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Murder Most Foul
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
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6
Lord Benargil's House

Lord Benargil’s House


Benargil, Lord of Anwar, examined the letter just delivered into his hands with some concern. “What is it?” asked his friend Enelmir, who served as his seneschal and as the magistrate for the tribunals held in the smaller villages and towns surrounding Anwar as well as within Anwar itself..

“I’d expected this to be the signed death warrant for that boy--that Danárion--you know, the one who saw to the deaths of those three small boys from Destrier.”

Enelmir knew full well about the case, as he had been the one to hear it and had been the one who’d declared the three young Men accused of and tried for the murders guilty as charged. “And it’s not?”

“No.”

“Who is it from?”

“Apparently the King’s Majesty himself,” Lord Benargil answered him. “He sends a deputation to Anórien to examine the case against the three youths to assure himself that the findings are just--or so he says.” He dropped the offending missive upon the desktop beyond the tray bearing refreshments and reached for his wine goblet, drinking from it as if it had the power to cleanse not only his palate but also his mind as well of the implication that justice within his area could be less than proper.

“And who is it who comes?” Enelmir asked.

“Lord Erchirion of Dol Amroth, Prince Imrahil’s second son, accompanied by one of the Lord King’s own kinsmen from the north, one he states is a guardian of the law amongst the Northern Dúnedain. They will be accompanied by others--a battle surgeon and a second healer and a legal clerk from the Guild of Lawyers--one who has served both the Master of the Guild and Lords Denethor and Faramir in the past.”

“A battle surgeon? Why a battle surgeon? And then why a second healer?”

“How am such as I to appreciate how the mind of the King works? After all, what do we know of him, this heir of Isildur come from the wilderness that the northern kingdom has sunk to?”

“He’s a canny warrior, by all accounts, and fluent in Adûnaic, Rohirric, Sindarin, and even Quenya. It’s said that he also speaks Haradric and Rhûnic, although how those who sent me that word could know I do not understand. And he’s a canny one for reading the mind of the populace. Making our Lord Faramir a Prince as well as retaining his services as Steward was masterly, as was the justice given that guardsman who it’s said somehow managed to save the life of Lord Faramir after slaying the porter before the door to the Hallows.”

“Well,” Benargil said, staring suspiciously at the letter as it lay upon the desktop, “I do not look forward to entertaining this kinsman of the King. What will such a one know of courtly courtesy?”

“And when are they due to arrive?” asked Enelmir.

“Tomorrow, apparently.”

“That does not give you much time to prepare for their advent.”

“And what does that mean for you, Enelmir? For you must gather together all the records of the proceedings for their inspection, you must realize.”

“The clerk has all well in hand, I am certain,” Enelmir answered, stung. “And what can they do? You yourself have looked over the records of the trial and have agreed with me that I followed the law properly.”

“They might take exception to you allowing that guardsman to testify in the trial.”

“Hanalgor? He helped to see to it that justice was served.”

“But the claims he made--there was, after all, little to support what he said.”

“My lord--he only served to prove that this Danárion was indeed focused on the black arts....”

“But to say that the wearing of black proves that--the realm’s own colors, after all, are black and silver.”

“But to enjoy the songs written by the likes of Suleirion--my Lord Benargil--the Man’s lyrics are seditious at best!”

“Yet the music is certainly moving. My son and daughter both enjoy his work, and my son will play the tunes upon his lute for hours at a time. Ah, well, those who heard the evidence were, after all, convinced of his guilt. Who are we to go against the judgment of the people? Well, summon Dalrieth for me that I might have her make ready quarters for those who come. I suppose the two healers would do well to share a room--would you not agree, Enelmir?”

*******


Benargil stood upon the steps that led to the gate to the Keep of Anwar, watching the arrival of the party sent by the King. Young Erchirion of Dol Amroth was easily recognizable, and rode his roan gelding with the loose ease of youth. Beside him was an older Man, broad-chested yet of a slender appearance, what with his height; with the muscles of a trained swordsman. He wore well-worn riding leathers of a faded brown, and a newer cloak of silver-grey caught at the shoulder with a silver star. Something about that silver star struck Benargil as familiar, although for the moment he could not say what it brought to mind--something, he thought, from long ago.

