As they walked back toward the farmhouse Medril asked, “And what do you plan to do regarding the tales told by my wife and daughter, my lord?”
Caraftion interjected, “I do believe that the fact that no one could see what they said in the trials they saw should be made public, Lord Berevrion. It might do much to relieve the surety all have that Danárion, Carenthor, and Garestil must have been the ones who killed the three children.”
“But it would bring shame upon them----” began Medril.
Berevrion, however, was shaking his head. “I fear, Master Medril, that their shame must needs be made public, whether we should wish it or not. It was in public that they claimed to have seen Danárion and Argilien walking together away from the site where the children’s bodies were later found, and so it is the public that should now know that this was actually untrue. It does no one good to seek to shelter one’s reputation if by doing so we do injustice to another.”
On reaching the farmhouse, Lord Berevrion retired briefly to the bathing room to see his feet and stockings properly cleansed. Medril provided him with clean stockings he might wear to return to the village proper, and he saw to providing the company with a small but still sufficient repast.
Anhildë and Lyssë had each been kept confined to her own chamber, and at last, when the meal prepared was set out upon the table, they were sent for and brought to Berevrion’s presence. He looked at both with severity. “I will not question either of you further at this time, nor you, Leverion,” he added, looking at the youth. “This afternoon we are to meet first with the parents of the slain boys, and then with the parents of those who were convicted of the crime. All of you will come to the village to the public hall as soon as can be arranged after we leave, and I ask, Master Medril, that you bring with you the hand whose brother was accused by your son. You will be seated where you may hear all that is said by the others, and when we are finished with our conferences with these we will turn to the matter of your wife, daughter, and son. Constable Amdir will remain with you, and will see to it that mother and daughter do not speak together until after we speak with you. Do you understand?” he asked, focusing his attention on Anhildë.
She appeared to be very frightened. “Yes, my lord,” she said with uncharacteristic meekness.
As soon as the party had finished with their meal they left, and Medril’s family prepared to follow them. “You have been warned many times, Anhildë,” Medril told his wife as she prepared for their ride into the village, “that you should not continually claim that you saw this and that when you did not do so. In this case it has served only to cast more suspicion upon our son.”
She nodded in response, and when ready followed him out of the house to take her place on the bench of their wagon. Leverion and his sister were already seated in their places on the second bench, and Amdir and the requested hand climbed into the tilt of the wagon. One of the other hands went forth to see the gates opened and then closed behind them, and they set off for the village, for once none of them excited at the thought of the monotony of their days being broken.
As the party that made up the King’s deputation entered the village hall, it could be seen that many from within the village had come to learn what might be made public during the meetings scheduled for the afternoon. Master Nerwion was already there, and had provided watered wine and a selection of cold meats, fruit, and breads for those within the party in case they’d not yet enjoyed a proper noon meal. Berevrion thanked him, and asked for a few minutes so that those who had just returned from Medril’s farm could refresh themselves somewhat.
Within a quarter mark they were all seated behind a long table set for their use, facing another table at which the families of the dead boys waited. Berevrion spoke a quiet word to Master Nerwion, and in moments these, too, had refreshments set before them. Each appeared surprised at such offerings being made them, but appeared more relaxed and hopeful when at last Master Nerwion rose to face them.
“My friends!” he proclaimed. “As has been told abroad, our new Lord King has sent a deputation from the Citadel of Minas Tirith here to Anórien in order to look into the case presented against Danárion, Carenthor, and Garestil of our village for the murders of three of our own. These have come at the request of the King Elessar himself to examine the case and to assure all that justice has indeed been served. Here are Lord Berevrion, one of the King’s own kinsmen from the North; Lord Erchirion of Dol Amroth, whose father Prince Imrahil is uncle to our beloved Prince Steward Faramir; Master Anorgil of the Guild of Lawyers for the White City and son to Master Gilflorin of Hevensgil; Master Harolfileg from the court of King Thranduil of the great Woodland Realm in Rhovanion; and Master Bariol, a battle surgeon who served our soldiers in our battles against the Nameless One. With them are Caraftion of Pústien, and Master Bilstred and his daughter Lyrien from Lord Benargil’s own household. Lord Berevrion, if you will now speak?”
