“Lord Berevrion is not with you?” asked Lord Benargil of the Swan Knight, who appeared to be the only member of the deputation sent by the King who’d returned with those newly come from Destrier by way of Hevensgil.
“He and the others found information in Hevensgil that led them to believe they now might know where it was that the children actually died,” Lord Erchirion’s guard told him. “They will be following directly.”
“But what if enemies attack them along the way? And Lord Erchirion without his proper escort….”
“Oh, do not think, my lord, that Lord Erchirion will make an easy target for anyone. I have fought beside him, even as I have by the sides of Lord Berevrion and Master Faradir. All of them are consummate swordsmen. I think the only ones I have seen who are better would be Lord Faramir, his late brother Lord Boromir, and the King himself, unless you are willing to consider the King’s Elven brothers, who could constitute an entire battalion of themselves. If they are an example of Elven martial skills, I must say I would never wish to face an entire army of Elven warriors.”
“And my son----”
“You need have no fear on his part. Lord Wendthor has excellent company who will add to his own defense. He has proved himself both wise and politic during this journey, and most observant. All are well pleased with him.” The guard turned to Master Caraftion, who waited nearby. “Will you attend upon Lords Erchirion and Berevrion after the morning meal, sir? I believe they wish to discuss with you what was learned at the healer’s house in Hevensgil.”
The Lord of Anwar found himself wondering if he should be relieved or additionally concerned by this attempt to reassure him.
The deputation itself arrived better than an hour after the rest of the party that was supposed to have accompanied it from Destrier, and there was an odd sort of satisfaction to be seen on the faces of its members, although what they had learned they would not reveal to any others. Wendthor was greeted with joy by his sister and mother, but although they begged him to tell them everything, he managed to put them off. “It has proved far too complicated to explain easily,” he told them. “I had thought perhaps it was a matter of all working together to make it appear that Danárion of Destrier was guilty of this crime, but instead it appears to have been more of a series of individuals who did this, each for his own reasons. Many of their reasons appear to have been much the same; but still they did not precisely act in concert.”
“Then you do not believe that he is guilty?” asked Lady Marien.
“It is not so much that I do not believe it as that I know it not to be true,” he said. “But those who want it to be true even though in their hearts they must know it isn’t are so insistent it must be so that it is hard to think what it is that must be done to convince them to allow reason rather than desire to rule their thinking.”
Benargil watched after his son with his brow furrowed as the youth went up to bathe and prepare for the evening meal. There appeared to be a new steadiness in the boy that he ought to have rejoiced to see, but he found himself instead lamenting in his heart that he had not been the one to instill that into him.
And then the meal must be delayed when it proved that Lord Berevrion was insistent on going to the inn where those who had come with them from Destrier were to stay the night to provide for their expenses. “They are here only because I have upset their plans and understandings,” he explained. “My Lord Kinsman provided me with sufficient funds to ease the stress of our presence as much as possible, and I feel honor-bound to see them housed and fed at least for the one night.”
Benargil found himself frustrated that by seeking to be courteous to these commoners from Destrier, his guest was managing to further inconvenience his household. Marien bade him to calm down and rejoice to think that these would be gone again the sooner back to the King’s presence, and Dalrieth sighed, and set what she’d prepared back in the warming ovens to await Lord Berevrion’s return.
The innkeeper was surprised when the northern lord approached him to settle the bills for his guests from Destrier. “I am the King’s emissary here,” the northerner explained. “And as I am upon his business and it has inadvertently involved these, I would see to their needs for tonight, at the very least. And I ask that if any has already paid that you return to them their fees ere they leave.”
The innkeeper felt disappointment. Indeed three parties had already paid him, and it would have been a pleasant thing to perhaps double some of his profits; but when he saw that Lord Berevrion was granting him a bonus for allowing him to provide for these guests he felt much mollified, even to the point of assuring the foreign lord that not only would this provide for their rooms and meals tonight, but that the innkeeper himself would be pleased to give them all a good meal in the morning at no additional cost, and of course he would see all who had paid reimbursed. With a nod, Lord Berevrion thanked him, having seen the hint of avarice already gone from the Man’s eye.
He was going toward the door when a voice halted him. “Do you check to see that we are all safely in our beds, my lord?”
Berevrion turned to find that the couple from Destrier who had attended the trials before and who had insisted that the convictions were just now stood at the foot of the stairs that led to the guestrooms, eyeing him with distaste. They had shown up at the stables this morning with their own horses and included themselves in the party of those who were to travel to Anwar with no explanations or by your leaves. Why they felt it necessary to follow this case to its full end he had no idea. They did not appear to be related to either the victims or the three youths who had been unjustly accused and convicted of the murders. Nor did they seem to have aught to do with Vendrion or Hanalgor or to any who had spoken out regarding the true doings of the various characters in this double tragedy. “I came merely to assure myself that all who are come from Destrier are adequately housed for the night,” he told them.
“Good, for you have definitely inconvenienced us,” the husband responded. “Here we had been satisfied that justice has been done on the part of those poor children, and now you are intent on freeing killers of infants!”
Berevrion turned toward them fully. “That is how you see it, that I am supposedly offering unwarranted support and comfort to child murderers? Have you not thought that by insisting that unjust rulings are somehow right and proper anyway that it is you who are allowing a child murderer to truly get away with his crime, allowing him to remain free to perhaps kill again? And exactly how have I inconvenienced you? Are you kinsmen to the murdered children to feel it necessary to see vengeance done on their behalf?”
“No, they are none of ours.”
“Have you been the target for the scorn of the youth Danárion? Has he chastised you for your narrow minds or lack of compassion?”
The woman’s face was white with perceived offense. “What have we to do with the likes of that Danárion?” she demanded. “He is a thief and a defiler of maidens----”
“Are you then kinsmen to the farmer Beslor, intent on seeing the honor of his daughter defended after she and Danárion sought to elope together to Rohan?”
The husband drew himself up haughtily. “I am an artisan, one who crafts fine cabinetry. I have nothing to do with those who must grub in the dirt to make their living!”
The anger Berevrion felt was carefully contained. “If it were not for those who grub in the dirt, as you put it, there would be no food for you to purchase to store in those fine cabinets you craft,” he said cuttingly. “And know this—one of the Cormacolindor whose deadly journey through Mordor resulted in the utter defeat of the great Enemy, has always made his living as a gardener. He has ever been proud of the dirt beneath his fingernails, and his Master, whom he accompanied as the Ringbearer, is justly proud to think of him as his friend. So, you are no kin to the three children and thus not to their families, either. You are offended that Danárion sought to elope with Master Beslor’s daughter, but put all the blame upon him, although I have been told that it was she who prevailed upon him to go with her to Rohan. Danárion has not offered you any offense that you have acknowledged, and although you have called him a thief, you have not shown that he stole from you.”
“He stole from the marketplace—all know that,” the Man spat at him.
“He did? When? Did you see him do it?”
“Well, no! Why should we pay attention to the likes of him?”
“That is indeed a question that fills my mind at the moment. He took bread from the baker’s discard bin with the permission of the baker. He was found with an apple in his hand when a crate of apples went missing, but we have been told that his aunt gave him the one apple he was found with, and we know that former Captain Borongil and Guardsman Hanalgor, who spent as much time in the market as at the gates to the village, were stealing food to smuggle out of Gondor, if not to Gondor’s enemies, at least to enemies of her ally, Rohan. So, again, why do you feel it important that he remain guilty of this crime when the evidence shows that the murders did not happen as was represented?”
“He was an offense to the senses!” insisted the wife. “With his black clothing and his hair cut in a defiant manner, and his talk of wishing to meet with Elves and to speak with trees and to learn about spirits!”
“You have heard him talk of this?”
“Our daughter told us about him—she met him when they attended the free school together.”
“At last, a thing you have done I can at least respect, that you allowed your daughter to learn to read and write.”
“We would not have her unable to help keep the books for her husband’s business when at last she marries,” the husband said.
Berevrion suppressed a sigh of frustration. “Again, why is it important to you that he must continue to be held guilty?”
“But he was arrested!”
“So, he was arrested? Does merely being arrested prove guilt?”
“And he was charged!”