The battle surgeon was easily recognizable, a compact individual with the cloak brooch of knife and serpent that was the sign of his profession. By him rode one who obviously did not relish his ride in the saddle. As the Man turned his head Benargil found himself recognizing him--Anorgil son of Gilflorin. The lord of Anwar began to unconsciously stroke his beard. Anorgil had done part of his apprenticeship in the law here within the Keep, back when Benargil’s father Astúrion had still been lord. He’d been a stickler for procedure, as Benargil remembered it. Anorgil was painstaking, and far too insistent on following logic. If Anorgil was to assist this northern lord he was likely to insist on seeing all records, and was also likely to criticize what he saw as being anything but logical. Benargil found his shoulders going stiff.

But it was the one who rode behind the Men and before the two guardsmen who accompanied the party that was the biggest shock--this was no Man at all, but--but an Elf! An Elf? What was an Elf doing as part of this company? Yet it could be no other race--taller even than the northern lord, slender and lithe, his dark hair long and sleek, with an elegance to him that appeared arrogant to the watching Gondorian. His temple locks had been braided and drawn back behind his ears that, yes, indeed were pointed. His brow was smooth, and it was impossible to guess at how old he might be. A bow and quiver hung negligently over his shoulder, along with a finely made red bag fastened with an elaborate knot. His garb was as elegant as his seat upon his horse, a white stallion very much in keeping with his master’s appearance. That horse had none of the breeding of the steeds of Rohan, Benargil judged, although there was no question it was blooded. There was no saddle or bridle to be seen upon the animal. A look about the Elf, and Benargil could see he carried a long knife at his belt that was as beautiful in appearance--and as deadly--as its bearer.

Benargil felt his skin crawl. Stories told of Elves made it plain that these were unearthly, unnatural beings--beings with whom it was best Men have little commerce. That he would be called upon to entertain such a one was--distressing.

There were no servants in the party, which was unusual. This realization both eased him and disturbed him. True, he would not have to feed extra mouths while these were within the Keep; but his own servants would most likely be called upon to serve these--guests. He unconsciously tugged on his beard as they turned up the causeway from the town toward the Keep itself. That this visit was likely to be uncomfortable for him as host was becoming increasingly obvious. He forced his expression into what he hoped was a genial smile and came forward to greet them.

Within an hour’s time Benargil was returned to his own rooms to prepare himself for dinner, and there he sank down onto the edge of his bed, shaking. “This is going to be a disaster!” he murmured to himself. His son and daughter, who’d watched the arrival of the King’s deputation from the roof, were both fascinated by the Elf, and he’d had to advise Dalrieth to prepare another chamber as swiftly as possible, it having been made plain that the Elf would not take kindly to staying in a room shared with any Man. Part of what had served to convict Danárion of Destrier was the fact he’d stated repeatedly he wished to meet with Elves, an ambition the folk of this region found ominous. He’d tried to dress as he thought an Elf might dress, and had spoken of Elbereth and Manwë, and what it might be like in the Blessed Realm.

The people of this section of Anórien, however, preferred to think of the Valar with suspicion. Knowing that the Great Enemy had come to Middle Earth from the Undying Lands, they’d become convinced that all who dwelt there were as he; and when they rose for the Standing Silence their reverence went no further than where the Star Isle had once stood. Many were still convinced that the Elves said to dwell in the Undying Lands held to themselves the secrets of immortality, and believed that Númenor had sunk beneath the waves not due to the overweening pride of Ar-Pharazôn but to the malice held toward Men who sought to share the blessings of eternal life. To be asked by the King to host an Elf! How would this be seen by his people, particularly in relation to the investigation of this case?

A knock at his door, and his body servant entered. Peldrion cast an eye over him, then gave a nod and retrieved from the wardrobe a clean surcoat of a dark blue that Benargil favored. “Here, my lord--this will become you well and will give your guests a most favorable impression of you.”

