Two days later the Queen’s investigators returned, saying that the bodies had been found and all signs pointed to the fire having been set from outside the house. But yes, only one pair of boot-prints had been found, matching the boots that Beleg wore. He insisted he had not set the fire, suggesting that perhaps Raegbund had done so.
“He trod in my steps,” he said. “Thought he was being clever, no doubt, and that I would never notice. Did you detect a crack about two inches long in the prints? There’s such a crack in the sole of his right boot.”
The crack was indeed detected, but Raegbund insisted once more that he had not set the fire, nor wished aught to do with it. After much rehashing of the issue, Beleg finally admitted to the deed. Then he cockily said he didn’t deserve to burn, for the victims very likely choked to death on the smoke and never felt the flames. Raegbund looked at him in horror. Then desperately, hopefully, to the others.
“If I am to die, let me be strangled, as they were on the smoke,” he pleaded, near tears, as they sat in the council-chamber: the two criminals with fettered wrists and ankles, Lord Elrond, Sam, Frodo, Northlight, Calathiel, Narylf, and Bragohil. “Not burnt. I never burnt them, nor wished to. I tried to dissuade him, but he would not listen, and threatened to kill me too if I did not go along.”
“What made you think you could get away with it?” Lord Elrond asked them. “What did you plan to do after you completed the last of your evil deeds?”
“We were going to take a ship away from here,” Beleg said without batting an eye. “That’s why we waited until now—there was no ship before, at least, none that was fit to sail. We were going to take it ourselves and sail away to parts unknown. I was fed up with this miserable Island and wished to get away as quickly as possible…anywhere…after taking care of some unfinished business.”
“Why did you wish to kill the very one who had mercy on you and brought about your release?” Lord Elrond asked him. Sam had been thinking exactly the same thing.
“Oh…I don’t know,” Beleg smirked. “Just an itch I had to scratch, I suppose. I believe in finishing what I start.”
Northlight looked very pale above his dark clothing. Frodo caressed his shoulder.
“What I think,” said Lord Elrond, “was that your true desire was to destroy the Island itself, by going for the very heart of it. Just to prove to yourself that you could.”
Beleg laughed. It sounded like a rusty saw. Raegbund looked at him in despair and hatred. Sam had a sudden flashback of a ruined wizard and a cringing man in black wielding a knife, and he looked to Frodo to see if he were thinking the same.
“You’re most perceptive, my Lord,” Beleg said. “Pity you couldn’t put that trait to better use forty-odd years ago. But you know perfectly well you’re not going to burn us. You haven’t it in you. So if you’re expecting me to squirm, all I can say is: don’t hold your breath. I know what namby-pambies all of you are. You’ll never do it.”
“Do not be so certain,” the sloe-eyed beauty Calathiel spoke up. “I agree with Narylf. I would light the fire myself, were it allowed me.”
“I lit YOUR fire more than once, my love,” Beleg sneered at her with glittering eyes. Sam gasped, and a tinge of scarlet crept into Calathiel’s cheeks. “Didn’t I now? You needn’t sit there on your pretty bum making a show of injured virtue. You may fool these good folk, but we both know what we know, don’t we, my dusky dove?”
Sam expected her to either fly into a rage or turn and dash out of the room. To his surprise, she folded her arms and stared him down.
“No one in this room believes you, you devil,” she said in a very soft, dangerous voice.
“Oh, I am well aware of that,” Beleg said with a wink. “But you and I know differently. You were my mistress for how long, before you decided I wasn’t good enough for you any more?”
“Liar,” she said, and Sam felt proud of her. Frodo looked very pale, but did not move. Beleg chuckled.
“You were quite alone in the world, fair one,” he said, “and then I came along and you actually thought you’d tame me down, and I’d marry you and give you and your little ones a home? You think anyone really believes they are your brother and sister, and not your bastard children? You thought I could make an honest elleth of you, did you not?”
“If they were my children, bastard or otherwise,” Calathiel said, “I would freely admit to it, and claim them as my own. And I would lie and rot in my grave before I would marry the likes of you. You, make an honest elleth of anyone? What a joke!”
Sam noticed Ionwë gazing hard at her, and wondered if he were admiring her fire and spirit, along with her obvious physical charms.
