“You’re not going to your rest, too, as if you were also a greybeard, are you?” asked Master Nerwion’s son. “Come away with me—we will go to find some entertainment elsewhere.”
“You are too young to sit around with us,” agreed Master Normandil. “Surely our talk would bore the both of you. Go out and enjoy the evening.”
With that Wendthor allowed himself to be persuaded, and he went with the other young Man, taking with him his lute.
“Do you play that?” asked his companion, whose name was Narvil.
“Yes, or at least well enough to please my family and me,” Wendthor answered.
“Can you play anything written by Suleirion?”
“Oh, yes, I can.”
“Good!” answered Narvil. “My friends will like that!”
“Where are we going?”
“To the alehouse. It’s not particularly far….”
Soon they were entering the alehouse. Narvil led the way to a long table at one end of the room where several youths between the ages of seventeen and twenty-one were already seated, mugs of ale before them. Narvil briefly introduced his companion as the two of them drew up stools from a nearby table. He glanced at those who’d been there on their arrival and asked, “And where is Leverion?”
“In trouble with his father again,” noted a tall youth with fair hair. “Seems that the keys to Medril’s storehouse went missing again yesterday morning and mysteriously returned an hour later, and the level in the barrel in which the brandy is aged has gone down—again. Medril’s no longer willing to believe that others are somehow slipping into his house to steal the keys.”
“So, we will not be able to slip out into the woods by his farm to drink his father’s brandy anymore,” predicted a much shorter young Man whose hair was the color of flame. “Last night was the last time we’ll be drinking the product of Medril’s still. And how much ale do you want, Master Wendthor?”
“Just a single mug for the moment.”
The red-haired youth nodded amiably and signaled the woman who served the tables.
A heavier boy with dark hair shook a stray lock out of his eyes and looked at the serving wench regretfully. “Too bad that Sparrow isn’t still working here. She was faster, and would forget to take our coin now and then.”
“Sparrow?” Wendthor asked.
“Well, we called her that. She worked here for five years, until she booted her husband out of her bed and her house a few months back. He was a nasty piece of work and deserved it, no doubt. But since then her brother has moved in to help her with the younger children, and he’s insisted she not work here anymore. He’ll make certain that the marriage is properly dissolved and that no one equally unsuitable approaches her again.”
“Her parents had warned her that Vangil was not fit to marry,” Narvil said. “She came to work more than once with a blackened eye or a split lip. But there’s just so many doors people will believe can be run into before they realize the Man was a brute.”
The others agreed.
“She’s better off out of here,” the red-haired youth commented. “She’s been so easily distracted since her son died last year.”
Wendthor straightened. “Her son died last year? How?”
The heavier one was shaking his head. “Oh, you must have heard of it. Was one of those killed by that Danárion and his friends. One of those three little boys, you see.”
“Oh, yes. I have heard of it.”
“I still don’t believe that the three of them killed those boys,” commented another young Man. “Well, perhaps Danárion might have. But Carenthor? I ask you! For all his parents had planned to apprentice him to a woodwright, I doubt he could properly heft a woodcarver’s mallet, much less do what it’s said he did with the boys! How was Carenthor to be carrying a child like Sparrow’s son about the place? And can you really believe that he gelded the other child?”
“But Garestil said he saw them do it!” insisted Narvil.
The one with the fair hair made a sound of disgust. “As if it weren’t possible to convince Garestil to say almost anything you want him to say at the best of times. I’ll wager that Hanalgor only had to keep repeating the same thing over and over again until Garestil started agreeing that, yes, that was what happened!”
Wendthor looked between the fair-haired youth and the other who’d expressed disbelief. “Then you don’t think that the children were killed by Danárion, Carenthor, and Garestil?”
The one with lighter hair shook his head. “No, I don’t, at least. But then, I’m but one, while most will believe almost anything ill that’s been said of the doings of Danárion.”
“He tried to scratch my eyes out!” grunted a muscular youth who’d not spoken before, sitting as he was hunched behind a cup he’d apparently emptied more than once before the arrival of Wendthor and Narvil.