“Thank you, Peldrion,” Benargil answered, truly grateful this time, unlacing the tunic he’d been wearing and reaching for the clean one set out for him, then allowing the servant to assist him in settling the surcoat over his shoulders, fastening it with a great brooch his wife had gifted him with at mettarë. On it was pictured a great dragon surrounding a large cabochon of amber in which a perfect spider had been trapped, the dragon faced by a Man armed with a two-handed sword. Again this was an adornment that he treasured greatly, and seeing it shining upon his breast gave him a feeling of greater confidence. Feeling he’d done his best to prepare himself, he allowed Peldrion to comb his hair over his bald spot, and went down to dinner heartened.

He found the northern lord, Berevrion, sitting at a table in his library, Benargil’s own secretary Galdrod fussing about at his elbow. Sitting across the table from Berevrion was Anorgil, as stiff and uncomfortable in posture as he’d ever been. “Yes, my Lord,” Galdrod was saying, “this is the transcription we have of the trial--I copied it from the record made by the scribe Umbardacil who was assigned to make a master copy by Master Enelmir.”

“And Master Enelmir is the magistrate assigned to hear this case?”

“Yes, my lord.”

“He is a member of the Guild of Lawyers within the province of Anórien?”

“Yes--due to his great friendship with our Lord Benargil he is highly placed within it. And due to the diligence with which he has pursued this case to its conclusion he is being considered as a possible successor to our current Guild Master when he retires, which all suspect will occur within three years.”

“Who is likely to follow Enelmir as magistrate?”

“Most likely Master Fendril, my Lord. Master Fendril served as the one to build the case against the youth Danárion and his fellows. He has served in such capacity several times now, and has been a most successful one in bringing together the information and evidence that has allowed malefactors to be made plain.”

“Was there one from the Guild of Lawyers who assisted those accused of the crime?”

“Yes, my lord, young Master Caraftion of Pustien, a village some miles north of here.”

“He was experienced in providing defense to those accused of serious crimes?”

For the first time Galdrod sounded uncertain. “Actually, my lord, Master Caraftion has mostly been employed in the transferring of property and businesses and the crafting of wills and writing of agreements. He did assist a Man accused of stealing a horse from his neighbor and helped to win his freedom, and has served as counsel to a seller of used goods who has been accused on various occasions of having knowingly accepted stolen items. However, he has been active as a lawyer and a member of the Guild for only four years now. This case was the first in which he was called upon to offer assistance to those accused of such a serious crime.”

“How many murders have there been within Anórien in the past ten years?”

“In the last ten years, sir? I believe about sixteen, my lord. There was the case in which----”

Berevrion cut him off. “Only sixteen? That is commendable. Were any of them before this one in contention?”

Taken off his guard by the interruption and this question, Galdrod had to think on this one. “There was one five years back in which Drevendor of Amon Dîn was killed, and all were surprised to learn a resident of Anwar here was the murderer. It was Master Fendril who proved the case against him, arguing again before Master Enelmir. A most disturbing case in the end--all had thought the object was theft, for Drevendor had been a merchant of some note who traded between Gondor, Rohan, and the Dunlands, and had become very wealthy due to trade. But Master Fendril had argued convincingly that it was much deeper and uglier--that Dorndrol of Anwar had caught Drevendor importing pagan images and was disturbed with them and had so sought him out to slay him. Of course Dorndrol’s wife and family sought to make stories for him to imply he could not have traveled to Amon Dîn at that season to assault Drevendor, but they only sought to excuse him by fabricating tales to explain his time.”

Benargil was concerned by the exchange of glances between his northern guest and Anorgil. He came fully into the room. “I myself reviewed that case, also, and I assure you it was rightly settled, Lord Berevrion. But now is not the time for further consideration of legal matters--my servants will have dinner ready to serve at the table shortly, and we should all prepare to go into the dining hall. Your other companions--they will be ready when the gong is struck?”

“I believe so,” Berevrion said, “although there is a chance Master Harolfileg may choose not to dine with us. He has had little to do with Men in his life, and came only as a favor to the Lord King Elessar and the Prince of his own people who is now a close friend to our King. Prince Legolas Thranduilion of Eryn Lasgalen has been one of the Fellowship of the Ring, after all, helping to bring the Ringbearer and his companions from their own land through the wilds of Eriador and the vale of the Anduin to Amon Hen where they parted ways.”

“And you have met the Lord Iorhael?” asked Benargil. “Do come to the Great Room--my family will meet us there, and they will be most pleased to hear tales of those who saw to the defeat of Mordor.”

