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Murder Most Foul
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
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8
The Investigation Begins

The Investigation Begins


In spite of their late night talk, when Benargil first encountered Lord Berevrion in the morning he found his guest appeared anything but exhausted. He was seated at table beside Belrieth and Wendthor, regaling the both of them with a tale of someone he’d met.

“He fixed us with quite the stare, commenting, ‘But here we’d become convinced that he had no family of his own!’” Berevrion was saying. Both son and daughter were chortling with laughter. “Then he asked us if we were the ones who used to ride through the Shire from the Brandywine Bridge, and we had to admit that we were indeed, whenever we found it necessary to go at speed from its eastern boundaries westward, or more swiftly from Bree to the Sarn Ford than we might go along the Greenway. He nodded as if this were now what he’d expected to hear. ‘I remember now,’ he said, ‘that this was one of the stipulations in the Charter, that we were to maintain the roads for the King’s messengers. It’s only that we never realized that you might be those messengers!’”

“And he is a Halfling?” asked Belrieth.

“Oh, indeed he is, our Captain Peregrin. A Halfling, and now a beloved Guard of the Citadel, attending on the King’s own person. It is a position I doubt he ever thought to know in the days when he was visiting with his cousins in Buckland and watching us ride along the West Road from the Bridge of the Stonebow.” Berevrion was smiling fondly. “They can appear quite comical, the Periain, but it never does to underestimate them. As Gandalf—Mithrandir, as he is better known here in Gondor—so often says, there is more to any Hobbit than you might imagine.”

“And he fought before the Black Gate itself?” questioned Wendthor.

Now the northern lord’s face became serious. “That he did, and committed himself well indeed. When he saw a troll seeking to tear the throat out of his companion from Minas Tirith, he struck the monster its deathblow, even though he was unable to avoid its fall. It was almost the death of him, but at least three Men lived due to his courage and skill with a blade. He says now that it was but chance he managed to catch the thing in its vitals, and perhaps that is true. But he stood fast when others were scurrying to the side to greater safety, for none is more in care for the safety of his fellows than is a Hobbit of the Shire. So we saw also with Master Meriadoc, who rode to the Battle of the Pelennor with the Rohirrim, with the Lady Éowyn herself—as the Witch-king stooped upon her when she alone stood in defense of Théoden King, only Merry rose in her defense. Both Hobbits were honored in our camp at Cormallen, the day before the Ringbearers awoke and were restored to us.”

Belrieth’s eyes were shining. “And it was Théoden King’s niece who slew the Lord of the Nazgûl? What a wondrous thing, that a woman should ride as a warrior!”

“Women often train with the sword alongside the menfolk of Rohan, even as our women train with weapons in the north,” Berevrion said solemnly. “It can be necessary when we Men must be away so often to defend all from the bigger forces set loose on us by our enemies. If women did not also learn the use of weapons, how could our homes and children be adequately defended, do you think? My own daughters are both skilled with the bow, and one has slain three attackers that can definitely be attributed to her arrows.”

It was a sobering thought. Benargil commented as he reached for the pitcher of juice to pour himself a cup, “And we had never given thought to the Enemy sending forces against those who dwell in the north. Indeed, we think of all that lies beyond the Gap of Rohan as the Empty Lands.”

“There is no question that far too much of what was Arnor is indeed empty, and has been so for many years. Our own homes and settlements have been by necessity hidden from enemies, for Sauron has never forgotten that it was by the hand of Isildur that he suffered his great defeat the last time we fought him. It took two thousand years of constant warfare for him to reduce Arnor to ruins, but in spite of all he could do he could not destroy all of the line of Kings there as he did here in Gondor.

“Nor are the Dúnedain the only ones who have survived in spite of all Sauron and the Witch-king could do—Elves, Dwarves, and Hobbits also have held lands to the despite of our enemies, and each people has flourished in its own fashion. Why, the folk of the Breelands have held their lands since before the coming of Elendil to these shores. And east of the Misty Mountains there are still other peoples—the folk of the Eotheod from whom the Rohirrim knew their beginnings, the Beornings, the people of Esgaroth on the Long Lake and the merry folk of Dale, as well as other isolated settlements here and there throughout the valley of the Anduin and east of its reaches. There are at least two great lands there held also by the Elves, and several settlements of Dwarves, the greatest being in the Iron Hills and beneath the Lonely Mountain.”

