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Murder Most Foul
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
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22
The Lords Examine

The Lords Examine


The captain of Lord Benargil’s forces rubbed at his eyes and yawned as his aide brought him his first cup of herbal drink for the day, along with the report from the officer who’d been in charge the previous day. “Yesterday quiet?” he asked through his yawn.

The aide glanced at the report before answering, “All except for the fact we have had two prisoners in the guardhouse overnight delivered to us on the authority of the King’s warrant held by that northern lord who’s been so busy in our lord’s lands lately.”

“Why are we holding prisoners for this northern lord?”

“Apparently because they are guardsmen from Destrier,” the aide said, laying the report before his superior. “And speaking of Destrier, Ingoril wishes to speak with you.”

“Ingoril? Send him in.”

A moment later he looked up from the report to find the youthful soldier awaiting his attention. “Yes, Sergeant? Is there aught I can do for you?”

“It’s the two prisoners we have in the guardhouse, Captain,” Ingoril answered him. “I was here late yesterday when they were brought in, and heard the instructions given for them. I understand that they are to be brought to the People’s Hall later today for questioning by the northern lord, Lord Erchirion, and Lord Benargil. I formally request that I be allowed to be part of the escort who accompanies them to the People’s Hall.”

“Are they friends of yours from your youth, Ingoril?”

The young soldier’s expression was almost sour as he answered, “Friends? Hanalgor and Vendrion? Oh, no, