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Murder Most Foul
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
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5
Deputation Mounted

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.

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