“I thought that there were no Elves left in the world,” Wendthor said, his eyes drifting sideways to watch as Harolfileg entered the room alongside the battle surgeon. “And no one thought that Halflings actually existed in Middle Earth.”

“The Elves have fought against the Dark Lords since before the rising of Sun and Moon,” Berevrion said, bowing his head in respect toward the newcomers. “We owe them great honor for teaching us to stand in the face of evil.”

Did the Elf hold himself with greater pride at that acknowledgment?

Enelmir entered, followed by his mother, and took his own seat at the table. A swiftly hidden grimace of distaste crossed his features as he realized that the Elven healer was already present. He accepted the dish of fruit offered by one of the servers with a grunt of acknowledgment, and turned to watch as Anorgil entered the room alone, the transcript of the trial in his hands. “Does that answer your questions, Master Anorgil?” he asked.

The law clerk shook his head. “Indeed not, for I find several of my own questions have not been addressed. No one saw any the three youths actually in the area of the ditch where the bodies were found, only somewhat nearby, but some time later than the younger boys are known to have gone missing. And how is it that the woman and her daughter indicate they could both see and identify this Danárion alongside this girl from across the large drainage canal with only moonlight to illuminate the scene? For both testified that they saw the two of them there shortly after the timekeepers rang the bell for the third hour after sunset, but the boys went missing half a mark ere the sun went down. And why would Danárion bring this girl to the gully where the bodies were found from that direction? Did she not also live within the walls of Destrier?”

“A girl?” asked Berevrion, his attention on Anorgil and Enelmir. “How is an unnamed girl involved in this case?”

Enelmir colored, his face gone stiff. “She is not believed to have taken part in the murders of the children. And she does not live within Destrier—her family farms land south of the Highway toward Rohan. Danárion had courted her for some months before the day the children went missing. She was questioned several times after the discovery of the boys’ bodies regarding the possibility of Danárion’s involvement in the murders, and steadfastly refused to admit he had spoken of his involvement until this woman and her daughter came forward, saying that they had seen the two of them together on the far side of the canal.”

“So the girl admitted then that he had bragged of what he had done?”

Enelmir sniffed derisively. “Indeed not! Nay, in spite of there having been witnesses to the event, and those witnesses being her aunt and her cousin, still she insisted that they were mistaken.”

Berevrion and Anorgil exchanged glances. “I think,” the northerner suggested slowly, “that we had best see these places ourselves, and possibly speak with the witnesses and the girl.”

“You would travel yourself to the place where the children were slain?” asked Enelmir, aghast at the suggestion. “Whatever for?”

“It has been told us that it is impossible for one to see across the canal into the farmland beyond to see anyone, and we would see if this is true,” Berevrion explained.

“And who is it that has told you such a thing?” Benargil demanded.

“The Master Archivist of Minas Tirith, whose wife is from Destrier,” the King’s kinsman answered. Benargil cast a glance at Enelmir, and saw his seneschal was as disturbed by this as was he. Lord Berevrion continued, “It is partly on the authority of the Master Archivist that my Lord Kinsman made his decision to send a deputation to look into the matter, for all within the Citadel speak highly of his integrity and his awareness to detail.”

“We can take you to Destrier so that you might meet with the witnesses,” Enelmir insisted. “But to go the ditch itself? Certainly that is beneath the dignity of you all!”

That was plainly the wrong thing to say, as the members of the King’s deputation present all looked to one another, and then all fixed the Man with measuring gazes. At last Berevrion said with what Benargil suspected was deceptive mildness, “We have each and all fought upon battlefields, have searched the corpses of our enemies, and by necessity have done things of which we are not always proud. How going to the place where the boys are believed to have died should be seen as being beneath us I cannot say. Is that not so, Lord Erchirion?” he asked that worthy, who had just entered the room.

