Berevrion faced those who filled the room. “At this time we who came at the King’s behest will retire for at least half a mark. When we resume, we will be speaking with the families of those accused of the murders, for we would wish to better understand what kind of individuals they are.” He caught the eye of the teacher. “And I would like for you to return, if you will.”
All rose as he led the rest at the head table out of the hall.
The deputation stood and stretched in the courtyard behind the building, and could hear the buzz of talk from those who’d quitted the place by the front doors. Bariol was looking about him in search of the privy, while Berevrion reached beneath his surcoat to scratch at his shoulder. “What I would give for a bowl of pipe weed!” he muttered.
One of Master Nerwion’s folk was approaching him. “My Lord Berevrion? One has arrived, saying that he has come from the King’s Majesty. But he is not garbed as is usual for those who come from Minas Tirith.”
Behind the servitor came another, tall and booted, wearing a stained green cloak with a silver star at the shoulder. Berevrion felt relief at the sight of him. “Margolan!” he cried. “I rejoice to see you! What word do you bring from our Lord Kinsman? Nay, wait,” he interrupted himself. “For the love of the stars, I pray you give me your pipe and leaf wallet first, for I find I need it this day.”
“My pipe?” asked the messenger. “And why do you desire such a thing? I thought you were told by Lord Elrond to avoid smoking after he saw to your care during your bout of illness there just before Yule.”
“I tell you that were Master Elrond to be faced with the puzzle we have been looking into at Aragorn’s behest, he’d be demanding a pipe and leaf from Master Bilbo, and that the Hobbit fill the bowl and light it for him!” Berevrion said. “It shall be but the once, I assure you; and I am fully recovered from that illness, after all.”
“Then the matter is not a simple one to divine?” Margolan was sifting through the bag he carried over his shoulder, just under his cloak.
“Indeed not!” Berevrion shook himself. “You cannot believe how many layers of lies and deception and misdirection we have found thus far. And I am not yet certain who is at fault for the matter coming this far, as flawed as the case against Danárion of this village has proved.”
Pipe, striker set, and leaf wallet in hand, Margolan paused, searching Berevrion’s eyes. “Then the young Man might well be innocent of the charge of murder set against him?”
“We cannot know that for certain, not as yet. But, yes, there is the chance this is true,” Berevrion answered, taking the desired objects from his fellow’s hands. “I am not even certain how much is due to malice and how much to simple incompetence or fevered imaginations,” he added as he filled the bowl and placed the stem of the pipe between his teeth.
“I have some messages to deliver from various of our number, but mostly our Lord Aragorn asked that I find out what progress you’ve made in your investigations. Shall I return to him with word that you will require perhaps a week additional time before you can return to the White City, then?”
Berevrion had striker set in hand now, and was seeking to set the weed in the bowl smoldering. He nodded as he puffed at the pipe to see it properly lit. At last he breathed in a lungful of smoke, removed the pipe from his mouth and released a breath, calmer and obviously thinking. “I suspect we shall require at least another seven-day, and perhaps somewhat more. Will you remain with us the night? I will have time then to prepare a proper report for you to return to Aragorn.” He turned to the servitor, explaining, “Margolan is one who came from Eriador alongside me with the Grey Company to answer our Lord Kinsman’s call. I will require room for him for the evening, as he will need to leave shortly after we break our fast tomorrow to return to Minas Tirith and the King’s presence once more.”
The Man indicated his understanding and withdrew to advise his master and Master Normandil of Lord Berevrion’s requirements, and Berevrion took another draw on the pipe, then coughed. “I see why Master Elrond would advise against me continuing to smoke,” he commented, “but it does help relax the thoughts that have been churning within me. Faradir should be arriving back in the village shortly,” he advised Margolan.