Before he could do so, however, one of those at the families’ table rose, a tall, imposing Man with a tangled mane of hair and a beard to match. “I’ve heard it told that you question whether or not the right ones were charged and found guilty of butchering our children,” he said, his voice booming with challenge.
“And you are?” asked Berevrion with quiet dignity.
“Rindor son of Baldor. Sir,” the Man added, tempering his earlier bluster. “My boy Bredwion was one of those killed. This is his older brother, Dírhael.”
“Your wife isn’t with you?”
“She died three months back, still not having seen justice for her baby.” Rindor’s bitterness was palpable as he fell back heavily onto the chair provided him.
“I would first learn the names of the others who are here.” Berevrion’s face and tone remained calm as he turned to face the next couple.
“Tevern, my lord. I’m a carter. This is my wife Renalta and our daughter Anriel. They saw the boys last but a quarter mark before they disappeared.”
“And what was your son’s name?”
Renalta answered him, her voice accented to show she was from Rohan originally, “Gilmar, sir.”
A Man and a woman sat beyond them, the woman holding her daughter of about four years securely on her lap, with yet another Man sitting apart from them somewhat, his face closed. It was the woman who explained, “I am Nedron’s mother, Nessa. This is Nedron’s little sister Mardeth, and my brother Algorn. And this,” indicating the one who sat apart, “was Nedron’s stepfather, Vangil.”
“Master Rindor, Master Tevern, Mistress Renalta, Mistress Nessa, Master Algorn, Master Vangil. Dírhael, Anriel, and Mardeth.” Berevrion gave a slight bow to honor each of them. “We grieve for the loss of your sons, and for the loss also of your wife, Master Rindor. I will tell you this—you are the first to tell us the names of the children who have been slain, and so you give them presence here. We do indeed seek justice for Bredwion, Gilmar, and Nedron. But know this—it is not to anyone’s benefit to see Danárion of this village slain out of hand solely to assure yourselves that vengeance has been exacted before all are equally certain that it is indeed justice that is being served.”
Rindor rose again. “Are you saying that you plan to allow Danárion to escape hanging? He killed my little boy!”
“Did he indeed? Did you see it?”
“Of course not! But Garestil has said it----”
Caraftion interrupted, rising to face the Man defiantly. “No, Garestil did not say such a thing! Indeed, if you are to believe his words, the one who slew your son was Carenthor!”
Someone who sat behind the families now surged to his feet. “Carenthor, kill anyone? Who could believe such a thing? He is but a boy himself!”
Rindor had rounded on him, bellowing, “A boy who sought to please the Dark Lord himself! One who did unspeakable things with Danárion, and worse to my son!”
Others began to rise, and it looked as if chaos would reign, but at that moment Berevrion leaned forward, his voice surprisingly low yet still commanding as he called, “Silence!”
All stopped and turned to look at him, as if they had all forgotten his presence among them. He looked each of those standing in the eye, including Caraftion, and directed, “You will all sit down. Now!”
He looked at the one who’d said that Carenthor was incapable of such an act. “How is it that you know Carenthor?” he asked.
“I teach in the free school, my lord. Carenthor was one of my pupils until he was accused of this impossibility.”
“And it is your opinion he could not have done this?”
“Of course, my lord. Have you seen him as yet?”
“No, that has not yet come to pass.”
“Carenthor is a sweet youth, quiet and eager to please. It is not in him to harm another.”
“He is intelligent?” asked Berevrion.
The teacher shrugged. “No more so than most others,” he admitted, “although he is able to capture the lines of a bird in flight better than any other I have taught to wield brush and paint. And he loves to write poetry. Although it is often poorly scanned, yet the images he offers the imagination are as pleasing as are his drawings and paintings.”