“Does being charged prove guilt, particularly when it has been shown that those who said they saw him walking away from the place where the bodies were found have been shown to have lied about it?”
“We don’t know that!”
“But Mistress Anhildë and her daughter have admitted they lied about seeing them in the field on that night, and her husband has said publicly that his wife is given to inventing stories that make it appear she knows or has done what she has not, and that his daughter is in the habit of supporting her mother’s lies. I sent tall Men walking through that field where it was said Danárion was seen walking with the maiden Argilien, and we standing where Medril’s wife and daughter had told us they had stood could not identify who it was we glimpsed past the trees and the bushes.”
“But the guardsmen and the constables—they would not lie about this!”
“Even when the guardsmen involved have been shown to be liars, when they have been proved corrupt?” Berevrion placed his hands on his hips and allowed his scorn to be seen. “It appears that you are less interested in learning the truth than in maintaining things as they are, and to Mordor with indications that injustice was done to all. You would rather that the youth with the odd cut to his hair and the black clothes, the one whose father proved a drunkard and abusive and who reduced his family to living in poverty, and whose stepfather disappeared to a fate unknown, go to the rope rather than face the possibility that perhaps, just perhaps, someone else killed those children and has so far evaded justice? Just what does this say about you?”
With that he turned away and went out, wishing to be shut of them and all indications of small-mindedness for the rest of the evening.
“You are very quiet, my Lord Berevrion,” Benargil said to his guest once all were seated for the evening meal.
Berevrion looked up from his plate, which he’d been looking at but not really seeing. “Am I? I do beg your pardon. It is only that I find myself fully appreciating how it is that Master Harolfileg often finds the doings of Men to be too oft perverse and without logic. I was berated this evening for seeking to uncover the truth of this case, in spite of it being the King’s own will I act upon.”
“And who has done this?” Benargil demanded.
Wendthor looked upon the northern lord with a rather jaded expression. “That husband and wife from Destrier who kept insisting that because Danárion, Garestil, and Carenthor were charged and convicted that they could not be nevertheless innocent, I must assume? They were holding forth on that subject to those who accompanied us all of the way to Hevensgil.”
“Yes, it was they.” Berevrion rubbed his eyes and pinched the bridge of his nose. “Now they were claiming that we cannot say that Danárion and Argilien were not seen walking away from the ditch where the bodies were found.”
Wendthor pushed away his plate. “What? After going out into that field myself and peering across the canal to try to see those of you who were on Master Medril’s land, I know that there is no way in which Mistress Anhildë or her daughter could have seen what they said! And there was the matter of the two of them confessing they’d actually made it up!”
“What is this?” asked Benargil. “But they gave testimony in the trial!”
“Not all of the testimony given in the trial was accurate,” Erchirion said, his tone acid. “We were all about eaten alive by gnats, midges, and mosquitoes as we learned the true nature of woods and gully and ditch and fields. Yes, Farmer Medril’s family saw the youth and maiden walking together, and the maiden was indeed garbed, apparently, as they described her. But, the two of them were seen by the family on Midsummer Eve itself, and in her father’s fields, not those opposite Medril’s farm on the night the children went missing. Master Medril’s wife is in the habit of involving herself in all notable happenings in the area by naming herself as having been there or seen something to do with it, or so her husband has told us before the entire village.”
“But did the guardsmen and constables not go forth to test the matter before the trials?” Benargil demanded, his voice bewildered.
“If they did, they must have decided not to speak to the matter before the jury,” Berevrion answered him. He looked about. “Master Enelmir is not here?”
“He went two days ago to Amon Dîn to speak with Master Fendril. The two of them are to return tomorrow. And his mother was not feeling particularly well, and so chose to eat in her rooms.”
Bilstred blinked. “I will make a point of visiting her after dinner, then,” he said. “Is it her chest again?”
“Did you have a good visit with your uncle, Lyrien?” asked Lady Marien.
“Yes, Father and I both enjoyed it, I think,” Lyrien said.
“I must say that that gown much becomes you, child.”
“Does it?” Lyrien actually blushed, an event Berevrion had not witnessed before. He caught the quick glance she cast at Anorgil, and realized that the law clerk had been looking at her with frank admiration. Her expression had softened since their arrival here in Anórien, he noted. Well, so much the better should even more good come from this visit to Anwar. She then deliberately turned to Anorgil to ask. “And what was it you learned from Master Avrandahil?”
“First, that he is marvelously skilled as an artist, and that he has made excellent use of an apparatus to reproduce some of his pictures of damage to the bodies of those he examines so as to make those pictures large enough to show in court. And that he will sometimes respond to requests made by Master Fendril to—emphasize--the details of his pictures to make certain judge and juries see what he would have them see.”
Berevrion noted further signs of uncertainty on their host’s face, and knew he must realize there was a reason for the particular emphasis Anorgil had given his words.
Belrieth turned to her brother. “We still want to know why you didn’t come home with the others who came from Destrier. Where did you go when the others left from Hevensgil?”
Wendthor gave Lord Berevrion an enquiring look, as if trying to ascertain just how much he should tell. At last he said, “While the deputation was meeting with Master Avrandahil they found one drawing he did that he did not understand, merely recorded, that gave us information that we had been seeking. We went to verify if indeed what we believe happened might have been done.”
“And did you find proof?”
“Not of all, but enough.”
Benargil asked, “What is this about you not believing that the children died where their bodies were found?”
Wendthor explained, “There was no indication found of the struggle that the youth Garestil was brought to say in what they have called a confession, Father. He had said that the three youths saw the children arrive on their ponies, but then he said that he did not really see the ponies or what became of them, for he was standing behind Carenthor and Danárion, and the ponies were left way over there, on the other side of them. He said that for no reason Carenthor and Danárion then took possession of the children and began beating upon them with their fists, lifting them up and laying them down, sitting upon them and holding their legs in the air. It was obvious that none of them was still, Father; so how could it be that no signs of struggle could be found? We learned that a goodly number of people went through that wooded area and walked along the narrow path that follows the top of the gully on the south side, but none saw anything until the early afternoon when at last a shoe was loosened from the mud and floated to the top, and so was seen by the guardsman Vendrion, apparently taking his own turn searching there.
“Garestil said also that Carenthor produced a knife, and described it as one where the blade folded into the handle, one intended to be carried in a pocket or a scrip. He said that Carenthor swung it at one child’s bottom, and that he cut the boy at the bottom, and says that there was a good deal of blood. Yet they found no extensive areas of blood such as he described. And then in the trials they brought out not a knife such as he actually described, but one with a fixed blade intended to be used by fishermen! And there is no way that that knife could be used as he described!”
“So, then, where was it that the children did die?”
“Some distance away.”
“And how do you know this?”
Wendthor’s eyes were filled with a solemn sadness as he explained, “We found certain signs, and the bag the child Nedron had packed in order to run away.”
Benargil’s eyes widened with shock. “Run away? What is this about the boy wishing to run away?”
“If you had known the violence and hatred the child knew from his stepfather, you, too, would have wished to run away, Father.”
“Did this Man kill the children, then?”
Wendthor dropped his gaze to his plate. “It is possible, I suppose.”
“Then make him confess if he did so!”
“We cannot—he is now dead.” Wendthor’s eyes had again met those of his sire. “He died after he sought to kill his wife’s brother. He left the Man wounded, perhaps mortally, although he yet survived when we left the village this morning. He fled the village and was seeking to cross the grazing commons where the village’s children exercise their ponies and play along the banks of a stream and the canal. But Lords Erchirion and Berevrion and Lord Erchirion’s guardsman were in pursuit, so he sought to take a child as a hostage and win his freedom at the possible expense of her life. But—someone—objected to that, and grabbed him from behind, and in his surprise he let the girl go, and the one who’d taken him in hand accidentally dealt him his death.”
“And you have taken this one in charge?” Benargil demanded.
“Why would we do that?” asked Wendthor. “He sought only to protect the girl that Vangil had threatened to harm. And he is not the sort one can hold in a gaol or a prison.”
“We will be disclosing this tomorrow afternoon,” Berevrion interrupted. “In the morning I wish to meet with the three youths and to speak with them with Mistress Lyrien and Anorgil present to note what is said. After the noon meal we will hold a formal hearing in the Hall of the People where all that we have learned will be revealed.