The Ranger laughed. “I saw him as I approached the village. He was walking with a youth. They should be within Destrier soon, for I’d passed a wagon and had learned from the driver I was nearing the village’s walls, and I’m certain he would offer a ride to the two of them. A ride and some refreshment perhaps, for he was bringing with him kegs of ale for the alehouse here, or so he informed me, and he indicated he’d been sampling the wares as he drove through the heat of the day.”
“Good for Faradir and Wendthor, then. A worthy soul Lord Benargil’s son is proving. Well, if you wish, you may remain within the hall for the nonce and see for yourself what we shall learn this afternoon of the natures of the three convicted of having murdered three small boys it appears they may not have known at all.”
Amdir had come out. “Master Medril’s family has left to return to their farm, my lord,” he informed Berevrion.
“Thank you. I will ask this of you now—I wish for the guardsmen Hanalgor and Vendrion and your fellow Caledorn to be kept in ignorance of what has been learned this morning as much as is possible. Please go to them and to any others among the guards and constables who took part in the search for the children and the investigation of what happened afterwards, and have them repair to Master Nerwion’s house to await us. I will arrange with him to see to their housing for the evening, and will ask that he instruct his servants to tell them nothing of what gossip is abroad in the village. The less they know of what we have learned and what questions we have had raised, the less likely they are to lie to us when we question them in the morning. Oh, and add the scribe Veredorn to that number. And as you go, send Master Nerwion to me. Do you understand, Amdir, why I ask this?”
“I believe so.”
“I will ask one further thing at this time: do you believe that Danárion led the attack on the three dead children?”
“I’ve always wondered, but had allowed myself to be persuaded that he was guilty. But after what I’ve seen and heard this day, I find myself willing to believe he might be innocent.”
“Thank you. You may go, then.”
He had to relight the pipe, and he finished his smoke, knocked the spent ash out of it and returned pipe, leaf, and striker set to Margolan, spoke briefly to the Master of the village, and signed to the others he was ready to return to the hall.
Anorgil indicated he was ready to record what was said, and Berevrion looked at those who now sat at the table where the victims’ families had sat before. Galdor, father to Garestil, sat with a wizened woman beside him, whom he described as a widowed neighbor who’d come to look upon Garestil as if he were her own grandson. Carenthor’s parents and his two younger brothers sat to their left; and beyond them sat Danárion’s mother Vanessë and his sister, who was perhaps twenty years of age now. Galdor was older than the others seated by him, perhaps in his late fifties, and there was no question he was poor, looking at his lined face, roughened hands, and worn and thickly patched garb. Vanessë wore some paint in a vain attempt to hide lines etched by years of worry and want. Although the clothing worn by her and her daughter was decent, it had obviously been purchased more than two years past, and there were signs that hems had been let out and seams turned or otherwise altered. The hair of all of the women was dull, and more than one individual there chewed his or her nails. The grief of all of them was as obvious as was the confusion as to how things could have come to this—that the sons of their houses were now in prison in Anwar, one set to die and the others to be sent to spend what might be left of their lives in hard labor.
“My son?” asked Mistress Vanessë. “How am I to describe him? He is not particularly tall, but neither is he particularly short. He has a worker’s hands, but not a worker’s nature. He dreams, my lord, and would rather read than anything else. While my second husband was with us all went well enough. No, he and the boy were not particularly close, and he did not appreciate Danárion’s thoughts or interests at all. Targon was a highly practical Man, after all. They often argued. But still he did his best by the boy, and tried to find for him an apprenticeship that would suit him. Danárion’s hands were not the cleverest or most nimble, but once he learned a skill he would do it well and with care.
“Did he fight, you ask? Oh, I will not say he did not fight, for indeed he did, but not if he could avoid it. He did argue, though—by the stars, the boy could argue about anything! Not that he did so to be malicious, mind you, but he had a precise mind, and could and would catch at the least thing wrong you might utter. ‘It’s a beautiful day? But the stink of the sties from the farm beyond the wall has filled the quarter, and the flies of it have spilled over the walls in search of anything they might swarm upon!’ he’d say. ‘Why do you say he is fair of face?’ he asked his sister. ‘He has a wart on his chin, and his eyes are not the same size.’ Things of that sort.