“An artist, then? Perhaps his parents’ desire to see him apprenticed to a carver of shutters and screens was well chosen, then.”
“Indeed, my lord.”
“And what does this matter?” demanded Rindor. “It does not follow that because he is able to draw birds that he could not kill!”
“Indeed, you are correct, Master Rindor,” Berevrion said. “After all, our own crowned King is himself as able as any bard in both reciting the epics of our histories and in crafting a song in praise of a woman’s beauty and virtue, and yet he is perhaps the most deadly warrior you might ever face upon the battlefield or on the training grounds.”
“I do not say that, faced between the safety of his family and an orc’s scimitar, that he could not find it in him to slay the enemy,” the teacher said. “But to kill for no good reason? And no one has ever accused Carenthor of honoring the Nameless One—never! Indeed, his mother is from Rohirric lines, as is Mistress Renalta, and he has been raised to honor Lord Béma in all things. He has ever been devout in that matter, and many of the drawings he does from his imagination are of the Hunter in pursuit of evil creatures, or standing over their prostrate bodies in victory with Nahar behind him.”
“And why did you not speak to this in his trial?”
The Man looked at Lord Berevrion with anger in his eyes. “I wished to say this, but I was prevented.”
“And who would prevent you from speaking to what you saw as the youth’s true nature?”
“Master Fendril and the guardsman Hanalgor.”
Those in the deputation looked to one another. Berevrion cocked his head. “And how was it they prevented you from speaking in his trial?”
“They came to the free school a week before the trial was to start, and told me that I must not remain within the village until the trial was over and Carenthor and the others condemned. Nor was I to answer any message sent me by either Master Caraftion or by Master Pardronë. I had earlier tried to send word to Master Pardronë by way of Master Enelmir that I knew that Carenthor could not have taken part in the murders of the children, for he was in attendance in my classes on all days of the week in which the children went missing and were found dead, but I do not now believe that the message was given….”
Here Rindor interrupted. “And what does it matter that he was there in your classes?”
The teacher looked to him as he answered, “We were told, we who serve as teachers in the free school, that Garestil had said that he and his companions killed the smaller boys in the forenoon.”
“But how could this be?” demanded Mistress Renalta. “I last saw my son perhaps a quarter mark ere the evening meal was ready. I looked out of my door, and saw the three of them returning from Nedron’s house, Nedron riding behind Bredwion upon his pony and Gilmar upon his, riding toward the gate as if they went toward the commons. I called after them that Gilmar must return his pony to the stable, for it was time to eat his supper, but they did not answer or give any sign that they heard. When all was ready to set upon the table for the children and myself, I sent Anriel to the stable to tell him to return home, but he was not there. Nor were any of them to be seen in the commons, and those children who rode their ponies there said that they had seen none of them that afternoon. None of them returned to our arms that evening, and it was the next day well after the noon bell had rung that they found first the boys, dead, hidden in the stream, and then the bodies of the ponies in the canal east of Master Medril’s farm.” She was weeping openly, and her husband drew her close in comfort.
The teacher shook his head in bewilderment. “They went missing just ere the evening meal?” At the assent of the two mothers and Master Rindor, he turned back to Lord Berevrion, his eyes distressed. “But then why would Garestil be moved to say that he and the others came across the children in the morning and killed them then?”
“You are certain of this?” asked Anorgil, leaning forward intently.
“I am positive!” insisted the teacher. “They brought with them the record of the questioning and his answers in which he admitted to seeing the murders, and read from it to us. It was clear that he indicated that he and Carenthor and Danárion saw the boys riding their ponies along the lane where the boys lived in the morning, shortly after the first hour, and that they went to the woods on the far side of the canal and that the boys came after them with their ponies, and that they called to the boys, who abandoned the ponies and came to them, and that they then----” He stopped, obviously unwilling to continue. He lowered his head. “It is not right to say what happened next, here before the children’s mothers and their sisters and brother,” he murmured.
