress Analisë has told all of us that the children were there the one day and were not the next; but Carenthor was there every morning that week.”

            “Did he appear in any way different on any day that week?” asked Bariol.

            “Different?  In what way?” asked the teacher.  “I would say that I do not remember him behaving markedly different from his usual.  We did not learn that the children had gone missing until the day after their bodies were found, when Constable Amdir and Hanalgor came to the school to ask if any knew of anyone approaching the younger children, particularly Nedron, Gilmar, or Bredwion, two days earlier.  I remember that Hanalgor asked if Danárion had been to the school or had shown interest in any children at all, and I could tell him that, no, this had not happened anywhere that I could see.”

            Anorgil asked, “Then Danárion did not attend classes in the free school?”

            “No, not since he left some years since to start his apprenticeship in saddlery, for lessons during apprenticeship are given at the expense of one’s master.  He could have returned to the free school, I suppose, but he chose not to, for he was not treated well by many of the older boys.  And Garestil also no longer came.”

            Anorgil continued, “And you say that you were told that Garestil said that the children were taken in the morning, when in reality they went missing in the evening?”

            “Yes, haven’t I said so?”

            Mistress Renalta repeated insistently, “They went missing, as I said, just before the evening meal, about two marks before sunset.”

            Mistress Nessa was nodding in agreement.  “I went to the free school when it let out that last day to bring my son away home, for I had to take him to the healer first to have stitches from a fall a week earlier removed from his arm.  He ate the noon meal with Mardeth and me, completed his chores and was reading a tale he’d written at school to his sister while I saw the house straightened and prepared the evening meal and set it to keep warm for when Vangil arrived home—he works for the fruiterer, lifting crates of vegetables and fruit out of the wagons as they arrive from the farms or larger markets in Anwar or Amon Dîn, and setting them for the goodwives to search.  When he returned home it was time for me to go to the alehouse for my own work.  Nedron had gone out by then, telling me that he would be riding out with Bredwion and Gilmar.”

            Berevrion looked at Caraftion.  “Why would Garestil say that the boys were taken before noon, then?”

            Caraftion was shaking his own head and rubbing at his arm.  “And why were there apparently two different confessions made by him, and so different in nature?  For in the confession shown me he did not mention the ponies at all, and it was plain he did not describe where the children’s bodies were found.”

            “You went to the ditch before, then?”

            “Yes, soon after I finally realized that his confession had been forced from him.  Galdor, Garestil’s father, kept telling me that what his son had said had been forced from him and that it was false.  At last he insisted that I read the record of his confession for myself, and I went to Master Fendril to ask that it be shown to me.  It took several days before it was produced, and it was clearly written out by Master Umbardacil—I’ve seen his work many times, after all, and have employed him myself to copy out wills and contracts for those who’ve hired me for such services.”

            Berevrion sighed and leaned back, frustrated.   There had been many complaints that Garestil, in confessing, only said what was insisted upon by the guards and constables.  That there were at least two wholly different confessions, though—stories that were markedly different from one another—well, that was totally unacceptable.  He turned to the families of the murdered children.  “Do you now understand why it was that we were sent by the King to try to find out what actually did happen to your sons?” he demanded of them, his frustration plain in his voice.  “Garestil apparently disagrees with himself as to what happened, when, or how.  And we are told that what he said did not even agree with how it was the children came to die!”

            Rindor stood again.  “But he said that he saw the children die!  He saw Danárion seek to choke my son!  Hanalgor read that to me himself!”

            Caraftion was shaking his head.  “That was not in the statement I read, Master Rindor.”

            The father shook his own head and bellowed, “But, if what Garestil confessed to is wrong, then why did he say it?”

            All else went still, as the echoes of the Man’s rage quieted.  At last Berevrion said with remarkable gentleness, “That is the question, is it not?”

            Rindor sat down, shaking.  Vangil was watching him with marked wariness, and then looking as if he wished he might escape from the room.  Berevrion felt his hackles rise, watching the quiet Man.  Somehow Vangil, Nedron’s stepfather, reminded him of the one he’d told Lord Benargil of, the one who’d actually violated the maiden so long ago and who’d been hung for his actions both of assaulting her and for seeking to see another blamed in his place.

            He thought carefully, and turned to Mistress Nessa.  “Were you questioned of all you knew of your son’s last day before he died?”

            “Yes, that night.  Vangil had come to accompany me home, as I’d insisted he do, and he brought with him Mardeth.”

            “You insisted he accompany you home?  Why?”

            She glanced behind her at Master Medril’s family, and turned back toward Berevrion, distaste and discomfort clear on her face.  “There are a few,” she said slowly, picking her words with care, “who have importuned me, and who have made comments and suggestions to me that are—offensive.  When this became a nightly thing, I insisted that Vangil come to see me home.  At least,” she said with some bitterness, “I knew that he would not allow any other than himself to abuse me.”

            This caught Berevrion’s attention.  “Your husband has abused you?”

            “Yes, which is why he no longer dwells with me.  I have begun work on a petition to Lord Benargil to have our marriage set aside because of it.”  She glared sideways at her husband, and added in a rush, “It is why my brother now dwells in my house, to see to it that Vangil does not break in when he is mad with drink or whatever else he does to himself to see me or our daughter harmed.”

            “I see.  But let us return to the question.  Master Vangil came to see you home, accompanied by your daughter.”

            “Yes.  If the daughter of our next neighbor could not watch the children while he was away from the house, he would bring Nedron and Mardeth with him when he came to walk me home.  But that night there was only Mardeth with him, and she was saying that they had sought for Nedron, but could not find him.  He pushed inside, having seen that Hanalgor was within, just inside the door, and he went to tell him that our son was missing.  That was the first I knew that Nedron had not returned to the house.  Hanalgor came home with us and asked all I knew of where Nedron had been that day, and when I’d last seen him.”

            “And did he question your husband as well?”

            “No, there was no time for that, for Vangil went out, to seek for Nedron, he told us.”

            Berevrion turned to Vangil.  “And did the guards or a constable question you as to what you knew of your son’s disappearance?” he asked.

            Vangil’s gaze shifted as if he was thinking how to answer.  “Oh, yes, they did,” he answered at length.

            “And when did they do so?”

            Vangil shrugged.  “I’m not certain when—the days following seem to have run one into the other, and I can’t say for certain what happened when.”

            “And you sought your son?”

            Rindor snorted.  “We were all searching for our children,” he said.  “By the time it was fully dark, we had sent for Constable Amdir there to tell him that the children were gone, and my wife and I and Mistress Renalta had all told him all that we knew of when the boys went missing.  He asked us all sorts of questions, many of which had nothing to do with where the boys might have gone or who might have seen them.  It was embarrassing to have to tell him that the last time I’d seen Nedron, it was to beat him for not doing what he’d been told to do!”  His face crumpled.  “It was the last I saw of my son, and I beat him!  He died with that in his memory, not the love that I held for him!”

            Berevrion looked to Master Tevern.  “You were not there when your wife reported your son missing?”

            “I arrived home just as Amdir was preparing to leave, so he stayed to question me.  I had taken a cart full of wine barrels from Master Medril’s farm to Anwar to a wine merchant there in the employ of Master Normandil.  I then picked up a number of shoats to deliver to a farmer outside of Hevensgil, and then went into the village to get a load of pottery that was to be brought back here to the alehouse in Destrier.  I’d arrived at the alehouse to be advised by the cook that Master Rindor had been there to ask for aid in seeking his child, and that a few older Men had gone with him.  When I got home, it was to learn that one of the Men had prevailed on Rindor to call for the constable, and that he’d done so, and that they’d gone to my house as the last Bredwion had been seen it had been in company with my son.”

            “And did he question where you had been?”

            “Yes, and the next day Amdir went to each I’d seen in turn, working backwards, to assure himself that what I’d told him had been true.”

            “And who else was there in your house when you arrived?”

            “Master Rindor and his wife and Dírhael there, and my wife and our daughter, and one of the Men who’d come from the alehouse.”

            “Did you see Master Vangil that evening?”

            “After full dark, and after Mistress Nessa had returned home from her work in the alehouse.  She did not work until the place closed, just in the late afternoon and early evening, for she would not leave her children for longer.  She worked mostly in the serving of food rather than with the ale and wine and other drink.”

            “Where did you see Master Vangil?”  A glance at Vangil showed he was most uncomfortable with this line of questioning.

            Tevern answered, “We were searching the woods that bordered the common grazing ground where the children rode their ponies and where they often brought the animals to graze during the day.  The children often played there, climbing trees or building platforms in their branches, playing at knights and dragons, soldiers and orcs, and such.  We met there—Rindor and his wife, Renalta and I, and in time Vangil and Nessa as well.  Dírhael and some of his friends came searching, too, until we sent them home with word to keep an eye on Anriel.”

            “Did any of the guardsmen or constables help in the search?”

            “That night?  No—just Master Amdir.  His fellow Caledorn was there for a time, but complained that the mosquitoes were too heavy to stay out in the darkness.  He returned to the village to be there in case the children came home, but they did not. So it was he was there when the report came that a stranger had been seen in the privy for the alehouse.  He and Vendrion went to see for themselves what was happening, but by the time they came the stranger was gone.  No one can say what became of him, for the gates had been closed, and Hanalgor was keeping an eye on all who came or went, and he said no stranger went out while he kept the gates.”

            “A stranger?  What description was given of him?”  Was there no end to possible suspects in this case? Berevrion wondered.

            Tevern shrugged.  “The barman said he was young, with a ragged beard and a wild look.  He was seated on the bench, bent over and vomiting upon the floor when the barman came in in response to a complaint by one of the guests.  He said he was merely ill, but the barman said his arm was bleeding, and that he’d left blood and filth spread within the room when he was gone.”

            Nessa added, “Yes, so it was when I came in the following day, for I was one of two who had to scrub the room before the alehouse opened.”

            “You went to work with your son missing?”

            She glared at him.  “What would you have me do—allow my family to go without my wages, and for me to remain home, paralyzed with fear for my son?”

            “When did you find out your son’s body had been found?”

            “They came to the alehouse, just as the barman and I finished with cleansing the privy.  Amdir tried to be gentle….”

 *******

            Berevrion and the rest of the deputation listened as the parents expressed their grief and described that night.  At last Berevrion indicated he’d heard enough.  “We may call on some of you to come to Anwar in a few days,” he said.  “But it is plain that not all did properly in questioning what happened.”  He shook his head.  “But now we would have you hear what we have learned this day.”

            He rose to his feet.  “In accordance with the laws of the Dúnedain as practiced in both Gondor and Arnor, I, as the King’s appointed representative, as witnessed and affirmed by Lord Daerloth for Anórien and Lord Benargil of this region, do hold court this afternoon in the King’s name.  Master Anorgil and Mistress Lyrien, if you will record the proceedings?”  At their nods of assent, he called, “Leverion son of Medril, come forward.”

            Sullenly, Medril and Anhildë’s son did as he was told, Amdir following him closely.  “Yes, my lord?” he asked at a prompting shove from the constable.

            “Tell this company who it was who stole brandy from your father’s storehouse three days before the children went missing.”

            The youth first tried to mutter his answer, but at another prod by the constable he answered more clearly, “I did.”

            “And why did you not admit this at the time?”

            “Because I did not wish my father to know I was doing this.”

            “Who knew that you were stealing from your father’s stores?”

            “My friends, the ones who came with me to the woods, would drink what I’d taken.”

            “Do you know who it was who was importuning Mistress Nessa at her work?”

            At first Leverion did not answer.  Finally, in response to still another prod from Amdir, he turned to glare at the constable before grudgingly saying, “Me.”

            Medril could be heard groaning as he covered his eyes with his hands.

            Berevrion continued, “Do you ever come and go through the window to your room without the knowledge of your parents?”

            Again it took prompting before he indicated he’d done so.

            “Did you do so the night the children went missing?”

            “No!”

            “And how can you prove this?”

            “I can’t!  But my father was opening my door constantly to make certain I stayed there as I’d been told, all night long.”

            “Why?”

            “Because I’d taken his new riding horse without asking, and it injured itself.”

            “Injured itself?  How?”

            The youth glared at the floor and refused to answer.  At last Medril rose.  “He rode it through the woods south of the Highway, and it brushed him from its back, veering under low branches.  He beat it severely and left it there.  It took us three hours to find the horse after we found it was gone, and I had to beat him to learn what he’d done to it.”

            “So, you are certain that Leverion did not go out that night?”

            “He did so once, at least.  But he was found in the stable, having planned to run away.  It was why my wife and Lyssë were out walking—that they not have to hear what was said—nay, yelled—between Leverion and myself.”

            Berevrion felt tired.  “I see.  Well, Leverion son of Medril, you have stolen from your father and sought to see the blame for what you did cast upon others.  In the case of the blame given Danárion, Carenthor, and Garestil, that was perhaps more a matter of happenstance than malice, for it appears that many have fallen into the habit of assigning blame for whatever catastrophe has been experienced on Danárion.  But since then, I understand, you have instead sought to blame the brother of this Man, who serves as a hand upon your father’s farm.  In doing so, you have caused suspicion to fall upon the Man that was unwarranted, and have allowed your father to focus anger at him rather than at you. 

            “This is not acceptable, for when you damage another’s reputation you cause greater harm than you know.  This then shall be your punishment:  to offer reparations for the ill you have done, following the Highday, you shall accompany your father’s hand to his brother’s house in the village, and shall first finish the painting he’d begun of the frames for his windows and doors, and then shall continue to perform such repairs as are needed as determined by this, the injured Man’s brother.  You shall do this each morning for a month, and he shall oversee your work, but shall not do it for you.  And his regular wages shall be paid to him for this time, but out of the money that you would regularly receive from your parents for your own amusement and expenses.  And in the afternoons you shall labor upon your father’s farm at his side that the work he regularly does shall not be neglected.  And should it come to be known that you ever offend again in the same manner, you will be called to the King’s own presence for judgment.

            “Now, sit down again by your father.  Mistress Anhildë, come forward as did your son.”

            Once she stood before the company, he asked, “Did you see the youth Danárion out walking with your niece Argilien that night?”

            She would not meet his eyes.  “I saw them walking together.”

            “Where you said you saw them, across the canal from your farm?”

            At last she answered, “No.”

            “Where did you see them?”

            She straightened, worrying at her skirt with her hands.  “Along the path at the edge of her father’s farm, across the Highway.”

            “When?”

            It took her some time before she answered, “Three nights after, on the evening of Midsummer.  We were going into the village for the celebrations, and we could see them as we rode past on the wagon, Argilien and Danárion walking together.  She’d just finished with the milking, and had left the hands to see the pails poured into the vats.”

            “Lyssë, come and stand beside your mother.”

            The maiden was almost as reluctant as had been her brother, but at last she was there.  “Is what your mother just said true?”

            Her voice thick with resentment, the girl answered, “Yes.”

            “Then why did you and she say before that you’d seen them in the fields across the canal from your farm?”

            “Because she’d told Amdir that she’d seen them there, and I----”

            “You what?”

            “Because I knew Danárion had killed the children!”

            “And how did you know this?”

            “Everyone knew he’d done this—everyone!  And Garestil had said he’d done it….”

            At last Berevrion called Medril to stand beside wife and daughter.  “Did you see Danárion and Argilien walking together along the path that ran between her father’s fields and the roadway?” he asked the farmer.

            “Yes, on the evening of Midsummer.”

            “Could either your wife or daughter have seen them in the fields across the canal from your farm?”

            Medril was already shaking his head.  “No, they could not.  The brush and trees along the water are too high and thick for this to be seen.”  He looked up at the ceiling, his voice resigned.  “They lied, my wife and daughter did.  And Anhildë often does so, as most realize.  No woman could see or do all she has claimed over the years.”  He cast a defiant yet pained look at Berevrion as he continued, “But I am certain she does so only so as to make herself more important in her own eyes, not to purposely hurt others!”

            Berevrion sighed.  “I understand.  Please return to your seat.”

            The farmer shook his head.  “I stand beside my family,” he said simply.  “They are, after all, my own.”

            “As you will.”  Berevrion turned to look at Anorgil.  “You saw the trial of the housebreaker that my Lord Kinsman heard, did you not, Master Anorgil?”

            The law clerk nodded.  “Yes, I did.”

            “Will you tell these of what became the two who offered false witness in that trial?”

            “Of course, my lord.”  Anorgil rose to face Lyssë and her mother.  “A Man broke into a house in order to steal, and finding the householder in his bed, slew him.  This was proved against him.  One Man who offered testimony, however, had come forth after the crime was known and said he’d seen what he could not have seen.  It is believed he’d hoped to share in any reward that might have been offered.  A woman who lived in the next dwelling also said she’d heard more than she could have heard, although part of what she said was true witness.

            “The King ordered the one who perjured himself imprisoned, and to be given ten lashes midway through his sentence, with the promise of twice that should he ever again offer false witness in any court in Gondor.  And he told the woman that if she again lied before any court in Gondor she could expect the same.  And he said, ‘Do not seek to embroider upon the truth, for the truth is capable of being fair or foul enough on its own part without need for further embellishment’.

            As Anorgil resumed his seat, Berevrion arose, fixing the two women with a severe stare.  “Do you understand, the both of you?”

            Anhildë nodded, her face white, and Lyssë, who appeared sick, swallowed audibly.  “Yes, my lord!” the mother answered, and her daughter nodded her agreement.

            “You had best take this to heart.  Our Lord King is a merciful Man, but he does not have much patience with those who offer false witness.  If either of you ever lies again before a court in this land, you will be taken to the gaol where you will spend a month imprisoned, and you will be given ten lashes midway through your time to remind you of the importance of speaking the truth.”

            He looked about the room.  “The oath taken when you offer witness is to speak the truth, the entire truth, and nothing but the truth, but it appears that in this case too many have done otherwise.  If this were not the case, my fellows and I would not be here now.  Do you understand?”

            All within the room, solemn with what they’d seen and heard, answered variously, “Yea.”

 

To Know the Accused

            Berevrion faced those who filled the room.  “At this time we who came at the King’s behest will retire for at least half a mark.  When we resume, we will be speaking with the families of those accused of the murders, for we would wish to better understand what kind of individuals they are.”  He caught the eye of the teacher.  “And I would like for you to return, if you will.”

            All rose as he led the rest at the head table out of the hall.

            The deputation stood and stretched in the courtyard behind the building, and could hear the buzz of talk from those who’d quitted the place by the front doors.  Bariol was looking about him in search of the privy, while Berevrion reached beneath his surcoat to scratch at his shoulder.  “What I would give for a bowl of pipe weed!” he muttered.

            One of Master Nerwion’s folk was approaching him.  “My Lord Berevrion?  One has arrived, saying that he has come from the King’s Majesty.  But he is not garbed as is usual for those who come from Minas Tirith.”

            Behind the servitor came another, tall and booted, wearing a stained green cloak with a silver star at the shoulder.  Berevrion felt relief at the sight of him.  “Margolan!” he cried.  “I rejoice to see you!  What word do you bring from our Lord Kinsman?  Nay, wait,” he interrupted himself.  “For the love of the stars, I pray you give me your pipe and leaf wallet first, for I find I need it this day.”

            “My pipe?” asked the messenger.  “And why do you desire such a thing?  I thought you were told by Lord Elrond to avoid smoking after he saw to your care during your bout of illness there just before Yule.”

            “I tell you that were Master Elrond to be faced with the puzzle we have been looking into at Aragorn’s behest, he’d be demanding a pipe and leaf from Master Bilbo, and that the Hobbit fill the bowl and light it for him!” Berevrion said.  “It shall be but the once, I assure you; and I am fully recovered from that illness, after all.”

            “Then the matter is not a simple one to divine?”  Margolan was sifting through the bag he carried over his shoulder, just under his cloak.

            “Indeed not!”  Berevrion shook himself.  “You cannot believe how many layers of lies and deception and misdirection we have found thus far.  And I am not yet certain who is at fault for the matter coming this far, as flawed as the case against Danárion of this village has proved.”

            Pipe, striker set, and leaf wallet in hand, Margolan paused, searching Berevrion’s eyes.  “Then the young Man might well be innocent of the charge of murder set against him?”

            “We cannot know that for certain, not as yet.  But, yes, there is the chance this is true,” Berevrion answered, taking the desired objects from his fellow’s hands.  “I am not even certain how much is due to malice and how much to simple incompetence or fevered imaginations,” he added as he filled the bowl and placed the stem of the pipe between his teeth.

            “I have some messages to deliver from various of our number, but mostly our Lord Aragorn asked that I find out what progress you’ve made in your investigations.  Shall I return to him with word that you will require perhaps a week additional time before you can return to the White City, then?”

            Berevrion had striker set in hand now, and was seeking to set the weed in the bowl smoldering.  He nodded as he puffed at the pipe to see it properly lit.  At last he breathed in a lungful of smoke, removed the pipe from his mouth and released a breath, calmer and obviously thinking.  “I suspect we shall require at least another seven-day, and perhaps somewhat more.  Will you remain with us the night?  I will have time then to prepare a proper report for you to return to Aragorn.”  He turned to the servitor, explaining, “Margolan is one who came from Eriador alongside me with the Grey Company to answer our Lord Kinsman’s call.  I will require room for him for the evening, as he will need to leave shortly after we break our fast tomorrow to return to Minas Tirith and the King’s presence once more.”

            The Man indicated his understanding and withdrew to advise his master and Master Normandil of Lord Berevrion’s requirements, and Berevrion took another draw on the pipe, then coughed.  “I see why Master Elrond would advise against me continuing to smoke,” he commented, “but it does help relax the thoughts that have been churning within me.  Faradir should be arriving back in the village shortly,” he advised Margolan.

            The Ranger laughed.  “I saw him as I approached the village.  He was walking with a youth.  They should be within Destrier soon, for I’d passed a wagon and had learned from the driver I was nearing the village’s walls, and I’m certain he would offer a ride to the two of them.  A ride and some refreshment perhaps, for he was bringing with him kegs of ale for the alehouse here, or so he informed me, and he indicated he’d been sampling the wares as he drove through the heat of the day.”

            “Good for Faradir and Wendthor, then.  A worthy soul Lord Benargil’s son is proving.  Well, if you wish, you may remain within the hall for the nonce and see for yourself what we shall learn this afternoon of the natures of the three convicted of having murdered three small boys it appears they may not have known at all.”

            Amdir had come out.  “Master Medril’s family has left to return to their farm, my lord,” he informed Berevrion.

            “Thank you.  I will ask this of you now—I wish for the guardsmen Hanalgor and Vendrion and your fellow Caledorn to be kept in ignorance of what has been learned this morning as much as is possible.  Please go to them and to any others among the guards and constables who took part in the search for the children and the investigation of what happened afterwards, and have them repair to Master Nerwion’s house to await us.  I will arrange with him to see to their housing for the evening, and will ask that he instruct his servants to tell them nothing of what gossip is abroad in the village.  The less they know of what we have learned and what questions we have had raised, the less likely they are to lie to us when we question them in the morning.  Oh, and add the scribe Veredorn to that number.  And as you go, send Master Nerwion to me.  Do you understand, Amdir, why I ask this?”

            “I believe so.”

            “I will ask one further thing at this time:  do you believe that Danárion led the attack on the three dead children?”

            “I’ve always wondered, but had allowed myself to be persuaded that he was guilty.  But after what I’ve seen and heard this day, I find myself willing to believe he might be innocent.”

            “Thank you.  You may go, then.”

            He had to relight the pipe, and he finished his smoke, knocked the spent ash out of it and returned pipe, leaf, and striker set to Margolan, spoke briefly to the Master of the village, and signed to the others he was ready to return to the hall.

*******

            Anorgil indicated he was ready to record what was said, and Berevrion looked at those who now sat at the table where the victims’ families had sat before.  Galdor, father to Garestil, sat with a wizened woman beside him, whom he described as a widowed neighbor who’d come to look upon Garestil as if he were her own grandson.  Carenthor’s parents and his two younger brothers sat to their left; and beyond them sat Danárion’s mother Vanessë and his sister, who was perhaps twenty years of age now.  Galdor was older than the others seated by him, perhaps in his late fifties, and there was no question he was poor, looking at his lined face, roughened hands, and worn and thickly patched garb.  Vanessë wore some paint in a vain attempt to hide lines etched by years of worry and want.  Although the clothing worn by her and her daughter was decent, it had obviously been purchased more than two years past, and there were signs that hems had been let out and seams turned or otherwise altered.  The hair of all of the women was dull, and more than one individual there chewed his or her nails.  The grief of all of them was as obvious as was the confusion as to how things could have come to this—that the sons of their houses were now in prison in Anwar, one set to die and the others to be sent to spend what might be left of their lives in hard labor.

            “My son?” asked Mistress Vanessë.  “How am I to describe him?  He is not particularly tall, but neither is he particularly short.  He has a worker’s hands, but not a worker’s nature.  He dreams, my lord, and would rather read than anything else.  While my second husband was with us all went well enough.  No, he and the boy were not particularly close, and he did not appreciate Danárion’s thoughts or interests at all.  Targon was a highly practical Man, after all.  They often argued.  But still he did his best by the boy, and tried to find for him an apprenticeship that would suit him.  Danárion’s hands were not the cleverest or most nimble, but once he learned a skill he would do it well and with care.

            “Did he fight, you ask?  Oh, I will not say he did not fight, for indeed he did, but not if he could avoid it.  He did argue, though—by the stars, the boy could argue about anything!  Not that he did so to be malicious, mind you, but he had a precise mind, and could and would catch at the least thing wrong you might utter.  ‘It’s a beautiful day?  But the stink of the sties from the farm beyond the wall has filled the quarter, and the flies of it have spilled over the walls in search of anything they might swarm upon!’  he’d say.  ‘Why do you say he is fair of face?’ he asked his sister.  ‘He has a wart on his chin, and his eyes are not the same size.’  Things of that sort.

            “When Danárion was younger he was mostly thoughtful of others, but that changed when some began to pick him out to belittle.  Who would do this?  Oh, I suspect that Leverion son of Medril was one of the worst of these, but then he was often taunting the younger ones, bullying them to give him the special things from their lunches, taking their pocket money to spend for himself at the market, breaking their toys simply to prove to them that he could do so and none would stop him, and the like.  He was a leader among the older boys all through the years, and when he attended the free school he was more likely to be trying to appear masterful to his friends than to be learning what the teachers sought to teach him.

            “Leverion found that Danárion could not hold his own against him, so he began to seek him out to torment him, coming at him from behind and taking his books or whatever he might be writing and holding them where my son could not reach them, sometimes tearing them to pieces before his eyes, or tossing them into the mud or a trough for animals.  He would beat him at times, also.  No, Danárion would not tell us what had happened to him, but we would learn of what had happened from his sister or from Carenthor, who was often furious at what he’d seen.  In time Danárion began to learn to give as good as he got in words, at least, but that only seemed to infuriate the bigger boys to do worse than they’d done before.  When they learned that he was sensitive about his father by birth being gone from the home, that became their favorite taunt toward him, that he was not the true son to his father, as if it meant he was illegitimate.

            “Danárion began to resent Targon, and became convinced that he could only be happy if his real father came back.  But how could he be expected to remember what his father by birth was like?  It hurt Targon deeply.

            “No, we still do not know what happened to Targon—he went one day to ride to Anwar, and never returned.  Did orcs or brigands find him in a place apart, or did he decide that it was not worth returning to a home where the son of his heart hated him and so decided to go elsewhere?  We have no idea at all!

            “With Targon gone, there was no one to support the family, and I had to search for work.  But there is little place for a woman whose first husband was a well-known drunkard and whose second husband has disappeared.  Finally I was given a place cleaning this hall—until my first husband returned to Destrier and sought me out.  Oh, but he could convince you that the sky was the pink of a fish’s belly, or that there was no wind even as it tore the roof off of your house!  He’d given up drinking, he told me!  He would never treat me as he had before.

            “So I took him back.  At first all was as joyful as he’d foretold—until he began drinking once more.  And then it all went sour.  My children quickly found out just why I had begged to have our marriage dissolved before.  He abused our daughter in terrible ways, and beat me when I learned of it and threatened to call the guardsmen to take him in hand.  Finally Danárion heard his sister crying out while her father abused her, and he went in to try to pull the Man away from her.  His father threw him across the room and broke his arm—his own son!  Only then did Danárion agree to help me to throw the dog out of the house!”

            The deputation had listened to her tale with few questions or interruptions to this point.  Now Bariol asked, “And you do not believe that your son had anything to do with the murders of the children?”

            She shook her head.  “When could he have done so, sir?” she asked.  “I have no certain knowledge of what he did in the earlier part of the day, for I’d found work once more, this time helping to clean the rooms that are for let above the alehouse.  He told me that he’d spent part of the earlier morning in the marketplace, helping the one who sells books and paper and ink and the like, until Hanalgor chased him away as he always does.  After that he went to the farm where the girl he fancies lives, and assisted the hands there to clean the byres, or so he told me.  Part of the time Carenthor was there, too, I understand, after his lessons at the free school were over.  I returned at about the ninth bell, and both my children were home.  We ate hurriedly, and went to Targon’s sister’s home, leaving our home at the ringing of the tenth bell.  Her husband makes barrels, and I hoped that he would agree, for the sake of Targon’s memory, to take Danárion as an apprentice or at least to help load his wagons when it is necessary.  But, although they had agreed to meet with us, it proved that one or the other of us had a bad memory of which day we were to meet, for they’d gone out of the village to Hevensgil where they watched the cockfighting.  At last I bade their grown daughter, who had stayed at home, to write down a message for them that we had been there, and to let me know when it would be best that we come again. 

            “By the time we returned home the sunset bell was ringing.  Danárion helped to clean the kitchen and to set the house in order, and then he left to take a carving tool he’d borrowed back to Carenthor.  He was back in less than a full mark, and he went up to the loft.  I could hear him at times, talking out of his window to the girl who lives across the lane.  They’d often do this in the evenings, each leaning on the windowsill and speaking to one another as if they were together.  She was telling him of her fascination for a youth from Hevensgil, as I recall what little I could hear.  Then a friend came to call on her, and came up to her room and both spoke with him.  The friend is a younger girl, and it is the first time she’d spoken with my son, to my knowledge.  At last at the third bell after sunset she went home again, and all went quiet.”

            “Could Danárion have left the house by means of the window to your loft?” asked Anorgil.

            She shook her head.  “Perhaps if he had a rope he could get down that way; but since his arm was broken he could not easily do such a thing.  The muscle had not fully recovered then.  But I never saw a rope in the loft, and we had no means to obtain such a thing.”

            Now the Elf spoke up, his musical voice causing all to suddenly realize that they had such an exotic being amongst them.  “Then he could not have lifted a pony?” he asked.

            “What?  Lifted a pony?  How?  Even before he was hurt he could not have done so!”

            “You are certain?”

            “Of course I am certain!  At the time he could only carry one bucket of water at a time back from the well, for he could not lift anything of weight with his left arm.  I had to send both my daughter and my son to fetch the water we would need for the day, and then again for the evening.  And, then there is the fact that he could not spend time with ponies or horses at all—every time he must be near to the beasts it made him ill.  His skin would develop hives and red rashes where he’d touched them, and his eyes would swell shut, and he would have difficulty breathing, what with the inside of his nose swelling and the sneezing he’d do.”

            Bariol exchanged glances with the Elven healer.  “And the healers for the village—they knew of this?”

            “Well, of course!  It had been going on for years.  When we were first married, Targon would take the boy riding with him, but had to stop when each time Danárion became more ill than he’d been the last time.  Finally the healer told him that the boy simply could not be that close to horses.”

            “Are there others in the family,” asked the Elf, “who do the same?”

            She nodded.  “My older brother did so, as did my uncle.  And a cousin cannot bear to eat strawberries or to drink cow’s milk.  The last time she did so, she was so ill they feared she would die.”

            Bariol turned to Berevrion.  “An unusual condition, particularly to respond in such a manner to horses, but certainly not unheard of.  It more commonly occurs with dogs, cats, and fowl, and is very common with certain foodstuffs, and particularly with strawberries for some reason we do not understand.”

            Berevrion commented, “My older daughter cannot eat strawberries or drink cow’s milk, either.  Interesting that this can occur with animals as well.”

            Mistress Vanessë added, “And this was another reason why the saddler chose to send Danárion home to me when he did—that he could not bear to handle a bridle or stirrups that had been regularly used, nor to fit a saddle to a particular horse.”

            “Not the best choice of occupation for one with your son’s condition,” commented Erchirion dryly, and there were a few soft laughs throughout the room.

            “And was he there in the house the following morning?” asked Berevrion.

            “Yes—I woke him up myself, for I needed his help that day.  We were to take the mattresses out of the rooms at the alehouse and empty them and refill then with fresh hay.  We needed him to help in carrying the mattresses and in fetching the hay; although Master said that he was of little enough use, as with his arm still healing as it was he could do nothing without the aid of others.  He sent the boy off long before the third bell after sunrise.”

            “Will these others agree with your reports on your son’s activities?” asked Anorgil.

            “They all agreed to do so for his trial, all but Master.  He refused, for he said that since the children disappeared the night before Danárion came to work in the alehouse, he could not speak to what the boy had done then.  Nor could he say what Danárion might have done after he was sent away that morning.  He does not like Danárion, you see.  My son has not always been—kind—in his remarks about the Man, and some got back to him.  Leverion saw to that,” she added bitterly.

            “Did you know what books Danárion had in his possession?” asked Erchirion.

            She threw up her hands.  “How should I know what books he has?  I cannot read or write—my parents felt it was not necessary for a girl to learn such skills.”

            “We were told,” the youth’s sister interrupted, “that he had terrible books, but how most could be terrible I cannot say, as most were given him by the archivist in Anwar, or were the writings of Malthos, whose poems are very popular.  Almost every youth in the village near his age has read at least one of the poems of Malthos.  There was one book that they tell us was by the Dark Lord himself, however.  But Danárion could barely even read that, for it was not in the Common Tongue but in Sindarin.  They do not teach much Sindarin in the free school, you see….”

            And behind her the teacher was nodding his agreement with her words.

*******

            Carenthor’s parents told how they had gone to the house of friends for dinner and to play a game in which one used six dice.  Carenthor had agreed to watch over his younger brothers and see the evening meal served them and then cleared away after.  “He’s a good boy,” insisted his mother.  “He has never sought to do aught that might give pleasure, much less strength, to our great Enemy.  He cared for younger children very much, and spoke of wishing to have several when he is a Man grown and takes a wife of his own.  He is gentle, not filled with hate.”

            “But can you say for certain that he did not leave your home that evening?”

            “How can we say that for certain?” demanded Carenthor’s father.  “As the guardsmen have reminded us, we were not there, after all, so could not see.  And they insisted that our younger sons would only lie for him when we asked that they speak for him.”

            Berevrion looked to the older of the two boys.  “Your name?” he asked.

            “Bedwyr, my lord.”

            “How old are you, Bedwyr?”

            “Fourteen now.  I was thirteen when they took my brother last year.”

            “Do you understand why they took your brother?”

            “Yes.  They said he killed those younger boys, Bredwion and Gilmar and Nedron, who lived near the stables near the gates to the village.”

            “Do you think he could have done so?”

            The boy was shaking his head.  “No.  He doesn’t believe in killing unless someone is threatening someone else, and then only if there’s nothing else to be done to keep the one being threatened safe.  He said that all the time.”

            “Do you remember the night he cared for you while your parents were gone?”

            “Yes.”

            “Why do you remember that night especially?”

            Bedwyr gave a sideways look at his younger brother.  “Because Allorn here didn’t wish for Mama and Papa to go, so he was having a temper.  Then, when that didn’t work he tried to get me to hit him so they would stay home to make certain I didn’t do it again.  But he’s done that too many times, and Mama caught him out in it this time.  She said he must go to his bed when the meal was over, and told him he must stay there for the evening.  Only he wouldn’t, and each time Carenthor and I would start to do something, Allorn would do something to make us pay him attention.”  Then he added, as if it explained everything, “He’s but seven, my lord.”

            “Did Danárion come to your house that evening?”

            “Yes—he brought back a tool he’d borrowed from Carenthor, and a book of poems he’d copied for him.”

            “A book of poems?”

            “Yes—some were by Malthos, he said, and some were the words of songs by Suleirion.  They both like the songs of Suleirion.  He didn’t stay long, though, Danárion didn’t, for Allorn was raising a fuss.”

            “Do you like Danárion?”

            “I like him all right.”

            “I don’t,” Allorn said.  “He says I’m a terrible burden on my brother.  But I’m not terrible at all!”

            Bedwyr grimaced.  “Sometimes you try the patience of everyone, just like Mama says.”

            The boys’ mother flushed, and it was plain what she wished to do was to have the child hush.

            Erchirion asked, “Bedwyr, did your brother Carenthor leave the house that night?”

            “Once.  There was a knock at the door, and it was a neighbor.  He went out of the door to talk to him, and then came back and told me that our dog was in the neighbor’s garden, so he had to go get it.  He wasn’t gone all that long, though.  Just long enough that Allorn got out of the bed and got into the cold cupboard and spilled the juice Mama had ready for us to drink the next morning.  When he came back, Carenthor and I had to work hard to clean that up before Mama and Papa came home.”

            “I didn’t mean to,” the younger boy insisted.

            Anorgil asked the father, “Were all three of your sons there when you returned?”

            “Yes.  Allorn and Bedwyr were both in bed, asleep, and Carenthor was sitting in the chair by the window with a single lamp lit, doing a drawing of Kementari holding a basket of fruit.”

            “He had the dog by him, tied by its collar,” added his mother.  “He told us of how it had gotten out of the fence again and how he’d had to go fetch it home.  And he told us of how Allorn had spilled the juice while he was gone.  They’d worked hard to clean it, he and Bedwyr.”

            A Man stood up from among those who’d come to hear the audience.  “I’m the neighbor.  The dog is often in my garden, and each time they fetch it home, but it still finds a new way to do so again the next time.  When I came to the house, it was as the boy says—Carenthor came out to hear what I would say, and then went in to tell his brothers that he must come to my house to fetch the dog.  It took him a time to catch the beast, for it loves to dig in my garden and hates to be left inside their fence.  But then he took the dog right back—I saw him go into his house with it.  And we could hear, my wife and I, the fuss raised by young Allorn there.  He hates for his parents to leave him home—always wants to go with them and makes quite the noise when they go anyway.”

            “Did you testify to this in the trial for the young Men?”

            The neighbor shook his head.  “Master Pardronë did not think I needed to say that Carenthor was home—that all would realize that the guardsmen were foolish to suggest that he might have done such a thing.  He thought that all that would be required was for him to say, ‘This is not the type of youth who would kill a smaller boy,’ and that all would believe it.  And I think that he believed that perhaps Danárion might indeed have killed the children.”

*******

            “Did your son confess to having taken part in the murders of the children?” Berevrion asked Galdor, Garestil’s father.

            “Yes, he did, m’lord.”

            “Do you believe he did so?”

            “No.”

            “Why not?”

            “He went out the usual time, at the tenth bell, to walk to Hevensgil with the others who went to the potter’s house to learn tumbling.  He come back again after full dark, as he always does, excited because he’d managed to juggle three balls this time.  He said it wasn’t for long, but, still, it was three balls, and it took so long for him to do two!”

            “Then, if he was innocent, why would he tell the guardsmen that he had done these things?”

            “He didn’t say he’d done it—not the first time.  He only said he’d seen the others do it.”

            “Why did he say he’d seen the others do it?”

            “He only did because he thought if he didn’t that they wouldn’t let him come home again.  He only said what he thought they wanted him to say.  But first he’d said that he knew nothing of it himself, only that he’d heard that Danárion and someone else did it.  And that, I am certain, is the only true thing he told them.”

            “How do you know what he told the guardsmen?”

            “When he didn’t come home on the day they called for him, I went to the gaol to find out where he was, for no one was here or anywhere else where they usually question people.  Only Caledorn was there, though—Caledorn and my son, in a cell with the others who were there at the time.  And he told me that Garestil had said he’d been there when those children were killed, and that he hadn’t tried to save them.  And when I told him I didn’t believe it, he read me off the papers writ by Veredorn what was asked and what Garestil answered.”

            “You didn’t read it for yourself?” asked Erchirion.

            Galdor was shaking his head.  “I can’t read, m’lord.  To me it’s but marks on paper.”

            The son of Imrahil nodded.  “Then what leads you to think that he said only what they wanted him to say?”

            “Well, there was the part where they asked him what the other two were doing in the water while he was drinking the brandy, and he said that Carenthor was ducking under to nurse Danárion’s manh----”

            “Wait but a moment,” Berevrion interrupted hastily.  He leaned toward Anorgil and spoke behind his hand.  “Does the term man-nurser mean here what it does in the north?” he asked quietly.

            “If you are asking if it describes seeking to nurse from another’s manhood and implies that the Man so described prefers to couple with other Men rather than with women, then, yes.  And it is considered a deadly insult, even if it is true that the one described does prefer other Men for love and pleasure.”

            Berevrion nodded.  “In most northern lands it is an insult great enough to justify the calling out  of the one using it,” he murmured.  As he straightened he noted the law clerk was apparently suppressing amusement, and paused.  “What is it, Anorgil?”

            Anorgil smiled.  “It is only that this is the first time, my lord, that I have seen you at a loss of words over—words.”

            Laughing aloud, Berevrion looked back to Garestil’s father.  “Now, Master Galdor, you took exception to that statement?”  And when the Man merely looked confused, he changed the question:  “You do not agree with what was said?”

            Relieved, Galdor answered, “Oh, yes—I don’t agree.  It wasn’t right.”

            Puzzled, Berevrion pursued the matter.  “That the two would find pleasure with such activities?”

            Galdor shook his head again.  “No, m’lord—it’s the ducking under that’s wrong.”  At Berevrion’s expression he tried again.  “I helped dig that ditch, m’lord.  First time I got paid for my work.  Fifteen summers, I was.  Anything falls into that ditch, I get called to haul it out, understand?  Only time it’s deep enough to duck under is in the winter, see?  After April, it’s never much over my knees.”

            Suddenly all in the deputation appreciated the Man’s point.  “I see—he said he saw Carenthor ducking under the water to----” Erchirion said, “except that if they were in the water, for that to be under water, Danárion would have had to have been at least on his knees, and Carenthor on his belly!  He wouldn’t be ducking under the water—he’d be sliding like a snake!”

            Galdor was smiling, glad to be understood.  “Yes, m’lord—that’s it exact!”

            Caraftion was again shaking his own head.  “But, again, that was not in the statement I read.”

            Berevrion took a deep breath.  “Then, gentlemen and lady,” he said with a look to each of his companions, “it is up to us to determine why.”

*******

            They were questioning the teacher again.  “Tell us of the three youths,” invited Berevrion.  “Do you think any of them could have committed this terrible crime?”

            “How can one truly say what another is capable of doing, my lord?” asked the Man in response.  “I cannot imagine that anyone I know could truly do such a thing—and the removal of the one boy’s manhood….”  He shuddered.

            “It is possible that that act was not done by the hand of any person, but perhaps by a turtle or other animal, finding fresh meat handy in the ditch,” suggested Bariol.  “Such things as this are what reduces bodies to piles of bones, after all.”

            The teacher was not the only one who straightened in surprise at this idea.  “Then, perhaps this was not done to please the Nameless One?  But for what other reason would anyone slay three innocent children and then attempt to hide their bodies in such a manner?”

            “Who can say for certain save the one who did so?” asked Erchirion.  “I can think of a few possible reasons—perhaps they saw someone doing something he feared would be reported by them to the guards or constables, and he did not wish this exposed.”

            “Or they found something of great worth that they had dabbled with, and the one who had it hidden wished to keep it secret or to perhaps punish them for their touching of it,” suggested Anorgil.  “Such has happened more than once in Minas Tirith.”

            “Or they had been told to do something, but had failed to do so,” added Bariol.  “Many of the children that are seen in the Houses of Healing who are worst hurt by a family member or guardian were seen as defiant by the one who hurt them, after all.”

            “Or,” suggested Harolfileg, “one child in defiance did something that led to him being seriously injured or killed, either through his own carelessness or mistake, or through the reaction of the one watching; and fearing he’d be blamed, the one watching sought to avoid being taken in charge by slaying all of them and seeking to hide the bodies.  I have seen this once among my people, very long ago, and twice among those Men whose settlements are near to our forest.”

            Slowly, Berevrion nodded.  “Yea, all of these things have been known to happen,” he said to the teacher.  “In the north we have records of such offenses in our own trial archives.”

            “But what dread secrets could Danárion have been seeking to conceal,” demanded Mistress Vanessë, “that would lead him to slay another in order to hide it?”

            “He did have a copy of The Book of Secrets, did he not?” asked the teacher.

            “And what of it?” asked a voice behind him.  Wendthor stood from where he’d apparently found a seat on his arrival in the village.  “That volume came from our library in the Keep in Anwar, after all, and was annotated by my grandfather as having been proved a fraud.  My lord father disposed of it at the behest of Master Enelmir, who apparently felt it somehow besmirched our honor that it should be found in our home, and then it was found by Danárion.  He did not steal it, nor come by it in any manner that was dishonorable.  And it is no crime to have in one’s possession such a book, particularly when it is clearly labeled a lie and cheat.”

            “Plus,” added Erchirion, “you yourself agreed that Danárion would have been at pains even to read it as it is written in Sindarin rather than Westron.”

            “As we must believe to be true of most within the region ruled by Anwar,” suggested Berevrion.  “What real threat does its existence pose, do you think?”

            The teacher appeared thoughtful.  “None really, I suppose.  I’d not known it had been shown to be fraudulent.”

            “And now you do,” Erchirion told him, “as do all here who have heard this audience today.”

            “Why did Master Targon seek to apprentice Danárion to a saddler?” asked Lyrien, “if he indeed knew he could not be around horses?”

            Vanessë made shift to answer.  “It was more the work with leather than the idea of preparing tack for horses, actually.  Danárion had been able to obtain scraps of leather cast off by the saddler and had sought to make scrips and document cases of them.  He made for Targon a coin purse that pleased my husband very much, and that he carried with him at all times.”

            “But as one who enjoyed reading, writing, and being about books and documents, he could perhaps have done well as a scribe,” Lyrien proposed.

            But the teacher was shaking his head.  “No, for to be a good scribe one must be able to write both quickly and clearly, and he had not the nimbleness in his hands to do so.  He wrote well enough when he took time in his work; but although he could perhaps do fairly well as a copyist, he could not serve as a public scribe or to take down records of trials or interviews.  Such would have been beyond his abilities.  When he must write swiftly his writing was too oft unclear and full of errors.  Such is not accepted from professional scribes.”

            “And he was no friend to Garestil?”

            Galdor snorted.  “The likes of Danárion, friends with my boy?  I’m not saying he was unkind, but he wasn’t kind, either.  My son did nothing Danárion would think likable.”

            “But your son,” Lyrien turned her attention to Carenthor’s family, “was once friends with Garestil?”

            “When they were both small,” agreed the youth’s mother.  “But not after they were perhaps nine summers.  They no longer liked the same things.”

            Lyrien appeared to be considering all of this.

            “I cannot think of anything my son might have been a party to that he would seek to hide from small boys,” Carenthor’s father said.

            “Even if he was drinking,” Galdor said, “it wouldn’t have been enough for Garestil to think little boys would get him in trouble.”

            All appeared in agreement.  “And I doubt that Danárion would confide to Garestil that he had a copy of The Book of Secrets,” added Wendthor.  “First, I doubt its name would mean anything to him, and I mean no offense to your son, Master Galdor.  And second, even if he showed it to him or to the smaller children, since it was written in Sindarin again that would tell them nothing.”

            “But if Danárion and Carenthor were seen by the children doing what they were accused of…” began the teacher.

            Carenthor’s mother interrupted him, plainly insulted.  “My son—seeing Danárion as his catamite?  I think not!   Friends, yes!  But—lovers?  And Danárion was pursuing a courtship with Argilien, after all, while my son’s eyes have ever been drawn to the girl who lives across from Danárion.  It’s been so for at least three years now!  Besides—that was devised by the guardsmen themselves to attempt to paint Danárion and Carenthor as darkly as possible, as pointed out by Master Galdor.”

            “So what,” asked the neighbor to Carenthor’s family, “will you do next?  And if Danárion, Carenthor, and Garestil did not kill the children, then who did?”  There was a rumble of agreement from the rest of those who were present.

            “I do not know what can be learned as to who else might have been likely to have killed the children,” said Berevrion, “but we will be questioning the guards tomorrow.”

            “And if it comes out that they did nothing to truly find out who killed the children,” growled someone in the audience, “I for one will do what I can to see them driven from Destrier in disgrace!”

            “But these haven’t proved that Danárion is innocent,” objected a woman.  I don’t want that would-be Black Númenórean here near my family!”

            Berevrion sighed as he heard the debate spread through the onlookers.  It was obvious, if Danárion was proved innocent, he could not look to return here to the village where he’d been born, not if he wished not to take a knife in the back from someone convinced he’d been released only on the fancy of strangers from elsewhere.

What “Everyone” Knows

            As the deputation prepared to retire to Master Nerwion’s home where they were expected to take their evening meal, Harolfileg approached Berevrion quietly.  “Please make my excuses to our hosts,” he said, “for I am beginning to feel stifled within these settlements of Men.  I wish to be alone for a time, and to visit with the trees in this area.”

            Berevrion smiled his understanding.  “So has your Prince Legolas done repeatedly since the war was won,” he said.  “Go, and may your spirit find comfort.”

            So it was that the Elf went not back toward the village’s center, but instead south toward the gate.  As he went, he found himself following children and ponies headed also out of the village toward the common grazing ground across the Highway.  It had been quite a time since he’d been around younglings such as these, and he followed them as they traveled slightly west and then south through the gap in the rail fence that marked the edge of the large field.

            There were a fair number of children there, some riding their ponies on what appeared to be a beaten track around the edges of the field, some toward the east end practicing jumps over improvised hurdles, some allowing their animals to graze while they walked with companions in the shade of the trees that grew here and there and talked.  A few younger children and a couple of older ones could be seen on the edge of the wooded area on the south side, stooping over small objects on the ground as if studying them, then looking up suddenly at another’s call and darting off to some new interest.  He felt a stirring of desire to know children again, and realized that, now that there was a period of peace, it was likely that the Greenwood would again have more than just a scattering of children for the first time in many ennin.

            “Are you really an Elf?” asked a voice, and he turned to find himself the subject of scrutiny of a small boy and a taller girl.  The girl was one he’d seen earlier in the afternoon, Anriel, the older sister of the dead child Gilmar; the boy he hadn’t seen before.  The boy continued, “She says you’re an Elf, but my mama said there wasn’t any such thing.”

            “Yes, I am an Elf from the great Greenwood far to the north of here, east of the banks of the upper Anduin.”

            “Then my mama was wrong?”

            “Say rather that she has most likely never had the chance to meet an Elf, as we have not visited Gondor for many, many lives of Men.  And, not having seen one for herself, she was easily persuaded that we must be merely a tale.  But then I doubt that more than a very few within Gondor has seen a Dwarf or a Hobbit, either, until now.”

            “What’s a Hobbit?” asked Anriel.

            “The Ringbearer is a Hobbit, a Perian, a very small people that live now far to the north in Eriador.  They are known here as Halflings, I understand.  I do not know that any Hobbit has ever visited Gondor at all, not until now.”

            “Mama said that Halflings are only in tales,” the boy said.

            “And again, since none has visited Gondor ever that I am aware of before the Fellowship came south, I suspect that she was again persuaded that they don’t exist when they most definitely do, for which we may thank the Creator.”  He smiled at the child, who smiled back, displaying a gap where one of his eyeteeth was missing.

            “Derngil, your mother wants you to come home now,” called another voice, and the three of them turned to see the boy Dírhael approaching.

            Derngil was obviously rebellious at this.  “Oh, Dírhael, can’t you say you didn’t find me—that I was hiding in the woods by the canal or something?  I want to talk with the Elf.”

            “He’s here to try to keep that Danárion from getting hung,” said Dírhael, giving Harolfileg a dark glare.

            The Elf straightened, going stern.  “Have you never been accused of something you didn’t do?” he asked the older boy.

            Dírhael appeared taken aback by the question.  “Well, yes, I have,” he admitted, his eyes wary.

            “Have you ever been punished for what you didn’t do?”

            It was a moment before the boy slowly nodded.

            Harolfileg explained, “The Lord Elessar wishes to be certain that no one within Gondor will suffer death for a crime for which he is not guilty, so he has sent us here to prove that Danárion deserves indeed to die before he will authorize the execution.”

            “But, you don’t think he did it.”

            “We have not yet found proof that he had to have killed your brother.”

            “But everyone knows he killed our brothers,” Anriel interrupted.  “Him, and Carenthor, and Garestil did it.”

            “And how do they know it?”

            “Because Garestil said so,” she said with the air of having made an unassailable argument.

            “And does Garestil always tell the strict truth?”

            She blinked at him, surprised by his question.

            After a moment he asked again, “Does he always tell the strict truth?”

            She finally shrugged.  “I don’t know—I don’t know him that well.”  Then she added, “He’s ugly.”

            Harolfileg found himself wanting to laugh at that statement, but managed to keep his face appearing solemn.  “Perhaps.”

            “You don’t think so, too?” she asked.

            “I’ve not seen him as yet,” he answered her.  He went on, “Have you ever thought your parents would be very angry if they knew you had done a thing, and told them that someone else had done it instead?”

            She started to say no, but thought better of it.  Her eyes downcast, she admitted, “Yes.”

            “It appears that this might have happened with Garestil, that he said he was there only because he was afraid of those questioning him.”  He turned toward Dírhael.  “Do you think he was wrong to be afraid?”

            Derngil said, “My mama told me that you don’t ever have to be afraid of telling the truth.”

            “But your mama and you don’t live with Rindor,” Dírhael said to him.

            Harolfileg was caught by the declaration.  “You do not call him your father?” he asked.

            Dírhael gave him a defiant look.  “Rindor is not my father.  Oh, he calls me his son, but he’s not my father, and I’ll never call him that.  My grandparents are sending for me, and when they do, I’ll go away and never come back here and never see him again!”

            “You do not like him?”

            “Like him?  Why?  He is a bully and a thief, and the guardsmen won’t do anything to him for it because they all know him and don’t want to believe anything bad about him.  He was mean to his first wife, and he got my mother to be a poppy eater, too, just like him, and he—he was unfaithful, and now she’s dead of poppy, and it’s all his fault!”  Dírhael dashed at his eyes, not willing to cry before this stranger.

            “What became of your father?”

            “He went to Anwar to become a pikeman, and he died fighting orcs.”

            “What happened to Rindor’s first wife?”

            “She left him and left Destrier, and went south to Lossarnach with her children.  She didn’t want to be around a poppy eater.”

            “So he bound himself to your mother.”

            “Yes.”

            After a moment the Elf asked, “Do you ever find yourself feeling it needful to lie to Rindor?”

            “Yes—all the time.  He sees something that’s not the way he thinks it should be, and he demands I tell him why.  And if I tell him I don’t know, he keeps asking until I must tell him something!  And if he thought that Bredwion had done something he oughtn’t to have done, he would beat him as if he were a big boy, even when he was very small.  Sometimes I would say I had done it, even if I knew it was a different child who’d done it, just to keep him from beating Bredwion!  He wouldn’t believe anyone but Bredwion could have done it sometimes—Bredwion or me.”

            How strange were the ways of Men, that they would think to beat a child, or to assume that a specific child had been guilty of all mischief to be found!  Harolfileg shuddered at this glimpse into Dírhael’s life.  But, as the boy had admitted that he felt compelled to lie to Rindor to protect himself or others, then perhaps he would now understand.  “Did you know Garestil?” he asked.

            “Yes, some.”

            “Do you know of others blaming him for things they’d done?”

            “Well, I know that Leverion did that to him.”

            “What happened?”

            The boy pouted briefly.  “Well, there was one time when Leverion was in the market and took some sweets and ran away, and as he passed Garestil he put them into Garestil’s hands.  The sweets merchant saw Leverion take the sweets, and called for Vendrion to catch him.  But Leverion didn’t have the sweets when Vendrion found him, and told Vendrion that he’d seen Garestil with them.  So Vendrion left Leverion alone and went to find Garestil instead.  Garestil hadn’t understood why Leverion gave him the sweets, and was eating them when Vendrion got to where he was.  So Vendrion took him in hand and had him flogged for a thief.”

            Harolfileg shuddered.  “And the merchant had told him that he had seen Leverion take the sweets?”

            “Yes.  But when Vendrion thinks something happened a certain way, he won’t listen to anyone else.  And I think he was afraid of Leverion’s mother, so he wouldn’t want to punish her son if someone like Garestil could be made to take the blame.”

            “And who arrested Garestil for the murders of the children?”

            “Hanalgor and----”  Harolfileg could see the understanding dawn in Dírhael’s eyes.  “Hanalgor and Vendrion,” the boy said in a quieter tone, his eyes now searching those of the Elf.  “So if,” he suggested as the idea formed in his mind, “if he wanted for Garestil to say he was there, he might have refused to listen when he said he didn’t know, like Rindor does with me?  And kept doing it until Garestil finally said he had been there after all?”

            “That’s nonsense!” said Derngil suddenly.  “Everyone knew that Danárion had done it before they even talked to Garestil.”

            “But how did they know?” asked Dírhael unexpectedly.  “How could they know that Danárion had to have done it?”

            “Because everyone knows he wanted to….”  Derngil stopped guiltily, looking up from under his lashes at the Elf as if he were uncertain he should say more in front of him.

            “He wanted to what?” Harolfileg asked.

            “He wanted to see an Elf,” Anriel answered for him.  “He thought that Elves were special,”

             “But most people think that Elves are—dangerous,” Dírhael explained, apparently attempting not to give offense.

            “And so we are,” the Elf replied.  “Even as are Men.  And even Hobbits have proved deadly, when there is the need for them to be.  But if you speak of the tales that I have heard are favored here, that somehow we were allies with Sauron the Deceiver, those are false.  Nay, he has hated my people far longer than ever he hated the Men of Gondor, and we have done naught but seek to protect our lands from him for two ages of the Sun.  And know this—even as he sought to cover the land of Gondor in darkness and laid your capitol in siege, so did he throughout all of the Free Lands of Middle Earth, and we, too, were fighting the armies he sent to our borders, intending to destroy all of us in one final conflagration.  We, too, won through only because two simple Hobbits made it through the land of Mordor and saw the Enemy’s Ring brought to the Mountain to Its destruction.”

            The children appeared surprised at this, and were exchanging looks of wonder.

            “So,” Harolfileg said, “Danárion desired to see Elves, did he?”

            “And to speak with spirits,” Anriel added.

            “To seek commerce with spirits is usually a fruitless enterprise, or so we have found, although some have managed to see that all profit by the attempt.  Certainly Minas Tirith would likely to have fallen had not your Lord Elessar managed to pass through the Paths of the Dead and brought the shades of the Oathbreakers to Pelargir in time, allowing them to defeat the Corsairs and take their ships.”

            Derngil’s eyes were bright with excitement.  “Did they really?”  And at the Elf’s nod he smiled broadly.  “And you know him?  Oh, to know the King!”

            “He is one mortal whose own heart is itself pure.  And he was raised among the Elves of Imladris, as if Elrond, lord of that land, himself were his father.”

            Dírhael sighed.  “I think Danárion wished to be like the King, and before we even knew that the King was almost ready to return to us!”

            The Elf sighed.  “There are worse ambitions, it would seem.  It seems odd to me that he must die on that account, due to the fact he would be as your King is.”

            “But he killed Dírhael and Anriel’s brothers, and Nedron.  Everyone knows it.”  Derngil’s assertion was now more plaintive, if still stubborn.

            “But how is it that they know it?” asked Dírhael.  “That’s what he’s asking.”  He was indicating Harolfileg.

            “How is it that you know it?” Harolfileg asked the younger boy.

            “Because I’ve seen him there before, where they killed Gilmar, Nedron, and Bredwion, only before they went missing.  I’ve seen him there with candles lit, singing terrible songs to call the Enemy.”

            “But you’re not allowed to go where they died without your older brother to go with you,” Dírhael objected.  “Your mother wouldn’t let you go there alone, not anymore than ours would allow Bredwion to do so.”

            “But she lets me come here without him,” responded Derngil.

            “But they didn’t die here!”

            “But it’s not that far away—by where the stream goes into the canal, right?”

            “Well, yes---”

            “So, it’s right back there,” and Derngil pointed toward the southeast corner of the field.  “We found it, the other boys and I.  It’s a secret spot, hidden amongst the bushes and trees, and it’s hard to get through from this side.  And we used to watch him, us lying under the thorns and him by the water.”

            Intrigued, Harolfileg signed to Dírhael to say no more, and the older boy complied, obviously frustrated.  “Will you show us the spot?” he asked Derngil.

            “All right, but it won’t be easy for you.  It’s not even easy for me now, for I’m bigger than I was last year when I used to watch Danárion there.”  So saying, he led the way toward the back corner of the field.

            “But that’s not where—” Dírhael tried to object again to the Elf, more quietly this time, but again Harolfileg forestalled him.

            “How is it that the canal is there, when it runs the other side of Master Medril’s farm?” the Elf asked the older boy.

            “Oh, it starts a ways north and runs along the east side of Leverion’s father’s farm, and goes under the bridge where the Highway crosses it.  It runs along the east side of Master Amborn’s land, and then at the back of it, it turns west and runs along the south side of first it and the field here and then Beslor’s farm and then two more before it ends.”

            Harolfileg nodded his appreciation for the information, and turned his attention to where Derngil led the way ahead of them, Anriel not far behind him.  The girl now dropped back to walk alongside the Elven healer.  “Is it true,” she asked, “that there’s a place called the Golden Wood?  We hear stories of it, after all.”

            “Yes.”

            “Have you been there?”

            “Twice, the last time alongside our Lord King.”

            “And is it really ruled by a golden witch?”

            He was surprised to realize he was amused rather than insulted.  Still, he kept his voice even as he answered.  “It does not do to speak so of the Lady Galadriel.  I am not certain what is meant by the term witch, but I sense it is not—flattering.”

            The girl flushed.  “I am sorry,” she murmured.

