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Murder Most Foul  by Larner

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.


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