“You are certain that what was read to you were the actual words of Garestil?” asked Caraftion.
“Oh, yes, for the record was written by Veredorn, who was one of my pupils when he was younger. I recognized his hand! He always serves the guardsmen and the constables to take down the words of those they question. And the signature upon it attesting that this was a true record of the questioning was definitely that of Garestil.”
Berevrion asked, “You recognized it?”
“Of course! It was almost the only thing he could write clearly, his name. He was not particularly clever, after all. His teacher was Mistress Celebríeth, who has patience to work with those whose abilities are less than the rest, and she labored long and long merely to teach him to sign his name so that when he was an adult in his own home he should appear as capable as any other.”
Again those in the deputation exchanged questioning looks.
Caraftion had now risen to his feet. “But the record of his words that I saw was written by Master Umbardacil of Anwar, not anyone from Destrier,” he objected. “And there was nothing in it to indicate what time it was when he first saw the children, or that the young Men saw them first within the village.”
Berevrion’s face was growing quite stern. “There were two separate stories given by Garestil as to what he saw, and when?” he demanded. “But why?” He looked again at Mistress Renalta. “Did the children ever ride their ponies in the morning?” he asked.
She was shaking her head. “Never!” she said. “Gilmar was not allowed to ride his pony in the morning—never, save on some special holidays when classes were not held. And I walked him to the free school myself that last morning ere he went missing, as I wished to speak with Mistress Analisë. The others were already there and in the room where she teaches the younger children, Bredwion and Nedron, in the corner with two other boys who are friends. Gilmar shook off my hand and hurried to join them, for he would not be kissed farewell by me before them.” Tears were running down her face.
There was a stir at the back of the room, and it could be seen that Master Medril had just arrived with his family and Constable Amdir, and that they were being shown seats. Berevrion nodded in recognition before returning his attention to the teacher. “So,” he said, “you have said that Carenthor at least could not have been there to be with Garestil and Danárion to take the children in the morning?”
The teacher was indicating his agreement. “Mistress Analisë has told all of us that the children were there the one day and were not the next; but Carenthor was there every morning that week.”
“Did he appear in any way different on any day that week?” asked Bariol.
“Different? In what way?” asked the teacher. “I would say that I do not remember him behaving markedly different from his usual. We did not learn that the children had gone missing until the day after their bodies were found, when Constable Amdir and Hanalgor came to the school to ask if any knew of anyone approaching the younger children, particularly Nedron, Gilmar, or Bredwion, two days earlier. I remember that Hanalgor asked if Danárion had been to the school or had shown interest in any children at all, and I could tell him that, no, this had not happened anywhere that I could see.”
Anorgil asked, “Then Danárion did not attend classes in the free school?”
“No, not since he left some years since to start his apprenticeship in saddlery, for lessons during apprenticeship are given at the expense of one’s master. He could have returned to the free school, I suppose, but he chose not to, for he was not treated well by many of the older boys. And Garestil also no longer came.”
Anorgil continued, “And you say that you were told that Garestil said that the children were taken in the morning, when in reality they went missing in the evening?”
“Yes, haven’t I said so?”
Mistress Renalta repeated insistently, “They went missing, as I said, just before the evening meal, about two marks before sunset.”
Mistress Nessa was nodding in agreement. “I went to the free school when it let out that last day to bring my son away home, for I had to take him to the healer first to have stitches from a fall a week earlier removed from his arm. He ate the noon meal with Mardeth and me, completed his chores and was reading a tale he’d written at school to his sister while I saw the house straightened and prepared the evening meal and set it to keep warm for when Vangil arrived home—he works for the fruiterer, lifting crates of vegetables and fruit out of the wagons as they arrive from the farms or larger markets in Anwar or Amon Dîn, and setting them for the goodwives to search. When he returned home it was time for me to go to the alehouse for my own work. Nedron had gone out by then, telling me that he would be riding out with Bredwion and Gilmar.”