            “The Lady Galadriel is, I must admit, one of the most powerful of individuals now living within Middle Earth, and she has managed to keep the borders of her land well protected against the attempts of Sauron’s creatures to breach them.  But it is not just her power that has done this, but also the vigilance of the people she and her lord husband Celeborn rule.  And so it has been throughout the Elven lands that remain in Middle Earth, even as the remnants of Elendil and Isildur’s folk have had to hide their people in the secret places of the north, and have labored long and hard to keep the borders of the settled lands of Eriador proof against evil Men and beasts.”

            She nodded tentatively as she considered what he’d said, and after a moment of walking by him she smiled a more meaningful apology, a smile that bloomed further into acceptance and friendship offered.  She lifted her hand to take his, and he found himself grasping, for the first time ever, the hand of a mortal child.  How different that was from holding the hand of another Elf!  He could feel the beat of her life’s Song within her, far swifter and more intense, if less determinate, than that of any of the Firstborn.  Here was one who was not likely to long survive a half an ennin, who at perhaps ten or eleven years of age was already at least halfway to the age of mating and childbearing where an Elf of the same years would still be considered little better than a babe in arms.  She had to force all of her life experiences into such a small and limited space of time, while an Elf had literally all of the time remaining in the world to do whatever he or she could think or hope to do.  And with the impetuousness required of her mortal state, she had just demonstrated her trust in him, her acceptance of him as one who was worthy of her companionship.

            For the first time in his perhaps eight thousand years, he began to appreciate how it was that the Lord Finrod Felagund came to be proud of his title as the Friend of Men.

            They were finally approaching the wooded corner to the field.  He could hear the chuckle of running water in the bed of a stream, still not seen, inside the line of trees and shrubs that rose just past the beaten path that most of the mounted children rode along.  The scent of running water rose along with those of the herbs and leaves of a variety of plants that crowded the banks of the stream.  He realized that, concealed in the shrubbery and herbage, crouched a variety of smaller creatures, watching them—a vixen, well over that direction a pair of squirrels gone quiet for the moment from their almost constant comments on what they were aware of about them, a number of birds, a vole paused in its foraging….  He saw the form of a lizard lazing on a branch in the slanted light of late afternoon, a lizard the children failed to recognize as its colors blended so well with the light and shadows that lay along the bark to which it clung.  A grass snake was almost soundlessly slithering out of their path as they approached the beaten earth of the bridle trail.  He had a glimpse of a small spider in the center of its nearly invisible web, its clawed legs keeping awareness of a number of different threads, feeling for the advent of its next meal.  And he was aware of what appeared to be a great tree stump from which two limbs were lifted….

            Anriel slipped her hand from his and indicated that stump.  “That’s a father tree,” she informed him.  “Or at least, that’s what we call them.”

            He paused to consider it, and then gave it a respectful bow.  “You are right to treat it well and with circumspection,” he advised her.

            The shrubbery and trees bulged into the field here, and the bridle path reflected that bulge.  They crossed it, and paused on the edge of the thick growth.  Derngil turned his head to advise the others, “It’s narrow here, and then we must get down on hands and knees and crawl.”

            The plants here were slow to respond to Harolfileg’s presence, but their awareness was awakening swiftly enough that one who was sensitive to them had come into their midst.  They began to part to allow him passage while the children had to force their own way through; and when he came to the place where Derngil indicated the children must crawl, he was able to continue still upright.

            The last barrier was indeed of brambles, and under them the children stopped, side-by-side on their bellies, peering through into a sheltered glade through which the stream could now be seen running.  “Ooh,” breathed Anriel.  “It’s pretty!”

            “A bower,” agreed Harolfileg, approving of what he saw.

            The stream broadened somewhat to form a small pool, and a few rings of logs and smaller boulders had been arranged to serve as table and seats.  Bracken had been piled to form a couch of sorts in a hollow sheltered by an evergreen tree, and flowering bushes encircled the space with beauty.  And hanging from the over-arching branches were cleverly wrought holders for candles formed from beeswax.

            A narrow path led into the bower from the other side of it, and the branches parted, partly the Elf sensed by their own volition, to allow the arrival of a young maiden whose face reflected delicacy and personality and was framed by thick curls of coppery hair.  She carried with her a gittern.  She came forward to lean a hip on one of the higher stones, facing the pool.  She cradled the instrument in her arms and began plucking the strings and turning pegs to tune it, the tip of her tongue to be seen between her teeth as she concentrated on getting the tones right.  When at last she had it adjusted to her liking, she went still for a moment.  At last she raised the instrument and began to play—and sing.

            “A new wind will rise and sweep through the land;

            New ruler order all with word of command.

            Armies surge and retreat, and surge yet again!

            The end-time has come for too many Men!”

            “She’s calling for the Dark One to come!” whispered Derngil.

            Dírhael snorted.  “Nonsense,” he said, quietly but discernible to even the girl on the far side of the pool.  “That’s one of Suleirion’s songs!”

            As Derngil hissed, “Shh!” the girl stopped playing, rising some and looking about in an attempt to spot where anyone might be hidden.

            “Who is there, and what are you doing on my father’s land?” she demanded, her face flushing easily in keeping with her coloring.

            Shaking his head at his companions’ lack of discretion, Harolfileg went forward to reveal himself.  “I beg pardon, young Mistress,” he said.  “The children wished to show me a spot they had found and admired.  We did not expect to see any other here.  You are Mistress Argilien?”

            She’d straightened in surprise, then fell back rather heavily against the stone, her face gone pale.  “You—you—you’re an Elf?” she breathed.

            He smiled reassuringly.  “Yea, and so it is.  A star shines down upon our meeting,” he added in Sindarin, giving a low bow.  “I am Harolfileg from the renewed land of Eryn Lasgalen, come most recently to Anórien from Minas Tirith at the behest of the Lord King Aragorn Elessar Telcontar and my own Lord Thranduil’s sons, who are now present in the King’s house.  I came to your land with Prince Tharen, come to honor Elrond’s fosterling on his coronation as King of Gondor and victor in the battles of the Pelennor and before the Black Gate.  He and my own Lord King’s sons bade me come here with the deputation that examines the verdicts handed down upon the youths Danárion, Carenthor, and Garestil.”

            He was aware as he spoke of the children wriggling free into the space beside him and rising to their feet.

            “Then it’s true—Mistress Vanessë’s letter was indeed read and is being answered as we speak?  The Powers be praised!”  She laid the gittern upon the stone and crossed over the stream at a point before it broadened into the pool, coming to stand near them.

            He felt Derngil, who had pressed himself against his side, shiver in response to that last phrase.  He gave the boy a curious glance, but returned his attention to Argilien.  “Yes, your King has chosen to honor her request.”

            “But why are these here?” she asked, indicating Anriel and the two boys.

            “Because this is where their brothers died,” Derngil said, his daring having apparently returned.

            Dírhael sighed in disgust.  “No, they didn’t—not here.  It was over there, over the beam on the other side of Master Medril’s farm where we go berrying.  That’s where they died.  Constable Amdir took us, Rindor and my mother and me, to show us where their bodies were found.”

            “And that is not where they died, either,” Harolfileg assured him.  “It was merely where the bodies were hidden, some time after they were already dead.”  At the boy’s surprised look, he added, “The trees there noted no violence, and bear no memory of the deaths of children of Men, although those close to the beam that bridges the canal saw the ponies killed.  They cannot tell me aught of what kind of being saw to the deaths of the children or the animals, but none sensed the fear the children must have felt before they were slain.”

            “Then, you really can talk with trees?” asked Argilien.

            He smiled.  “I have lived as a wood Elf for the past age and a half of the Sun.  I am not as sensitive, perhaps, as is Lord Legolas to the voices of the trees, but, yes, they can speak some with me, and will allow me passage as I need it.”

            She gave a slow nod, and began to smile.  “Well, I welcome you here.  This is my place, now.  My aunt never came here much, I understand, although my grand-dame tells me that she spent a good deal of time here when she was a girl.”

            “But I saw Danárion here, calling up the Enemy,” insisted Derngil.

            “Oh, yes.”  Argilien’s face had gone closed with anger.  “Oh, yes, he heard all the gossip that Leverion and that horrible Hanalgor started against him, that he worshiped the Nameless One and that he sought to show honor to the Prince of Evil!  He heard all of the terrible things that were what everybody knows.  And you all believe it?” she demanded.

            Dírhael glanced briefly at the other boy, then back to her again.  “Well, I don’t—not if he was doing what you’re doing and singing songs written by Suleirion.”

            “That’s what he ever did when he came here.  My mother would never approve if I let him come into the house and play Suleirion’s music there.  She doesn’t like his songs, and says that the music jangles and is not pleasant.  But she doesn’t listen to the words to see that he sang of the Return of the King to Gondor, and the end of the reign of the Dark Lord.”

            “See?” Dírhael challenged the younger boy.  “You need to pay attention to the words, not just to what the grownups say.”

            Derngil was flushing, but accepted the rebuke.  “But then why didn’t he play at home?” he asked.  “Why come here?”

            “Because his father sold his gittern, and I was the only one who’d let him use one.”  She examined the children more closely, and suddenly exclaimed, “Ah, but you are scratched!”  She approached Anriel and drew her to the edge of the pool.  Kneeling down, she dipped the corner of her apron (a soft blue, and most becoming, Harolfileg thought) into the water.  “I shall cleanse it for you,” Argilien said, gently washing the thin line of blood from the younger girl’s arm.  “Silly child, crawling along amidst the brambles.  Here.  Is that better?”  At Anriel’s nod, she rose.  “I am grateful you are here,” she said to Harolfileg, “and hope you will help to expose the truth.”  She sighed.  “My aunt has said that she saw Danárion and me walking together there beyond the canal the night the children went missing, but we never did.  Danárion almost never walked abroad beyond the gates at night, for Hanalgor would not usually allow him to pass out of the village once the gates were closed at sunset.  Only on the night of Midsummer did he come out, and we walked about the field together here.  But Hanalgor did not serve on the gate that night—he was celebrating the holiday with Vendrion and a few others, I understand.”

            “We have proved that neither she nor her daughter could have seen what they said they saw,” the Elf assured her.  “And they admit that they really saw the two of you walking here, about your father’s fields as you’ve said, as they went to the village to join the celebrations there.”

            She smiled in relief, her eyes bright with hope.  “Good!” she cried.  “One of the lies unraveled, at least.  May the rest follow rapidly!”

            She offered to lead them across her father’s lands to spare them the return through the brambles, and they thanked her for her courtesy.  As they neared the road she told Anriel, “You may visit the bower when you wish, and I hope that it brings you peace.  I am so sorry your brother was taken from you so.  Danárion could not understand how anyone could do such a terrible thing!”

            The younger girl’s eyes were soft with tears.  “He was just a little boy—he never did aught to harm anyone.  It has torn Nana so, having lost him.  And Ada—he seems to have lost part of himself with Gilmar gone.”

            As they headed for the gate into Destrier, Dírhael eyed Derngil with a superior smile.  “See?” he said.  “It doesn’t always pay to believe everything just because everyone knows it.”

            Derngil shot him an impudent look, stuck his tongue out at the older boy, and hurried forward, half skipping, half running, for his mother was likely to be very angry if he didn’t answer her call soon, and he knew it.

            Harolfileg watched after him thoughtfully.  “You said that your mother would not allow Bredwion to go to the woods beyond the canal where he was found without you?”

            Dírhael shrugged.  “None of the smaller children were supposed to go there alone.  And Bredwion just wouldn’t.  He was afraid to go down the wide path from the Highway unless he was holding my hand, as he was certain there were spirits there that might do him a mischief.  It could feel strange, there under the trees, you see.”

            “But he could have gone on the footpath about Master Medril’s fields,” the Elf suggested.

            But the boy was shaking his head.  “No, he wouldn’t go that way at all.  He couldn’t swim, and was certain that the beam was too narrow and he would fall in and drown.  He used to have evil dreams of drowning, you see.”  The grief became obvious again.  “It made it worse, knowing that he was found in the water, and that his nightmares had come true.”

            It was a sobering thought, and the Elf laid his hand on the boy’s shoulder in comfort, marveling at how strong these mortal children were in spite of their apparent fragility.

            Harolfileg bade farewell to Dírhael and Anriel just inside the gate, and made his way to Master Normandil’s home where he expected to report to Lord Berevrion and Master Anorgil all that he had learned that afternoon.

And Whom Might We Suspect?

            As they walked from the village hall toward Master Nerwion’s house, Wendthor was slapping what appeared to be a barkless branch tied about with cords against his hand.  “What is that?” Berevrion asked him.

            “It’s a Rohirric tally stick.  I found it in the ruins of the byre that we saw from the Highway as we rode here the other day.  We did as you asked and looked for ways that others might have come to the canal from the east, and then followed the old wagon track from the abandoned farm all the way to the Highway.  It followed the northern border of that farm and the pastures of the one that had the byre.  The one with the byre was owned by a Man who bred fine horses.  He came from Rohan—it seems a fair number of people here in the western portions of the lands my father protects have the blood of Rohan in them, and I must suppose that some in the Eastfold have Gondorian blood as well.”

            Berevrion nodded his understanding.  “These are border regions, after all.”

            “Well, he’d married the daughter of the one who’d held the farm last, and worked on her father’s farm until his father-in-law died.  When he and his wife took possession of the place, he then turned from breeding primarily cattle to importing, breeding, and training horses instead.  He tore down the old cattle barn and built a fine stable of dressed stone in its place.  And he especially bred black horses, intending to sell them to Minas Tirith to mount a cavalry.  I remember my grandfather discussing the venture with my father when I was about ten, and how the Man had thought to add to the dignity of his adopted land.

            “Well, it appears that his decision to raise black horses in particular was what drew his own destruction upon him.  The folk of Mordor have always raided the horse herds of the Eastfold to take horses for the use of their fell masters, and they have always particularly targeted any black horse that might be found.  One night in the midst of a winter storm a raiding party fell on the farm, apparently approaching it from the north.  They went into the stables and the more sheltered pastures and took all of the black horses and most of the darkest of the rest of his stock.  They slew him when he came out with sword and horse bow to seek to protect his animals, and killed his wife and most of their children.  I remember the soldiers sent to investigate the raid telling my father that they found one of the boys crouched in the cow byre with his father’s tally stick for the horse herd in his hand, still alive and half mad with the horror of what he’d seen done to his family and those who labored on the farm.”

            Berevrion reached out his hand to take the stick and examine it.  “The raised cords,” Wendthor explained, “indicate how many horses there were and of what colors.  Those in this area indicate the black ones, in this I think those that were browns, those here would have been greys, and so on.  See how the wood is grooved to allow the line of the cord to lie in the channel between where it is raised to indicate the individual animals?  He could feel this even on the darkest nights and count to make certain that all of the horses were brought safely into the stable or could be accounted for in the pastures.”

            “Ingenious,” commented the northern lord, and when he had satisfied his curiosity he returned it to Wendthor.  “I saw no signs of the stable you describe, and so had no idea as to it having been land on which horses might have been raised.”

            “My father gave permission to Master Nerwion to take the stone from the stables about five years ago, if I remember correctly.  I believe most of the stone was used in raising the walls on the north side of the village.”

            “A wise precaution,” commented Anorgil, indicating he, too, wished to see the tally stick.  “I remember the walls there being particularly low when I was young.  It was where many of the older boys would sneak in and out of the village at night, as I was told by friends from here.”  He turned the stick in his hand before returning it to the younger Man.

            Wendthor continued, “As we approached the old houseplace for the farm and passed the woodlot, we saw a narrow path that led towards the byre.  I came down it and explored the byre while Faradir walked to the Highway and came around that way.  That was where I found the tally stick, partly hidden by blown leaves toward the corner that is best preserved.  There had been a stone floor there, and some of the stones had been prised up or trodden out of place.  I’d thought to bring it to my father, or to keep it in memory of all who died at the hands of Mordor’s people even before the war proper began.”  He thought for a few moments before he added, “It appears that the byre has sheltered some who have traveled through Anórien along the road.  I saw signs that a horse or two have been there overnight within the past few months, and that fires may have been kindled for warmth.”

            They went through the gap in the low wall that fenced in the property surrounding the house of the Master of the village and crossed the paved court before the house’s main door.  A servant in livery opened the door for them and bowed them in; others came with basins of scented water and freshly laundered cloths to allow them to bathe hands and faces and to take their burdens from them so they might properly freshen themselves ere they were led into the main hall of the place, which had been prepared for the serving of the evening meal.  Berevrion, Erchirion, and Wendthor were led to the dais where they would sit with the Master himself, and the rest were led to the next lower table. 

            “Your—Elvish companion, he is not with you?” asked Master Nerwion.

            “He asked me to convey his apologies, but indicated he wished to go out into the countryside for a time,” explained Berevrion.  “He is not accustomed to the closeness of Men’s villages, and finds himself refreshed by exposure to all that is green and growing.”

            Nerwion obviously found this idea novel, and appeared somewhat relieved.  He looked up as Normandil was led in, accompanied by Faradir and the other guests from his household.  “Ah, you have come in good time, Master Normandil.  Here is your place at my side.  Now, Lord Berevrion, you remember my wife from last night?”

            The meal was somehow stiffer than had been that of the previous evening in Master Normandil’s house, although there were fewer courses and the food not so formally prepared.  All seemed somewhat glad when it was over and those in the deputation rose to follow their hosts into a smaller and significantly more comfortable room where a light wine and fruit were offered them, and where the seats were now pleasantly cushioned.  “You are satisfied with what you have learned this day?” asked Nerwion with an attempt at casual courtesy.

            “We have found rather more than we had expected to,” Erchirion said at Berevrion’s indication he should speak for the party.  “To see the particular place where the children’s bodies were found proved most instructive, and we hope that the population of Destrier is relieved by what we have said to the parents both of the children and of the three charged with the murders.”

            Nerwion’s smile appeared somewhat strained.  “It is hard to say.  Those who were in the hall at the last appeared to be divided, some angry at Hanalgor and the rest of the guardsmen, and others threatening violence should you here seek to see Danárion and his fellows freed.”

            “So we have seen also,” agreed Berevrion.  “You have heeded our instructions regarding the guardsmen and constables housed here for the night?”

            “Yes.  They are even now being entertained in the servants’ hall—I’ve engaged some of the youths who have studied with the potter of Hevensgil to give them a demonstration of tumbling and juggling such as they’ve learned.  It should keep their interests engaged so that they do not dwell too deeply on why they are here rather than in their own homes tonight.”

            Berevrion and Erchirion exchanged looks.  “It might be well,” suggested Imrahil’s son, “to speak with these young Men when they are finished.  They can perhaps add to what we have learned about what Garestil might have been likely to do should he find himself in company with Danárion, Carenthor, and three small boys in that gully we visited earlier in the day.”

            “I think you are right,” agreed Berevrion.  “Perhaps after we have returned to Master Normandil’s house for the remainder of the evening you will send them there before they return to their homes?”

            “As you wish it,” agreed Nerwion.

            Not long after, the party offered their thanks and took their leave, and made the short journey back to Normandil’s more comfortable abode, accompanied by Nerwion’s son.

            Wendthor was asked again if he wished to spend the evening with Narvil and his friends, but begged off, explaining that his long walk that day after the journey of yesterday and last even’s time in the alehouse had left him fatigued and in desire of a full night of rest.  Narvil, having seen his duty met, nodded and departed to seek his own entertainment.

            Berevrion particularly was surprised to find that Harolfileg awaited them.  “I had thought that you might wish to remain out in the countryside all night,” he admitted to the Elf.

            “I had so intended, but then I met some of the children from the village and learned more of what was believed here, and more that indicates things were not presented as they actually happened when the case was laid out before those who served upon the jury.”

            They repaired to Normandil’s library, and Harolfileg related to them his meeting with Anriel, Derngil, and Dírhael, and the revelation that most of the children from the area were convinced that Nedron, Gilmar, and Bredwion had died there near the grazing commons rather than on the far side of Master Medril’s farm.  He described also the meeting with Argilien, and spoke of her anger at how unpleasant gossip had damaged the reputation of Danárion.

            “You told young Anriel that the father tree was to be treated with respect?” asked Erchirion.

            “It is not merely a tree, although what was believed to be a father tree on Master Medril’s farm is nothing more than an aged elm shaped by storm and lightning into the semblance of one of the Onodrim.  It is long and long again since I last saw an Ent—not since the first ennin after Thranduil became Lord of Eryn Lasgalen in his father’s stead.  They came to his halls to ask if any of our people had any word of the Entwives, but we could tell them nothing.

            “How it is that an Ent remains here in Gondor I could not say, save that perhaps it remains here on watch, waiting for any word of the Entwives to come to it.  It drowses very deeply, however, and roused but a little as it became aware of me.”

            “It is perhaps as well that it stands guard over the field where the village’s children tend to gather,” Berevrion commented.  “The Ents of Fangorn Forest have no love of the Enemy’s creatures, and they and their huorns destroyed Saruman’s army of Uruk-hai most efficiently from what we’ve been told by our Lord Aragorn and his companions.”

            “So Legolas has told those of us who came in company with his brother,” Harolfileg agreed.

            “And Bredwion’s brother has said that the boy feared to come to the place where the children were killed by either the old bridle trail or the beam that bridges the canal?” noted Master Normandil.  “If this is true, then how was it he came there at all?”

            “All of them were dead when they were carried there,” Harolfileg insisted.  “I cannot say where they died, but it was not there at the side of the ditch in which their bodies were found.  As I told the children earlier today, I sensed no memories of violence or fear in the trees surrounding the ditch.  They did not even recognize the bodies as having come from sentient beings.  Now, the ponies—that is a different matter altogether.  They were indeed led to the bank of the canal and killed there, most swiftly and efficiently.  They were not comfortable when they came there, but they were given no chance to know terror.”

            All considered this information for a time.  At last Berevrion shook his head.  “If the children were not killed there at the ditch, they still died somewhere.  But how are we to learn where?”

            “I suspect that they were brought to the ditch itself from wherever it was they did die carried by their ponies,” suggested Faradir.

            “Not by way of the common footpath that led through Master Medril’s land, though,” said Bariol.  “Both his wife and daughter would have seen, or anyone else upon the farm.  It does appear the entire household was wakeful much of the night.”

            “I suspect you are right,” Berevrion agreed.

            “That leaves either the bridle trail east of the canal or the way to the abandoned farm that we walked today,” suggested Wendthor.  “But how the children might have gone so far I cannot say.”

            “They obviously went upon their ponies,” Erchirion pointed out.  “But why they should go so far as to make it needful for whoever killed them to bring them back by either path appears to be the question.”

            Anorgil finished up his notes on what Harolfileg had learned and shared with them.  “And Master Rindor had a history of blaming Bredwion for anything he saw that did not appear proper, you say?”

            “So says young Dírhael,” the Elf answered.  “And he said that the Man is an eater of poppies.”

            Normandil sighed.  “There are, unfortunately, a number of such folk in Anórien, who use its sap not to ease pain but solely for the pleasure it gives them.  But the more they use it, the harder it is when they must go without, and many die from using too much at a time.”

            Gilflorin, who’d been listening avidly, commented, “As did Rindor’s wife.  Most distressing it was at the time when she died, and there are those who would have had him charged with giving her too large a dose of it of a purpose.”

            “You are certain,” Bilstred asked, “that she died of poppy and not of some other cause?”

            Normandil eyed Anorgil’s father briefly before answering, “No, we are not.  We have two healers within the village at this time.  The younger was certain that she indeed died of the poppy; but Master Erdonmar, who has served as healer here for nearly thirty years, disagrees.  He says that, yes, there were signs that she had taken some poppy before she died, but that she had been suffering for some time with a weakening of her heart to the point she often had pain in her chest and spreading upward to her arm, and she had been very ill with chills and fevers for several days before her death.  He felt that the illness so soon after the death of her son put stress upon her heart, and that this was why she died.  He pointed to both the terrible cough she’d been suffering from as of late and the excessive swelling in her feet and hands as evidence of this when he spoke before the village council.  Even though he advised against it, she felt that the poppy helped with the pain, but had promised to take it in very small doses.  He himself gave her small vials of the resin to use, just enough in each vial to offer some easing but not enough to hurt most people.  After her death he counted the vials, and he says that she did not take more than he had recommended.”

            Gilflorin snorted.  “And what was to stop Rindor from adding to what she took from his own store?”

            Bilstred caught Bariol’s eye.  “The swelling and cough speak of the heart’s failure and the gathering of fluids in the upper chest,” he noted, to which Bariol nodded his own agreement.  “But Master Erdonmar did well to advise against the poppy.  Yes, it might indeed ease some of the pain; but it could also impede the body’s ability to breathe properly.”

            Gilflorin shrugged.  “But there was the fact that when the healers arrived to see to her as she lay dying, Rindor’s latest paramour was by his side to offer him comfort.  Who is to say that he did not hurry the matter so as to be free to be with his newest love?”

            “But Erdonmar said that he had not told anyone other than the woman herself that she was suffering from a failure of the heart,” Normandil pointed out.  He turned to pour himself more wine.  “Although it must be said that Rindor has until lately not shown himself to be particularly virtuous.”

            “How does this Rindor support himself and his family?” asked Anorgil.

            “He was a gold and silversmith—could create particularly delicate jewelry.  However, he began shorting his patrons of portions of the metal they had paid for him to use in the crafting of the works they commissioned of him, and so lost his license from the guild to work in that field.”

            “Then how was it that he was able to afford his home in that quarter of the village?”

            “In truth, it was only through a gift from his wife’s parents that they were able to let a house there.  The end of the time for the lease was approaching, however—they would soon have had to move into other quarters, for her pay as a clerk for a wine merchant was not sufficient to continue there.”

            “And what of the stranger seen in the inn’s privy?” asked Lyrien.  “He was wounded, unknown to any here, was vomiting—he could have been the one, perhaps, to kill the boys.  And he came to the inn at a time to have seen them outside the village, perhaps in a place such as Mistress Argilien’s bower, slain them there, bound them, and hung them from their own ponies’ saddlebows.  He could then have led the ponies down the bridle trail from the Highway to where they were hidden….”

            But most of the rest were shaking their heads.  “No,” said Harolfileg.  “With an Ent so close, no matter how deeply it might be drowsing, it is unlikely that this Man would have been able to successfully attack children anywhere close to the village.  Ents do not usually pay much mind to Men and their doings, but they do not allow others to do violence in their presence.  It is one thing when one creature must hunt another in order to live; it is quite another when it is a vicious attack for any reason other than to obtain food or to protect oneself.  In such moments they are known to become—hasty, as they tend to put it.”

            “And why go so far to hide the bodies with a stream already close at hand?” Caraftion asked.  “Nor would he, as a stranger to the area, and relatively young as he’s been described, be likely to know that there was a ditch apt to hiding bodies down the canal so as to have reason to take the children so far from the Highway.  He would most likely have merely taken them to the bridge for the Highway and thrown the bodies into the canal there—or left them to lie where he struck them down.

            “Nay,” he continued, “this has always been the puzzle that has disturbed me most.  The bodies were hidden.  It was claimed by Master Fendril and the guardsman Hanalgor that this was in some way a ritual intended to please the Dark Lord, but no one has shown me any sign that there was a ritual performed in any fashion.  Yes, the one child was missing the sacs for his seed, but that was all.  And if you are correct that that particular loss was perhaps done by an animal after the child was dead, then the fact this part of his manhood was missing was merely happenstance—an accident, if you will, of animals finding the hidden bodies before Vendrion saw the shoe floating on the surface of the water.”

            Margolan had been sitting quietly, a goblet of wine in his hand, listening to all that had been discussed.  “There is another possibility,” he suggested.  “Any carter or traveler from a different region might have seen the children upon or beside the Highway, approached them as if to ask for directions, perhaps have suggested they accept a sample of what wares he might carry in his wagon, and when they were distracted, examining what he’d given them, struck them.  It’s happened in the north with traveling merchants approaching children, and particularly those not in sight of a dwelling or village.  By the time the parents realize the child is missing, the carter is often leagues down the road, or hidden in an abandoned barn or shed, waiting for the search for the child to die down.”

            Faradir was nodding, lowering his goblet.  “You will remember some six years or so ago, Berevrion--that Man who was newly come into Eriador over the High Pass with mead from the Beornings?  He abducted that girl from Archet.”

            “Oh, yes,” Berevrion said darkly.  “Yes, I remember.  Our Lord Aragorn saw to it he did not return eastward again.  And it was merely happenstance he was caught at all.  If Gilfileg had not wondered why a wagon was to be found down the track to that abandoned farmstead, no one would ever have realized what became of the maiden.”

            He sighed as he drained his own glass and set it aside.  “And I find myself wondering about the stepfather to Nedron as well.  Mistress Nessa spoke of him as being subject to fits of violence.”

            Wendthor said, “They were speaking of her last night, Narvil’s friends at the alehouse.  They said she often sported fresh bruises and would say she had run into a door, but that all knew that it was he who was beating her.”

            “So many possible others who might have done this violence upon the children!” Caraftion said in exasperation.  “So, someone tell me why they looked first to three youths who none of them lived near to the children or had aught to do with their families?”

            It was at that moment that the servant Danford entered the room to announce that the tumblers had come, sent by Master Nerwion.

            Within moments four youths were led into the room, their faces still sporting the white face paint commonly worn by such performers, their clothing loose and colorful and stained with sweat on their chests and under their arms.  They carried with them bags filled with the balls, clubs, and other items used in their performance and appeared both exultant at the apparent success their efforts had met in Master Nerwion’s house and the surprise they felt at being asked to come before the King’s deputation.

            At Berevrion’s request, they introduced themselves, and set themselves to answer the questions of those who were present.  The oldest youth explained, “Oh, yes, we all went to Hevensgil once each week to study tumbling and juggling, and Garestil was always one of us.  No, he never failed to go, even if he perhaps ought to have stayed home, when he had a cold or had hurt himself.  He was so eager to do such things and to earn the applause we’d seen given to the tumblers who’d come here some three years past.

            “But where we mostly believed that it would be easy to become tumblers ourselves, he alone seemed unsurprised to learn we must work hard and practice if we were to be good at it.  Perhaps it was because he had to work so hard to learn almost everything he did.”

            “And all of you went each week to practice at this?” asked Erchirion.

            “All of us except for Perthion here,” the youth said, indicating the tallest of those present.  “He began going only a few weeks before Garestil was called to the village hall and didn’t come back again.  You went how many times, do you think?” he asked his companion.

            Perthion shrugged, obviously uncomfortable with this.  “Three times—I went merely three times before they accused him of this terrible thing.  I was surprised, for I had not seen that kind of anger within him, that he might think to hurt anyone without provocation.  Oh, he said things to the older youths such as Leverion that were often rude, but most of that was because Leverion and his friends were always rude and disparaging of him.  And, I will admit, I am not certain that he always understood what he said to them—often he would merely repeat what we would say quietly of them amongst ourselves of how awful they could be.”

            “And how is it,” asked Anorgil, “that you remember that you went merely three times before he was arrested?”

            “Oh, the guardsmen and that Master Fendril burned it into my mind that it was merely three times,” he said bitterly.  “I thought I’d gone with them the night that the boys went missing, and told them so.  I even went with the others here to the court in Anwar to speak to this in the trial.  But the potter keeps a record of who comes each time—I understand he must give such records to the Guild of Entertainers should we apply for guild membership.  The guardsmen went to question him and found I’d started a week later than I’d thought, and told that to Master Fendril.  So, in the court he made me out as one who would deliberately lie to seek to protect my friend—as if, of course, Garestil was truly my friend.  Oh,” he added hastily, “it’s not that I don’t like him and that I didn’t consider him my fellow in this, in the tumbling and all.  But—well, really, he’s not my friend, not one I would want to spend a good deal of time with or talk with.  He doesn’t really understand what we talk about—his mind is not quick, and he cannot truly appreciate most of the jokes we make or what we mean when we talk about books we’ve read or songs we like to hear sung.

            “But once they’d proved I’d started a week later than I’d thought, they acted as if the others here were lying, too, and would only tell that he’d gone with them on that night because they sought to protect him.”

            “Even so,” agreed the one who’d spoken first, and the other two nodded their heads to indicate they’d felt the same.

            The young Men were given a light drink and some other refreshment to compensate them for the time they’d spent with Normandil’s guests, and they gave a short demonstration to show what they were capable of, and took their leave, each of them with a silver crown given them by Lord Berevrion in appreciation for their skill.  “Use it to purchase good face paint and more colorful balls and clubs for your juggling,” he suggested.  “You all have it in you to be excellent tumblers from what I can see.”

            And glowing with pleasure, they wended their ways home.

            There was some more consideration of what they’d learned in the past day, and all retired to the quarters given them to take their rest, Anorgil and Berevrion going together to consult on what further information needed to be noted, and to prepare the report to be carried back to Minas Tirith by Margolan.

When Those Sworn to Justice Fail their Purpose

            Those of the King’s deputation broke their fast early, sent word regarding their plans to question the guardsmen and constables and their scribe to Master Nerwion, and as the bell rang the first hour after dawn they returned to the village hall.

            Although they’d made no public announcement of their intentions, it appeared that a goodly portion of the village and even some outsiders intended to learn what was to be revealed this day.  Many had already gathered outside the hall, and once its doors were opened they filed inside purposefully and took seats upon the benches for spectators.  Once those were filled, others began to stand about the edges of the room.

            Amdir brought those who’d spent the night with Master Nerwion to the hall.  Finding a crowd still trying to work their way in at the front, he led his charges around to the back, and at Berevrion’s direction, he left Vendrion at the table where the families had sat the previous day and saw the others to the rooms where the records for the village were kept.

            When at last the main room and the adjoining kitchen were filled to capacity, the village patterer took a position at the door to relay what was said to those who remained outside, and the questioning finally began.

            “You are Vendrion the market guard?”

            “Yes, my lord.”

            “And you are the one who spotted the shoe that floated in the ditch where the bodies of the children Nedron, Gilmar, and Bredwion were hidden by whoever killed them, or so we must suppose?”

            “Yes, my lord.”

            “And why did you choose to search there?”

            “Well, my lord, I’d been through the common field where the children ride their ponies several times and through the woods along the canal and the stream where they tend to play, alongside everyone else who was searching.  We were beginning to search elsewhere now—through the fields and woodlots of several of the local farms, in byres and haylofts and the like.  And I decided perhaps to look at the woods where people go berrying in the proper season.  I mean, I went berrying there, too, when I was a child.  So I went out to the road and walked down the old bridle trail, keeping an eye out as I went.  Had my sister’s son Cuellion with me, and he was looking, too, on the other side of the path.  At last we came to where the bridle trail approaches the gully, and we turned to walk along it, looking down at the water, and I saw the shoe there, floating on the surface.  When I saw the shoe I sent Cuellion back to the village to find who was available from the constables and gate guards to come back with them, and I stood watch until they came.”

            “And who was it who found the bodies?”

            “Constable Amdir found the first one, trying to lean over to fetch out the shoe, only his feet slid and he fell in, and up popped the first body, all white amidst the murk of the water.  It was eerie.  And with it came a second shoe.”

            “And who found the bodies of the others?”

            “That was me, my lord.  When we’d found the first one we stood and argued a time as to what to do about it.  He was all for leaving it just floating there until Master Avrandahil could come to see it where it was found, but I felt that wasn’t properly respectful, so at last I got down in the water and lifted it out.”

            “Where did you place the body?”

            “On the bank, my lord, on its side.”

            “Why on its side?”

            “The way the boy’d been tied, I couldn’t lay it on its back, and it didn’t seem respectful to put him on his face.  So I set him on his side, lying there, looking toward the water.  Then I started to feel around to see if I could find anything else, and found the clothes, all in a bundle, and began pulling them out of the bundle and laying them out on the bank, setting them one on top of the others.”

            “Why did you do this?”

            The Man shrugged.  “Didn’t know if there might be something there that might tell us about what might have happened, my lord.  When the last of the clothing was laid in the pile, I got down on my hands and knees so as to better to feel for what might be hidden in the mud, and crawled about.  I found the rest of the shoes, and then crawled down the ditch toward the canal until I found the bodies of the other two boys, both lying face down in the mud, their rumps somewhat raised because their knees must be bent by the way they were tied.  I lifted them each out of the ditch, laying one on the south bank of the ditch and the other on the north side.”

            “Who was it who first mentioned the name of Danárion as the one who might have killed the children?”

            “That would have been me, my lord.”

            “When?”

            For the first time Vendrion paused as if uncertain.  At last he said, “After I’d laid the body of Gilmar on the bank, my lord.  We were all there, looking down at the boy, seeing how there was blood dried so thick in his hair and the way he was tied and all.  And I knew that it was Danárion who had to have done this.”

            “Why?”  And when he didn’t answer, Berevrion prodded him, “Was he known to be violent or threatening toward children?”

            “What?  Violent or threatening toward children?  Oh, no, my lord, except for those who repeated what their older brothers said about him—threatened to beat my nephew Cuellion a time of two when he’d said out loud that Danárion was one who tried to call upon the Dark Lord.”

            “And did Danárion seek to call upon the Dark Lord?”

            “Well, everyone knew he’d tried to do this.”

            “Did you ever hear him call upon the Dark Lord?”

            “Well, no, I hadn’t, but he’d told me he’d done so.”

            Berevrion leaned forward.  “He told you this?”

            “Yes, my lord.  It was after the fruiterer came to me saying he couldn’t find a crate of apples.  I thought of Danárion immediately, you see, for he’d taken food he’d found lying about before.”

            “Food lying about?  In the market?”

            “Yes, I caught him one time taking bread from the discard bin that the baker had behind his stall.”

            “Did the baker complain?”

            “Well, no, he didn’t, my lord.”

            “But you saw Danárion taking it.”

            “Yes, my lord, he was stealing it straight out.”

            “He didn’t steal it!” said one of the spectators, who stood up, his face flushed.  “I told him he could have it.”

            Berevrion shifted his attention to the Man.  “And you are?”

            “I’m the baker, my Lord.  Danárion had asked me if he could have some bread, explaining he had but a brass on him at the time, but the loaves I had for sale were three brasses each.  So I told him he could take a loaf or two from the discard bin.  None had mold on them, but they were two or three days old, and none of the matrons would take them for they were gone hard.

            “Only this ass,” and he gave Vendrion a marked glare, “must keep his eyes on Danárion all the time, him and Hanalgor, and accuse him always of stealing or wanting to steal.  Never mind that Leverion and his group would walk off with a loaf fresh from the oven and not leave a single brass for it and neither would do a thing about it.  No, leave the rich farmer’s son be, but ever be following the drunkard’s wife’s son about, accusing him of what he didn’t do!”

            “And you did nothing to try to help the boy?”

            “I complained to Master Nerwion about it, but he told me he could do nothing to stop it, that they were merely doing what they were paid to do.  But why Hanalgor is always coming into the market to do the job of Vendrion and some of the others I couldn’t say—he’s supposed to be a gate guard, after all.  All Danárion ever did was to try to be helpful, not like some others I could name.  My lord,” he added, realizing he might be thought disrespectful.

            “Thank you, Master,” Berevrion told him.  “Please sit down now so that we can continue to question Guardsman Vendrion.  Now,” he said, returning his attention to the market guard, “you say that a crate of apples went missing and you immediately thought that Danárion might have stolen it?”

            “Yes, my lord.”  His voice was rather subdued.

            “Had Danárion been in the market that day, hanging about the stall for the fruiterer?”

            “Well, no.”

            “Where did you find him?”

            “Waiting near the free school for Carenthor to be done with his lessons, sitting upon the low wall about the place.  He was eating an apple.”

            “And you were certain it was one of the missing apples?”

            “Yes, my lord.”  Vendrion’s voice was regaining its surety.

            “So, what did you do?”

            “I accused him of having taken the apple from the fruiterer, but he said not—that his aunt had given it to him from her own tree.  When I said he was lying, he asked how I thought he’d gotten it, and I said I was certain he’d taken the crate missing from the fruiterer’s stall, and he asked how he’d have done that, seeing that he’d not been in the market that day.  And I said I didn’t know, so he said that he must have called upon the Dark Lord in order to get it for him….”  His voice tapered off as Erchirion began to laugh aloud, as did several of the spectators.

            Berevrion sat looking at the Man for several minutes as the laughter died down.  “And this,” he asked rather ponderously, “is how he admitted to you that he called upon the Dark Lord?”

            A woman was now standing.  “Well, if he’d bothered to ask, I would have told him that, yes, I did give Danárion the apple from my tree.  I often give my brother’s adopted son apples from my tree—all he had to do was ask!”

            “And your brother is Targon?”

            “Yes, my lord.  Or, at least he was Targon.  No one knows what became of him.”

            He gestured for her to sit down and again pondered Vendrion.  “Will you answer the question, please?  Is this how he admitted how he called upon Sauron?”

            There were gasps of dismay from several sides at this open naming of the Enemy, which he ignored, keeping his eyes fixed on Vendrion.  The guardsman ran a finger about the collar of his uniform tunic.  “Yes, my lord,” he said, his voice weak.

            “Did you ever accuse him of serving the Lord of Mordor?”

            After a moment, Vendrion nodded uncertainly.  “On occasion, my lord.”

            “And what evidence did you have of this?”

            “He wore black, my lord, always black.”

            “Did he wear any other colors with the black?”

            “Well, he’d wear grey with it, and once he purchased a silver shirt from the seller of used clothing and he wore that until it was worn out.”

            Erchirion gave quite a sigh.  “Guardsman Vendrion,” he said in a deceptively calm voice, “do you know the official colors and seal for the realm of Gondor?”

            “The seal’s the White Tree, my lord,” Vendrion said.

            “And the colors for the realm?”

            The Man’s mouth worked for a time before he finally admitted, “Black and silver, my lord.”

            “The young Man wears black and silver, the official colors for the realm, and you accuse him of worshiping Mordor for it?”  There was no mistaking the anger and disgust Imrahil’s son was displaying.

            “But—but no others here do such things—only those who’d once been soldiers!”

            Erchirion turned to Berevrion.  “I cannot stand this!” he said.  “I think you’d best remove him from the room until my anger fades.  My own cousins have proudly worn black and silver all of their lives, as has my uncle as Lord Steward of the realm.  And our new Lord King wore the black and silver armor of Elendil at his coronation, and the black and silver banner of the King was borne before him as he rode off of the ship that brought him to the Battle of the Pelennor.  And this fool sees the wearing of black and silver by anyone who’s not been a soldier as somehow ominous?

            “Take him to a chamber other than where the others wait,” Berevrion said, feeling tired.  “We may recall him in time, but I believe that Lord Erchirion is right and he should be allowed to think on his prejudices for the nonce.”

            Amdir led a shaking Vendrion, who was assiduously wiping his face with a kerchief, away, and Wendthor rose to approach the door to the room where the other guardsmen waited.  At the door he turned enquiringly toward Lord Berevrion, who directed, “Call for Constable Calderon.”

            “I swear,” Erchirion was muttering as Wendthor opened the door and leaned inwards, “they would have arrested Boromir himself for wearing the black and silver of his uniform as Captain-General of the Host!”  Berevrion could only empathize with the Man.  He thought furiously of how he should start the questioning of the constable so as not to end up with a similar case, with nonsense uttered about how wearing black might have shown that Danárion indicated he was fascinated by Mordor’s dread Lord.

            Once Caledorn was seated at the table, Berevrion asked him, “When were you aware that the youth Danárion was considered seriously as one who might have taken part in the murders of the three boys who were killed?”

            “Immediately upon the finding of the bodies, my lord.”

            “And how did you learn this?”

            “I was there when Amdir fell into the ditch and the body of Gilmar was revealed, my lord, and heard Vendrion name Danárion as the one who must have done this.”

            “On what evidence did he make this pronouncement?”

            “My lord?”

            Does the fool not understand what evidence is? Berevrion wondered.  “How could he have determined that Danárion must have been involved in the deaths of the children?”

            The Man appeared puzzled that the question even needed to be asked.  “Well,” he began slowly, as if he must search for some answer that would make plain his reasoning, “all have known for some time that Danárion has been interested in subjects that are best left alone.”

            “Such as what?”

            Caledorn shrugged.  “Well, subjects such as Elves, my lord.  Who in his right mind wishes to invoke the presence of the Fair Folk?”

            Berevrion risked a sideways glance at Harolfileg, and saw that the Elf’s expression appeared almost as if he were contemplating a new variety of alder tree he’d found growing in a stand of cedars.  Erchirion leaned forward and set his chin on his fist, as much to still his tongue, the northern lord suspected, as to examine the Man for any signs of irony or sarcasm.  Lyrien was sitting quietly, shaking her head almost imperceptibly, while Wendthor, who’d only just retaken his seat, leaned back and stared up at the ceiling.  Bariol was listening quietly; Anorgil merely continued taking down the questions and responses, his face failing to give any hint of how this answer might have struck him; while Caraftion appeared intent on divining Berevrion’s own reaction.  Searching Caledorn’s face once more, Berevrion could detect no signs of guile or hidden meaning there.  “You have never rejoiced to see a file of Elven warriors coming to join forces with you against the enemy, then,” he commented, and noted the surprise to be seen on the constable’s face.  “I assure you that I have been repeatedly gladdened by such allies when my patrols have been forced to engage troops of orcs, trolls, and evil Men.”  Yes, this was clearly a new idea for the constable to ponder!

            He tried again.  “Was aught found within the woods or the gully or the ditch that could be said to belong to the youth Danárion?”

            Caledorn shook his head.  “No, my lord.”

            “Does he wear boots of such distinction that one could say, ‘Look, there, that footprint was left by Danárion’?”

            “No, my lord.”

            “Does the youth have a reputation for slaying children out of hand?”  He found he could not keep the sarcasm from rising within him.

            Caledorn appeared affronted,  “Of course not, my lord!  If it were so, we should have taken him in charge long ago, and not only after three children died at once!”

            “Has he a history of assaulting anyone intending to seriously wound or kill him?”

            “Oh, yes, there was the time he came to the free school to challenge the new suitor for the girl he had sought to elope with.  He threatened to cut the tongue of the young Man in two!”

            “What he really said was that he wanted to slit the young Man’s tongue for the foul serpent he’d proved himself,” commented one of the spectators, and Berevrion recognized the teacher, once again seated in the audience.  “A common enough threat for one person to hurl against another when feeling betrayed, don’t you think?”

            Berevrion felt his lip twitch.  “In Eriador we’d threaten to scratch the other’s eyes out,” he said.  “But the sentiment is much the same, I suspect.”

            The teacher nodded.  “It does sound more ominous, does it not, when one changes it to cutting the tongue in two?  If it were the northern phrase, would you attempt to change it to remove the orbs with one’s fingernails?”

            There was general laughter amongst the onlookers, and Berevrion detected a slight relaxation of the general attitude of the crowd.  He said, “As you told us yesterday, Danárion was easily overpowered by the young Man he attacked, was he not?”

            “Yes, he was, and he got the worst of the encounter, I would say.  The other boy had not even a scratch.”

            Berevrion returned his attention to Caledorn, who appeared somewhat angry now.  Apparently he felt he had lost face in front of the village.  He’d best be handled carefully.  “Did you see the fight between them?” he asked.

            “No, my lord.”  The answer was stiff.

            “Who was it who told you that Danárion had said this, then?”  He kept his tone sympathetic, and he saw Caledorn relax slightly.

            “Borongil, who was captain of the guardsmen and constables.”

            “Was?  He is not captain any longer?”

            Caledorn shook his head.  “No.  He has left us.”

            Danárion’s aunt spoke up.  “He is in the prison in Anwar, my lord.  He was caught setting up a hurdle on the bridge over the canal and charging toll to those not from the area to cross over it.”

            “And he kept all of these tolls for himself, then?”  At her nod, Berevrion sighed as he returned his attention once more to the constable.  “Did Borongil observe the fight between Danárion and his rival, then?”

            “Yes, my lord, he did.  He was come to the free school himself to bring away his son at the end of lessons, for they were arranging for an apprenticeship for the boy and were to meet with his new master.  He saw Danárion waiting in the shadow of the next building and foresaw he had no good intentions in mind.”

            “He did not step forward to ask the youth his business, or seek to stop the fight once Danárion stepped forward to confront the other youth?”

            “Well, no, my lord.  He could see that Danárion was outmatched….”

            There was another moment of silence that Berevrion finally broke.  “Did Danárion carry a knife or any weapon?”  There was a shake of the head.  “Then his threat was merely bluster rather than violence intended?”

            After a moment Caledorn answered, “So it would seem, my lord.”  It appeared to be a difficult admission for him to make.

            “What happened as a result of this fight?”

            “Danárion was taken in charge and brought to the gaol, although the wardens of the gaol refused to keep him more than overnight.  So Hanalgor carried him to Anwar to the mad house there.”

            The baker rose from his seat.  “Yet, when others, led mostly by Leverion, have laid in wait for Danárion, they have not been stopped or arrested, even when they did so in full view of the market or gate guards.  Not even when they have had cudgels to beat him with.”

            Berevrion rubbed at his eyes and pinched the bridge of his nose as the baker resumed his seat.  “It would appear that there was a distinct double standard here, with excessively harsh justice toward Danárion for any perceived deviation from the law, while others led by Leverion were allowed to do basically as they pleased.”

            “You have the right of it,” the aunt agreed, and there were what appeared to be grudging grunts of agreement from several others throughout the watchers.

            “Why, Constable Caledorn, do you believe that so many of those in authority here in Destrier treated Danárion more harshly than they did Farmer Medril’s son Leverion?”  He did his best to withhold any indications of censure toward the constable, and was pleased to see that this time Caledorn did not appear to take offense.

            “Perhaps it was because his tongue could be as sharp as any blade, and Danárion appeared unable to keep it bridled.  If he believed that someone was behaving wrongly toward him or another, he would speak out against it, always speaking of the one he criticized in the most cutting terms.”

            “He did not bear well with what he perceived as hypocrisy,” added the teacher.

            “I see.”

            Erchirion asked, “And Captain Borongil was given to phrasing what others said in language they did not actually use?”  Berevrion was pleased to see he, too, was speaking respectfully toward the constable.

            Caledorn gave a wry, humorless smile.  “Unfortunately, yes.  Why use but one word when he could use three and confuse all others?”

            “And I must assume that Danárion found such an affectation a matter for sharp words?”

            “Oh, yes—you have the right of it, my lord.”

            “And what kinds of criticism did the boy have for Guardsmen Vendrion and Hanalgor?”

            It was obvious that Caledorn did not wish to be perceived as being critical himself of his fellows, considering how reluctantly he answered.  “Well, my Lord Erchirion, he said of Vendrion that he had not the capability of following the trail of a thief even if the theft was done before his eyes and the thief wore a scarlet cape with a green lining.  And of Hanalgor he said that his imagination was a dangerous faculty that could easily end with an innocent person being—hanged.” 

            Hmm—it appeared that at the last he was beginning to appreciate that perhaps in this matter Danárion was being proved right!  Berevrion sighed.  He took the questioning again.  “I wish to discuss the questioning of the youth Garestil.  First, was he known to be a close friend to either Danárion or Carenthor?”

            “Oh, no, my lord.  Danárion had no patience with him; and Carenthor, though he was not unkind, had but little more.  To be honest, few had much to do with Garestil save for those who were so poor they had no other friends or companions, or who found him useful to aid in doing mindless work such as thatching or digging.”

            “If this is true, then why would Danárion wish for him to be present while he sought to kill three children?”

            “This has puzzled us all.  But, then, when one worships the Dark Lord….”  He did not finish the thought, remembering the protests of the last time this had been mentioned.

            Anorgil chose to finish it for him.  “How is anyone to fathom the mind of one who worships the Nameless One—is this what you meant to say, Constable Caledorn?”

            In low tones:  “Yes.”

            “Do you know how it is that people are supposed to have shown honor and worship to Mordor’s Lord?”

            Caledorn glanced at the various members of the King’s deputation and licked his lips.  At last he said, “It is believed that mostly they meet in secret and hold orgies in which men and women couple mindlessly with one another, and as oft with one of their own sex as with the other.”

            “And this is believed to have empowered the Eye?”

            “No, for it is said it took blood magic and death magic to do that.”

            Berevrion exchanged looks with the clerk.  “Indeed, and it was for that reason for years he was known as the Necromancer when he dwelt in exile and disguise in Dol Guldur.  But why would any believe that sexual congress would show honor to such as he?  Few of his sort have felt any need to indulge in such pastimes, after all, for they were not created to reproduce as do those of us counted as the Children of Ilúvatar.”

            “Yet it is said that the Powers themselves have spouses, or that most do.”

            “That I cannot dispute, although I do not know that they actually couple as do Men, Elves, Dwarves, or Hobbits.”

            “Hobbits, my lord?”

            “What are known here as Halflings or Pheriannath, and in the north as Periain.  Their name for themselves is Hobbit.”

            “But such do not truly exist—they are but the stuff of tales and legends.”

            “Do not suggest such a thing to Master Frodo Baggins, the Lord Iorhael, the Ringbearer, should you chance to meet him, for he is indeed a Hobbit.  Perhaps in Gondor people rarely meet any of different races, but it is different in the north, where we have all been forced to stand against the Enemy’s creatures, often in alliance with one another, in order to survive.”

            Many present appeared to be having as much difficulty accepting that fact as did Caledorn himself, and there was a fair amount of muttering until Berevrion resumed the questioning of the constable.

            “What else is believed to be done by those who worship the Enemy besides mindless coupling?”

            Caledorn was obviously wracking his brain for an answer as he shrugged.  “I am not certain.  Garestil indicated that they would sacrifice white cats and cook them on spits over the fire and then eat them.”

            “White cats?  Why white cats?” asked Bariol.  “Do white cats frequently go missing from the village and farms hereabouts, then?”

            Caledorn appeared uncomfortable.  “I am sure I don’t know, Master.  There haven’t been any complaints to the constables on it….”  Now he began again to appear embarrassed--perhaps, Berevrion thought, because the reality of the situation was hitting him.  If no one who housed a white cat was complaining of such cats going missing, perhaps it was because such foolish celebrations weren’t really happening after all?  The constable squeezed his eyes shut and hid them behind his hand.

            Harolfileg spoke up for the first time this day, and his melodious voice filled the room, although he did not speak particularly loudly.  “Sometimes, as has been brought home to me rather forcibly lately, what everyone knows is actually untrue.”

            Caledorn’s eyes darted to search the face of the Elf, then quickly looked away and down.  He said nothing.

            Berevrion asked, “If it was known that Danárion and Carenthor purposely avoided spending time with Garestil, why did anyone think to question Garestil about the murders? Why would anyone assume he would have special knowledge of what Danárion and Carenthor might have done?”

            “We were questioning all of the young people in the area, my lord,” the constable answered, keeping his eyes fixed ahead of him.

            “Did you question Leverion, or Master Nerwion’s son Narvil?”

            “Yes, my lord—we questioned all of the young people.”

            “Why the young people in especial?”

            “Because oft one who is young will speak of what he has done secretly to another who is young where such a one will refuse to admit involvement to adults.”

            “Fair enough—that is unfortunately as true within Eriador as it is within Gondor, I must suppose.  But, in the case of Garestil, who you admit is not a welcome companion to many here in the area surrounding Destrier, who will brag to him of what they have done that they wish withheld from the knowledge of those in authority?  Why, of all people, would any think to make Garestil privy to such a terrible secret?  More than one has told us that Garestil, like a small child, did not appreciate the need for keeping some opinions to oneself, and often embarrassed his companions by openly voicing the comments they’d intended to share but amongst themselves.  Again, why was Garestil questioned?”

            “I cannot say for certain, my lord.  Perhaps Hanalgor and Vendrion merely believed that he could be brought to say that he knew what had happened where the rest of the young people would not?”

            “Did none of the rest speak of the general belief that Danárion had been involved in the children’s deaths?”

            “Oh, many did.  Not long after we began questioning the youths and maidens, we began to hear such things as, ‘I have heard tell that he killed the children in company with this one or that.’  In fact, when Garestil came in to be questioned that day, that was what he told us first, that he had heard that Danárion and a youth from Hevensgil had together killed the children.  It was not the first time that we had heard this, even, for at least two others had named the same one as the individual who had committed the murders with Danárion.”

            “Why would Danárion be thought to have killed the children in company with someone from a different village?  Did he travel often to Hevensgil?”

            “Never, my lord.  It was why it was not believed.  Plus, the youth in question denied he’d been involved, but had his own name as to the one with whom Danárion was supposed to have killed the children.  He named Leverion son of Medril.”

            “Did any of the young people name Carenthor as Danárion’s partner in the crime?”

            “Actually, no, my lord.”

            “What?”

            Caledorn’s answer was delivered somewhat delicately.  “It was not believed by most of the young people that Carenthor would have been party to such a murder.  To be honest, while most disliked Danárion intensely, almost all respected Carenthor and his integrity.  Even if they were not friends with him, yet still almost everyone liked Carenthor, all of those who were not yet adults within the area, at least.  Not even Leverion would seek to devil him as he would Danárion—he knew that no one would allow him to get away with such an offence.”

            “Who did believe that Carenthor would have been party to such a terrible deed, then?” Berevrion found himself demanding.

            “Not many, just Vendrion, Hanalgor, and Captain Borongil, my lord.”

            “And you did not think that Carenthor would have been involved?”

            “No, my lord.  Not until Garestil said that he was an equal party with Danárion.”

            Caraftion, Berevrion noted, had a half smile as if to say, Did I not tell you this?  Shaking himself, he returned to the questioning.  “And if you were to learn that a neighbor of Carenthor’s family told us yesterday that in fact Carenthor was home, caring for his brothers while their parents were with friends at the time the children are believed to have died, and that he and Carenthor together chased after and caught the family’s dog, which had dug out of its own yard, so that Carenthor could take it home, would that surprise you?”

            Caledorn straightened, and a half smile appeared on his face.  “This is true?”

            “Indeed it is.”

            “But why did he not say this before?”

            “Did anyone think to ask him?  Or would the likes of Vendrion or Hanalgor—or your Captain Borongil—have believed him were they to know he’d spoken up in support of Carenthor?”

            The constable was now clearly considering the question seriously, and for the first time truly questioning the truth of the case.  His mouth worked for a few moments before he said, as if to himself, “I certainly believe about the dog—we’ve had complaints enough about it from the neighbor.  But why did they not question the neighbor whether or not he saw Carenthor about his home that evening?”

            “A good question,” remarked Erchirion.

            “Who was it who decided that the trial by water be used on Garestil?” Berevrion asked.

            “Captain Borongil and Hanalgor, my lord.”

            “And what caused them to decide to do this?”

            “I do not know, my lord.”

            “We have been told that Hanalgor himself oversaw the test.  Is this true?”

            “Yes, although Amdir objected.”

            “Why did he object?”

            “First, he is the one who usually conducts the trial by water.  He went to Minas Tirith itself to learn how to do so, and----”  He stopped, apparently thinking more deeply about what he’d been about to say.  At last he began again.  “Hanalgor says that Amdir is too proud of his own skill in conducting this form of divining truth, and is unwilling to allow others to usurp what he sees as primarily his own office.  He also has said that Amdir is too lenient with those he questions, and that he refuses to accept that the water does not lie.  He says he has seen the fingers move and the water ripple and yet Amdir has refused to admit that at the moment the one being questioned was lying.

            “But,” began Amdir from where he stood behind the deputation, “there are times----”

            Berevrion interrupted, “I would ask, Constable Amdir, that you refrain from responding to that accusation until we question Hanalgor himself.  It is enough now to know what the Man has said in the past that reveals what he actually thinks to be true.”  He turned back to Caledorn.  “Do you think as he does?”

            Caledorn appeared troubled.  “I did not think so when first he began to say it, but in time—with repetition----”

            The northern lord sighed.  “Yes, what is repeated again and again does seem to take on an aura of truth of its own, even when we know in our hearts that it is wrong.  Do you think it due to Hanalgor’s ambition or arrogance that he became convinced of this and so sought to convince all others?”

            “Perhaps, my lord.”

            “A good part of the reason why the test by water cannot be used to fully prove guilt in and of itself,” Erchirion explained, “is because anyone who is frightened or highly emotional or physically weak may find his hand shaking uncontrollably, even when they speak the clearest truth; and there are a few who can convince themselves while they speak that what they say is the truth, even when all know it for the lie it is.  It is for this that those who conduct trials are required to find clear and convincing evidence that what has been said is either true or false, evidence that does not rely on what has been said but exists independent of it.  And this holds for statements that purport to be confessions as well as what is stated during a water test.”

            Caledorn was clearly disturbed as he turned his eyes to meet those of his fellow constable.  “This is true?” he demanded.

            Amdir’s voice was steady as he responded, “Yes, it is even as Lord Erchirion has said.  So it was told to us, again and again, while we learned the manner for conducting the trial by water.  Do you remember two years past when Mistress Anhildë was convinced that her brother Amborn had taken her milk cow from the field to add to his own herd, and she demanded we use the test by water on those who work for him, and the one Man’s hand was trembling so throughout the entire trial?  I knew that he had been seriously ill not that long before and that he was still weak in his early recovery.  She would have insisted I charge him with taking the cow had I gone solely by the results of the trial by water; instead, what he said of how the cow had been acting the last time he’d seen it caused me to order the search of the canal bank, and at last it was found, dead in the brush north of the beam that bridges it, dead apparently from eating vetch.”

            Caledorn appeared troubled.  “Yet at the time Hanalgor would have had you arrest the hand and perhaps Master Amborn as well—until you ordered the bank searched.”

            “Even so.”

            “Were you there during the questioning of Garestil during the test by water?” asked Berevrion.

            “Yes, I was.”

            “Was Amdir?”

            “Yes, for only he is licensed to invoke truth over the basin.”

            Berevrion turned to Amdir for explanation.  “There is a ritual we are to use when we bring the basin of water before the one being questioned.  It helps to calm many, and increases their belief in what is being done.  I have refused to allow Hanalgor to do this part, for in his very tone of voice he tends to frighten those being questioned so that their hands begin to shake before he even begins.  By saying he must have license to do the ritual, I have forestalled him from using the trial on many without supervision.  It used to be that if I questioned his findings I had only to speak quietly with Master Nerwion and he would temper Hanalgor’s impatience.  But more and more recently Master Nerwion has ignored my concerns, saying that Hanalgor is a capable guardsman with the interest of the populace of Destrier in his heart, and that I am too cautious.”  Amdir’s expression was a trifle grim.