“We will then take the three youths and what evidence we have found back to Minas Tirith. Considering all that we have learned, I believe that it would be to the benefit of all to have the King himself make the final judgment in this case.”
“And you will be advising him to reverse the convictions?”
“I have already sent a report to him by the messenger you sent on to Destrier two days past; but I will advise him of nothing. I do ask that you accompany us, my Lord Benargil, and learn the nature of our new King.”
“I understand that he has named Lord Faramir not only his Steward in his lord father’s place, but also Prince of Ithilien,” Benargil said.
Berevrion smiled. “It is very like Aragorn to do such a thing. I have already seen a swift friendship rising up between my Lord Kinsman and Lord Faramir, even as appears to be true between Aragorn and Éomer of Rohan. Ever are individuals of integrity drawn to him, or so we have found in the North. Certainly there appears to be a deep respect between him and the others who were part of the Fellowship of the Ring.”
Berevrion took another bite of the fowl that had been served, and chewed it with appreciation. “And please advise your housekeeper that this sauce she has made for the chicken is excellent.”
Benargil looked up to see Dalrieth’s eyes lighting up with pleasure as she entered with the next course to set before them. The northern lord’s tardiness for the evening meal was now fully forgiven, he knew.
Lord Berevrion excused himself after the meal and went up to bathe, attended to by his guard, who it appeared to Benargil was as much a comrade to the northern lord as a guard of honor. Anorgil took a seat at a table in the corner of the Great Room, Lyrien beside him, the two of them working together to set all of the records they had made into a semblance of order. Lady Marien asked Lord Erchirion, “And has Lyrien there proved helpful during this journey?”
“Indeed. Between them, she and Master Anorgil have helped to make records of the questioning that was done and to note all points learned. It will make for a good deal of reading on the part of our Lord King Elessar and my cousin Faramir, but I am assured that the two of them are well up to such study.”
“I must suppose we will need to look into providing horses for the three youths to ride for the journey to Minas Tirith,” Benargil said consideringly. “There are the steeds kept here for the use of the Steward’s messengers, that I must assume are now under the King’s authority, that perhaps may serve.”
Erchirion appeared thoughtful. “Perhaps that would not be best, my lord. I do not believe that the youth Garestil will ever have learned to ride, and from what we have learned of Danárion it would be possibly detrimental to his health to seek to have him ride astride. He is one, we have learned, who becomes ill when he must touch a horse.”
Marien was surprised. “Really? Oh, I’ve heard that this sometimes happens, but had never actually met someone for whom it was true.”
Wendthor explained, “We learned this from his mother. Her second husband used to take him riding, and he would come home ill, each time worse than the last. Finally the healers forbade them to allow the riding to continue. And it is part of the reason why we do not believe he had aught to do with the ponies having ended being cast into the drainage canal, for first he could not have borne to have handled them; and second, his arm was just recovering from having been broken by his father. He had not the strength to carry a bucket of water with it, much less to assist in throwing two ponies into the ditch.”
“No horses for these three, then,” Benargil sighed, trying to think of what might be used instead. “I would not feel right having them ride in the carriage with my wife and our luggage, I fear.”
“Certainly not!” agreed Imrahil’s son. “Nor do I believe they would be comfortable there. Perhaps a draught wagon from the garrison could be used for them. Plus, such would be seen by the populace as being in keeping with their status as still prisoners being taken to their final judgment.”
Belrieth pursed her lips. “If they are indeed found innocent by the Lord Berevrion, many here, I have learned, will be most angry to be deprived of the spectacle of the hanging of Danárion. Mariessë and I overheard several of the guards discussing the wagers being placed on how long it will be he will have to hang in the noose ere he is dead. And there are those who have heard that Lord Berevrion has come to examine the case against Danárion who are certain that should he find against the verdicts already given that someone will seek to stab the youth in the back rather than possibly see him go free. It’s probably best he indeed be taken back to Minas Tirith for judgment by the King himself—then hopefully if the King exonerates him he will be able to live free and anonymously without so much fear of possibly being assassinated.”
Benargil saw the same solemn concern in the faces of all throughout the room. “So,” Erchirion suggested, “many believe we were sent by the King to witness the executions in his place, while others realize our true purpose is to investigate the accusations and the trial and would think to perhaps take justice into their own hands should they think we indeed would decide to free them. I will so advise Lord Berevrion. Yes, the use of the draught wagon to carry the three out of the city would be the best. Let most of the populace believe that they remain suspected, and we will most likely be able to preserve their lives.”
“And you believe that the King will find for innocence?” asked Benargil.
Wendthor gave a snort. “He’d best do so, or I will tell him off to his face!”
Benargil felt great alarm, and his wife was obviously shocked by such a statement. “You couldn’t!” Lady Marien objected.
But Erchirion was laughing aloud. “And he would enjoy every moment of it, my young lord! Ah, wait until you meet him, Wendthor—he is quite the Man. And he will respect you as one who is willing to stand up for what you believe to be right. But I doubt that he will find for guilt. From what I have seen, his nature is first to be just, and second to be merciful if he believes more good will come of mercy than strictly applied justice. I have seen him judge some cases already, and he is as good a judge of the heart of a Man as was my Lord Uncle, if more likely to be generous. He and my Lord Cousin will prove well matched indeed, I am certain.”
“May Mariessë come with us?” asked Belrieth. “She would be deeply disappointed to not be present when the King examines the three youths.”
“I will send a message to her guardian asking she be allowed to come,” Marien assured her, not thinking to ask her husband. “When would we leave for Minas Tirith, do you think, Lord Erchirion? Not tomorrow after the public hearing, surely? Surely that would be too late in the day to begin such a journey.”
“No, I suspect that it would be best we leave the morn after tomorrow, my lady, as soon after we break our fast as we can.”
“I suspect you are right,” Benargil agreed. “Give the troublemakers as little chance as possible to wreak ill before we leave.”
Erchirion grinned at him. “We will hope, then, that the troublemakers are late sleepers, shall we not?”
Peldrion approached Benargil at the breakfast table. “Master Caraftion has come, my lord, and I have showed him to the library.”
Benargil eyed Lord Berevrion where he was finishing his own meal. “He’s eager to start the day, it would appear.”
Anorgil looked up from where he sat holding a mug of a still steaming herbal drink between his hands to comment, “From what he has told us, he has worked for this day for quite some time. It appears that both he and Master Nerwion advised Mistress Vanessë to continue writing to the Citadel after her son was condemned to the rope. He feels much responsible for the manner in which the convictions were so easily obtained, for he says he simply was not sufficiently experienced to know what testimony he should object to or what kind of witnesses he should have required to speak for the three youths. Although I would most like to speak with Master Pardronë as to some of the decisions he made in his defense of Carenthor. He did not call anyone who knew that the young Man was home, caring for his brothers while their parents were from home, and the neighbor was most wroth that he was not allowed to speak in the youth’s defense.”
Benargil was intrigued. “And what had the Man to say?” he asked.
“That he and Carenthor were pursuing Carenthor’s family dog around his garden at the time Carenthor was supposed to be in those woods killing three little boys,” Berevrion told him, shaking his head.
“Didn’t Pardronë know of this?” Benargil asked, leaning back from his plate.
“We are not certain what Master Pardronë knew or didn’t know,” Erchirion said, wiping his mouth and pushing himself back from the table. “He does not appear to have been quite forthcoming with Master Caraftion, with whom he ought to have been working closely to see real justice done.”
“I suspect that he believed Danárion truly guilty,” observed Master Bilstred. “He was as eager as any, it appeared to me at the time, to see the young Man sent to the rope.”
Benargil felt bewildered. “I think, then, that I shall send a guardsman to fetch him to the hearing this afternoon. Let us find out for certain just what he did and did not know or believe.”
Berevrion smiled at him. “I am grateful that you have decided this, for I’d been considering asking you to do just that. And when Master Fendril is come, may we keep him entertained here in the Keep rather than having him at the hearing? I believe that it would be the best move to allow my Lord Kinsman to examine him rather than for us to do so.”
“If you think it best,” Benargil said rather uncertainly.
“Oh, but I look forward to seeing Fendril responding to the perceptive questions Aragorn is likely to set him,” Berevrion said. “I am eager to see him explaining to the King Returned just how diligently he has pursued Sauron’s worshippers throughout Anórien.”