“When Danárion was younger he was mostly thoughtful of others, but that changed when some began to pick him out to belittle. Who would do this? Oh, I suspect that Leverion son of Medril was one of the worst of these, but then he was often taunting the younger ones, bullying them to give him the special things from their lunches, taking their pocket money to spend for himself at the market, breaking their toys simply to prove to them that he could do so and none would stop him, and the like. He was a leader among the older boys all through the years, and when he attended the free school he was more likely to be trying to appear masterful to his friends than to be learning what the teachers sought to teach him.
“Leverion found that Danárion could not hold his own against him, so he began to seek him out to torment him, coming at him from behind and taking his books or whatever he might be writing and holding them where my son could not reach them, sometimes tearing them to pieces before his eyes, or tossing them into the mud or a trough for animals. He would beat him at times, also. No, Danárion would not tell us what had happened to him, but we would learn of what had happened from his sister or from Carenthor, who was often furious at what he’d seen. In time Danárion began to learn to give as good as he got in words, at least, but that only seemed to infuriate the bigger boys to do worse than they’d done before. When they learned that he was sensitive about his father by birth being gone from the home, that became their favorite taunt toward him, that he was not the true son to his father, as if it meant he was illegitimate.
“Danárion began to resent Targon, and became convinced that he could only be happy if his real father came back. But how could he be expected to remember what his father by birth was like? It hurt Targon deeply.
“No, we still do not know what happened to Targon—he went one day to ride to Anwar, and never returned. Did orcs or brigands find him in a place apart, or did he decide that it was not worth returning to a home where the son of his heart hated him and so decided to go elsewhere? We have no idea at all!
“With Targon gone, there was no one to support the family, and I had to search for work. But there is little place for a woman whose first husband was a well-known drunkard and whose second husband has disappeared. Finally I was given a place cleaning this hall—until my first husband returned to Destrier and sought me out. Oh, but he could convince you that the sky was the pink of a fish’s belly, or that there was no wind even as it tore the roof off of your house! He’d given up drinking, he told me! He would never treat me as he had before.
“So I took him back. At first all was as joyful as he’d foretold—until he began drinking once more. And then it all went sour. My children quickly found out just why I had begged to have our marriage dissolved before. He abused our daughter in terrible ways, and beat me when I learned of it and threatened to call the guardsmen to take him in hand. Finally Danárion heard his sister crying out while her father abused her, and he went in to try to pull the Man away from her. His father threw him across the room and broke his arm—his own son! Only then did Danárion agree to help me to throw the dog out of the house!”
The deputation had listened to her tale with few questions or interruptions to this point. Now Bariol asked, “And you do not believe that your son had anything to do with the murders of the children?”
She shook her head. “When could he have done so, sir?” she asked. “I have no certain knowledge of what he did in the earlier part of the day, for I’d found work once more, this time helping to clean the rooms that are for let above the alehouse. He told me that he’d spent part of the earlier morning in the marketplace, helping the one who sells books and paper and ink and the like, until Hanalgor chased him away as he always does. After that he went to the farm where the girl he fancies lives, and assisted the hands there to clean the byres, or so he told me. Part of the time Carenthor was there, too, I understand, after his lessons at the free school were over. I returned at about the ninth bell, and both my children were home. We ate hurriedly, and went to Targon’s sister’s home, leaving our home at the ringing of the tenth bell. Her husband makes barrels, and I hoped that he would agree, for the sake of Targon’s memory, to take Danárion as an apprentice or at least to help load his wagons when it is necessary. But, although they had agreed to meet with us, it proved that one or the other of us had a bad memory of which day we were to meet, for they’d gone out of the village to Hevensgil where they watched the cockfighting. At last I bade their grown daughter, who had stayed at home, to write down a message for them that we had been there, and to let me know when it would be best that we come again.