            “Was the questioning done properly, in your eyes?” Erchirion asked him.

            Amdir shrugged.  Berevrion sensed by his stance that the answer was no, but that he did not wish to answer so before so many within the village.

            “How is the questioning supposed to be done?” asked Caraftion.

            Amdir addressed the room at large.  “The one who questions is to be calm and, as much as is possible, respectful toward the one being questioned, allowing no hints of eagerness or disbelief to be displayed in face or voice.  One is first to ask a series of questions to which all answers are known so as to find how it is that the one being questioned reacts when telling the truth.  Then the person is asked to deliberately lie in response to certain questions.  When the actual questions regarding the incident being investigated are asked, one is to approach the key questions more than once, from different points of view, and intersperse them with other questions that are focused on what is known to be true of the incident and the person being questioned.  All questions and responses are to be recorded at the time, and the questioner is to note the movement of finger in water.  The actual questioning is supposed to take place for quite some time and involve many questions, and repetitions of many of them, particularly the key questions and some that are actually neutral and to which the answer is known so as to better discern the truth.  Those who are telling the truth often grow calmer as the questions are repeated, and their later responses tend to be more easily discerned; those who are lying, however, tend to grow more anxious, and more belligerent in their answers the longer it goes.  Although this is not true for all—one must take into account the nature of the one being questioned, after all.”

            Berevrion thought for a time, and asked, “How many questions did Hanalgor ask Garestil?”

            “Ten, my lord.”

            “Did he approach the key questions from more than one direction?”

            “No, he asked each but once.”

            “Could you see the movement of the water as Garestil answered?”

            “No, my lord.  Hanalgor would not allow me to stand where I could see this.”

            “So, you had only Hanalgor’s own word as to the youth’s response?”

            “Even so, my lord.”

            Erchirion turned to Caledorn.  “Is it even as Constable Amdir has said?”

            Caledorn nodded,  “Even so, my lord.”  And he added, “And now that I understand better how it is that the questioning is supposed to go, I believe that Amdir was right to protest the questioning then.”

            “Have you been trained in the techniques for conducting this test?”

            “No, my lord.  Amdir would have me sent to Minas Tirith to study with the one appointed by the Master of the Guild of Lawyers to teach it, but with the Enemy’s threats growing stronger by the day such travel was no longer safe; and now Master Nerwion has complained the village has not the treasury to send me so far when perhaps Amdir and Hanalgor could teach me.”

            “Did Hanalgor study with one licensed to teach the skill as did Constable Amdir?”

            “No, and for much the same reasons, my lord.  He has known only what he would learn from Amdir here.”

            “Where are kept the records of the questions asked and Hanalgor’s reading of the responses?”

            “They are here in our archive—or so they are supposed to be, my lord.”

            “Were you there when Garestil began to confess to having been present in the commission of the crime?”

            “No, for after the administration of the trial by water Amdir and I were dismissed, and we were told that this was the matter for the guard, not for mere constables.”

            “Was a record made of the questioning that was done?”

            “Only after he admitted he had indeed been present, my lord.  It was over two marks before Vendrion came out and sent me to fetch Master Veredorn to record the youth’s confession.”

            “And where is the record of Garestil’s confession kept?”

            “Which one, my lord?”

            All went quiet at that, and all eyes were considering the constable closely.  Berevrion asked slowly, “There is more than one record, or more than one confession?”

            “Both, my lord.  On reviewing the first confession, Master Nerwion saw too many discrepancies and told Hanalgor that he could not sign a warrant for the arrests of Carenthor and Danárion on the basis of it, much less letters patent to search their homes or the farm of Master Amborn.  So they went back to question him over again that the questions be resolved.”

            “Master Amborn?  Why would they search his farm?”

            “Danárion was known to spend much time there, and they thought perhaps that he might have hidden the clothing he wore during the murders somewhere in the barns or byres.  It ought to have been quite bloody and filthy with mud from the gully or the ditch, after all….”

 *******

            Another constable and two other guardsmen, one a market guard and one a gate guard, were questioned, although they had less to say than did Caledorn.  But it was plain that from the beginning Hanalgor, Vendrion, and Captain Borongil were certain that, due to his alleged interests in the dark arts and the Dark Lord, Danárion was the one who most likely had led the assaults on the children.  Indeed, the first time Danárion had been questioned was by Captain Borongil and Vendrion the day after the children’s bodies were found.  Yet, there had been a proper investigation begun, and these guardsmen had questioned Bredwion’s father Rindor several times, although they had been advised by Hanalgor, who had attended the free school with Rindor, that he most likely had not been involved in the death of his adopted stepson, and they were not to probe too deeply into what he had been doing just prior to the murders of the children.

            Hanalgor and Vendrion had gone to the alehouse to question the barman about the stranger seen in the privy.  They went there after Master Avrandahil had finally arrived with a proper wagon to fetch away from the ditch the bodies of the children to his surgery in Hevensgil, where he was to examine them and advise all of aught that might tell more of the circumstances under which the children had died.  The barman had saved much to show them of what was left by the stranger, including an eating knife he’d apparently dropped from his belt, but they had told him that there was naught to be learned from all of this and bade him to dispose of it.  Did the barman still serve in the alehouse?  Oh, no—after Captain Borongil was arrested and sent to Anwar, the barman had been accepted as a gate guard himself.

            Yes, others had been questioned as well as to what they knew of the movements of the children and where they might have been at the time of the murders, including two known drunkards and one known to have been perhaps too familiar with other people’s children.  They had even questioned a Man from Hevensgil who had spent time in hard labor after molesting children in and around that village, although it seemed that Hanalgor and Borongil had been more interested in what he might tell them of the thoughts of one who did this than in his own possible involvement in the murders of the children.  Borongil and Hanalgor had assured them that this Man could not have been involved in the murders, but they had no idea as to the proofs that either had seen of his innocence.  But after the first two weeks following the murders, Hanalgor, Borongil, and Vendrion had focused primarily on the questioning of the maidens and youths of the village and surrounding farms rather than on any adults who might have been involved or who might have seen the children or anyone behaving suspiciously.

            Yes, Rindor had been questioned more than once, as had some others who had spoken or searched with Rindor during the time after it was realized the children were missing.  Was all of his time accounted for?  Well, perhaps not.  There was the time he left the field where the others were searching to go home to change his clothing, and then when he went back to the village to fetch a lantern, one he’d failed to bring back with him, claiming he’d been distracted by an encounter with a friend of Dírhael’s who thought he might have seen the children shortly before they disappeared.

            Yes, Gilmar’s father had also been questioned, and Amdir had been appointed to see to it his time was all accounted for.  All had been amazed at how thorough he’d been in his investigation, and all were convinced that there was no way in which Master Tevern could have been involved in the death of the three little boys.

            As for Master Vangil—well, none was certain when Vangil might have been questioned.  In fact, if they recalled correctly, Vangil had left the village to visit with family in Anwar the day after the bodies were found, leaving his wife and daughter with her family.  And when he returned it was to tell all that he’d found a new home for his family outside of the village, as tenants to Master Beslor, whose farm was west of the common grazing ground.  They’d not stayed there long, however; Mistress Nessa had not liked it there and had insisted they return to the village, and they’d taken a different house to live in near where they’d lived at the time the children went missing.  He must have been questioned by either Captain Borongil or Hanalgor, however.  But none of the guardsmen or constables had been assigned to follow through on the statement of Master Vangil to see where he might have been at the time of the children’s deaths—again, Captain Borongil or Hanalgor must have done so—it was what was supposed to be done, was that not right?

 *******

            Master Veredorn, who served as recording scribe for the officials of Destrier, was called.  Yes, he’d been called to record the confession of Garestil son of Galdor, and had been summoned to this hall where the youth was being questioned between the second and third mark after noon.  He’d been there in the morning to record the first statement at the first bell, and at that time Garestil had said only that he had heard that Danárion and the youth from Hevensgil had committed the murder.  Captain Borongil had suggested that the trial by water be administered, and had directed that Hanalgor see to it rather than Amdir, even though Amdir was the one who had been trained in proper procedure in Minas Tirith.  As Garestil was under age, they had to get his father’s permission to do so, and that meant they had to find where he was working that day, which had turned out to be in the blacksmith’s forge, where he’d been working the bellows.  Yes, he’d taken down the questions and answers, while Hanalgor wrote down the indications he felt the water told him.  Then he’d been dismissed, and he’d gone home to help his wife with the gardening until he’d been called back to record the confession.  He’d remained at the hall then while Vendrion and Borongil went out to speak with Master Nerwion about obtaining warrants to arrest Carenthor and Danárion. He’d then been required to take down the second set of questioning as well as they did their best to clarify answers that Master Nerwion had seen as questionable in the original confession.

            He’d spent a good deal of time in the hall recording the questioning of a good many folks, mostly adults the first week or so, and mostly youths and maidens in the last two and a half weeks before the arrests.  Yes, he’d recorded at least two interviews with Master Rindor, and the interview with Master Tevern, and the interviews with the three mothers, and those of several others who were considered possible suspects.  No, he’d not been asked to be there when the barman at the alehouse was questioned, and he had never been present when Master Vangil was questioned.  In fact, he wasn’t certain that Master Vangil had ever been questioned….

            Berevrion found that very troubling indeed.  “Where are the records of these interviews kept, Master Veredorn?”

            “The official ones are here in our own archive, although I have had to submit copies of those in the files verified by Master Nerwion to Master Enelmir’s court in Anwar for the use of Master Fendril.”

            There was something in the way that Veredorn said this that caught at Berevrion.  “The official records are in the archive?  Are there copies that are not considered official?”  Then he realized.  “Do you make a scribe’s copy first?”

            Ah!  There was definitely a look of relief on the scribe’s face—he’d wanted for that question to be asked!  “Yes, I do.  And usually those are also kept in the archives, but I stopped filing mine there a year and a half past, when I found that those copies were being removed from the records along with some of my formal copies intended for the archive, and that others were being put in their place.”

            “What?” demanded Anorgil and Erchirion simultaneously.

            For a moment the scribe didn’t respond, appearing to weigh his answer closely before he presented it.  At last he took a breath, engaged Anorgil’s eyes, and explained, “I was asked to—change—details in the transcripts after I’d filed them.  I would be told, ‘We questioned him again and he admitted to this, or that he lied about that.  Please change it—we do not wish to have to submit two or three different documents that in the end lead to the same conclusion.’  I am not supposed to do this—this was drilled into me by my master when I was an apprentice to Wendriol, who had this position before me.  I was never to change the wording from what was given.  If it was deemed necessary to question the person anew, there was to be a new record showing the new questions and answers.  When I told them I had taken an oath to record faithfully what was said and only what was said, Borongil and Hanalgor grew wroth with me, but then merely shrugged.  Now the new transcripts would have been copied by the official scribe for Hevensgil, and always the new answers would replace those that I had recorded.  I spoke of this with Master Nerwion, who did not appear to understand the reason for my concerns, for he merely asked me why it should matter as long as the final answers were there.”

            “So, now you keep your scribe’s copies in your home?”

            “No—not in my home—in the home of my sister.  I feared they would search my home to take them if I kept them there.”

            After a few moments to digest this, Anorgil said, “This is a grave deviation from both law and custom, my Lord Berevrion.  To find that Master Enelmir and Master Fendril were insisting that the portions of the trials that were conducted with the juries absent from the court be deleted from the official transcripts was troubling enough, for sometimes the judge may have been wrong in what he refused to allow said before a jury.  But this is a serious offense, for it allows for answers taken under duress to be substituted for what was said freely.  And if the questioning was not conducted before such a witness as an official scribe, then who is to say that the amended answers were truly given by the person questioned to begin with?”

            “I see,” Berevrion said.  “Master Veredorn, do you have all of your scribe’s copies for the questioning done in this case?”

            “Yes, my lord, I do.  And I made a second copy of each formal transcript I originally made as well of those I must copy that were made by anyone else and have kept those as well.”

            “Why?”

            “In case I should be asked why my name is not on the records submitted to Anwar, my lord.  I would have proof that I do not falsify transcripts.”

            “Bring them to us at Master Normandil’s home tonight.  I will have Faradir, who serves as my official guard, accompany you to see to it that the records get into my keeping properly.”

            “Yes, my lord!”

            Erchirion asked, “You say that this has been happening for at least a year and a half?”  At Veredorn’s nod, he pursued the question.  “What changed within Destrier that led to raiding of the village’s archives?”

            “It began just after Borongil became Captain for the guards, my lord.  It had been expected that Amdir would follow Captain Anorthion when he retired, but instead Master Fendril prevailed upon Master Nerwion to appoint Borongil, who is from a village near Amon Dîn.  Borongil was brash—and, as I believe you have learned by now, corrupt.”

            “So we have indeed been advised.  Who is captain of the guard at this time?”

            “No one so far, my lord.  Many would like for Master Nerwion to confirm Amdir in that role at last, but Hanalgor and Vendrion have campaigned for him to consider a different candidate.  Of course, Hanalgor wishes that office for himself.”

            Berevrion turned to look at where Amdir stood behind him with new appreciation for the Man’s forbearing attitude and his integrity.  “We will be speaking with Master Nerwion.  Constable Amdir!”

            “My lord?”

            “Who was it who sent you to Minas Tirith for your training?”

            “Master Lossothion, who was Master of Destrier before Master Nerwion, my lord.  He died some six years past.  He was quite elderly when he died quietly in his sleep.  He was over a century in age, I believe.”

            “Most likely of Dúnedain breeding, then,” Erchirion hazarded.

            “Which Nerwion is not,” Anorgil noted.

            Berevrion nodded.  “One thing more before we dismiss you, Master Veredorn.  Which time do you think that Garestil son of Galdor was telling the truth—when he said that he had heard Danárion and the youth from Hevensgil had committed the murders, or when he said he saw it done?”

            “It is not for me as an official scribe to make judgments on what is said—merely to record the words, sir.”  But, after a pause, he added, “When Captain Anorthion or Constable Amdir questioned anyone, always they would merely ask the question and allow the one questioned to answer on his own.  They might prod if he would not answer, or rephrase the question to get a more detailed answer or if they believed he might be telling less than the whole truth.  But they always did their best not to suggest what answer they desired to hear.”

            “And such was different with Captain Borongil?”

            “And with Guardsmen Hanalgor and Vendrion, my lord.”

            Berevrion dismissed the witness, sending Faradir with him to fetch the files Veredorn had kept in his sister’s home.

 *******

            After a break for luncheon they finally faced Hanalgor.  Before he was called into the room, Berevrion counseled both his fellows and those who filled the room to not allow themselves to be provoked by what the Man might say.  “We already know that he is filled with prejudices and preconceptions that many will find offensive.  At this point I would prefer that we merely allow him to air them all without comment.  We are here to learn how he thinks, not as yet to seek to correct him.  Is this clear?”

            All indicated their understanding, and he noted that Harolfileg drew back so that his own face was now in shadow.  He nodded his appreciation to the Elf for his forethought, and signaled to Amdir to call the gate guardsman into the room.

            “I understand, Guardsman Hanalgor, that you are considered to be rather an expert on the ways of the Enemy.  How did you come to this knowledge?”

            That question, Berevrion noted, served to allow the Man to puff himself up, and he began to speak—at length.

            He’d become aware of the Great Enemy when he was but a child, and was warned from his earliest days regarding the Dark Lord’s many perfidies.  His grandsire had himself been considered an expert on the subject and had much to say on what would draw the attention of Mordor.  When he was twelve his grandsire had died, and the family lost the farm on which they’d resided, and so they’d moved into Destrier.  As a young Man he’d gone to Amon Dîn to serve in the garrison there, and had come to know several who had become aware of the history of Macardion of Dor-en-Ernil, who a few generations back had fought Mordor’s influence in southern Gondor with such distinction.  Some of his closest associates had come north to Anórien, bringing with them many of his writings about how to recognize those who had become enamored of the Dark Lord and contaminated by Mordor’s taint.  While serving at Amon Dîn he had read all he could find of the histories of the Nameless One and how he caught others under his spell.

            “And you have read many such books?”

            “I have read every work about the history of the Enemy that has been written!” Hanalgor declared.

            “Have you read Sephardion’s The History of Númenor, or his Dissertations on the Temple in Armenelos?” asked Berevrion.  “But they are dry reading, I must admit, as he tended to be most long-winded.  Oh, but I must apologize—I fear I have interrupted you.  How about Mithrandir’s report on his findings of the situation within the tower of Dol Guldur that led to the official recognition that the Necromancer was indeed merely Sauron in disguise?”

            It took but a look at the guardsman’s face to recognize that none of the titles named were familiar to him at all.  Erchirion’s lip twitched.  “I was unaware that Mithrandir had made a written report regarding the situation within the tower of Dol Guldur.  Is it a work that might not have made it into the archives of Gondor?”

            “I believe that he offered a copy to your Lord Denethor.  I read it in the libraries of Imladris, although Gandalf also spoke to us as the captains and lords of the northern Dúnedain about that visit within the Keep of Dol Guldur some years ago.”

            Erchirion nodded.  “My grandfather and Turgon both had a number of reports from the Faithful within Umbar on the building, administration, and rituals of the Red Temple that the Enemy established in the capitol there, as well as similar reports from those who investigated the Red Temples in Harad and Far Harad, particularly that in Thetos.”

            “Aragorn managed to visit the Red Temple in the city of Umbar, and had his own reports from Harad and Rhûn as well as Angmar.  The records made of these make grim reading.  And apparently Adrahil and Ecthelion allowed Gandalf to bring copies of the reports they had north where they might be made available to Men and Elves there.  My Lord Kinsman has insisted we all become conversant with these.”

            “Your Lord Kinsman?” asked Hanalgor, obviously quite confused.

            “My Lord Kinsman Aragorn son of Arathorn, the Heir of Isildur, who on the first of May was crowned the King Elessar Envinyatar Telcontar of Gondor.”

            “But he made reports available to Elves?  To creatures of the Enemy?”

            Erchirion’s voice became decidedly cool.  “Creatures of the Enemy?  If they were indeed creatures of the Enemy, then why did orcs, well known to be truly creatures of the Enemy, waylay the party of Nimrodel, with whom my own noted ancestress Mithrellas traveled south from Lórien to the ancient Elven haven of Edhellond to seek passage to the Undying Lands?  After all, my own city of Dol Amroth itself was named for Nimrodel’s beloved Amroth, with whom she was to have sailed to the Uttermost West.  Were not Nimrodel, Amroth, and Mithrellas all three Elves?  Was not Elros Tar-Minyatur, the founding King of Númenor from whom both the houses of Elendil and Húrin sprang, himself the son of Eärendil and Elwing, both of them children of marriages between ruling houses of Elves and Men at the time?  Our own new King was even raised in the house of Elros’s brother, who chose to live in keeping with the ways of Elves, while Elros chose to live and die as a Man.  Do you seek to impugn the foster father of our King himself as a creature of the Enemy?”

            Berevrion’s eyes were no warmer than were those of the son of Prince Imrahil.  “Every Dúnadan has within him some of that heritage, and at least traces of Elvish blood.  And know this:  the choice as to whether to live as Man or Elf was made to Elrond and Elros because they chose to fight against Morgoth, the teacher of Sauron the Deceiver and the Accurst.  And there is not an Elf remaining within Middle Earth who has not fought against Sauron himself with every fiber of his being.  A strange thing to do, don’t you agree, for those you would seek to name creatures of the Enemy?  And while we fought against those of Sauron’s forces he sent here to besiege Minas Tirith, Elves and Dwarves and other Men were defending their own lands against the armies he sent to the edges of the Golden Wood, the great Woodland Realm, Esgaroth and Erebor, the Iron Hills, the settlements of my people in the north, and Imladris itself.”

            Harolfileg rose, and Hanalgor’s fascinated gaze was drawn to him, a figure he’d not recognized until now as being foreign.  “Yea, I am an Elf, a creature many here seem to believe somehow evil.  No, I am not as you are; but think of it in this way—I see you as being far different than I am. 

            “Do you truly believe that we of the Great Wood have ever sought to honor Sauron the Accurst, Sauron the Deceiver, Sauron the Cruel, particularly as he has sought to despoil our lands and to destroy us as surely as he has sought to do to your people or to the Dwarves?  His creatures took Isildur’s city and defiled it, destroyed Khazad-dûm for the Dwarves, and did the same to us, taking the site of our Lord’s former seat of power and destroying all that had been beautiful there, delving deep to create the dungeons of Dol Guldur, and practicing foul magics there intended to draw the life forces out of all that his people could entrap to help him recover his former power and might. 

            “And it has ever been his will that the Free Peoples of Men, Elves, and Dwarves, not to mention lesser known creatures such as the Onodrim and the Periannath, should come to fear and distrust one another, for as long as we avoided one another and sought to fight him solely on our own he could triumph against us all!  Only when all worked together was he brought down at the last!  The Fellowship held representatives of each race, and the Ents joined the alliance and contained the threat of Isengard so that the rest could face Mordor itself!  The Heirs of both the North and South Kingdoms were each members of the Fellowship of the Ring, as were the Heirs of a King among Elves and a Lord among Dwarves, and the Heirs of the two hereditary leaders of the Halflings of the Shire and the one the other three tell us was most likely to have taken their third seat of power as Mayor and his esquire.  And because these all held true, Mordor is no more, and Sauron is defeated, and this time cannot rise again until the ending of the world.  It will be the evil inspired by Men that will be the greatest threat against which those who follow us must struggle, although I deem it shall prove more than terrible enough in its own right.”

            Berevrion held up his hand.  “Enough!  The Enemy is gone now, defeated by the destruction of his own artifice, and nothing any in Middle Earth can do will be able to restore him.  As Harolfileg has said, we ourselves, however, can cause at least as much harm through the abuse of our own imaginations.  We were not going to seek to correct you, but found we could not allow such a statement as that you just made to stand unchallenged.  Do you understand?”

            Hanalgor, his face white and his mouth gone dry, managed to nod.

            “So, on the basis of what you did read, you considered yourself an expert on the ways of the Enemy.  What works did you read?”

            It took a moment before the guardsman could speak clearly, and Berevrion directed Amdir to provide him with some water.  At last he said, his voice much subdued, “I read mostly the works of Macardion of Dor-en-Ernil and those of his fellows who removed here to Anórien.”

            “Do you know what became of Macardion of Dor-en-Ernil?”

            Hanalgor straightened himself and declared boldly, “He had enemies who sought to discredit him in the eyes of the authorities before he could finish his great work of identifying and purging the Dark Lord’s secret spies and allies amongst the true Men of Gondor!”

            “And one he sought to so identify was my own grandfather’s sister.”  Erchirion shook his head.  “She was named so by a spurned lover, a former servant whose perfidies she’d made plain to her father and brother, and by one who hoped that by naming so blameless a person that at last the attention of the Steward should be brought to the evil Macardion was wreaking throughout the southern fiefdoms.  At least his hope was realized.”

            “And they destroyed a true patriot!” Hanalgor insisted.

            “A true patriot?  One who sought to sow distrust and fear amongst all in the land, who leaned on those who were named by others as secret worshipers of Mordor to do the same themselves?  If that is a patriot, then may we be spared such examples of patriotism in the future!”

            “Nor was he destroyed,” Anorgil noted.  “He was sent to a madhouse in Lossarnach, where I am told he died of a brainstorm after insisting that the matrons and wardens there were lacing the food of the inmates with some noxious substance he swore they were somehow fetching from the Moon.”

            “Is that what became of him, then?” asked Erchirion, leaning back and facing the law clerk.

            “Yes—the chief archivist of Minas Tirith showed me the report the day before we left the city to come here—he thought I would wish to read it.”

            Faradir entered the building alongside Veredorn and another, all three of them laden with wooden boxes filled with documents.  These they set upon the table before the members of the deputation.  Veredorn took up a folder that lay atop the box he’d carried and handed it to Berevrion.  “Here is the original scribe’s copy of the ‘confession’ made by Garestil, my lord.  I thought that since you would question this one, you should wish to see this in particular.”  He gave a bow, and after he was thanked and dismissed by Berevrion he and his companion withdrew.

            Berevrion began reading the document, passing the pages without comment to Erchirion as he finished each one.  Hanalgor stood, his expression uncertain, watching until at last the northern lord finished the last page and placed it before Erchirion for his perusal when he was done with what he had already.  Again Berevrion rubbed his eyes and pinched the bridge of his nose.  “You asked why Garestil went to the woods, and he indicated that Carenthor approached him to do so in order to fetch back blackberries.  Is that right?”

            “Yes, my lord, as I remember it that is what he said.”

            “Are blackberries commonly ripe in the woods of Anórien by midsummer?  I ask because in the north they do not usually ripen until some weeks after that.”

            “I have been berrying in the woods the other side of the canal since I was myself a child,” commented the teacher, “and never have they been ripe before Midsummer.”  Several others indicated their agreement.

            “And he indicated that this request came two hours after dawn?”

            “Yes, my lord.”

            “What time do lessons begin at the free school?”

            Hanalgor started to answer, but saw where the question would lead and closed his mouth again.  Instead, the teacher said, “At the second bell after dawn, my lord.”

            “And was Carenthor missing from lessons that day?”

            “No, he was not, nor any day that week.  Nor were the three children missing from their lessons on the morning of the day they went missing.”

            “Thank you.”  Berevrion turned his eyes back to Hanalgor.  “If you will read the next part, please, Lord Erchirion.”

            Erchirion thumbed through the pages until he found the place.  “Vendrion:  And what time did you arrive together at the beam crossing the canal?  Garestil:  At the second bell past dawn.  Hanalgor:  Would you not have taken some time to leave the village and arrive there?  Garestil:  What?  Hanalgor:  How long would it take you to go from your home to the gate of the village?  Garestil:  Oh, a quarter of a mark.  Vendrion:  And how long from the gate to the beam?  Garestil:  About a half a mark.  Hanalgor:  And what time did you arrive at the beam?  Garestil:  At noon?  Vendrion:  It would take you so long to walk there?  Garestil:  Oh, no—we arrived there at about the second mark past dawn.

            “Then they come back to it again after discussing him having seen the children on their ponies riding toward the marketplace while Garestil and his companions were on their way out of the village.  Vendrion:  So, it was after the children were released from their lessons that they arrived in the woods where you and Carenthor and Danárion awaited them, is that not so?  Garestil:  I said that they arrived at about the second mark past dawn, didn’t I?  Yet we have been told that the children were last seen in the evening, at the time for the evening meal, and this by Mistress Renata herself.  With this so, how does he place what happens in the forenoon? 

“Oh, and here—here he has told his tale, almost all of it.  You asked, How long after dusk was it that the beatings were over?  He answered, Perhaps a half hour after the Sun went down.  He says that the children’s bodies have been bound with hempen rope, although they were really bound with leather laces taken from their own boots; they have been dropped into the stream, although it is no stream, and they were not merely dropped but purposefully pressed down into the mud at the bottom of the ditch; he has seen one wriggling as does a worm as he looks down at it in the water, although one cannot see aught deeper than a finger’s joint under the surface.  Vendrion:  When did you leave?  Garestil:  I left at the second bell, and arrived home at noon.  Vendrion:  Did you see aught of Carenthor or Danárion again that day?  Garestil:  They came to my house, and Carenthor demanded to know why I had not stayed there after, and I told them to hush, as my father was within, and Danárion kept saying, ‘But I cannot believe we truly did it!’  Vendrion:  What time was that?  Garestil:  At the first bell after sunset.”  He looked up to meet Hanalgor’s eyes.  “Just how many times did the second bell after dawn ring that day?  The magic wielded by these three must have been potent indeed for the second bell to ring so many times, and for the time to move to noon, then back again, then to evening, then back again to that second bell after dawn and for him to return home at noon.  How do you explain this, guardsman?”

            Hanalgor appeared unable to frame any answer, and finally said, “It is just that Garestil is not good at recognizing time, my lord.”

            Bariol had taken one of the pages up and was reading it.  He looked up, his eyes wide with amazement.  “You said this, You told us that Carenthor had a knife.  Garestil answered, Oh, yes.  He had a small knife that had a blade that folded into the handle.  He brought it out, and pulled the blade out.  You said, Did he use it to cut one of the boys?  He answered, Oh, yes, he scratched one boy on the face with it.  You asked, Did you see him do anything more? to which he responded, He closed it? which Master Veredorn indicates was phrased as a question.  Vendrion then asked, Didn’t he use it on another child? and he answered, Oh, that’s right—he swung it at the bottom.  He cut one of them on the bottom, to which Vendrion responded, You mean here, in the groin?  Master Veredorn indicates that Garestil did not answer and appeared to be confused by the question, and Vendrion asks, Do you know what a penis is?

            “Yet in the testimony given during the trial you and Vendrion both indicated that you had no reason to believe that Garestil son of Galdor was an especially simple soul.  If you truly believed his intelligence was that of most people, then why did Vendrion need to question him as to whether or not he knew this name for one’s manhood?”

            Frustrated, Hanalgor insisted, “But he does not need to be kept!  He can decide for himself where he wishes to go and what he wishes to do, and he can understand what is said to him and answer questions!”

            “He did not know that another name for one’s manhood is penis, and does not appear to understand the word groin either.”

            “But he indicated that Carenthor removed the sac for one child’s seed with the knife!”

            “Did he?  Does he not say that he swung a knife at the bottom and that he cut the child on the bottom?  Where in this does he say that Carenthor removed the sac for one’s seed?”

            Berevrion had removed the next folder from the top of the box from which Veredorn had taken that holding the scribe’s copy of the questioning of Garestil, and was glancing over the first page, and now he stopped.  He turned to the last page, back to the first, then looked at Hanalgor.  “This is noted to be the second questioning of Garestil son of Galdor on the same day.  It takes place, it says, at the tenth bell of the day, and it is marked, To clarify answers that were uncertain.  Why was there a second questioning of Garestil not that long after the first one?”

            Hanalgor was clearly sweating.  “Master Nerwion, having heard that we had found one who would say that he had seen Danárion kill the children, had come to the hall to hear what we had learned.  However, when he read the confession that Garestil had given us, he said, But we know that the children did not disappear in the morning as he repeatedly says.  And here and here—these details are wrong.  I cannot issue warrants when there are such details wrong.  No court will convict them with such problems.  So, we went back that he might make those details right!”

            “And you must begin with the words, What you really said, Garestil, was that it was Danarion who called for you rather than Carenthor? to which he answered, Oh, yes, that was so?  And then you go on to first again have him agree that the assault took place near sunset rather than in the forenoon, and then to indicate that the children were forced to suckle the manhoods of Danárion and Carenthor?”

            There were gasps throughout those who watched at that.  “Well,” Hanalgor began almost desperately, “there were the marks behind the ears of the children that must be addressed!”

            “But here he indicates that Danárion sought to do so by capturing the smaller boy’s head under his upper arm—how is he to have forced the child to suckle his manhood when he has the child’s head held by force against his chest?”

            “We were trying to get him to correct that----”

            “And is that not what this entire matter is—the attempt to force Garestil to tell the story you would have told, even when there is more than adequate evidence within it that he knows nothing of the deaths of the children at all?  In his mind, as I read what he has said, he believes that the children died on the morning of the day on which their bodies were found.  So that is the tale he tells, and the only real detail of which he is certain is that on that morning he heard the bell ring the second hour after dawn!  You know that he never saw the children riding through the village toward the market at that hour, and that the children and Carenthor were all at lessons in the free school.  So, why is it that you continued on?”

            “We must have someone who could tell us that indeed Danárion had done this terrible thing!”

            There—they had it at last—the admission that they could find no other means by which to place the blame for this crime upon Danárion!

            “And what if it was not Danárion who killed the children?”

            “But it must have been!  No other would have done so!”

            “Oh, really?  The children were outside the village, perhaps but the three of them to be seen upon the road with the two ponies amongst them.  Who is to say that a passing carter with a load of goods he planned to sell in Rohan might not have seen them and sought to take his violent pleasure of them?  Or one from Rohan heading eastward to bring news to the Steward’s court?  Or yet another small group of spies creeping either eastward toward the Anduin or westward toward Isengard or Dunland?  We have seen ample evidence that raiders have passed through Anórien more than once in the last decade or two and left dead families and abandoned farms in their wake!”

            “But how could we hope to find such ones and punish them?” demanded Hanalgor.  “The people of Destrier wanted someone caught and hanged, and to feel they could sleep soundly in their beds at night once more!”

            “And so you would seek to give them such victims—sacrifice innocent youths merely to allow the village to sleep more soundly, knowing that whoever truly killed Gilmar, Nedron, and Bredwion was still out there, perhaps ready to slay yet another?  That is not justice, Hanalgor—that is merely compounding one crime with another murder to which the courts have become complicit!  Except you sought not to offer one life for the murders of the children, but to destroy three!”

            “Carenthor and Garestil would not have died—merely Danárion!”

            “Yet would they have ever come home again to their families?  Did you not seek to destroy Carenthor’s reputation, which was always of the very highest, merely because he committed the terrible crime of actually liking Danárion?”

            So it remained for some time, until at last someone sitting upon the benches asked, “Then, you are saying that Danárion, Garestil, and Carenthor did not kill those children?”

            Hanalgor snapped, “We simply could not prove that Danárion did it!”

            “Even though,” demanded the youth’s aunt, “my brother’s wife, her daughter, my daughter, and the neighbor’s family have all told you that Danárion was at my home while my husband and I were away in Hevensgil shortly after the evening meal, and that the neighbor’s daughter and her friend both told you that they spoke with Danárion between their homes all during the evening following?  We showed you the note that my daughter wrote for Vanessë to ask us to make another time to meet regarding giving Danárion some employment, and you know that we indeed went to the cock fights and that you found proof my husband won considerable money wagering on the alehouse cook’s red!  You have known all along that Danárion did not kill the children on that night, and that they did not die the following morning, either.  So, why blame Danárion out of all here in Destrier?”

            “Because he is a foul, evil fiend who worshiped the Lord of Mordor!”

            “Pah!  Anything you do not understand you say is proof of a love of the Dark Lord!  You know nothing of the worship the Nameless One desired!  I know nothing of that, either, although it appears these—” she indicated the members of the deputation, “—have greater appreciation for what it might have been than you ever have.  And will you now name them the Enemy’s own fellows, when they have helped see to his utter defeat?”  She turned to the unnamed Man who’d asked the question.  “No, Danárion, Carenthor, and Garestil had nothing to do with the deaths of the three little boys.  Only in the imaginations of such as this one were they ever guilty!”  And she gave Hanalgor a look of utter loathing ere she sat down again.

            “But Danárion must have killed them!” insisted a woman, the same woman as the previous day.  “I will not believe anyone else could have done so!”

            Just then the doors crashed open, and all turned as Nessa, mother to Nedron, stumbled into the hall, crying hysterically.  “My brother Algorn—Vangil has sought to kill him!”

 

On Evil Averted—or Not

            Mistress Nessa fell to her knees.  It could be seen she had been struck repeatedly on her face.  He is left-handed, the one who struck her, noted Berevrion.  The skin about her right eye was red, and the tissue was beginning to swell.  Her mouth was puffy and the lip split, and already it was beginning to take on a blue tinge behind the bright red blood from the damaged lip.  It appeared the blows had been inflicted with a closed fist.  Her garment was torn also, and she was clutching it closed at her left shoulder.

            For a brief moment all were struck still by surprise, but then people began crying out and rising rapidly.  Master Gilflorin proved to be one of those just within the doorway, and he was removing his surcoat and slipping it about her, raising her to her feet.  Berevrion turned toward Faradir, who’d taken a place behind him.  “Take the guardsmen Hanalgor and Vendrion in charge, and take them back to Master Nerwion’s house.  Advise him of the assault on Mistress Nessa and apparently on her brother as well, and ask him to send word to not allow Master Vangil to leave the village.”

            Faradir gave a brief, “It shall be so, Berevrion,” and hurried around the table to Hanalgor’s side, the guardsman obviously put totally out of his reckoning by what was happening about him.  “Come,” Faradir commanded, and Hanalgor allowed himself to be led to the room where Vendrion still waited.

            Erchirion was giving orders to his Swan Knight as well, and seeing that happening, Berevrion, as he came about the table himself, called out to the teacher, “Please—go to the healers for the village.  Ask one to come to Mistress Nessa’s house, and have the other prepare what surgery there may be.  We may well need it.”

            The teacher, his face pale, nodded, and quit the building as quickly as he was able.  Berevrion called to all others to stay still where they were, and the crowd ceased to roil as it had but a moment earlier.  “We must not wander about willhe-nillhe.  We do not know as yet whether Vangil is armed, but we know he is potentially dangerous.  You,” he said to the baker, “choose five to aid you and head for the gate.  Advise the guards there not to allow Vangil to leave the village.  Those who are parents, if you know where your children are, go to them and see them safe to your homes.  The rest of you, let some summon the market guards and some the other constables and those gate guards who are not on duty.  Do your best to safeguard those who might be vulnerable to being used as a hostage.  If you see Vangil, do not approach him, but see him contained if at all possible. You might pursue him into a house, then surround it to see that he does not escape by another means.  Let two or three go together—do nothing on your own.  Is this understood?”

            At the indication of general agreement, he nodded at them to remove themselves, and hurried to where Anorgil’s father stood supporting the stricken woman.  “Did he have a weapon?” he asked her.

            “He always has a knife or two,” she said bitterly.  “He came with an orc knife he took from the body of one found upon the road after the last assault by such creatures along the Highway, there before word was sent out that Minas Tirith was safe.  He had it thrust through his belt.  I have no idea why he brought it—perhaps he meant to use it on me.  I don’t know!  But I didn’t see it at first when he came and pounded upon the door and demanded that I come out and allow him to reason with me.  I didn’t think that he would do aught with my brother there, so I came out upon the doorstep to learn what he wanted, and he grabbed my wrist and sought to drag me elsewhere.  Hearing me cry, Algorn came forth and sought to pull him away from me, and Vangil pulled the knife and struck Algorn with it in the belly.  He then ignored Algorn as if he were of no moment and turned upon me.  I was trying to get to my brother as he fell to the ground, but he again grabbed me by my left shoulder, and held me by the fabric of my dress!  I cried out against him and beat against his arm, and he began to beat my face with his fist.”

            “And you managed to get away?”

            “Yes—I tore the dress wresting away from him!  No one was home in the houses nearby, so I ran here.  Algorn--!”

            Bariol and Harolfileg were already headed toward the neighborhood closest to the stable just inside and east of the gate to the village, and with an indication for Wendthor, Gilflorin, Bilstred, and Anorgil to bring her along as quickly as they could, he turned to follow the two healers, Caraftion and Erchirion by his side.

            Others had arrived first, and were crowded about the fallen figure of a Man lying just outside the door to a small dwelling.  Inside they could hear a child screaming in fear.  “He hurted him!  He hurted him!” the child kept crying.  “He hurted him, and he beat my mommy!”

            A woman made her way inside and sought to soothe the little girl.  “Sa, sa—your mother is safe enough.  Who did this?”

            “Papa did—he hurted Nuncle, and beat my mommy!  He hit her with his fist—hit her so hard!  Mommy told me to stay in, and shut the door, so I went to her room and peeked through the window!  He hurted Nuncle!”

            Those outside the house moved aside to allow the Elf and the Mannish surgeon to approach the fallen Man.

            Bariol’s face was set and he glanced up to meet Berevrion’s eyes.  “Gut wound.  And it’s an orc’s blade, all right—black with who knows what kind of filth.  He’s yet alive, but there’s a good chance we won’t be able to save him.  You know what infections come from such wounds.”

            Someone removed the door from the house, and brought it.  Bariol and Harolfileg carefully lifted Algorn onto it, and accepted a blanket someone brought to them to lay around the wounded Man.  A Man was arriving carrying a healer’s bag, his face white as he saw the pale, still visage of Algorn partially obscured by the grey blanket.  Bariol said, “I’m a battle surgeon, and Master Harolfileg is also skilled in dealing with wounds caused by orc weapons.  We will need to use your surgery, but Mistress Nessa will need your services, I fear.”  He nodded to where she could be seen approaching, still supported by Gilflorin and Bilstred, and with Wendthor and Anorgil in attendance.  He called out to Wendthor, “Can you run to Master Normandil’s house and fetch our healers’ bags to the surgery?”

            Wendthor nodded.  He turned to a curious youth who’d joined the crowd.  “Will you accompany me and show me the way, please?” he asked.

            Apparently glad to have something worthwhile he could do, the young Man smiled and led the way toward the merchant’s house.  Assured they had done as much for Algorn as was possible for the moment, Harolfileg and Bariol, with some of the villagers to carry the makeshift bier, set off with guidance for the surgery.

            Vangil was not to be found, having apparently fled once his wife had managed to free herself from his grasp.  “He ran away,” little Mardeth told them when they asked.  “After Mommy ran away, Papa ran away, too.  He hit her, in the face, and he hurted Nuncle!”

            “And which way did he flee?” asked Berevrion.

            “Toward the stable,” she answered.

            While the healer saw to Mistress Nessa, Master Nerwion arrived.  He quickly organized those Men and older boys present into parties, setting each to search a specific portion of the village, with directions to look into outbuildings and lofts or outdoor cellars.  Mistress Renalta, hand in hand with her daughter Anriel and trailed by Master Rindor, came down the lane from the direction of the market in the midst of this activity, and seeing Berevrion in consultation with Anorgil and Master Gilflorin, she approached them.  “What is happening?” she demanded.  “I thought you were speaking with the constables and guardsmen!”

            “We were,” he assured her, eyeing Rindor warily.  “But as we were finishing with our questioning of Hanalgor, Mistress Nessa entered with word that she had been assaulted and her brother wounded by—”

            “By Vangil?” interrupted Renalta.  “I ever feared he might be the death of her.  A violent Man, and a terrible husband he’s proved.  She’ll be well shut of him when her marriage contract is dissolved by Lord Benargil.”

            “I agree.”

            “Is it serious?”

            Berevrion indicated the house behind him with a jerk of his head.  “She will be well enough, I suspect.  But there is a very good chance that Master Algorn will not survive.  It is a gut wound, and was administered by an orc knife.  Such wounds are usually mortal, I fear.  However, two healers were with him in a matter of minutes.  If they can seal any damage to the bowels and flush it well enough, I suppose there is a very small chance he could live, although he is likely to suffer from pain from such a wound indefinitely, should he even survive the rest of the day.”

            “But where could he come across an orc----”   She stopped.  “Oh, yes—those orcs who were slain by soldiers who assaulted them from the direction of Minas Tirith, there a league west of us.  We think they were one of the ambushes set against reinforcements from Rohan getting through during the siege of the capital.  Many of the menfolk went out after the battle to look on the place.  And Vangil would pick up such a knife as a keepsake.  He was quite impressed by blades.”

            “Is she seriously hurt?” asked Rindor.

            Berevrion searched the Man’s eyes.  There was no hint of his usual brash nature in them, and no signs he had taken either poppy or drink that day, or even recently.  No, they were merely eyes such as he had seen too often in his years as one of Aragorn’s officers among the Rangers of Eriador—eyes of one who had seen too much loss, too much grief, and who now sought to shelter another he’d come to feel fellowship for from even more grief of her own.  For the first time he found it in him to believe that Rindor had not played a part in the death of his younger adopted son or his playfellows.  Berevrion’s tone softened as he answered, “No, her hurt is not too great.  Her eye has been blackened, her cheek bruised, and her lip split.  I suspect she will be sore for some days yet, and particularly her jaw—he appears to have hit her there more than once.”

            “The vicious sot!” Rindor said, balling his fists.

            “Is there anything we can do?” asked Mistress Renalta.

            “She will probably wish to see to her brother’s fate once her own hurts are tended to and she has had the chance to change her dress and reassure her daughter.  You might offer to care for little Mardeth and keep her safe until she can return.  And if you and your husband can watch over the two of them, and perhaps notify the rest of her family as to what has happened?”

            “Tevern is not here—he’s gone to Amon Dîn with a shipment of barrels, and won’t return before tomorrow at the earliest, perhaps later if he is given another shipment to carry on the return journey.  It often happens so.”

            “We will watch over them, Dírhael and I, until Tevern can return,” offered Rindor, and the determination to offer what protection he was able could be read easily in his expression. 

            Perhaps, Berevrion thought, this will help him to earn a level of trust from his stepson.  Maybe there is hope that Dírhael will find at least part of the example of a proper father yet in this Man.  He nodded his respect to Rindor for the offer made.  “Then I rejoice to thank you for doing so.”

            The former jewelry maker appeared surprised and then honored by Berevrion’s tone, and straightened.  “I promise—no more evil will befall her—not now.”

            “I will hold you to that,” Berevrion told him, and watched with satisfaction as he followed Renalta into the house to speak with Nessa.

            Then word was shouted down the street that Vangil had been seen making a break for the gate.  If he should manage to get out, who knew where he might go?

            Berevrion, Erchirion, and the Swan Knight who accompanied them were among the first to reach the gate.  It had been opened to allow the farmer who raised swine west of the village entrance to bring hams to the alehouse, and Vangil had thrown himself under the tongue of the wagon to evade the gate guards.

            “He’s gone into the commons!” they were advised.

            The three warriors raced after him.  On passing through into the grazing field, they saw that their quarry was hurrying across the field northward, apparently headed for the canal.

            “Halt!” commanded Erchirion.  “Halt in the name of the Steward—and the King!” he corrected himself.

            Vangil paused only long enough to peer back at them.  He changed direction, now headed for the woods along the stream on the eastern borders of the field.  Children unbidden fled out of his path, and a pony shied, almost but not quite unseating the girl who rode it until she managed to turn it away and allowed it its head.

            Erchirion and his Swan Knight companion were gaining on him, although Berevrion wasn’t far behind them.  Beside the way Vangil was going, the northern lord saw a great stump of a tree, its lower trunk appearing almost separated as if it had legs, two twiggy limbs lifted upwards toward the sky….

            Vangil dove into the shadows under the trees, and they heard a shriek of surprise from a child.  Apparently at least one youngster had been playing there.  They could hear sharp commands, although they could not make out the words, and vaguely Berevrion registered that the stumped figure over him was twisting with no wind to cause it to stir.  The three warriors slowed to a stop a sufficient distance to offer no direct threat to Vangil, hoping to avert any danger to the child.

            Then Vangil appeared, holding pressed to his chest the body of a girl, her head adorned by a daisy chain, a smudge of mud across her cheek and the rough apron she wore over her dress.  She’d apparently been paddling in the stream, for her feet were bare and the hem of her garment was dripping water.  She still clutched in her hand a flowering branch, and her mouth was squeezed shut and her eyes wide and staring with terror.  He held the point of a knife to her throat.  “Come no closer!” he commanded.  “Come no closer, or I’ll slit her throat!  I swear it!” he called, the last almost crazed in its tone. 

            He dragged the girl sideways, back toward the road.  “You will let me go,” he insisted.  “You will allow the two of us to leave, and you will not follow us.  You will make no move toward us, or I swear that I will kill her, and the blame will be yours!  You will have made me do it!”  He pressed the blade closer, and Berevrion could see a drop of blood where the point pierced the skin of her neck.

            But Vangil could not see what was now leaning down from behind him, how what had appeared twiggy branches were now reaching for him, what all had thought to be a tree saying in sonorous Sindarin, “You think to hurt a child, do you?  I rather think not!”  One branched hand caught his left wrist and twisted it, and all could hear the crack! as his arm broke and the knife fell harmlessly to the ground, while the other wrapped about Vangil’s chest and lifted him up.  In his shock, Vangil let loose of the girl, and she slumped sideways to the ground and curled into a weeping ball in reaction.

            The Ent straightened to its full height and held the Man before him, examining him with eyes that appeared to be golden-green wells of contemplation.  “Baroom-a-hoom!” it rumbled.  ”Not good, to threaten a child.  Never good to threaten a child!” it continued, still speaking in slow Sindarin.  It gave the Man a shake to emphasize its point, and there was a strangled cry before Vangil went limp.  The Ent prodded the Man’s chest, then looked down at the three Men standing before him, Erchirion and the Swan Knight standing open-mouthed in shock.

            Berevrion made a point of sheathing his weapon, then bowed low to the Ent.  “I pray you forgive us, Master.  Few have ever realized that one of Fangorn’s people stood watch here,” he explained in Sindarin.

            The Ent stretched out the arm holding its captive.  “Is this one of yours.  I grieve to say that he appears—hoom, hoom—somewhat broken.  I will give him to you if you wish.”

            “We will have need of him,” Berevrion explained.  “We thank you for saving the girl-child.”

            The Ent examined him more closely.  “How is it you recognize me as one of Fangorn’s people?” he asked.

            “We have heard of you from Mithrandir and from our Lord King Aragorn, who met with Fangorn himself at Isengard.”

            “Isengard?  And what was Fangorn doing at Isengard?  He said when last we met that he would not leave the forest again unless he heard word of the Entwives.”

            “The White Wizard turned traitor to all of the Free Peoples, and began slaughtering the tree-herds over which your people watch.  And why are you here, so far from the forests of your own folk?”

            The Ent gave a ponderous shrug.  “I wait here in hopes that we might hear word of the Entwives.  Marchflowers was my mate, and I am not eager to close off all hope of seeing her once more.

            “Here,” he added, leaning down to hold Vangil’s body out for Berevrion to take.  “I am sorry I appear to have hurt him.  But I swear that he acted the very orc!  I hate orcs, the vile….”  And it launched into a long rumbling series of sounds that appeared to be a description in Entish as to just how vile orcs were capable of being.

            “And we thank you,” Berevrion assured him, taking Vangil’s body carefully from the Ent’s grasp.

            A Man had run across the field as they’d spoken and now was kneeling to lift the girl into his arms, crooning her name and assuring her, over and over, that she was now safe.  Slowly she uncurled, reassured by the Man’s embrace and voice.  At last she looked up, and as she met the Ent’s gaze she went still, her eyes now wide with awe.  “The Father Tree—see, Ada?  The Father Tree—it saved me!”

            Berevrion smiled at her.  “Yes, it did.”

            The Ent appeared pleased at the child’s tone.  “The child—it is well with the child?  Good!  Good!  I do like children.  It’s why I chose to wait here—at times it’s almost like being surrounded by Entings.  But not long ago I could swear I sensed an Elf.  Was there truly an Elf here?”

            “Yes, yesterday.”

            “Really an Elf?  Haven’t seen an Elf for—well, not since shortly after the Elves and Dúnedain marched on Mordor and brought down Morgoth’s foul get.  Not that I sense that one, the self-described Dark Lord, now, though,” the Ent commented, and appeared to stretch.  “I’ve not been properly—awake for quite some time,” he added.  “Not for quite some time.  Perhaps I’ll merely go back to sleep.  The child is safe now, true?  Good.  Hoom, hom.  Good.  Like children,” it murmured and returned to its usual stance, its queerly ancient eyes closing.

            “What is it?” whispered the Man who cradled the girl in his arms.

            “An Ent from Fangorn Forest has chosen to guard this field where the children play,” Berevrion explained.  “He could not allow any threat to any child he sensed playing nearby.  He likes children, or so he has told me.”

            The girl who’d nearly been thrown by her pony had approached, leading her steed.  “It talked!  I’ve seen it move a few times, but didn’t know it could talk!”

            “Yes, it can talk, although it doesn’t do so often.  He says that he’s kept watch here for quite a long time, and that he enjoys hearing you children playing near his feet.”

            The gathering children exchanged delighted and awe-filled glances.  “I think, however,” Berevrion said in a more serious tone, “that it best you all return to your homes now.  A great evil has been averted, and your parents will wish to know that you are all safe.  Check to make certain none play in your secret places along the stream or the canal, and return home that your parents can be assured none of you came to harm due to this one,” and he indicated the Man he held in his arms.

 *******

            It took some time to get Vangil back into the village.  They took him through to the healers’ houses.  He was still alive, but the signs were he wouldn’t likely remain that way for long.  “His spine is broken high up, almost to the neck,” advised Master Erdonmar, the senior healer.  “He can no longer feel what is beyond the break, and how long his heart will be able to continue to beat I cannot say.  He is now awake and aware, but cannot control his breathing sufficient to speak.”

            “It will be enough if he is able to indicate yes or no,” Berevrion noted.

            “I think he will be able to do that,” the healer indicated.

            Vangil stared up at the ceiling when the northern lord and Master Nerwion entered the room.  He flicked his eyes toward them briefly, then back toward the ceiling.  His breathing was very labored. 

            “Your thought to take a child hostage, and so close to a Father Tree, proved to be a bad one,” Berevrion told him.  “The Father Tree in that field is actually a creature known as an Ent, and one who particularly likes children.  He would not stand for you threatening to hurt a child, and he admits he was perhaps harsher on you than he intended to be.  However, he rejoices that the child is safe.”

            Again a flick of the eyes toward him, then deliberately away.

            “You have not long, or so I am told.  We would wish to ask you some questions.”

            The glance this time was mutinous.  There was obviously nothing he could do to forestall their questions, after all.

            “Blink once for yes and twice for no.  Do you understand?”

            One blink.

            “Did you resent the presence of your stepson within your house?”

            One blink.

            “Did you wish him gone?”

            One blink.

            “Did you beat the child?”  Vangil merely glared at him.  At last Berevrion asked again, “Did you ever beat him when he did not deserve it?”

            When he refused to answer, Nerwion said dryly, “I suspect that there was rarely a time when this one did not believe that the boy deserved a good beating.”

            Vangil tried to speak, but could not.  He began to appear distressed, his face gone white, his breathing increasingly ragged.

            Harolfileg entered the room.  “So, this one indeed managed to waken the Ent?  It was not an act of wisdom to threaten a child in its presence.”

            “Are you skilled in osanwë?” Berevrion asked him.

            “Not particularly.  It is a skill that was favored by some among the Noldor, but has never been much practiced among the Lindar such as I am.  I can sense a good deal of anger in him, anger and resentment, and sensed it in him yesterday as well.  Now he is angry particularly because he realizes that he can do nothing more for himself, but he is also frightened because he knows he is dying.  But as for knowing his specific thoughts or memories of actions toward his wife, her brother, or her son, that I cannot perceive.”

            Berevrion placed a hand against the dying Man’s temple, and one last time Vangil opened his eyes and looked at him, defiance still to be read there.  “Did you kill Nedron?” he asked gently.

            Vangil’s mouth worked briefly, his eyes glared—and there was a final spasm, and he died.

            “There was a final surge of sheer resentment, but I cannot say if it was directed toward the child, toward you for asking the question, or toward the world in general for offering him such an ignominious ending,” Harolfileg said quietly.

            “How is Anglor?” asked Master Nerwion.

            The Elf shrugged as he watched Berevrion close the dead Man’s eyes.  “He yet lives, which is itself perhaps a hopeful sign.  Master Erdonmar had prepared for our coming by setting a fair quantity of water and salt boiling, and had kingsfoil that we could seep in it as it cooled, and with it we were able to flush the wound fairly effectively.  And he also had waiting for us a quantity of bread ripe with mold to press against it.  As to whether what Bariol and I did was sufficient to allow him to heal—only time can show us that.  And even if he does heal, there is still the probability that scarring and adhesions might occur and cause complications in the future.  He has become conscious twice, and appeared to recognize where he was and Master Erdonmar, so his mind at least appears clear.  But, it was an orc weapon.  Whether we could flush out all of the filth from it is questionable.”

            “I have known a few who have managed to survive such wounds, although I will admit is it but very few indeed—I think three.”  Berevrion finally turned his eyes from the dead Man’s face to meet the Elf’s gaze.  “We can hope.  Perhaps if Aragorn had been here the kingsfoil might have been even more effective, and his gift of healing might have been sufficient to help fully counter the poison of the blade.  But we will not count Anglor lost until he breathes his last.”

            They shared a sad smile, and turned back to the dead Man. 

            “Perhaps this will be enough to assure those within the village who would still blame someone specific for the deaths of the children that somehow justice has been served,” Nerwion said.

            “That you were willing to allow Danárion to serve in that capacity does not speak particularly highly for you,” Berevrion responded.

            Briefly defiance flared in the village Master’s eyes.  “You were not here to see the fear and fury that filled the village then!  You could not see the intensity of need to see someone—anyone—pay for the deaths of those children!”

            “So you allowed Borongil, Hanalgor, and Vendrion to feed them with tales of worship of Sauron, and to pursue Danárion solely because he was a disturbing influence within the village?  You read what was laughingly called a confession that was wrested from Garestil.  He did not know Danárion sufficiently well to indicate the invitation to attend the murders would come from him, so he made Carenthor the one who planned all and who did the greater part in the disfigurement of the victims.  You had to know the general attitude of respect within the village toward Carenthor.  Why did you allow such lies to stand against him?”

            “What was I to do—to denounce my own guardsmen as fools and to cause the people of Destrier to lose confidence in them?  And had Carenthor been allowed to remain in the village, would he not have been likely to become an agitator as strong as Danárion himself, seeking ever to convince all that his friend had been wrongly convicted of the murders?  I did what I could for them—I convinced Danárion’s aunt and uncle and cousin to speak out for him, and to explain that he had been in their house that evening at the time when the children went missing.  How was anyone to anticipate that Danárion himself would lie about when he went there?”

            “What is this about Danárion lying about when he went somewhere on the day the children went missing?” asked the younger of the village’s healers from the door to the room.  He looked at the figure on the bed.  “So, that one is gone, is he?  Poor soul.  But, I suppose that we are all better off without him.”  He looked back to meet Master Nerwion’s eyes.  “So, what is this about Danárion?”

            “When he spoke in his own defense at the trial, he said that he believed he went to the home of Targon’s sister and her husband in the afternoon.  And although all others said that they went there after the evening meal, which would have made it impossible for him to have been involved in the murders, those who were on the jury saw only the lie by Danárion, who was known to have been at Master Amborn’s farm when he said he went to the aunt’s house.  So they chose to disbelieve all of them, and voted him guilty.  And, having named him guilty, they could do no other than to name those tried with him as guilty as well.  And I cannot for the life of me understand why he would have so lied about when he was at Targon’s sister’s home.” 

            And in Nerwion’s eyes Berevrion could see that the Man was indeed frustrated, and that he had never intended for the three youths to actually be found guilty of the crime.  “I see—you allowed them to be arrested to distract those within Destrier who must see some action going forward to seeing the crime solved.  This would have allowed the serious ones such as Amdir to actually continue in the true search for the real murderer of the children!”

            “Indeed, that was my hope.  But I never counted upon either Borongil or Hanalgor to have so effectively undermined the authority of Amdir within the village.  I was wrong not to listen to the complaints of Veredorn and Amdir regarding them.  And I was wrong to allow Master Fendril to prevail upon me to take Borongil as the Captain of the guards and constables.  I should have known that this was but another of Fendril’s fellow believers in the secret conspiracy of Sauron’s worshipers within Anórien! 

            “I was chosen by Master Lossothion and Lord Benargil’s father to succeed Lossothion as Master here primarily because they saw me as one not given to superstition, as one who as a realist could hopefully help counter the growing belief in the foolishness that this region is so prone to.  Master Fendril, for instance, has successfully fought every attempt in the region under Anwar’s sway to build sewers and to bring water from a central, clean source to all within each city, town, or village.  His reason?  He is convinced that for a man to relieve himself into running water will somehow unman him!  You should have read the complaints sent regarding him some ten years past when he visited the Citadel within Minas Tirith—he insisted upon using a chamber pot each time and then emptied it out of the window of his suite rather than using the water closet!  Lord Denethor was most displeased by this defilement of his gardens.

            “But this is the general attitude of so many hereabouts.  The Keep in Anwar itself still boasts a midden, and the shallow wells of Hevensgil are notorious for becoming filled with pestilence during the summers.  Go there, and you will see the women and girls each day from the first of May until the middle of September going out of the village to the river to fetch water at least for drinking, cooking, and the cleansing of dishes.”

            “I see,” Berevrion said, and sighed, leaning back against the wall and rubbing at his eyes, pinching the bridge of his nose.  “And now, with the cost of the war to defray, you cannot see to it that all of the improvements Master Lossothion and you had hoped to see done by this time made.”

            “Indeed.  I had hoped that Amdir would be able to teach Hanalgor how to properly conduct the trial by water, and even encouraged him to allow Hanalgor to do so under supervision.  But I did not appreciate until now how Hanalgor was convinced that it was a sovereign method of divining truth.  Nor did I reckon properly with the ambition of Hanalgor or the greed of Borongil.

            “As you have yourself divined, I allowed Danárion to be targeted by Borongil and Hanalgor to pacify the villagers and to keep those two out of the way, I thought, of Amdir, whom I believed capable of following what leads there were.  It was my hope that before the youths came to trial that Amdir and Caledorn would have found out who truly slew the children.  But Borongil managed to limit what Amdir was able to do, and it appears they and Vendrion managed to convince Caledorn that they had the right of it in accusing Danárion.  So, I encouraged Targon’s sister to stand up for her nephew, and she did.  But then, for Danárion to lie about the time!  Why did he do this?”

            “Perhaps because he was truly confused?” suggested the healer.

            “I cannot imagine even Garestil was so easily confused that he could not tell the difference between morning and night,” Nerwion said.  “How could Danárion have been so mistaken as to whether he went to his aunt’s house in the late afternoon or after the evening meal?”

            “Because of the draught I gave him,” the younger Man said.  He closed his eyes, appearing almost pained, then opened them determinedly.  “He’d only been free of the splints upon his arm for three days, what with the break his father caused, throwing the boy against the wall when Danárion interrupted what it was he did with the boy’s sister.  He would not listen when I warned him he must allow time for his arm to regain its strength before he would be able to do all he was accustomed to having done before the break.  He’d gone to Amborn’s farm to help in the cleansing of the byres, and did his best to keep up with the hands.  But he could not do all he wanted, and came to me after in great pain, the muscles themselves cramping.  So, I gave him a draught with both some poppy and some hemp in it.  I’d hoped he would return to his home and go early to his bed, and by morning the pain should have been gone.  But he apparently did not.  With the effects of both the poppy and the hemp, even as mild a draught as I gave him, his ability to tell the time would likely have been quite confused.  He would also possibly have behaved even more inappropriately than was usual with him with anyone who questioned aught that he did.”

            Berevrion found himself smiling.  “So, that was the way of it, eh?  Even more has come clear now!”