“It was for this we were sent here by the King’s Majesty,” Imrahil’s son answered, “to seek to determine the truth of this matter. And to do this, we must see the place where the bodies were found, or so I would think.”

Berevrion turned back to face Benargil. “But first we must learn what we can here. When we have all broken our fast, we will begin a list of questions that must be answered in order to assure ourselves that justice has—or has not—been properly served in this instance. And to do this, we will first need to review the transcript of the trial. Was this trial held here, in your great hall?”

“No—the counsel for Danárion insisted upon a trial by jury for the three youths, and the counselor for Carenthor agreed. It was held, therefore, in the People’s Hall across the square, with Enelmir, who after all is my magistrate, as mediator and judge.”

“And why was the trial not held in Destrier, where the children died?” asked Anorgil.

“Anger was high there, and it was argued that in no fashion could justice be expected to be impartial if the trial were to be held there,” Enelmir answered. “Indeed, Master Caraftion asked that if possible the case be referred to Minas Tirith, to our Lord Steward Denethor’s own court. But that was impracticable, for none of the witnesses could afford to travel so far. Not that this was a matter with which to distract the Lord Steward from the dangers facing us all.”

“Are there more copies of the transcript for this trial?” Anorgil asked. “I believe that we all need to read this together, so that we all know the issues that were brought forth and how they were dealt with at the time.”

Benargil shrugged as he again exchanged looks with his seneschal and magistrate. “I have a copy that was made for me, and I believe that each of those who served as counselors has a copy, as well as the one in the archives. If you would wish to go to the People’s Hall, there our archives of justice are kept….”

*******


The People’s Hall was set up for trial, which Enelmir assured those of the King’s deputation was its most common usage. “We are progressive here in Anórien,” he added importantly as he shepherded them through the main hall to the side rooms where clerks’ offices and the archives and private meeting rooms were situated. “Many prefer to be judged by their peers rather than by a judge from the nobility who might have no idea of what their lives are like, you understand.”

“A fine idea in theory, at least,” Berevrion commented quietly. “However, oftentimes common Men prove those who are least likely to accept failure in what they see as their own, and are often unnecessarily harsh on those they perceive as being beneath them in status.”

Enelmir appeared surprised at such a statement, and his brow was somewhat furrowed as he saw them into the archive room. An older Man with a jaded expression sat at a worktable to one side of the room, apparently in the midst of repairing a decaying scroll. He looked up as Enelmir closed the door, obviously annoyed at being interrupted in his task. “And what is it that is wanted this time?” he asked, his tone abrupt.

“These are the ones sent by our new Lord King to investigate the case of Danárion of Destrier,” Enelmir explained. “My Lords Erchirion and Berevrion, this is Master Malthor, our archivist.”

Malthor set his scroll down upon the table and examined them all, his brows rising with surprise as he saw that one in the deputation was an Elf. “And what,” he demanded, “is there to investigate in the case of Danárion of Destrier? There was never any question as to his guilt, after all.”

“Then there were witnesses to the murder?” asked Erchirion.

Malthor snorted. “Witnesses? After sunset on a night of the full moon, when most believe that the spirits of the dead walk abroad across the empty farmlands? How do you think that such a thing might be true?”

“None will leave the village walls after sunset?” said Bariol. “Then how was it that this woman and her daughter saw Danárion and his beloved walking beyond the canal?” he asked of Enelmir. “Would youth and maiden not also fear the spirits of the dead?”

The archivist waved his hand dismissively. “Danárion, fear spirits? Nay, he often said he wished to commune with such things to learn more of things of which decent people do not speak.”

Berevrion eyed him. “And how is it that you know this?”

“Because he has said so to me!”

“And how did such a one as Danárion came to be sufficiently familiar with you, the archivist of Anwar, as to make such a comment to you?” Berevrion pressed further.

The Man appeared surprised by the question, and glanced uncertainly at Enelmir. “Well,” he said, obviously weighing his words, “he would come here at times, when he’d been here in Anwar, and beg permission to poke about in the archives. He was a curious soul, and always had questions to ask. On occasion he would aid me in the repair of a volume or scroll, and he would ask me more of its subject than what he’d been able to glean in the time we worked upon it.”