Berevrion looked at Caraftion. “Why would Garestil say that the boys were taken before noon, then?”
Caraftion was shaking his own head and rubbing at his arm. “And why were there apparently two different confessions made by him, and so different in nature? For in the confession shown me he did not mention the ponies at all, and it was plain he did not describe where the children’s bodies were found.”
“You went to the ditch before, then?”
“Yes, soon after I finally realized that his confession had been forced from him. Galdor, Garestil’s father, kept telling me that what his son had said had been forced from him and that it was false. At last he insisted that I read the record of his confession for myself, and I went to Master Fendril to ask that it be shown to me. It took several days before it was produced, and it was clearly written out by Master Umbardacil—I’ve seen his work many times, after all, and have employed him myself to copy out wills and contracts for those who’ve hired me for such services.”
Berevrion sighed and leaned back, frustrated. There had been many complaints that Garestil, in confessing, only said what was insisted upon by the guards and constables. That there were at least two wholly different confessions, though—stories that were markedly different from one another—well, that was totally unacceptable. He turned to the families of the murdered children. “Do you now understand why it was that we were sent by the King to try to find out what actually did happen to your sons?” he demanded of them, his frustration plain in his voice. “Garestil apparently disagrees with himself as to what happened, when, or how. And we are told that what he said did not even agree with how it was the children came to die!”
Rindor stood again. “But he said that he saw the children die! He saw Danárion seek to choke my son! Hanalgor read that to me himself!”
Caraftion was shaking his head. “That was not in the statement I read, Master Rindor.”
The father shook his own head and bellowed, “But, if what Garestil confessed to is wrong, then why did he say it?”
All else went still, as the echoes of the Man’s rage quieted. At last Berevrion said with remarkable gentleness, “That is the question, is it not?”
Rindor sat down, shaking. Vangil was watching him with marked wariness, and then looking as if he wished he might escape from the room. Berevrion felt his hackles rise, watching the quiet Man. Somehow Vangil, Nedron’s stepfather, reminded him of the one he’d told Lord Benargil of, the one who’d actually violated the maiden so long ago and who’d been hung for his actions both of assaulting her and for seeking to see another blamed in his place.
He thought carefully, and turned to Mistress Nessa. “Were you questioned of all you knew of your son’s last day before he died?”
“Yes, that night. Vangil had come to accompany me home, as I’d insisted he do, and he brought with him Mardeth.”
“You insisted he accompany you home? Why?”
She glanced behind her at Master Medril’s family, and turned back toward Berevrion, distaste and discomfort clear on her face. “There are a few,” she said slowly, picking her words with care, “who have importuned me, and who have made comments and suggestions to me that are—offensive. When this became a nightly thing, I insisted that Vangil come to see me home. At least,” she said with some bitterness, “I knew that he would not allow any other than himself to abuse me.”
This caught Berevrion’s attention. “Your husband has abused you?”
“Yes, which is why he no longer dwells with me. I have begun work on a petition to Lord Benargil to have our marriage set aside because of it.” She glared sideways at her husband, and added in a rush, “It is why my brother now dwells in my house, to see to it that Vangil does not break in when he is mad with drink or whatever else he does to himself to see me or our daughter harmed.”
“I see. But let us return to the question. Master Vangil came to see you home, accompanied by your daughter.”
“Yes. If the daughter of our next neighbor could not watch the children while he was away from the house, he would bring Nedron and Mardeth with him when he came to walk me home. But that night there was only Mardeth with him, and she was saying that they had sought for Nedron, but could not find him. He pushed inside, having seen that Hanalgor was within, just inside the door, and he went to tell him that our son was missing. That was the first I knew that Nedron had not returned to the house. Hanalgor came home with us and asked all I knew of where Nedron had been that day, and when I’d last seen him.”
“And did he question your husband as well?”
“No, there was no time for that, for Vangil went out, to seek for Nedron, he told us.”
Berevrion turned to Vangil. “And did the guards or a constable question you as to what you knew of your son’s disappearance?” he asked.