            He considered, looking down at the body lying on the cot.  “I now understand why you are now willing to allow Vangil to possibly bear the brunt of the suspicion of the village.  However, with him dead, it is unlikely anyone will ever be able to fully prove whether or not he committed the murders, or if there is yet another who actually killed the children.  We will continue to look for what we can find, but it may indeed help those in the area to accept that Danárion, Carenthor, and Garestil are innocent if they can think this one possibly doubly deserved his fate.  Certainly he has proved himself capable of having killed his stepson and his friends.

            “Come—let us away.  And in the morning, ere we leave the village, we will have one final examination before the people of the Destrier….”

*******

            As the people of Destrier awoke the next morning, the patterer and the village herald were already abroad, calling out the news that the King’s deputation would be leaving that day to return to Anwar, that Hanalgor, Vendrion, Amdir, Veredorn, and a few others would be going with them, and that there would be one last hearing in the village hall at the second bell, to which all who could come were summoned.

            Most of the deputation was seated as the people found places within and without the hall.  At last the families of the dead children and the three accused were led within and seated together to one side, while Vendrion and Hanalgor were made to stand opposite them, Amdir, Caledorn, and Veredorn and the village healers and a few others surrounding them.  Berevrion and Erchirion entered with Master Nerwion, and together they took the final seats at the main table. 

            When all were still, Nerwion rose.  “People of Destrier,” he said, “it is now time to close the investigation into the deaths of Nedron, Gilmar, and Bredwion of this village.  All were distressed when they were found dead, and certain that evil itself walked amongst us.  So it was that the one youth in the village thought to personify such evil was named the most likely one to have killed the children, and the guardsmen and constables together set out not to properly find who had truly committed this foul deed but instead to prove that Danárion had somehow authored this atrocity.

            “And I freely admit that I allowed this to happen, hoping that with indications that those in authority were diligently seeking justice for the murdered boys, that the village would calm down, and that cooler heads would in the meantime find the true murderer.  Yea, I admit that I was never truly convinced that Danárion had aught to do with the deaths of the three little boys.”

            “But Garestil confessed to having taken part in the murders!” insisted a Man.  “I went to Anwar for the trials and heard what was told there of what he’d confessed to!”

            “Did you know that in the beginning he confessed only to having seen the murders happen?” asked Nerwion.  “He never said he himself took part—not then!”

            “That was not what was reported in Anwar,” said the woman at the Man’s side, the same one who had twice before indicated she refused to believe that the three youths could be innocent.

            “And that was because Master Fendril, having realized many of the gross errors in the original confession, insisted that there be yet another questioning of Garestil, not allowing Master Caraftion or Master Pardronë to know of it.  Instead, he and Borongil between them met secretly with Garestil over the space of some days to prepare him to make this confession, one that they hoped would prove so compelling that none would question it.  And he gave it to them.  But then before he could be brought to sign it, he learned that this would not free him, and he admitted that this, too, was a lie.  They tried to bring pressure upon Master Veredorn here to amend the original confession to include many of the changes they had convinced Garestil to make, but he would not, for to do so would be to break the laws of Gondor regarding statements and confessions.  Instead, they convinced two different official scribes from elsewhere to make false copies of the original.”

            “And Danárion indeed did not kill the boys?” asked someone.  “I never could think how Carenthor could have been involved, and with what we learned the other day I was glad to realize he was indeed innocent.  But do we have proof that Danárion had nothing to do with it?”

            “Yes.”

            So it was that Targon’s sister, her husband, their daughter, and their neighbors were called forward, and together they repeated what they’d said in court—that Danárion had come with his mother and sister to their house after dinner to talk with them about the husband offering the youth employment.  The husband explained, “But I didn’t really wish to employ him to load my wagons, so I convinced my wife to go to the cockfights in Hevensgil instead, telling her she was mistaken regarding the evening when we were to meet with Vanessë and her children.  How was anyone to know that the three children would die that evening, or that Danárion would be blamed?”

            The woman sought to challenge the neighbors, asking them, “How is it you remember so well seeing Danárion with his mother?  She might have left him home, after all!”

            “Left him home?  With the trouble he was having getting out of their house, and the arguments he was giving his mother and sister?  We thought he was drunk, or perhaps worse!”  The neighbor to Targon’s sister was most definite in his statement.

            “Well, if he was drunk, so much the more likely he was to have been killing those little boys!” the woman insisted.

            “And how was he to get himself out of the village, much less back in later?” demanded the neighbor’s wife.  She turned to the gate guards.  “Hanalgor wasn’t on duty that night.  Did any of you see Danárion leave around dusk, or come back afterwards?  For it was just nearing sunset when he left their house,” pointing at Targon’s sister, “raising such a row with his mother and sister.”

            The guards all indicated that, no, Danárion had not gone out that evening at or after sunset, nor come back afterwards.  Nor had Carenthor been seen at the village’s gate.  “Garestil indeed came back in well after sunset, but in company with the youths who went to Hevensgil, and they were all telling us that he’d managed to successfully juggle with three balls that evening.”

            There was considerable talk amongst the villagers over this information.  “Why didn’t you say this before?” demanded someone in the crowd.

            “Captain Borongil had made it clear we were not to discuss the case at all,” explained one of the guards.  “And Hanalgor threatened us if we should say anything about Garestil coming through the gate that evening with those who usually went to Hevensgil.  And if you wish to know who it was who left and later returned to the village after the search was given over for the night, then you must apply to Masters Rindor and Vangil!”

            Rindor, flushing deeply, rose to his feet.  “I had nothing to do with whatever Vangil might have been doing that night!” he insisted.  “And I was only seeing to it that certain—things were delivered as promised to certain purchasers.”  Berevrion noted that Hanalgor tried to indicate to Rindor to be quiet, but that Rindor was pointedly ignoring him.

            “What kind of purchasers?” asked Erchirion.

            “It was mostly foodstuffs, I was told for some from Dunland who were having a hard time of it—bad harvests, they told me.”

            “And who told you this?” pursued Imrahil’s son.

            “Captain Borongil and Guardsman Hanalgor.  And yes,” Rindor continued with a glare at Hanalgor, “I’m telling them!  How do I know that it was such a harmless arrangement as you convinced me then?”

            Faradir, who’d been standing behind the guardsmen, drew his sword and stepped closer to Hanalgor, who dropped his hand from his own sword’s pommel and glanced warily over his shoulder at the northern warrior.  “I would suggest,” Faradir said quietly, “that you do not move from where you are.  Constable Amdir, will you please take his weapons?  Be certain to take his belt knife and the knife in his left boot as well, please.”

            “Tell us,” Berevrion directed Rindor.

            As Rindor explained it, it was supposed to have been some harmless smuggling.  An emissary had arrived from the entourage of Théoden King’s chief counselor, Gríma son of Gálmód, saying that he wished to purchase foodstuffs from Anórien for relatives in Dunland.  They were to arrange shipments once a month of whatever types of food supplies they could lay their hands upon, but not in sufficient quantities as to draw attention.  There was a shipment that was to be picked up at midnight on that night, two days before Midsummer, and Rindor had been recruited to see to it that the wagon holding the goods was ready to be taken by whoever came.  “They were big brutes, those who came—large and very muscular.  Always came cloaked in dark grey or black, with their hoods up and their faces mostly hidden.  Only badge or sign I could see that might indicate who they might have come from was that they’d begun to have a brooch of a white hand holding their cloaks closed.”

            “Saruman,” growled Erchirion, his teeth clenched.

            “Yes,” agreed Berevrion.  “The rebel wizard did need supplies for his guards and the army he was building, after all.”  He asked Rindor, “What kinds of supplies did you have ready for him that time?”

            “Oh, there were crates of strawberries, several of flat breads that keep a fair amount of time, a number of flats of vegetables from Farmer Beslor, and such things.”

            “The wagon was full?”

            “Yes.”

            “And they arrived at midnight?”

            “Yes, my lord.”

            “What kind of payment did they provide?”

            “They paid in a higher grade of poppy than they have here in Anórien, and in a sack of gold.”

            “And your share was the poppy?”

            “I shared the poppy with Captain Borongil, and I received two gold pieces for each shipment I saw into their hands.”

            “And how much longer did this arrangement continue?”

            “I stopped working with them when my wife died.  I stopped using the poppy then.  Realized just how far she and I’d fallen, watching them take away her body.  First little Bredwion, and then her.  Didn’t realize how much I truly loved them until they were both gone!”  Tears were streaking unnoticed down his face.

            “We’ve been told you had another to comfort you by your side that day.”

            “Oh, I admit that I was unfaithful to her, just as I’d been before to my first wife.  But I said goodbye to Elien that day, when I realized just how I’d managed to see my second marriage destroyed even worse than had been my first.  How could I manage to sink any lower?”

            “And does he speak the truth?” asked Nerwion of Hanalgor.

            Faradir stepped closer, and finally the erstwhile guardsman agreed, “Yes—it’s all true!”

            “And Vangil did not share in this enterprise?”

            “I have no idea as to Vangil’s business outside the village.  We only know he would slip us coin to allow him out of the village in the middle of the night every few weeks.  No one knows where he went or what he did.”

            “That doesn’t mean that Garestil wasn’t involved, though,” said the woman.  “Perthion still lied about going with him to Hevensgil!”

            One of the youths who took part in the lessons in tumbling and who’d been listening from the side wall pushed his way to the front.  “Perthion didn’t deliberately lie,” he insisted, his hands on his hips as he stared the woman down.  “He was mistaken as to when he joined us, and actually started the following week.  But he went with Garestil and the rest of us three times before Garestil was arrested.  And the rest of us weren’t lying when we said that Garestil went with us that week, just as the guardsman noted.  He’d just managed to juggle three balls that night and was so pleased about it!  We were all praising him for it!  Garestil went every week, no matter the weather, no matter whether he was well or ill.  He always went—never found reason to stay home.  Sometimes we only went because we knew he’d go whether we did or not.  It was only that when Master Fendril found that Perthion hadn’t been with us that week he made it appear that we were only lying to protect Garestil.  He certainly didn’t tell you that while the potter’s records showed that Perthion didn’t go that week, they still showed that Garestil and the other three of us did.

            “And while Carenthor was supposed to be killing three little boys, what he was really doing was caring for his brothers and catching that dratted dog of theirs and removing it from my garden!” added the neighbor to Carenthor’s family.

            “And after Danárion’s family returned from his aunt’s house, he spoke with me and my friend all evening,” added a girl.  “We live across the lane from one another, and the window to my room looks into the loft of his house.  We often speak across to one another.  And that was the only night that week that my friend could come visit me.”

            And the other girl’s mother admitted that she was right, although she added that if she’d known that her daughter would spend the evening talking to that Danárion she would have forbidden the visit entirely.

            “How about the stranger who was seen in the alehouse?” demanded someone.  “Could he have killed the children?”

            “It is possible, we must assume, although we still cannot rule out Nedron’s stepfather Vangil,” admitted Master Nerwion.  “Guardsman Duirnar?”

            One of the gate guardsmen that they’d not had dealings with before stepped forward.  “I was barman at the alehouse at the time, and I saw the stranger.  He was fairly young, no more than perhaps three and twenty, I’d deem; and not a Man of Gondor, although he was dressed in Gondorian garb of a style favored in Minas Tirith several years since.  He had the look of one who drinks too much to him, and did not look to have eaten properly for some time.  His arm was badly injured, as if he’d run into something that he’d managed to gouge into it.  His eyes were large with terror and misery when I saw him, and he’d just been thoroughly ill upon the floor in front of the bench in the privy.  He left this behind him.  I tried to give it to Hanalgor and Vendrion when they came to speak with me the following day, but they said it didn’t matter and told me to dispose of it.”

            He laid an eating knife before Nerwion, Erchirion, and Berevrion.  The latter took it up and turned it in his hands.  “Dunland manufacture,” he ruled it.  “It’s had many years’ use.”  He looked at the guardsman.  “Did he have hair of a rather muddy brown, and broad hands with blunt fingers?  These are fairly common to those from Dunland.”

            “Yes, that fits him well enough,” agreed the former barman.

            “When was he first seen in the privy?” asked Bariol.

            “Just about at sunset,” Duirnar said.  “I came back to speak with Hanalgor about him just as Master Rindor arrived to beg for help in finding his son.  It wasn’t until the following day, after they returned from seeing the bodies found and delivered to Master Avrandahil’s keeping, that I was able to speak at any length with anyone about it, and Hanalgor told me it was of no interest to him, not with three children dead, and just to dispose of the knife.”

            “And no one saw him leave the village?”

            “People were coming and going all that night, it seemed,” said the guardsman who’d spoken of Garestil’s return from Hevensgil and the midnight adventures of Master Rindor.  “But I never saw such a one go out once the gates were officially closed.”

            Duirnar cleared his throat, and ventured, “I suspect that he went over the wall.  The next morning I found evidence that someone had climbed upon that big rubbish bin that the saddler keeps by his shop and went over the place there where it is lower than the rest of the wall.  Whoever went out that way tore his clothing as he went out, for I found a ragged bit of a tunic the color of the one I saw on the stranger caught against the stone there.”

            “Considering, however, that the children were quite dead before their bodies went into the water in the ditch where they were found,” Berevrion said slowly, “I cannot think how this one could have killed the children, gotten their bodies to the woods and ditch, and then returned to the road and come into the village before the gates closed at sundown.  All who have spoken of the bodies as they were found indicated that the hair was quite clotted with blood, and that takes time to dry so well that it doesn’t soften up when exposed to water.”

            “But if he didn’t kill the children himself, that doesn’t mean that he didn’t see it done,” added Erchirion.  “But in such a case I doubt he was part of the assault—just one who accidentally stumbled upon the attacks and fled in terror.”

            “And if he indeed was originally from Dunland, he would not wish to stay here—not if he knew a murder had been committed nearby,” commented Anorgil.  “Considering how swiftly the generally despised Danárion was accused of the crime, think how likely it was that someone from Dunland would come under suspicion—plus, all say that he was a stranger.”

            There was a general rumble of agreement from the watchers.

            “So, that leaves Master Vangil,” said the baker.

            “Who died last night,” Master Erdonmar advised them.

            “We cannot prove this beyond a reasonable doubt,” Berevrion said.

            “He’s the only one we know who went out of the village more than once and who went out again long after everyone else was returned to the village,” someone pointed out.

            “What about that monster in the grazing commons?” demanded the woman who’d been insisting that the verdicts were just.  “Are we just going to allow it to stay there?”

            Master Nerwion raised his hand.  “First of all, it has never bothered any of us at all, and it was instrumental in saving Master Ormandor’s daughter Ioreth.  We have been assured both by the—Ent—itself and by Lord Berevrion that such creatures are particularly fond of children and will do all they can to protect them.  And certainly that was what it did last evening.  If it had not, we would never have realized that we have indeed such an—unusual—guest living near us!  To disturb it further could provoke a most unpleasant confrontation, and could leave our children without protection should any other see the children playing there as possible victims for any evil he might entertain in his heart.”

            “I am grateful to it!” declared the girl’s father, standing up in the back of the hall.  “I would ask it to summon more of its kind, should they choose to dwell among us.”

            Master Erdonmar suggested, “Seeing that it prefers to—sleep—where our children play, I would think that to allow it to continue to do so as long as it wishes would serve to the benefit of all.”

            There was a rumble of discussion, with what appeared to be a general decision that perhaps it might be best just to allow sleeping Father Trees to—stand where they pleased, and be grateful for their benevolent guardianship.

            At last Berevrion rose to his feet, and all focused their attention on him.  “From what we can tell so far, there was never any reason to consider Danárion of this village suspect in the killing of Gilmar, Bredwion, and Nedron except for the general perception that he was an unpleasantly outspoken individual with unusual expressions of curiosity for this region.  Hanalgor here has reluctantly admitted that the only reason why Garestil was questioned as he was was because he and Borongil believed that Garestil alone, of all the young people in the area, could be convinced to tell a story in which it appeared that there had been a witness to Danárion and Danárion’s friend Carenthor killing the children.  Neither of them had been able to find sufficient reason to consider anyone else a suspect in the murders, and believed that due to Danárion’s unpopularity no one would try too hard to see his honor cleared of this charge.

            “We have now several witnesses who have shown that Danárion went to his aunt’s house in company with his mother and sister.”

            “But he lied about what time he was there!” insisted the woman.  “Only guilty people lie!”

            “Have you ever considered that what you see as a lie does not give him an excuse for him to have been elsewhere at the time the children disappeared?” asked Berevrion.  “Think!  His mother, his sister, his aunt and her husband and their daughter and their neighbors all say, Danarion was here in the village, at their house, when the children went missing.  Only he says a different time, and what he says makes it more likely that he had occasion to be where he was said to be.  But he has reason to have been mistaken of the time.” 

            He nodded to the younger of the village healers, who nervously cleared his throat and explained about the draught he’d given the young Man for the cramping of the muscles in his arm.  “And I brought our record book for the time, with his signature indicating he’d accepted the draught,” he added, laying said tome upon the desk.  He pointed the entry out to Master Nerwion.  “See?  Right there—that’s where I noted what was done and for whom, and where he signed it.  And that draught could very well have made him uncertain—and uncaring—of a number of things for at least two to three marks after he accepted it.  If it was still light out when he and his mother and sister returned home, he could very likely not have been able to tell you when anything that evening happened.  Both poppy and hemp can have distinct effects upon the working of the mind.”

            Master Erdonmar produced a second volume.  “This is the inventory of our healing herbs, tinctures, and balms, and here, too, the record is noted that he withdrew so much poppy and hemp from our stores to make a draught for Danárion son of Targon for pain and cramps to the muscles.”  He laid the second book in front of Master Nerwion and opened it to a place already marked.

            Nerwion examined both books, checking pages preceding and following the entries in question, and announced to all present, “It is even as they say.”

            After a few moments to digest this, someone asked, “What will you do now?”

            “We will return now to Anwar by way of Hevensgil.  We wish to speak with Master Avrandahil regarding his findings on examining the bodies of the children, and we wish to confirm with the potter that Garestil indeed attended the tumbling practice that evening.  Hanalgor and Vendrion will be going with us, for they have much explaining they must do before Lord Benargil and charges of criminal negligence for seeking to implicate three innocent youths in the murders, and for actively convincing one to lie so as to give them reason to arrest the one they wished to place the blame upon and his friend.

            “As for the convictions against Danárion, Garestil, and Carenthor—it will be up to the Lord King himself to examine the case, assisted by the Lord Steward Faramir and their counselors, to decide for himself whether the three young Men are guilty or innocent, and whether or not he will reverse the convictions.”

            “Did Vangil kill my son, and the sons of the others?” asked Mistress Renalta.

            “We cannot say with any certainty, for the investigation at the time was flawed and incomplete.  We can say, however, that of those we have seen who might have killed the children, the strongest case to date that could be assembled would be that against him.  However, we cannot rule out the young stranger seen in the privy for the alehouse, or anyone who might have been passing by upon the Highway who saw the boys and their ponies in the field or upon the road.  We doubt, however, that the murders took place in the grazing commons—not with an Ent residing there; and we know it did not happen in the gully in the woods where the ditch lies—there should have been extensive indication of struggle and blood where the children did die, and that was not seen by any who saw the gully that day.”

            Erchirion added, “We still cannot say who killed the children, where they did so, why they did so, or even precisely when they did so.  We cannot even say how they did so, although it appears that it was most likely due to the repeated blows administered to the back of the heads of all three victims.  We hope to know more after we speak with Master Avrandahil.”

            She nodded, but it was plain she was not satisfied with what she’d learned.  “Then I, at least, will be following you to Anwar once Tevern returns from Amon Dîn.”

            “We hope to allow you to know with more certainty what happened when we arrive there, Mistress Renalta—you, your husband, Master Rindor, and Mistress Nessa and your families.”

 *

            An hour later they were on their way, Vendrion and Hanalgor seated in a wagon with their arms and feet bound, headed back eastward toward Hevensgil and Anwar.

 

Revelations in Hevensgil

            They’d not been on the road long before they were joined by Harolfileg, who had spent the preceding night in the grazing common in company with its resident Ent.  Berevrion greeted his arrival with, “Well, did the two of you speak at all?”

            Harolfileg admitted, “He woke again in the middle of the night, and we spoke some.  His name translates to Elmheart, and he’s not quite certain how long he’s remained in the grazing common, but suspects it was for much of the Third Age.  In his earlier days here he spoke at times with those who dwelt in the area, but in these latter days few have bothered to learn Sindarin, and he saw no reason to learn much Westron, although I suspect he understands far more than he will admit.  He rarely moves from where he usually stands, although he has been known to brew Ent draughts from time to time.  He was amused to learn that those who live in the region keep alive the stories of the father trees, and suspects that he himself is the basis for such tales.

            “He was interested to learn that Sauron was defeated as he was, and commented that it was well past time for that event.  He had a few comments to make about Isildur, and was glad his descendant learned from his forefather’s mistake.  He may decide eventually to return to Fangorn, but says he would miss the children greatly.  His memories of helping to raise Entings appear to be the reason he has dwelt so long apart from his own kind.

            “We spoke, and sang together, and watched the Sun rise before he again chose to sleep.”

            After a time of silence Berevrion advised him, “Anglor yet lives, and was conscious and aware ere we left.  He grieves that Vangil died as he did, although he is also relieved that he will not longer abuse his wife and daughter as he has.  And, yes, there was abuse toward his daughter, who has told Anglor that Nedron had intended to run away before he disappeared.”

            Harolfileg’s face grew remote.  “Men and their evils!” he exclaimed almost under his breath.

            “Fortunately there are far fewer among the Firstborn who would do such things,” agreed Berevrion, to which the Elf nodded stiffly.

            “I will scout ahead,” he said in a more carrying voice, and with but a shift of movement he was gone.  The Man was left watching after, knowing that even if there were but a handful of such Elves over the whole history of Arda, still it was enough to cause grief to one such as Harolfileg.

 *******

            They arrived at the gates of Hevensgil as the noon hour approached, and they were greeted formally by those who kept the gates, forewarned as they’d been by a messenger sent earlier in the day by Master Nerwion.  They allowed two women just returned from the river with yokes and buckets upon their shoulders to enter before them, and were led to the Master’s home where a luncheon awaited them.  This was an older Man than Master Nerwion, affable and curious, who questioned them during the meal primarily on the nature of their new King, and was it true that Lord Faramir not only continued as their Steward and the King’s first Counselor, but also had been named Prince of Ithilien?  Did he indeed already hold the friendship of their new King?  And was it true that he was now contracted to marry the niece of Théoden King, the Lady Éowyn, sister to Rohan’s new King Éomer?  Ah, but that would bode well for the fortunes of those within Anórien, for certainly there would be increased travel between Gondor and Rohan, which would mean increased trade for those who dwelt here.  And with both Mordor and Isengard in rubble, there would be far fewer raids on their farms and smallholdings as well; so much land that had lain idle for far too long would now be open for resettlement.  Ah, how he welcomed this new peace that had come just in time to allow him to enjoy it before he must in the end rest beside the bones of his wife, gone these eleven years past.

            The potter who taught tumbling arrived as the meal ended, bringing with him his record books for the lessons he gave to the youth of the region.  On seeing the twisted left leg, it was plain why this Man no longer served as a tumbler himself.

            “That?” he said, looking down on the leg as if he’d forgotten about it.  “Bad landing after a fall from a high rope.  Shouldn’t have done the walk, actually—it was much too windy that day.  But we’d promised to perform the rope walk, and I paid the price.  No real healer in the village where we were performing, and so the leg healed badly.  But my father had been a potter and saw to it I learned his trade, and there’s naught wrong with my arms, after all.  I can still juggle eight balls or clubs, however, and my son and I often demonstrate here within the village.”

            “And Garestil of Destrier was indeed one of your pupils?” asked Erchirion.

            “Oh, indeed, and most intent on learning the trade he was.”

            “I am surprised you would agree to teach him, considering he is reportedly not one who learns skills easily.”

            “That is true, but he made up for his lack of intelligence with diligence and persistence.  He might have to struggle to learn some of what I would teach him, but he would not stop until he mastered it.  But what made me keep him on as a pupil was his willingness to learn to fall.”

            “Learn to fall?  One must learn to fall?  It seems to me that what one must do is to learn not to fall!”

            The potter gave a small smile and shrugged his shoulders.  “Oh, falling is easy enough.  It is learning to fall in such a manner that you protect yourself from serious injury and are back up on your feet before the crowd realizes it was not intended that must be mastered.  It is the hardest lesson I must teach those who would become tumblers, for most think as you do.  But I assure you that in tumbling it is necessary to learn to fall properly before one can master standing on another’s hands or upon the rope walk.  And those lessons Garestil mastered long before his fellows.  Indeed, he is so good at falling he should be able to well serve as the troupe’s Wise Fool.  A good troupe always has a Wise Fool, who must clown for the crowd, who draws their attention from a missed throw or a poorly turned vault by another.  Garestil was not deterred by the laughter of others at what he did, not when he realized that he could purposely draw that laughter, and that with it came admiration for his skill.”

            He opened his books, and they saw that as they’d been told, Garestil son of Galdor had not missed a weekly lesson in just short of a year and a half.  “I took half of the fee for him that I usually ask,” the potter told them, “because of his poverty and because he was such a diligent student.  And because he would have made a most outstanding Wise Fool had he been able to continue his lessons.

            “But a fool he would indeed have proved himself had he truly taken part in the murders of those children.”

            “But the children were killed this evening,” indicated Berevrion, tapping the notations for that night two days before Midsummer a year previous.  “If he was here, studying with you, and walked home in company with the others as they and the gate guards for Destrier have said, then he could not have taken part in the murders of the children—not unless the others were involved as well.  But all agree that they returned home at their usual time, and that he was proudly proclaiming to all that he had managed to juggle three balls that day.”

            “As he did!  And far more swiftly than he learned to do two.  All of us were pleased.”

            “And you did not testify at the trial?”

            The Man’s face became grim.  “And how could I do so?  With Borongil and that gate guardsman—what was his name?  Hanargil?”

            “Hanalgor?”

            “Ah, yes, that was it.  Hanalgor.  What a vile creature he was.”

            “And what did he do?”

            “The two of them came, separately, and made it plain I was not to contact the lawyers who represented the three youths to tell them that Garestil was truly here with me that evening.  Hanalgor threatened to see to it my right leg became as twisted as my left….”

            Anorgil was noting this down, his expression grim.  And when he was done, the potter gladly provided his own report, which he’d obviously had prepared for quite some time, and signed both with a decided flourish.  “I went to Anwar to give this into the hands of the magistrate, a fellow named Enelmir.  But he refused to accept it, saying that since I had not testified in the trial I could not offer a written report after the fact and expect it to change the matter any.  But the jurors had not yet made their decision as to the verdict!  It might have changed everything!”

            This also Anorgil noted, and again the potter signed to indicate this was precisely how the matter had gone.

 *******

            The meeting with Avrandahil was nowhere as pleasant an interview.  He was a prissy figure, his nose appearing pinched and his mouth pursed.  “And I do not know why you would approach me,” he said.  “All I needed to say I said during the trial.”

            “We have read the transcripts of the trial and know what it is that you said,” Bariol explained.  “But we wished to know where it was that the blood pooled on the children’s bodies, and we understand that you made detailed pictures of the wounds you observed, and that you showed some of these.  As they are not described in the transcripts, we should like to see them.”

            “The blood was pooled primarily on the children’s backs, to the left side on the one boy’s body.  And I always make pictures of the wounds as they are to be seen upon the bodies I examine,” he said.  “My masters in Lossarnach felt that I was truly gifted in doing this and always praised me for it.  My mother was unhappy I must decide to become a healer—she felt my true gift was in art, and that I might become famous had I pursued that profession rather than healing.  But there is always a need for healers, while during times of war there are few with an interest to purchase paintings or drawings, particularly when most of their treasury must be spent in providing arms for those who would protect their lands and holdings.”

            Still, he required some coaxing before he went to the large room, which indeed appeared to be as much an artist’s studio as a surgery, to fetch the portfolios he’d prepared of his drawings regarding the case.

            He had not underrated his skill as an artist.  There were at the top of each picture four outlines of a body—front, back, left side, and right side, and an indication as to where the specific wound had been found.  The actual drawings he’d shown during the trial were together in one portfolio, each marked with the number given it to indicate which piece of evidence it had been designated.

            “I am surprised that you were allowed to retain possession of your drawings and paintings,” commented Anorgil as he looked at a picture of roughly parallel wounds that had been found on the buttocks of the child who’d lost the sacs for his seed.

            His pursed lips showed a hint of the satisfaction Avrandahil felt as he explained, “At Master Fendril’s urging, Master Enelmir has named me an officer of his court, and has declared my studio, surgery, and records room a part of the archives of Anwar.  Thus it is up to me to safeguard the pictures and reports I make for the use of the court.”

            Bariol, his brow furrowed, took the picture that Anorgil had been examining.  “Hmm,” he said as he held it close to scrutinize the detail.  “And this is just as you saw it when you examined the child’s body?”

            “Well, I must admit this is not the original.  When I prepare the pictures to be shown in the court I must make them bigger so that all can see, and I must sometimes—emphasize--those details that it is important that the judge or the jurors should pay the most attention to.”

            “And how do you make certain that they are as accurate as were the originals?” asked Bariol.

            “Here—let me show you.”  So saying, Avrandahil led them to a corner of his studio where a draughtsman’s table was set up, and on it an apparatus made of joined rods that had two scribers upon it, one with a smooth tip to it near where the artist would sit, and the other on the far side inset with a rod of graphite.  Under the smooth tip lay a picture of a woman’s face, with bruises and a split to her eyebrow.  On the other side, under the graphite stick, lay a much larger sheet of paper on which the general outline of her face had been reproduced and the placement of eyes, nose, and brows lightly sketched in, this picture half again as large as the original.

            “This woman was visiting a farm near here, and went into the stable where the master’s racing horse was kept.  The horse proved skittish, and kicked at her, striking her in the brow and causing the injuries you see here.  She intends to sue the master of the farm for the injuries she has suffered, and the picture must be larger so that the judge and jurors can see it properly without it needing to be handled over much.  The farmer has insisted that a jury be employed, you see.  I suspect that he believes they will be more sympathetic to his situation than Master Enelmir alone might prove. 

            “You see how the original is kept unmoving by this frame, and how the same is done here for the copy?  I have only to move the scriber here over the original, and it moves the graphite stick there over the larger sheet, and it is as exact a copy as I can make it and yet have it larger than the original.  By lengthening or shortening these rods here and changing the length of these crosspieces and adjusting the pivot point by placing it in one of these holes set upon the diagonal, I can make the copies as much larger as the table is able to hold.  Or I can turn it around to reduce the size of the copies.  Do you understand how it works?”

            “I do believe I understand,” Bariol said.  “Ingenious.”

            “I am told such an apparatus was designed first in Hinya, which is said to be a land far to the east and south of Gondor, east and south even of Khand.  Traders brought back a prototype to Gondor some twenty years ago, and there are a few such as I am who have had them made for our use.”

            “And the original is in the other files you showed us, then?” Bariol asked, holding up the picture of the parallel wounds, intent apparently on pursuing his previous question.  “I should like to see it to compare.”

            “Oh, yes.  Let me see this one and I will be able to find it directly.”  Avrandahil turned the picture over and looked at a designation he’d written there.  “Victim three, buttocks, picture five.”  He returned the picture and led the way back to where the other portfolios were, locating the file for victim three and opening it.

            “The colors are excellent,” Bariol commented while Avrandahil was finding the original.

            “Yes—Master Fendril has made a point of seeing me provided with the best materials for reproducing the colors actually seen in the wounds.  I must make my own paints, of course.  I prefer to use an egg tempera as a base, and grind my own pigments.  Ah, here it is.”  He drew forth a picture and set it on the nearby table. 

Bariol leaned over it.  “Hmm,” he said again.  “The blood you indicate here you don’t show at all on the original.”

            “Master Fendril wished for the jury to be aware of how serious the wound was, so he asked me to add some blood.”

            Anorgil now leaned in and looked at the two depictions of the same wounds, then up to shake his head toward the battle surgeon.  He took both pictures and handed them to Harolfileg to consider.  “Most interesting indeed.  And did he suggest that you make them more clearly straight compared to one another, also?” he asked.

            “Well, yes,” admitted the local healer.  “He felt it would make it easier for the jurors to see each one.”

            “And he also suggested to the jurors that the wounds were caused by that combination of knife and scaling tool that was found in the duck pond near the one youth’s house, did he not?”

            “Well, yes, he did.”

            “Do you believe that that tool was used to cause these wounds?”

            Avrandahil’s face grew closed.  “It is not up to me to indicate what might or might not have caused each wound.  I am asked merely to report on the state of the bodies and the nature of the wounds I see, and to prepare my pictures of the wounds for use by the court.”

            “So,” Bariol said delicately, “it is up to Master Fendril rather than to you to decide whether that set of wounds was due to animal claws or the points of a scaling tool?  I feel confused—he is a lawyer, and you are the one trained as a healer, are you not?”

            Harolfileg’s face had that particularly closed set to it that Berevrion had by now learned indicated that he had a far different view of matters than what had been presented by others.  He met Berevrion’s eyes levelly, glanced meaningfully at the pair of pictures as he handed them to the northern lord, and turned to looking through one of the other files.  He paused with one picture partially withdrawn, then pulled it out further.  “What is this?” he asked.

            Avrandahil peered at it.  “Impressions found on the upper thigh of one of the victims.”

            “I do not remember these mentioned in the trial.”

            “They had nothing to do with how the child died.  But I am charged to record all unusual signs to be found upon the bodies of those I examine, and this was definitely an unusual sign.”

            Harolfileg held it out to show Berevrion.  It appeared that the leg had been lying against something round, like a narrow pole or rod, with a pattern of rings about it.  Something about the image tugged at Berevrion’s memories, but he could not think what it was that it reminded him of.

            Anorgil reached out to take the pictures from Berevrion.  “I would wish to have a healer I know to examine these pictures and all reports you have made, one who knows little about the case and who has no preconceptions about what these might show.  Lord Berevrion, you have the King’s own warrant, do you not, to take all files that might appertain to the case for another appointed by the King to examine?”

            Berevrion carefully suppressed a smile.  “Indeed I do.  And I, too, would wish that the best healer I am aware of should examine these.  Unfortunately Master Elrond is not here, but we do have a healer trained by him now dwelling in Minas Tirith.  It is only too bad that Lords Elrohir and Elladan will be gone by the time we return—they have had a very long time indeed to study under Master Elrond, after all.”

            Anorgil appeared surprised.  “There is another healer trained as I’ve been told the Peredhil have been now dwelling in Minas Tirith?  I’d thought to speak with one of those in the employ of the Houses of Healing.”

            But Bariol was definitely smiling.  “Oh, yes—the fosterling!  He was very well trained by Master Elrond, from what I can see, and will appreciate fully well what is shown in these pictures and what might be learned from Master Avrandahil’s reports.”

            “And who is this Master Elrond, and what training has he had?” demanded Avrandahil.

            Berevrion explained, “Master Elrond Peredhel is the greatest healer at this time in, perhaps, all of Middle Earth, and copies of his works on healing are studied in Minas Tirith and Dol Amroth as well as throughout the North.  He has dwelt for most of his life in the northern lands, and his home in Eriador is considered the greatest seat of learning there is available east of the Sea.  All healers among the Dúnedain of Arnor have studied under him; and his greatest student among the Men of the North is his former fosterling, who as I said dwells now in Minas Tirith.  As for who trained Master Elrond himself—I understand that he began his studies under those of the Noldor who learned their skills from the Lady Estë in Aman, and was given additional training by those who followed Lord Eonwë to fight in the War of Wrath.  He has certainly had time and time again in which to further his studies and write down all that he is willing to share with other healers.”

            “The War of Wrath?” demanded Avrandahil.  “But that is the stuff of legends!”

            “As is Master Elrond himself,” agreed Berevrion.  “You see, he is the son of Eärendil and Elwing, and own brother to Elros Tar-Minyatur, the founding King of Númenor, of whom Elendil the Tall was a direct descendant.  He chose to live in accordance with the fate of Elves while his brother chose to number himself among Men.  He has never sought the Havens, or at least not until now, now that his second greatest foe is at last destroyed.  But one he fostered and trained to be a healer now serves the reunited Kingdoms in Minas Tirith.  And I would have him see these and hear what you have to say.  As the King has directed in his warrant, I now take these files into my custody to take to the King’s presence for perusal by the healer trained by Master Elrond Peredhel.  And I direct that you are to present yourself first for examination in Anwar tomorrow afternoon at the seventh hour, and then to the chief herald for the Citadel for a questioning to take place a week from today.  Do you understand?”  He produced the King’s warrant from his scrip, and allowed the healer of Hevensgil to read it, indicating the addendum made by Lord Daerloth of Amon Dîn, whose sigil Avrandahil clearly recognized.

            Anorgil had been looking through certain papers he had in the personal satchel he’d carried with him throughout all of his sojourns, and at last paused, a slight smile on his face.  “Aha—here.  Lord Berevrion, I would wish still another group of pictures and records found—those involving the case of Dorndrol and Drevendor, in which a trader was slain and another accused of his murder.”

            “That has nothing to do with this case!” objected Avrandahil.

            “Perhaps not, but it does have to do with certain matters we are pursuing regarding Master Fendril,” Anorgil explained, his eyes on those of the northern lord.

            Berevrion nodded slowly.  “So be it.  Master Anorgil, will you aid Master Avrandahil to find these files?  I would wish to take all of them with me.  Faradir!  Summon a guardsman if you please—the room in which Master Avrandahil keeps his files and pictures is to be sealed once the desired files are found, and kept sealed awaiting the King’s pleasure.”

            Faradir saluted and went out; and Avrandahil, with the unwanted aid of the law clerk, gathered still another set of files for Berevrion to take.

            With a large sheet of paper from Avrandahil’s own store, the various files were gathered into a parcel, and the whole was sealed officially by Berevrion as the King’s deputy.  Once the desired guardsman was come, they returned to Avrandahil’s living quarters to await word that all was closed and made inviolate as directed by Lord Berevrion.

            Erchirion glanced about at the paintings that decorated the walls, many of them depicting the banks of the river to be seen in the distance.  “I do not understand—you tell us that you have been named an officer of Master Enelmir’s court in Anwar.  So why do you dwell here in Hevensgil?”

            “It is the river—when I saw this house and the view of the river from its windows and grounds, I knew I must have it for my own.”

            “You made these pictures, then?” Erchirion asked, pointing to a painting of a turtle sunning itself in the shallows.

            “Yes.  I love water views and the creatures that dwell by the river, you see.”

            “Your skill is indeed excellent, Master Avrandahil.  Your mother was right, I think, to encourage you to pursue your art first.”

            “Perhaps you are correct.  I am, I suppose, an adequate healer; but I do find that it is my art that is my first love.”

            “Sometimes the first love is not only the sweetest, but also the one for which we are truly best suited,” commented Erchirion.

            Avrandahil gave no sign he read the irony in Erchirion’s tones.

 *******

            As they returned to the Master’s house, the Swan Knight carrying the bulky package containing the various paintings, drawings, and reports that had been confiscated at Berevrion’s order, Bariol asked Anorgil, “Why do you want these pictures and reports from this other murder?”

            “It is Master Fendril who has been guiding Avrandahil’s hand in preparing his copies of the pictures used in the trials, and from what I could tell by the way you and Harolfileg reacted to the pictures of the wounds on the child’s buttocks, it is obvious that there was a serious purpose to them having been altered.”

            Bariol shrugged.  “The way in which they were drawn originally, it is plain that the wounds are scratches from an animal’s claws.  They are not truly parallel or evenly spaced, and it can be seen where the claws separated more and where they came closer together as the animal scratched the child.  But in the copy they are straighter, and the spacing regular.  And blood was added, attempting to make it appear the child was bleeding when the scratches were made.  In the original it is apparent that there might be some seeping of blood from the deeper wounds, but the scratches from the animals claws were not bleeding, which indicates the child was long dead when the scratches were made.”

            Harolfileg continued the explanation.  “And the picture of the impressions found on the one child’s thigh—it shows that the child, as he lay dying, lay with that leg pressed against some item that was rounded and had raised rings about it, something that Guardsman Vendrion ought to have found under the child’s body when he crawled through the ditch searching for bodies, clothing, and weapons, but that he never found there.  Again, this is proof the child did not die in the ditch, and most likely not particularly close to where they were found.  That kind of impression cannot be truly made after the child is properly dead, and will begin to distort and smooth out if the child’s heart continues beating.  He has to have died while his leg was pressed against the item.”  The Elf’s face was very stern.  “And the fact that the blood had pooled on their backs indicated that shortly after they died they were all laid upon their backs for some time before they were brought to the ditch—I would say at least three hours for it to begin to fix there.  There would have been some settling after that time to be seen perhaps upon their faces and chests and the forepart of their legs; but it is where they lie the longest immediately after death that shows how they lay then, and that they were moved.”

            “Yet Master Fendril would have it that the children were alive all through the attacks on them, and that only when they were newly dead or dying were they introduced into the ditch,” Berevrion concluded.  “So, he must have the pictures altered to fit with the tale he would tell in court, knowing that they do not match what was wrested from Garestil.”

            He looked to meet Anorgil’s eyes.  “You think he might have done similarly in this other case?” he asked.

            “Again, it was originally thought to be a simple murder in order to take the merchant’s goods, only Fendril would have it be someone alarmed to find this merchant was importing pagan images.  Again, we have this move to make of an evil act one that is far more sinister and that involves claims of worship of Sauron.”

            Anorgil shook his head.  “Sufficient to the day is the evil thereof; but those who seek worshippers of Sauron everywhere themselves cause more evil than do simple thieves and murderers!  Fendril did much the same in this case also, you will remember---when the family of the accused tried to say, No, he was with us at the time the Man was killed, and so could not have done this, he waved it away as merely those who know and care for the accused lying to seek to protect him from his just due.”

            “And if we find that in this case a similar pattern to what we have seen in the case presented against Danárion, Carenthor, and Garestil was practiced, it shows that he is indeed corrupt,” concluded Erchirion.

            “Even so, my lord,” Anorgil agreed.

            “So, it will be at least two cases we present to Aragorn,” Berevrion said.  “And with Avrandahil’s records room sealed, we will be able to search for more cases with no fear of files being destroyed should the King agree with us that Fendril has been more interested in hunting worshippers of Sauron than in pursuing true justice in this region of Anórien.”

            Wendthor was waiting with those who were going back to Anwar with the deputation, sitting near the wagons where Vendrion and Hanalgor were sweating in their bonds.  He was slapping the tally stick into his palm as he’d taken to doing—and it suddenly struck Berevrion what it was that one picture reminded him of.  “Orc spit!” he suddenly exclaimed, looking back at the Swan Knight carrying the parcel he’d sealed.

            “What is it?” Erchirion asked, alarmed.

            “The picture of the impression that Harolfileg says had to have been made while the one child lay dying—I need it!”

            “I have it, and the original of the one showing the claw marks,” Anorgil said, unshouldering his bag.

            “Wendthor—you haven’t altered any of the cords on the tally stick, have you?”

            “No, my lord.  Why?”

            “Give it to me!”

            In moments they were all leaning over the picture done by Avrandahil and comparing it to the tally stick.

            “That’s this!” said Wendthor.

            Berevrion looked up.  “Well, it appears that we may now know where the children died,” he said.

 *******

            While the wagon and those from Destrier went on toward Anwar under the supervision of Erchirion’s Swan Knight, Mistress Lyrien, her father, and Master Gilflorin going with them, the deputation and Wendthor rode back to the ruined byre.  “I found the tally stick here,” he said, showing a place where the mould of leaves had obviously been disturbed recently.  “It was lying like—this,” and he set said object where he’d found it.

            Harolfileg appeared uncomfortable, but was apparently using all of his senses on the ruined structure.  “There have been a number of people through here,” he said.  “It has been used by many travelers since the farm was destroyed.  And some of them wished to remain hidden.  And not all were wholly Men.”

            “Saruman’s Uruk-hai and half-orcs, think you?” asked Berevrion.

            “Possibly.”

            Erchirion nodded slowly.  “They said that the ponies were not pushed into the canal, but picked up bodily and cast in.  A Uruk could possibly do that where no Man could.”

            Wendthor led them out and pointed.  “The track I followed came through there, past the woodlot, and meets the wagon track some rods that way.  Faradir walked the whole way along the track out to the Highway and back to here, and I was here some time before he joined me.”

            One last time they entered the ruined byre, and the Elf knelt near where the tally stick still lay, then moved his hand over the floor.  There were a few tumbled stones fallen from the wall, and one----

            “This was used to strike the children,” he said simply.  It was not rounded as were most of those in the wall, but flattened.

            “It was used in the floor of the place,” Berevrion noted, and after a few minutes’ search Erchirion found where it had come from in the nearby stall.  And Harolfileg had found a place on the wall where a rough stone still was darkened with old blood.

            “They merely happened upon where perhaps an agent of Sauron or Saruman was hiding himself during the time when people were likely to pass along the road,” Berevrion said, “and he slew them that they not be able to tell anyone else that a possible spy had been there.”

            “And he hid the bodies that the hue and cry not go up ere he could get himself far away,” suggested Erchirion.

            “I suspect you have the right of it,” Anorgil agreed.  “But who will believe it?”

            “Not those who wish to believe we Elves are somehow agents of the very Enemy we all fought,” Harolfileg said bitterly.  “Nay, they would rather believe in the fantastical and bizarre rather than that something as mundane as a spy managed to pass by them upon the road after killing three small children.”

            Wendthor asked, “But why were the children here?”

            Bariol sighed.  “Nedron’s sister told her uncle that Nedron had planned to run away.”

            It was as they left the byre the second time that they spotted the rough cloth bag lying flattened against the outside of the ruined structure, where it apparently had been kicked in the struggle to get the children all under control.  It had obviously been lying there for quite some time, and some grasses had begun thrusting their roots through its dark, earth-colored fibers.  Inside were some children’s clothes—two cottes, a shirt, some small clothes, extra stockings, a sturdy pair of trews, all such as the children of Destrier had worn, all gnawed upon by mice and insects.  Besides indications of some rotted food and a kit for a strike-a-light, a small eating knife, and tin mug, there was a stained picture in a frame of what appeared to be Nedron’s mother and a baby, perhaps Nedron himself or his sister Mardeth.  Whoever had done the picture had shown some skill.

            “Look,” said Wendthor, pointing to the signature identifying the artist.

            The picture had been apparently done by—Carenthor.

 

To Meet Those Accused

            “Lord Berevrion is not with you?” asked Lord Benargil of the Swan Knight, who appeared to be the only member of the deputation sent by the King who’d returned with those newly come from Destrier by way of Hevensgil.

            “He and the others found information in Hevensgil that led them to believe they now might know where it was that the children actually died,” Lord Erchirion’s guard told him.  “They will be following directly.”

            “But what if enemies attack them along the way?  And Lord Erchirion without his proper escort….”

            “Oh, do not think, my lord, that Lord Erchirion will make an easy target for anyone.  I have fought beside him, even as I have by the sides of Lord Berevrion and Master Faradir.  All of them are consummate swordsmen.  I think the only ones I have seen who are better would be Lord Faramir, his late brother Lord Boromir, and the King himself, unless you are willing to consider the King’s Elven brothers, who could constitute an entire battalion of themselves.  If they are an example of Elven martial skills, I must say I would never wish to face an entire army of Elven warriors.”

            “And my son----”

            “You need have no fear on his part.  Lord Wendthor has excellent company who will add to his own defense.  He has proved himself both wise and politic during this journey, and most observant.  All are well pleased with him.”  The guard turned to Master Caraftion, who waited nearby.  “Will you attend upon Lords Erchirion and Berevrion after the morning meal, sir?  I believe they wish to discuss with you what was learned at the healer’s house in Hevensgil.”

            The Lord of Anwar found himself wondering if he should be relieved or additionally concerned by this attempt to reassure him.

            The deputation itself arrived better than an hour after the rest of the party that was supposed to have accompanied it from Destrier, and there was an odd sort of satisfaction to be seen on the faces of its members, although what they had learned they would not reveal to any others.  Wendthor was greeted with joy by his sister and mother, but although they begged him to tell them everything, he managed to put them off.  “It has proved far too complicated to explain easily,” he told them.  “I had thought perhaps it was a matter of all working together to make it appear that Danárion of Destrier was guilty of this crime, but instead it appears to have been more of a series of individuals who did this, each for his own reasons.  Many of their reasons appear to have been much the same; but still they did not precisely act in concert.”

            “Then you do not believe that he is guilty?” asked Lady Marien.

            “It is not so much that I do not believe it as that I know it not to be true,” he said.  “But those who want it to be true even though in their hearts they must know it isn’t are so insistent it must be so that it is hard to think what it is that must be done to convince them to allow reason rather than desire to rule their thinking.”

            Benargil watched after his son with his brow furrowed as the youth went up to bathe and prepare for the evening meal.  There appeared to be a new steadiness in the boy that he ought to have rejoiced to see, but he found himself instead lamenting in his heart that he had not been the one to instill that into him.

            And then the meal must be delayed when it proved that Lord Berevrion was insistent on going to the inn where those who had come with them from Destrier were to stay the night to provide for their expenses.  “They are here only because I have upset their plans and understandings,” he explained.  “My Lord Kinsman provided me with sufficient funds to ease the stress of our presence as much as possible, and I feel honor-bound to see them housed and fed at least for the one night.”

            Benargil found himself frustrated that by seeking to be courteous to these commoners from Destrier, his guest was managing to further inconvenience his household.  Marien bade him to calm down and rejoice to think that these would be gone again the sooner back to the King’s presence, and Dalrieth sighed, and set what she’d prepared back in the warming ovens to await Lord Berevrion’s return.

*******

            The innkeeper was surprised when the northern lord approached him to settle the bills for his guests from Destrier.  “I am the King’s emissary here,” the northerner explained.  “And as I am upon his business and it has inadvertently involved these, I would see to their needs for tonight, at the very least.  And I ask that if any has already paid that you return to them their fees ere they leave.”

            The innkeeper felt disappointment.  Indeed three parties had already paid him, and it would have been a pleasant thing to perhaps double some of his profits; but when he saw that Lord Berevrion was granting him a bonus for allowing him to provide for these guests he felt much mollified, even to the point of assuring the foreign lord that not only would this provide for their rooms and meals tonight, but that the innkeeper himself would be pleased to give them all a good meal in the morning at no additional cost, and of course he would see all who had paid reimbursed.  With a nod, Lord Berevrion thanked him, having seen the hint of avarice already gone from the Man’s eye.

            He was going toward the door when a voice halted him.  “Do you check to see that we are all safely in our beds, my lord?”

            Berevrion turned to find that the couple from Destrier who had attended the trials before and who had insisted that the convictions were just now stood at the foot of the stairs that led to the guestrooms, eyeing him with distaste.  They had shown up at the stables this morning with their own horses and included themselves in the party of those who were to travel to Anwar with no explanations or by your leaves.  Why they felt it necessary to follow this case to its full end he had no idea.  They did not appear to be related to either the victims or the three youths who had been unjustly accused and convicted of the murders.  Nor did they seem to have aught to do with Vendrion or Hanalgor or to any who had spoken out regarding the true doings of the various characters in this double tragedy.  “I came merely to assure myself that all who are come from Destrier are adequately housed for the night,” he told them.

            “Good, for you have definitely inconvenienced us,” the husband responded.  “Here we had been satisfied that justice has been done on the part of those poor children, and now you are intent on freeing killers of infants!”

            Berevrion turned toward them fully.  “That is how you see it, that I am supposedly offering unwarranted support and comfort to child murderers?  Have you not thought that by insisting that unjust rulings are somehow right and proper anyway that it is you who are allowing a child murderer to truly get away with his crime, allowing him to remain free to perhaps kill again?  And exactly how have I inconvenienced you?  Are you kinsmen to the murdered children to feel it necessary to see vengeance done on their behalf?”

            “No, they are none of ours.”

            “Have you been the target for the scorn of the youth Danárion?  Has he chastised you for your narrow minds or lack of compassion?”

            The woman’s face was white with perceived offense.  “What have we to do with the likes of that Danárion?” she demanded.  “He is a thief and a defiler of maidens----”

            “Are you then kinsmen to the farmer Beslor, intent on seeing the honor of his daughter defended after she and Danárion sought to elope together to Rohan?”

            The husband drew himself up haughtily.  “I am an artisan, one who crafts fine cabinetry.  I have nothing to do with those who must grub in the dirt to make their living!”

            The anger Berevrion felt was carefully contained.  “If it were not for those who grub in the dirt, as you put it, there would be no food for you to purchase to store in those fine cabinets you craft,” he said cuttingly.  “And know this—one of the Cormacolindor whose deadly journey through Mordor resulted in the utter defeat of the great Enemy, has always made his living as a gardener.  He has ever been proud of the dirt beneath his fingernails, and his Master, whom he accompanied as the Ringbearer, is justly proud to think of him as his friend.  So, you are no kin to the three children and thus not to their families, either.  You are offended that Danárion sought to elope with Master Beslor’s daughter, but put all the blame upon him, although I have been told that it was she who prevailed upon him to go with her to Rohan.  Danárion has not offered you any offense that you have acknowledged, and although you have called him a thief, you have not shown that he stole from you.”

            “He stole from the marketplace—all know that,” the Man spat at him.

            “He did?  When?  Did you see him do it?”

            “Well, no!  Why should we pay attention to the likes of him?”

            “That is indeed a question that fills my mind at the moment.  He took bread from the baker’s discard bin with the permission of the baker.  He was found with an apple in his hand when a crate of apples went missing, but we have been told that his aunt gave him the one apple he was found with, and we know that former Captain Borongil and Guardsman Hanalgor, who spent as much time in the market as at the gates to the village, were stealing food to smuggle out of Gondor, if not to Gondor’s enemies, at least to enemies of her ally, Rohan.  So, again, why do you feel it important that he remain guilty of this crime when the evidence shows that the murders did not happen as was represented?”

            “He was an offense to the senses!” insisted the wife.  “With his black clothing and his hair cut in a defiant manner, and his talk of wishing to meet with Elves and to speak with trees and to learn about spirits!”

            “You have heard him talk of this?”

            “Our daughter told us about him—she met him when they attended the free school together.”

            “At last, a thing you have done I can at least respect, that you allowed your daughter to learn to read and write.”

            “We would not have her unable to help keep the books for her husband’s business when at last she marries,” the husband said.

            Berevrion suppressed a sigh of frustration.  “Again, why is it important to you that he must continue to be held guilty?”

            “But he was arrested!”

            “So, he was arrested?  Does merely being arrested prove guilt?”

            “And he was charged!”

            “Does being charged prove guilt, particularly when it has been shown that those who said they saw him walking away from the place where the bodies were found have been shown to have lied about it?”

            “We don’t know that!”

            “But Mistress Anhildë and her daughter have admitted they lied about seeing them in the field on that night, and her husband has said publicly that his wife is given to inventing stories that make it appear she knows or has done what she has not, and that his daughter is in the habit of supporting her mother’s lies.  I sent tall Men walking through that field where it was said Danárion was seen walking with the maiden Argilien, and we standing where Medril’s wife and daughter had told us they had stood could not identify who it was we glimpsed past the trees and the bushes.”

            “But the guardsmen and the constables—they would not lie about this!”

            “Even when the guardsmen involved have been shown to be liars, when they have been proved corrupt?”  Berevrion placed his hands on his hips and allowed his scorn to be seen.  “It appears that you are less interested in learning the truth than in maintaining things as they are, and to Mordor with indications that injustice was done to all.  You would rather that the youth with the odd cut to his hair and the black clothes, the one whose father proved a drunkard and abusive and who reduced his family to living in poverty, and whose stepfather disappeared to a fate unknown, go to the rope rather than face the possibility that perhaps, just perhaps, someone else killed those children and has so far evaded justice?  Just what does this say about you?”

            With that he turned away and went out, wishing to be shut of them and all indications of small-mindedness for the rest of the evening.

 *******

            “You are very quiet, my Lord Berevrion,” Benargil said to his guest once all were seated for the evening meal.

            Berevrion looked up from his plate, which he’d been looking at but not really seeing.  “Am I?  I do beg your pardon.  It is only that I find myself fully appreciating how it is that Master Harolfileg often finds the doings of Men to be too oft perverse and without logic.  I was berated this evening for seeking to uncover the truth of this case, in spite of it being the King’s own will I act upon.”

            “And who has done this?” Benargil demanded.

            Wendthor looked upon the northern lord with a rather jaded expression.  “That husband and wife from Destrier who kept insisting that because Danárion, Garestil, and Carenthor were charged and convicted that they could not be nevertheless innocent, I must assume?  They were holding forth on that subject to those who accompanied us all of the way to Hevensgil.”

            “Yes, it was they.”  Berevrion rubbed his eyes and pinched the bridge of his nose.  “Now they were claiming that we cannot say that Danárion and Argilien were not seen walking away from the ditch where the bodies were found.”

            Wendthor pushed away his plate.  “What?  After going out into that field myself and peering across the canal to try to see those of you who were on Master Medril’s land, I know that there is no way in which Mistress Anhildë or her daughter could have seen what they said!  And there was the matter of the two of them confessing they’d actually made it up!”

            “What is this?” asked Benargil.  “But they gave testimony in the trial!”

            “Not all of the testimony given in the trial was accurate,” Erchirion said, his tone acid.  “We were all about eaten alive by gnats, midges, and mosquitoes as we learned the true nature of woods and gully and ditch and fields.  Yes, Farmer Medril’s family saw the youth and maiden walking together, and the maiden was indeed garbed, apparently, as they described her.  But, the two of them were seen by the family on Midsummer Eve itself, and in her father’s fields, not those opposite Medril’s farm on the night the children went missing.  Master Medril’s wife is in the habit of involving herself in all notable happenings in the area by naming herself as having been there or seen something to do with it, or so her husband has told us before the entire village.”

            “But did the guardsmen and constables not go forth to test the matter before the trials?” Benargil demanded, his voice bewildered.

            “If they did, they must have decided not to speak to the matter before the jury,” Berevrion answered him.  He looked about.  “Master Enelmir is not here?”

            “He went two days ago to Amon Dîn to speak with Master Fendril.  The two of them are to return tomorrow.  And his mother was not feeling particularly well, and so chose to eat in her rooms.”

            Bilstred blinked.  “I will make a point of visiting her after dinner, then,” he said.  “Is it her chest again?”

            “Yes.”

            “Did you have a good visit with your uncle, Lyrien?” asked Lady Marien.

            “Yes, Father and I both enjoyed it, I think,” Lyrien said.

            “I must say that that gown much becomes you, child.”

            “Does it?”  Lyrien actually blushed, an event Berevrion had not witnessed before.  He caught the quick glance she cast at Anorgil, and realized that the law clerk had been looking at her with frank admiration.  Her expression had softened since their arrival here in Anórien, he noted.  Well, so much the better should even more good come from this visit to Anwar.  She then deliberately turned to Anorgil to ask. “And what was it you learned from Master Avrandahil?”

            “First, that he is marvelously skilled as an artist, and that he has made excellent use of an apparatus to reproduce some of his pictures of damage to the bodies of those he examines so as to make those pictures large enough to show in court.  And that he will sometimes respond to requests made by Master Fendril to—emphasize--the details of his pictures to make certain judge and juries see what he would have them see.”

            Berevrion noted further signs of uncertainty on their host’s face, and knew he must realize there was a reason for the particular emphasis Anorgil had given his words.

            Belrieth turned to her brother.  “We still want to know why you didn’t come home with the others who came from Destrier.  Where did you go when the others left from Hevensgil?”

            Wendthor gave Lord Berevrion an enquiring look, as if trying to ascertain just how much he should tell.  At last he said, “While the deputation was meeting with Master Avrandahil they found one drawing he did that he did not understand, merely recorded, that gave us information that we had been seeking.  We went to verify if indeed what we believe happened might have been done.”

            “And did you find proof?”

            “Not of all, but enough.”

            Benargil asked, “What is this about you not believing that the children died where their bodies were found?”

            Wendthor explained, “There was no indication found of the struggle that the youth Garestil was brought to say in what they have called a confession, Father.  He had said that the three youths saw the children arrive on their ponies, but then he said that he did not really see the ponies or what became of them, for he was standing behind Carenthor and Danárion, and the ponies were left way over there, on the other side of them.  He said that for no reason Carenthor and Danárion then took possession of the children and began beating upon them with their fists, lifting them up and laying them down, sitting upon them and holding their legs in the air.  It was obvious that none of them was still, Father; so how could it be that no signs of struggle could be found?  We learned that a goodly number of people went through that wooded area and walked along the narrow path that follows the top of the gully on the south side, but none saw anything until the early afternoon when at last a shoe was loosened from the mud and floated to the top, and so was seen by the guardsman Vendrion, apparently taking his own turn searching there.

            “Garestil said also that Carenthor produced a knife, and described it as one where the blade folded into the handle, one intended to be carried in a pocket or a scrip.  He said that Carenthor swung it at one child’s bottom, and that he cut the boy at the bottom, and says that there was a good deal of blood.  Yet they found no extensive areas of blood such as he described.  And then in the trials they brought out not a knife such as he actually described, but one with a fixed blade intended to be used by fishermen!  And there is no way that that knife could be used as he described!”

            “So, then, where was it that the children did die?”

            “Some distance away.”

            “And how do you know this?”

            Wendthor’s eyes were filled with a solemn sadness as he explained, “We found certain signs, and the bag the child Nedron had packed in order to run away.”

            Benargil’s eyes widened with shock.  “Run away?  What is this about the boy wishing to run away?”

            “If you had known the violence and hatred the child knew from his stepfather, you, too, would have wished to run away, Father.”

            “Did this Man kill the children, then?”

            Wendthor dropped his gaze to his plate.  “It is possible, I suppose.”

            “Then make him confess if he did so!”

            “We cannot—he is now dead.”  Wendthor’s eyes had again met those of his sire.  “He died after he sought to kill his wife’s brother.  He left the Man wounded, perhaps mortally, although he yet survived when we left the village this morning.  He fled the village and was seeking to cross the grazing commons where the village’s children exercise their ponies and play along the banks of a stream and the canal.  But Lords Erchirion and Berevrion and Lord Erchirion’s guardsman were in pursuit, so he sought to take a child as a hostage and win his freedom at the possible expense of her life.  But—someone—objected to that, and grabbed him from behind, and in his surprise he let the girl go, and the one who’d taken him in hand accidentally dealt him his death.”