The others laughed derisively. “As if you’d not stolen his girl from him, and indicated he was lacking his manhood,” snorted the one who disbelieved Carenthor could have been involved. “And it was to be noted at the time that the only one with any wounds from the encounter was Danárion! He’s not precisely known for being a fighter, anymore than is Carenthor.”
“His tongue is sharp enough, though,” Danárion’s former rival said. “Could skin a cat with that tongue of his.”
“Enough!” insisted Narvil. “I for one don’t want to speak anymore about Danárion! He had a nasty mouth and a worse imagination and reputation. We’re better off with him gone. I just wonder when they’ll stretch his neck. Anyway, I’ve convinced Master Wendthor here to play for us. He says that he can play Suleirion’s music….”
All clapped when Wendthor played, and a few sang along with him. It was an enjoyable evening, Wendthor thought when at last he returned to Master Normandil’s house. As they approached the gate to the grounds he paused, taking Narvil by the forearm. “Did Danárion, Carenthor, and Garestil really get drunk on Master Medril’s brandy on the night the children were killed?”
Narvil, who was pleasantly intoxicated, laughed and muttered confidingly, “Them? And how would they manage to get the key to the storehouse? No, I assure you that we were the ones who enjoyed Medril’s liquor that time, and three days before the children went missing. And no one knows!” His laughter grew louder as he shook his arm free, bade Wendthor good night, and turned to head for his own door.
Anorgil was going through the notes he’d been making on the investigation and trial of Danárion, Carenthor, and Garestil of Destrier when he heard a knock at the door. He sighed as he set aside his papers and pen, corking the bottle of ink he’d purchased to carry with him when he was away from his own lodgings. “If it’s Ada…” he muttered as he rose.
Gilflorin stood outside the door to his chamber, looking as awkward as Anorgil felt, his hands clasped uncertainly before him. “Hello, my son,” he said. “I wanted to talk with you….”
“Adar.” Anorgil wasn’t certain what else he might say to his father.
They stood looking at each other for some moments before Gilflorin at last took the initiative and pushed by his son to enter the room. He glanced about, and seated himself in one of the two chairs set before the hearth, looking meaningfully between the other and Anorgil. Anorgil released another sigh, and came forward to take the other seat, then waited for his father to begin whatever conversation might follow.
“You didn’t tell me that you were coming.”
“There was no time to do so—I was asked to meet with our Lord King, was told I had been chosen to take part in this deputation, and had but a day to prepare for the journey.”
“Nor did you notify me that you were in Anwar on your arrival.”
“I am sorry—I must plead that I have been distracted by my duties.”
“I almost never hear from you.”
“I write regularly!”
Gilflorin’s laugh was short. “Oh, yes, you write regularly. ‘Hello, Adar. I am well. I am kept busy by the Master. I have helped prepare documents for so many people. I must close—my duties indicate I must be at the Guild Hall early in the morning.’ That, Anorgil, is the typical letter I receive from you.”
Well, he was right! Anorgil felt embarrassed. “I grieve I cannot find it in me to write more, Ada.”
His father shrugged. “Well, I must suppose it is more than I deserve. Certainly many of my friends receive markedly less from their grown children.” He examined his son’s face for a time before commenting in a soft voice, “I am sorry that I have proven such a disappointment to you. I do wish you to know that it is a matter of pride for me that you have become so responsible a person in spite of my own lack of achievement. And I never meant to be so poor an example for you to emulate. Your mother did a fine job preparing you for your future.”
“How did you learn that I was here in Anórien?”
“I was here this afternoon when the message arrived from Lord Benargil that Masters Nerwion and Normandil should expect the deputation to arrive. Normandil immediately offered to house you here, particularly as his niece was to be one of those who came. He is quite fond of Lyrien, I understand.”
“I did not expect to see you here.”
Gilflorin shrugged. “I visit at least once a month. Normandil appears to find me amusing, and welcomes me for a few days at a time. I will tell you that he has ordered the servants to see to it that my wine is well watered. He does not appear to appreciate it when I become too—expansive.” He looked about. “And I appreciate being able to talk with others beyond Meris and Icarus. As caretakers for as dissolute a soul as I’ve proved they are exemplary, and I do thank you for setting them to care for me since your nana died. But neither appreciates the benefits of a good discussion.”