Vangil’s gaze shifted as if he was thinking how to answer. “Oh, yes, they did,” he answered at length.
“And when did they do so?”
Vangil shrugged. “I’m not certain when—the days following seem to have run one into the other, and I can’t say for certain what happened when.”
“And you sought your son?”
Rindor snorted. “We were all searching for our children,” he said. “By the time it was fully dark, we had sent for Constable Amdir there to tell him that the children were gone, and my wife and I and Mistress Renalta had all told him all that we knew of when the boys went missing. He asked us all sorts of questions, many of which had nothing to do with where the boys might have gone or who might have seen them. It was embarrassing to have to tell him that the last time I’d seen Nedron, it was to beat him for not doing what he’d been told to do!” His face crumpled. “It was the last I saw of my son, and I beat him! He died with that in his memory, not the love that I held for him!”
Berevrion looked to Master Tevern. “You were not there when your wife reported your son missing?”
“I arrived home just as Amdir was preparing to leave, so he stayed to question me. I had taken a cart full of wine barrels from Master Medril’s farm to Anwar to a wine merchant there in the employ of Master Normandil. I then picked up a number of shoats to deliver to a farmer outside of Hevensgil, and then went into the village to get a load of pottery that was to be brought back here to the alehouse in Destrier. I’d arrived at the alehouse to be advised by the cook that Master Rindor had been there to ask for aid in seeking his child, and that a few older Men had gone with him. When I got home, it was to learn that one of the Men had prevailed on Rindor to call for the constable, and that he’d done so, and that they’d gone to my house as the last Bredwion had been seen it had been in company with my son.”
“And did he question where you had been?”
“Yes, and the next day Amdir went to each I’d seen in turn, working backwards, to assure himself that what I’d told him had been true.”
“And who else was there in your house when you arrived?”
“Master Rindor and his wife and Dírhael there, and my wife and our daughter, and one of the Men who’d come from the alehouse.”
“Did you see Master Vangil that evening?”
“After full dark, and after Mistress Nessa had returned home from her work in the alehouse. She did not work until the place closed, just in the late afternoon and early evening, for she would not leave her children for longer. She worked mostly in the serving of food rather than with the ale and wine and other drink.”
“Where did you see Master Vangil?” A glance at Vangil showed he was most uncomfortable with this line of questioning.
Tevern answered, “We were searching the woods that bordered the common grazing ground where the children rode their ponies and where they often brought the animals to graze during the day. The children often played there, climbing trees or building platforms in their branches, playing at knights and dragons, soldiers and orcs, and such. We met there—Rindor and his wife, Renalta and I, and in time Vangil and Nessa as well. Dírhael and some of his friends came searching, too, until we sent them home with word to keep an eye on Anriel.”
“Did any of the guardsmen or constables help in the search?”
“That night? No—just Master Amdir. His fellow Caledorn was there for a time, but complained that the mosquitoes were too heavy to stay out in the darkness. He returned to the village to be there in case the children came home, but they did not. So it was he was there when the report came that a stranger had been seen in the privy for the alehouse. He and Vendrion went to see for themselves what was happening, but by the time they came the stranger was gone. No one can say what became of him, for the gates had been closed, and Hanalgor was keeping an eye on all who came or went, and he said no stranger went out while he kept the gates.”
“A stranger? What description was given of him?” Was there no end to possible suspects in this case? Berevrion wondered.
Tevern shrugged. “The barman said he was young, with a ragged beard and a wild look. He was seated on the bench, bent over and vomiting upon the floor when the barman came in in response to a complaint by one of the guests. He said he was merely ill, but the barman said his arm was bleeding, and that he’d left blood and filth spread within the room when he was gone.”
Nessa added, “Yes, so it was when I came in the following day, for I was one of two who had to scrub the room before the alehouse opened.”
“You went to work with your son missing?”
She glared at him. “What would you have me do—allow my family to go without my wages, and for me to remain home, paralyzed with fear for my son?”