“By the time we returned home the sunset bell was ringing. Danárion helped to clean the kitchen and to set the house in order, and then he left to take a carving tool he’d borrowed back to Carenthor. He was back in less than a full mark, and he went up to the loft. I could hear him at times, talking out of his window to the girl who lives across the lane. They’d often do this in the evenings, each leaning on the windowsill and speaking to one another as if they were together. She was telling him of her fascination for a youth from Hevensgil, as I recall what little I could hear. Then a friend came to call on her, and came up to her room and both spoke with him. The friend is a younger girl, and it is the first time she’d spoken with my son, to my knowledge. At last at the third bell after sunset she went home again, and all went quiet.”
“Could Danárion have left the house by means of the window to your loft?” asked Anorgil.
She shook her head. “Perhaps if he had a rope he could get down that way; but since his arm was broken he could not easily do such a thing. The muscle had not fully recovered then. But I never saw a rope in the loft, and we had no means to obtain such a thing.”
Now the Elf spoke up, his musical voice causing all to suddenly realize that they had such an exotic being amongst them. “Then he could not have lifted a pony?” he asked.
“What? Lifted a pony? How? Even before he was hurt he could not have done so!”
“You are certain?”
“Of course I am certain! At the time he could only carry one bucket of water at a time back from the well, for he could not lift anything of weight with his left arm. I had to send both my daughter and my son to fetch the water we would need for the day, and then again for the evening. And, then there is the fact that he could not spend time with ponies or horses at all—every time he must be near to the beasts it made him ill. His skin would develop hives and red rashes where he’d touched them, and his eyes would swell shut, and he would have difficulty breathing, what with the inside of his nose swelling and the sneezing he’d do.”
Bariol exchanged glances with the Elven healer. “And the healers for the village—they knew of this?”
“Well, of course! It had been going on for years. When we were first married, Targon would take the boy riding with him, but had to stop when each time Danárion became more ill than he’d been the last time. Finally the healer told him that the boy simply could not be that close to horses.”
“Are there others in the family,” asked the Elf, “who do the same?”
She nodded. “My older brother did so, as did my uncle. And a cousin cannot bear to eat strawberries or to drink cow’s milk. The last time she did so, she was so ill they feared she would die.”
Bariol turned to Berevrion. “An unusual condition, particularly to respond in such a manner to horses, but certainly not unheard of. It more commonly occurs with dogs, cats, and fowl, and is very common with certain foodstuffs, and particularly with strawberries for some reason we do not understand.”
Berevrion commented, “My older daughter cannot eat strawberries or drink cow’s milk, either. Interesting that this can occur with animals as well.”
Mistress Vanessë added, “And this was another reason why the saddler chose to send Danárion home to me when he did—that he could not bear to handle a bridle or stirrups that had been regularly used, nor to fit a saddle to a particular horse.”
“Not the best choice of occupation for one with your son’s condition,” commented Erchirion dryly, and there were a few soft laughs throughout the room.
“And was he there in the house the following morning?” asked Berevrion.
“Yes—I woke him up myself, for I needed his help that day. We were to take the mattresses out of the rooms at the alehouse and empty them and refill then with fresh hay. We needed him to help in carrying the mattresses and in fetching the hay; although Master said that he was of little enough use, as with his arm still healing as it was he could do nothing without the aid of others. He sent the boy off long before the third bell after sunrise.”
“Will these others agree with your reports on your son’s activities?” asked Anorgil.
“They all agreed to do so for his trial, all but Master. He refused, for he said that since the children disappeared the night before Danárion came to work in the alehouse, he could not speak to what the boy had done then. Nor could he say what Danárion might have done after he was sent away that morning. He does not like Danárion, you see. My son has not always been—kind—in his remarks about the Man, and some got back to him. Leverion saw to that,” she added bitterly.
“Did you know what books Danárion had in his possession?” asked Erchirion.