“You felt differently,” Beleg narrowed his pale-grey eyes, “before you found out, thanks to this wretch here, about my past. Only then did you decide you wished nothing more to do with me, and told me to leave you alone. You may deny it all you please, but we both know the truth. Who knows, perhaps it was you who set the fire, so you could blame me, and you could get your truest revenge, knowing you would be believed before me.”
“Liar,” she said, as all gasped at his audacity. “I could have destroyed you myself, and I should have. And so I would have, had I not Sadron and Mirwen to consider. You kept me at your mercy by threatening to kill them. Many is the time I considered taking them to the Palace to place them in protective custody, but it is a long and lonely road, and I feared you would waylay us. And sometimes you brought your sniveling friend with you and both had your way with me. And who knows how many others you did the same way, and they were too ashamed or frightened to come forth? I would have you both burn now, and watch and laugh in your faces as you went up in flames.”
Even Narylf looked at her in some consternation, with reddened eyes, and Bragohil put an arm around her. Calathiel looked back at the others, tears standing in her own eyes.
“Do not believe a word he says,” she said. “It is true that I found him attractive once. I was a fool, without a doubt. But it did not take me long to discover his true evil and see him for what he was, and that was when he began taking me by force. I am not a paragon. I have done what I had to do to survive. But I never would have killed any innocent people to try to trap him. That is his way, not mine.”
“No one believes him,” Narylf assured her. “Of course you had naught to do with it, Calathiel, We know that. That filth and his friend alone are responsible, and I shall see justice done.”
“I’m sorry it’s been like this for you, Sam dear,” Frodo said late that evening as they were being made ready for bed. “And it was so peaceful and nice when you arrived. I’m sure you did not count on all this happening.”
“The only thing that worries me about it,” Sam said, as Northlight went to fetch them clean nightshirts, “is what it’s been doin’ to you, M—Frodo. Although you do seem a little better now, strange to say.” He shuddered.
“Maybe it’s been good for me,” Frodo smiled from where he sat propped up in the big bed, pillows piled up behind him. “It shook me out of my shock and put some ginger back into me. Perhaps I’ll be back on my feet tomorrow.”
Sam lifted his white head, feeling his heart leap a little, then subside. No use getting his hopes up this time. If Mister Frodo did get better, that was a wonderful thing. But it was much likelier that he wouldn’t.
“They will not really be burnt, if they are found guilty?” Frodo said. “I can scarcely blame the ladies for the way they feel. Meril may have been Narylf’s sister, but she was so much younger and Narylf had the care of her so long, she must have felt as a mother to her. And I remember well enough how I felt when I saw Northlight after he was brought in that night, although I have prayed to be able to forget it. I felt that no punishment was too severe for the perpetrators. And it seems as though Northlight has always been my son, I can scarce conceive of him as ever having any father but myself. So I do understand her feelings…but still, sometimes it is not a good thing for people to get exactly what they deserve.”
Northlight helped Sam into bed saying, “They will be put to death, I am certain. But…I would not have it. I should never have consented to their release.”
“Don’t feel badly, M—Northlight,” Sam said as the covers were pulled over him and Mister Frodo. “When you do a certain thing, you can’t always know what’s goin’ to come of it later on. It’s like the Lady said, you can’t change the past, you can only take a hand in making the future…or somethin’ like that. Although I know that’s easy enough to say when you’ve not made a huge mess of things in the past.”
“Yes,” Northlight said glancing toward the window, “it’s easy enough to say when two people are not lying burnt to death in the remains of their home, and a child has not been made an orphan, and a young lady remains unviolated, with perhaps many more besides herself. But when things are otherwise…yes, then it grows harder. But when should one cease to be merciful, and show justice instead? It is hard to discern.”
“Yes, I do understand that,” Sam said. “But it’s all out of our hands now. We should take Mister Frodo home tomorrow. He don’t need all this excitement. Lord Elrond and all the rest can be trusted to do the right thing. We needn’t worry ourselves with it…we just need to get Mister Frodo home and go about the business of living.”
“I think you are right,” Northlight said. “Yes. They have been caught, and we are safe now. And their fate is out of our hands. We will go home tomorrow.”