Reluctantly Berevrion rose. He had apparently cleansed himself from the dust of the ride from the capital, and Benargil saw that he now wore a clean surcoat over a shirt of a rich golden color and dark trousers. His boots were of a foreign mode and well worn, but also were well cared for and had probably been expensive when new. He’d left off his sword, but had the sheath to a well cared for long knife in his belt. On one hand he wore a signet ring, and a bracelet of twisted gold, silver, brass, and copper wires about his left wrist. A writing case hung at his belt alongside a scrip of well-worn purple leather. He followed Benargil to the Great Room, where Benargil’s son sat draped crookedly over a chair, his leg over its arm, playing upon a lute, and his daughter and wife sat in seats by the fire, both with embroidery frames in their laps.

“Lord Berevrion, my wife Marien, our daughter Belrieth, and our son Wendthor. This is Lord Berevrion of the northern kingdom, my chicks.”

Wendthor winced visibly at the endearment, and Belrieth’s cheeks flamed with embarrassment. Lady Marien rose to her feet, setting her needlework aside as she did so. “Lord Berevrion?” she said. “And of the north-kingdom, are you? There are yet lords and ladies among you?” Her brow arched in inquiry as she indicated a chair where he might take a seat. She watched as Anorgil entered behind him, and her expression warmed. “Anorgil? You have returned to Anwar?”

“At our Lord King’s request am I come at his kinsman’s side, Lady Marien.”

“As for your question, my lady,” said Berevrion as he took the indicated chair, “there are yet lands that have remained relatively untouched, mostly high in what was Arthedain or in the Angle north and west of Rivendell, where we of the northern Dúnedain have dwelt in accordance with our ways, even after the death of Arvedui and the purported fall of Arnor. The father of my house was close to Elendil himself, one of the seven princes to captain the ships of the Faithful from Númenor, Eldecar by name. Our family had close ties to the Elves of Tol Eressëa, and often traded with them. Thus Ar-Pharazôn’s decision to sail to the Undying Lands to seek to conquer them so as to supposedly take the secret of eternal life by force was considered a great betrayal by my family. Eldecar sent to his friends among those who dwelt on Tol Eressëa such warning as he could contrive ere he followed our Lord Elendil onto the ships that left the Star Isle before Pharazôn’s great armada could set sail westward. The storm loosed at the breaking of the World drove my great-father Eldecar’s ship west and north with that of Elendil himself, and so they came at the same time to the shores of Arnor.”

“So you are the lord of a city there in the northlands?” asked the girl Belrieth.

“Of a region rather than a city. Only now can we look once more to build great cities as we once did,” Berevrion said. “When we return northward our Lord Halladan, brother to our late Steward Halbarad and now appointed Steward of Arnor after him, will see to the rebuilding of Annúminas on the shores of Lake Evendim, and once more we will have a proper citadel. Always we have had two royal steadings, there in Annúminas and at the royal fortress of Fornost. Much of Fornost has been rebuilt in the last thousand years, for Angmar’s folks did not seek to hold it after the fleeing of their dread lord. It was there that our Lord Aragorn Elessar was born, in keeping with tradition, although they did not remain there long. The Enemy ever sought those of the line of Kings to slay them, and even Fornost was not safe for his parents to remain in for any length of time.

“My father was lord of a region not far west of the Misty Mountains and some fifty miles south of Angmar. We have a walled keep known as Tirith Fuir where those of the region might retreat during incursions of orcs from the east or Men from the north, and we have managed to hold it now for some eighteen hundred years. There has never been a large city in the area, and the villages scattered about the region we oversee are small and mostly hidden for their own protection. Now, at last, we will begin to grow as a people and nation once more, and once again our cities will rise and our fields fill the land as has not been known since the days of Arvedui.”

“You have known the King all his life?” asked Belrieth’s brother.

“Nay--not all his life, for he spent eighteen years of his first twenty in the vale of Imladris, under the protection of Lord Elrond himself, after his father was killed by orcs.”

“Imladris?” Wendthor sat up in interest. “Isn’t that the land that our Lord Captain Boromir sought as a result of his dream?”

“So our Lord King has told us. And it was there in Imladris, that most know as Rivendell, that they first met, your Lord Captain and our Lord Aragorn Elessar.”