She threw up her hands. “How should I know what books he has? I cannot read or write—my parents felt it was not necessary for a girl to learn such skills.”
“We were told,” the youth’s sister interrupted, “that he had terrible books, but how most could be terrible I cannot say, as most were given him by the archivist in Anwar, or were the writings of Malthos, whose poems are very popular. Almost every youth in the village near his age has read at least one of the poems of Malthos. There was one book that they tell us was by the Dark Lord himself, however. But Danárion could barely even read that, for it was not in the Common Tongue but in Sindarin. They do not teach much Sindarin in the free school, you see….”
And behind her the teacher was nodding his agreement with her words.
Carenthor’s parents told how they had gone to the house of friends for dinner and to play a game in which one used six dice. Carenthor had agreed to watch over his younger brothers and see the evening meal served them and then cleared away after. “He’s a good boy,” insisted his mother. “He has never sought to do aught that might give pleasure, much less strength, to our great Enemy. He cared for younger children very much, and spoke of wishing to have several when he is a Man grown and takes a wife of his own. He is gentle, not filled with hate.”
“But can you say for certain that he did not leave your home that evening?”
“How can we say that for certain?” demanded Carenthor’s father. “As the guardsmen have reminded us, we were not there, after all, so could not see. And they insisted that our younger sons would only lie for him when we asked that they speak for him.”
Berevrion looked to the older of the two boys. “Your name?” he asked.
“Bedwyr, my lord.”
“How old are you, Bedwyr?”
“Fourteen now. I was thirteen when they took my brother last year.”
“Do you understand why they took your brother?”
“Yes. They said he killed those younger boys, Bredwion and Gilmar and Nedron, who lived near the stables near the gates to the village.”
“Do you think he could have done so?”
The boy was shaking his head. “No. He doesn’t believe in killing unless someone is threatening someone else, and then only if there’s nothing else to be done to keep the one being threatened safe. He said that all the time.”
“Do you remember the night he cared for you while your parents were gone?”
“Why do you remember that night especially?”
Bedwyr gave a sideways look at his younger brother. “Because Allorn here didn’t wish for Mama and Papa to go, so he was having a temper. Then, when that didn’t work he tried to get me to hit him so they would stay home to make certain I didn’t do it again. But he’s done that too many times, and Mama caught him out in it this time. She said he must go to his bed when the meal was over, and told him he must stay there for the evening. Only he wouldn’t, and each time Carenthor and I would start to do something, Allorn would do something to make us pay him attention.” Then he added, as if it explained everything, “He’s but seven, my lord.”
“Did Danárion come to your house that evening?”
“Yes—he brought back a tool he’d borrowed from Carenthor, and a book of poems he’d copied for him.”
“A book of poems?”
“Yes—some were by Malthos, he said, and some were the words of songs by Suleirion. They both like the songs of Suleirion. He didn’t stay long, though, Danárion didn’t, for Allorn was raising a fuss.”
“Do you like Danárion?”
“I like him all right.”
“I don’t,” Allorn said. “He says I’m a terrible burden on my brother. But I’m not terrible at all!”
Bedwyr grimaced. “Sometimes you try the patience of everyone, just like Mama says.”
The boys’ mother flushed, and it was plain what she wished to do was to have the child hush.
Erchirion asked, “Bedwyr, did your brother Carenthor leave the house that night?”
“Once. There was a knock at the door, and it was a neighbor. He went out of the door to talk to him, and then came back and told me that our dog was in the neighbor’s garden, so he had to go get it. He wasn’t gone all that long, though. Just long enough that Allorn got out of the bed and got into the cold cupboard and spilled the juice Mama had ready for us to drink the next morning. When he came back, Carenthor and I had to work hard to clean that up before Mama and Papa came home.”
“I didn’t mean to,” the younger boy insisted.
Anorgil asked the father, “Were all three of your sons there when you returned?”