“So, in what order are we to meet with the three defendants?” Benargil asked.
Berevrion’s smile widened at Benargil’s inclusion of himself in the day’s doings. “I think Garestil first. I am eager to see this one who was encouraged to make such an outrageous statement as he has given. Just how suggestible is Garestil son of Galdor?”
Berevrion, Erchirion, Anorgil, and Caraftion spent some time closeted together while Benargil sent orders ahead to the realm’s prison preparatory to the planned visit, and had three mounted soldiers dispatched toward Hevensgil to serve as an escort to Master Avrandahil to assure the healer arrived in Anwar at the appointed time without unexpected delays.
Within half a mark they were being escorted through the prison by the Warden, who was glancing uncertainly over his shoulder at Lyrien with her lapdesk in her arms. “Usually only wives, mothers, and sometimes sisters wish to meet with those who are held here,” he commented.
“So we understand,” Benargil said. “However, we wish for these interviews to be properly recorded, and both she and Master Anorgil here are so trained and licensed. We are doing so,” he added, “for the benefit of the King, who has commissioned Lords Berevrion and Erchirion here to examine this case for him.”
The Man appeared mollified at this intelligence, and he showed them into a room with a rough table and several solid chairs, and bade them make themselves as comfortable as they were able while he saw the prisoner known as Garestil of Destrier fetched. “Would you wish some drink brought?” he asked.
“Have you some small beer?” Benargil asked. “And if you will assure that there is enough to share with the prisoner we should be most grateful.”
If this request was surprising, the Warden did not show it, and he left the room, closing the door solidly behind him and speaking briefly to the guard and Faradir, who stood watch outside it. Soon he returned with a tray on which stood several battered but definitely clean and serviceable metal cups and a metal pitcher filled with what proved actually quite a pleasant brew, along with a metal charger on which lay a selection of vegetables. “The prisoners grow these themselves in our prison garden,” they were advised. “It helps them to feel as if they are providing for themselves and offers them a constructive means of employing their time.”
He was followed soon after by another warder, who led a small figure by the arm. Garestil proved to be short and wiry, and was barely taller than five feet, the top of his head not likely to reach the center of Berevrion’s chest. His hands were manacled, and fastened by still another chain to a belt he wore about his waist.
“You’ll remember what you’ve learned here, won’t you, Garestil?” this warder was instructing him as he led him into the room. “These have been sent all of the way from the White City in order to speak with you. You will speak courteously with them, do you understand?”
The youth nodded and allowed himself to be guided to the chair and seated. He sat with his face downcast, partly looking at the table’s top, but casting furtive glances at them from under his brows. “You may go,” Lord Benargil instructed the two Men, and bowing, they withdrew, the warder following his superior out of the room and closing the door behind the two of them. At the sound of the click the prisoner’s shoulders first tensed, and then relaxed. “Your name?” asked Benargil.
“Garestil—Garestil son of Galdor, m’lord,” the prisoner mumbled.
“Please raise your head and speak more clearly,” Benargil told him. “Would you like something to drink, Garestil?”
This question appeared to surprise the young Man, for he actually raised his head, apparently to judge whether the offer were truly meant. “Yes,” he said uncertainly. “Yes, m’lord, I’d like that.”
Erchirion swiftly had one of the cups filled and set before him. True, he must hold it between his manacled hands, but there was no question that Garestil appreciated the drink. After he’d finished it, however, he looked at them oddly, almost as if he were wondering how he must now pay for the pleasure he’d just enjoyed.
“We would ask you about what you know about the murders of those three little boys in Destrier, Garestil,” Benargil began, and paused as he saw the youth stiffen as if in anticipation of a blow. This surprised him. “I know that what happened there was very bad,” he began tentatively.
Garestil’s eyes had again dropped to his lap. “Yes, m’lord,” he muttered. “Terrible.”
“And you’ve been asked about it many times now.”
The young man nodded, avoiding the eyes of any of them.
“But we need to ask one more time.”
Garestil shrugged, and lifted his manacled hands to rub the back of one hand across his eyes.
Benargil was surprised. Was the boy weeping? He persevered. “Did you see those children killed, Garestil?”
The youth nodded.
“Did you take part in the attacks on them?”
After a brief delay, he gave another single nod.
“What did you hit them with?”
Garestil held up his hands, one fisted, as if this said all.
Garestil glanced up under his brows again and again wiped his eyes with the back of his hand. “Dunno.”
“When you were done with them, what did you do with the bodies?”
“I didn’t do nothing with them.”
“Oh, then did Carenthor and Danárion do something with them?”
“Yes—they tied them up and threw them in the water.”
“How deep was the water where they threw them?”
“Oh, it was very deep.”
“Over the boys’ heads?”
“Over my head!”
“And could you see them in the water?”
“Yes, part of the way down. One was wriggling like a worm.”
“Was he very deep where you could see that? Could you have reached down to pull him out?”
“It was deeper than I could reach.”
Benargil looked hopelessly at Berevrion, whose own eyes were compassionately fixed on the young Man seated before them. The northern lord glanced reassuringly at his fellow from Anwar, and fixed his own gaze again on Garestil. “How did the children come to the woods?”
“On ponies.” There was a tone to his voice that reminded Benargil of someone reciting a lesson long learned by heart.
“And why did they come to the gully?
Garestil shrugged. “To pick blackberries.”
“Blackberries? And why were you in the woods?”
“Carenthor said we was to pick blackberries.”
“So, Carenthor invited you to come along?”
“And how many blackberries did you pick?”
Garestil appeared surprised by this question, and looked up into this stranger’s eyes. “What, m’lord?”
“You have said that you were invited to pick berries, did you not?”
“So, how many berries did you pick?”
“Did you fill your bucket?”
He appeared to need to think about this one, gave an aborted shrug, and answered, “Oh, but…. Oh, yes. Filled it.”
“Your mother must have been glad for it when you returned home.”
There was pain to be seen in the youth’s eyes. “Don’t have no mother. She died when I was borned.”
“I am sorry, Garestil. Who received your bucket of berries?”
Garestil’s mouth worked as he tried to think of someone who would have been given the bucket of berries. Finally he said, “Our neighbor. Wanted to make a pie, she did.”
“And did she make one?”
“Oh, yes, right away!”
“And did she give you some?”
Garestil again nodded.
“Yes, m’lord, that day.”
“When did you return home with the bucket of berries, Garestil?”
Again the youth appeared at a total loss, and he couldn’t seem to think what to say.
“When did you first see the children, the ones who died, that day?”
Again his eyes dropped, and his voice took on that look of recitation. “Saw them in the morning, riding their ponies.”
“Which way were they riding them?”
“To the market.”
“Why were they going to the market?”
Again he had to think on an answer. At last he assayed, “To buy some sweets?” and looked up, searching Berevrion’s eyes as if he were hoping to learn from him whether or not the answer were right.
Berevrion smiled. “So, you saw them riding to the market, perhaps to purchase sweets. That is something children do like to do, isn’t it?” to which the youth nodded, obviously feeling encouraged. “And what did you do after you saw the children?”
Garestil blinked. “Dunno,” he whispered.
“Did you go someplace? What were you doing that morning, Garestil?”
“I understand you have been able to work for pay.”
“What kind of work do you do for pay?”
He was now looking at Berevrion without the worry he’d shown up till now. “I help break up the ground for them who wants to plant gardens, and I often help our friend, who thatches roofs.”
“I see. A good profession, to learn to thatch roofs properly.”
“He don’t let me do the thatching much—mostly has me bring up the thatch and hand it to him so he can bind it in place.”
“He doesn’t let you do the actual work on the roofs?”
“It’s just—well, I’m not clever with my hands, not like him. I’ve tried—he lets me try, but I keep messing things up. So mostly he has me bring up the thatch, up the ladder, you see, and he lets me try my hand on the parts that don’t matter so much.”
“So he is seeking to teach you, and not just using you to do the work that doesn’t matter.”
“Yes, he’s trying t’teach me. But it takes a while for me to learn.”
“When was the last time you worked with him?”
“Oh, two days before Midsummer.”