“And this Lord Iorhael--the Ringbearer--what of him? What sort of Man is he?” Benargil asked.

Berevrion’s lip twitched. “Lord Frodo is a most gentle and intelligent soul, and extraordinarily sensitive and sensible. However, I must tell you he is, properly speaking, not a Man at all. He is a Hobbit of the Shire, a small land in northwestern Eriador, much of which comprised the farmlands of Cardolan in its day.”

“A Hobbit? I’ve never heard of Hobbits before,” Benargil objected.

Berevrion smiled, “I would be surprised if you had, for outside of the Shire and the Breelands I do not believe there remain any other settlements of the people. Even within Eriador few know of them save those who frequent the ancient King’s Highway between Tharbad and the site of Annúminas. There at the crossroads between the north-south highway and the east-west road that runs between the passes above Rivendell and the Elven havens of Mithlond on the Firth of Lhûn there lies the village of Bree, chief of the four villages of the Breelands. A day’s ride west of Bree lies the Brandywine Bridge, which marks the eastern boundary of the Shire and the main entrance into that land from the east. Our King Argeleb the Second granted that land, long emptied of inhabitants due to the evil wrought there by the Witch-king of Angmar, to two Hobbits and all of their folk who would follow them west of the Baranduin River. They are a small people, slightly better than half the height of a tall Man, most of them; and are among the most successful farmers in all of Middle Earth, I’d deem. Perhaps alone in the northlands, the Breelands and the Shire have prospered in the past several centuries. It has been our duty to guard the borders of these lands as well as our own, and once again the guardianship we have offered them has paid off well.”

“Once again?” questioned Lady Marien.

“Rarely do Hobbits of the Shire leave their own lands; but ever when they do so they seem to unwittingly end up saving quite a good number of folks. For a people so peace-loving it is uncanny.”

A gong sounded. Benargil raised his eyes to those of Anorgil, who’d remained standing just inside the doorway, leaning against the wall, his arms crossed over his chest. He’d usually stood thus even in the days of his apprenticeship. He nodded to himself as he rose. “Shall we go into the dining hall, then, my friends? That was the gong for dinner.”

The Elf had come to the dining hall after all, and followed the battle surgeon into the room, taking the place indicated by Lady Marien, there beside the surgeon and opposite Wendthor. He stood quietly behind his chair until the others approached the seats suggested by their hostess, obviously waiting for the Standing Silence. All turned west together for a moment before all turned again toward the table and one another, and at the gesture of the Lord of the Keep all sat. Berevrion and Erchirion were seated near lord and lady in keeping with their rank; Harolfileg was seated just above the saltcellar, while battle surgeon and legal clerk were seated just below it. Basins of rosewater were brought first for the cleansing of hands; the Elf watched what those before him did in the situation, then followed suit with a measure of grace that made the simple act appear markedly elegant, nodding his thanks to the servant who held bowl and towel as, Benargil noted, did both the northern lord and Lord Erchirion as well. It was plain the surgeon was unacquainted with such an act, although he did creditably well at following the examples of those seated with them.

Benargil waited until those with the basins had moved down toward the members of the household seated beyond the King’s party to effect introductions. “This is my seneschal, Enelmir, and his mother, Mistress Niniel. He has his own household, but since the death of his wife some eight months since he and his mother have taken their meals primarily with us. Master Enelmir is one of the magistrates of our region and is, as I believe you were already told, Lord Berevrion, highly placed in the Guild of Lawyers for Anórien. Enelmir, this is Lord Berevrion of the north kingdom; Lord Erchirion, second son of our honored Prince Imrahil of Dol Amroth; Master Bariol, who serves the realm as a battle surgeon and who was, I understand, sent on the direct request of our Lord King himself; Master Anorgil, whom you know from the days of his apprenticeship as a lawyer and student of the law of the realm; and--” he paused, uncertain what honorifics he ought to use, “--Master Harolfileg of the Elf Kingdom north and east of us and east of the great river, who again came on the request of our Lord King. I understand, Master Harolfileg, that you are a healer of your people?”

“I am,” came the reply, uttered in a clear voice that had the overtones of music to it.