“Yes. Allorn and Bedwyr were both in bed, asleep, and Carenthor was sitting in the chair by the window with a single lamp lit, doing a drawing of Kementari holding a basket of fruit.”
“He had the dog by him, tied by its collar,” added his mother. “He told us of how it had gotten out of the fence again and how he’d had to go fetch it home. And he told us of how Allorn had spilled the juice while he was gone. They’d worked hard to clean it, he and Bedwyr.”
A Man stood up from among those who’d come to hear the audience. “I’m the neighbor. The dog is often in my garden, and each time they fetch it home, but it still finds a new way to do so again the next time. When I came to the house, it was as the boy says—Carenthor came out to hear what I would say, and then went in to tell his brothers that he must come to my house to fetch the dog. It took him a time to catch the beast, for it loves to dig in my garden and hates to be left inside their fence. But then he took the dog right back—I saw him go into his house with it. And we could hear, my wife and I, the fuss raised by young Allorn there. He hates for his parents to leave him home—always wants to go with them and makes quite the noise when they go anyway.”
“Did you testify to this in the trial for the young Men?”
The neighbor shook his head. “Master Pardronë did not think I needed to say that Carenthor was home—that all would realize that the guardsmen were foolish to suggest that he might have done such a thing. He thought that all that would be required was for him to say, ‘This is not the type of youth who would kill a smaller boy,’ and that all would believe it. And I think that he believed that perhaps Danárion might indeed have killed the children.”
“Did your son confess to having taken part in the murders of the children?” Berevrion asked Galdor, Garestil’s father.
“Yes, he did, m’lord.”
“Do you believe he did so?”
“He went out the usual time, at the tenth bell, to walk to Hevensgil with the others who went to the potter’s house to learn tumbling. He come back again after full dark, as he always does, excited because he’d managed to juggle three balls this time. He said it wasn’t for long, but, still, it was three balls, and it took so long for him to do two!”
“Then, if he was innocent, why would he tell the guardsmen that he had done these things?”
“He didn’t say he’d done it—not the first time. He only said he’d seen the others do it.”
“Why did he say he’d seen the others do it?”
“He only did because he thought if he didn’t that they wouldn’t let him come home again. He only said what he thought they wanted him to say. But first he’d said that he knew nothing of it himself, only that he’d heard that Danárion and someone else did it. And that, I am certain, is the only true thing he told them.”
“How do you know what he told the guardsmen?”
“When he didn’t come home on the day they called for him, I went to the gaol to find out where he was, for no one was here or anywhere else where they usually question people. Only Caledorn was there, though—Caledorn and my son, in a cell with the others who were there at the time. And he told me that Garestil had said he’d been there when those children were killed, and that he hadn’t tried to save them. And when I told him I didn’t believe it, he read me off the papers writ by Veredorn what was asked and what Garestil answered.”
“You didn’t read it for yourself?” asked Erchirion.
Galdor was shaking his head. “I can’t read, m’lord. To me it’s but marks on paper.”
The son of Imrahil nodded. “Then what leads you to think that he said only what they wanted him to say?”
“Well, there was the part where they asked him what the other two were doing in the water while he was drinking the brandy, and he said that Carenthor was ducking under to nurse Danárion’s manh----”
“Wait but a moment,” Berevrion interrupted hastily. He leaned toward Anorgil and spoke behind his hand. “Does the term man-nurser mean here what it does in the north?” he asked quietly.
“If you are asking if it describes seeking to nurse from another’s manhood and implies that the Man so described prefers to couple with other Men rather than with women, then, yes. And it is considered a deadly insult, even if it is true that the one described does prefer other Men for love and pleasure.”
Berevrion nodded. “In most northern lands it is an insult great enough to justify the calling out of the one using it,” he murmured. As he straightened he noted the law clerk was apparently suppressing amusement, and paused. “What is it, Anorgil?”
Anorgil smiled. “It is only that this is the first time, my lord, that I have seen you at a loss of words over—words.”