Berevrion gave a brief nod to indicate his understanding. “So, you were kind enough to teach him skills in book binding and the repair of books and scrolls, were you?”

“Well, of course! Few are interested in such dry work that keeps them ever indoors, after all. It is a relief at times to have another pair of hands to aid me.”

“Was he clever at the task?” asked Erchirion.

Malthor shrugged. “Oh, not particularly so, I suppose. But he would listen to instruction and do no more than I asked until he was certain he knew what to do next, which is far better than some I’ve had as apprentices have been willing to do. Usually they grow impatient and will seek to take over before they understand just what it is that is needed. This scroll, for instance—the apprentice I had four years past insisted he did not need my aid to see it pieced together and would work on it independently. And look at what he did! Oh, the scroll is all of a piece now, but there are many lines lost for he would not lay linen beneath it to hold the torn edges in proper alignment with one another that the letters might be whole once more. Nay—that was too much to appreciate. Instead he pasted one edge directly to the other, covering up much of the text on the lower piece. Now it is all to be done again, and I will likely find myself having to guess at what was originally written that is lost as the paste is removed and I find the ink and oft some of the paper has gone with it! At least Danárion would not do such a foolish and destructive thing!” He glowered at the careless repair that was now obvious to all.

“So, you would use his aid and speak to him of the information held in the scrolls and volumes he helped to repair or shelve?”

“Yes.”

“And what reward did you make him for his assistance?”

“He asked none. It delayed him having to return to Destrier and the home of his mother, and as I said he was ever curious and wanting to know more of what the records here hold. I would allow him to read sometimes, and—well, sometimes when I had been required to copy out an older work that had begun to fade that it would continue to be readable, I would allow him to carry away the older copy that he might study it further, provided it was of a matter that interested him. Oh—but I never gave him records that were current or that held information that should not be shared,” he added rather hastily, obviously concerned that he might be criticized for perhaps sharing information that should have been held private instead. “There are histories here, after all, and even collections of tales….” He gestured to indicate the lines of shelves that filled the rest of the chamber.

“You say he was not a hasty sort, quick to decide he knew more than he actually did?” asked Anorgil.

“Well, when it came to learning a new skill he would not go beyond what had actually been demonstrated to him, and he would voice the probable reasons for what he was shown and be right more often than not. However, he was not always patient with others he saw as less intelligent than himself. It was one reason I was surprised when it was learned that he had done this evil thing in company with Garestil son of Gardor. Garestil is a simple soul at best, and Danárion never had aught to say of him that indicated he would do anything alongside the other boy. He sneered at Garestil’s words and interests, in fact.”

“You knew this youth?” asked Bariol.

“No, I did not know him myself—the likes of Garestil have no interest in the written word and would not be likely to enter the archives for any reason. Nor would he be likely to come within leagues of the Hall of the People, considering that it is here that public trials are held as often as not. But he has a reputation for being easily impressed by demonstrations of strength and physical skill. He had it in mind to become a tumbler, having seen such beings here in Anwar some years ago, when it was still sufficiently peaceful to allow the movement of such folk throughout the realm. He and others sought to teach themselves the skills of tumbling and juggling, and traveled to the village of Hevensgil, some five miles this direction of Destrier, once each week to practice under the tutelage of a potter who had once worked with such a troupe.

“Now, the potter I know fairly well—he sells to my kinsman who dwells nearby the garrison of Amon Dîn, and often he approaches me with messages to forward when a shipment must be delayed or perhaps will be finished and ready to send before the time originally agreed upon. When he has given me the message he would have me forward, he will often stay to speak of these youths, and how poorly prepared most are to actually entertain the public as they would do. He was fond of Garestil, and in some amaze at the boy’s determination to become a tumbler in spite of his lack of success in demonstrating much talent for the art. He was also surprised each time Garestil finally managed to actually master a particular skill in spite of his general lack of ability, and for this he agreed to continue to teach the youth as he was able and willing to learn.”

Enelmir was plainly growing weary of such diversions from their purpose. “We came to ask for the copies you hold of the transcripts made of the trial of the three youths.”