As servants brought the first course and set it before them, those taking the meal exchanged looks. “And with whom did you study?” asked an elderly bearded Man with a black cap atop his head, sitting further down the table from the guests. He hastened to add, “Oh, and I am Master Bilstred, personal healer to Lord Benargil’s keep. Here is my wife Dalrieth, who serves now as housekeeper for the Keep, and our daughter Lyrien.”

Dalrieth most of the guests had already met as they were shown their rooms. Lyrien was a woman of around thirty years, whose face reflected rather a severe aspect. She had obviously been a woman of some beauty in her youth, but disappointment and loss had left their marks upon her, apparently leaving her somewhat aloof and wary of life. She nodded her acknowledgement of the introduction, but failed to look directly at any of the guests--or any other individual sitting with them at table.

Harolfileg answered slowly, “I have studied the art of healing over the period of many yeni, Master Bilstred. My daeradar was one who studied under those few healers who had themselves studied within the halls of Estë and who came from Aman with the Exiles among the Noldor. In my youth I studied in Eregion and Lindon before I joined Lord Oropher and his son Thranduil in Eryn Lasgalen. I am perhaps not as great a healer as is Elrond of Imladris, for I did not inherit as did he and his sons and the descendants of his brother Elros the healing hands that are part of the legacy of Eärendil and Elwing. But my knowledge is great enough, I deem. Certainly, considering the evil wrought in our realm by the Enemy during the centuries he dwelt in Dol Guldur, our people often suffered greatly at his hands, and my skills were too oft needed.”

“And you know personally our new King?” Bilstred asked.

The Elf gave a most elegant shrug. “I have seen Lord Elrond’s fosterling perhaps thrice ere this--once in the days of his later childhood when my lord came to Imladris and I accompanied him; once some fifty or sixty sunrounds back when he came with Mithrandir to meet with Thranduil in his own halls; and two sunrounds ago when he brought the creature Gollum to us for his safekeeping. He is himself a healer of some note, one worthy of the respect even of us among the Firstborn. But that is to be expected of one of the descendants of Elros Peredhel, particularly as he was raised in Elrond’s house.”

“Peredhel?” asked Wendthor. “But that means ‘half-elven,’ does it not?”

“Yes--Elrond and his brother Elros were, after all, the sons of Eärendil and Elwing, who were the descendants in their turn of Lúthien and Beren, Idril and Tuor. Aragorn Elessar, as the direct descendant of Elros Eärendilion, has within him the blood of the Eldar and the Lady Melian, after all. A worthy Man indeed is he, and he has been honored by the Elves of Middle Earth all of his life. It is a grief to many of us that he cannot be expected to remain as King and lord of your people much more than another century; but should he, as is expected of us, marry our beloved Arwen Undómiel, it is to be hoped his son may choose to remain with you perhaps as long as three centuries, for in him will the blood of the Eldar run more truly even than in the veins of his father.”

“A century?” asked Enelmir. “But you said you met him a Man grown some fifty or sixty years back! No Man lives to that age!”

“He is the Dúnadan. The lords of the kingdom of Arnor have commonly lived well over a hundred sixty years, if they were not slain else,” Berevrion said. “I myself am also in my eighties, and am considered to be in my late middle years. Those of Númenórean descent in the north kingdom have managed to keep our blood purer than is commonly seen here in Gondor, apparently. It is likely my kinsman Aragorn Elessar will live two centuries before he accepts the Gift.”

“The Gift?” asked Lyrien, interested in spite of herself.

“The Gift of mortality,” Berevrion explained. “This was granted us mortals by Ilúvatar Himself that we need not know the great weariness with life many among the Firstborn experience.”

“So we have been told also,” agreed Harolfileg. “I have seen that weariness take many who have suffered many losses over the yeni of their lives. I am told that many of the Secondborn fear death, although I cannot understand quite why. There have been those among us who have found being forced to live on when all that they had labored for and loved so intensely was lost due to the actions of the Dark Lords, who have railed against the fate that does not allow them easing. Many have faded, while others have grown most bitter.”

“One does not need to be an Elf,” muttered Lyrien, turning her attention to the dish before her, “to know such bitterness due to loss.”