            “And you have taken this one in charge?” Benargil demanded.

            “Why would we do that?” asked Wendthor.  “He sought only to protect the girl that Vangil had threatened to harm.  And he is not the sort one can hold in a gaol or a prison.”

            “We will be disclosing this tomorrow afternoon,” Berevrion interrupted.  “In the morning I wish to meet with the three youths and to speak with them with Mistress Lyrien and Anorgil present to note what is said.  After the noon meal we will hold a formal hearing in the Hall of the People where all that we have learned will be revealed.

            “We will then take the three youths and what evidence we have found back to Minas Tirith.  Considering all that we have learned, I believe that it would be to the benefit of all to have the King himself make the final judgment in this case.”

            “And you will be advising him to reverse the convictions?”

            “I have already sent a report to him by the messenger you sent on to Destrier two days past; but I will advise him of nothing.  I do ask that you accompany us, my Lord Benargil, and learn the nature of our new King.”

            “I understand that he has named Lord Faramir not only his Steward in his lord father’s place, but also Prince of Ithilien,” Benargil said.

            Berevrion smiled.  “It is very like Aragorn to do such a thing.  I have already seen a swift friendship rising up between my Lord Kinsman and Lord Faramir, even as appears to be true between Aragorn and Éomer of Rohan.  Ever are individuals of integrity drawn to him, or so we have found in the North.  Certainly there appears to be a deep respect between him and the others who were part of the Fellowship of the Ring.”

            Berevrion took another bite of the fowl that had been served, and chewed it with appreciation.  “And please advise your housekeeper that this sauce she has made for the chicken is excellent.”

            Benargil looked up to see Dalrieth’s eyes lighting up with pleasure as she entered with the next course to set before them.  The northern lord’s tardiness for the evening meal was now fully forgiven, he knew.

 *******

            Lord Berevrion excused himself after the meal and went up to bathe, attended to by his guard, who it appeared to Benargil was as much a comrade to the northern lord as a guard of honor.  Anorgil took a seat at a table in the corner of the Great Room, Lyrien beside him, the two of them working together to set all of the records they had made into a semblance of order.  Lady Marien asked Lord Erchirion, “And has Lyrien there proved helpful during this journey?”

            “Indeed.  Between them, she and Master Anorgil have helped to make records of the questioning that was done and to note all points learned.  It will make for a good deal of reading on the part of our Lord King Elessar and my cousin Faramir, but I am assured that the two of them are well up to such study.”

            “I must suppose we will need to look into providing horses for the three youths to ride for the journey to Minas Tirith,” Benargil said consideringly.  “There are the steeds kept here for the use of the Steward’s messengers, that I must assume are now under the King’s authority, that perhaps may serve.”

            Erchirion appeared thoughtful.  “Perhaps that would not be best, my lord.  I do not believe that the youth Garestil will ever have learned to ride, and from what we have learned of Danárion it would be possibly detrimental to his health to seek to have him ride astride.  He is one, we have learned, who becomes ill when he must touch a horse.”

            Marien was surprised.  “Really?  Oh, I’ve heard that this sometimes happens, but had never actually met someone for whom it was true.”

            Wendthor explained, “We learned this from his mother.  Her second husband used to take him riding, and he would come home ill, each time worse than the last.  Finally the healers forbade them to allow the riding to continue.  And it is part of the reason why we do not believe he had aught to do with the ponies having ended being cast into the drainage canal, for first he could not have borne to have handled them; and second, his arm was just recovering from having been broken by his father.  He had not the strength to carry a bucket of water with it, much less to assist in throwing two ponies into the ditch.”

            “No horses for these three, then,” Benargil sighed, trying to think of what might be used instead.  “I would not feel right having them ride in the carriage with my wife and our luggage, I fear.”

            “Certainly not!” agreed Imrahil’s son.  “Nor do I believe they would be comfortable there.  Perhaps a draught wagon from the garrison could be used for them.  Plus, such would be seen by the populace as being in keeping with their status as still prisoners being taken to their final judgment.”

            Belrieth pursed her lips.  “If they are indeed found innocent by the Lord Berevrion, many here, I have learned, will be most angry to be deprived of the spectacle of the hanging of Danárion.  Mariessë and I overheard several of the guards discussing the wagers being placed on how long it will be he will have to hang in the noose ere he is dead.  And there are those who have heard that Lord Berevrion has come to examine the case against Danárion who are certain that should he find against the verdicts already given that someone will seek to stab the youth in the back rather than possibly see him go free.  It’s probably best he indeed be taken back to Minas Tirith for judgment by the King himself—then hopefully if the King exonerates him he will be able to live free and anonymously without so much fear of possibly being assassinated.”

            Benargil saw the same solemn concern in the faces of all throughout the room.  “So,” Erchirion suggested, “many believe we were sent by the King to witness the executions in his place, while others realize our true purpose is to investigate the accusations and the trial and would think to perhaps take justice into their own hands should they think we indeed would decide to free them.  I will so advise Lord Berevrion.  Yes, the use of the draught wagon to carry the three out of the city would be the best.  Let most of the populace believe that they remain suspected, and we will most likely be able to preserve their lives.”

            “And you believe that the King will find for innocence?” asked Benargil.

            Wendthor gave a snort.  “He’d best do so, or I will tell him off to his face!”

            Benargil felt great alarm, and his wife was obviously shocked by such a statement.  “You couldn’t!” Lady Marien objected.

            But Erchirion was laughing aloud.  “And he would enjoy every moment of it, my young lord!  Ah, wait until you meet him, Wendthor—he is quite the Man.  And he will respect you as one who is willing to stand up for what you believe to be right.  But I doubt that he will find for guilt.  From what I have seen, his nature is first to be just, and second to be merciful if he believes more good will come of mercy than strictly applied justice.  I have seen him judge some cases already, and he is as good a judge of the heart of a Man as was my Lord Uncle, if more likely to be generous.  He and my Lord Cousin will prove well matched indeed, I am certain.”

            “May Mariessë come with us?” asked Belrieth.  “She would be deeply disappointed to not be present when the King examines the three youths.”

            “I will send a message to her guardian asking she be allowed to come,” Marien assured her, not thinking to ask her husband.  “When would we leave for Minas Tirith, do you think, Lord Erchirion?  Not tomorrow after the public hearing, surely?  Surely that would be too late in the day to begin such a journey.”

            “No, I suspect that it would be best we leave the morn after tomorrow, my lady, as soon after we break our fast as we can.”

            “I suspect you are right,” Benargil agreed.  “Give the troublemakers as little chance as possible to wreak ill before we leave.”

            Erchirion grinned at him.  “We will hope, then, that the troublemakers are late sleepers, shall we not?”

*******

            Peldrion approached Benargil at the breakfast table.  “Master Caraftion has come, my lord, and I have showed him to the library.”

            Benargil eyed Lord Berevrion where he was finishing his own meal.  “He’s eager to start the day, it would appear.”

            Anorgil looked up from where he sat holding a mug of a still steaming herbal drink between his hands to comment, “From what he has told us, he has worked for this day for quite some time.  It appears that both he and Master Nerwion advised Mistress Vanessë to continue writing to the Citadel after her son was condemned to the rope.  He feels much responsible for the manner in which the convictions were so easily obtained, for he says he simply was not sufficiently experienced to know what testimony he should object to or what kind of witnesses he should have required to speak for the three youths.  Although I would most like to speak with Master Pardronë as to some of the decisions he made in his defense of Carenthor.  He did not call anyone who knew that the young Man was home, caring for his brothers while their parents were from home, and the neighbor was most wroth that he was not allowed to speak in the youth’s defense.”

            Benargil was intrigued.  “And what had the Man to say?” he asked.

            “That he and Carenthor were pursuing Carenthor’s family dog around his garden at the time Carenthor was supposed to be in those woods killing three little boys,” Berevrion told him, shaking his head.

            “Didn’t Pardronë know of this?” Benargil asked, leaning back from his plate.

            “We are not certain what Master Pardronë knew or didn’t know,” Erchirion said, wiping his mouth and pushing himself back from the table.  “He does not appear to have been quite forthcoming with Master Caraftion, with whom he ought to have been working closely to see real justice done.”

            “I suspect that he believed Danárion truly guilty,” observed Master Bilstred.  “He was as eager as any, it appeared to me at the time, to see the young Man sent to the rope.”

            Benargil felt bewildered.  “I think, then, that I shall send a guardsman to fetch him to the hearing this afternoon.  Let us find out for certain just what he did and did not know or believe.”

            Berevrion smiled at him.  “I am grateful that you have decided this, for I’d been considering asking you to do just that.  And when Master Fendril is come, may we keep him entertained here in the Keep rather than having him at the hearing?  I believe that it would be the best move to allow my Lord Kinsman to examine him rather than for us to do so.”

            “If you think it best,” Benargil said rather uncertainly.

            “Oh, but I look forward to seeing Fendril responding to the perceptive questions Aragorn is likely to set him,” Berevrion said.  “I am eager to see him explaining to the King Returned just how diligently he has pursued Sauron’s worshippers throughout Anórien.”

            “So, in what order are we to meet with the three defendants?” Benargil asked.

            Berevrion’s smile widened at Benargil’s inclusion of himself in the day’s doings.  “I think Garestil first.  I am eager to see this one who was encouraged to make such an outrageous statement as he has given.  Just how suggestible is Garestil son of Galdor?”

 *******

            Berevrion, Erchirion, Anorgil, and Caraftion spent some time closeted together while Benargil sent orders ahead to the realm’s prison preparatory to the planned visit, and had three mounted soldiers dispatched toward Hevensgil to serve as an escort to Master Avrandahil to assure the healer arrived in Anwar at the appointed time without unexpected delays.

            Within half a mark they were being escorted through the prison by the Warden, who was glancing uncertainly over his shoulder at Lyrien with her lapdesk in her arms.  “Usually only wives, mothers, and sometimes sisters wish to meet with those who are held here,” he commented.

            “So we understand,” Benargil said.  “However, we wish for these interviews to be properly recorded, and both she and Master Anorgil here are so trained and licensed.  We are doing so,” he added, “for the benefit of the King, who has commissioned Lords Berevrion and Erchirion here to examine this case for him.”

            The Man appeared mollified at this intelligence, and he showed them into a room with a rough table and several solid chairs, and bade them make themselves as comfortable as they were able while he saw the prisoner known as Garestil of Destrier fetched.  “Would you wish some drink brought?” he asked.

            “Have you some small beer?” Benargil asked.  “And if you will assure that there is enough to share with the prisoner we should be most grateful.”

            If this request was surprising, the Warden did not show it, and he left the room, closing the door solidly behind him and speaking briefly to the guard and Faradir, who stood watch outside it.  Soon he returned with a tray on which stood several battered but definitely clean and serviceable metal cups and a metal pitcher filled with what proved actually quite a pleasant brew, along with a metal charger on which lay a selection of vegetables.  “The prisoners grow these themselves in our prison garden,” they were advised.  “It helps them to feel as if they are providing for themselves and offers them a constructive means of employing their time.” 

            He was followed soon after by another warder, who led a small figure by the arm.  Garestil proved to be short and wiry, and was barely taller than five feet, the top of his head not likely to reach the center of Berevrion’s chest.  His hands were manacled, and fastened by still another chain to a belt he wore about his waist.

            “You’ll remember what you’ve learned here, won’t you, Garestil?” this warder was instructing him as he led him into the room.  “These have been sent all of the way from the White City in order to speak with you.  You will speak courteously with them, do you understand?”

            The youth nodded and allowed himself to be guided to the chair and seated.  He sat with his face downcast, partly looking at the table’s top, but casting furtive glances at them from under his brows.  “You may go,” Lord Benargil instructed the two Men, and bowing, they withdrew, the warder following his superior out of the room and closing the door behind the two of them.  At the sound of the click the prisoner’s shoulders first tensed, and then relaxed.  “Your name?” asked Benargil.

            “Garestil—Garestil son of Galdor, m’lord,” the prisoner mumbled.

            “Please raise your head and speak more clearly,” Benargil told him.  “Would you like something to drink, Garestil?”

            This question appeared to surprise the young Man, for he actually raised his head, apparently to judge whether the offer were truly meant.  “Yes,” he said uncertainly.  “Yes, m’lord, I’d like that.”

            Erchirion swiftly had one of the cups filled and set before him.  True, he must hold it between his manacled hands, but there was no question that Garestil appreciated the drink.  After he’d finished it, however, he looked at them oddly, almost as if he were wondering how he must now pay for the pleasure he’d just enjoyed.

            “We would ask you about what you know about the murders of those three little boys in Destrier, Garestil,” Benargil began, and paused as he saw the youth stiffen as if in anticipation of a blow.  This surprised him.  “I know that what happened there was very bad,” he began tentatively.

            Garestil’s eyes had again dropped to his lap.  “Yes, m’lord,” he muttered.  “Terrible.”

            “And you’ve been asked about it many times now.”

            The young man nodded, avoiding the eyes of any of them.

            “But we need to ask one more time.”

            Garestil shrugged, and lifted his manacled hands to rub the back of one hand across his eyes.

            Benargil was surprised.  Was the boy weeping?  He persevered.  “Did you see those children killed, Garestil?”

            The youth nodded.

            “Did you take part in the attacks on them?”

            After a brief delay, he gave another single nod.

            “What did you hit them with?”

            Garestil held up his hands, one fisted, as if this said all.

            “Why?”

            Garestil glanced up under his brows again and again wiped his eyes with the back of his hand.  “Dunno.”

            “When you were done with them, what did you do with the bodies?”

            “I didn’t do nothing with them.”

            “Oh, then did Carenthor and Danárion do something with them?”

            “Yes—they tied them up and threw them in the water.”

            “How deep was the water where they threw them?”

            “Oh, it was very deep.”

            “Over the boys’ heads?”

            “Over my head!”

            “And could you see them in the water?”

            “Yes, part of the way down.  One was wriggling like a worm.”

            “Was he very deep where you could see that?  Could you have reached down to pull him out?”

            “It was deeper than I could reach.”

            Benargil looked hopelessly at Berevrion, whose own eyes were compassionately fixed on the young Man seated before them.  The northern lord glanced reassuringly at his fellow from Anwar, and fixed his own gaze again on Garestil.  “How did the children come to the woods?”

            “On ponies.”  There was a tone to his voice that reminded Benargil of someone reciting a lesson long learned by heart.

            “And why did they come to the gully?"

            Garestil shrugged.  “To pick blackberries.”

            “Blackberries?  And why were you in the woods?”

            “Carenthor said we was to pick blackberries.”

            “So, Carenthor invited you to come along?”

            A nod.

            “And how many blackberries did you pick?”

            Garestil appeared surprised by this question, and looked up into this stranger’s eyes.  “What, m’lord?”

            “You have said that you were invited to pick berries, did you not?”

            “Yes, m’lord.”

            “So, how many berries did you pick?”

            “Dunno, sir.”

            “Did you fill your bucket?”

            He appeared to need to think about this one, gave an aborted shrug, and answered, “Oh, but….  Oh, yes.  Filled it.”

            “Your mother must have been glad for it when you returned home.”

            There was pain to be seen in the youth’s eyes.  “Don’t have no mother.  She died when I was borned.”

            “I am sorry, Garestil.  Who received your bucket of berries?”

            Garestil’s mouth worked as he tried to think of someone who would have been given the bucket of berries.  Finally he said, “Our neighbor.  Wanted to make a pie, she did.”

            “And did she make one?”

            “Oh, yes, right away!”

            “And did she give you some?”

            Garestil again nodded.

            “That day?”

            “Yes, m’lord, that day.”

            “When did you return home with the bucket of berries, Garestil?”

            Again the youth appeared at a total loss, and he couldn’t seem to think what to say.

            “When did you first see the children, the ones who died, that day?”

            Again his eyes dropped, and his voice took on that look of recitation.  “Saw them in the morning, riding their ponies.”

            “Which way were they riding them?”

            “To the market.”

            “Why were they going to the market?”

            Again he had to think on an answer.  At last he assayed, “To buy some sweets?” and looked up, searching Berevrion’s eyes as if he were hoping to learn from him whether or not the answer were right.

            Berevrion smiled.  “So, you saw them riding to the market, perhaps to purchase sweets.  That is something children do like to do, isn’t it?” to which the youth nodded, obviously feeling encouraged.  “And what did you do after you saw the children?”

            Garestil blinked.  “Dunno,” he whispered.

            “Did you go someplace?  What were you doing that morning, Garestil?”

            “Dunno.”

            “I understand you have been able to work for pay.”

            “Yes, m’lord.”

            “What kind of work do you do for pay?”

            He was now looking at Berevrion without the worry he’d shown up till now.  “I help break up the ground for them who wants to plant gardens, and I often help our friend, who thatches roofs.”

            “I see.  A good profession, to learn to thatch roofs properly.”

            “He don’t let me do the thatching much—mostly has me bring up the thatch and hand it to him so he can bind it in place.”

            “He doesn’t let you do the actual work on the roofs?”

            “It’s just—well, I’m not clever with my hands, not like him.  I’ve tried—he lets me try, but I keep messing things up.  So mostly he has me bring up the thatch, up the ladder, you see, and he lets me try my hand on the parts that don’t matter so much.”

            “So he is seeking to teach you, and not just using you to do the work that doesn’t matter.”

            “Yes, he’s trying t’teach me.  But it takes a while for me to learn.”

            “When was the last time you worked with him?”

            “Oh, two days before Midsummer.”

            “That was the day that the boys went missing, wasn’t it, two days before Midsummer?”

            Again Garestil was blinking.

            “We spoke with your father, you see, Garestil, and he told us what you just told us—that on the day that the children went missing that you were working with your family friend, helping to thatch a roof on the north side of the village.”

            The youth continued to blink.

            “And Anorgil here,” Berevrion indicated the law clerk who sat at the end of the table, “talked to your master, and he said the same, and that you worked with him for most of the day.”

            “Yes, m’lord,” whispered the youth.  “I did.”  He was staring beyond Berevrion and Benargil at the wall behind them.  Then he looked to search Berevrion’s eyes again.  “But them children, their bodies was found about noon, when the Sun was high.”

            “Yes, they were.  But they were found the day after they went missing, not the same day.”

            “They was?”

            “Yes.  How many children were there that you saw riding their ponies to the market?”

            Garestil’s answer was given in a tense whisper.  “Three.  There was three little boys.”

            “And how many ponies were there?”

            He appeared very surprised by this question.  “How many?”

            “Yes, how many?”

            Finally Garestil tentatively offered, “Three, one for each?”

            “And what colors were they?”

            Garestil was shaking his head as he considered this question.  “They didn’t tell me that,” he said as if to himself.

            “Who didn’t tell you that?”

            “Hanalgor and Vendrion and Borongil.”

            Erchirion finally broke the silence that followed that statement.  “Did Hanalgor, Vendrion, and Borongil tell you most of the answers you were to give?”

            Garestil didn’t answer, merely looked at him with frightened eyes.

            Benargil finally accepted that this youth truly had been told what to say.  “We do not believe that you saw the children die, Garestil.”

            “But they said I had to say I did.”

            “Who told you this?”

            “Hanalgor, Vendrion, and Borongil.  And then that Master Fendril.”

            “Why were you supposed to say that?”

            “Because if I didn’t, Danárion would get away with it.”

            “Get away with what?”

            “With killing them boys.”

            Benargil glanced behind him at where Master Caraftion sat, unnoted by this poor youth, his eyes filled with a mixture of sadness for the boy and triumph that, finally, the truth was coming out.

*******

            Carenthor had reached that gangling state in which his wrists and ankles had outgrown his shirt and trousers, yet he still was not a particularly tall youth.  Benargil suspected once he reached his final height he would still not be anywhere near six feet.  He looked at them with a degree of wariness, but not with proper fear, as he was brought into the room and settled in the chair in which Garestil had sat before him.  Again he was manacled, with his wrists chained to a belt about his waist.  A fresh pitcher of small beer had been brought, and a clean mug for the prisoner’s use.  He thanked them when Erchirion gave him his cup, and held it in one hand, merely lifting the other to keep even with the hand holding the drink.  Unlike Garestil, he had to lean down some to drink, as the chain from the belt was not long enough to allow him to reach his mouth easily.

            Berevrion began, “We wished to ask you what you know about the killing of the three boys.”

            Carenthor set the cup on the table and pushed it away from him.  “I won’t lie for you any more than I would for the others,” he said simply.

            “Who asked you to lie for them?” Benargil asked.

            Carenthor searched his eyes for some minutes before finally answering, “Guardsman Vendrion, Guardsman Hanalgor, Captain Borongil, and that one who said in court I cut the one child with a fish knife.”

            “Master Fendril?” asked Benargil.

            “Yes, that was his name, sir.”

            “What did they wish you to lie about?” asked Berevrion.

            “They wanted me to say that, yes, Danárion killed those little boys.”

            “Did he?”

            “How can I say for certain yes or no?  I wasn’t with him all day the day their bodies were found.”

            “But they didn’t disappear that day,” Erchirion said.  When Carenthor looked at him surprised, he added, “They disappeared the previous evening.”

            “Danárion came to my house that night, after my parents left,” Carenthor said, obviously searching his memory for what he’d been doing.  “They left me to mind my little brothers.  Allorn was being quite the pest.”

            Erchirion smiled.  “Yes, so your other brother and your neighbor told us.”

            Carenthor straightened in surprise, a glimpse of hope in his eyes.  “You talked to them?  How are they—my parents and my brothers?  And you even talked to our neighbor?”

            “Yes—he told us that your dog had been digging in his garden.”

            “Yes, the foolish thing keeps digging up his onions—his onions and the iris bulbs he planted by the house for his wife.  But how are my parents and my brothers?”

            “Well enough.  They are coming today to Anwar.”

            “But why?  They can’t do anything for me!”

            “Do not be so certain.”

            Berevrion interrupted, “They tried to make you lie?  What did they wish you to say?”

            Carenthor shrugged, his fair face troubled.  “I was supposed to say that I knew he’d done it.  They wanted me to say I was there and saw it happen.”

            “But you wouldn’t?”

            “Of course not!  My parents told me I must not lie and bear false witness against another.”  After a moment he added, insistently, “And I can’t say what I wasn’t there to see!  I was at the free school the morning of the day before their bodies were found, and the day they were found, too.  I saw Danárion after lessons at Master Amborn’s farm—Master Amborn was preparing for the Midsummer holiday by having the byres scrubbed thoroughly, and Danárion was trying to help see it done.  He loves Argilien, you see, and wants her father to see him as helpful.  And I think he really likes helping on the farm, too.  Only he couldn’t do as much as he’d like, for his arm was not healed fully after his father broke it.”

            “So we have been told by others.”

            “He left, for Argilien had been at him to do so for some time.  She could see his arm pained him, and he felt shamed not to do as much as anyone else there.  He was angry, for he thought that the son of one of their hands was paying court to her and he was jealous that that one could stay when she would send him home.  It was so foolish, you understand.”

            “Yes, we do,” Berevrion reassured him.  “We understand that you do not know whether Danárion killed the three boys, but do you think him capable of it?”

            Carenthor was shaking his head before the question was finished.  “No—why should he?  He didn’t even know them, to my knowledge.  They only just started at the free school after he left it to start his apprenticeship with the saddler, just before Master Targon went missing.  And they lived on the far side of the village from him.  And they’d never done anything to him.  The only one who had a brother old enough to make fun of Danárion was Master Rindor’s son, and Dírhael wouldn’t do so because he lived in much the same straights as Danárion did, his father dead and his stepfather having adopted him.  Only Master Rindor wasn’t very nice, while Master Targon did try to be the best father he could to Danárion and his sister, as well as being a good husband to Mistress Vanessë.  Too bad Danárion’s real father wasn’t anywhere as good a Man.”

            Again he shook his head.  “No, I can’t imagine Danárion doing any such thing as hurting three little boys who’d never done aught to him.  As far as killing them—well, no, I can’t imagine that, either.  He’d tell them off, and perhaps say something truly cutting to them, but he’d not even think to try to harm them.  Not that he could have done a good job of such anyway at the time, as he’d still not gotten the strength of his arm back!”

            “Can you think of anyone who might have done such a thing?”

            Carenthor shrugged.  “Who is to say?  I know from what I overheard Dírhael say to some of the others his age that he felt that Master Rindor blamed his brother for almost everything he saw that had happened that he didn’t understand, and that he often beat the child for things that weren’t his doing.  And I know that he has been accused of theft and cheating others.  But that’s proof of nothing.

            “There was one odd thing—there was a stranger in the village who was seen in the alehouse, two nights, I think, before Midsummer.  Actually, I don’t think he was actually in the alehouse, but only in the privy.  Could he have killed them, do you think?” he asked.

            “We have heard of him, but he appears to have entered the village too early to have hidden the boys’ bodies as was done and still have been in the alehouse privy when he was seen there, just at sunset.”

            “I remember that the one child’s mother said that she saw all three of them last riding their ponies toward the gates just before she was ready to put the evening meal upon the table, and that they weren’t to be found just after that when she sent her daughter to fetch them.”

            “Yes, that appears to be true.”

            “Does anyone know where they went?” Carenthor asked.

            Erchirion exchanged glances with Berevrion before saying, “We believe we do.  There will be another hearing this afternoon in which we will tell what we have found, after we question some of those we feel were most guilty of improper actions in the pursuance of this case.  And tomorrow, I believe, we will be returning to Minas Tirith, and you, Danárion, and Garestil will be brought before the King’s Majesty for final judgment.  And it is likely that he will reverse the convictions and see to it that those who are most guilty of this miscarriage of justice are made to pay for their own crimes.”

            “Then, you don’t believe that we killed those children?”

            Lord Benargil finally spoke up.  “These do not believe so, and so I, too, am coming to believe as well.”

            Carenthor reached for his cup once more, and sipped at it thoughtfully.  “I have a question that has been bothering me,” he said as he set it down again.  “If I am supposed to have been the one who cut the one child on his face with a knife and removed the sac for the seed from the other, why did they decide to hang Danárion and not me?  I’m even supposed to be the one who invited Garestil to join us!  According to the words that Garestil uttered, I should have been seen as the most guilty one, but instead it all appears to have focused on Danárion and not me at all.”

            Benargil glanced sideways at his companions before responding, “It appears mostly that they were convinced that Danárion was believed to be a worshiper of the Enemy.”

            Carenthor snorted.  “Danárion, worshiping the Nameless One?  If he worshipped anyone at all, I think it would be Lord Boromir for his defense of the realm and his devotion to Gondor, or the hope that the King would return at last.”

            Benargil asked, “How is it that you alone, in all of Destrier, appear to have become Danárion’s friend?”

            Carenthor shrugged.  “He is very smart, and sees through others and their pretensions.  Most of those near us in age are so—so shallow.  Most never have read anything of the history of Middle Earth, and couldn’t tell one of our Kings from any other.  A few of them are certain that Castamir was some great historical hero, in fact, and solely because they have heard his name often enough to remember it.  Few know that Elves used to live in Gondor, down near Dol Amroth, it is said; and most are certain that Elves are allies to the Dark Lord, and don’t care that they’ve been fighting evil since before the rising of Sun and Moon!

            “We both love history and would like to really see some Elves in our lifetime, and perhaps see the White Tree blooming in the Court of the King as the old songs tell, and as Suleirion sings about, too.”

            “What about Garestil?  Do you hate him, that because of what he said you have been sent to prison and have lived in fear of being sent to the quarries?”

            Carenthor’s mouth twisted.  “How can we blame him?” he asked.  “Considering how hard they tried to make me say things that weren’t true to make certain that Danárion was hung, it would have been very hard for Garestil to realize that what they demanded of him was wrong.

            “They told me that they knew Danárion was the murderer, and that they only wanted to make certain he was punished for what he did.  They told me all I had to do was to say I knew he’d done it, although they didn’t tell me that by knowing and not telling from the beginning it would make me his accomplice and would still put me in prison alongside him.  I’m certain that they never told Garestil that by saying he’d been there and supposedly had seen us killing the children yet did nothing to stop it that this would make it certain he’d not go home again or finish learning to be a tumbler.”

            “So you do not blame him for what happened to you?”

            “I blame those who put the lying words in his mouth, my lord,” the young Man said bluntly.  “Garestil is not clever, and his mind does not understand much of what he sees or hears.  It is why the ones who follow Leverion tend to pretend to like him and then tell him of course he is too stupid to really like after all, just to make him upset.  Oh, and Leverion is a youth in our village who is older than Danárion.  Actually, his father is a farmer, but he spends much of his time inside the village walls, and he often amuses himself by belittling others and bullying them.”

            “You don’t like him?”

            “What is there to like about him?  If you aren’t rich and won’t stand him to a drink at the alehouse, he doesn’t like you—it’s very simple.”

            Erchirion asked, “Why did you not speak in your own defense at the trial?”

            Carenthor gave a slight shrug.  “Master Pardronë did not feel it was wise, and insisted that if I tried Master Fendril would only manage to twist my words to make it appear I truly meant the opposite of what I said.  Certainly that proved true of how he treated Danárion.”  He sighed.  “I do not believe he thought that Danárion was innocent, too, although he accepted that I was.  He seemed to think that all I needed to do was to sit there, the model of the dutiful son, and all would recognize my innocence and set me free.  But it did not happen as he’d thought it would.”

            Berevrion said, “So, you, too, would wish to see an Elf or two, would you?”

            “Yes, but you’d best not say that aloud in our village, or they’ll claim you dance naked in the grazing common at midnight or some such daft thing.  It’s a good part of why Hanalgor has always been certain that Danárion worshiped Mordor.  Not many really believe in the father trees, either, although I know several who have actually seen the one in the grazing common move.  I know that I have, and Danárion swears it once warned him to walk to one side or he’d step in a hole.  And it was right!  Moles had left their mounds all over that year, and a dog had been digging down, trying to capture the mole, and Danárion almost stepped right into the hole it left.  Could have broken his leg.”

            “I didn’t realize Elmheart had spoken to anyone other than Harolfileg for centuries,” Berevrion said.

            “Elmheart?”  Carenthor straightened.  “Then you know it is a real creature and not just a tree?”

            “Yes.  His kind are known as Ents or the Onodrim.  He revealed himself in a rather spectacular way the other day.  Although he denied to Harolfileg that he speaks Westron.  He spoke to us in Sindarin.”

            “Oh, dear,” the boy laughed.  “Best beware revealing in Destrier you speak Sindarin—that’s as bad as wishing to see Elves!”  And for the first time he truly looked the youth he was.  “There was a poem Danárion once found in an old book he was repairing for the archivist here that was something about the Onodrim.  I didn’t realize they were some kind of tree people.  He said it was about some long search or other.  I remember asking him if he’d seen any reference to the Holbytla, but he’d not found anything about them.  My grandfather from Rohan used to tell me stories of them, and how they lived near the river and traded from time to time with the folk of the Eotheod before Eorl the Young led those who would follow him south to fight for Cirion and they were given the Mark for their own.”

            “There was one thing we found we wished to show you and ask if you recognize it.”  Berevrion opened his scrip and from it pulled the picture they’d found in Nedron’s pack, wrapped in a silk kerchief.  He unwrapped it and set it before the youth.

            Carenthor leaned forward curiously, and stopped, his attention caught.  “I remember drawing that,” he said softly, reaching his hands to take it up and examine it.  “It’s stained.  Did she throw it away, then, after she thought I’d killed her son?”

            “No, I doubt she knows what became of it.  We found it late yesterday afternoon.”

            The boy looked up to search Berevrion’s face.  “Where?” he asked.

            “There is an abandoned farmstead two miles this way of Destrier.  The house was burned and the stonework carried away, and almost all that is left that can be recognized is the byre, which is also mostly in ruins.”

            “Oh, yes.  A kinsman of my mother thought to raise horses there.  But his farm was raided long ago, when I was but a child and still played with Garestil.  Only one son survived, and he was taken back to Rohan to live with his father’s people there.  And you found this there, on that farmstead?”

            “Yes.  We found a personal satchel with a child’s clothing in it, and other signs that Nedron was running away.  And he brought this away with him, apparently to remind him of his mother and sister.”

            Carenthor’s expression was filled with compassion.  “Running away?  Then is it true that his stepfather was beating upon him and his mother?”

            “How do you know that?”

            “From the older boys—from Leverion and Master Nerwion’s son Narvil and them.  I’ve heard them talk.  She works at the alehouse in the early evening.  The older boys go there, and they call her the Songbird.  And they would speak of how often she would say she had run into a door when it was plain she’d been struck in the face or that her arm had been beaten.

            “Now and then I’d go to the marketplace and draw pictures of people for pennies, usually just before birthdays or Midsummer or mettarë, so I could buy gifts, you see.  It was perhaps two years—no, three years, now—yes, three years ago she was sitting there, nursing the baby and humming to it.  And I just did the picture of her, and she saw it and gave me two pennies for it, although I would just have given it to her for nothing.”  He touched the woman’s face with the tip of his finger.  “And now her son is dead.”  Again he looked up.  “Could his father have perhaps killed them, then?  If he learned that the boy was attempting to run away, he could well have been wroth….”

 *******

            Danárion of Destrier was not at all what any of them might have expected, considering the almost superstitious dread of him they’d encountered in the village in which he’d lived most of his life.  He was taller than Garestil, but now shorter than was Carenthor.  His complexion was quite fair, his mouth mobile, and his eyes wary and shadowed.  Yet he carried himself with a peculiar gravity that Berevrion strongly suspected had been earned here, in prison.  Looking at how the young Man was examining all to be seen within the room from his seat on the chair, Berevrion was reminded of those he’d known who as children could not stay still but must be up and doing, and who often had to be carefully schooled away from a tendency to be self-absorbed, and to finish what they’d begun.

            Ah, yes, this was one who indeed would have needed a good deal of experience to learn to keep his tongue bridled and uncharitable thoughts to himself.  And there was that hint of the dreamer to be seen there, the romantic tendencies of those who would wish the world to be far simpler than it is, with the good considerably brighter and untarnished, and the evil open and plain for all to see and recognize rather than hiding behind civilized conventions and false faces.

            As with the other two, he was manacled, but the chain from the leather belt was considerably shorter, certainly not enough to allow him to sip unaided from a cup.

            Benargil looked at the two warders who’d brought him into the room and chained him to the chair.  “Is he kept restricted in this manner within his cell?” he asked.

            “No, my Lord Benargil,” answered one of them.  “But it is required of us that when he is moved within the prison he must be so bound that he offer no harm to any other.”

            “Although obviously it also keeps him from defending himself from those who would harm him,” Benargil said severely, looking at a bruise that was beginning to form on the young Man’s left temple.  “Release the chain from the belt.”

            “But, my lord----”

            “Do you think that we here before him cannot defend ourselves and swiftly overpower him should he make a move?  Release the chain!  And how was it that someone struck him along the way?”

            “There is a thief from Dunland originally who threw his cup at the boy as we passed his cell.  It hit him in the face.  Too oft do those who have done petty crimes seek to abuse those sent here for assaults upon children, as though such were beneath contempt.”  The guard managed to unfasten the chain, and at last Danárion sat straighter, as if it had pulled him into himself somewhat to be so chained.

            Erchirion poured a cup of the small beer for him and offered it.  Danárion grimaced as he smelled it, but accepted it with some grace. “I thank you,” he said, although it was plain his heart was not in it.

            “You may go now,” Benargil said to the guards.

            “I am sorry, my Lord, but such is not allowed.”

            Berevrion sighed and pulled from his scrip the King’s warrant.  “I have authority granted me by the Lord Elessar himself,” he said, passing the document to the nearer of the two.   Again, it was the signature of Lord Daerloth that he most readily recognized, and he nodded to his fellow.  With a bow, the two of them left the room and closed the door behind them, although Berevrion knew they’d not gone any further than the hallway immediately outside the closed door.

            “I’ve not heard the name of Lord Elessar before,” the young Man said into the silence that now filled the room.  “But I am grateful to be able to stretch some, even though I must remain chained to the chair until they come to return me to my place.”  He sipped at the cup, gave a sour face at the taste of it, and set it down.

            “You do not care for small beer?” inquired Erchirion,

            “Actually, I don’t.  We do receive it on the Highday, at least, and most consider it a fair change from mere water, although I myself would prefer the water.  Although I could do, I think, with a good cider.  Master Amborn pressed a fair cider from the trees upon his farm.”  He examined their faces.  “I do not recognize you others, only you, Lord Benargil, and you, Master Caraftion.  Please forgive me if I do not rise to offer a proper bow, but….”  He gave a self-deprecating look to them, and turned his attention to Lyrien.  “I do believe that I saw you in the court.  So, you are indeed a clerk?”

            She nodded, but did not speak, that not being allowed her in the usual run of her duties. 

            He returned his attention to Lord Berevrion.  “I will forestall a good deal of pointless discussion if I might, by informing you directly that I have no intention of admitting that I killed the children when I did not.”

            “Have there been those sent to attempt to wring such a confession from you?” the northern lord asked.

            “About once a fortnight Master Enelmir sends one to demand such from me, usually assuring me that there is no other means of cleansing my spirit ere I go to meet the Doomsman.  Although why the Doomsman should only accept me if I die with a lie upon my lips I have no idea.  I have enough real sins of my own upon my head that I do not need to take upon myself that of someone whose identity I do not even know.”

            “Then you did not kill those children?”

            “Have I not just said so?  And why is it that it has ever been assumed I would do so?  Because I have tried to examine the nature of magic, or because I would have liked to actually meet an Elf?  Is it truly wrong to imagine that somewhere in this world there are peoples who do not frequent Gondor, and that perhaps the world is not totally shorn of wonder?”

            Berevrion found himself smiling.  “I think that you will shortly be pleasantly surprised.  So, Master Enelmir would have you clear your conscience ere you go to the rope, would he?”

            “Or perhaps he truly thinks that his own conscience can only be clear if he can convince himself that indeed I am guilty,” Danárion suggested.

            “Who do you think killed the children?”

            “I have no idea—none at all.  I have been told that two of them were as I have been, their fathers gone and another sharing their mother’s bed.  Although I was told within the gaol in Destrier that the one boy’s stepfather was unfaithful to the child’s mother, as he had been in his first marriage also, and that both of them were poppy eaters.  And it was said that the other, I think his name was Vangil, resented the son of his wife’s first marriage and would have him gone if he could.  But that is all I know.  But you did not answer my question—who is the Lord Elessar?”

            “It appears that one of your desires has already been met.  You have heard that Mordor was defeated and its dread lord utterly destroyed?”

            “There were rumors, although I know little enough about it.  I know something happened toward the end of March, something marvelous, but that is all.  Few seek to give news to those of us who dwell in the death cells.”

            “Oh, indeed something marvelous did happen then, when Sauron’s Ring was destroyed, and with It Its Master’s power.  He can no longer manifest himself within Middle Earth with It gone, and so there is another great evil finally vanquished for good.”

            Danárion leaned forward over the table.  “And is there really a King now?  Did the King truly return?”

            “Yes.  He is the Heir of Isildur, and born of Isildur’s lineage in the North.  I am one of his kinsmen, Berevrion of Tirith Fuir.”

            “So—there are still the descendants of Númenor to be found in the North!”

            “Yes, not all of those lands are truly empty.”

            “And you have come to witness when I am executed?  I hope I don’t break down and whimper like a baby.”  A muscle in the young Man’s temple twitched, and his face was even paler than it had been.

            “The King sent me to examine the case against you and the others.  We have read the transcript of the trial, and have gone to Destrier to see for ourselves where the children supposedly died and to question people there.  And we have learned that you have not done much that was ascribed to you.”

            “That I don’t actually drink blood or want to cut people’s tongues in two?”

            Berevrion smiled again.  “Yes, we’d heard that last one.  The teacher at the free school told us you’d really said that the youth’s tongue should be slit for the serpent he proved himself.”

            “Yes, that was what I really said, although I think I perhaps added that I ought to be the one to do that for him.”

            “And Captain Borongil made of that a threat to make of him a mute instead?”

            “Borongil is accustomed to casting all statements by those he doesn’t like into the worst terms possible,” Danárion agreed.  “Then I won’t be executed today?”

            Benargil sighed and stood.  “Not today, not tomorrow, and I doubt even a week from now after your case is to be presented before the King.”

            The youth’s eyes widened.  “My case is to come before the King himself?  But how long shall it be before the word comes back as to what his decision is, whether I am to go free or die?”

            Benargil smiled at him.  “Oh, you will most likely know as soon as he had made his decision, for you will be there to be examined by him.”

            Danárion’s jaw dropped.  “I’ll be going?” he whispered as he leaned back.  “I’ll get to see the King himself?”

            Berevrion felt pleased at Danárion’s amazement.  “I suppose I could have made the decision myself, but it will be easier for all, I think, to allow my Lord Kinsman to make the judgment.  Fewer will be likely to see the rulings of the Lord King Elessar Envinyatar Telcontar as being merely the impertinent, interfering meddling they appear to consider the investigations offered by myself and the rest of the deputation that he sent.  Even the presence of Lord Erchirion here does not seem to deter some of them from criticizing us.”

            Danárion’s attention switched to Erchirion.  “Our Lord Steward Denethor’s nephew?  You have come to examine the case against me?  But I’m no one!”  Berevrion realized that if the young Man had been able to rise to his feet, he’d be bowing low indeed.

            Erchirion smiled.  “There is one thing that we have learned about our new Lord King—he considers himself King to everyone, great and small, lord and commoner.  And he is equally respectful toward the least bootboy employed by the Citadel as he is toward my lord father.”

            Danárion was breathing deeply, trying to take it all in regarding this change in his circumstances.  “And I am to go to Minas Tirith itself!  But what about Carenthor and Garestil?”

            “They will be going, too,” Benargil assured him.  “Do you mind riding in an open draught wagon?  We’ve been told that you may not ride astride, and we believe it might be safest if those from the area think that you are still considered merely an appellant before the King.”

            “You could drag me behind a soldier’s horse and I wouldn’t mind,” came the fervent answer.  “I get to look upon the King Returned himself!  I can’t believe it!  And Carenthor and Garestil will be judged by him, also?  Thanks to the Creator!”

            “And you aren’t angry at Garestil for saying what he did?”

            “I’m angrier at those who threatened and browbeat and coaxed him to lie.  He didn’t know any better!  I’ll wager they told him he couldn’t go home until he agreed to say what they would have him say, and that he was shocked to learn that instead they were sending him to the gaol with Carenthor and me!”

            “For now,” Berevrion told him, “you will continue on as you have, until tomorrow when you will be brought out to the wagon.  I am sorry, but for a time you must be chained, although I will be giving orders that you are to have the freedom to sit or lie down as it pleases you.  And there will be pallets within the wagon for each of you.”

            “Thank you for that,” the youth murmured.  He looked thoughtful, and began to smile.  “And Captain Borongil himself is here—did you know?” he asked.  “They told me that, at least.  Got caught charging tolls on the bridge over the canal and claiming it was for the village treasury, they say.  And—and my father is here, too, or rather, my sire.  I won’t call him my father again, for Targon was ever the truer father to me than was the one by whom my mother conceived me.”

            “How do you know this?” Erchirion asked.

            “I get an hour each day to walk outside in what they call the cage, and I saw a woman and child arriving at the prison for a visit.  And when I saw the child, who was about eight summers in age, I was shocked, for it was like looking upon myself at that age in the mirror my mother used to have in her room, the one Targon bought for her but which my sire sold.  I learned from the warder on duty that these were the woman he’d married and the son he got by her after my mother threw him out before.  They are from the village of Raeglib, which is some miles northeast of Anwar.  When he began to drink heavily she finally had enough and engaged her brother, who is Captain of the guards and constables of Raeglib, to drive him out of the village.  And that was when he returned to Destrier and began courting my mother anew.

            “I caught him seeking to use my sister as a man does his wife, but under threat of violence.  I sought to pull him away from her, and he turned about and threw me against the wall and broke my arm.  My mother heard the row and came to see, and her anger was terrible.  I cannot say how I found the strength to do so, but I helped her lift him up and carry him from the house and throw him out into the lane.  Constable Amdir had just arrived, summoned by those who lived across from us, and took him in charge.”

            “How did he end up in the prison here in Anwar?” asked Berevrion.

            Danárion shrugged.  “I am not certain.  I know that after he was taken away by Amdir and my arm was splinted, my mother and sister went to the storeroom he’d taken for his own and in it found a goodly amount of food and goods—some cloth and other things—that they did not recognize.  We brought it the next day to the village hall, asking if possibly these had been stolen.  Amdir had started taking our report when Captain Borongil interrupted and sent him elsewhere.  He appeared very angry, but assured us he would look into the matter personally.  And after that he would glare after me as if I were somehow cursed in his eyes.

            “But two days later we heard that Borongil took our sire from the gaol and to the gates of the village and sent him on his way rather than to suffer Master Nerwion’s justice.  I remember that Master Nerwion was wroth about it.”

            Berevrion eyed Erchirion.  “The smuggling—it would appear that there was at least one other villager involved besides Master Rindor,” he suggested.

            Erchirion’s mouth was pulled into far too narrow a line for one so young.  “Then we will need to address this as well.  Perhaps he, too, should be sent to Minas Tirith.  We know that those who received the stolen goods wore the badge of Isengard.”

            Nodding, Berevrion returned his attention to the prisoner.  “What is the name of your sire?”

            “Radamir, my lord.”

            “I fear that Master Radamir may be sharing your wagon, as well as Master Borongil--although perhaps we should keep all of the smugglers in the same wagon.  No, I think you, Carenthor, and Garestil will have your wagon comfortably to yourselves after all.”

            “And Fendril and Enelmir?” asked Benargil.

            “Let them ride astride until they reach the city.  Enelmir will know soon enough he is not likely to receive too pleasant a reception from my Lord Kinsman, but allow Master Fendril to retain his innocence for a time longer.  I do believe I will leave him entirely to Aragorn’s not always tender mercies.

            “But do order that Master Radamir and Borongil be brought to the People’s Hall for the hearings.  We will do the preliminary investigation for our Lord King so that he can rule on the charges of thefts of goods coupled with smuggling of supplies to enemies of the Free Peoples.”

            Benargil, his face as grim as those of his companions, nodded.  “So I shall order it.”  He then turned back to Danárion.  “Would you like to meet with your younger half brother, my son?”

            Danárion’s expression appeared pained.  “Why, my lord?  Should you desire that one you would wish to know peace realize that not only is his father a wastrel, a defiler of virtue, and a drunkard, but that he has a brother who now lives only in the expectation of the rope?”

            “I understand.  Then for the moment we will let that situation be.  But if, as we anticipate, the Lord King should rule you innocent, is there any special thing that you would particularly wish?  If you could study to follow any particular trade, what would it be?”

            “And how could I say any such thing, my Lord Benargil?” the youthful prisoner answered him.  “I do not have particularly nimble fingers, after all, so how good an artisan I might prove I could not begin to guess.  I know that my master when I sought to learn saddlery felt I was adequate but no more.  Although in the end that proved a disastrous choice, considering I cannot bear to be around horses.  He did approve of some of my ideas for designs for decorating the goods we wrought, but felt many of them impractical or far too time-consuming to make it worthwhile to seek to produce them.

            “Although,” he added, “there is one thing I should love to do—I wish to learn to read and write Sindarin fluently.  And, if there is any means of obtaining a copy, I should desire to read The Book of Shadows and learn just what it was I was supposed to be doing.”

            All laughed together at that, and Berevrion beamed at the young Man.  “There will be no difficulty in meeting these ambitions, I suspect.  Lord Erchirion, your father has still a copy of the book in his collection, does he not?”

            “I suspect he would be willing to allow this one to read it, as long as Master Danárion here accepts that it is a fraud, written by Macardion himself to delude the populace and give him scope for accusing whomever he pleased of outrageous things so as to gain false respect from the people of Gondor.”

            Danárion’s eyebrows rose in surprise.  “Is that true?  Someone named Macardion wrote this, and not one of the Ring-wraiths?”

            Erchirion nodded.  “Lord Benargil’s son Wendthor will be pleased to tell you precisely how true this is.”  He turned to Berevrion and Benargil.  “Shall I summon the guards to return this one to his cell until we leave tomorrow?”

            “We could merely take them to the Keep for the night,” suggested Benargil.

            Berevrion, however, was shaking his head.  “Do not show forth your favor too precipitously, my lord, for in doing so you may inspire those who are certain he is guilty but likely to escape what they think to be his due punishment to take matters into their own hands.  I think he will find spending one more night in prison but a small price to pay for the freedom he will soon know.”

            Danárion nodded.  “He is right, my lord.  And I have become accustomed to my solitude in the past year.”

            As Erchirion started to rise, however, he raised his hands.  “No, wait but a moment longer—there is one other favor I would ask of you ere you send me back.  If you will realize I have something I would show you and ask that you take it into your charge.  I have carried it with me since I came across it, and I am loth to think of losing it completely.”

            He reached inside his shirt and brought out a belt purse of leather, put together from a variety of colors and textures of patches carefully sewn together.  “When one leaves a death cell for the final time, the cell is cleaned, but the dead Man’s belongings, once they are examined, are returned to it that they may be seen by whoever is assigned to that cell next.  It is intended, I think, to underscore the realization that this new resident, also, is doomed to become but a handful of memories for whoever comes after him.  This was in my cell when I was shown into it, and I was shocked to find it there.”

            “Why?” asked Benargil.

            “Because the last time I saw it, it was worn at my father’s belt—my father Targon, who actually loved my sister and me as he loved our mother.  I made it for him from scraps discarded by the saddler, and it was for the sake of this he thought to apprentice me to learn that trade.  I don’t think he realized just how unsuited my reaction to horses made me to become a saddler—he only wished the best for me, I now know.”

            “Your—father—Targon was held here in the prison?” asked Erchirion.

            But Danárion was shaking his head.  “No, not he.  They tell me that the Man who was housed in my cell before me was a big Man, big and brutal.  He had taken to robbing those who rode the Highway alone.  They found him standing over the corpse of a Man they could not identify, for he had killed him with a blow from an axe, and then used the axe to smash the face so that he could not be recognized.  I do not know that that particular victim was my father, but apparently Ada Targon was one of those he’d slain.  I now know what became of him, and I know how much he loved me.  Inside it were still some of the pretty stones I used to bring him when I was small and he was newly come to our family, before I learned to resent him due to what the likes of Leverion taunted me with.  I only wish he could know that I now realize I loved him better than I knew, and that I grieve that I treated him so badly.

            “I should not have brought this out of my cell, for they always search me before they return me to it, in case those with whom I speak have given me something with which I might—escape, if not my cell, then the rope itself.  If you will keep this for me until you can return it to me, with me a free Man….”

The Lords Examine

            The captain of Lord Benargil’s forces rubbed at his eyes and yawned as his aide brought him his first cup of herbal drink for the day, along with the report from the officer who’d been in charge the previous day.  “Yesterday quiet?” he asked through his yawn.

            The aide glanced at the report before answering, “All except for the fact we have had two prisoners in the guardhouse overnight delivered to us on the authority of the King’s warrant held by that northern lord who’s been so busy in our lord’s lands lately.”

            “Why are we holding prisoners for this northern lord?”

            “Apparently because they are guardsmen from Destrier,” the aide said, laying the report before his superior.  “And speaking of Destrier, Ingoril wishes to speak with you.”

            “Ingoril?  Send him in.”

            A moment later he looked up from the report to find the youthful soldier awaiting his attention.  “Yes, Sergeant?  Is there aught I can do for you?”

            “It’s the two prisoners we have in the guardhouse, Captain,” Ingoril answered him.  “I was here late yesterday when they were brought in, and heard the instructions given for them.  I understand that they are to be brought to the People’s Hall later today for questioning by the northern lord, Lord Erchirion, and Lord Benargil.  I formally request that I be allowed to be part of the escort who accompanies them to the People’s Hall.”

            “Are they friends of yours from your youth, Ingoril?”

            The young soldier’s expression was almost sour as he answered, “Friends?  Hanalgor and Vendrion?  Oh, no, Captain—anything but.”  A satisfied smile began to show.  “It appears, sir, that their sins have finally begun to catch up with them, and it will be a matter of personal satisfaction to me if I can be there to see.  And I may be able to—answer—some questions I’m certain will be put to them that I suspect they will be reluctant to answer on their own.”

            The captain searched the younger Man’s eyes.  “Oh—they are the ones you’ve spoken of before that you’ve always felt were corrupt, eh?  Do you have any idea why they were brought here rather than to the prison?”

            “I suspect it is because former Captain Borongil is already in the prison, sir.  And if the northern lord and Lord Erchirion believe that these have been partners in crime with Borongil, they most likely won’t wish for them to be able to be in communication before they are questioned.”

            The captain nodded.  “Wise of them.  Well then, permission granted.  Choose someone who is fairly worldly-wise and not overly impressed by rank to accompany the three of you to the People’s Hall when the summons comes.”

            “May I request Sergeant Eldhard, sir?”

            “Eldhard?  That sounds like a good choice.  Yes, again permission is granted.  And I hope that you find the results of the questioning satisfactory, Sergeant.”

            “Oh, sir, I share that hope,” Ingoril said as he gave his salute and accepted the wave of dismissal.

*******

            Healer Avrandahil had finally decided that, rather than Anwar, he would make for the village east of Amon Dîn where Master Fendril lived to consult with that worthy before presenting himself before Lord Benargil.  He wasn’t certain why this Lord Berevrion had taken all of the pictures he’d done of those three boys as well as those involved in the murder of Drevendor of Amon Dîn by Dorndrol of Anwar, much less why he had ordered Avrandahil’s records room sealed.  But it did not speak well for the future for either himself or Fendril, much less Lord Benargil’s Seneschal Enelmir.  But he knew that this healer Bariol who’d accompanied Lords Berevrion and Erchirion had recognized the intent of the changes Fendril had ordered done of the enlarged picture of the one child’s buttocks, and who knew what conclusions that Elf had made from his own perusals of what pictures he’d seen?  Imagine—an Elf who was also a healer, and in his surgery!  Who ever would have expected such a thing?

            It would be best to warn Master Fendril that the King’s deputation was likely to question why certain details were being altered at Fendril’s request.  Forewarned was forearmed, or so it was said….

            He’d ignored the oncoming guardsmen until they halted their horses before him, forcing him to rein in his own steed.  “Master Avrandahil?” questioned their leader.  “Lord Benargil has sent us to escort you to Anwar.  He is anticipating having you answer some questions this afternoon, and will be most pleased to learn that you were responding dutifully to the orders given you by Lords Berevrion and Erchirion.”

            Avrandahil felt his heart drop within him.  He forced himself to smile.  “How—thoughtful of Lord Benargil.  I am honored by your presence.”

            The three guardsmen turned to flank him, one falling behind to see he himself didn’t think to do so. 

            Most interesting—and alarming.  It appeared that his own decisions were being anticipated….

*******

            It was about an hour before noon that Masters Fendril and Enelmir approached the gates to Anwar, and found that there were eight guardsmen and soldiers awaiting them.  “Ah, but the two of you have arrived in good time,” said the Captain of Benargil’s soldiers, who himself had come out to greet their arrival.  “Master Enelmir, Lord Benargil has left instructions that you are await him in the Hall of the People.  And you, Master Fendril—his Lordship requires that you remain within the Keep.  These guardsmen will keep you company for the nonce, and I understand that Lord Berevrion’s personal guard is to remain with you after that.  Lord Berevrion has requested that he instruct you in the most effective manner to send reports to our new Lord King, and that he question you regarding the extent of the worship of the Dark Lord that you have discovered here within Anórien.  It appears that this question troubles our new Lord King mightily.  I will be accompanying you, Master Enelmir….”

            The two legal experts for the region exchanged surprised looks, but had no time to exchange more.

*******

            Master Peldrion was not certain how he was going to manage serving luncheon.  Master Fendril had been taken to Lord Benargil’s study, where he was to remain until Lord Berevrion’s personal guard Faradir returned once the three lords were finished with whatever it was they were doing at the moment.  Master Galdrod was confined to his own quarters until Lord Benargil gave him leave to quit them, and Peldrion had no idea as to what the secretary might have done to earn his Lordship’s possible displeasure.  Master Enelmir’s luncheon was to be taken to the Hall of the People, along with food for at least two guardsmen who were to remain at his side.  He wasn’t certain when Faradir was to eat, but Lord Benargil had indicated he and the rest of the deputation and young Wendthor would need to eat swiftly once the three lords returned to the Keep, as they were all to be in the Hall of the People as close to the first mark after noon as was possible.  And it appeared that Master Avrandahil was expected to arrive within Anwar at any time, and would also require a separate meal, and Peldrion had no idea where the healer from Hevensgil was expected to eat.

            The chief of Lord Benargil’s personal guards knocked at the door to Peldrion’s personal study and poked his head inside.  “I’m sorry, Master Peldrion, but word has just been received—Lord Daerloth approaches from Amon Dîn with a party of nine accompanying him.”

            Peldrion was left shaking his head—only if the new King himself were to arrive could he imagine things growing more complicated!  He sighed, rose, and headed to confer with Mistress Dalrieth.

*******

            “You wish for me to locate and bring out all of the physical evidence gathered for both the trial of Danárion and his minions, and for the case against Master Dorndrol some years ago?” demanded Master Malthor, standing in the entrance to Anwar’s archives.  “And by when will you need all this?”

            “And we will need all of the transcripts available from Master Dorndrol’s questioning and trial as well,” Lord Erchirion told him.  “And we will need them by tonight that Lord Berevrion can seal them and we can see them packed for transportation to Minas Tirith to the King’s custody.  By the way,” he added, “do you know what became of the copy of The Book of Shadows taken from the home of Danárion of Destrier?”

            Malthor’s mouth worked for a time, but at last he retreated back into the depths of his archive, and came back with a large, ornately bound volume.  “We would have had possession of quite a rare volume,” he lamented as he gave it into the hands of the son of Prince Imrahil.

            “I will ask the King if he will authorize the copying of it for your archive,” Erchirion told him, “although do remember that Lord Ecthelion had intended that the entire lot of the copies then in existence be destroyed.  Considering the superstitious nature of much of the populace of Anórien, I wonder if it would be a good thing to have this available to be easily read here.  It would be necessary to keep prominently within it Lord Astúrion’s warning that this is definitely a fiction, and that none of what was written within it truly has any effect for good or ill save to those who might actually try to perform the described actions, in which the effect would definitely be evil.”

            “I understand,” Malthor said humbly, and he watched sadly as Erchirion carried the book away.  It was, after all, a beautiful as well as a rare volume.  Now—to gather those files….

            And for some reason he could not later explain, he put all of those documents related to what Garestil had said about the crime at one point or another on top of the first box he filled.

*******

            It was midmorning when a messenger from Destrier arrived with word as to how many had left the village that morning shortly ere dawn.  Once the three lords had quitted the prison, Faradir was sent off to the inn where those who’d arrived the day before had spent the night to order that a meal for that many be prepared for those likely to arrive shortly after noon, and that two rooms be opened to the newcomers where they might refresh themselves and perhaps change their clothing.  Looking at the fee paid into his hand, the innkeeper nodded, and sent his son and two servants hastily to the market for provisions, and set the maids straightening two rooms rarely used for guests.  It had been quite a long time since he last had shown so much profit.

            A quarter of a mark later, Faradir was entering Lord Benargil’s study and giving Master Fendril a sketchy bow.  “I grieve that you must wait so long, sir,” he said.  “I am Faradir of the Angle, one of the more distant kinsmen to our Lord King Elessar to come south with our late Steward Halbarad to fight at our Lord’s side here in Gondor.  I have come to instruct you in the proper protocol for making reports to my Lord Kinsman.  I had Master Galdrod prepare paper, quills, and ink for your use that you might take notes.”

            There was a knock at the door, and Peldrion entered with meals for each of them, and as he closed the door after him he could hear the northerner saying, “It is always inadvisable to seek to interpret the words of a witness for him—the King is well capable of drawing his own conclusions from what has been said.”

            Well, Peldrion thought, that should hamper Master Fendril mightily, as he always chooses to find hidden meanings in what has been said.  And he was smiling as he returned to the kitchen to fetch the next tray of meals he was to deliver.

*******

            Enelmir was required to remain in his office within the Hall of the People, and a meal was brought to him there.  He found the situation somehow ominous, although he could little imagine just what true harm could be done him by these outsiders. 

            He had been of an age with Benargil, and had been one of his companions from their shared youth.  Benargil was nowhere as brilliant as had been his sire, and Enelmir had always found it fairly easy to influence his actions and thoughts.  He’d convinced Benargil that there was something sinister about Sindarin and that it was too difficult a language to master easily; and so it was that the Lord of Anwar as an adult could barely recognize or understand the most commonly used phrases in the official communications sent his way from Amon Dîn and Minas Tirith in spite of the fact that Sindarin was the official language in which all formal business of the realm was supposed to be conducted.  With this true, Enelmir had been free to put whatever interpretation he pleased on what came to them from the Citadel and so manipulate Benargil into a feeling of resentment toward those in authority who, he believed, sought to dictate policy in upper Anórien.

            But since the coming of the King’s deputation Benargil had been showing distinct signs of independent thought, and had not been anywhere as easily managed as was customary with him.  And certainly his sudden questions regarding why Enelmir had allowed certain lines of questioning and certain individuals to testify in the trial of Garestil, Carenthor, and Danárion of Destrier was at the very least troublesome.  It was for this reason that Enelmir had decided it would be best to engage Fendril’s aid in countering the influence of this Lord Berevrion.

            Perhaps, however, he thought, it would have been better had I left sooner rather than later.  I should have done so immediately after the party left for Destrier instead of waiting as I did.

            But they’d been separated on their arrival in Anwar, and he had no chance, it appeared, to communicate with Fendril at this point.  His clerk had not answered the bell that usually summoned him from his own closet within the building, and those who stood outside his door and window had not allowed him more than a visit to the privy. 

            He’d been standing at the window pondering what this sudden isolation might portend for some time when there came a knock at the door.

            “Enter!” he called.

