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.”