While most of the guests looked on the woman with compassion, Enelmir gave her a glance of exasperation and contempt. “Do you think, madam, that you are the only one to lose what you once had? Such is a common enough experience in this world.”

Harolfileg gave their host’s seneschal an unreadable look before turning his attention to the woman. “You are yet young, even for a woman of the Secondborn. That you have known loss is not uncommon--so it is for most in this world, particularly in light of the war so recently won against the Enemy. He and his creatures have left much of destruction in their wake. Yet it seems perhaps you have lost more than is usual for one as young as you appear. Tell me, child, what it is that you have lost?”

“My husband and child. Two years back orcs came through Anórien from the mountains to the north, and my husband went forth with those who sought to fight them, as was slain. They slew most of the beasts and drove the rest away, but my own husband was lost. His brother claimed his place, and now the estate went to him, and I was forced to return to Anwar. Then, shortly after we returned my daughter, who would scramble up upon the windowsills, fell out into the courtyard--she lingered six days ere she died. Now I am left with nothing--husband dead, what I’d come to see as my own home taken by another who will never be as good a caretaker for it as was my beloved, and daughter lost.” There were tears in her eyes as she looked down on the plate set before her.

“We grieve for you,” Anorgil said quietly. “You were married to Faraster of Amon Dîn, were you not?”

She gave a slight nod. “Even so.”

“A fine Man he was, as I remember.”

She looked up to catch the clerk’s eye. At last she said, “Yes, a fine Man, and a good husband he was to me.” A good deal of the stiffness in her appeared to have lessened, just having had others listen to and accept her grief. Harolfileg examined her with a thoughtful expression on his face. She asked, “And have you lost any you loved?”

The Elf shrugged. “My adar was slain in the War of Wrath when my sister and I were yet children, and our naneth brought us to our daeradar’s home in Lindon. Long she grieved ere she faded and followed Adar to Námo’s Halls. I studied under Daeradar, as I said, for many years. Then there came a call for those of us apt to healing to come to Eregion where there was need for our services. My sister came with me, and we settled there under Celebrimbor’s rule--until the Enemy came.

“My sister had taken a husband, Nargolin, from among the Noldor who dwelt in Eregion. We survived the sack of our land and fled northward, back to Lindon, and then followed Oropher to Eryn Lasgalen. Both Nargolin and I accepted the call to fight in the Last Alliance--I was one of the few among the warriors who fought under Oropher who survived; Nargolin was caught up by a troll and his throat was bitten out, and he died under my hands. When at last I returned to my sister with word as to how her beloved had died, she lost hope and turned westward, finding her way to Mithlond, taking with her her daughter and younger son. Her older son Barúil chose to remain here in Ennor and served in the guard for our lands. Yrch from Dol Guldur slew him just ere the White Council drove the Necromancer from his fortress there. His son was taken by the great spiders six years ago.

“My daeradar was allowed to take ship to Tol Eressëa shortly after the Last Alliance. I am now the last of my family left here in the Mortal Lands.”

“And you never married?” she asked, fascinated.

“I never said that.” But something in the tone in which this statement was uttered indicated that the subject was one he would not discuss.

There followed a time of quiet when all focused on the meal. At last Lord Berevrion asked, “How was it that it was determined that the deaths of these children were intended to do honor to the Lord of Mordor?”

Benargil paused with a bite of food halfway to his mouth, eyeing his guest with a degree of distaste. Surely this could not be seen as an appropriate topic to discuss during a meal--or in front of children?

Enelmir, however, was shrugging. “One of the market guards from Destrier has made a study of the Dark Arts, and readily recognized from the wounds the children had suffered that this was true. The removal of the manhood of the one child----”

Benargil felt himself blanch, and saw a similar reaction from most of the other males in the party. Enelmir, however, was warming to his subject and blithely continued on. “Hanalgor has learned that such was seen as particularly pleasing to the Nameless One.”

“Pleasing to Sauron? How was this determined?” Berevrion’s expression was skeptical at best.

“Well, of course this would be pleasing to the Dark One, to have his enemies unmanned. One without manhood, who is therefore unable to take part in the creation of life....”

“As he was?” suggested Galdrod.

“Even so. It would reduce the individual’s potency in all things....”