            The Captain opened it and gave a formal bow.  “Lord Benargil asks that you attend him in the main hall, sir.”

            “Of course,” Enelmir said, turning from the window to quit the room at last.  He and the Captain did not speak usually, and that the soldier did not particularly like him had never troubled him until now.  But he had to admit that there was an expression of satisfaction that disturbed him in the Captain’s eyes as he was led into the main hall.

            The room had been set up as a courtroom, and at the front where he usually presided as magistrate a wide table had been placed, and at it sat—four lords.  He could feel coldness sweep through him to see that Lord Daerloth sat there with Benargil at his right, Erchirion to his left, and Berevrion to Lord Benargil’s right.  And the eyes of none of them held anything but consideration as they looked on him.

            He was led through to a small table with two chairs set alone between the lords’ table and the benches where the spectators sat.  In a swift glance along these benches he saw that to one side sat some he knew to be related to the criminals Danárion, Carenthor, and Garestil, while on the other he saw those he believed to be related to the three dead boys, and surrounding each group were others he knew were not citizens of Anwar.

            And it hit him fully—this time the defendant was—himself!

            He dared not sit, but stood in front of the chair and attempted to appear merely curious as to the meaning of this situation.  Daerloth was apparently inspecting him from the top of his head to the toes of his riding boots, and it was some moments before the Lord of Amon Dîn and Anórien spoke to him.  “Enelmir of Anwar, you were appointed magistrate of this region on the recommendation of Lord Benargil here, who has ever considered you to be eminently wise—or he did so until now.  He tells me that ever when he has questioned your actions or choices you have been able to explain yourself sufficiently to satisfy him, even though now when he considers what you have told him he realizes that not all of what you said was truly intended to explain your actions so much as to distract him from the concerns he’d felt.  He admits that he has never felt himself to be as wise and astute as he has thought you, and that usually he merely deferred to what you indicated you believed the right action to take, the right decision to make, and the right understanding to embrace, and he had become accustomed to suppress his own questions and objections.

            “It is never wise for a lord of the realm to rely totally on the guidance of any one person in making decisions regarding the nature of his rule or the judgments he ought to be offering himself.  And when asked to question a judgment made in his name, it is considered the proper thing to do to actually examine the case thoroughly and as impartially as possible that none should question that the judgment made is indeed just.  Lord Benargil has admitted to me that he has not done this in more than one case in which he has received formal complaints regarding the manner in which you have carried out major trials, but that he has again merely accepted your own judgment that of course you did rightly in the manner in which the trials have been conducted, what you allowed the prosecutors to do in order to obtain convictions, and how you have habitually ruled against those who sought to defend themselves or the counsel to those who were defendants when they have raised objections that, on further consideration, he has realized were actually well founded.  He admits he has been at fault in allowing you increasingly wide scope for improperly conducting such trials, and has agreed to submit himself to the King’s judgment as to whether or not he should continue as Lord of Anwar.”

            Shocked, Enelmir turned his attention to Benargil’s face, and saw there that Lord Daerloth spoke truly.  He could see a mixture of misery, anger, and determination he’d never seen in Benargil before, and realized that for the first time in many, many years his former friend had indeed searched his soul and found himself wanting, but also with a core of—something he considered a virtue that he felt was worthy of nurturance.  Enelmir himself could not name that virtue, although Wendthor perhaps could have supplied him with its proper designation:  integrity.

            Daerloth continued, “It is legally bound upon me to offer you the chance to consult with one who might offer you legal counsel.  I suspect that you would ordinarily wish to confer with Master Fendril, but must advise you that this cannot be allowed, as he will be appearing before our Lord King Elessar to answer for his own actions, firstly in seeking to revive the divisive searches for dark agents begun by Macardion of Dor-en-Ernil, and secondly in conducting the prosecution of Danárion, Carenthor, and Garestil of Destrier as he did in spite of more than adequate evidence of misconduct on the part of the major guardsmen who conducted the investigation of the murders of the children Nedron, Gilmar, and Bredwion; and in spite of overwhelming evidence that a good part of the proofs of guilt they offered were fabricated.  I will not say that you are truly a conspirator with him to see injustice done, but the fact remains that you had more than adequate chance yourself to prove yourself impartial as a magistrate and judge for this case, but failed to do so.  And, as Lord of Anórien and thus deputy to the ruler of the realm, I must now examine you.

            “Do you wish to confer with counsel?”

            For several moments Enelmir could not bring himself to speak.  But, why should he dignify such accusations with any response at all?  No one held authority to question his decisions—certainly not that fool Benargil!

            At last Daerloth repeated his question.  “Do you wish to receive legal counsel, Master Enelmir?  If you do, I will gladly appoint one to advise you.”

            “And who,” demanded Enelmir, finding his voice at last, “knows the laws of Anórien better than I do?”

            “Then do you wish to serve as your own counsel?  That is your right, although I will remind you of the ancient adage that he who seeks to represent himself too oft learns he has a fool for a client.”

            Enelmir took the comment as an intended insult and responded coldly, “And whom would you appoint?  Master Caraftion, who sits within this hall?  He was not adequate to save his own clients from conviction.  Or perhaps Pardronë, who sought to defend his particular client by merely allowing the youth to prove innocent in appearance, although such an appearance we all know often hides many sins.  Nay, my lord—I will not allow anyone inferior to myself to seek to offer me advice on the law.”

            “So be it then.  Please note for the record,” he advised the clerk who sat to one side, “that Master Enelmir has refused an offer of counsel, although I will reserve the right to repeat the offer as this examination continues.”  There was a nod, and Enelmir noted that other clerks and scribes were there as was common in his courtroom to each take down the words of specific individuals.

            Daerloth continued, “The rules of this tribunal are that those who speak before it will behave in a courteous, respectful, and dignified manner, and that they will answer the questions put to them with the whole truth regarding what they are asked.  We, who are lords of the Reunited Realm, will primarily ask the questions, although we will on occasion permit others to do so as long as the questions asked pertain to the case in point—our attempt to determine first whether Master Enelmir did offer a fair trial to these three defendants, and second, if it is determined that indeed he did not, how much blame he might hold for what happened within his courtroom.  Those who offer questions must also be courteous and respectful towards all, including the accused.  Is this understood?”

            He swept the room with his gaze, apparently not satisfied until he had looked each and every individual within it in the eye and received an indication of agreement.

            At last he concluded, “We ourselves will not be the final judges over Master Enelmir and the others who will be questioned here today.  All, including the original defendants, will be appearing before our Lord King Elessar Envinyatar Telcontar himself for final disposition of their cases.  There is good reason why there is a process by which judgments may be appealed within Gondor, and within Arnor as well, as I have learned this day.  We are but the children of the Creator, and were not created without flaws; and there are times when our judgments are less than right.  So it is that everyone may request that a judgment be reviewed by a higher court; and in the case of a capital offence it is required that this happen.

            “I have been asked, But is it not possible that in such a manner perhaps a few who are guilty will be freed?  And I will answer as I have been instructed by both the Lord Steward Denethor and by our new King himself:  Within the lands founded by the Dúnedain who followed Elendil out of Númenor back to Middle Earth, we have chosen to believe it better that a few who are guilty might go free for a time at least than that one individual who is innocent shall be put to death for what he did not do.  I have been assured that expedience is not to be considered preferable to true justice, and so I must rule.”

            With that he sat back.  “Our first witness will be Vendrion of the market guards for the village of Destrier, since it was he who found the bodies and who first named Danárion as the one who had killed the children.”  He indicated that Enelmir was to sit, and the hearing began.

            Vendrion was made to describe the finding of the shoe once more, and how it had been that Amdir had then dislodged Gilmar’s body, and he himself crawled down the ditch to find the rest.  That the bodies were found deliberately pressed face-down into the mud was reiterated, and he was made to describe specifically how he laid them on the side of the ditch.  He was asked to describe the area where the bodies were found, and at last Berevrion presented a map of the area surrounding the gully showing where prominent trees grew, how the ditch ran, where the bodies were found, where they were laid upon the banks by Vendrion, and where the footprints had been found, all of which had been drawn by Vendrion on the day the bodies were found.

            “So, they were laid upon their sides when you found them?” asked Lord Daerloth.

            “Yes, my lord.  Considering how they were bound, I couldn’t lay them upon their backs.”

            “And you did not change their positions after that?”

            “No, my lord.”

            “How long did they stay in that position before Master Avrandahil arrived from Hevensgil?”

            “He did not arrive until between the fifth and sixth mark after noon, my lord.”

            “And they were removed from the ditch about one to two marks after noon, you said?”

            “Haven’t I said so more than once, my lord?”  Vendrion was beginning to sound almost desperate.

            “I merely wished to be very clear as to how they were placed and how long they must have been lying in that position.  Let us leave the ditch, then.  Why was it that you first suspected the youth Danárion?”

            “Because we knew----”  He paused at a significant look from Lord Erchirion.  Vendrion began again.  “We suspected that he worshiped the Great Enemy, my lord.  He showed an interest in magic, dressed in an odd style, wore his hair strangely cut, listened to disturbing music, and asked questions about magic and arcane subjects.  He said more than once he wished to see Elves and speak with the spirits of trees.  It was known—believed” (again in response to a look from Imrahil’s son) “believed that he attempted to work magical spells and to conjure spirits.  And he had in his possession a copy of The Book of Shadows when we went to arrest him, a book known—believed—to instruct one in the worship of the Nameless One in order to empower him.”

            “What does this have to do with the deaths of the children?”

            “One boy’s face was cut through the cheek into the cavity of the mouth under it, and another had been relieved of the—of the sac that holds the seed.  It had first appeared that the manhood itself had been taken from him, too, but that proved—incorrect.  It was merely missing its skin and the tip of it.”

            “He was found face down and rump up in the water, or so you said?”

            “Yes, my lord.”

            “And you did not question whether an animal or fish might have relieved him of the sac that holds the seed?”

            “How were we to even imagine such a thing, my lord?” the guardsman demanded.

            Daerloth looked sideways at the warriors who flanked him.  “Fellow obviously has never removed the bodies of the slain from a shallow river or stream a day or more after the battle,” he said, shaking his head.  “And if they were naked to begin with—all the more likely that animals would go for such fleshy bits first.  Had they been lying face up, the gorecrows would have gone after the tongue and eyes and cheeks first.  The head of the one child must have been lying somewhat to the side.”

            He looked back at the guardsman.  “So, you interpreted the signs you saw as indications that they had been deliberately disfigured by whoever killed them and assumed it was the marks of some arcane ritual?”

            Vendrion nodded, his eyes fixed on the floor in front of him.

            “Did you find any signs of any ritual in the woods or gully where the bodies were found?”

            “We found part of a wine jar in the water.  And a place where it appeared the children might have been bound to an exposed root.”

            “To which both Farmer Medril and his son Leverion say they bound ropes holding their catch-baskets partly submerged for when they caught fish and turtles there, my lord,” explained Erchirion.

            “Was the broken wine jar any different than what you would expect to find along the Highway or in a secluded area where travelers tend to stay their journeys for rest or a meal?” asked Daerloth.

            “Not really,” admitted the guardsman.

            “Were there thick marks of blood upon the vegetation or the ground where the bodies might have been lying when they were cut in such a ritual?”

            “No, my lord.”

            “Have you ever before seen the body of someone who had been murdered?”

            “Well, no my lord.  Such things don’t usually happen in villages such an Destrier.”

            “Again, you have obviously never been in combat, or you would never assume such rank foolishness.  A person who is cut with a blade bleeds heavily if he is alive when it is done, and if the blade cuts one of the great vessels it can spray around a good deal.  Even one who is slain will have some blood flow from a cut made after death, or at least it will seep out, particularly if the body is kept damp.  But for a child to have his sac removed while he is yet living, there would be a good deal of blood where it was done.  That you found no such signs of blood indicates that the child did not suffer such a wound there at that place while yet living.”

            The Lord of Amon Dîn sighed before continuing, “And there were no signs of lamps or candles of strange colors, or arcane marks cut into the trees or scribed upon the earth itself?”

            “There was a circle cut into the tree----” began Vendrion, but he was interrupted by someone who stood up from one of the benches.

            “M’lord?  May I speak t’that?”

            “And you are?”

            “Galdor, sir, of Destrier.  The youth Garestil—he’s my boy.  And I was the one who dug that ditch, back when I was younger.  The farmer who lived there wanted a damp area in his field better drained, so I dug it back from the field into the woods, then turned to follow an older dry streambed down to the canal.

            “I was courtin’ Garestil’s mother then, and—well, I wanted the world t’know.  So I cut the love sign into the tree with the lifted root.”

            Daerloth pulled at his beard, and turned back to Vendrion.  “Did this mark you saw look like an old love sign?” he asked.

            At last the guardsman nodded.

            He looked at Berevrion.  “Did any of your party see it?”

            “I did,” said the Elf from where he sat with Caraftion, Wendthor, and the battle surgeon on the other side of the room from the table where the clerks sat.  “It had been there for many years, and so I had reason to believe it had no bearing on what was supposed to have happened there.”

            “And do you, as does your Prince Legolas, commune with trees?”

            “I cannot understand them as well as does he, for I was born of the Lindar, and have little or no Silvan blood in me.  But the trees of that area have no memory of such evil happening under them, and did not recognize the bodies as having been those of children of Men.”

            “So, they were dead when brought there.”

            “So it appears, my lord.”

            They sat a few minutes in silent contemplation of what had been said, until at last Lord Daerloth asked Vendrion, “Did you manage to obtain a confession from any of the three?”

            “Yes, sir, we did,” Vendrion said, his posture straightening.  Berevrion produced the original scribe’s copy of Garestil’s statement given them by Veredorn, and Daerloth asked that it be given to Master Umbardacil to be read.

            “And we dropped the bodies into the water, and I could see one wriggling like a worm….”

            “Wait!” interrupted Lord Daerloth.  “I thought that no one could see the bodies because the water was filled with silt!  How could he see such a thing?”  He looked to Vendrion.  “Could you see deep into the water?  Could you see the bodies pressed as you have told me face-down into the mud?”  And when Vendrion merely shrugged uncomfortably he added, “Did you not say that this was why you crawled through the water, feeling with your hands, because you could see nothing below the very surface?”

            Vendrion’s voice was almost a squeak as he admitted, “Even so, my lord.”

            “What kind of foolishness is this?” asked Daerloth.  “Does the mud of Destrier clear away as you say when murder is performed by it only to come back again when the murderers are gone?  And what he describes is no ritual at all—merely happenstance!  And you accepted this as true?

            “And this foolishness of the other two doing—that!—within the ditch when it is obviously so shallow you, who are not a particularly tall Man, could crawl through it----”  He was shaking his head firmly.  “You are either exceedingly weak in the head, totally without any logical faculties, or are so desirous of blaming this Danárion that you will seize upon anything in order to put the blame upon him at any cost.  And I do suspect it is the last that is true here.”  He turned to Benargil.  “Now, how might this one be part of Borongil’s dealings with Isengard?”

*******

            Hanalgor’s testimony from the trial was read aloud by Master Umbardacil, along with both Pardronë and Caraftion’s objections to the manner in which he was accepted by Master Enelmir as an expert on the worship of the Dark Lord.  Then was read the transcript from the questioning of the Man in Destrier before the King’s deputation.  Daerloth did not appear to be greatly surprised by what he heard, not even the admission that Danárion had been purposely targeted because no one else could be found to take the blame for the children’s deaths.

            Those who were at the hearing, however, were not as sanguine.  “Then, when they told us that Danárion, Carenthor, and Garestil killed our sons they were lying?” demanded Gilmar’s father Tevern, who’d been among those who’d arrived that day.

            “Yes,” Caraftion answered him.  “They could not find who had truly committed the murders, and felt they must blame someone, and so chose one they were reasonably certain few of importance would question might have done so, one they knew many would like to believe had done so.  Danárion was not well liked within the village, and his belief in Elves was believed to indicate he worshiped the Dark Lord, even though true Elves have been fighting the Enemy even longer than we have.”

            “And what makes you believe that?” asked one who had come from Anwar itself.

            Daerloth indicated Harolfileg.  “Master Harolfileg has been active in fighting the forces of darkness for—how long was it, sir?” he asked.

            “I fought Morgoth in the First Age of the Sun and through the War of Wrath, and have been fighting Morgoth’s former lieutenant most of my life since.  I survived the fall of Eregion and joined the people of Oropher in the Great Woodland Realm.  I fought Sauron in the Last Alliance, and our people have suffered from his immediate attentions ever since he settled in the guise of the Necromancer on the site of our Lords Oropher and Thranduil’s former keep and built there his fortress of Dol Guldur.  While our Lord King’s son Legolas fought here alongside your Lord King Elessar, we were defending our own borders from Sauron’s last assault on our lands, as has been true throughout the lands of the Free Peoples north of Gondor.

            “The Elves of Middle Earth have ever been his foes, and this was true even before the Noldor returned from Aman in the time before the Rising of the Sun and Moon.  And I will tell you this—I am no Noldo, although those who are Noldor hold if possible even greater hatred for Sauron and his actions than do even we of Thranduil’s realm who have been his closest neighbors and foes for much of this last Age.”

            Daerloth considered the Elf for some moments before turning his attention to the Man who’d asked the question.  “We have been told many lies about the other peoples of Middle Earth, or so it would seem, Master.  I have now seen Elves and Dwarves and Halflings, and have found that each race has been as devoted to opposing the Nameless One as we have been.  Nor were Isildur’s heirs lost as we had been told, but have had to protect themselves from his active attempts to destroy them as occurred here in Gondor with the heirs to Anárion. 

            “Our new Lord King, who is descended both directly from Isildur and from Anárion through Ondoher and his daughter Fíriel, was himself raised in the hidden home of the Lord Elrond Peredhel, heir to Ereinion Gil-galad of song and legend, and own brother to our own Elros Tar-Minyatur, who was the first King of Númenor, and from whom all of our own kings have been descended.  Lord Elrond has always felt himself honor-bound to educate and protect those of his brother’s descendants who would allow him to do so, and the heirs of Elendil and Isildur in Arthedain have all been willing to accept such services from him.

            “So, it would seem that what history we have traditionally been taught in the free schools of the realm is nowhere as—romantic—as we have been accustomed to believe.”

            There was a general murmur of comment throughout the hall in the wake of this, until at last all went quiet.

            The door to the archive opened, and Master Malthor came through it and set a box of documents near where Caraftion sat, and disappeared again back into his own domain.  Lord Daerloth looked after the archivist briefly before returning his attention to Hanalgor.  “So, we have heard what you had to say both in the trials and before the King’s deputation.  What have you to say for yourself now, Master Hanalgor?”

            “What would you have me say?”

            “Why particularly did you decide that the youth Danárion should be named the one who led the killing of the children Gilmar, Nedron, and Bredwion?”

            “Because he seemed the most likely to have cut the children as they were found.”

            “You once served in Amon Dîn, did you not?”

            “Yes, my lord.  I served as a clerk to the quartermaster.”

            “The quartermaster?”  He turned and murmured something to his aide, who sat behind him.  The aide rose and left the room.  “So,” Daerloth continued, “did you ever have occasion to fight in combat?”

            “No, my lord.”

            “And you never had the chance to see the bodies of the slain?”

            “Only those brought back to the fortress afterwards, my lord.”

            “And did you help in the cleansing or preparation of the bodies for burial?”

            “No, my lord.”

            “So, you only saw them dressed in uniform, wrapped in their cloaks, ready for the grave?”

            “Even so, my lord.”

            “Had you seen beneath the uniforms and cloaks and sometimes helms, you would have often seen far worse than what you saw on those boys, Hanalgor of Destrier.  Many of those we brought back to Amon Dîn while you served there had lost limbs, had had their eyes gouged out either by enemies or afterward by carrion birds, had lost parts of their jaws, had their bellies riven open.  We might search two days after a battle to find some of the bodies, and by then birds, animals, and insects would already have begun removing the flesh and organs, and often limbs as well.  It is what happens after a person is slain.  And the animals will sometimes come and try to feed even before the soldier is properly dead.  To believe that the removal of the sac for one’s seed would only be done by one who worshipped the Dark Lord is foolish, and particularly when the shaft of the manhood remains but is missing its skin.  That, my friend, is the work of animals, and the face of death in the wild places.” 

            Daerloth sat back and took a deep breath.  At last he asked, “When did you first begin having problems with the youth Danárion?”

            Hanalgor shrugged, obviously thinking.  “Perhaps five years past.  He and Targon, who was as a father to him, had begun to argue, and at last Targon appealed to us as guardsmen for the village to put the fear of the Powers into him.”

            “And you saw him from the first as perhaps the disciple of evil?”

            “Oh, no, my lord—at first I felt only that he was in need of guidance and teaching, and I sought to offer him such instruction as I had to give.  But he—he questioned much of what I said, and then began to ask those who taught in the free school and telling me that what I said was either wrong or was a misinterpretation of what was truly known.  And when I offered friendship----”

            A voice interrupted, “And was it the type of friendship that you offered me, Hanalgor?”

            Daerloth turned to face the one dressed as a soldier of Anwar who’d spoken.  “You wish to offer testimony regarding Master Hanalgor?” he asked.  In response to the young soldier’s indication he did indeed, he asked, “For the record, may we have your name and position?

            “I am Ingoril, a sergeant in Lord Benargil’s forces, and was born and raised in Destrier, my lord.  I remember Hanalgor from my childhood, and remember when he returned to the village from Amon Dîn some years ago.  And that I am now a soldier of Anwar is in many ways due to his influence.”

            The young sergeant cast a jaded eye over the former gate guardsman for Destrier.  “Hanalgor has had some questionable appetites, and boasts a very healthy concern for his own comforts.  I caught him one day apparently stealing from my father’s stall in the marketplace where we sell the meat from our pigs and the produce of our fields, and I was uncertain what it was I should do.  Once he realized I had seen him, however, Hanalgor was very friendly with me, telling me he had only sought to test how well I watched my father’s goods.  He flattered and praised me, and appeared to put back what I’d seen him take, warning me that there were some who would steal, mostly wild youths such as was Leverion son of Medril, whose father farms on the other side of the village from the land my father holds.

            “In time, however, I learned that he was indeed stealing from many of the stalls in the market, and I reported what I’d seen to Vendrion of the market guards, who promised to keep an eye on him.  But instead I began to be harassed.  Goods taken from other stalls began appearing in the basket in which my mother would pack my lunch, and more than once Leverion would take something from someone else and push it into my hands as he ran by me to make it appear I was his accomplice.  And never would Vendrion go after Leverion, who had taken the thing, but instead would turn on me.  He began to take me to the gaol, but never would the gaolers agree to hold me more than overnight, for once they questioned those who’d lost the goods and me and realized that it was Leverion again doing such things they would know I was not at fault and would let me go.

            “After this had happened the third time Hanalgor approached me and told me that it would cease if I would agree to stop reporting him.  If we were friends, he could do so much for me, he said.

            “I told my father, who spoke with Master Nerwion.  Master Nerwion spoke with Master Fendril, who convinced him that I was merely a troublemaker intent on seeing only evil in Hanalgor’s actions, and my complaints were brushed aside.  Others I knew who were being treated similarly were afraid to speak out, and the few who did could expect to be taken to the gaol.  Finally my father and I convinced one youth whose father used to sell fine leatherwork from Rohan and the North in the market to tell his story to Master Nerwion.  Not long after, the father was assaulted by night as he drove back into Gondor from a journey to Edoras, and was beaten so hard he could no longer walk properly.  Hanalgor and Captain Borongil insisted that it was wild Men from Dunland who had done this, but the youth was convinced that Hanalgor had arranged for the attack to come.”

            Daerloth shook his head.  “Wild Men from Dunland—they’d come all this way to do such a thing?  Why not do so nearer to Edoras?”

            “Master Nerwion advised my father to see me elsewhere, and helped him arrange to purchase weapons and a horse so that I might come and offer myself as a soldier in Lord Benargil’s service.  But he also spoke with a courier from Amon Dîn, and certain agents came to stay in the village for a few weeks, and they caught Borongil setting up hurdles on the bridge over the canal to charge illegal tolls to those who traveled the road who were not from the area and who would be unlikely to question whether such tolls were authorized.”

            “And what did you understand to be involved in being a friend to Master Hanalgor?” asked Erchirion.

            “I would be expected to look the other way when he stole, and would at times be required to hide what he had taken from others.  I might also be expected to steal for him when I could.  I would be rewarded by being given money and by being allowed to drink freely in the alehouse, and would be invited to parties he threw at his home, and would be given his personal protection, which might, I learned from one other boy, involve sharing favors with him.  I had no desire to do such things.”

            “He is lying!” insisted Hanalgor.

            “Is he?” asked the teacher from Destrier’s free school from where he sat on the benches near Master Galdor.  “Then why have I heard similar tales from at least six others?  These I have reported to Master Nerwion, who has forwarded the information, he told me, to your own Sergeant at Arms, Lord Daerloth.”

            “As he did,” said one of the soldiers who had accompanied Daerloth to Anwar, who had just entered the courtroom alongside Daerloth’s aide.  He approached the table and laid down several folders before his lord.  Daerloth perused them, then handed a few documents to Benargil, whose brow rose as he read the portions pointed out by his liege.  He in turn handed them to Berevrion, who examined them with interest.  At last they were given to young Lord Erchirion, who straightened as he read them.

            “So,” Benargil said, “you were dismissed from Amon Dîn on charges of misappropriation of weapons, equipment, and foodstuffs from the garrison’s warehouses.  But it appears that former Captain Borongil and Master Fendril arranged for the records of this dismissal intended to be sent to Master Nerwion to be—amended so that he would be unaware that your record was not precisely clean.”

            Erchirion smiled at the last document he held.  “And then Borongil, who was stationed at the garrison for the beacon at Eilenach and served as quartermaster there, was dismissed on similar charges, but at the time the connection between the two of you was not clear.”

            “And both,” concluded Daerloth, “ended up in Destrier, and on the recommendation of Master Fendril were given positions of authority as guardsmen there, and with the ability to go in and out at all hours with little chance for this to be remarked upon.”

            “And the two of them both apparently were involved in smuggling goods out of Gondor and into the hands of agents of the traitor Wizard Saruman, also known as Curunír of Isengard,” added Berevrion.  “Oh, my Lord Kinsman and Mithrandir will both find this very interesting.”

            Hanalgor’s face was quite white.

            “The goods, then, found in my man’s storeroom,” spoke up Mistress Vanessë from where she sat on the benches, “they might have been among things stolen by Hanalgor here, then?  Things he and Captain Borongil had planned to send out of our village into the hands of enemies?”

            She was identified to Lord Daerloth and her story swiftly told, and the Lord of Amon Dîn and Anórien’s gaze was very cold when he again turned it on the guardsman.  “So, alongside Borongil you were stealing first from our own army and then from your own fellow villagers to supply a rogue Wizard gone warlord, were you?  I think it is time to bring in Master Borongil and whatever others they had as accomplices and learn how they arranged all that they did.”

            Borongil himself entered almost jauntily, not seeing Hanalgor and Vendrion where they’d been removed to stand under guard behind the bench where Harolfileg, Caraftion, Bariol, and Wendthor were sitting.  His genial expression failed for the moment, however, when he saw not Master Enelmir on his low dais but instead Lords Benargil and Daerloth flanked by two more he did not recognize.  He forced the smile back onto his face, and gave a smart military salute to Lord Daerloth.  “My lord, I am at your service,” he declared.

            “Are you really?” Daerloth returned.  “I must ask, were you ever truly at my service?  Or is it not true that you were instead serving yourself and Master Fendril in dealing with agents from Isengard and transferring to them quantities of goods intended for our armies and the people of Destrier?”

            The smile wavered again.  “And who has told you such stories, my lord?” asked Borongil.  “I have ever been one of your most loyal soldiers!”

            “When eighteen barrels of oil went missing, as well as the full contents of a storage shed that had been filled with salted pork and dried fruit intended to provide for those who man the beacon at Eilenach through the coming winter?”  Daerloth’s tone was most chill.  “And it appears that a consignment of spears was somehow mistakenly transferred from Amon Dîn by the quartermaster’s clerk Hanalgor into your charge, but instead of returning them you lost them.  Is that not what led you to be dismissed from my service?”

            “It was but a mistake that any might have made, my lord,” protested the former quartermaster and Captain of the guards and constables of Destrier.

            When Radamir was brought in and Rindor cheerfully rose from his place in the stands to testify against him, however, his smile failed completely, and his brow and upper lip required frequent wiping as he began sweating profusely.

            Master Malthor entered and set another box near Caraftion as the examination of Borongil’s activities went forward.

*******

            Enelmir sat unmoving through all of this; and when at last Radamir and Borongil were returned to the prison, accompanied this time by Hanalgor and Vendrion, he rose from his seat.  “I do not understand why I sit here as if I were a party to their doings,” he said coldly.  “None has named me a conspirator in their dealings with Isengard.  Nor can anyone name me a spy or traitor to Gondor, much less show that I have sunk to such a low activity as smuggling.”

            “Perhaps not, but you allowed these to testify in your court that a youth was an agent to Sauron with little evidence that such could be true,” Berevrion said.  “You yourself allowed Hanalgor to testify fully before the jury regarding what would be true of such a person, even though Master Pardronë had proved that not only was Hanalgor not the expert on the Great Enemy he presented himself as, but that he could not have read The Book of Shadows as he had claimed to have done, as he cannot read Sindarin.”

            “But that was not part of the transcripts!” insisted Enelmir.

            “Oh, yes, it had been removed from the final transcript at your direction as it was not presented before the jury, and the pages covering the questioning of Hanalgor by Pardronë with the jury absent were even missing from the scribe’s copy made by Mistress Lyrien here that was filed in the archives.  But it appears that she, too, has learned to make duplicate copies of her work, having realized that official documents were being creatively—lost and amended.” 

            At the table where Lyrien worked alongside the other scribes and clerks, she could be seen to have a most satisfied smile as she took down her part of the testimony being given.

            “Do you know the penalty to be imposed for altering official records, Master Enelmir?” asked Erchirion.

            Enelmir’s face was stark white.  “You wouldn’t!”

            Erchirion gave him a surprisingly sweet smile.  “Oh, I shan’t—in the end you are to receive your final judgment from our Lord King Elessar himself.  But I will allow you to know now that he takes a very dim view of those who are granted authority who misuse it or allow others to abuse those set under them.  And he appears to have a marked distaste toward those who twist the law to their own ends.”

            “I do believe,” Daerloth said, “that we should now question Master Avrandahil.”

*******

            “Do you know why you were called here to be examined today?” asked Lord Daerloth.

            “I have no idea, my lord.”

            “What questions were asked of you just prior to Lord Berevrion telling you that you were to report here shortly after noon?”

            It appeared that the healer might be biting at the inside of his cheek.  “I—I was asked why some of the enlarged drawings I did for use in the trials had some details—emphasized—from what they were originally.”

            “Can you tell us what the pictures were of?”

            “The—first was of Child Three’s buttocks—of the—cuts on Child Three’s buttocks.”

            “And how had the—cuts—been--emphasized?”

            “I had been asked to—emphasize the length of the cuts more than the separation between the marks.”

            “Who asked this of you?”

            “Master Fendril.”

            “Does Master Fendril often ask you to do such special—emphasis?”

            Avrandahil appeared stiffly uncomfortable.  “I could not say for certain.”

            “Does he do so for every trial in which he prosecutes the realm’s case?”

            “No, not every one.”

            “For what kinds of trials does he tend to require this kind of change?”

            “They are not truly changes, my lord—it is merely intended to emphasize certain details.”

            Daerloth’s gaze grew severe.  “And what kinds of trials does he ask you to change emphasis for?”

            Avrandahil gave a wooden shrug.  “Sometimes it might appear that perhaps the—wrong—person—was being charged with a crime.”

            “I see.”  He turned to his aide.  “Please summon Master Brëon.”

            The aide bowed and again hurried from the room.

            “So,” Daerloth continued, returning his attention to the healer, “he asked you to emphasize length of the wounds.  In what way did you do so?”

            “I—I drew them straighter, more regular, than they had appeared in the first picture.”

            “So, in the first picture they had not necessarily been all that straight or regularly spaced?”

            “That is true, my lord.”

            “I came accompanied by Master Brëon, who rode with Théoden King’s company as warrior and healer, and whom I’ve known for some years.  He chose to linger in my company for a few additional days before returning to his own land.  On learning you were to be examined today, he asked to be allowed to be present when you were come before the tribunal.”

            The door opened and the aide returned, followed by a Rohir of late middle years, his hair more silver than gold, his blue-grey eyes filled with curiosity until they met with those of Avrandahil, at which time the brows lowered.  “Ah—it is the one who would think himself a healer, is it?”

            “You know Master Avrandahil, do you?” asked Berevrion.

            “Oh, that I do.  A greater dolt with illness or wounds I doubt I ever saw.  And do not trust him with any herbs that might harm if given wrongly—he has heavy hands indeed when it comes to dispensing medicaments.”

            “And how is it that you know this?”

            “I was one of those who was to oversee his apprenticeship when he came to Rohan to study to become a healer.  And barely a leech did he prove by the time the period of apprenticeship was finished.”

            “Then you do not find him particularly competent?”

            “Oh, he is competent enough when detailing what he sees, what he observes.  But he proved—incurious, and never learned to ask the questions that make a person a decent healer.  And when he finally began to realize that some questions needed to be asked, he was not good at asking the right ones, and even worse at listening to what was told him, much less at realizing what was not being told him that needed to be learned.”

            “Why did he come to Rohan for study?”

            “Apparently he had tried apprenticing himself to three healers in Gondor, and did so badly that no others would accept him.”

            Avrandahil was apparently grinding his teeth, and his eyes were dark with a fury that he knew he should not seek to otherwise express.

            Brëon continued, “We told him he would do best to work with another—him to see the wounds, the other to deal with them.  Or perhaps, we told him, he could help those who were dead—help to record what could be seen for another to interpret that in the end those who mourned might know how the one they loved had died.”

            Lord Berevrion took up the drawing that Avrandahil had done of Bredwion’s buttocks and held it out.  “If you will examine this and tell us what it is that you believe it shows, Master Brëon?”

            The healer took the picture and examined it.  “Did he do this?” he asked with a jerk of his head in Avrandahil’s direction.

            “Yes,” Berevrion said.

            “Excellent.  A person’s seat, with scratches upon the cheeks of the arse.  Dead—some hours dead, I’d say, from the color, when the scratches were made.  Animal—one with fine claws, maybe a turtle, seeking to spread the cheeks wider apart.”

            Bariol had been examining still another box brought out by Master Malthor, and straightened with something in his hand.  He looked at the Rohir and asked, “And if you saw the same picture but with the wounds straighter, the scratches more evenly spaced, do you believe they might have been caused by this?”  And he held up a weathered fisherman’s knife with comb-like serrations upon one side, intended to remove the scales of a particular fish common to the streams of Anórien.  He rose and came forward to place it in Brëon’s free hand.  The Rohir turned the thing, examining the serrations, and examined the picture again.  “The age of the one who showed such scratches?” he asked.

            “Eight summers, a wide build.”

            Brëon looked at the picture, and finally turned to Avrandahil.  “This was done as close to the size of the child as was possible?” he asked.

            “Yes,” Avrandahil growled.

            “I would say, no—the points are too close together on this.”

            “But for one who is not trained as a healer, might he think this might have been used?”

            “It is possible.  A healer or warrior should see the difference—or maybe not.  Not all understand pictures such as this.  I did some training in Minas Tirith in the Houses of Healing, and such pictures are used there.”  He looked again at the knife before handing it back to Bariol.  “But why,” as he held forth the picture as well, “would anyone use this to scratch a dead child?  A knife is to cut or stab, not to scrape.”

            Berevrion now produced the picture that Harolfileg had found of the second child’s thigh.  “This is a picture Master Avrandahil did of an impression he saw on the leg of a child.  Here are several items that perhaps might have caused that impression.  Do you think that you could identify what made it?”

            On the table he set out a portion of a branch wrapped in cord, the handle of a walking stick that had been decorated with raised whorls, the tally stick Wendthor had found, a gaming piece, and a rod of metal about which leather had been braided.  Brëon quickly flicked the gaming piece and the handle for the stick aside, then turned the other three items first one way and then another before lifting the tally stick, looking carefully between the picture and the item.  “This,” he said at last, “and this part of it.”  He indicated the section of the stick he was certain had been the source of the impression, setting the picture on the table and the stick over the picture.

            Berevrion slid the two items in front of Lord Benargil, who examined the picture and stick closely before passing them to Lord Daerloth.  For a moment Daerloth appeared uncertain how the two would have fit together, and then his eyes brightened.  “Oh—it lay like this!” 

            Benargil leaned closer, as if trying to see what his liege lord saw, but shook his head.  He looked up to meet Berevrion’s eyes,  “But what does this mean?” he asked.

            Bariol explained, “As one child died, he lay with his leg pressed against that tally stick.  He probably lay that way for several minutes after death, but then he was moved.  Master Avrandahil has told us that the blood had pooled mostly on the children’s backs, indicating that they lay primarily on their backs for quite some time after they died during the first half day after their deaths.”

            Tevern stood up, shaking his head vehemently.  “No!  It cannot be!  They told us that the children drowned in the ditch—that they were placed there yet alive!”

            “But Vendrion told us he found them pressed down into the mud face first,” Daerloth said, “and that he placed them upon their sides when he lifted them from the water!”  He turned to Avrandahil.  “Is this true?” he demanded.  “How were they lying when first you saw them?”

             Avrandahil started to speak, but apparently changed his mind about what he’d intended to say.  At last he said, “They were indeed lying upon their sides when I arrived.”

            “And how did you place them in your wagon?”

            It apparently cost Avrandahil much to admit, “Again, upon their sides.  With the bindings still in place, I could not lay them upon their backs, and they had stiffened by then.”

            Master Bilstred, who sat by Lady Marien, Belrieth, and Mariessë, displayed a pleased surprise as he exclaimed, “They could not have died drowning in the water as had been told us all, then.  Master Bariol is right!”

            “But we were told----” began Tevern, to which Lord Daerloth responded,

            “You were either lied to, or you were told this by someone who has no experience in dealing with the dead.”  Daerloth’s voice was stony as he stared at Avrandahil.  “The blood could not have pooled in their backs unless they lay upon their backs for a considerable time within the first half-day after their deaths.  As that half-day progresses the shifting of the blood slows, and after that the blood does not continue to shift.  How often have we seen this with the dead upon the battlefield?”

            “But there was some staining also of their faces,” Avrandahil said, almost as if to excuse himself.

            “Which would be expected if they were then placed face-down and left for several more hours,” commented Brëon.  “But after that the time for the shifting of the blood would be past.”

            “But,” Tevern tried again, “when at last the report came from Master Avrandahil regarding what he learned on examining our sons’ bodies, we were told that he agreed with the guardsmen and constables who told us that the children died of drowning within the ditch!”

            “Let me think of the wording as it was given us,” said the teacher.  “No, it did not say that he agreed, but that he would not disagree with those who said that they drowned.”

            Caraftion held up a document.  “Here is a copy we brought from the archives of Destrier.”  He read aloud:  “As for what caused the deaths of the children, each suffered potentially mortal wounds as each endured multiple blows that cracked the skull, although this healer would be hard put to disagree with the belief of those who found the bodies within the water that the children most likely died of the effects of being denied the ability to breathe.”

            All of the healers and Lord Daerloth turned to look at Avrandahil, each with an expression of consideration or censure, while the parents of Gilmar appeared to be desperately pleading, Mistress Nessa’s expression was that of disbelief, and Rindor appeared angry.  The woman from Destrier rose to her feet, her voice strident, shouting, “See—he is the healer who saw the bodies, and he said that they drowned!”

            Daerloth turned to a guardsman.  “If she does not sit down and keep a civil tongue in her mouth, see her removed.”

            Shocked, the woman dropped heavily upon the bench.

            Daerloth returned his attention to Avrandahil.  “Which is it, Master?  Blows to the head, or drowning?  Had any swallowed water or mud?”

            Avrandahil’s nostrils dilated as he inhaled deeply.  “It is not my duty to overrule those who found the bodies,” he began.

            “Then whose is it?” demanded Erchirion.  “Is this not why you are employed as you are—to examine the bodies of those who are found dead under questionable circumstances and to indicate just how it was they might have come to die?”

            “But I am the servant of the court and the people----”

            “Who have the right,” interrupted Benargil, “to have the truth given them, and not for you merely to bow to the judgment of those who are not qualified to determine the cause of death.  Were the guardsmen and constables who found the boys’ bodies trained as healers?”

            “Of course not!” Avrandahil objected.

            “Then why did you allow them to determine how it was that the children died?”

            To this it appeared that Avrandahil had no satisfactory answer, for he did not respond.

            Caraftion, who had accepted the transcript of Avrandahil’s testimony in the trial of the three youths from Anorgil, raised the pages in one hand while holding up a document he’d found in one of Malthor’s boxes in the other.  “There are other questions as well, my lords.  Here is a transcript made of an interview that Master Pardronë and I had with Master Avrandahil after the first day of the trial.  I asked you, What of the question as to whether the children had been violated before they died—is this true? to which you answered, No, of course not.  If they had, there would have been notable sign, and particularly there would have been tearing of the tissue and probable bleeding.  I asked, Then you found no such signs, and you answered, No.  Pardronë asked, Did you tell this to Master Fendril?  You answered, I never told him there was any sign of the children having been violated.  He asked, Did you tell him that the children had not been violated?  You answered, He did not ask.  He merely asked what signs there would be should this have happened.”  He set the sheet down in the box from which it had been taken.

            “Yet, in the trial,” he continued, “when Master Fendril asked if it were possible that the children had been violated, you said that it not impossible.  He said, The orifice on each was dilated.  You responded, Yes, this is true.  He asked, Is it possible that this could have been due to the children having been violated? to which you answered, It is not impossible.  He asked, Then there might be no other signs of violation?  You answered, If the member used to probe the orifice is small enough and is sufficiently slick, it is not impossible for it to have left no other sign.

            Brëon gave a sound of disgust.  “But when one dies, this usually happens, that the opening relaxes to release the contents of the bowels and that the bladder lets go its burden of urine!”  At a glance from Daerloth, however, he subsided.

            Caraftion set the portion of the transcript he held down on the bench beside him.  “Why did you indicate that it was possible to do that act without leaving a sign of it?”

            Avrandahil shrugged.  “As you must know by now, almost everything is possible.”

            “But you told Master Pardronë and me that it had not happened.”

            “Yes, I did.”

            “But you left the jurors with the idea in mind that, yes, it was possible that this had happened.”

            “If they indeed were convinced that this was happened, who am I to correct them?”

            “But you are the one to whom they look for instruction as to whether or not such a thing might have occurred.  They have, for the most part, little if any experience or training in such matters.  And by leaving them with the belief that it was possible for a person to do such a thing and yet leave no sign, you possibly helped to promote an injustice!”

            “My duty is to examine the bodies and report on what I find and to show the unusual things I note as faithfully as possible through the pictures I produce.  It is the duty of the one who prosecutes the case to determine if there is sufficient evidence of guilt to present this evidence before the court and so convince judge or jury of the rightness of his case.  It is the duty of the one appointed counsel to the defendant to either prove that the one offering prosecution is wrong or to counsel his client in such a manner that he accepts the justice due him.  It is the duty of the judge or jurors hearing the evidence to decide on guilt or innocence.  It is the duty of the magistrate or lord presiding over the case to see that the trial proceeds in a proper and mannerly order in accordance with the law of the land.

            “It is not my duty to prove the guilt or innocence of the one who has been charged.”

            “So,” Berevrion said, “although you knew that no one sought to violate the three children who were killed, still when Master Fendril suggested to the jurors that this happened anyway, you would not gainsay him.”

            “Even so.”

            “And although you knew that the children had to have been dead for some time before their bodies were hidden in that ditch, you still allowed the guardsmen who found the bodies to indicate that the children drowned there, and would not gainsay Master Fendril when he indicated to the jury that this had happened?”

            “He is the one who is to decide how the case is to be presented, and not I.”

            “And when the case is fraudulent, you allow it to go forward?”

            “Who am I to say it is fraudulent?” demanded Avrandahil.

            “You are the one who knows that the charges are false, and you as a citizen of this realm are responsible not to allow a lie that promotes injustice to be presented as if it were true!”  Berevrion’s eyes were blazing, although he kept his tone as civil as was possible.  “No, you did not openly lie, but by concealing the truth, you allowed another’s lie to stand, and thus are complicit with him in promoting injustice.

            “Now, looking at this picture—” and he held up the picture done of the child’s buttocks indicating the series of scratches on each side, “—what did you believe was likely to have caused such wounds?”

            Avrandahil again appeared uncomfortable.  “I do not see myself as one who identifies what causes the wounds—merely the one who reports them.”

            “Then who is it who is supposed to interpret them?”

            “I do not make the case----”

            “So, you will allow Master Fendril to make the determination as to what caused these wounds?  Just as you allowed him to direct your hand to change the lines when crafting the copies so as to make it appear more likely that a scaling tool was used to cause the wounds rather than the claws of an animal?”

            “I am the servant of the court!”

            Avrandahil’s hold on himself had broken, and all were taken by surprise by the vehemence of his words.  For a moment all sat staring at him, shocked by his shout and his now furious eyes.  Erchirion started to lean forward to speak, but was gestured back by Daerloth, whose face was exceedingly grim.  All deferred for the moment to the Lord of Amon Dîn and Anórien, who chose to allow the silence that had followed the healer’s outburst to continue.

            At last Daerloth broke the silence.  “In what way are you a servant of the court?”

            “I have told you—I serve those who are in charge of promoting the laws of the realm.  My responsibility is to them.”

            “And when they require you to lie for them?”

            “I do not lie!”

            “We know—you merely change emphasis as is desired of you, and refuse to gainsay them when they are wrong or would present a lie.  Tell me this—when Master Caraftion and Master Pardronë asked you after the first day of trial whether you had told Master Fendril that the children had not been violated, did you share that this conversation had happened with Master Enelmir?”

            “Yes, I did.”

            “Why?”

            “It is my duty, as an officer of Master Enelmir’s court, to let him know what is asked of me.”

            “And what did Master Enelmir say to you in response to your report?”

            “That I was not to bother my head about the concerns of those who would defend those who have been charged with such heinous crimes.”

            All of the lords straightened and exchanged questioning looks.  At last Erchirion asked, “Are not those who offer counsel to those accused of a crime as much officers of the court as is Master Fendril?”

            “But they defend those who have done terrible things!”

            “Is it not possible,” Erchirion continued, “that some accused of a crime might actually have been wrongly charged?”

            “You speak of the three youths from Destrier convicted of having murdered these children, do you not?  But one of them confessed to the crime.”

            “Under great pressure, yes, he told a story to the guardsmen indicating that he was involved, but what he said has proved to be completely unsupported by the evidence.”

            “Does it matter that it is unsupported?”

            Again the lords stopped, looked to one another, and collectively shook their heads.  Berevrion suggested, “I suspect that at this point it would be best to leave this to my Lord Kinsman.  Master Avrandahil does not appear capable of realizing that when what is offered as justice is anything but just that something is deeply wrong.”

            Daerloth and Benargil nodded their agreement.  “So be it,” Benargil said.  “Guards—take this one to the prison.”

            Avrandahil straightened, apparently only now realizing the danger into which his own words had brought him.  “But I am an officer of the court!” he insisted.

            “Even officers of the court end up facing judgment when they participate in promoting injustice,” Daerloth told him.

            Enelmir watched a shaking Avrandahil as the healer was led out.  He then looked at the four lords who sat before him.  “Then you are saying that I, too, have participated in injustice.”

            Berevrion answered him, “Yes.”

            “But you have no proof that the children did not die as Garestil said in his confession.”

            “But we do.”

            “But Garestil confessed to having participated in the murders.”

            “And if he lied under pressure from those who wished to have Danárion charged with the murder whether he was involved or not?”

            “But you cannot prove that!”

            “Did you not hear the reading of the admission by Hanalgor that indeed they sought any pretext to arrest Danárion, and that they put pressure on Garestil to tell them what they would hear?”

            “But how do I know he actually said this?”

            Berevrion stopped, and looked at Enelmir with unbelieving eyes.  “Do you,” he asked, his words deliberate, “accuse us of doing what you have allowed—the removal or changing of information from transcripts of interrogation that might cast doubt upon what has been decided in your courtroom?”  He indicated Veredorn, who sat amongst those who surrounded the families of Carenthor, Garestil, and Danárion.  “There sits the official scribe for the guardsmen and constables of Destrier.  He was prevailed upon by Borongil, Hanalgor, and Vendrion to change transcripts he made of the original questioning of Garestil, and he would not.  So they had a scribe from Hevensgil do the changes instead.  Mistress Lyrien and Master Anorgil took down all of the records of our proceedings in Destrier, and you already have had evidence this day that Mistress Lyrien is most painstaking in seeing her records complete and exact.  And remember that Master Anorgil was recommended by the Master of the Guild of Lawyers of Minas Tirith himself, and charged with his duties by our Lord King Elessar.  I do not believe that either changed even a word from what was actually said.”

            “I change nothing in the official transcripts of trials held here in Anwar,” Enelmir hissed.

            “I must admit that so far we have not found changes of words within the official transcripts, but do you deny that you have instructed Master Umbardacil to leave out of the official transcripts those conferences and times of questioning that occur when the jury has been excluded from the room?”

            “But such information is not used by the jury to form their decisions of guilt or innocence!” Enelmir objected.

            “Those who review trials must know all that is discussed, both before the jurors and in their absence, if they are to truly appreciate whether the trial was fair or biased.”

            “Are you saying that I was biased in my handling of this trial?”

            “Did you enter the trial convinced either way of guilt or innocence?  Did you favor either the prosecutor or the defending counselors when they objected to something said by the other side?  Did you allow the witnesses either for defense or prosecution to speak fully while limiting what was said by those who supported the opposing case?  If any of these is true, then you have displayed bias.  We are all guilty of bias from time to time, which is a good reason why there is the process of appeals available, and why it must be utilized when dealing with a case in which a man’s life lies in the balance.  It is why, when depicting Justice as a figure, the one holding the scales is shown wearing a blindfold.”

            Benargil looked toward where Anorgil sat amongst the clerks and scribes.  “Master Anorgil, how many times did each side offer objections in this trial?”

            “I have counted fifty-four by Master Fendril, and a total of seventy-two between them by Masters Pardronë and Caraftion, my lord.  Master Enelmir supported all but three objections made by Master Fendril, while he supported twelve made by Master Caraftion and three by Master Pardronë.”

            “Did he limit the testimony of any of those called as witnesses by Master Fendril?”

            “No, although he did so with five, no seven, of those called by Masters Caraftion and Pardronë.”

            “Was the authority of any of those called to testify by Master Caraftion or Master Pardronë questioned?”

            “No, my lord—none of them was challenged by either Master Fendril, Master Enelmir, or any other on the basis of their qualifications to speak.  But there were questions regarding the likely truthfulness of the testimony to be offered by at least three who were allowed to testify for Master Fendril, and two others were shown at the time to have fraudulently described themselves as qualified to speak on matters on which they were to testify, yet were allowed to speak freely before the jurors anyway.”

            Daerloth asked, “Were all who contributed to the materials to be reviewed in considering the appeals of the defendants allowed to present what they pleased to both Lord Benargil and me?”

            Anorgil eyed Enelmir before changing to a different document and perusing it.  “Neither side reported objections to the reports presented, although Master Caraftion did lodge a formal complaint that the consultations on what would and would not be allowed presented before the jurors had been excluded from the transcript of the trial that had been prepared for the reviews.  We do now know that certain pages of the scribe’s copies made by Mistress Lyrien were removed from the archive before our arrival here, and Master Malthor told Lord Benargil earlier in the day that the only one to examine the files since he was entrusted them by Master Umbardacil after he brought them with the final official copies of the transcript and before he, Masters Enelmir, Fendril, Caraftion, and Pardronë met to prepare the materials to be presented to Lord Benargil and then you, Lord Daerloth, for the review of the appeals, was Master Enelmir, a week before that meeting was to occur.”

            “So,” Daerloth said thoughtfully, his eyes on Enelmir, “should either of us seek to see what might have been excluded and asked for the scribes’ copies, those pages would not be available to us?”

            “Apparently.”  Anorgil set the paper down upon the table, his gaze now fixed on it.

            Caraftion had been looking through the folder on top of the first box Malthor had set by him, and stopped, bringing out a thick sheaf of papers bound together on one corner and examining it closely.  Something in his intensity caught the attention of everyone else.  Daerloth enquired, “You have found something, Master Caraftion?”

            The lawyer looked up and asked, “Do you have any record of exactly which documents you read during your review of the case?” he asked.

            “Yes.”  He turned toward the table at which the clerks and scribes sat.  “Master Crëarnil, did you bring with you as I asked the record of when you and I went through the documents presented us on the appeal sent regarding this case?”

            “Yes, my lord.  I have it here.”

            “Good.  Bring it and come stand by me.”  As Master Crëarnil did as was asked of him, Daerloth explained to Berevrion, “Master Crëarnil is the Master of the Guild of Lawyers for Anórien and my own advisor on matters of the law.  I would have asked him to stand by Master Enelmir had he asked for counsel, but as you know, Enelmir refused.”

            Once Crëarnil stood beside his lord, Caraftion rose, the thick document in his hand, and approached the table at which the lords sat.  “Will you please read the list of documents that you examined, Master Crëarnil?”

            The venerable lawyer cleared his throat and began to read:  “The official transcript of the trial of the youths Carenthor, Danárion, and Garestil of the village of Destrier in upper Anórien in the matter of the unlawful deaths of the children Bredwion son of Rindor, Gilmar son of Tevern, and Nedron son of Lindon.  The writ of appeal submitted by Caraftion of Pustien on behalf of the youths Carenthor, Danárion, and Garestil of the village of Destrier in upper Anórien in the matter of the unlawful deaths of the children Bredwion son of Rindor, Gilmar son of Tevern, and Nedron son of Lindon.  The writ of appeal submitted by Pardronë of Lissom on behalf of the youth Carenthor of the village of Destrier….

            The list droned on for some minutes, and through it all Caraftion kept his eyes fixed on the title of the document he held, his expression becoming grimmer as he listened.  When Crëarnil was done, he asked, “You did not find in it the document entitled, “A transcript of a questioning of the youth Garestil son of Galdor made three days before the proposed trial of the youths Carenthor, Danárion, and Garestil of the village of Destrier in upper Anórien in the matter of the unlawful deaths of the children Bredwion son of Rindor, Gilmar son of Tevern, and Nedron son of Lindon?”

            Crëarnil went through his list again, although thankfully without voicing it, and at length answered, “No, that was not among the documents that we received.”

            Caraftion looked to Lord Benargil.  “And do you remember going through this document when considering the appeals, my lord?”

            Benargil shook his head uncertainly.  “The names of all of the documents all end similarly,” he said.  “But what was the thrust of the document?”

            “When my clerk and I arrived here three days before the trial was to begin, Master Fendril came to my lodgings to tell me that he had approached Garestil hoping to encourage him to recant his own recantation of his original so-called confession, and to testify against Carenthor and Danárion in the coming trial.  He told me that Garestil had agreed to do so.  So, I went, accompanied by my clerk from Pustien, to the lesser gaol where youths are held and asked him what it was he intended to say.  This is the transcript my scribe made of that conversation.  I asked him to tell me what he had been doing on the day of the murders, and first he gave me the details for what he had done on the day before Midsummer that we already knew to be true, and spoke of how he had been approached by Carenthor to go to the woods on the other side of the canal from Master Medril’s farm to pick blackberries.”

            “But the murders took place two days before Midsummer, did they not?” asked Daerloth.

            “That is true, but ever in his mind Garestil has been convinced that the children died in the morning of the day on which their bodies were found.  I did not seek to correct him this time, my lord, for I would have him say this as he believed the murders to have happened.  I asked him to describe when he first saw the children, and he now said he had seen them first as they rode into the woods where he and the others sat, drinking the brandy stolen from Master Medril’s stores, the brandy we now know was actually taken by Leverion son of Medril and shared with his friends.”

            Wendthor raised his hand.  “I have reports pertinent to that, my lords.  I’ve been keeping them until it appeared there was an appropriate time to see them presented.”  So saying, he leaned down to pick up a stack of papers from beneath the bench and rose and approached the table, handing each of the four lords a copy of a report on the conversation he’d had with Narvil and his friends in which the murders had been discussed, including Narvil’s revelation that he knew that the liquor had truly been stolen by Medril’s own son and shared amongst Leverion’s companions.  He also handed each a copy of a statement written by Narvil himself to this effect, giving the original into Daerloth’s hands.

            “Now, my lords,” Caraftion said as Wendthor returned to his seat, “I will read to you selected portions of this statement that at first he said was true.”

            What he read made it very clear that Garestil had not seen the actual gully and drainage ditch where the bodies of the boys had been found and where they had supposedly died.  He then asked Master Crëarnil to read the description of the same place as given by Vendrion from his first report on the finding of the bodies.

            “So we found it as well,” stateded Berevrion, with indications of agreement from the rest who’d been to Destrier.

            Carenthor continued, “He was asked to describe the water in which the bodies were found.  ‘It was deep, real deep,’ he’d answered.  ‘Over their heads.  Over my head, too.  I could see them, down too deep to reach, and one was wriggling like a worm.’  When asked what time he’d left the village with Carenthor and Danárion he now indicated that they’d done so at the sixth mark after noon.  He’d brought the bottle of liquor, which he now claimed had been given into his keeping, and he described it as being a common green glaze such as was used in the alehouse.”

            Anorgil then read from the report made by Medril to the constables on the theft of the liquor, and it was made plain that he purchased his bottles from the potter in Hevensgil and that he specifically chose ones that were unglazed on the outside and were made from a mixture of terracotta and a fine white clay, leaving them a pleasing light reddish brown.

            “The strangest thing of his narrative, beyond his placing the murders the day before Midsummer, is that he has them leaving the village at the sixth mark after noon, yet returning home midway between the seventh and eighth marks, well before sunset, in order to make ready with his father for the celebrations for Midsummer and to join with those who lived on either side to go to the village square for the Midsummer Feast.  Yet, when asked to describe the time it would take to get to the gate and then from there to the beam where they crossed to the other side of the canal, he stated it would take better than three quarters of a mark to make the entire journey from his home to the beam.  Yet he says that they were gone only for the time of one and a half marks?  How was there time to go, do what was done, and return again?

            “And in describing what could be seen from the place where the children died, he described the farm beyond Master Medril’s farm, and made some major errors in his description.  But none of this was visible from the ditch, and he specifically answered the question as to whether he’d gone through the woods into the field, No.”

            Caraftion stopped, and laid this document before Benargil.  “Does any of this sound familiar, my lord?”

            “I never read this, or heard its like,” Benargil admitted.

            In response to a look from the lawyer, Daerloth said, “Nor have I seen or heard this,” to which Crëarnil agreed.

            “Yet I specifically placed this document in with what was to be sent to you, my Lord Daerloth.  See my seal here?”  Caraftion pointed to the place.

            Wendthor, who was rummaging through the same file, lifted up a second document. “Here is another copy of the same, with a letter attached addressed to my father, begging him to read this thoroughly,” he said.

            Caraftion straightened.  “Master Fendril, Pardronë, and I each left our own set of documents in the hands of Master Enelmir, who was charged to see them forwarded to each of you, my lords.  Not even his clerk was to touch these until Enelmir saw them placed in the boxes in which they would be sealed by him to be carried to your attentions.  I included this to demonstrate to the two of you how it was that the youth had no idea as to what those woods or the ditch within it were like, much less when the children actually went missing.  When your responses were returned and the list of documents reviewed by you did not include this one, Enelmir merely sniffed and advised me that I had sent too much, and you both must have felt it beneath your dignity to bother yourself to read this one, or one that Pardronë had sent, either.

            “And now I find this in this box prepared by Master Malthor for us to take to the King’s presence….”

            Malthor had just come out with yet another awkward box, and paused when he realized the attention of all within the room was on him.  Daerloth said, “Master Bariol, if you would take the box Master Malthor holds, please?  And Wendthor, please give that document into Master Malthor’s hands.  And if you, Master Malthor, will please tell us how it is that you came into possession of this?”

            Malthor took the document into his hands.  “It was the evening when all of the lawyers came here to prepare with Master Enelmir the boxes of documents intended to be reviewed by Lords Benargil and Daerloth for the appeals.  I’d come with the boxes, and stood by to see Master Enelmir begin to pack them.  But there were a few documents he did not place in the boxes, and when he had the boxes filled and then closed and sealed he told me that there was no room for these and that there were already documents that covered this information.  He instructed me to see these documents burned.  But—well, my lords, it goes against my training to see any properly prepared document destroyed….”

            When Wendthor took him into his embrace and squeezed him mightily, Malthor appeared alarmed, and many within the room laughed, although Enelmir’s gaze ought to have seared the flesh from his bones.

            “We have heard enough,” Daerloth said.  “What think you, Crëarnil?  He now goes to the King for judgment?”

            “Indeed so,” the Master of the Guild of Lawyers for Anórien said.  “And to think we even considered him to take my place when I am ready to give over my office!”

            Two soldiers came forward.  “Hold him in the guardhouse rather than the prison,” Benargil directed.  “First, I suspect that the prison is becoming overly crowded, even for just overnight.  And I would hold him where he cannot communicate with the others.  He is to ride tomorrow in the midst of a circle of six mounted guards, at least two of whom are to be bowmen.  He is to be properly garbed as my Seneschal—for the last time.”

            “But,” demanded Rindor once Enelmir had been taken out, “if Danárion, Carenthor, and Garestil are innocent, how was it that our children died?  And where?”

            Wendthor brought forth the satchel they’d found outside the byre for the abandoned farm, and Berevrion held out to him the tally stick.  Both were laid upon the table before Lord Daerloth.  Wendthor described how he and Faradir had been sent to examine the track from the abandoned farm opposite that of Medril to the second one two miles east of Destrier along the Highway, and how when a second path seemed to lead more directly toward the Highway he’d taken it and found it led to the byre.  He explained how he’d explored the ruined building while he’d awaited the arrival of his companion and found the tally stick and realized its intent, and how he’d taken it to show his lord father.