“That was the day that the boys went missing, wasn’t it, two days before Midsummer?”
Again Garestil was blinking.
“We spoke with your father, you see, Garestil, and he told us what you just told us—that on the day that the children went missing that you were working with your family friend, helping to thatch a roof on the north side of the village.”
The youth continued to blink.
“And Anorgil here,” Berevrion indicated the law clerk who sat at the end of the table, “talked to your master, and he said the same, and that you worked with him for most of the day.”
“Yes, m’lord,” whispered the youth. “I did.” He was staring beyond Berevrion and Benargil at the wall behind them. Then he looked to search Berevrion’s eyes again. “But them children, their bodies was found about noon, when the Sun was high.”
“Yes, they were. But they were found the day after they went missing, not the same day.”
“Yes. How many children were there that you saw riding their ponies to the market?”
Garestil’s answer was given in a tense whisper. “Three. There was three little boys.”
“And how many ponies were there?”
He appeared very surprised by this question. “How many?”
“Yes, how many?”
Finally Garestil tentatively offered, “Three, one for each?”
“And what colors were they?”
Garestil was shaking his head as he considered this question. “They didn’t tell me that,” he said as if to himself.
“Who didn’t tell you that?”
“Hanalgor and Vendrion and Borongil.”
Erchirion finally broke the silence that followed that statement. “Did Hanalgor, Vendrion, and Borongil tell you most of the answers you were to give?”
Garestil didn’t answer, merely looked at him with frightened eyes.
Benargil finally accepted that this youth truly had been told what to say. “We do not believe that you saw the children die, Garestil.”
“But they said I had to say I did.”
“Who told you this?”
“Hanalgor, Vendrion, and Borongil. And then that Master Fendril.”
“Why were you supposed to say that?”
“Because if I didn’t, Danárion would get away with it.”
“Get away with what?”
“With killing them boys.”
Benargil glanced behind him at where Master Caraftion sat, unnoted by this poor youth, his eyes filled with a mixture of sadness for the boy and triumph that, finally, the truth was coming out.
Carenthor had reached that gangling state in which his wrists and ankles had outgrown his shirt and trousers, yet he still was not a particularly tall youth. Benargil suspected once he reached his final height he would still not be anywhere near six feet. He looked at them with a degree of wariness, but not with proper fear, as he was brought into the room and settled in the chair in which Garestil had sat before him. Again he was manacled, with his wrists chained to a belt about his waist. A fresh pitcher of small beer had been brought, and a clean mug for the prisoner’s use. He thanked them when Erchirion gave him his cup, and held it in one hand, merely lifting the other to keep even with the hand holding the drink. Unlike Garestil, he had to lean down some to drink, as the chain from the belt was not long enough to allow him to reach his mouth easily.
Berevrion began, “We wished to ask you what you know about the killing of the three boys.”
Carenthor set the cup on the table and pushed it away from him. “I won’t lie for you any more than I would for the others,” he said simply.
“Who asked you to lie for them?” Benargil asked.
Carenthor searched his eyes for some minutes before finally answering, “Guardsman Vendrion, Guardsman Hanalgor, Captain Borongil, and that one who said in court I cut the one child with a fish knife.”
“Master Fendril?” asked Benargil.
“Yes, that was his name, sir.”
“What did they wish you to lie about?” asked Berevrion.
“They wanted me to say that, yes, Danárion killed those little boys.”
“How can I say for certain yes or no? I wasn’t with him all day the day their bodies were found.”
“But they didn’t disappear that day,” Erchirion said. When Carenthor looked at him surprised, he added, “They disappeared the previous evening.”
“Danárion came to my house that night, after my parents left,” Carenthor said, obviously searching his memory for what he’d been doing. “They left me to mind my little brothers. Allorn was being quite the pest.”
Erchirion smiled. “Yes, so your other brother and your neighbor told us.”
Carenthor straightened in surprise, a glimpse of hope in his eyes. “You talked to them? How are they—my parents and my brothers? And you even talked to our neighbor?”
“Yes—he told us that your dog had been digging in his garden.”
“Yes, the foolish thing keeps digging up his onions—his onions and the iris bulbs he planted by the house for his wife. But how are my parents and my brothers?”
“Well enough. They are coming today to Anwar.”
“But why? They can’t do anything for me!”
“Do not be so certain.”
Berevrion interrupted, “They tried to make you lie? What did they wish you to say?”
Carenthor shrugged, his fair face troubled. “I was supposed to say that I knew he’d done it. They wanted me to say I was there and saw it happen.”
“But you wouldn’t?”
“Of course not! My parents told me I must not lie and bear false witness against another.” After a moment he added, insistently, “And I can’t say what I wasn’t there to see! I was at the free school the morning of the day before their bodies were found, and the day they were found, too. I saw Danárion after lessons at Master Amborn’s farm—Master Amborn was preparing for the Midsummer holiday by having the byres scrubbed thoroughly, and Danárion was trying to help see it done. He loves Argilien, you see, and wants her father to see him as helpful. And I think he really likes helping on the farm, too. Only he couldn’t do as much as he’d like, for his arm was not healed fully after his father broke it.”
“So we have been told by others.”
“He left, for Argilien had been at him to do so for some time. She could see his arm pained him, and he felt shamed not to do as much as anyone else there. He was angry, for he thought that the son of one of their hands was paying court to her and he was jealous that that one could stay when she would send him home. It was so foolish, you understand.”
“Yes, we do,” Berevrion reassured him. “We understand that you do not know whether Danárion killed the three boys, but do you think him capable of it?”
Carenthor was shaking his head before the question was finished. “No—why should he? He didn’t even know them, to my knowledge. They only just started at the free school after he left it to start his apprenticeship with the saddler, just before Master Targon went missing. And they lived on the far side of the village from him. And they’d never done anything to him. The only one who had a brother old enough to make fun of Danárion was Master Rindor’s son, and Dírhael wouldn’t do so because he lived in much the same straights as Danárion did, his father dead and his stepfather having adopted him. Only Master Rindor wasn’t very nice, while Master Targon did try to be the best father he could to Danárion and his sister, as well as being a good husband to Mistress Vanessë. Too bad Danárion’s real father wasn’t anywhere as good a Man.”
Again he shook his head. “No, I can’t imagine Danárion doing any such thing as hurting three little boys who’d never done aught to him. As far as killing them—well, no, I can’t imagine that, either. He’d tell them off, and perhaps say something truly cutting to them, but he’d not even think to try to harm them. Not that he could have done a good job of such anyway at the time, as he’d still not gotten the strength of his arm back!”
“Can you think of anyone who might have done such a thing?”
Carenthor shrugged. “Who is to say? I know from what I overheard Dírhael say to some of the others his age that he felt that Master Rindor blamed his brother for almost everything he saw that had happened that he didn’t understand, and that he often beat the child for things that weren’t his doing. And I know that he has been accused of theft and cheating others. But that’s proof of nothing.
“There was one odd thing—there was a stranger in the village who was seen in the alehouse, two nights, I think, before Midsummer. Actually, I don’t think he was actually in the alehouse, but only in the privy. Could he have killed them, do you think?” he asked.
“We have heard of him, but he appears to have entered the village too early to have hidden the boys’ bodies as was done and still have been in the alehouse privy when he was seen there, just at sunset.”
“I remember that the one child’s mother said that she saw all three of them last riding their ponies toward the gates just before she was ready to put the evening meal upon the table, and that they weren’t to be found just after that when she sent her daughter to fetch them.”
“Yes, that appears to be true.”
“Does anyone know where they went?” Carenthor asked.
Erchirion exchanged glances with Berevrion before saying, “We believe we do. There will be another hearing this afternoon in which we will tell what we have found, after we question some of those we feel were most guilty of improper actions in the pursuance of this case. And tomorrow, I believe, we will be returning to Minas Tirith, and you, Danárion, and Garestil will be brought before the King’s Majesty for final judgment. And it is likely that he will reverse the convictions and see to it that those who are most guilty of this miscarriage of justice are made to pay for their own crimes.”
“Then, you don’t believe that we killed those children?”
Lord Benargil finally spoke up. “These do not believe so, and so I, too, am coming to believe as well.”