Laughing aloud, Berevrion looked back to Garestil’s father. “Now, Master Galdor, you took exception to that statement?” And when the Man merely looked confused, he changed the question: “You do not agree with what was said?”
Relieved, Galdor answered, “Oh, yes—I don’t agree. It wasn’t right.”
Puzzled, Berevrion pursued the matter. “That the two would find pleasure with such activities?”
Galdor shook his head again. “No, m’lord—it’s the ducking under that’s wrong.” At Berevrion’s expression he tried again. “I helped dig that ditch, m’lord. First time I got paid for my work. Fifteen summers, I was. Anything falls into that ditch, I get called to haul it out, understand? Only time it’s deep enough to duck under is in the winter, see? After April, it’s never much over my knees.”
Suddenly all in the deputation appreciated the Man’s point. “I see—he said he saw Carenthor ducking under the water to----” Erchirion said, “except that if they were in the water, for that to be under water, Danárion would have had to have been at least on his knees, and Carenthor on his belly! He wouldn’t be ducking under the water—he’d be sliding like a snake!”
Galdor was smiling, glad to be understood. “Yes, m’lord—that’s it exact!”
Caraftion was again shaking his own head. “But, again, that was not in the statement I read.”
Berevrion took a deep breath. “Then, gentlemen and lady,” he said with a look to each of his companions, “it is up to us to determine why.”
They were questioning the teacher again. “Tell us of the three youths,” invited Berevrion. “Do you think any of them could have committed this terrible crime?”
“How can one truly say what another is capable of doing, my lord?” asked the Man in response. “I cannot imagine that anyone I know could truly do such a thing—and the removal of the one boy’s manhood….” He shuddered.
“It is possible that that act was not done by the hand of any person, but perhaps by a turtle or other animal, finding fresh meat handy in the ditch,” suggested Bariol. “Such things as this are what reduces bodies to piles of bones, after all.”
The teacher was not the only one who straightened in surprise at this idea. “Then, perhaps this was not done to please the Nameless One? But for what other reason would anyone slay three innocent children and then attempt to hide their bodies in such a manner?”
“Who can say for certain save the one who did so?” asked Erchirion. “I can think of a few possible reasons—perhaps they saw someone doing something he feared would be reported by them to the guards or constables, and he did not wish this exposed.”
“Or they found something of great worth that they had dabbled with, and the one who had it hidden wished to keep it secret or to perhaps punish them for their touching of it,” suggested Anorgil. “Such has happened more than once in Minas Tirith.”
“Or they had been told to do something, but had failed to do so,” added Bariol. “Many of the children that are seen in the Houses of Healing who are worst hurt by a family member or guardian were seen as defiant by the one who hurt them, after all.”
“Or,” suggested Harolfileg, “one child in defiance did something that led to him being seriously injured or killed, either through his own carelessness or mistake, or through the reaction of the one watching; and fearing he’d be blamed, the one watching sought to avoid being taken in charge by slaying all of them and seeking to hide the bodies. I have seen this once among my people, very long ago, and twice among those Men whose settlements are near to our forest.”
Slowly, Berevrion nodded. “Yea, all of these things have been known to happen,” he said to the teacher. “In the north we have records of such offenses in our own trial archives.”
“But what dread secrets could Danárion have been seeking to conceal,” demanded Mistress Vanessë, “that would lead him to slay another in order to hide it?”
“He did have a copy of The Book of Secrets, did he not?” asked the teacher.
“And what of it?” asked a voice behind him. Wendthor stood from where he’d apparently found a seat on his arrival in the village. “That volume came from our library in the Keep in Anwar, after all, and was annotated by my grandfather as having been proved a fraud. My lord father disposed of it at the behest of Master Enelmir, who apparently felt it somehow besmirched our honor that it should be found in our home, and then it was found by Danárion. He did not steal it, nor come by it in any manner that was dishonorable. And it is no crime to have in one’s possession such a book, particularly when it is clearly labeled a lie and cheat.”