            Berevrion then took up the tale.  “It was Harolfileg who saw the picture of the impression that Avrandahil documented as having been found on the upper leg of one child and asked after it.  We all examined it, and we decided to take all of the pictures and reports that Avrandahil had made regarding the deaths of the children, and at Anorgil’s suggestion we also brought away those regarding the murder of Drevendion of Amon Dîn allegedly by Dorndrol of Anwar, as again in that case it was made to appear that arcane beliefs and practices related to the worship of Sauron were involved.  Anorgil put these two into his own satchel, and the rest were gathered and sealed until they can be reviewed in Minas Tirith by a healer trained by Master Elrond of Imladris. 

            “When we arrived at the gate to the village, Wendthor was awaiting us, the tally stick in hand, and I recognized that this was what had left that impression on the child’s leg.  So, once Harolfileg and Bariol had agreed, we sent the rest of the party on, and we set off for that abandoned byre to search it.  Wendthor showed us as best he could where he’d found the tally stick, and we found the stone with which two of the children had been struck, and where the third was thrown against a wall and his skull cracked.  Once we knew where it was that they had died, we went out and looked down the narrow path that Wendthor had followed, and saw how it would lead back to the other abandoned farm and the drainage canal, and how the one who slew them had sought to hide the bodies so that he might be far away before they were found.”

            He indicated that Bariol should now continue.  “From what we had read of the reports sent by Master Avrandahil to the people of Destrier, it was evident that the true cause of death in each case was the repeated blows to the back of the head of each child.  One child appears to have died very shortly after he was struck, and it was he whose body lay face-down with his leg pressed to the tally stick.  Whoever struck them then probably fetched in the ponies that they not be seen by passers-by and cause someone to come close to learn why it was that two ponies stood there.  He then apparently turned the children over upon their backs to ascertain whether they yet lived, and decided that it would be best to remain where he was until he was certain all who were likely to pass by might have returned to their homes in Hevensgil or Destrier.

            “After a time whoever killed them stripped their bodies, and bound them loosely with their own lacings, one end of a binding to a wrist, and the other end to the same ankle.  It is similar to the manner in which some animals are bound after they are slaughtered to carry them to the cool room to be hung up and bled.  The bodies were carried thus, perhaps suspended from the pommels of their own saddles, to the ditch and were hidden there.  The ditch was shallow and would not be likely to be considered a proper hiding place for the bodies; but the mud was thick at the bottom of it, definitely thick enough to hold the bodies down, and the water dark enough the bodies would not be seen.

            “The ponies were then led back along the path to the beam that bridges the drainage canal, and there they were killed and thrown into the water.  They were not pushed or dragged—they were thrown.  There were not the marks upon the ground to indicate creatures of such weight and with shod hooves were forced over it, or so Master Amdir has told us.”

            “But what does this tell us?” asked Benargil.

            “First of all, that none of those accused of this crime could have done such a thing, even working in concert.  Danárion could barely hold anything using his one arm, with it newly released from a splint after it was broken.  Then, as he could not bear the touch of a horse, it is not likely he could bear that of a pony, either; how, then, was he to help in the disposal of the bodies of the creatures?  Garestil is too small to have assisted in lifting such an animal free of the earth, and we are told that at the time Carenthor was little taller, although he appears to have grown a good deal in the last few months.”

            “I cannot think what sort of Man might have lifted the bodies of two ponies and thrown them as if they were bales of hay into the water,” Benargil said.  “One would need the strength of a troll to see it done, or so I would think.”

            “Or perhaps one of the greater Uruks,” suggested Berevrion.  “We know that the Enemy had enough of those at his disposal, and my Lord Kinsman tells me that Saruman was apparently breeding Uruks with Men, and that many against whom they fought in Helm’s Deep were mightily strong.”

            “I can vouch for that,” grunted Brëon.  “Many were not only larger than Men, but were immensely strong, often raising their massive siege ladders alone where it would take several Riders of the Mark to do the same.  And they did not quail from the light of the Sun as do most orcs and goblins, and more resembled Men than have any others of the creatures of the Dark that I have ever seen.”

            “Then, perhaps such a creature killed our sons?” asked Mistress Nessa.

            “So we have come to believe,” Harolfileg said.  “Not all who have sheltered in the ruins of that byre have been Men, or wholesome.”

            “But what in Middle Earth were the three of them doing there, two miles away from the village?” demanded Rindor.  “How was it they came into the clutches of such a creature?”

            Berevrion opened the satchel and lifted out a cotte and laid it upon the table, then a pair of trews, and then a shirt, and Mistress Nessa cried out, “No!  Those were Nedron’s!”

            “We know,” agreed the northern lord, his own voice filled with grief and compassion.  He pulled out the small picture.  “And this was there, too.  We believe he intended to run away, even as he’d told his sister.  He could no longer bear the cruelty of Vangil, apparently.”

            “And they would see him upon his way,” continued the Elf, his eyes filled with the grief his kind knew all too well here in the Mortal Lands.  “So they brought him to the nearest shelter they could think of where few were likely to seek for him until he could be clear away.  Only they could not know that another already sheltered there.”

            Mistress Vanessë had left her place and approached the newly stricken woman who had blamed her son for the death of the other’s child, and took her into her arms, her own tears joining with those Nessa was shedding, her croons of offered comfort mixing with sounds of the other’s grief.  “I am so sorry, Mistress,” she murmured as she stroked Nessa’s hair.  “I am so, so very sorry.”

            And Nessa wept into the other’s shoulder….

Journey Toward Judgment

            A recess was called, and when all resumed their places Nessa was again seated upon a bench, but this time on the other side of the room, near Danárion’s mother.  Nessa’s eyes might be puffy and her nose still red, but she was outwardly calm, her grief replaced by a new purpose.  Tevern and Renalta appeared confused and possibly rebellious.  Rindor sat somewhat apart from them, his own attention divided between those seated at the lords’ table and Caraftion.

            Pardronë had finally arrived, reporting that he’d not been home in Lissom when the summons came, but had been to a farm outside Raeglib where he was helping an elderly farmer prepare for his imminent departure of the Bounds of Arda by seeing his affairs put into proper order.

            “Why did you not allow Carenthor to speak on his own behalf?” they asked him.

            “You have read the transcripts of the trials, or so it has been told to me.  You know how Fendril twisted everything said by Danárion and managed to make it appear that he was lying.  He would have done the same for my client.”

            “Why did you not call others who could say that Carenthor was home caring for his brothers?  There are those who could testify he was there.”

            “His younger brothers?  Do you not believe that Fendril would have done everything he could to make them look and feel confused and as if they were merely lying for him?  They were children, after all!”

            “Yet he called the two young girls who said that they had overheard Danárion admitting his involvement in the murders a week after Midsummer, and in spite of the fact they could say nothing beyond they believed they had heard this, they were believed by the jurors.”

            “Yes, he convinced all that they told the truth even though they could not name those he told this to or say whether he said this as if it were a solemn secret or the worst of insolent answers to an impertinent question.  And he managed to make the eight who said that Danárion was at the home of Targon’s sister and her husband appear to be lying, primarily because Danárion himself put himself there in the afternoon rather than after the evening meal.  And why he would do this----“

            “Did you not seek to find out why he might have been confused?”

            “How can someone be so confused as to mistake whether one was in a place in the afternoon or the evening?”

            Bariol said, “Because he was under the influence of both poppy and hemp, given him by the healer to help him with the pain of his arm.”

            Pardronë for the first time appeared surprised rather than defensive.  “This is true?” he asked.

            “Yes—we have seen the records made at the time, and all agree that Danárion would most likely not have been fully coherent in his mind until after he’d had a full sleep.  And before you ask, I know from my own experience with those under my care to whom I’ve given such mixtures that he would probably not have been likely to have behaved violently toward any at that point, and afterwards he probably fell asleep until the drug’s influence was fully spent.  Also, those who served on the gate say he never left the village that night, much sought to enter it later—neither he nor Carenthor.  And you did not think to summon one of these?  But more to the point, the neighbor to Carenthor’s family has stated that he and Carenthor were engaged during much of the time he was supposed to have been outside the village in pursuing the family dog and removing it from the neighbor’s garden.”

            “I did seek to have a gate guard speak for Carenthor, but Captain Borongil let me know that none of his Men would speak for any of the youths.  He spoke most—persuasively.”

            “Did he threaten you?”

            “Not directly, but----”  He shrugged, and it was plain that something in Borongil’s attitude had convinced the lawyer of his intent.

            “Your family, perhaps?  Or someone you care for deeply?” asked Berevrion gently.

            Pardronë glanced into his eyes, then looked away, again shrugging.  It was enough.

            Erchirion asked, “Why did you not cooperate more closely with Master Caraftion?  He was, after all, seeking as strongly to serve Carenthor as he was either of the others.”

            “I knew that Carenthor was innocent, but could not know that of the others.”

            “That attitude was obvious, and may well have added credence in the minds of the jurors to the idea that all were therefore guilty.”

            Pardronë’s expression was pained.  “Perhaps,” he admitted.  “It is too late now to rectify that, however.”

            “Perhaps not.  Tomorrow we are to return to Minas Tirith with all who appeared here this morning.  Will you go with us as the King himself examines the case and grants final judgment upon all?”

            He straightened.  “The King will be the final judge?”

            “Even so, Master Pardronë.  After all, he has been appealed to personally by Mistress Vanessë.  Will you come with us?”

            “I did not come prepared for this!  Do you ride first for Amon Dîn?”

            “Even so.”

            “My wife and child—I would not leave them unprotected.  May I go and fetch them—bring them with me?  We can arrive there tomorrow in the evening, I’d think!”

            Daerloth smiled.  “Go, then, and I shall send one of my own guards with you to see to their protection as you ride.  And ahorse you may end up arriving before us, for we shall have two wagons accompanying our party.”  He turned again to speak with his aide, who bowed and gestured for the young lawyer to join him.

            Daerloth now looked to those from Anwar and Destrier who still sat upon the benches.  “We will be ending this tribunal, and thank you for your patience and courtesy.  If you have any final concerns or information to share with us, if you will share that with us now?”

            One of those from Anwar itself glanced at those Men who sat nearest him, and rose slowly to his feet, his hands on his upper thighs as he stood.  “We here, we seven—we were among those who were on the jury.  We could not begin to appreciate why anyone would question our votes for guilt, so we came this day to hear just what foolishness you would seek to provide that might serve to cast doubt on the verdict we rendered.  We did not expect to find that Master Enelmir himself would be under investigation, much less all of these others.  You say that all of these were in league, intent only on seeing to it this Danárion should take the full blame for the murders of the children and should suffer the rope?  But why?  Why would Enelmir agree to be party to such vile doings?”

            Berevrion caught the gaze of Daerloth, who nodded to grant him the right to respond.  “We asked much the same questions in Destrier,” he said.  “There it appeared that all, even the village Master himself, was privy to the plan to see Danárion hang at any cost.  But instead we learned that although the ends appeared the same, the reasons were varied.

            “Danárion has not been a well loved individual there for some years, not since he became one of the primary butts for jibes and attacks by the youth Leverion, whose father is wealthy and whose mother has until now been perhaps too influential for the good of all.  Sergeant Ingoril, I see you have returned here after seeing your charges to the prison.  Can you perhaps help explain some things for these?  Will you agree to answer our questions?  After all, I believe you are much of an age with Leverion, are you not?”

            “I am a half year older than he.”

            “And already a sergeant?”

            Ingoril’s face took on an expression of discomfort Berevrion had seen often enough on the faces of those who’d survived combat.  “I somehow managed to survive several battles with the enemy, and to save more than I’d thought to from an ambush laid by a battalion of orcs and foreign Men some six miles east of here.  One of those I saved was sergeant before me.  He lost a leg and must be released from duty, and he begged our Captain to put me in his place—said I’d proved myself a canny one in battle, and quick to recognize dangers others missed, as well as one who was fair but still a forceful leader.”

            “Then I will tell you that you will be honored by my Lord Kinsman for what you have done.  He knows well how it is in a sudden battle, and how the quick awareness of one such as you may save countless lives and help to turn the tide toward victory.”

            “Perhaps.  Thank you, my lord.”

            “So, it appears that Leverion has been one of Hanalgor’s—friends—for some time.”

            “Even so.  Although that may simply be due to the fact that many have always been unwilling to do aught to rile Mistress Anhildë.  She has always seemed to think that her son could do no wrong, and that any who sought to criticize or correct him was being unfair, and she would prevail upon all, as she put it, to put things right, meaning that whoever had offered what she saw as offense needed to be made to apologize even if it was Leverion who’d done that one wrong.  She was—tenacious, and in the end more deferred to her than they did to Master Nerwion’s wife.  Although that perhaps is understandable, as Master Nerwion’s wife has committed the unpardonable sin of having come from Raeglib, which is seen as far more foreign in Destrier than having been born in the Eastfold of Rohan.”

            “So, Mistress Anhildë might, then, have come to see those who she believed championed her son as her allies, and overlooked what else they might do?”

            “Yes.”

            “And Nerwion, although he was born in Destrier, might be seen as suspect solely because he had the temerity to marry a woman from Raeglib?”

            “Oh, definitely.”

            “When did Leverion begin to particularly target Danárion?”

            “When did he not?  No, I suppose it was about the time Danárion was twelve summers.  He was very smart, and read everything he could find to read, and understood it.  As Leverion saw it, that was getting beyond himself, so he began to make fun of Danárion, particularly when Danárion received constant praise from our teachers in the free school and he did not.  That Leverion found nothing he felt worthwhile in study and was more intent on appearing to find the requirement we attend it distasteful and thus constantly earned disapproval made things worse.  Once he found that Danárion was sensitive to the fact that his father by birth had left him and was certain that the Man was some paragon of virtue, he began to use the fact that Danárion was not Targon’s true son as a bludgeon against the boy.  Danárion wasn’t sufficiently tall or strong enough to protect himself physically, but he was quick also to find weaknesses and to exploit them in barbed words. And it grew from there.

            “We knew that Danárion had often been sickly when younger.  That his parents never bought him a pony was seen as somehow suspect.  Although I suppose it would have been just as bad had we known that he could not touch a horse or pony lest it make him ill.  He had no interest in currying favor with those who chose to run mindlessly, and became increasingly critical of Leverion for his bullying and for his brutish interests.  This made Mistress Anhildë complain of him constantly to the constables and guardsmen, demanding they intervene to somehow protect her son, and so Vendrion began to be critical of the boy who so offended Leverion.  Once he was established as a gate guard, Hanalgor at first sought to shape Danárion into one of his minions, but found Danárion saw through him.  So he began finding everything Danárion did suspect, and his acceptance of the old tales of Elves as great heroes as ominous.  We used to make fun of Hanalgor for his superstitious nature, and that did not earn us his favor, none of us who did not follow the lead of Leverion.”

            “So Vendrion was mostly seeking to placate Mistress Anhildë, whilst Hanalgor was at first reacting to Danárion’s rejection of his advances and then probably the boy’s outspoken criticism and jibes at his expense.”

            “Yes.”

            “Was Danárion aware that Hanalgor stole from the marketplace?”

            “Of course.  We all knew soon enough.  And he saw Master Nerwion’s refusal to investigate and do anything about the situation as him somehow being complicit with Hanalgor’s actions, so he had critical things to say about him, too.”

            Berevrion summarized, “And then Master Targon went missing, and Danárion’s real father returned and proved anything but the paragon that the boy had expected.”

            “Yes.  And he was too stupidly proud to admit that the situation was horrible, even as Radamir spent away all of the family’s substance and they had to keep moving into meaner and meaner lodgings.  Radamir was stealing, too, but the guardsmen would do nothing, and now that Borongil had come and was Captain of the guardsmen and constables, things grew steadily worse.  Oh, Amdir tried more than once to take him in charge, but always he’d find that somehow Radamir was out again, and he’d be advised to leave him alone, that it was somehow important to the welfare of all that Radamir remain free.  And then Borongil, Hanalgor, and Vendrion became allies in whatever it was that they did together, which I learned just today was in selling goods from Destrier to the White Spider of Isengard—it was simply not a good setting for anyone who held any measure of integrity. 

            “I’d always wondered why Nerwion didn’t interfere, and came to believe with Danárion that perhaps he, too, was party to whatever sins Borongil led Hanalgor and Vendrion into.  But now it appears that he was under pressure from Master Fendril to allow these to follow their own way no matter what, and by the time he decided to intervene he no longer was able to wield the authority to curb them openly, and so must appeal to allies elsewhere to have Borongil removed.”

            Erchirion suggested, “Then perhaps Danárion might have realized that his father and the guardsmen were together committing illegal acts and was criticizing them for it.  That would surely add to their joint hatred for him, and would encourage Hanalgor to imagine even greater evils he was capable of.”

            Ingoril nodded.  “I would not be the least surprised.  And once he and his mother together threw Radamir out of their house for seeking to force his daughter, and virtuously tried to return what they suspected to be stolen goods, that would have been the crowning offense in their eyes, if I know Hanalgor at all.”

            “So,” said Erchirion, “to keep their secret and make aught that Danárion might say about them and their possible complicity with Radamir’s thefts appear suspect, Vendrion and Hanalgor began to openly accuse Danárion of worship of the Enemy and madness, seeking constantly to take him in charge or see him held in the madhouse here in Anwar, and Borongil freed Radamir one more time but publicly drove him out of the village and back to the company of his second wife in Raeglib.  The murder must have been seen as the perfect vehicle by which to assure that Danárion could be gotten rid of permanently.”

            “But,” said Wendthor as he joined the line of reasoning, “then they must rid themselves of Carenthor as well.  After all, Carenthor was well thought of throughout the village for his gentleness, integrity, and artistic nature.  If he were to protest that Danárion was being wrongfully accused, then people would be more likely to listen and perhaps intervene.”

            Erchirion’s eyes were alight.  “I think you have the right of it!  Ah, Benargil, but you have a son to be proud of!  Yes—so that is a good part of why they must make Carenthor appear a party in this—if he is suspect in the murders as well, then their own sins remain the more securely hidden!  But they must find one they can manipulate into telling them what they would hear—and enter Garestil!”

            Berevrion turned back to the party identified as the former jurors.  “When we spoke with Nerwion at the last, he admitted that he had allowed them to investigate Danárion to distract them so that hopefully Constable Amdir could continue to investigate and possibly identify the true murderer.  When he realized that they had already rendered Amdir as impotent as he found himself, he then suggested to Mistress Vanessë that she write to Lord Denethor and now our Lord King to send someone to investigate the case.  Just as Master Nerwion needed to obtain help from someone in authority in Amon Dîn so as to circumvent Master Fendril’s influence and rid the village of Borongil’s corruption, if he was to further purge Destrier of Vendrion and Hanalgor he must find someone else from outside to come in and expose them.”

            “Then why isn’t Master Fendril here before this tribunal as well?” demanded the Man who’d spoken before.

            Berevrion smiled.  “Oh, but we have decided to leave him to our Lord King’s own attention.  And I truly doubt that he will find my Lord Kinsman’s attention—comfortable.

            “But what of the seven of you?  Are you still convinced that Danárion, Carenthor, and Garestil killed those three children?”

            He who’d spoken said, “Well, I would certainly be unlikely to find them guilty were I to vote now.  But I do find it impossible to imagine that an orc of some sort would be hiding out in a byre and would kill the children when they happened across him and then choose to hide the bodies in such a manner.”

            Another in the party lurched to his feet, leaning on a crutch.  “I used to be a soldier myself.  Lost my leg fighting orcs in Osgiliath.  And I’ve never heard tell of an orc who’d hide a body—they either eat them or hack them up and leave them lie.”

            Berevrion tried to explain, “But the orcs that Saruman has bred are cleverer than are those that Sauron employed.  They appear to have more Mannish blood, and are more capable of devious thought.  They can be just as brutish as are the orcs of Mordor or the mountainous lands, but are better able to plan and foresee consequences than are Sauron’s creatures.  And they would make better spies than would a common orc, who is barely able to think of more than following orders, seeking his next meal, fighting, and hopefully bettering his position by killing those who stand immediately above him and taking their places.  If he had a decent store of food, such a creature would realize that it would be best to hide the bodies rather than eat or leave them, which would alert all that an orc was on the loose and send out soldiers to track him down.”

            But he could see that three of them at least were unimpressed.  Never having dealt with the Uruk-hai of Isengard, they could not imagine any orc could think in such a deep and logical manner.

            “The question still stands,” he reminded them.  “Would any of the seven of you vote to find Danárion, Carenthor, or Garestil guilty now?”

            “But if these didn’t kill the children, and it wasn’t a new kind of orc, then who does that leave?” asked a third.

            “I hate to speak ill of the dead,” said the teacher from Destrier, “but I tend to believe that, having realized that Nedron was running away, his stepfather Vangil followed the boys and sought to force his stepson to return home.  But when Nedron refused to do so, I suspect that he struck him and hurt him so badly that he realized that the boy was apt to die, so he killed the others to keep any from learning the truth.”

            “No!” said both of the couple from Destrier in concert with another observer from Anwar.  Their next protestations overlapped one another:              “You will never convince me that anyone other than that Danárion killed those children!”  “You would let a killer of innocents go free to continue his worship of the Dark Lord and one day kill again?” “But Danárion killed those boys—everybody knows it!”

            “No!” roared someone else, although later none could identify who this was.  “It was Rindor who killed the children.  Look how he killed Bredwion’s mother so soon after!”

            The room was in an uproar, and at an order from Daerloth the hall was quickly emptied of all observers save for Rindor himself, the family members of Garestil, Carenthor, and Danárion, and the seven jurors.  All of them appeared decidedly unsettled by what they’d just witnessed, and Rindor appeared torn between shock at the accusations just aimed at him, fury at those who named him the murderer of the one he’d always considered his son, and fear for his own life.

            “Dírhael!” he suddenly cried.  “He’s somewhere out there!”

            “Fear not,” advised Daerloth, sitting back heavily in his chair and wiping his face with a kerchief.  “I had one of my Men take him and the other members of the families of the children in hand, and they are to be taken to the Keep and kept safe under the care of Lady Marien.”

            “Bless my wife!” murmured Benargil as he nervously combed his hair over his bald spot with his fingers.  He looked across at a white-faced Wendthor, and suggested, “Perhaps you should go to her, my son, and help calm them as you can.”

            Wendthor nodded, and he crossed the hall toward the door, pausing to give the assembled lords a final respectful bow.  Benargil smiled at the youth.  “I must say, I am very proud of you, my son,” he said, at which Wendthor looked up in surprise, a delighted grin breaking across his face before he went on his way.

            Once all were calmer, the juror who’d spoken first sighed, looking toward the door.  “You asked, my lord,” he said, turning back toward Berevrion, “what we would vote now.  As I said, now I would not vote guilty.  But I never dreamed that Master Enelmir himself was keeping a good part of the truth from us.”

            “I voted guilty,” a second one said, “because I knew that Garestil had confessed.  And I thought, no one who is innocent would think to confess to such a thing.  But now I’m not so certain.”

            The former soldier who was now crippled shook his head.  “I’m not so certain they did it, but I still don’t believe in orcs who think more like Men.  Maybe that teacher was right, though, and this Vangil did it.  But, if so, how is it he wasn’t charged then?  And did I hear rightly—he’s dead now?  How did that happen?”

            “I’m certain they’re guilty,” a fourth said.  “I was certain then and am certain now.  And this talk of conspiracies in Destrier involving even Master Fendril and Master Enelmir—preposterous!”

            One of the remaining three said he couldn’t make up his mind whether they were guilty or innocent, and appeared surprised to learn that in that case, were he voting now he’d be required to vote innocent as he obviously was entertaining a reasonable doubt, while the other two merely indicated they’d no longer vote guilty.

            Malthor came out with still another box bound for Minas Tirith.  “I think there’s but one more box to go,” he informed Lord Benargil.  “But we’ll need to see them properly closed and sealed.  Most of the boxes with the evidence are still sealed from the end of the trial, although there are two that had no lids and so will need to be closed in some manner before they can be sealed and loaded into a wagon.  And the inventory is not precisely in order or complete, I fear.  This has all proved most irregular.  And Lord Erchirion took The Book of Shadows already, and that was considered evidence, after all.”  He looked at the seven former jurors and examined them uncertainly.  “And are you to go to Minas Tirith as well?” he asked.  “I’ve never heard of the jurors themselves being part of an appeal before!  Although there is the report that Master Bridion just gave Master Enelmir last week regarding his client Dagon son of Trevorn.  He was the foreman of this jury, was he not?”

            “Yes,” said the one with the crutch.

            “What about him?” asked Benargil.

            “On hearing that our Lord King had sent a deputation to investigate this trial, Master Bridion felt Master Enelmir should be made aware that Dagon had consulted with him after the first day of the trial was over as to how he might convince the rest of the jury to vote guilty.  It would seem Master Fendril had regaled him some nights earlier with details from the confession he had obtained from the youth Garestil, who he was now certain would testify against the others.  And, having heard these details, Dagon was already convinced of the guilt of the three youths before he was chosen to become part of the jury.”

            “Sweet Valar!” murmured Berevrion, sitting back heavily in his chair and letting his arms hang down loosely on either side.

            “Oh, but it’s worse,” Malthor continued.  “He had met with Bridion that night originally to consult regarding his own upcoming trial on charges that he’d been failing to pay taxes on the profits made on all of his sales of shoes and boots from his shop.  And he told Bridion that Fendril had indicated earlier in the day that if he’d make certain that this jury would vote guilty, he would do his best to see that Master Enelmir dismissed the charges against him.”

            “Where is this report?” asked Daerloth, his face grey with fatigue.

            “In box eight,” Malthor said.  “I rescued it this morning from the brazier in Master Enelmir’s office and substituted an old inventory from the warehouse where evidence is stored.  You can’t just destroy reports like that!”

            One of the last two jurors to speak looked warily from one party to another.  “So,” he said, “it’s true—he wasn’t supposed to tell us what Master Fendril had told him about Garestil’s confession?”

            “Indeed not!” Benargil exploded.  “Of all the things to do!  And Enelmir was concealing this from me?  Forget garbing him as my Seneschal one last time!  This is totally inexcusable!”

            Berevrion was now rubbing heavily at his eyes.  “He knew why we are here, and he would still let things stand and conceal this from all.  And he insisted he was not conspiring to send one innocent to the gallows and the others to the quarries!  I have a feeling that things are going to go very badly for him once Aragorn gets hold of him.”

            Daerloth nodded.  “So do I, Lord Berevrion.  The King’s Majesty will not like this at all.”  He turned to those who were still in the room.  “I fear that all of you will be required to speak before the King.  Benargil, summon guardsmen or soldiers to see these escorted to their homes to prepare for a hasty trip to Minas Tirith.  They will need to sleep apart from their families tonight—this is not the type of news we wish spread throughout the city and the countryside without the walls before the King has dealt with it.”

            “I will see to it,” Benargil told him.  He sighed.  “I’ll send word to Marien and Dalrieth to make up the rooms in the east wing for these and Master Rindor and his son.  I do not believe it is safe for him to return to the inn.”  He shook his head in frustration.  “And what are we to tell the populace?”

*******

            Master Bridion, a lawyer of Anwar, went to answer the pounding at the door, and found a guardsman from the Keep outside.  They spoke briefly, and the guardsman saluted and withdrew, leaving the lawyer looking after him despondently.

            “What is it, beloved?” asked his wife.

            “I am summoned to Minas Tirith, to the King’s presence,” he said, his voice heavy.

            “But that’s to the good, is it not, to come to the King’s notice, and as young as you are?”

            “Not in this manner,” he said darkly.  So saying, he turned toward their bedchamber to begin packing.

*******

            Dagon son of Trevorn was just sitting himself down with his friends, a pitcher of ale before them and filled mugs for each, when two constables entered the inn and approached him.  “Dagon, son of Trevorn?” one asked.

            “Yes.  What is this about?”

            He was totally unnerved when one laid a hand on his shoulder.  “You are to come with us, and I must advise you to say nothing to us, for aught that you might say may be used against you at trial.  You are under arrest for malfeasance while serving on a jury in a court of this land.”  And he was hauled to his feet and led out of the inn, his friends watching disbelieving in his wake.

*******

            Benargil came out upon the steps of the Keep to face those who stood in the square between the keep and the Hall of the People.  “I must tell you,” he announced, “that the King’s deputation sent to inquire into the case built against the youths Carenthor, Danárion, and Garestil of the village of Destrier in the matter of the unlawful deaths of the children Bredwion son of Rindor, Gilmar son of Tevern, and Nedron son of Lindon, has finished its investigation here within upper Anórien, and tomorrow will be returning to the King’s presence with what they have learned.  They have chosen to leave unresolved the question as to the guilt of the three youths and their final fate.  It will be now up to the King himself to pronounce their doom, for good or ill.

            “With them will go others to also be examined by the King himself, for in the exercise of their commission they have managed to uncover a ring of smugglers who were selling goods stolen from the people of Destrier to agents of enemies of our ally, Rohan.  These individuals have had a dark history of theft and misappropriation of goods from the garrisons at Amon Dîn and elsewhere, and appear to have been aided and abetted by at least one prominent lawyer for the fiefdom who will have much to answer for before the King.  In the exercise of these illegal activities, these have been found to have apparently engaged in falsification of legal records, unethical behavior with those chosen to serve on juries, attempts to suppress and destroy evidence of their perfidy, and attempts to corrupt the courts of the land.

            “I and my household will be going with them, and in our absence the business of Anwar will be conducted by Master Crëarnil, the Master of the Guild of Lawyers for Anórien, who has graciously agreed to serve as my deputy during our absence.  There will be a number of individuals who will be accompanying us, for we have far more who will be required to serve as witnesses than we had anticipated.

            “I will leave you with this:  our Lord King Elessar Envinyatar Telcontar has declared that he will have the justice offered in this land be truly just, and he would have us all reminded that when we come before magistrate, judge, or lord for justice, we are to be considered innocent until and unless we are proved guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.  And he will not deal lightly with those who seek to turn this precept around, and who will insist on seeing any accused of any crime as being guilty until proved innocent.  He truly wishes to see Gondor and its people renewed, and that is the goal we now all strive for.

            “I thank you for your courtesy, and I have no doubt that when we return it will be to find that Anwar and its lands will be in good array and continuing to prosper, now that the greatest evil of our time has been removed from this Middle Earth.”

            With that he dismissed them and returned within the Keep.  “I still feel that using the term doom was perhaps far too solemn,” he said.

            “You will not regret it in the morning,” promised Lord Daerloth.  “Now, put off the gloom.  You will be meeting the Lord King, you and your family, and I suspect you will find him quite different from what your expectations might be.  And I find I am anticipating the reactions you will know when you see him and his Companions for the first time.  Sit down, Man, and have a glass of this excellent wine.  Tomorrow, after all, will be the start of a new day.”

            Benargil wasn’t so certain of that, but allowed himself to be persuaded to relax for what remained of the evening.  And as he sipped from his cup, he certainly hoped that what his liege lord had just said would prove true.

*******

            The door to his cell opened, and Danárion was instantly awake, feeling beneath the thin pillow granted him for the rod he’d removed from his bedstead, hoping he would not be required to use it.  In the earliest days of his confinement here that door had been opened in the early hours of the day by guards intent on seeing this prisoner humiliated and degraded, and he’d come to dread the opening of it when it happened without forewarning. 

            Those guards were gone now, removed from service in the wake of the wonder of late March.  Those who’d served since in the portion of the prison housing the death cells were more akin to the gaolers in Destrier, respectful but firm when dealing with their charges.  Still—who knew what evils even these might be willing to demonstrate?

            A figure entered, whispering, “Danárion—wake up!  We have to prepare for the journey to the King’s court!  And we’ve decided on one change.”

            The voice was strangely familiar, waking memories of his earlier youth.  “Ingoril?  Is that you?”

            “None other, Danárion.  Get up, relieve yourself if you must, and we must get you dressed before the other guardsmen come to bring us away to the wagon.”

            “Us?  What’s this about us?”

            Ingoril was removing his coat of mail and laying it over the foot of the narrow cot.  “We’ve decided to have you sit by the driver, you see, and I’m to take your place in the wagon bed.  I’ll be wearing leather armor under your clothing, and you’ll have my mail to wear to protect you.  There are some vicious folk out there, we’ve learned.”

            “Wait—but you’re a soldier now, aren’t you?”

            “Yes.”

            “And I’m to pretend to be you, and wear your mail and uniform?”

            “Haven’t I told you that?”

            “But I’ll have to wear your sword!”

            “So?  Are you planning to use it on me or the driver of the wagon?”

            “Of course not!  But I’m a prisoner still!”

            Ingoril laughed.  “You are going to need to become reacquainted with life in freedom, won’t you?  Now, let’s get moving—we don’t have much time!”

*******

            A stepstool had been provided to help Garestil climb up into the bed of the wagon.  There were two benches here, and ahead of him a figure already sat, chained to staples fixed to the floor of the box.

            “Watch yourself there,” a soldier said, his tone remarkably pleasant as he helped the youth maintain his balance.  He commented to another, “I swear this one is almost as small as the two larger of the Pheriannath, and I’m almost tempted to help him as I would a child, just as I am with them.”

            His fellow laughed.  “Try that with the Ernil i Pheriannath and you’re likely to find yourself on the ground with the point of that sword of his at your throat.  For all of his small size he’s yet a canny warrior.”

            Between the two of them, Garestil was comfortably seated and the chain attached to the staple before him.  “There’s a pallet there if you wish to lie down,” he was advised.  “And there’s a water bottle there.  And do put on the hat—don’t want to end up red and in pain before the morning’s out.”

            A few minutes later and Carenthor was seated beside him, and he, too, was being advised to don the hat left for his use.  One soldier explained, “We’re sorry you’re to miss your meal here, but they’re to bring a basket of food for you.  The wagon will be going first with a ring of guards about it.  And know this—we’re here to protect you more than we are to try to keep you from escaping.  Although seeking to escape would work to the bad anyway—you’ll be far safer in Minas Tirith than you would be here at this point.”

            A few more soldiers came forward, and one who was smaller than the rest was proving rather clumsy as he walked to the wagon and climbed onto the seat by the driver.  Carenthor suddenly straightened.  “Danár—” he began, but the formerly friendly guard struck the bench with the sheath for his sword.

            “Quiet there, prisoner!” he said, loudly.  “You will not speak unless spoken to, do you understand?”  He then leaned forward as if inspecting the chain and murmured, “If you value the safety of your friend you will sit quietly and not seek to speak to him.  We’re doing our best to safeguard you all.  There have been threats.”

            Carenthor nodded stiffly, and turned his head to examine Garestil.  There was a strange smile on his face.  “They meant what they said yesterday,” he whispered.

            Garestil wasn’t certain what all of this meant, but he knew one thing—that short soldier—that was Danárion.  And if that was Danárion, who was seated on the bench ahead of them?  He reached down and got the hat and put it on as commanded, and wordlessly handed Carenthor his as well.

*******

            The couple from Destrier arrived at the gate to the city with their horses, and Berevrion found himself muttering under his breath, “As if things weren’t complicated enough without putting up with more fools!” as he came forward to speak to them.  “You are going all of the way to Minas Tirith?” he asked.

            “Yes—we are going to insist on speaking with the King.  He can’t let these escape their just punishment!”

            “If you think that our Lord King will listen to your statement and blindly bow to your superior knowledge of the situation and do as you demand, you obviously do not know my Lord Kinsman,” he said.  “But if nothing will deter you, let it be on your own heads.  But you will need to pay your own way.  I never counted upon having so many to bring for the King’s judgment, but then I’m not certain why I thought this deputation would prove to be straightforward in nature.”  With that he turned and strode away, checking to see that the rest of the prisoners were properly accounted for, and making certain that Enelmir’s horse was ready for when they brought him from the guardhouse.

On the Way to Judgment

            Aragorn was seated in his office, examining a draft of the letter he was proposing to send to Paladin Took as the Thain of the Shire, Frodo and Pippin beside him, when there was a knock at the door, and a page delivered a missive.  “Aha!” he said, examining the address on it.  “Finally, more word from Berevrion.  Hopefully he will be on his way back now.”

            “Has he been able to determine whether this Danárion is guilty or innocent?” asked Frodo.

            “From what I can tell, he appears to have established the innocence of Danárion and the two others fairly early on.  However, in trying to find out how it happened that three innocent young Men should have been condemned, one to death and the others to a life of hard labor, he found himself facing a good deal of confusion, or so Margolan tells me.  It appears this portion of Anórien will be requiring a good deal of straightening up.”

            He had the message open by now, and was reading.  His face grew increasing solemn as he read, and he straightened more the further down the page his eyes went.

            “He’s going all kingish again, as Sam would put it,” Pippin confided to his older cousin.  “Must by serious.”

            Aragorn had obviously heard that as he said, “Yes, it is.  I’m sorry, Frodo, Pippin, but we need to prepare for the arrival of a large party that is now on its way here from Amon Dîn.  I suspect they will arrive possibly sometime tomorrow early in the day, but it’s not a good deal of time to prepare.  And tomorrow afternoon I shall again be required to be fully kingish indeed.  Do remind me to thank Sam for that word—I find I rather like it.  We’ll have to resume work on this in a few days, once the furor of this invasion from Anórien is over.  If you’ll excuse me, my friends.  And Pippin—you are to attend on me in a mark and a half’s time, so you’d best get down and into uniform swiftly.”  And he was out of the room, calling already for the Housekeeper and the Seneschal to be brought to him in the second audience chamber as swiftly as possible, and perhaps Lord Húrin as well….

*******

            Lord Húrin and his wife Lynessë had been visiting with Prince Faramir in his private quarters when the summons found them, and so came down to the second audience chamber together.  Aragorn was leaning over a table, Mistress Gilmoreth, the head Housekeeper, on one side and the Seneschal on the other, as they went through a list of the guesthouses for the city in the Sixth Circle.  The King looked up at the Warden of the Keys and smiled briefly to see his spouse with him as well.  “Ah, you have come in good time,” he said.  “We will appreciate the advice of both of you, I do believe.  We are about to be invaded by a veritable army from Anwar and upper Anórien.”

            “Who comes?” asked Húrin.

            “Lord Daerloth will be returning to Minas Tirith alongside Lord Benargil of Anwar and his household.  I believe that in Lord Benargil’s party there will be eight individuals, one of them Lady Marien’s lady’s maid.”

            “Including his Seneschal, Master Enelmir?”

            “Enelmir will be coming, but independently of the rest of Benargil’s family.  He will be housed here in the Citadel, but I feel it better we put Lord Benargil in a guest house.”

            “Perhaps Master Enelmir would enjoy the Blue Suite,” suggested the Housekeeper.

            The King, however, was grimly shaking his head.  “No, I have far different plans for his housing.  Lord Húrin, are there any cells in the dungeons below the Citadel that are fit to house a prisoner?”

            Húrin appeared shocked.  “Enelmir is coming as a prisoner?  But what did he do?  Or, perhaps I should merely ask what did he finally get caught doing?”

            “You aren’t surprised?”

            “There’s always been an oily feel to Enelmir, and I know my Lord Uncle distrusted the amount of influence he exercised over Benargil.  Our Lord Denethor had always suspected that one day Enelmir would go that step too far that would expose him for the manipulative soul he is.”

            “How about Lord Benargil himself?”

            “Oh, if it weren’t for Enelmir’s influence he’d be a nice enough person and probably a very effective lord of the realm.  I don’t think that there’s anything particularly bad to him, which is why I said nothing when Daerloth vouched for him when you were considering the question of confirming his position as Lord of the district ruled by Anwar.  There is no question of his loyalty or his willingness to hazard himself in defense of his own lands and of Gondor in general.  But it has always been true that he has allowed Enelmir to dictate how he will respond to political issues.  He’s not anywhere as brilliant as was his father, or than his son Wendthor promises to become, but mostly he’s a decent sort.  I must say that if he’s bringing Enelmir here as a prisoner, it shows a good deal more initiative than he’s displayed in years.”

            “He’s had the influence of my kinsman Berevrion to consider,” Aragorn commented laconically.  “I remember he was a rather placid child when last I saw him, and that he followed me about like a young dog choosing its master.”

            Seneschal and Housekeeper exchanged looks, but knew better than to ask.

            “But why the dungeons rather than the prison?” Húrin asked.

            “I wish to keep him isolated from a few of the other prisoners, and I have a particular aversion to those who act as judges who are willing to play a part in promoting court authorized murders.”

            Lynessë had been scanning the list of those who would need housing, and stopped short at one name.  “Oh, no!” she said.  “Not that one!”

            “Who?” asked the King.

            “Fendril of Destrier.  We won’t be housing him within the Citadel, will we?  The Man is insane!”

            The Seneschal appeared stricken.  “That one?  The one who used only his chamberpot and threw its contents out into the garden?  Oh, but my lords, the servants would never stand for him to come again!”

            Aragorn looked from one to another, his eyebrows raised.  “So, he’s been here before, has he?”

            “Oh, but indeed,” Húrin said.  “About nine or ten years past.  A most uncomfortable person who sees evil in everything upon which his eyes fall.  Although I’d understood he removed from Destrier to a village not far west of Amon Dîn not long after he visited with us.  Very close with Enelmir.”

            “I will see to it that he dwells alone, then.  Wait—the Princes’ Chambers in the Tower of Ecthelion itself—we could house him there.  And I could set one of my own to wait on him.  Läendril would be perfect to play the bumbling fool of a manservant for him, and could learn much for me.  It will be but for a day or two before he is brought before me for judgment.”

            “Judgment?” Húrin asked.

            “You are surprised?  But you yourself indicated but a moment past that he has ever been close to Enelmir.  Oh, yes, I think I shall take a great interest in seeing both brought to their just desserts.  Now, about that dungeon cell….”

            Húrin’s smile was not particularly pleasant, although it was satisfied.  “I rather think I know of at least two, my Lord King.”

*******

            As they approached the Rammas Echor, about which masons labored, Fendril found himself being joined for the first time during the two and a half days since they left Anwar by others.  He’d been just as happy riding alone, actually, as he often had difficulty communicating with other people, a phenomenon he’d always attributed to the enhanced mental faculties he was certain he possessed.  But he had to admit that he’d begun to feel particularly isolated, considering how large the party was and how everyone appeared to be purposely avoiding him.

            Those now riding by him were that northern lord said to be a kinsman to their new King and Anorgil son of Gilflorin.  The northern lord’s companion, that officious Faradir, joined the two mounted guards behind them.  “Have you found it a pleasant ride, Master Fendril?” asked the lord.

            “Not with that opposite us,” Fendril answered, indicating the Mountains of Shadow across the river, “knowing who hides therein.”

            Berevrion’s glance at Anorgil was filled with question.  He returned his attention to Fendril.  “And who is it that hides therein?” he asked.

            “You know who it is—the Dark Lord, in hiding as happened before.  It is but a matter of time before he will emerge again and once more seek to make himself the Lord of all!”

            “But he is no more, not since his Ring, into which he poured so much of himself, was destroyed.”

            “And they lie to themselves who believe such things,” Fendril declared.  “So he would have us believe.  But in reality his secret worshipers keep him alive, and they will return to him the power he once held.”

            “And you know this how?”

            Fendril looked sideways at the Man.  “It has been written,” he declared with all the authority within him.  “It is why we must always be awake and aware, be on guard against those who seek that which is different, for he will ever catch them by their own curiosity.”

            “I will not dispute that he, as is true of his Master before him, may remain as a malicious whispering within our hearts.  But it is up to each of us to refuse to respond to the selfishness and abuse toward others that he would inspire in us.”

            “I tell you, we must be constant in our vigilance, and cast down those who would tell us that he is defeated forever.”

            “And why that?”

            “Because by breeding complacence in us, they prepare the ground in which his evil seed will fall and take root!”

            The Man fell silent, and Fendril was certain that he had been convinced of the fact that the Dark Lord but awaited the turning of his enemies’ backs to creep back into power once more.  The lawyer looked forward, and felt anger and foreboding at the sight.  While they were at Amon Dîn they’d been joined by several more, including Amborn, who farmed the land in the bend in the canal southwest of the gates to the village of Destrier, and his daughter Argilien.  And now he saw that these two rode alongside the wagon in which rode those worshipers of the Dark, Garestil, Carenthor, and Danárion.

            “No!” he exclaimed.

            The northern lord appeared alarmed.  “No to what, Master?” he asked.

            “He will befoul her spirit, that Danárion!  She must be told to ride elsewhere!”

            “You would deny one condemned to the rope the chance to visit while he can with the one he has come to love, Master?  You would not allow him that comfort before he must die the death?”

            But Fendril was seeking to spur his horse forward, intent on ending so illicit and dangerous a conversation, only to have one of the two guards who rode before him fall back and put his hand on Fendril’s bridle.  “No, Master,” the guard said.  “You must remain in your place in the procession.”  And something in the Man’s eyes warned him that the guardsman meant what he said, and would not fail to intervene with force should he continue to seek to go forward.

            “Besides, she does not speak with those in the box of the wagon,” noted Anorgil as Fendril dropped back to his previous position.  “Nay, she is speaking with the one who rides alongside the one driving it.”

            “I cannot imagine why,” Fendril said.  “Fool was useless when those who attacked the wagon leapt onto it as we left the gates of Anwar.”  Somehow remembering that made him feel more cheerful.

            “Those who guard the prisoners and the prisoner himself saw to the defense of all, it seems,” the northern lord said with a backward glance at the cart that carried the two who’d sought to assault the prisoners.  “Although why those two would think to deny these the King’s judgment is beyond me.”

            At that moment one of those who’d ridden at the front of the procession rode back.  “Lord Berevrion!” he called.  “We approach the gate to the Pelennor, and apparently one awaits us who would speak with you!”

            The northern lord sighed, nodded, said, “If you will excuse me,” and rode forward to join the messenger, heading for the front of the line.

            One he was gone out of earshot, Fendril glanced sideways at Anorgil.  “So, you have done fairly well in Minas Tirith?”

            “Well enough.  I have been qualified both as a clerk and scribe as well as being able to offer counsel before the magistrates’ courts in the lower circles of the city.  For the past year I have served primarily as one of the Master of the Guild’s personal clerks and scribes, and it was on his recommendation I was chosen to accompany Lords Erchirion and Berevrion to Anwar and Destrier.”

            “And you, a son of Anórien, are convinced that there are none who worship the Lord of the Black Land?”

            “I never said such a thing.  Indeed, the King himself has told me that he is aware that such has happened.”

            Fendril felt his heart lift at that.  “He knows the truth, then?  Then he is not as are those who question all?”

            “Oh, he tends to question a good deal from what I have seen.  But he feels himself to be required to treat the pleas of the most common of his subjects as seriously as he does the requests of the greatest of his lords.  There is no question he already is putting his own stamp upon policy and perception within the realm.”

            “And he himself would hand down the dooms of those three perfidious youths?”

            He failed to note the stiffness with which Anorgil responded to that question.  Anorgil managed to keep his voice smooth enough as he shrugged and answered, “As he had promised to personally look into the plea of the mother of Danárion, it is in the end his right and duty to hear all that not only Lord Erchirion and his own kinsman Lord Berevrion have to say, but the testimony of all those who bear witness and complaint regarding the actions of those who might be responsible for this terrible crime.”

            Fendril felt pleased.  “Excellent!” he said.  He glanced behind him.  “I had hoped to ride beside Enelmir and learn more of his concerns.  He apparently has felt much agitated by the questions he heard from those who have formed this deputation the King has sent.”

            Again Anorgil shrugged.  “I must assume that you appreciate that such matters as the worship of the Great Enemy tend to be discounted by most in other fiefdoms.”

            “The more fools they,” Fendril said darkly.  “Their own smug surety that there are no such creatures as those who worship the Nameless One will in the end prove their undoing, I fear.  Such foul creatures thrive in the blindness of those about them, and rejoice to be overlooked by those among whom they move undetected.  It is up to us who know the truth as revealed by the Champion of the Light to use whatever means we find needful to unmask them and bring them to the ends they deserve!  The land must needs be purged of their foulness and perfidy!  Else, such innocent creatures as yon maiden shall become tainted by their inner darkness, and may also need to be removed lest she spread the taint the faster.”

            “So, you feel justified in using whatever means necessary to expose these horrible individuals?”

            “Oh, yes!  Why, they will even suborn children to speak for them to protest their supposed innocence, and we must be willing to prove to all that this happens.”

            “What if it appears that those who must decide the guilt or innocence look to possibly choose wrongly?”

            “Then you must be willing to offer incentive to those who subscribe to the Light to pressure the rest to change their minds.”

            “You would do such a thing?”

            “I have told you—I will do anything I must to see brought down those who might seek to empower the Dark Lord to rise again!”

            “But it is said that this cannot happen, that he poured too much of himself into his Ring, and that with It destroyed he cannot return.”

            “As I have said to the King’s kinsman, so he would have us believe.  Oh, indeed we must practice constant vigilance….”

            “I see.  Oh, but wait; it appears that Lord Erchirion summons me.  Forgive me that I must leave you.”  And so saying, Anorgil rode forward to the side of Imrahil’s second son, leaving Fendril riding alone again, a lone guardian against imagined ills and devils.

*******

            It was with relief that the party from Anórien dropped from their mounts at the gap where once the great gates to the White City had stood.  Guards in black and silver surrounded the wagons and carts, taking the various prisoners in charge and marching them rapidly inside the walls and away.  The cart that held the boxes and crates of evidence and documents also disappeared within, and a pony cart waited to accept the luggage of those who’d come to observe the King’s justice fall upon Danárion and his companions.

            Fendril stood uncertainly, surveying the blackened land that had once held the farms that had primarily supported the populace of Minas Tirith.  “Stars!” he whispered.  “What happened here?”

            Faradir, who was nearby, releasing worn saddlebags from the ties that had secured them during their journey, paused, raking the scene with his eyes.  “War happened here,” he responded.  “By the time we who followed our Lord to the battle arrived, Sauron’s forces had razed the farms and villages, and all who had refused to leave their homes on the direction of Lord Denethor had been cruelly slain.  We could not see the surface of the earth for the vast number of soldiers, Men, orcs, and Trolls that struggled here.  They had poured balls of stuff flaming with fire over the walls and set much of the lowest level of the city ablaze, and there were even buildings in the Second and the Third Circles alight.  We are told that not long ere we arrived the Witch-king himself had directed the use of a great ram to break down the city’s gates, but had been interrupted ere his creatures could enter in and utterly destroy the First Circle by the arrival of the Rohirrim.  To our knowledge no evil Man or beast managed to enter the city itself, but it was not for want of trying.”

            The two of them had turned as he’d spoken, and now looked up at the signs of battering and soot that had defaced what had been the White City’s shining walls, and Fendril found himself trembling to see the defilement that the Great Enemy had managed to leave in the wake of his armies.  “He must be made to pay!” he declared.

            “Who must pay?  Sauron himself?  Oh, that he has already been made to do. To watch the Towers of the Teeth and that great wall that were the primary symbols of his lordship and cruelty swallowed up by the Earth itself as at last the Powers finished up the battle before the Black Gate was the most terrible and awe-filling sight I have ever beheld.  And in the distance we could see the tower of Barad-dûr crumble into rubble and Oródruin tearing itself into pieces.”

            “You should not have the temerity to speak—that one’s—name,” Fendril said, amazed at the other Man’s foolishness.

            “Why?  Am I to believe that by doing so I somehow invoke him?  But we of the North have never feared to speak the name of our greatest foe, who has ever sought to see us utterly destroyed and the last lines of the ancient Kings reduced to mere memories.  We have never ascribed to him more power than he actually wielded, although there is no question that such was bad enough.  But always to us he has been known as Sauron the Accurst, Sauron the Deceiver, Sauron, the Enemy of all who would live free.”  So saying, Faradir pulled his bags from the back of his steed, and gave the beast over to the grooms come out to see to the horses.  Laying the bags over his shoulder, he said, “Come.  It is a long climb through the streets of the city to the Citadel.”

            Refreshments awaited them as they found themselves halfway through the Fourth Circle, and even Fendril found himself dropping a few coppers onto the trays of the servers who’d awaited them, although he suspected that the King had already directed that these be paid for the hospitality offered the party from Anórien.  All of the citizens of the city appeared happy enough as they bustled about seeing to their own affairs.  He found himself shaking his head at the pleasure they seemed to take in the day.  Did they not realize that the victory was in actuality merely a sham, and that even now the Dark Lord’s supporters were meeting in secrecy, offering dread sacrifices intended to allow him to once again rise from the depths of defeat to a new age of threat?  He must convince the King of this threat, and inspire him to seek out the Dark Agents hidden throughout the realm.  He must share with him the warnings left by the Champion of the Light….

            They were met at the gate to the Sixth Circle by a veritable army of servitors and even more guards, each of them apparently directed to greet specific parties within the bulk of the new arrivals and lead them to whatever guesthouses had been made available for them.  A Guard of the Citadel approached the lawyer.  “Master Fendril?  Good!  I am to lead you to where you shall be housed, in the Princes’ chambers in the Tower of Ecthelion itself.  If you will follow me?”

            In the Princes’ chambers in the Tower itself? he marveled.  How wonderful it was to learn that word of his own championship of the Light had preceded him!  Ah, but he should soon become one of the King’s own counselors, and see finished the work begun so long ago by Macardion of Dor-en-Ernil, and so succeed him in the title of Champion for the Light.

            And with pleasing images of himself directing the King’s policy rolling through his brain, he followed the Guardsman up the ramp to the Seventh Level.

            They were halfway across the Court of Gathering when the sound of remarkable voices drew his attention.

            “I tell you, Master, as I’ll be hard-pressed to get them scones for Lord Strider done afore suppertime.  I suspect as we ought to’ve gone down to the guesthouse an hour or two ago.”

            “Oh, Sam, do stop bothering yourself about it.  You know as well as I do that Aragorn won’t starve if he doesn’t receive your scones with his evening meal!  He’ll be even gladder to have them in the morning to break his fast with.”

            Fendril’s jaw dropped and his eyes widened with shock at the sight of two exceptionally small individuals with alarmingly odd feet approaching him.  “Orcs!” he cried out.  “There are orcs here, here just outside the Citadel itself!”

            Both paused and looked about with concern.  “Where?” cried the broader one, drawing a sword appropriate to his stature from a sheath he wore at his waist.  “And you refusin’ to wear Sting today of all days, Master!  Get behind me—I’ll see you defended!”

            Fendril found himself wishing he had bowed to convention and carried a sword himself, and he reached in an attempt to remove that worn by the Guardsman beside him.  But before he could wrest it from the Man, he found the point of another’s blade at his throat and he stopped, knowing that if he even trembled the keen edge of the sword could easily slice through his flesh and deprive him of his life.

            This sword was held by Faradir, whose face was suffused with fury.  “What foolishness is this?” the northerner demanded.  “Unhand your guard’s weapon, and on your knees, you scurrilous dog!  Yes, on your knees, and beg pardon of the Lords Iorhael and Perhael for naming them, the Ringbearers themselves, creatures of the Enemy!”

            The taller of the two had gone pale, although his cheeks flamed.  The other straightened, his mouth agape as he looked into Fendril’s face.  “You thought as we was orcs?” he demanded, and finally rammed his weapon back into its scabbard.  “What kind of person is it as don’t know what orcs is really like?”

            Fendril’s blade hadn’t wavered.  “Kneel,” he hissed.

            Realizing he’d not be freed of the threat at his throat until he complied, Fendril dropped to his knees, although he found himself unable to speak, not that he could think of a single word to say.  Faradir withdrew the sword some, but did not sheathe it.  “Beg their pardon, sirrah,” he directed.  “And, if I felt you were worthy of it, I would have you kiss their blessed feet that carried them in secret through Mordor to Sauron’s destruction.  Now, speak!”

            Fendril swallowed a couple of times, and finally managed, “I beg your pardon.  I had no idea….”

            The taller one, whose cheeks were an even brighter color than before, considered him.  “It is difficult to imagine that any Man of Gondor should remain ignorant of the nature of orcs,” he said.  “Particularly as I am told that Sauron’s folk overran so much of the land.  We will forgive you your error, but would advise you to learn whereof you speak before you manage to offend any other.  Had you been facing my cousins, I suspect either one of them would have had you flat on your back before they bothered to put their swords to your throat.  Oh, let him stand, Faradir,” he added, shifting his attention to the northerner.  “And how many times must we ask you to call us by our given names?”

            Faradir, however, was shaking his head as he sheathed his sword.  “Nay, I was there when the Great Eagles announced your rank in the eyes of the West, and I shall never think of you as less than that.  I do not intend to offend you, but even our Lord Kinsman will ever defer to you, I suspect.”

            The color in the small person’s cheeks had faded, and he was now almost solidly the hue of ivory.  “If you feel you must,” he said stiffly.  “I am sorry, gentlemen, but I fear Sam and I must be on our way.” 

            So saying, he gave an overly formal bow and turned to resume his walk, the other pausing to say to Faradir, “You shouldn’t ought to of said that, Mr. Faradir, sir.  You know as how he feels about that lordship business.”  He eyed Fendril briefly and added, “And he was right about you—best learn what orcs is really like afore you say aught more about them.  Now, if’n you’ll all excuse me,” and he turned away to hurry after his fellow.

            “I shall have to speak to Aragorn about this Lord Iorhael business,” the taller one said as his companion caught up to him.

            The other, however, was shaking his head.  “That’s no good and you know it, Mr. Frodo.  Lord Strider’ll just shake his head and say as he won’t compel anyone to call you otherwise.  You know as him and Gandalf is both tickled pink whenever anyone treats you the way they think as you deserve.  But enough of that—about them scones….”  And as they went, those who had business on the Seventh Level bowed and curtsied as they passed, those in uniform saluting them and receiving casual nods in return.

            Faradir was still fixing Fendril with a critical stare.  “It appears that while I was instructing you as to the proper protocol to use when making a report to our Lord King, I ought perhaps also to have touched on how to behave toward his personal Companions, and particularly the others who came south from Rivendell with him in the Fellowship of the Ring.  These seven individuals particularly are very dear to his heart, and there is none he holds in higher esteem than he does Lord Iorhael, the Ringbearer, and Lord Perhael, known here as the Ringbearer’s Esquire.  You did most badly in offering either of them offense, and particularly here in such a public manner.”  And indeed many of those within sight of Fendril were giving him cold looks and outright glares.  “It is true that few of the people of Gondor have ever seen a Hobbit, but to accuse them of being orcs will be seen as a mortal insult by any of us from among the northern Dúnedain.  I suggest that you behave in a far more respectful and circumspect manner with those who are of other races that you might encounter from this point on, or you are likely to find yourself missing some portion of your body that you will dearly mourn.”  So saying he gave a stiff bow and stalked off toward the Citadel.

            The Guardsman’s expression was almost as disapproving as had been that of the northerner.  “That was indeed badly done.  Once you are in the chambers given to your use, I suggest you remain within them until summoned to the King’s presence.  I will not answer for anyone who might feel compelled to demand satisfaction from you for the offense offered to the Cormacolindor.  This way.”

            A tall Man with the dark hair and grey eyes common to so many of those of the purer blood awaited them at the door to the Tower of Ecthelion.  The Guardsman greeted him, “Master Läendril?  Here is Master Fendril of Anórien, who is to be in your especial care until the King summons him.  Unfortunately, he just only just managed to cause particular offense toward Masters Frodo Baggins and Samwise Gamgee, apparently mistaking them for orcs.  It might be wise for him to avoid public places for the nonce.”  With an abbreviated salute he turned to head for the Citadel, leaving Fendril in this Läendril’s charge.

            Läendril in his turn was examining Fendril closely.  “You mistook a Hobbit of the Shire for an orc, did you?  And I am told that much of Anórien, and particularly along the Highway, was overrun by the Enemy’s creatures during the days surrounding the siege of the City.  How was it you had no sight of them?  Did you spend the time they were scouring the countryside and setting up their ambushes intended to keep the Rohirrim from joining the battle of the Pelennor hiding under your bed or cowering inside your wardrobe?  Ah, well—come with me and I shall show you where it is you will be housed for the next few days.”

            This Man’s suggestions of cowardice on the part of Fendril hit home, for indeed he had gone into hiding within his home when the reports had come that orcs and foreign Men had invaded Anórien.  He did as he was told, but with resentment in his heart toward these who he knew looked down upon him.  He followed the Man up the stairs to the third level of the tower, totting up the score of resentments he held in his heart toward this one, the Guardsman, and that Faradir.

*******

            Carenthor, Garestil, and Danárion were led around the Citadel to the prison, but instead of being taken to isolated cells they were shown to a rather comfortable suite of rooms with real beds rather than pallets or narrow cots, a proper water closet, and even a small but adequate bathing chamber.

            Warden Madog explained, “The primary reason you are being held here rather than in the Citadel itself is to better provide for your protection until such time as the King can publicly rule on your case.  However, he, Lord Erchirion, and Lord Berevrion are all certain that you pose no threat to any, and deserve to be reasonably comfortable.  Meals are to be sent from the Citadel itself, so you should find things a good deal better than you knew in Anórien.”

            Garestil seemed overwhelmed, as did Danárion; so it was left to Carenthor to thank the Warden for his courtesy.  But as they heard him lock the door after him, the hearts of all three tightened at least some—in spite of the relative luxury of their surroundings they yet remained prisoners, and their future still likely to be found built upon the sands of uncertainty.

*******

            Two long tables were set up along one wall in the Hall of Kings.  On one Malthor, with the assistance of Anorgil, Lyrien, and Berevrion, set out the relevant documents detailing the findings of those who’d discovered and seen to the recovery of the bodies and the search of the wooded gully that surrounded the ditch where the bodies had been hidden, the inquiries made by guardsmen and constables, the interrogations of suspects, and the transcripts of statements, the various confessions, the trial, the reports made to Benargil and Daerloth, their rulings, and finally the reports and transcripts of the various inquiries and hearings made by the King’s deputation and the reports of activities during the transportation of the prisoners to the capital.  Assisted by the Master of the Guild of Lawyers, the Master Archivist for the Citadel, and Prince Faramir, the King chose documents to review and took them back to his office and later his private chambers to read them and take notes before returning them and taking more.  Meanwhile, Malthor and those assisting him were now engaged in setting out the physical evidence collected, each with the documentation surrounding it that described where and how it had been found and collected, and surmises on what it apparently indicated regarding how it was that the crime had been conducted.  One whole end of this long table was covered by the pictures and reports made by Avrandahil; the King himself broke the seal Berevrion had put upon the packet containing these, and set the Captain of the Guard of the Citadel to make certain that each item was laid out neatly and would remain undisturbed until the King himself could see to them.