“When did you find out your son’s body had been found?”
“They came to the alehouse, just as the barman and I finished with cleansing the privy. Amdir tried to be gentle….”
Berevrion and the rest of the deputation listened as the parents expressed their grief and described that night. At last Berevrion indicated he’d heard enough. “We may call on some of you to come to Anwar in a few days,” he said. “But it is plain that not all did properly in questioning what happened.” He shook his head. “But now we would have you hear what we have learned this day.”
He rose to his feet. “In accordance with the laws of the Dúnedain as practiced in both Gondor and Arnor, I, as the King’s appointed representative, as witnessed and affirmed by Lord Daerloth for Anórien and Lord Benargil of this region, do hold court this afternoon in the King’s name. Master Anorgil and Mistress Lyrien, if you will record the proceedings?” At their nods of assent, he called, “Leverion son of Medril, come forward.”
Sullenly, Medril and Anhildë’s son did as he was told, Amdir following him closely. “Yes, my lord?” he asked at a prompting shove from the constable.
“Tell this company who it was who stole brandy from your father’s storehouse three days before the children went missing.”
The youth first tried to mutter his answer, but at another prod by the constable he answered more clearly, “I did.”
“And why did you not admit this at the time?”
“Because I did not wish my father to know I was doing this.”
“Who knew that you were stealing from your father’s stores?”
“My friends, the ones who came with me to the woods, would drink what I’d taken.”
“Do you know who it was who was importuning Mistress Nessa at her work?”
At first Leverion did not answer. Finally, in response to still another prod from Amdir, he turned to glare at the constable before grudgingly saying, “Me.”
Medril could be heard groaning as he covered his eyes with his hands.
Berevrion continued, “Do you ever come and go through the window to your room without the knowledge of your parents?”
Again it took prompting before he indicated he’d done so.
“Did you do so the night the children went missing?”
“And how can you prove this?”
“I can’t! But my father was opening my door constantly to make certain I stayed there as I’d been told, all night long.”
“Because I’d taken his new riding horse without asking, and it injured itself.”
“Injured itself? How?”
The youth glared at the floor and refused to answer. At last Medril rose. “He rode it through the woods south of the Highway, and it brushed him from its back, veering under low branches. He beat it severely and left it there. It took us three hours to find the horse after we found it was gone, and I had to beat him to learn what he’d done to it.”
“So, you are certain that Leverion did not go out that night?”
“He did so once, at least. But he was found in the stable, having planned to run away. It was why my wife and Lyssë were out walking—that they not have to hear what was said—nay, yelled—between Leverion and myself.”
Berevrion felt tired. “I see. Well, Leverion son of Medril, you have stolen from your father and sought to see the blame for what you did cast upon others. In the case of the blame given Danárion, Carenthor, and Garestil, that was perhaps more a matter of happenstance than malice, for it appears that many have fallen into the habit of assigning blame for whatever catastrophe has been experienced on Danárion. But since then, I understand, you have instead sought to blame the brother of this Man, who serves as a hand upon your father’s farm. In doing so, you have caused suspicion to fall upon the Man that was unwarranted, and have allowed your father to focus anger at him rather than at you.
“This is not acceptable, for when you damage another’s reputation you cause greater harm than you know. This then shall be your punishment: to offer reparations for the ill you have done, following the Highday, you shall accompany your father’s hand to his brother’s house in the village, and shall first finish the painting he’d begun of the frames for his windows and doors, and then shall continue to perform such repairs as are needed as determined by this, the injured Man’s brother. You shall do this each morning for a month, and he shall oversee your work, but shall not do it for you. And his regular wages shall be paid to him for this time, but out of the money that you would regularly receive from your parents for your own amusement and expenses. And in the afternoons you shall labor upon your father’s farm at his side that the work he regularly does shall not be neglected. And should it come to be known that you ever offend again in the same manner, you will be called to the King’s own presence for judgment.