Frodo reached out and took his hand saying, “I’m very proud of you, Northlight. I’m proud of how you conducted your past, and dealt with what mistakes you made in your own unique and wonderful way, to the good of all, and I am also proud of the grief you feel in this moment. And I am proud of your future without knowing what it will be, only that you will choose as you see fit, and that in all likelihood you will choose rightly. So I am proud of your past, your present, and your future, taken all together, my son.”
A soft tap was heard at the door, which opened slowly a moment later. It was Amaryllis.
“May I come in?” she asked, and then came in before anyone could say yes. The hobbits smiled at her. “I came to see if Granddad was all right. I was worried.”
“That’s sweet of you,” Mister Frodo smiled. “I’m much better now, thank you, my Bud. Did you have a good time in the garden with the children today?”
“Somewhat,” Amaryllis said climbing up on the bed and seating herself at the foot of it. “Mirwen is quite nice. And I think little Limwen is darling, but I don’t like Doriel so much. She snaps your head off at the least little things.”
“She is going through a bad time,” Northlight reminded her with a little smile. “She just lost her aunt and uncle, you know. When people are going through a bad time, they don’t always behave as they should. Sometimes one must show a little patience and understanding.”
“Limwen just lost her parents,” Amaryllis pointed out, “and she's just sweet. She melts my heart, really. I said something about how I’d like to adopt her as my little sister, and Doriel just threw a fit. She said Limwen was going to be HER sister and if I dared to take her away, she’d put a curse on me. Imagine!”
The others laughed, and Sam felt a vast relief at being able to do so. But Amaryllis clasped worried hands.
“You don’t think she can REALLY put a curse on me, do you?” she whispered.
“Of course she can’t,” Northlight said. “How are the girls doing now?”
“Lyrien gave them dolls,” Amaryllis said. “She had some in her room that she’d just finished making recently, and she gave them to all the girls. The dolls had those leaves in them, and Mummy said she thought they were having a calming effect, or something like that. And Lyrien held Limwen in her lap for a while. I think Perhael didn’t like that, but Perion got his attention, and played that game with the feather-cork with him and Sadron and Ninniach. Jolyan went home with his father yesterday, but Arasinya is staying here for Ionwë.”
“Lyrien is a blessing,” Frodo said. And grinned proudly at Northlight…and Sam remembered the feather-cork game. Some of the boys had been idly batting a cork with a few feathers stuck in one end back and forth with wooden sticks, and Northlight had said there had to be a better way to hit the cork around. So he went to the smithy and had a couple of lightweight round metal frames with long handles made (after observing the way the laundresses washed and dried stockings over a similar apparatus), and he begged some old stockings of Lady Celebrían and stretched those over the metal frames and tied the ends tightly, then wound leather strips around the ends of the handles. These worked much better for hitting the cork around…and naturally, Guilin just had to capitalize on this idea and now the game was quite the rage on the Island….
Amaryllis nodded her dark head in vigorous agreement. “Why do you think I worship her?” she beamed. “But I do miss my friends dreadfully, and can scarcely wait to see them again. It feels like AGES since they left. And Daddy, I do wish you’d had Aunt Sweetfern bring my other clothes here instead of Uncle Moonrise. He must not have any concept at all of Palace life! I think he just fetched up the oldest, horridest dresses I had. I can barely hold my head up in them. Just look at this old rag!”
She held out her skirt for the inspection of all. Northlight looked at it in puzzlement.
“What’s wrong with it?” he said. “Looks all right to me.”
Amaryllis’ lovely mouth dropped open and she looked at the hobbits in complete and baffled exasperation at her father’s obtuseness. They laughed. So did Northlight.
“Well, you will not have to go about the Palace in rags after today, my princess,” he said reaching out to pat her cheek. “We will be going home tomorrow. And so you had better go get ready for bed now, so you may pack up all those horrid old dresses and hold your head up high once more, and perhaps I will even look into getting you a new one or two.”
She sprang up in delight, and after kissing all goodnight, she dashed out the door almost forgetting to open it…and then a few moments later, she tapped on it again, and peered in.
“Know what I think?” she said in a half whisper. “I think Ionwë is sweet on Calathiel. Every time she’s in the room he doesn’t take his eyes off her the whole time. When do you think they'll get married? Next month?”
“Go to bed!” her father laughed.