Carenthor reached for his cup once more, and sipped at it thoughtfully. “I have a question that has been bothering me,” he said as he set it down again. “If I am supposed to have been the one who cut the one child on his face with a knife and removed the sac for the seed from the other, why did they decide to hang Danárion and not me? I’m even supposed to be the one who invited Garestil to join us! According to the words that Garestil uttered, I should have been seen as the most guilty one, but instead it all appears to have focused on Danárion and not me at all.”
Benargil glanced sideways at his companions before responding, “It appears mostly that they were convinced that Danárion was believed to be a worshiper of the Enemy.”
Carenthor snorted. “Danárion, worshiping the Nameless One? If he worshipped anyone at all, I think it would be Lord Boromir for his defense of the realm and his devotion to Gondor, or the hope that the King would return at last.”
Benargil asked, “How is it that you alone, in all of Destrier, appear to have become Danárion’s friend?”
Carenthor shrugged. “He is very smart, and sees through others and their pretensions. Most of those near us in age are so—so shallow. Most never have read anything of the history of Middle Earth, and couldn’t tell one of our Kings from any other. A few of them are certain that Castamir was some great historical hero, in fact, and solely because they have heard his name often enough to remember it. Few know that Elves used to live in Gondor, down near Dol Amroth, it is said; and most are certain that Elves are allies to the Dark Lord, and don’t care that they’ve been fighting evil since before the rising of Sun and Moon!
“We both love history and would like to really see some Elves in our lifetime, and perhaps see the White Tree blooming in the Court of the King as the old songs tell, and as Suleirion sings about, too.”
“What about Garestil? Do you hate him, that because of what he said you have been sent to prison and have lived in fear of being sent to the quarries?”
Carenthor’s mouth twisted. “How can we blame him?” he asked. “Considering how hard they tried to make me say things that weren’t true to make certain that Danárion was hung, it would have been very hard for Garestil to realize that what they demanded of him was wrong.
“They told me that they knew Danárion was the murderer, and that they only wanted to make certain he was punished for what he did. They told me all I had to do was to say I knew he’d done it, although they didn’t tell me that by knowing and not telling from the beginning it would make me his accomplice and would still put me in prison alongside him. I’m certain that they never told Garestil that by saying he’d been there and supposedly had seen us killing the children yet did nothing to stop it that this would make it certain he’d not go home again or finish learning to be a tumbler.”
“So you do not blame him for what happened to you?”
“I blame those who put the lying words in his mouth, my lord,” the young Man said bluntly. “Garestil is not clever, and his mind does not understand much of what he sees or hears. It is why the ones who follow Leverion tend to pretend to like him and then tell him of course he is too stupid to really like after all, just to make him upset. Oh, and Leverion is a youth in our village who is older than Danárion. Actually, his father is a farmer, but he spends much of his time inside the village walls, and he often amuses himself by belittling others and bullying them.”
“You don’t like him?”
“What is there to like about him? If you aren’t rich and won’t stand him to a drink at the alehouse, he doesn’t like you—it’s very simple.”
Erchirion asked, “Why did you not speak in your own defense at the trial?”
Carenthor gave a slight shrug. “Master Pardronë did not feel it was wise, and insisted that if I tried Master Fendril would only manage to twist my words to make it appear I truly meant the opposite of what I said. Certainly that proved true of how he treated Danárion.” He sighed. “I do not believe he thought that Danárion was innocent, too, although he accepted that I was. He seemed to think that all I needed to do was to sit there, the model of the dutiful son, and all would recognize my innocence and set me free. But it did not happen as he’d thought it would.”
Berevrion said, “So, you, too, would wish to see an Elf or two, would you?”
“Yes, but you’d best not say that aloud in our village, or they’ll claim you dance naked in the grazing common at midnight or some such daft thing. It’s a good part of why Hanalgor has always been certain that Danárion worshiped Mordor. Not many really believe in the father trees, either, although I know several who have actually seen the one in the grazing common move. I know that I have, and Danárion swears it once warned him to walk to one side or he’d step in a hole. And it was right! Moles had left their mounds all over that year, and a dog had been digging down, trying to capture the mole, and Danárion almost stepped right into the hole it left. Could have broken his leg.”
“I didn’t realize Elmheart had spoken to anyone other than Harolfileg for centuries,” Berevrion said.
“Elmheart?” Carenthor straightened. “Then you know it is a real creature and not just a tree?”
“Yes. His kind are known as Ents or the Onodrim. He revealed himself in a rather spectacular way the other day. Although he denied to Harolfileg that he speaks Westron. He spoke to us in Sindarin.”
“Oh, dear,” the boy laughed. “Best beware revealing in Destrier you speak Sindarin—that’s as bad as wishing to see Elves!” And for the first time he truly looked the youth he was. “There was a poem Danárion once found in an old book he was repairing for the archivist here that was something about the Onodrim. I didn’t realize they were some kind of tree people. He said it was about some long search or other. I remember asking him if he’d seen any reference to the Holbytla, but he’d not found anything about them. My grandfather from Rohan used to tell me stories of them, and how they lived near the river and traded from time to time with the folk of the Eotheod before Eorl the Young led those who would follow him south to fight for Cirion and they were given the Mark for their own.”
“There was one thing we found we wished to show you and ask if you recognize it.” Berevrion opened his scrip and from it pulled the picture they’d found in Nedron’s pack, wrapped in a silk kerchief. He unwrapped it and set it before the youth.
Carenthor leaned forward curiously, and stopped, his attention caught. “I remember drawing that,” he said softly, reaching his hands to take it up and examine it. “It’s stained. Did she throw it away, then, after she thought I’d killed her son?”
“No, I doubt she knows what became of it. We found it late yesterday afternoon.”
The boy looked up to search Berevrion’s face. “Where?” he asked.
“There is an abandoned farmstead two miles this way of Destrier. The house was burned and the stonework carried away, and almost all that is left that can be recognized is the byre, which is also mostly in ruins.”
“Oh, yes. A kinsman of my mother thought to raise horses there. But his farm was raided long ago, when I was but a child and still played with Garestil. Only one son survived, and he was taken back to Rohan to live with his father’s people there. And you found this there, on that farmstead?”
“Yes. We found a personal satchel with a child’s clothing in it, and other signs that Nedron was running away. And he brought this away with him, apparently to remind him of his mother and sister.”
Carenthor’s expression was filled with compassion. “Running away? Then is it true that his stepfather was beating upon him and his mother?”
“How do you know that?”
“From the older boys—from Leverion and Master Nerwion’s son Narvil and them. I’ve heard them talk. She works at the alehouse in the early evening. The older boys go there, and they call her the Songbird. And they would speak of how often she would say she had run into a door when it was plain she’d been struck in the face or that her arm had been beaten.
“Now and then I’d go to the marketplace and draw pictures of people for pennies, usually just before birthdays or Midsummer or mettarë, so I could buy gifts, you see. It was perhaps two years—no, three years, now—yes, three years ago she was sitting there, nursing the baby and humming to it. And I just did the picture of her, and she saw it and gave me two pennies for it, although I would just have given it to her for nothing.” He touched the woman’s face with the tip of his finger. “And now her son is dead.” Again he looked up. “Could his father have perhaps killed them, then? If he learned that the boy was attempting to run away, he could well have been wroth….”
Danárion of Destrier was not at all what any of them might have expected, considering the almost superstitious dread of him they’d encountered in the village in which he’d lived most of his life. He was taller than Garestil, but now shorter than was Carenthor. His complexion was quite fair, his mouth mobile, and his eyes wary and shadowed. Yet he carried himself with a peculiar gravity that Berevrion strongly suspected had been earned here, in prison. Looking at how the young Man was examining all to be seen within the room from his seat on the chair, Berevrion was reminded of those he’d known who as children could not stay still but must be up and doing, and who often had to be carefully schooled away from a tendency to be self-absorbed, and to finish what they’d begun.
Ah, yes, this was one who indeed would have needed a good deal of experience to learn to keep his tongue bridled and uncharitable thoughts to himself. And there was that hint of the dreamer to be seen there, the romantic tendencies of those who would wish the world to be far simpler than it is, with the good considerably brighter and untarnished, and the evil open and plain for all to see and recognize rather than hiding behind civilized conventions and false faces.