“They have the reputation for honesty and loyalty and responsibility.”
“But not for erudite conversation.”
All Anorgil could do was to nod in response to that observation.
“So,” Gilflorin said at length, “you are here on the King’s business.”
“And why you?”
“It was suggested by the Master that I might prove suitable.”
“And you doubt the verdicts are just?”
“Haven’t you indicated more than once that you found goodly portions of the testimony given and stories told to be less than credible?”
Gilflorin’s brows rose at this question, and he answered, “Well, yes.”
“When the answers given are questionable, does it not follow that the verdicts may also prove wrong?”
Gilflorin suddenly smiled, and even began to chuckle. “By Middle Earth and Over-heaven, if nothing else, I did teach you to think and question properly!”
The observation surprised his son. He stopped and considered the proposition, and found himself smiling involuntarily. “Well, yes, I must suppose you have the right of it!”
“Then I know that there is at least one lesson that I offered you that you have found profitable.”
Anorgil smiled wryly. “I am certain it will prove more than one in the end. For one, you actually saw to it I learned Sindarin as well as Westron, which has stood me well in my studies and work. And at least I do not believe as so many do here in Anórien that relieving oneself in flowing water will reduce the potency of my manhood. Nor do I question the benevolence of the Powers. After all, how else might it have been that one as lacking in martial skill as Master Frodo Baggins should have managed to breach the defenses of Mordor and reach the Sammath Naur bearing the Enemy’s Ring to the destruction of his armies and plans?”
“Good question!” Gilflorin’s expression became considerate. “I will advise you—there is much anger here in Destrier toward Danárion and the other two. I doubt many here question the verdicts as does our new King, and it may well happen that if you seek to see the verdicts overturned there will be those who will insist they are just and must be followed through upon. Many here expect to be there to see Danárion hung, as if seeing him die the death will somehow put right all that has been shown to be less than satisfactory within the village. Some appear to think that once he is dead, all their own trespasses against others will have been removed and set at naught. A foolish conceit….” His voice trailed off.
It was a thought to be pondered. “I thank you for the warning.”
At last Gilflorin pushed himself to his feet. “I suppose I ought to sleep. You would not happen to have some wine within the chamber you might wish to share before I go? No? I thought not.”
And rather absently he kissed his son’s brow and went out of the room, closing the door behind him.
The healer Bilstred and his daughter stood inside the outer chamber of the rooms given to their use and looked about them. Lyrien’s attention fixed on dust to be seen lying on the mantelpiece. “Look at that,” she said with disapproval. “This long after the Dark Lord’s defeat, and the servants still have yet to remove all of his ash from the place!”
“Does it matter so much, Lyrien?”
She turned on him. “Do not Uncle’s servants care enough to see to it all of his house is cleaned, now that Mordor is no more?” she demanded.
“I doubt they thought to check in here, as only we see these rooms in the usual course of things. In other rooms where guests come and go I’m certain things would be better kept.”
Her brief pique appeared to have passed, and she sat down heavily on the chair she’d always considered her own within her uncle’s house. “Perhaps,” she admitted dully.
He examined her as he took another chair. “I thought that a good part in your decision to come to Destrier was to discuss with Lords Erchirion and Berevrion and the others how it was that so much was left out of the final transcript of the trial.”
She shrugged. “None seemed interested in the topic as we rode.”
“So you said next to nothing to any save Master Anorgil?”
She turned her head to consider him. “He alone seemed interested in anything I might say. You indicated that you wished to visit with Uncle for a time, yet you’ve barely said anything since we entered his house.”
He did not address her observations, instead asking, “Are you so angry that I chose to come also?”
She looked upward. “I thought to have some time away from all that reminds me of Lord Benargil’s keep and my place there—as an unwanted dependent. I was mistress of my own home, a wife and a mother, and it has all been taken from me. No husband, no home that I might call my own, no child.”
“And do you think your mother and I are without sympathy as to your plight, Lyrien? We, too, grieve for the loss of our granddaughter----”
“Yet you will not speak of her by name!”
The grief of both could be easily seen. At last she turned her head away. “I am sorry, Father, for I ought to not take out my anger at life upon you and Mama.”
He sighed and shifted his weight. “I’d thought that perhaps your heart might be stirred again, Lyrien. Perhaps by Enelmir, who is a good Man….”
She looked at him aghast. “A good Man?” she demanded. “In what way is that pompous, self-righteous ass a good Man? He has never even mourned the passing of his wife, although she devoted six years to her marriage to him! Oh, he never abused her, but neither did he show her any love. I suspect even their time in the marriage bed was more about their duty to produce an heir than to express any love for one another. I doubt he found any pleasure in it at all, or that he gave her any.”
He appeared pained by her outburst. “But he is devoted to his duty----”
She growled, “Devoted to his duty? Oh, he is a stickler for justice—at any cost! And to Mordor with mercy or truth!”
“Do you question that this boy Danárion deserves death?”
“Do I question? Of course I question! I’ve questioned it from the beginning, once I sat down in the Hall of the People to take down the proceedings of Enelmir’s court! Every single time that Master Caraftion or the counselor hired by Carenthor’s parents spoke up to question an act or argument offered by Master Fendril, Enelmir ruled in favor of Fendril. It did not matter how foolish the statement, or how outrageous the claim—Enelmir ever sided with Fendril. Why even bother to offer a lawyer to counsel the accused?”
“You’ve not said anything of this before.”
“I took a vow to simply copy down the words of the one I was assigned to record and not to change them or make any judgments upon them. I am not supposed to judge the actions of any—not accused, accusers, judge, jury, lawyers, witnesses—anyone! I must remain detached, and to not allow the words of any to touch my heart. I swear—if they could find any device that would take down the words in the stead of people they would do so. Nor am I supposed to speak of what is said or done within the courtroom outside of it. To do otherwise is to be—” her tone grew particularly bitter, “--unprofessional.”
“Then, if it was not Danárion who brought about the killing of the children, then who was it?”
“How is any to tell now? Face it, Father—once the name of Danárion was spoken as one who might have done this thing, did they truly look to find out who actually committed this horrible crime? For I tell you, it was horrible. And the second crime was done toward those three youths—Garestil, Carenthor, and Danárion, for I am certain none of them had any hand in the deaths of the children. No hand at all.”
Bilstred considered his daughter thoughtfully. Not in many years had she spoken so openly with him. Certainly he’d never dreamed that she felt that justice had not been served in this case. “Well, if it offers you any comfort, my daughter, it appears that our new King is willing to examine things more carefully.”
“And I am glad. It is said that he has restored hope to the kingdom of Gondor. And for the first time since Faraster died, I begin to feel a glimmer of hope in my heart that things will not always remain dark within me, that I might one day again look to know pleasure and perhaps even joy and accomplishment once more.”
He rose and came to her side, setting a hand on her shoulder. “Then I will hope with you to see the truth uncovered, and to see you happy again.”
He saw that there were tears in her eyes. He leaned down to drop a kiss to the crown of her head, and bade her a good rest, and withdrew into his bedroom.
Normandil looked at his two remaining guests. “Well,” he asked quietly, “what will happen, think you, if they insist that all is wrong and Danárion must be freed?”
Nerwion was shaking his head. “Who can say, my friend? None here in Destrier will be happy save for the families of the three youths. There could be an uprising. None wishes to think that a possible murderer walks yet amongst us.”
They were quiet for a time. At last Normandil said, “It could have been the father, Rindor. He is outrageous enough to do anything, and appears half mad much of the time.” He leaned forward to whisper, “And it is said that he abuses poppy syrup as well as strong drink.”
“Yet the market guards say that he could not have done such a thing,” objected the Master of the village.
“Just because they grew up near him,” suggested Nerwion’s wife. “Who wishes to believe ill of one with whom one used to play at stones?”
Nerwion shrugged, glancing in the direction of the guest chambers. “If only I could know what they know or suspect….”
But how were they to learn such a thing until those within the deputation chose to share such information?