The Lord of Anwar gave a glance at his guests. Anorgil appeared most uncomfortable, the battle surgeon’s eyebrows were well lifted, he wasn’t certain whether or not Erchirion had as yet understood the subject of the discussion, and the King’s kinsman appeared amazed. The Elf was sitting back with an inscrutable expression on his face. As for his wife----

“Gentlemen! I do ask that you remember that there are women and young ones at the table, and that you restrict yourself to more seemly talk?”

“I am not a child, Mother,” Belrieth replied. “And I have watched as horses were gelded. I’ve not seen that it restricts the males in much, save that they are less combative and do not lose their heads when they are around mares in heat. Would it do so much more to Men than to horses?”

“It depends much on the age the individual is when he is gelded, my lady,” Lord Berevrion answered her, “much as is true of animals as well. One of the Men from my village was injured falling from a tree, landing on a lower branch with his legs splayed on each side. As a Man grown he could still know pleasure with his wife, even though he lost the sacs for his seed. Yet a boy-child who loses the same does not appear to fully become a Man when he grows to the age of adulthood. What precisely it is that is lost we do not as yet know. His voice often remains higher than that of a Man grown, and he will not grow a beard as Men do.”

“And is it the same among Elves?” Wendthor asked of Harolfileg.

The Elf gave a most elegant shrug. “We do not usually raise beards until we are most ancient indeed, so that is not an indication of manhood among us. I’ve not met any among my kind who have suffered such an injury as you describe for the one from your village, Lord Berevrion; but I have seen a few warriors who were captured and so tortured by the Enemy’s creatures. I have not seen that they are any the less capable warriors or craftsmen than they were beforehand. However, I have never seen a young ellon who was so injured. Seldom did those of our children who were captured come back to us, and those who did lost far more than simply their manhood.”

It was a sobering thought, and all went quiet for a time, thinking on the reports of atrocities that had been made public said to have been committed by the Enemy’s forces. At last Lord Berevrion said quietly, “Years ago my Lord Kinsman sought to learn for himself what it was like in those lands allied to Mordor, and so he journeyed to Rhûn and Harad, and even into the land of Angmar formerly ruled by the Witch-king, there north of our own lands. The forms of--sacrifice--committed there to give honor and strength to Sauron did not involve such mutilation as is described here. Indeed, when I have seen bodies in the wild with such mutilation, the wounds were inflicted not by Men or even orcs, but usually by animals, and normally after the body has lain in the wild for a time. And those we found both here in Anórien and within Ithilien in the wake of the assaults, as well as those found between Osgiliath and Minas Tirith, were mutilated only with the removal of the victims’ heads, or on occasion the legs. Orcs often eat the legs of their victims, no matter what kind they might be.”

“But the means of binding the children’s bodies, each wrist to its corresponding ankle, indicates....”

“Nothing of such violation ever was part of Sauron’s worship, either here in Middle Earth nor that described in the temple he had erected to Morgoth’s worship on Númenor. However, the Variags of Khan will use such binding as a means of humiliating their prisoners and then to carry the bodies to the pits into which they throw them once they are dead--or dying.”

Belrieth looked appalled but fascinated. “The Enemy’s orcs surely didn’t eat the heads, did they?”

“No,” Berevrion assured her, “not in the usual way of things when there is plenty of carrion for all the troop. The heart, perhaps, but not the head.”

Wendthor, as fascinated as his sister, asked, “Then why did they take the heads?”

Anorgil, his posture particularly stiff, answered, “They used catapults to fling them over the walls to cause those of us defending the city to know dismay--to dishearten us that we lose our attention and resolve in standing against them.”

Benargil saw the looks of shock on the faces of those present, and felt revulsion at the idea rise within his heart. He had himself ridden with those who’d gone out of the city, once the orcs who’d guarded the roads against the Rohirrim had been routed by those sent out from Minas Tirith, and had noted the bodies of those killed by the Enemy’s folks had all been decapitated. Now he knew why!

“Among us, such tactics are referred to as warfare against the heart,” Harolfileg commented. “Tear enough at the heart of those being fought, and oftentimes they will be bested by grief and terror alone.”

The rest of the meal passed in silence, and Benargil was not surprised to see that several of the plates still held considerable amounts of food when they were cleared away.

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