“Now, sit down again by your father. Mistress Anhildë, come forward as did your son.”
Once she stood before the company, he asked, “Did you see the youth Danárion out walking with your niece Argilien that night?”
She would not meet his eyes. “I saw them walking together.”
“Where you said you saw them, across the canal from your farm?”
At last she answered, “No.”
“Where did you see them?”
She straightened, worrying at her skirt with her hands. “Along the path at the edge of her father’s farm, across the Highway.”
It took her some time before she answered, “Three nights after, on the evening of Midsummer. We were going into the village for the celebrations, and we could see them as we rode past on the wagon, Argilien and Danárion walking together. She’d just finished with the milking, and had left the hands to see the pails poured into the vats.”
“Lyssë, come and stand beside your mother.”
The maiden was almost as reluctant as had been her brother, but at last she was there. “Is what your mother just said true?”
Her voice thick with resentment, the girl answered, “Yes.”
“Then why did you and she say before that you’d seen them in the fields across the canal from your farm?”
“Because she’d told Amdir that she’d seen them there, and I----”
“Because I knew Danárion had killed the children!”
“And how did you know this?”
“Everyone knew he’d done this—everyone! And Garestil had said he’d done it….”
At last Berevrion called Medril to stand beside wife and daughter. “Did you see Danárion and Argilien walking together along the path that ran between her father’s fields and the roadway?” he asked the farmer.
“Yes, on the evening of Midsummer.”
“Could either your wife or daughter have seen them in the fields across the canal from your farm?”
Medril was already shaking his head. “No, they could not. The brush and trees along the water are too high and thick for this to be seen.” He looked up at the ceiling, his voice resigned. “They lied, my wife and daughter did. And Anhildë often does so, as most realize. No woman could see or do all she has claimed over the years.” He cast a defiant yet pained look at Berevrion as he continued, “But I am certain she does so only so as to make herself more important in her own eyes, not to purposely hurt others!”
Berevrion sighed. “I understand. Please return to your seat.”
The farmer shook his head. “I stand beside my family,” he said simply. “They are, after all, my own.”
“As you will.” Berevrion turned to look at Anorgil. “You saw the trial of the housebreaker that my Lord Kinsman heard, did you not, Master Anorgil?”
The law clerk nodded. “Yes, I did.”
“Will you tell these of what became the two who offered false witness in that trial?”
“Of course, my lord.” Anorgil rose to face Lyssë and her mother. “A Man broke into a house in order to steal, and finding the householder in his bed, slew him. This was proved against him. One Man who offered testimony, however, had come forth after the crime was known and said he’d seen what he could not have seen. It is believed he’d hoped to share in any reward that might have been offered. A woman who lived in the next dwelling also said she’d heard more than she could have heard, although part of what she said was true witness.
“The King ordered the one who perjured himself imprisoned, and to be given ten lashes midway through his sentence, with the promise of twice that should he ever again offer false witness in any court in Gondor. And he told the woman that if she again lied before any court in Gondor she could expect the same. And he said, ‘Do not seek to embroider upon the truth, for the truth is capable of being fair or foul enough on its own part without need for further embellishment’.”
As Anorgil resumed his seat, Berevrion arose, fixing the two women with a severe stare. “Do you understand, the both of you?”
Anhildë nodded, her face white, and Lyssë, who appeared sick, swallowed audibly. “Yes, my lord!” the mother answered, and her daughter nodded her agreement.
“You had best take this to heart. Our Lord King is a merciful Man, but he does not have much patience with those who offer false witness. If either of you ever lies again before a court in this land, you will be taken to the gaol where you will spend a month imprisoned, and you will be given ten lashes midway through your time to remind you of the importance of speaking the truth.”
He looked about the room. “The oath taken when you offer witness is to speak the truth, the entire truth, and nothing but the truth, but it appears that in this case too many have done otherwise. If this were not the case, my fellows and I would not be here now. Do you understand?”
All within the room, solemn with what they’d seen and heard, answered variously, “Yea.”