As with the other two, he was manacled, but the chain from the leather belt was considerably shorter, certainly not enough to allow him to sip unaided from a cup.
Benargil looked at the two warders who’d brought him into the room and chained him to the chair. “Is he kept restricted in this manner within his cell?” he asked.
“No, my Lord Benargil,” answered one of them. “But it is required of us that when he is moved within the prison he must be so bound that he offer no harm to any other.”
“Although obviously it also keeps him from defending himself from those who would harm him,” Benargil said severely, looking at a bruise that was beginning to form on the young Man’s left temple. “Release the chain from the belt.”
“But, my lord----”
“Do you think that we here before him cannot defend ourselves and swiftly overpower him should he make a move? Release the chain! And how was it that someone struck him along the way?”
“There is a thief from Dunland originally who threw his cup at the boy as we passed his cell. It hit him in the face. Too oft do those who have done petty crimes seek to abuse those sent here for assaults upon children, as though such were beneath contempt.” The guard managed to unfasten the chain, and at last Danárion sat straighter, as if it had pulled him into himself somewhat to be so chained.
Erchirion poured a cup of the small beer for him and offered it. Danárion grimaced as he smelled it, but accepted it with some grace. “I thank you,” he said, although it was plain his heart was not in it.
“You may go now,” Benargil said to the guards.
“I am sorry, my Lord, but such is not allowed.”
Berevrion sighed and pulled from his scrip the King’s warrant. “I have authority granted me by the Lord Elessar himself,” he said, passing the document to the nearer of the two. Again, it was the signature of Lord Daerloth that he most readily recognized, and he nodded to his fellow. With a bow, the two of them left the room and closed the door behind them, although Berevrion knew they’d not gone any further than the hallway immediately outside the closed door.
“I’ve not heard the name of Lord Elessar before,” the young Man said into the silence that now filled the room. “But I am grateful to be able to stretch some, even though I must remain chained to the chair until they come to return me to my place.” He sipped at the cup, gave a sour face at the taste of it, and set it down.
“You do not care for small beer?” inquired Erchirion,
“Actually, I don’t. We do receive it on the Highday, at least, and most consider it a fair change from mere water, although I myself would prefer the water. Although I could do, I think, with a good cider. Master Amborn pressed a fair cider from the trees upon his farm.” He examined their faces. “I do not recognize you others, only you, Lord Benargil, and you, Master Caraftion. Please forgive me if I do not rise to offer a proper bow, but….” He gave a self-deprecating look to them, and turned his attention to Lyrien. “I do believe that I saw you in the court. So, you are indeed a clerk?”
She nodded, but did not speak, that not being allowed her in the usual run of her duties.
He returned his attention to Lord Berevrion. “I will forestall a good deal of pointless discussion if I might, by informing you directly that I have no intention of admitting that I killed the children when I did not.”
“Have there been those sent to attempt to wring such a confession from you?” the northern lord asked.
“About once a fortnight Master Enelmir sends one to demand such from me, usually assuring me that there is no other means of cleansing my spirit ere I go to meet the Doomsman. Although why the Doomsman should only accept me if I die with a lie upon my lips I have no idea. I have enough real sins of my own upon my head that I do not need to take upon myself that of someone whose identity I do not even know.”
“Then you did not kill those children?”
“Have I not just said so? And why is it that it has ever been assumed I would do so? Because I have tried to examine the nature of magic, or because I would have liked to actually meet an Elf? Is it truly wrong to imagine that somewhere in this world there are peoples who do not frequent Gondor, and that perhaps the world is not totally shorn of wonder?”
Berevrion found himself smiling. “I think that you will shortly be pleasantly surprised. So, Master Enelmir would have you clear your conscience ere you go to the rope, would he?”
“Or perhaps he truly thinks that his own conscience can only be clear if he can convince himself that indeed I am guilty,” Danárion suggested.
“Who do you think killed the children?”
“I have no idea—none at all. I have been told that two of them were as I have been, their fathers gone and another sharing their mother’s bed. Although I was told within the gaol in Destrier that the one boy’s stepfather was unfaithful to the child’s mother, as he had been in his first marriage also, and that both of them were poppy eaters. And it was said that the other, I think his name was Vangil, resented the son of his wife’s first marriage and would have him gone if he could. But that is all I know. But you did not answer my question—who is the Lord Elessar?”
“It appears that one of your desires has already been met. You have heard that Mordor was defeated and its dread lord utterly destroyed?”
“There were rumors, although I know little enough about it. I know something happened toward the end of March, something marvelous, but that is all. Few seek to give news to those of us who dwell in the death cells.”
“Oh, indeed something marvelous did happen then, when Sauron’s Ring was destroyed, and with It Its Master’s power. He can no longer manifest himself within Middle Earth with It gone, and so there is another great evil finally vanquished for good.”
Danárion leaned forward over the table. “And is there really a King now? Did the King truly return?”
“Yes. He is the Heir of Isildur, and born of Isildur’s lineage in the North. I am one of his kinsmen, Berevrion of Tirith Fuir.”
“So—there are still the descendants of Númenor to be found in the North!”
“Yes, not all of those lands are truly empty.”
“And you have come to witness when I am executed? I hope I don’t break down and whimper like a baby.” A muscle in the young Man’s temple twitched, and his face was even paler than it had been.
“The King sent me to examine the case against you and the others. We have read the transcript of the trial, and have gone to Destrier to see for ourselves where the children supposedly died and to question people there. And we have learned that you have not done much that was ascribed to you.”
“That I don’t actually drink blood or want to cut people’s tongues in two?”
Berevrion smiled again. “Yes, we’d heard that last one. The teacher at the free school told us you’d really said that the youth’s tongue should be slit for the serpent he proved himself.”
“Yes, that was what I really said, although I think I perhaps added that I ought to be the one to do that for him.”
“And Captain Borongil made of that a threat to make of him a mute instead?”
“Borongil is accustomed to casting all statements by those he doesn’t like into the worst terms possible,” Danárion agreed. “Then I won’t be executed today?”
Benargil sighed and stood. “Not today, not tomorrow, and I doubt even a week from now after your case is to be presented before the King.”
The youth’s eyes widened. “My case is to come before the King himself? But how long shall it be before the word comes back as to what his decision is, whether I am to go free or die?”
Benargil smiled at him. “Oh, you will most likely know as soon as he had made his decision, for you will be there to be examined by him.”
Danárion’s jaw dropped. “I’ll be going?” he whispered as he leaned back. “I’ll get to see the King himself?”
Berevrion felt pleased at Danárion’s amazement. “I suppose I could have made the decision myself, but it will be easier for all, I think, to allow my Lord Kinsman to make the judgment. Fewer will be likely to see the rulings of the Lord King Elessar Envinyatar Telcontar as being merely the impertinent, interfering meddling they appear to consider the investigations offered by myself and the rest of the deputation that he sent. Even the presence of Lord Erchirion here does not seem to deter some of them from criticizing us.”
Danárion’s attention switched to Erchirion. “Our Lord Steward Denethor’s nephew? You have come to examine the case against me? But I’m no one!” Berevrion realized that if the young Man had been able to rise to his feet, he’d be bowing low indeed.
Erchirion smiled. “There is one thing that we have learned about our new Lord King—he considers himself King to everyone, great and small, lord and commoner. And he is equally respectful toward the least bootboy employed by the Citadel as he is toward my lord father.”
Danárion was breathing deeply, trying to take it all in regarding this change in his circumstances. “And I am to go to Minas Tirith itself! But what about Carenthor and Garestil?”
“They will be going, too,” Benargil assured him. “Do you mind riding in an open draught wagon? We’ve been told that you may not ride astride, and we believe it might be safest if those from the area think that you are still considered merely an appellant before the King.”
“You could drag me behind a soldier’s horse and I wouldn’t mind,” came the fervent answer. “I get to look upon the King Returned himself! I can’t believe it! And Carenthor and Garestil will be judged by him, also? Thanks to the Creator!”
“And you aren’t angry at Garestil for saying what he did?”
“I’m angrier at those who threatened and browbeat and coaxed him to lie. He didn’t know any better! I’ll wager they told him he couldn’t go home until he agreed to say what they would have him say, and that he was shocked to learn that instead they were sending him to the gaol with Carenthor and me!”
