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Murder Most Foul  by Larner

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.”

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