“Plus,” added Erchirion, “you yourself agreed that Danárion would have been at pains even to read it as it is written in Sindarin rather than Westron.”
“As we must believe to be true of most within the region ruled by Anwar,” suggested Berevrion. “What real threat does its existence pose, do you think?”
The teacher appeared thoughtful. “None really, I suppose. I’d not known it had been shown to be fraudulent.”
“And now you do,” Erchirion told him, “as do all here who have heard this audience today.”
“Why did Master Targon seek to apprentice Danárion to a saddler?” asked Lyrien, “if he indeed knew he could not be around horses?”
Vanessë made shift to answer. “It was more the work with leather than the idea of preparing tack for horses, actually. Danárion had been able to obtain scraps of leather cast off by the saddler and had sought to make scrips and document cases of them. He made for Targon a coin purse that pleased my husband very much, and that he carried with him at all times.”
“But as one who enjoyed reading, writing, and being about books and documents, he could perhaps have done well as a scribe,” Lyrien proposed.
But the teacher was shaking his head. “No, for to be a good scribe one must be able to write both quickly and clearly, and he had not the nimbleness in his hands to do so. He wrote well enough when he took time in his work; but although he could perhaps do fairly well as a copyist, he could not serve as a public scribe or to take down records of trials or interviews. Such would have been beyond his abilities. When he must write swiftly his writing was too oft unclear and full of errors. Such is not accepted from professional scribes.”
“And he was no friend to Garestil?”
Galdor snorted. “The likes of Danárion, friends with my boy? I’m not saying he was unkind, but he wasn’t kind, either. My son did nothing Danárion would think likable.”
“But your son,” Lyrien turned her attention to Carenthor’s family, “was once friends with Garestil?”
“When they were both small,” agreed the youth’s mother. “But not after they were perhaps nine summers. They no longer liked the same things.”
Lyrien appeared to be considering all of this.
“I cannot think of anything my son might have been a party to that he would seek to hide from small boys,” Carenthor’s father said.
“Even if he was drinking,” Galdor said, “it wouldn’t have been enough for Garestil to think little boys would get him in trouble.”
All appeared in agreement. “And I doubt that Danárion would confide to Garestil that he had a copy of The Book of Secrets,” added Wendthor. “First, I doubt its name would mean anything to him, and I mean no offense to your son, Master Galdor. And second, even if he showed it to him or to the smaller children, since it was written in Sindarin again that would tell them nothing.”
“But if Danárion and Carenthor were seen by the children doing what they were accused of…” began the teacher.
Carenthor’s mother interrupted him, plainly insulted. “My son—seeing Danárion as his catamite? I think not! Friends, yes! But—lovers? And Danárion was pursuing a courtship with Argilien, after all, while my son’s eyes have ever been drawn to the girl who lives across from Danárion. It’s been so for at least three years now! Besides—that was devised by the guardsmen themselves to attempt to paint Danárion and Carenthor as darkly as possible, as pointed out by Master Galdor.”
“So what,” asked the neighbor to Carenthor’s family, “will you do next? And if Danárion, Carenthor, and Garestil did not kill the children, then who did?” There was a rumble of agreement from the rest of those who were present.
“I do not know what can be learned as to who else might have been likely to have killed the children,” said Berevrion, “but we will be questioning the guards tomorrow.”
“And if it comes out that they did nothing to truly find out who killed the children,” growled someone in the audience, “I for one will do what I can to see them driven from Destrier in disgrace!”
“But these haven’t proved that Danárion is innocent,” objected a woman. I don’t want that would-be Black Númenórean here near my family!”
Berevrion sighed as he heard the debate spread through the onlookers. It was obvious, if Danárion was proved innocent, he could not look to return here to the village where he’d been born, not if he wished not to take a knife in the back from someone convinced he’d been released only on the fancy of strangers from elsewhere.