Malthor appeared upset at this. “But as was requested by Lord Benargil I sent our complete transcript to the Keep to the hands of Master Galdrod some days past. We have no other complete copies, only the scribes’ work.”

Berevrion straightened in interest. “The scribes’ work? Explain, if it please you.”

The archivist threw out his hands to the side. “When the trial begins, a separate scribe is given the task of noting the words of each one who speaks. One, for instance, will take down the word of whoever sits as judge and mediator, one for the counselor who speaks for the accused, one for Master Fendril, who speaks for the prosecution, and one to take down the words of whoever it is who is being questioned. Then there is a fifth who merely notes who speaks in turn and just enough of what was said so that we can take the work of each scribe and put it together to make a complete record. Then Master Scribe Umbardacil takes these scribes’ works and from them prepares the final transcript of the entire trial. His copy is given into the hands of Lord Benargil, and a second is placed here in the archives, one that might have been also made by him but that might be done by either one of his apprentices or by a professional scribe within the city’s walls.”

Berevrion appeared impressed. “It sounds as if it would be a good system indeed to make a complete record of a trial,” he said approvingly.

Enelmir sniffed. “As has been pointed out, we do try to be progressive in such matters in Anórien, and particularly here in Anwar.”

“May we see the scribes’ work, then?” the King’s kinsman requested.

“I suppose we can allow this,” Malthor said slowly. “We do keep these records in case the copies of the complete transcript might be called into question.” And so saying he rose and disappeared back into the shelves, Anorgil going along to receive the stacks of records as each was found.

In time the members of the deputation were back in the outer hall along with Enelmir and Malthor, and Anorgil was apportioning the product of each scribe’s industry to them in turn.

It was decided they would sit within the hall and read out the transcripts as if they were the ones who had taken part in the actual trial, with Enelmir seated where he’d sat in the trial, Anorgil taking the part of those who had counseled the three accused youths, Erchirion reading what had been said by Master Fendril, who had prosecuted the case against Danárion and his fellows, and with Malthor and Bariol taking turns reading the words of the various witnesses. Berevrion sat where those who had formed the jury had sat, reading from the full transcript prepared by Master Umbardacil, while Harolfileg agreed to indicate from the master list of speech who should read next, should that be found to be in question; and with that order settled they began.

By the time the bell for midday was rung they had barely gone through the reading of the charges against the accused, and all had to agree that they were terrible. Danárion, Garestil, and Carenthor of Destrier had been accused of attempting to practice the black arts and necromancy, seeking to empower the Great Enemy by the ritual killing of children, hoping to receive favor and power given them in return for their worship. They were charged with having waylaid the boys, taking them by stealth, and slaying them with violence after beating them horribly and seeking to dishonor their bodies, and after removing the manhood of one of the three children, then leaving the bodies in a shallow ditch where they were found the following day. They then were accused of returning to their homes with none the wiser as to what had been done and pretending innocence of their attempt at necromancy.

Certainly the description by Master Fendril, who prosecuted the case against the accused youths, of what had been done to the three innocent little boys, painted the deed well in the imaginations of them all, contrasting the cruel plans of the tainted young Men with the spotless nature of the three little children whose lives they’d stolen, seeking to offer the power of their spirits to the Nameless One for his own purposes. As they returned to the Keep for the noon meal, all of the Men were agreeing that Master Fendril appeared to be a most artful speaker, capable of moving the hearts of those who heard his words.

The one from among the northern Dúnedain who had come to serve as guard for Berevrion muttered audibly as he followed the deputation back to Lord Benargil’s house, “But we have already learned that fair and persuasive speech may hide a dark purpose, kinsman, having heard what followed when our Lord Kinsman Aragorn and the others went into the circle of Isengard where they sought to convince the traitor Wizard Saruman to come forth and aid them. Almost his words convinced Lord Éomer that the Wizard was truly distressed by the coming of Théoden King into his domain, although all knew by then how he had betrayed Rohan and its people.”

Berevrion glanced back over his shoulder at the one who served as his guard. “I must admit you are right, Faradir. But until we can read more, we will not know whether this Fendril speaks truly or with malice in his heart.”

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