            The families of the victims were housed together in a guesthouse at one end of the Sixth Circle, while those associated with the three youths were housed similarly on the far side of the circle, and various lawyers involved found themselves sharing a guesthouse in between.  Benargil and his household were given what had once housed an embassy from Rhovanion; Daerloth and his people stayed in his townhouse in the Fifth Circle; the guardsmen and soldiers were housed in an empty barracks building in the garrison complex on the north end of the Sixth Circle, while the carters were given rooms in one of the few inns in the First Circle that had survived the fires of the siege.  Many of those who were to speak as witnesses had been given rooms in an inn in the Fifth Circle that often placed its facilities at the disposal of the Citadel, while those who’d come along merely as spectators were left to find their own accommodations.

            After a particularly nice evening meal, the three youths were visited by Wendthor and Ingoril, both of whom carried great bundles of clothing.  “We decided to see you properly garbed,” Ingoril explained, “so we were given access to the storehouse to which citizens have brought clothing that will no longer be needed by those who were lost in the war.  I hope we have chosen clothing that will fit you.”

            “We’ll have simple clothing first,” Wendthor said, dividing what they’d brought into six piles.  “After all, you are still to be seen as appellants in the eyes of most people.  But these are for afterwards, when we are celebrating your acquittal at the King’s hands.”

            “I don’t like the idea of counting myself free before I actually hear the door of the prison close behind me as I exit it,” Danárion said dryly.

            Wendthor flushed, but admitted, “Yes, I can appreciate that.  But believe me—this time it will happen.  The King will probably summon you to a private meeting fairly early in the morning, for he wishes to question you himself.  You will have to return here, but only until the actual final trial is held.  After you, he will be questioning others and making his decisions as to which will be publicly questioned and which will be dealt with privately.  Both Lord Daerloth and my father have to explain the decisions they made, although the fact that Enelmir himself saw to it that they weren’t able to review all that had been learned in the trials makes things better for them.”

            “You are saying that your father and Lord Daerloth are also here to be judged by the King?” asked Carenthor, shocked at the idea.

            Wendthor nodded.  “My father admits he often didn’t read everything himself, but allowed Enelmir to tell him what was supposed to be in the documents.  He’s not certain how many people whose sentences are worse than they deserve or who might actually be innocent there have been whose appeals he’s denied, but he admits it’s probably several.”

            “And the King sent for him to explain these?”

            “Oh, no—the King’s not had time to learn that on his own, not yet.  No, Ada decided to come on his own.  And for Lord Daerloth it’s much the same—realizing how Master Fendril and Master Avrandahil and Enelmir were cozening everyone, he, too, intends to kneel before the King and ask for help in reviewing many cases that he admits he may not have thoroughly reviewed before merely confirming the rulings.”

            Danárion turned his head to look at his friend.  “I take back every evil thought I ever had against Lords Daerloth and Benargil,” he said.  “And they weren’t even caught doing wrong—they realized it on their own!”

            Garestil looked to catch Danárion’s gaze.  “They’re brave, aren’t they?”

            Danárion nodded, answering, “Yes, very brave indeed.”  He smiled shakily.  “I only hope I can prove myself as brave.”

            The sky outside was just beginning to go grey when a guard knocked on their door and suggested they rise, cleanse themselves, and prepare to walk to the Citadel to meet with the King.

            “No breakfast?” yawned Carenthor.

            “I don’t know that I could swallow anything today,” Danárion said as he rose and turned to straighten the bed linens.  He smiled softly as he did so, running a finger over the soft blanket that had covered him the previous night.  “I’d forgotten how comfortable a bed could be,” he murmured.

            They’d taken turns bathing the previous day, Garestil fascinated to learn how spigots and drains could fill and empty the copper tub in which they immersed themselves.  A quick scrub of faces and hands this morning, and they were soon fully dressed and waiting when the door opened again and Warden Madog entered, examined them, and smiled.  “Our Lord Elessar will be pleased,” he said.  “That you care enough to prepare as well as you have for this meeting will speak well for you.  If you will come?”

            They were led to a side door, and along a wide hallway to the second great door on the right.  Guardsmen, one in black and silver and the other in silver and grey, opened the door and gestured the youths down another hallway to where what appeared to be a boy in the black and silver of the Guard stood by another ornate door that he opened with ceremony, indicating they should go inside.  The door was closed after them, and they found themselves in a room that appeared to be the living quarters for someone’s suite of chambers, with a large bookshelf and desk just inside the door, a heavy dining table and chairs, a finely made sideboard along the wall opposite the bookshelf, and a number of comfortable chairs and divans grouped for conversation or reading at one end of the room.  Steam rose from under the covers of a number of dishes that lay upon the sideboard, and the table was obviously prepared for four individuals to break their fast.  Danárion and Carenthor’s eyes widened as they exchanged wordless looks of surprise, while Garestil, his eyes almost goggling, was still staring at the door they’d just entered through.

            “He’s a Halfling!” he croaked.

            “What?” asked Danárion vaguely.

            “Him what let us in—he’s a Halfling—din’t you see his feet?”

            This certainly caught the attention of the others.  “What do you mean?” demanded Carenthor.

            “Our neighbor, when I was little, she used to sing a song about Halflings, only she called them Hobbits.”  And he began to sing:

“Do you ken ye the Hobbit with the hair on his feet,

            the hair on his feet, the hair on his feet;

He’s the most generous fellow as you’re e’er like to meet,

And he dances by the light of the Moon.

 

“He’ll gie ye a plate and he’ll gie ye a cup

            gie you a cup, gie you a cup.

He’ll bid that ye drink and he’ll bid that ye sup,

And that ye dance by the light of the Moon.

 

“He’ll offer a place for ye to sleep in his hole,

            sleep in his hole, sleep in his hole.

He’ll laugh and sing and comfort your soul

As ye dance by the light of the Moon.

 

“He’ll call for his pipe and he’ll call for his bowl,

            call for his bowl, call for his bowl.

He’ll make ye laugh till on the floor ye shall roll,

And then ye’ll dance by the light of the Moon.”

            “And where did you learn this?” asked a voice, and they turned to realize that they had been joined by a very tall Man who’d apparently emerged from one of the two doors that led to other rooms on either side.

            “From our neighbor,” Garestil said.  “When I was little.”

            “And I wonder how one native to Gondor learned a song sung mostly in the Breelands and the Angle?” the Man asked.  “Come forward, and we shall see what they have prepared for our breakfast.  But I do think that we can talk as we eat.”

            “Never heard of no Breelands,” Garestil said.

            “I’m not surprised, for they are very far north and west of here.  And I suspect that this is the first time any of you has been further from Destrier than Anwar.”

            “Have you been there?” asked Carenthor.

            “Oh, yes, most certainly.  But then I was born in the ruins of Fornost and lived my first two years in the Angle where most of our folk dwell, and have spent most of my life since in the northern lands—until now.”

            Danárion was puzzled.  “I thought we were supposed to meet with the King this morning to be questioned by him.”

            The Man smiled.  “I am the King, although I assure you I need to break my fast as much as does any child of the Creator.  Ah—good!  Sam has apparently been here early, for here are some of his scones!  Gandalf has been insisting for years that Sam’s scones are even better than Bilbo’s, although this is the first chance I’ve had to try them.  Here—bring a plate.  The cook’s eggs are usually excellent, although I can’t recommend those small fish there.”

            Somehow that they could never later explain, it seemed the most natural thing in the world to be directed to fill their plates by the King Returned.  At the time they merely did as he bade them, moving in a daze as he patted their shoulders and saw to it they had generous portions of each dish that appeared to catch their interest.  In moments they stood by their chairs with their plates ready for them, although they were reluctant to sit before their host did so.  As he finally finished filling a plate for himself he smiled at them and set it on the table, then turned westward for a moment before seating himself at last and indicating they should do likewise.

            Garestil eyed him.  “Did you know that the one at the door is a Halfling?”

            “Oh, has Pippin taken up his duty already, then?  Excellent.  I’d have him in to join us if it weren’t bad for discipline—Captain Gilmorin would be most upset that he’d leave his post even with my permission.  And just how did you recognize he’s a Halfling?”

            “He has hair on his feet.”

            “Most observant.  I congratulate you, as most people tend to miss that fact when they first see him.”

            Danárion stopped with a cup of juice halfway to his lips.  “You mean that he is a Halfling?”

            “Yes, he is.  There are four Hobbits within the White City at the moment—that is if Merry hasn’t ridden his pony out upon the Pelennor, for he’d thought possibly to do so this morning.”

            “But where did they come from?”

            “We traveled south from Rivendell together, Frodo, Sam, Merry, and Pippin, Gandalf—or Mithrandir as you probably have heard him called, Gimli for the Dwarves, Legolas for the Elves, your Lord Boromir, and I.”

            “If you’re the King, how is it you come from the North?”

            “I am descended directly from Elendil, Isildur, and Isildur’s youngest son Valandil, and from Anárion as well through Ondoher and his daughter Fíriel who married my ancestor Arvedui when he was King of Arnor.”

            “So—so you are the Heir of Isildur?”

            “Yes, and on such authority did I claim the Winged Crown at last.  Best eat before all goes cold, my lad.  Now, you are Carenthor, correct?  Tell me what it was you were doing two nights before Midsummer last year.”

            Whatever they might have thought a King might be like was wiped away by that breakfast.  That they were eating in the King’s own quarters did not strike any of them until much later, after they’d returned to the prison again.  He would ask a question and allow them to answer freely, then pose yet another and listen closely until they’d finished before continuing.

            At last he indicated he was satisfied with what he’d heard.  “You will be brought before me formally while I am seated upon the throne later today,” he explained.  “I will warn you that I will not speak then as I have this morning.  When you come before me then it will be in a formal audience and a final trial.  Unfortunately, you must needs come before me with your hands manacled.  I beg you not to be disheartened by this.  I assure you that in the end you will find it better thus.

            “I will pose some questions to you, and I must tell you now that you must not lie or even think of lying when you answer me.  Do you understand, Garestil?  I know that Hanalgor and Vendrion and Master Fendril in the past have told you that you must do so, that you must continue to tell the lie that they taught you.  But, if you wish to live again with your father, I tell you that you must answer me with what really happened, and answer truthfully when asked why it was you lied before.  If you do not do so, then I cannot free you.  Again, do you understand?”

            Slowly and with a level of uncertainty, Garestil said, “Yes, sir.”

            “And do not be frightened if I sound different than I do now.  Then I must be the King indeed.  Here I can be myself and speak openly.  Just as you must be different when you take part in your tumbling.”

            Suddenly the youth’s eyes lit with understanding.

            “Good.  Then, Danárion, if you will poke your head out the door and let Pippin know that you are done, he will return you to Warden Madog’s custody.  He has made you comfortable?  Excellent.  He’s a good Man, and fully worthy of his position.”

            And so it was that they followed a Hobbit back to the main hallway where the Warden awaited them, seated on a bench.  He rose, returned the Hobbit Guardsman’s salute, and led them back to their captivity for the final time.

*******

            Fendril found the room in which he awaited the King’s attention familiar, for it was here that he’d waited some years earlier for the arrival of Lord Denethor’s Chatelaine.  The audience chamber was much as it had been then, with the same objectionable vases that had depictions of Swanships upon them.  Why they had not been removed when he’d made complaint about them before he could not say.  Could the folk of the Citadel not appreciate how inappropriate it was for death omens to be publicly displayed like this?

            But even more terrible was the hanging on the wall behind the shelf on which stood the detestable vases.  The tapestry depicted a variety of figures gathered about a great Man who stood with his hand upon the bow of yet another Swanship, the Man robed in the blue of summer skies embroidered with sparkling stars, a shining diadem bound to his brow.  His face was pale and proud, and there was to him a great gravity.  Behind him the sky darkened from sunset, and distant clouds yet shone rosily, promising a day of high summer to follow.  He shuddered to look upon it.  Why had anyone thought to bring such a thing into the King’s house?

            The door opened at last, and a tall Man entered, garbed in black trousers and a shirt of a dark wine color under a simple black surcoat.  Whoever he was, Fendril was disheartened that he felt he must come armed, for he wore a long sword suspended from a black harness fitted with silver.  His hair was dark brown, almost ebon, in fact, but with white threads appearing at his temples.  His dark beard had even more lighter hairs running through it.

            “Master Fendril?  I have come to offer you greeting to the Citadel of Minas Tirith, although I understand that this is not your first visit.”

            “No—indeed not.  I was here some nine years past, I think it was.”

            “I see.  And do you find it much changed from before?”

            Fendril shrugged.  “Not a great deal, save that many of the seats in this room appear to have been designed for children.  Is the King a father, then?  Or does he plan ahead to the day when he will be that?”

            He didn’t notice a muscle move in the other Man’s jaw.

            “And then there is this,” he added, indicating the tapestry.  “It is bad enough that Lord Denethor allowed this room to be filled with death omens, but to do one so large, so prominent?  What a terrible thing to place here!”

            Even he could not miss that his companion’s face had begun to grow prominently cool.  “The vases belonged to the Lady Finduilas, brought by her from her father’s halls in Dol Amroth.  They were set in this room by Lord Denethor after her untimely death as a memorial to the beautiful, gracious, and so well beloved wife he lost.  And the tapestry is a depiction of Eärendil the Mariner, who after all was ancestor to both the Lord King and his Steward, Prince Faramir.  As the King grew up in the house of Eärendil’s remaining son, Elrond of Imladris, he feels it particularly fitting that it should hang here.”

            “But, my lord—swans?”

            “What about swans?”

            “As I say—they are death omens!”

            “A bird that is the symbol of grace and fidelity is to be seen as a death omen?”

            “But it is the bird of the Lord of the Sea, who is associated with death!”

            “No more so than is Lord Aulë, the Lord of the Earth and all made by Craft, or the Lady Yavanna Kementari, the Lady of Harvest and Growth.  Indeed, it is Lord Námo who is the Lord of Mandos and the Final Healing, not Lord Ulmo.”

            Fendril felt the familiar frustration growing within him.  Why would no one listen to his warnings?  “But death is not to be courted!”

            “And who courts death here?  Indeed, to accept his role as the Harbinger of Hope, Eärendil had to foreswear the death he’d always intended to know as the mortal Man he’d always considered himself.”

            “But death is the greatest evil!”

            The other Man’s mouth fell open in surprise and dismay.  “Is it truly?” he asked once he’d regained his voice.  “Then why do we honor those who offered up their lives that others might live, or those who hazard themselves for the safety of others and the integrity of their homeland?  Nay, my friend, do not seek to emulate the prideful sin of Pharazôn, who came to see death as not the gift it was intended to be but instead as something to be fled from.  So it was that Númenor foundered, I would remind you.”

            “So they would have you believe,” Fendril said, turning away to stare at a mirror over a half-oval table standing against a wall.  “And why have you come?”

            “The King looks into the case surrounding the deaths of the children Bredwion, Gilmar, and Nedron at the behest of the mother of the youth Danárion.”

            “You may tell him that the case was solved and that the author of the children’s death is the fruit of her own womb.”

            “And what evidence am I to tell the King has been found to prove this?”

            Fendril turned again to face the Man.  “The words of Garestil are enough, and he has admitted that he saw the deaths and even participated in them.”

            “And when what he says is not supported by even the reports and statements made by Master Avrandahil, who as a healer examined the bodies?  He has stated directly, after all, that none of the boys was violated as Garestil had said happened, although he would not put the lie to that when you suggested in court that thus it had happened anyway.”

            Fendril ground his teeth.  “He never said such a thing,” he insisted.

            “Oh, but he did, the other day before the tribunal held before Lords Daerloth, Benargil, Erchirion of Dol Amroth, and Berevrion of Tirith Fuir in Arnor, one of the King’s own kinsmen.  And before that he told this to Masters Pardronë and Caraftion as the counselors to Carenthor, Danárion, and Garestil.”

            “They did not object to my indication that it might have happened.”

            “They attempted to do so, but were forbidden by Master Enelmir from exposing the lie you uttered.  For from what Master Avrandahil said he indicates he had also told you that this had not happened, but you chose to indicate before the jury that it had anyway.”

            “And you know this how?”

            “I have been made privy to the reports, Master Fendril.  I would understand why you chose to indicate this in spite of the words of Master Avrandahil.”

            Fendril examined the face, and decided that perhaps this one might be open to reason.  “What are we to do to stop the spread of the Enemy’s evil across the land of Gondor, do you think?  We know that he is empowered by deaths offered for his benefit.”

            “So the King has learned was true in the past.”

            “So I have been told as well that he knows.”

            “And would you lie to stop such evil?”

            “I will do anything within my power to stop such evil,” Fendril admitted.

            “And what if it is ever proved that indeed even one the three condemned for having committed this terrible crime is in truth innocent?”

            Fendril shrugged.  “What does it matter?  Danárion was already headed to a life of crime that would undoubtedly have resulted in him ending up with the rope of justice about his neck—we merely have forestalled him from harming numberless others ere that day might come.  And Garestil will never be fit for any employment but the most menial, and that we have given him.”

            “And what of Carenthor, who all say has always been most devout in his dedication to Lord Béma and the other Powers, and who has ever been respected by all for his gentleness and courtesy and artistic nature?”

            “Sometimes to cut out the weeds of evil, flowers must be sacrificed as well.”

            There was something in the evaluative look given him that suddenly made Fendril realize just what he’d admitted to.  “I see,” the Man said.  He called out in a louder voice, “Will you please come forth?”

            Fendril had barely noted the curtained door beside that half-oval table.  But out of it came four Men, none of whom he had met before, but one of whom he certainly recognized—Prince Imrahil’s image was represented even in Anórien, after all.

            The main door to the room opened, and two Guardsmen entered, one of them absurdly small.  “Captain Peregrin son of Paladin and Guardsman Gilorion, will you conduct this Man back to his quarters in the Tower of Ecthelion, please?”

            The eyes of both were intent as they gave the collected lords of the realm a joint bow and turned their attention to Fendril himself.

            For the first time since his arrival in Minas Tirith he found himself sweating.

The Final Trials Begin

            The trial began soon after the noon meal, and the Hall of Kings was crowded with mostly such lords of the realm as were present in the White City at the time, each particularly summoned by the King’s Majesty or the Lord Prince Steward Faramir.  The Guild of Lawyers was also heavily represented.  Relatively few commoners, however, were there, save for those who’d come expressly from Anórien to serve as witnesses or who were involved with the families of the victims or the accused.  Although a certain couple from Destrier was given a place from which they could see everything.

            First Lords Daerloth and Benargil came forward, both dropping to their knees at the foot of the dais, there between the Black Chair of the Steward of Gondor and the one in which the King’s kinsman Halladan sat as the new Steward for Arnor.

            Daerloth spoke, saying, “We come before you, Lord Elessar, to confess that we have realized that we have not been true to the stewardship we offer those people under our authority.  We have learned that we have been convinced to allow what now appear to be innocents to be accused, convicted, and condemned for a crime in which we are now convinced they had no part.  When asked to review the investigation and trial of those accused of a foul murder, we were convinced by those under us that there was no real reason to question the findings of the jury or the rulings of the judge.  Even though we read most of the documents given us regarding the investigation of the murder and the manner in which the trial was conducted, we did not think to summon anyone to enquire more deeply into why any sought to lodge a complaint against the guardsmen or constables involved in the investigation, much less the conduct of the officers of the court that heard the case or possible malfeasance on the part of any of the jurors.  We have failed these young Men and their families from beginning to almost the end, even as we have failed the families of the victims and the victims themselves by allowing injustice to proceed to the point that those accused of the crime were on the brink of the execution of their sentences.  Had this happened, one would have died, hanged by the neck until he was dead; and the others would even now be in the quarries working at labor for which they are unsuited and to which they do not deserve to be put without them desiring such work.

            “What is worse is that it appears that this may have happened before involving the same officers of the court, and we must needs ask aid in reopening all such cases that they be properly investigated to see if in the past they have done similarly by others, and if we have indeed done wrongly by failing to see that the justice offered in the name of the realm is indeed just.”

            Lord Benargil raised his head to look up at the august figure seated at the top of the dais, the Star of Elendil shining upon his brow, the Sword Reforged upon his knees.  He swallowed noticeably and began, “My Lord King, I grieve to admit that for many years, even since my youth, I have allowed myself to be led by one I thought of as my friend, Enelmir of Anwar.  He was far cleverer than I ever proved, and indeed I considered him, after my father, perhaps the most intelligent and discerning individual I had ever met.  Yet, in spite of the obvious concerns expressed by my own father, I allowed Enelmir to become my closest counselor and confidant, making him in time my Seneschal as well as appointing him to be magistrate of the court of justice for Anwar and tribunals offered throughout the region.

            “And when I began to receive complaints regarding the manner in which he conducted trials and the treatment given to appellants and many who served as legal counsel to those charged with major crimes, I allowed myself to be persuaded that there was no merit to them, that they were simply the grumblings of those who had lost the case.  That the complaints were consistently regarding the same issues—that he notably favored one side over the other, that he refused to allow some to speak fully while allowing others who were known to be lacking true knowledge of the case to spout nonsense and lies, that he compelled some to apparently incriminate themselves, that he would belittle some who came to him seeking justice—that I ignored.

            “Now, however, I can no longer find within myself a willingness to continue to be so led, and I am disgusted with myself for allowing myself to be cozened by him for so long.  For I have learned that in this case he actively removed information from the reports and records before they were given into my hands for review, and even went so far as to enter the archives themselves to take pages from the scribes’ copies of transcripts so that even should I think to probe more deeply I would not find the evidence that had been there of his perfidy.

            “I wonder, my lord, if I am even worthy of continuing as the Lord of Anwar.  Perhaps it is time for me to give my office to my son, who is far cleverer than I and who has ever shown the greater willingness to learn as well as displaying a far greater degree of integrity.  I therefore offer up my office to the discretion of the King.”  So saying, he lifted the chain of his office over his head and laid it upon the step before him, and lowered his gaze to look at the tiles of stone that paved the step on which he knelt.

            “And I can do no less, my Lord King,” added Daerloth, laying aside both the circlet that marked him as a major Lord of Gondor and the chain of office he’d worn since he’d taken the title of Lord of Anórien from his father.

            The King straightened upon the throne.  “I grieve that you both feel this necessary.  Both of you are known to be loyal to the realm and to rule your people well.  Although much of the land along the Highway had been overrun by the Enemy’s people and creatures, yet you managed to protect your own as best as could be done, and your courage and determination against the forces sent against you has been honored by all.  Alas that such an act as this should be seen as necessary by not one but by both of you.  Tell us how it is that this has come to be, that you should have come to the realization that another had sought to rule your actions and choices rather than you yourselves.  Will you please go first, Lord Daerloth?”

            “As you will, my lord,” Daerloth said, his voice resigned.  “It is over the matter of a murder of children….”  And with as few words as possible he described how, two days before Midsummer the previous year, three children of Destrier went missing even as their mothers went to set the evening meal on the table, and how the next day one of the guardsmen spotted a shoe floating on the water in a shallow ditch, leading to the discovery of the three bodies, and the state of them.

            “They were found in a ditch?  Was the water in this ditch deep?” asked the King.

            “No, my Lord King.  Indeed I have been assured now by several that it was quite shallow, barely to the knees of the guardsman who first saw the shoe and who lifted the bodies out of the water to place them upon the bank.”

            “Then how is it that they were not seen, if the water was so shallow?”

            “Because the water of the ditch itself was thick with suspended silt, so thick with it that nothing could be seen beneath the surface.”

            “And you have seen this yourself?”

            “No, my lord, but several have assured me that this is true.

            “Then I would hear this from those who saw this on that day.  Can this be arranged?”

            “Indeed, my lord—he who lifted them out of the ditch is here as a prisoner, and he whose slip into the water revealed the first of the bodies is also here, ready to answer your questions.”

            “Good—let them come before me, and if the two of you will take seats there by Prince Imrahil for the moment, we shall consider their testimony.”

            Amdir was summoned forward, while Vendrion was led before the King in chains.  The King looked from one to the other.  “I see that one of you comes before me freely, while the other comes manacled.  How is it that this has happened?  You, whose hands are bound, why is it that you are a prisoner?”

            Vendrion’s face was white with strain.  “They have accused me of conspiracy to see to it that ones that they say are innocent were charged with a crime that they did not in truth commit,” he explained.

            “Is this true?” asked the King of Lord Daerloth.

            “This is a charge that we believe should be set against him, my Lord King, if you should find for the innocence of the three youths convicted in the court of justice in Anwar of this crime.  However, it is not the charge filed against him when we ordered his arrest.”

            The King’s expression was stern as he returned his attention to the former guardsman.  “Then you begin your time before me already with a lie, do you?  What specific charge was it that was laid against you when you were arrested?”

            Vendrion’s lip trembled for some moments before he said in a strained voice, “Theft and smuggling, my lord.  Conspiracy to steal and to smuggle what was stolen to—to one since identified as an enemy of our ally, Rohan.”

            “I see.  And who is this enemy?”

            “The Lord of Isengard, my lord.”

            “Did you know that you were dealing with the Wizard Curunír, then?”

            Vendrion shook his head.  “No, we did not.”

            “To whom did you believe you were selling these goods?”

            “To people in Dunland.  We were told that there were those in Dunland who were starving, and who deserved to be succored.  We were told that they needed food desperately, and that their patron within Rohan would pay richly for what we were willing to send to them.”

            “And you approached the farmers and merchants of Destrier and nearby villages and farms to obtain this food?”

            Again his lip was trembling, and Vendrion looked down at the floor before he admitted, “No, my lord—we did indeed steal what we sent them.”

            “From whom?”

            And the story was wrested from him.  He said that the Gate Guardsman Hanalgor was the first to approach him and to bring him to Captain Borongil’s lodgings where the whole scheme was unveiled.  He might from time to time be asked to steal some items, but for the most part he was to see to it that Guardsman Hanalgor and those he recruited to steal for him were not impeded, and that from time to time as opportunities presented themselves to do what he could to make it appear that others, mostly youths within the village who had refused the approaches of Hanalgor and Borongil, were involved in the thefts.

            Berevrion, who had been standing near the chair of Steward Halladan, asked, “Then, when you approached the youth Danárion and accused him of having stolen a crate of apples from the marketplace, you already knew that he was innocent of this charge?”

            It took Vendrion a long moment before he answered, “Yes, I did.”  And at prompting from the Guard of the Citadel behind him, he answered more fully, “Yes, I approached him and accused him of the theft, knowing that he had not done it.  Why?  Because I believed that others thought him capable of doing it, and if he could be suspected of it, then the other thefts would be easier to hide.  But mostly I did it because I was certain he did indeed worship the Nameless One and needed to be taken in charge ere he caused harm in his attempts to show the Black Enemy honor.”

            The King sighed.  “And even before the murders you were already thinking to accuse him of crimes he hadn’t done solely because you believed evil of him.  But before we look into this, we need to deal first with the charges of theft and smuggling against you and these others.  Bring before me the former guardsmen Hanalgor and Borongil.  And you,” he directed Amdir, “if you will please step to the side while we deal with this other business.  We will come back to the finding of the bodies when we are through.  And I do thank you for your patience.”

            Amdir did as he was asked, looking a bit bemused, but increasingly interested as the King teased out the knots in the skein of events that had led to the business dealings between these and Gríma son of Gálmód, for too long the chief Counselor to Théoden King of Rohan.  The situation in Destrier had grown out of the former dealings between Hanalgor and Borongil on one side and with Gríma on the other when both the Gondorians had been serving in the Quartermasters’ Corps for the various garrisons stationed near the Beacons along the northern slopes of the White Mountains.  Soon the reports sent by Daerloth and his captains regarding losses of stores of weapons and foodstuffs while these two were working as they had been were being produced and summarized.  Then the question of how these two had managed to avoid being taken in charge and imprisoned was examined, followed by how the two of them, thrown out of Daerloth’s service in disgrace, had yet managed to obtain positions of such trust and authority in Destrier—and now the name of Fendril, previously of Destrier, was being repeated.  Somehow specific documents previously located by the officers investigating the misappropriations of goods had begun disappearing, and a few who had been telling all would refuse to speak again after a visit from Master Fendril.  Stories were told of coercion and threats of legal actions by Master Fendril:  it appeared the Man had an uncanny knack of finding the most carefully concealed skeletons in metaphorical closets and threatening to expose many long-forgotten indiscretions in most damaging ways.  A report by Master Nerwion was read, indicating how Fendril had just happened to mention how first Hanalgor and later Borongil needed employment and would do well in guardsmen positions in Destrier, associated with thinly veiled threats to expose a youthful indiscretion by his wife back in her home village of Raeglib, had led to him granting the position of gate guardsman to the former and Captain of the guards and constables to the latter, although Nerwion had indeed planned to offer the second job to Amdir, who was far more eminently qualified than this newcomer.  The recommendations and reports he’d received on these two before he granted them their new positions had held no indications that they’d been drummed out of service in Lord Daerloth’s army.  Along with the report, Nerwion had forwarded the originals of these, and when asked to examine them Daerloth was able to confirm these had been written partly by Fendril himself and partly by Fendril’s personal clerk and scribe.  And it appeared that the agents sent by Gríma son of Gálmód had been introduced to Hanalgor and Borongil by Master Fendril’s clerk….

            “I believe we have more than enough to arrest both Master Fendril and his clerk on charges of illegal and improper business dealings with officials of foreign nations and their agents,” the King said in dry tones.  “And I do not believe that starving Dunlendings would think to plow their fields with shipments of swords, or weed their furrows with spears, much less use sheaves of arrows as plant supports.  These knew fully well they were helping to supply a foreign army, and thus were committing high treason.

            “Now,” he said, “to return to the matter of the finding of the bodies in that ditch.”

            After Vendrion described how he had identified Danárion as the probable killer from the moment the child Gilmar’s body was laid upon the banks of the ditch, the King asked him, as had the others before him, what signs he saw that indicated to him that Danárion indeed worshiped Sauron.  Again Danárion’s interest in troubling subjects such as Elves, spirits, and communication with trees was named along with the odd cut to his hair and the wearing of black and silver (there were a good number of quiet comments, none of them flattering to the former market guardsman, in response to that throughout the room, in which a large portion of the company were either in uniform or wore black and silver garb, cloaks, or tokens upon their persons), the interest in Sindarin and the searching of ancient histories, and now the additional charge that Danárion considered himself a child of Thuringwethil.  “He told the healers in the mad house in Anwar that he gained power by sucking blood from living victims,” he said.

            There was an inarticulate cry from the party of soldiers who’d come at the command of Lords Benargil and Daerloth to help deal with the various prisoners, and His Majesty gave the offending party a severe look.  “You will please hold yourself patiently and with dignity,” he directed.

            “If you please, my Lord King, I have something to tell on this matter,” said young Sergeant Ingoril.

            “When we are finished learning what Master Vendrion has to say, then we will allow you to speak.”

            “Yes, my Lord King,” Ingoril said, bowing low.

            “And how is it that you know this?” the King asked the guardsman.

            “Well, after Danárion sought to elope to Rohan with his former love, I took him directly to the gaol while her father Beslor took the maiden to Anwar to the mad house, for he was certain that to seek to run away and possibly wed such a wastrel youth as Danárion she must have lost her wits.

            “He was housed in a large cell in which the youths of the village who have been taken in charge tend to dwell together during their terms there.  One of the other young Men had a wound upon his neck, and having seen this, Danárion threw himself across the room to fall upon him, knocking the unfortunate soul upon the floor, and seeking to tear off the clotted blood upon its surface so as to feed upon the living blood underneath.  I saw him do this, and took him----”

            He was being interrupted by peals of laughter from Ingoril, and glared at the youthful sergeant.  The King admonished the soldier, “Sir, I must ask that you restrain yourself until this one is finished speaking.”

            “I do beg your pardon, my beloved Lord King, but….”  At a significant look from that august personage, he subsided, but his eyes were dancing with humor.

            Unhappy at this rude interruption, Vendrion continued sulkily, “Having seen this terrible attack, I sought reassurance from one of the gaolers that they would not let the youth to go free that evening as they’d told me they would do, for as I told them, he’d just proved himself a danger to those who live within and surrounding the village.  The gaoler laughed at me and told me there was no danger in what Danárion had done, so I withdrew him from the gaol at such an outrageous statement and carried him directly to Anwar and the mad house there myself!  And it was the next day that the healer told me that when asked if he considered himself a child of Thuringwethil, Danárion had said that he gathered power through the drinking of blood!”  Now finished, he cast a defiant glare Ingoril’s way.

            “Now, what is it you would say?  And if you will please identify yourself first?” the King asked Ingoril.

            “I am Ingoril of Destrier.  My father raises pigs on a farm outside the west wall of the village, so I grew up knowing Danárion.  Although we were not exactly friends, yet we were not enemies, either, and there was more fellow feeling between us than with many others because we were both often the targets of Leverion son of Medril.  I was one of those that Hanalgor had sought to corrupt, but I would not do what he desired of me, so he convinced Leverion to do what he could to harass me.  One day I had had enough of restraining myself, so when Leverion tripped me up as I was carrying in a large ham to hang up in my father’s market stall, I left the ham lying upon the ground, but leapt up and attacked Leverion.  He scratched me badly during the fight we had.  Vendrion and Hanalgor broke up the fight, and I, of course, was the one taken to the gaol.

            “A mark before noon they brought in Danárion, and it was apparent that after they had him in their custody Vendrion and Hanalgor had beaten him, for his eye was puffy and his lip split, and bruises were beginning to form on his arms.  He was put into the common cell for youths, and told to sit upon the bench where I sat, so he sat himself at my side.  Hanalgor left but Vendrion stayed, trying to convince the gaolers to keep him forever—well, perhaps not forever, but longer than they wished to.  Danárion leaned towards me and asked if I’d like to see him rile up Vendrion the more.  When I asked how he’d do this, he told me to just watch.

            “Now, I’d been picking at one of the scabs that had formed on my arm where Leverion has scratched me that morning, and it had begun to bleed.  Borongil had just entered the gaol and was joining the argument with the gaolers, and just as both Vendrion and Borongil looked his way, Danárion took my arm, lifted it up, and—and he licked the place where it was bleeding, giving them that stare he’d perfected that he knew drove both of them mad.  Vendrion was dragging him out of the cell and off to Anwar almost before I realized just what Danárion had done to me!”

            “So much for flying attacks on the young Man’s neck,” the King commented, his own eyes filled with an amusement he still kept in check.

            “I’m certain that the one who cast it in that light was Borongil,” Ingoril told him.  “He’s much given to such exaggerations.  And knowing Danárion, I strongly suspect that what he told the healer was an answer he considered to be just as outrageous as the question as to whether he believed himself a child of Thuringwethil.”

            The Lord Elessar fixed his attention on Vendrion.  “So, you felt that Danárion was secretly in league with the Enemy.  Did you have any real proof of this?”

            Vendrion looked both ways, and finally reached clumsily inside his shirt to bring out a battered parchment.  “I took this off of him that day.  He said that he’d found it where Lord Benargil’s Men had run down six orcs some two miles west of Destrier.  But I know better!  He was in communication with the Black Land, I tell you!”

            One of the King’s guards stepped forward to take the parchment, and the King himself descended from the dais to take it into his own hands.  He opened it, scanned it, and started to laugh.  He looked down at where the two Cormacolindor sat to one side of the hall as observers.  “Here, Frodo—you can read Adûnaic, can’t you?”

            “Adûnaic?  Yes, some.  Didn’t you tell me that Sauron’s people used it and the Black Speech for the most part for official communications?”

            “Yes.  Please read it and tell them what it’s about.”

            “I’ll try, but I warn you I’m anything but fluent in it—there just wasn’t enough that Bilbo could find written in the language to have me read.”  He turned the parchment and frowned at it, and eventually his expression lightened.  “You mean, that’s what it really is?” the Halfling asked.

            “Oh, yes.  Tell them!”

            “It’s—well, it’s addressed to someone named Grishnak, and contains directions for getting through Anórien to Isengard, apparently by way of what must be Fangorn Forest.  Apparently whoever had sent these orcs knew one of them could read some, and was afraid they’d get lost!”  He was smiling and shaking his head at the wonder of it as he returned it to the King, who handed it on to Prince Faramir to examine.

            Faramir scanned it quickly, commenting, “And he further instructs the orcs to specifically ask the Wizard about anything his agents might have found some time back when they went on Curunír’s orders to the Gladden Fields.”

            The faces of Prince, Halfling, and King became very serious.  “So,” said the realm’s new monarch, “he had learned that Saruman, too, had been searching for the Ring.”

            “So it would seem,” the Perian answered, his good humor fled away.  He sat back, first rubbing at his left shoulder as if it pained him, and then at his right hand.

            The King turned to look down at the three former guardsmen, shaking his head.  “The three of you are all guilty of high treason for trafficking with a people known to be an enemy to Gondor’s closest and most faithful ally.  And if Gondorian weapons were found in the hands of Dunland’s warriors, what were the Rohirrim to believe but that Gondor was apparently now treating with their sworn foes?  And, to hide your own doings, you were willing to sacrifice three youths you considered expendable in order to supposedly ‘solve’ a crime whose details you did not even fully know.

            “You have abused the authority granted you by your positions to steal from the very ones you were to supposed to be protecting and to cause harm to the most vulnerable members of the community.  You have sought and on occasion managed to corrupt the youth of the village and its environs, and have used threat of exposure to force its officials to do your will.

            “But I will not pronounce your sentence yet, for your most influential partners in crime have yet to be heard from.  You will be removed to a room nearby and held there until we have dealt with Master Fendril.  It does appear that he has a great deal to answer for.  But first we shall recess for a time, for it has been too long a period for all of us to remain still indefinitely.  We shall reconvene in half a mark.”

            The Chief Herald repeated the King’s words, and all rose and bowed as the King left the chamber, followed by his Companions and his Guards.  Vendrion, Hanalgor, and Borongil were led to a nearby secure chamber, and all others did what they could to offer themselves what relief they might require.

  -0-

Thuringwethil was, in Tolkien's cosmology, the mother of vampires.

Final Judgments 

            The noon meal brought them was light.  None of the three youths felt deprived—their nerves at a fever pitch, they found it hard to eat all that had been served them.

            It was near the third mark after noon that the guards came for them.  Somehow it was harder this time to submit to the manacles once more, and particularly as the ones provided this time seemed somehow larger than they were accustomed to wearing.  At last they were led out of the prison and around the Citadel to the main doors.  It was alarming to find themselves under scrutiny from so many people.  Many called abuse toward them, which was familiar enough—they’d heard more than enough of that after their arrests and as they’d been driven in an open wagon from Destrier to Anwar.  Of course there had been more than foul names and curses thrown at them during that ride—they’d also had offal and rotten fruit and stones flung their way.  Now, however, there were guards walking behind the line of onlookers, and more than one person was pulled back when it was seen he or she intended to offer more tangible abuse than mere words.

            But they also heard calls of encouragement this time, and saw a good number of smiles that were compassionate rather than smug.  Carenthor walked almost proudly; Danárion was more wary and less swaggering now than he’d been a year ago; and Garestil now looked ahead rather than just down at the ground as he’d always done before.

            They were led through the main doors to the Citadel, and into the Hall of Kings.  Garestil began to draw back in on himself, awed by the magnificence of his surroundings, while Danárion kept swallowing visibly.  Carenthor, on the other hand, was looking upward at the throne, obviously fascinated. 

            One Guardsman had accompanied them to the front of the hall, and he now leaned forward to offer instructions.  “You will stand here.  The King will enter shortly from there, behind the throne, from the area of the living quarters.  He will be accompanied by his Companions who will sit or stand there,” and he indicated the area to their right.

            “The chairs are little!” Garestil whispered.

            “Those two seats are for the Cormacolindor, who made the dangerous journey through Mordor.  They have been named Princes of the West and Lords of all of the Free Peoples for their part in helping to defeat the Nameless One.  They suffered greatly, and almost did not return to our comfort.  They are honored greatly by all.

            “When the King comes, all will bow, although you as condemned prisoners will not be required to do so.  Once he ascends to his throne, however, you will be required to kneel here where you now stand.”

            Garestil nodded his understanding.  “Who sits there?” he asked, indicating the two chairs on the lowest step.

            “The Black Chair is the seat for the Steward of Gondor, and so our Prince Steward Faramir sits there.  The other one is for the Steward of Arnor, and the King’s cousin Halladan will sit there whenever he is present here in Gondor.”

            “Where’s Arnor?” Garestil asked.

            “It is the ancient Kingdom to the North, where the High King Elendil dwelt and had the primary rule.  Our Lord King Elessar was born there of the lineage of Elendil’s older son Isildur.”

            But then there was no time for further instructions or questions, for the hall was filling rapidly.  At last a distant door opened behind the throne, and the Herald announced, “All rise, for the King approaches!”

            Garestil suddenly whispered into Carenthor’s ear, “I’m bowing—I like him!”

            Carenthor grinned, and wasn’t surprised to find that Danárion was already bowing low to greet the coming of the King.

            So it was that on his arrival, the King found the three prisoners also bowing, and discovered himself smiling in response.

            When the three youths looked up again, the King’s Companions were finding their places, and one of the Halflings was being offered a platter of cheese and fruit by a liveried servant.  Garestil was obviously fascinated by the sight of more such individuals, and Carenthor gave him a nudge to remind him what they were to do now.  Sighing, Garestil followed the example of the other two as they went down on their knees, and the Herald began to recite, “There come before the King’s throne the three youths Carenthor, Danárion, and Garestil from the village of Destrier in upper Anórien, charged in the unlawful deaths of the children Bredwion son of Rindor, Gilmar son of Tevern, and Nedron son of Lindon, gone missing a year past, two days before Midsummer and found dead on the afternoon of the day before Midsummer.  These three youths were arrested, charged, tried, and convicted of the crime, and in response to a request by the mother of one of the accused the King sent a deputation to review the case against these three in accordance with the laws of the realm.  Lo, our Lord Elessar, your deputation has returned and has presented you with its reports; and the evidence gathered that was presented in the court of Anwar where the youths were tried as well as other evidence gathered by those sent by you lies there for your perusal.  And here before you kneel the three youths, who have indicated they are willing to be questioned by you that you might be their final judge, and so speak their final doom, for good or ill.”

            All three youths flinched at the solemnity of the words uttered, and once more Danárion could be seen to be swallowing nervously.

            “I have read those reports, and will look upon the evidence brought to show me momentarily.  But first I would question them further, for the matter with which they have been charged is very grave.”

            It was the same voice as the one they had heard that morning, but how different it now seemed—more remote and powerful.  Garestil was shivering, and Danárion had his eyes squeezed shut.  And now it was addressing the three of them!  “Raise you heads, for I would see into your eyes.”

            The one seated atop the dais appeared as remote as his voice, truly one above them all!  He wore not the Winged Crown, but instead a diadem that appeared to be of the brightest of polished silver, set with a single bright gem of great size, as if he bore upon his brow a star, even as it was said that Eärendil himself bore the one remaining Silmaril as he sailed the Seas of Night as the Gil-Estel.

            “Tell me your names, and whether or not you are guilty of the crimes with which you have been charged.”

            Danárion spoke first, his voice quavering somewhat.  “I am Danárion son of Targon of Destrier, and I tell you that I never did this thing—I never caused any harm to those three little boys.  I don’t think I even knew them!  I might have seen them in the marketplace or in the grazing commons where the children tend to play outside the walls of the village; but I doubt I would know them to look upon them.  I had no reason to hurt any of them, and never went outside the walls of the village again once I returned from assisting in the full cleansing of Master Amborn’s cow byres, and that was in the afternoon.”

            “I am Carenthor.  I had seen the children at the free school, but barely knew aught about them other than that they went to it.  They were with one of the teachers who dealt with the smaller children, and I barely saw them even there.  No, I caused no harm to any of them, and although I, too, had been helping those cleansing Master Amborn’s cow byres, once I returned to the village about an hour before the time for the evening meal I never went out of the gates again, either.  Indeed, I was charged by my parents to help care for my younger brothers while my parents visited with friends in the northern quarter of Destrier.”

            “And you?” asked the King, looking down at the last of the three youths.

            Garestil swallowed.  “My name’s Garestil.  My papa’s named Galdor.  I didn’t hurt them boys.  I was in Hevensgil, same as every week that day and that time.  I was learnin’ t’juggle that night.”

            “I understand that it was on your word that you and these other were arrested.  How was it that you came to give false witness against them, then?”

            Garestil shook his head, obviously not understanding the question asked of him.

            “Do you understand what it means to witness or to be a witness?”

            “It means to see something.”

            “Yes, to see something so as to know it and to tell about it.  So, what would it mean to give false witness?”

            Garestil thought, and said tentatively, “To lie about it?”

            “Very good.  Yes, to lie about something that you said you saw or experienced but didn’t, really.  So, why did you give false witness?”

            The youth was shivering more.  “I didn’t want to.”

            “You didn’t?  Then why did you do so?”

            “You don’t understand—everyone knew Danárion done it—killed those boys, you see.  Everyone knew it was him.  They told me, you know he done it.  All we need is you tell us you know.  Then we can stop him doing it again.

            “I said, how can I say I know he done it—I wasn’t there?  They said, you just say you saw it.  I said, but I didn’t see it.  They say, it don’t matter you saw it or not—you say you saw it, they’ll believe you, and we’ll have him.  Be able to stop him doing it again.

            “I said, my papa won’t like it if I lie.  He says I can’t lie on other people.  They say, don’t matter—he won’t know.  He’ll be proud you stopped Danárion from doing it again.  I said, him won’t be proud if I lie to stop him.  They say, he don’t have t’know.  Don’t tell him.  But—but I can’t lie to Papa.  It’s not right t’lie to your papa!  But they keep tellin’ me—you gotta do it—you gotta stop Danárion to do again!  Tell us what it was like, out there in them woods.  Tell us how Danárion tried to do them boys like they was girls.  Tell us how come Gilmar wasn’t with them other two?  He tried t’run away, didn’t he—and you stopped him runnin’ away.  Didn’t he?  Didn’t you?  You stopped him, and that’s why him wasn’t with them other boys.  You tell us!  You wanna go home?  You just a little boy, like them?  You know what was done to them little boys?  Want it t’happen t’you, too?  Oh, it’ll happen, you don’t tell us what us want t’hear.  You tell us!  You tell us!  The Black One’ll come for you—send his orcs t’get you, you don’t tell!  We’ll see to it—you bet!”  He was almost in tears.

            The King finally asked softly, “Who was it who wanted you to lie, Garestil?”

            “Them—them guards.  Vendrion, Hanalgor, and Cap’n Borongil.  They said—said I had t’say it.  Said that they wasn’t gonna let me go ’less I told’em what they wanted me t’say.  Said I had t’make my papa proud that I helped stop Danárion.  Said if I didn’t, I’d be a Dark-worshiper same as them—Danárion and Carenthor, I mean.  Said everyone knew I was there, had seed it!  I had t’say it.

            “Vendrion—him made it easy.  Asked me questions—mostly all I had t’say was yes or no.  And if they didn’t like what I said he’s just ask me again.”

            “So, you lied.”

            “Yes, sir—I lied.”

            “How do I know you aren’t lying now?”

            Garestil just knelt there, looking up at the King up at the top of all of those steps, seated on his high throne under that great carving of a helmet, looking as if he’d just stepped down from the starry sky himself, and he shook his head, trying to think what to say.  Only the King wasn’t making it easy the way Vendrion had done.  At last he remembered what he’d been told that morning—tell me the truth; if you don’t, I can’t let you go.  So he said, “I can’t make you believe me.  Can’t prove it—not really.  But I—I don’t really know what it’s like there where the place is them boys was hid.  I never been there.”

            “But I’m told your father helped dig the drainage ditch.”

            “I know, but him wouldn’t let me go there because of that Leverion.  Leverion treated me bad—he’d pretend t’like me, and then in front of lots of other people would say how dumb I was t’believe him’d ever like the likes of me!  Stole sweets and put them in my hands as him ran by, and then Vendrion’d say I stole’em, even though they all knew I didn’t.  Them woods—t’get there, you gotta go by Farmer Medril’s place, and him’s Leverion’s papa.  My papa didn’t want me anywhere near that Leverion—said him was bad.”

            “Tell me, then, what you think that those woods are like?”

            “I don’t know!  I know you go across a beam t’get there—I seed it once when I was little and went with our neighbor t’get berries, but that Leverion teased me and she wouldn’t take me back again—said it wasn’t right.  I know there’s the ditch in it my papa dug t’drain the field, but I don’t understand how no ditch drains a field.  I just know they tell me it helps drain the field, and the canal helps the same way, but I don’t understand that, neither.”

            “How deep do you think the ditch is?”

            “My papa said it was deep what he dug—over his head.  So, it’s over my head.”

            “And the water in it?”

            “I don’t know—I guess it’s deep, too, maybe deeper sometimes and not so deep others?”

            “How deep did you tell them it was?”

            “Don’t think I told them how deep, really—just that Danárion and Carenthor—was doin’ things in it.  One of them duckin’ under the water, you see, and then the other one.”

            “Did you say you could see into the water?”

            “Yeah—said that.  Because water’s clear, see?  Only maybe this wasn’t so clear, since them couldn’t see the boys till one fell in.”

            “And none of them corrected you on that?”

            Garestil shrugged.  “No, but maybe them was gettin’ tired of correctin’ me by then.”

            “Did they write all of this out and make you sign it?”

            “Yeah—Veredorn—him’s the scribe for the guards—him read it t’me just like it was said, and I had t’sign it.”  He swallowed, and added, “But then them didn’t let me go home like them said—arrested me, and I ain’t been home since.”

            The King looked down at the Steward seated in the Black Chair.  “If you would please read from Guardsman Vendrion’s description of the finding of the bodies, please, my Prince?  And then, Halladan,” he added, looking at the occupant of the other chair on the lowest step, “if you will please read the portion of Garestil’s description of the ditch in which the bodies were placed.”

            All listened to the two different descriptions in respectful silence.

            When they were done, no one was left unaware that Garestil really hadn’t known what the ditch was really like when he was led to confess to this crime.

            “Faramir, please keep that copy, for we will soon be discussing the findings of the healer Avrandahil as he describes his examination of the boys’ bodies.”  He looked down to the clerk who stood near the long tables placed along the wall.  “Master Anorgil, will you please find the reports made by Master Avrandahil and give them to Lord Halladan?  Thank you.”  He then returned his attention to the three youths kneeling before him.  “I will have you removed to just behind the Ringbearers for the moment, where a bench awaits you.  I have some last, unfinished business regarding Masters Vendrion, Hanalgor, and Borongil and their associates.”

            It was a relief to at last stand, and the bench was even more welcome.  And the three youths had their first chance to truly see the four Halflings together, two standing and two seated.  Garestil frankly gawked at them, while Carenthor and Danárion were almost equally fascinated—until the latter’s eyes strayed further and caught sight of two other individuals standing with the ease of long practice beyond them, one dark haired and the other golden as the sunlight, but clearly near kindred.  “Elves!” he breathed.

            But Carenthor’s attention had been arrested by the smaller, broader individuals beyond them, one leaning negligently on a broad axe.  “And Dwarves!” he whispered.

            Their guard leaned forward to warn them to keep their silence, and they reluctantly nodded their understanding.  But Danárion was definitely lost in wonder—it appeared that not all marvelous things were gone from Middle Earth, or at least not yet!

            Once the former guardsmen were back in their places, Rindor and Radamir were led to the front, Radamir in chains and Rindor not, and they gave their testimony regarding their dealings with Borongil and his fellows regarding the trade with the foreign agents.  Radamir had used the storage room in the lodgings his wife had found after they’d lost her former home to keep those items being gathered for the next wagon sent from “Dunland.”  He admitted that now and then he’d taken one or more items from this room for his own use, but had stopped that practice when caught at it by Borongil, who’d threatened to expose some of his other unsavory activities to his wife.  That he wished to avoid at all costs, as he did not wish to lose this position and the extra coin he made in his part of the enterprise.  When he’d become so inebriated that he’d tried to take his own daughter by force, however, that had led both his outraged wife and son to see him thrown bodily from the house, and Amdir had taken him in charge; and the gaolers had been most pleased to find themselves in charge of him, having looked forward to the day when he’d take that one step too far and would lose all he’d had.

            Here, however, Borongil had intervened, terrified that if Radamir was questioned by Nerwion or any other it would lead to the exposure of the regular trading with Gríma Wormtongue’s people.  So he’d gone to the gaol indicating he would be taking the Man to Master Nerwion’s presence, but instead had taken him outside the city where a horse and some supplies awaited him, instructing him to get himself back to the other side of Anwar as swiftly as possible and not to return.

            The one supply Borongil had not thought to provide him with was drink, so he was reasonably sober when he at last reached Raeglib, where he quickly convinced his wife there, as he had Vanessë, that he’d changed for good, and she’d taken him back.  But one night a former companion arrived in the village from Amon Dîn, and the two of them had ended up in the alehouse, and one thing led to another….

            Yes, he’d heard that Danárion had been charged with the murder of the three small boys, and he’d been hard pressed to believe it.  But, then—perhaps the boy had been more like his sire than Radamir had believed.  He’d been shocked to find out how prudish his son had learned to be under that Targon’s influence.  But perhaps he’d been wrong.

            “And how would you feel to learn that in fact Danárion was not guilty of taking part in the killing of the children?” asked the King.

            Radamir shrugged slightly.  “I’m not certain.  But then, should he prove better than me, I doubt not that such would be a good thing.  Better he not become the wastrel I am.”

            Rindor was permitted to stand by his stepson Dírhael but requested to remain once the audience was over and the lords of the realm were dismissed, and the King now turned his attention back to the former guardsmen.

            “You and now we know that in truth none of you knows for certain who truly killed the children Bredwion, Gilmar, and Nedron.  Why then did you decide to put the blame for this crime upon the youth Danárion?” he asked Borongil.

            The former soldier and captain of the guards shrugged sullenly.  “He is a difficult youth, and one who cannot and will not refrain from criticizing his betters.  And in seeing to it that Radamir was taken in charge, he cost us a good place to store what we were readying for shipment and all that we’d gathered to that date.  None like him, and few if any will miss him.  We couldn’t learn who’d killed the children, and the villagers were demanding we punish someone.  So, why not?  And with his—interests—who else might have done it?”

            “And so you chose to convince one such as Garestil here to speak this tissue of lies—” and here he pointed at the confession held by Halladan, “—so as to justify your actions in arresting two possibly innocent individuals—and three when you arrested Garestil as well?  By choosing one as a possible murderer and arresting that person, are you seeing justice done by the children?  Is offering a scapegoat for a crime the same as solving the case?  It is likely to stop the real murderer from killing someone else?  I rather think not. 

            “You three have not only committed high treason in seeking to trade with enemies of our closest ally, providing not only food and materials, but also in the past weapons; you have stolen from your own people, people you took oaths to protect and serve, in order to do so.  And when one of your accomplices in this endeavor compromised your arrangements by becoming so inebriated he sought to force his own daughter and had to be forcibly restrained by the girl’s mother and brother, you sought to punish the young Man by accusing him of having murdered three children he admits he probably would not have recognized had he happened upon them within the village.  And you have apparently threatened your own Men to restrain them from testifying that Garestil here returned at his usual time from tumbling practice in Hevensgil in company with his companions who partook in that practice, and that neither Danárion nor Carenthor went out or came back into the village after they returned from Master Amborn’s farm.”

            “But one of those who’d said he’d been there with Garestil lied!” Vendrion shrilled.

            “Did he?  Is it not possible that he in truth was merely mistaken as to which week he started accompanying the others, including Garestil?  For we have the records made by the potter of Hevensgil that although, as Master Hanalgor here learned, the one youth started attending practice a week after the murders, still Garestil had not missed a single practice since he’d begun them a year earlier.  And we have the potter’s signed statement that he was threatened with violence toward himself and his family should he make himself available to Master Caraftion to speak for Garestil and to confirm his presence in Hevensgil during the evening of two days before Midsummer, at the hour when the boys went missing.

            “And we have now more signed and sworn statements by others who have told our deputation much the same—that they were threatened should they approach either Master Caraftion or Master Pardronë in order to speak for any of the three youths, to offer testimony regarding when they were seen or how they spent their time or as to their true characters.  And most identify Borongil or Hanalgor as the ones threatening them, although at least two have indicated that you passed on the warnings they received.”

            “But Danárion drinks blood!  He hates those in authority!  He worships the Nameless One!  He has plotted to father a child in order to offer its life to the Dark Lord!  He----”  Faced by the implacable stare of the King upon his throne, Vendrion ground to a halt.

            The King’s voice was cold when he spoke again.  “Is it not enough that you have lied and encouraged another to lie in order to seek to steal his freedom and his life from him?”

            “He is guilty—he has to be!” Vendrion whimpered.

            “And when you cannot find the proof of this certainty and instead you must elicit a lie from one such as Garestil and ignore all of the clear proofs he gives you that he has no real idea what the actual place where the children’s bodies were found was like, what does that say about your certainty that Danárion is guilty?  Tell me—how did you know that the children’s bodies were to be found in that ditch?”

            “I didn’t—we only saw the shoes floating there, Cuellion and me.  I sent him to fetch others, gates guardsmen and constables.  It was Amdir who fell in and caused the one child’s body to surface.”

            “How was it that you found the bodies of the others?”

            “I was crawling down the ditch, on my hands and knees, feeling for them.”

            “Why were you crawling down the ditch?  Could you not look to find them?”

            “But the water was foul with silt and mud, my Lord!  I could see nothing beneath its surface, even with my nose but inches from the water!”

            “With that being so, then why did you believe that Garestil spoke truly when he spoke of seeing the body of one child twitching as does that of a worm as it sank out of sight?  You have just said that you could crawl down the ditch within the water, feeling with your hands, did you not?”

            “Yes, my Lord—that is precisely how it was!”

            “Then tell me how a body should sink out of sight in such shallow water?  Were the bodies not deliberately pressed down into the mud to keep them from discovery?”

            “Yes, my Lord.”

            “Then they could not be seen sinking anywhere, could they?”

            Vendrion’s eyes were fixed now on the floor between his knees.  “No, my lord.”

            The King allowed all to remain silent for some moments.  “I now find you three guilty not only of high treason, but also of eliciting lies in order to wrongfully deprive a citizen of Gondor of his liberty and life, which when committed by one in the public trust as happens with guardsmen and constables is a betrayal that is unpardonable.  And I now pronounce your dooms upon you.  Vendrion, you will be taken to the prison where you will remain five days before you will be flogged.  You will be given ten lashes for each of the youths you have assisted to name a murderer with no true proof.  You will then return to your cell until you can be removed to the quarries where you will work at hard labor for five years, after which you will be banished outside of Gondor or Arnor.  And I pity any land that takes you in.

            “Hanalgor and Borongil, you two, having begun your treating with agents of enemies of our ally Rohan while you were yet soldiers in direct service to Lord Daelroth as a major Lord of the realm, you will be given over to the Captain of Daelroth’s hosts to be executed as is recommended by law for those who commit high treason while in service to the realm.  And may the Lord of Mandos find some reason for compassion towards the two of you.”  He looked up at the room in general.  “Does anyone within this assembly find reason to dispute these sentences?”

            Heads shook everywhere, and the assembled lords and commoners all answered, “Nay.”

            “Then I bid these be taken away.  And call for the healer Avrandahil.”

            As Avrandahil was being summoned, still another seat was being deliberately settled on the wide step at the foot of the dais where sat the King’s two Stewards.  This one was heavy, and to it was led a Man garbed in robes that might be rich enough but were now dirty and crumpled from several day’s wear in less than satisfactory accommodations.  Master Enelmir, former seneschal for Lord Benargil and former magistrate for the lands administered by the Lord of Anwar, was seated in this chair and manacled to it, and all who filled the room looked on him with questions as to who he might be and what reason there was for him to be brought into this room now.  A Guard of the Citadel stood behind him, but so far no explanation was offered to those within the Hall of Kings as to what his presence might indicate.

            Avrandahil followed the herald sent to escort him to the King’s presence to the front of the Hall of Kings, nervously brushing down the fabric of the robe he wore.  When he saw Enelmir seated at the foot of the steps to the throne he stopped, his eyes wide with startlement.

            “Master Avrandahil?” asked the King, and the healer found himself looking upwards to meet the eyes of the Lord Elessar.  “I wished you to explain your pictures to me.  I broke the seal myself and set one of the Guards to arranging them as he saw fit.”  With that the Man rose to his feet, affixed the hangers for his sword to its belt, and came down the steps, casually stepping around Enelmir’s chair as if it weren’t there and leading the way to the tables at the side of the room. 

            As he passed the seats set for two small figures that sat there, one of them rose.  “May I accompany you, Aragorn, and see them with you?” the small, slender personage asked.  Avrandahil paused at the sight of this one, realizing that whoever—and whatever—he was, he was one who had only recently recovered from a serious illness or wound of some sort.

            The King’s eyes were searching the face of his petitioner, and at last he said, “If you wish, Frodo.  I will not forbid you, you know.”  Although it was plain the Man did not necessarily feel such was wise.

            The one called Frodo stepped forward to accompany the King.  “I would stand as witness for those who are lost,” he said. 

            The King nodded and turned back toward the tables, and now the three of them came to the end where stood a tall Man who was obviously an officer of the Guard of the Citadel.

            The larger pictures intended for use in Enelmir’s court had been affixed somehow to the stone walls of the room, and Avrandahil found himself worrying that whatever had been used might serve to damage them.  The smaller pictures on which those intended for public display were based had been laid immediately adjacent to the larger ones, with the rest laid overlapping one another based on the victim depicted.  The topmost picture in each case was that of the face of each child, to which Avrandahil wanted to take exception, as he usually kept them at the back of each file.

            A servant appeared with a footstool.  “I believe that this may assist you, small Master,” he said as he set it before the small one.

            “Thank you, Iorvas,” Frodo said, stepping up so he could more easily see what was on display.  He looked at the three lines of pictures, and focused on the first face.  “A beautiful ch