“For now,” Berevrion told him, “you will continue on as you have, until tomorrow when you will be brought out to the wagon. I am sorry, but for a time you must be chained, although I will be giving orders that you are to have the freedom to sit or lie down as it pleases you. And there will be pallets within the wagon for each of you.”
“Thank you for that,” the youth murmured. He looked thoughtful, and began to smile. “And Captain Borongil himself is here—did you know?” he asked. “They told me that, at least. Got caught charging tolls on the bridge over the canal and claiming it was for the village treasury, they say. And—and my father is here, too, or rather, my sire. I won’t call him my father again, for Targon was ever the truer father to me than was the one by whom my mother conceived me.”
“How do you know this?” Erchirion asked.
“I get an hour each day to walk outside in what they call the cage, and I saw a woman and child arriving at the prison for a visit. And when I saw the child, who was about eight summers in age, I was shocked, for it was like looking upon myself at that age in the mirror my mother used to have in her room, the one Targon bought for her but which my sire sold. I learned from the warder on duty that these were the woman he’d married and the son he got by her after my mother threw him out before. They are from the village of Raeglib, which is some miles northeast of Anwar. When he began to drink heavily she finally had enough and engaged her brother, who is Captain of the guards and constables of Raeglib, to drive him out of the village. And that was when he returned to Destrier and began courting my mother anew.
“I caught him seeking to use my sister as a man does his wife, but under threat of violence. I sought to pull him away from her, and he turned about and threw me against the wall and broke my arm. My mother heard the row and came to see, and her anger was terrible. I cannot say how I found the strength to do so, but I helped her lift him up and carry him from the house and throw him out into the lane. Constable Amdir had just arrived, summoned by those who lived across from us, and took him in charge.”
“How did he end up in the prison here in Anwar?” asked Berevrion.
Danárion shrugged. “I am not certain. I know that after he was taken away by Amdir and my arm was splinted, my mother and sister went to the storeroom he’d taken for his own and in it found a goodly amount of food and goods—some cloth and other things—that they did not recognize. We brought it the next day to the village hall, asking if possibly these had been stolen. Amdir had started taking our report when Captain Borongil interrupted and sent him elsewhere. He appeared very angry, but assured us he would look into the matter personally. And after that he would glare after me as if I were somehow cursed in his eyes.
“But two days later we heard that Borongil took our sire from the gaol and to the gates of the village and sent him on his way rather than to suffer Master Nerwion’s justice. I remember that Master Nerwion was wroth about it.”
Berevrion eyed Erchirion. “The smuggling—it would appear that there was at least one other villager involved besides Master Rindor,” he suggested.
Erchirion’s mouth was pulled into far too narrow a line for one so young. “Then we will need to address this as well. Perhaps he, too, should be sent to Minas Tirith. We know that those who received the stolen goods wore the badge of Isengard.”
Nodding, Berevrion returned his attention to the prisoner. “What is the name of your sire?”
“Radamir, my lord.”
“I fear that Master Radamir may be sharing your wagon, as well as Master Borongil--although perhaps we should keep all of the smugglers in the same wagon. No, I think you, Carenthor, and Garestil will have your wagon comfortably to yourselves after all.”
“And Fendril and Enelmir?” asked Benargil.
“Let them ride astride until they reach the city. Enelmir will know soon enough he is not likely to receive too pleasant a reception from my Lord Kinsman, but allow Master Fendril to retain his innocence for a time longer. I do believe I will leave him entirely to Aragorn’s not always tender mercies.
“But do order that Master Radamir and Borongil be brought to the People’s Hall for the hearings. We will do the preliminary investigation for our Lord King so that he can rule on the charges of thefts of goods coupled with smuggling of supplies to enemies of the Free Peoples.”
Benargil, his face as grim as those of his companions, nodded. “So I shall order it.” He then turned back to Danárion. “Would you like to meet with your younger half brother, my son?”
Danárion’s expression appeared pained. “Why, my lord? Should you desire that one you would wish to know peace realize that not only is his father a wastrel, a defiler of virtue, and a drunkard, but that he has a brother who now lives only in the expectation of the rope?”
“I understand. Then for the moment we will let that situation be. But if, as we anticipate, the Lord King should rule you innocent, is there any special thing that you would particularly wish? If you could study to follow any particular trade, what would it be?”
“And how could I say any such thing, my Lord Benargil?” the youthful prisoner answered him. “I do not have particularly nimble fingers, after all, so how good an artisan I might prove I could not begin to guess. I know that my master when I sought to learn saddlery felt I was adequate but no more. Although in the end that proved a disastrous choice, considering I cannot bear to be around horses. He did approve of some of my ideas for designs for decorating the goods we wrought, but felt many of them impractical or far too time-consuming to make it worthwhile to seek to produce them.
“Although,” he added, “there is one thing I should love to do—I wish to learn to read and write Sindarin fluently. And, if there is any means of obtaining a copy, I should desire to read The Book of Shadows and learn just what it was I was supposed to be doing.”
All laughed together at that, and Berevrion beamed at the young Man. “There will be no difficulty in meeting these ambitions, I suspect. Lord Erchirion, your father has still a copy of the book in his collection, does he not?”
“I suspect he would be willing to allow this one to read it, as long as Master Danárion here accepts that it is a fraud, written by Macardion himself to delude the populace and give him scope for accusing whomever he pleased of outrageous things so as to gain false respect from the people of Gondor.”
Danárion’s eyebrows rose in surprise. “Is that true? Someone named Macardion wrote this, and not one of the Ring-wraiths?”
Erchirion nodded. “Lord Benargil’s son Wendthor will be pleased to tell you precisely how true this is.” He turned to Berevrion and Benargil. “Shall I summon the guards to return this one to his cell until we leave tomorrow?”
“We could merely take them to the Keep for the night,” suggested Benargil.
Berevrion, however, was shaking his head. “Do not show forth your favor too precipitously, my lord, for in doing so you may inspire those who are certain he is guilty but likely to escape what they think to be his due punishment to take matters into their own hands. I think he will find spending one more night in prison but a small price to pay for the freedom he will soon know.”
Danárion nodded. “He is right, my lord. And I have become accustomed to my solitude in the past year.”
As Erchirion started to rise, however, he raised his hands. “No, wait but a moment longer—there is one other favor I would ask of you ere you send me back. If you will realize I have something I would show you and ask that you take it into your charge. I have carried it with me since I came across it, and I am loth to think of losing it completely.”
He reached inside his shirt and brought out a belt purse of leather, put together from a variety of colors and textures of patches carefully sewn together. “When one leaves a death cell for the final time, the cell is cleaned, but the dead Man’s belongings, once they are examined, are returned to it that they may be seen by whoever is assigned to that cell next. It is intended, I think, to underscore the realization that this new resident, also, is doomed to become but a handful of memories for whoever comes after him. This was in my cell when I was shown into it, and I was shocked to find it there.”
“Why?” asked Benargil.
“Because the last time I saw it, it was worn at my father’s belt—my father Targon, who actually loved my sister and me as he loved our mother. I made it for him from scraps discarded by the saddler, and it was for the sake of this he thought to apprentice me to learn that trade. I don’t think he realized just how unsuited my reaction to horses made me to become a saddler—he only wished the best for me, I now know.”
“Your—father—Targon was held here in the prison?” asked Erchirion.
But Danárion was shaking his head. “No, not he. They tell me that the Man who was housed in my cell before me was a big Man, big and brutal. He had taken to robbing those who rode the Highway alone. They found him standing over the corpse of a Man they could not identify, for he had killed him with a blow from an axe, and then used the axe to smash the face so that he could not be recognized. I do not know that that particular victim was my father, but apparently Ada Targon was one of those he’d slain. I now know what became of him, and I know how much he loved me. Inside it were still some of the pretty stones I used to bring him when I was small and he was newly come to our family, before I learned to resent him due to what the likes of Leverion taunted me with. I only wish he could know that I now realize I loved him better than I knew, and that I grieve that I treated him so badly.
“I should not have brought this out of my cell, for they always search me before they return me to it, in case those with whom I speak have given me something with which I might—escape, if not my cell, then the rope itself. If you will keep this for me until you can return it to me, with me a free Man….”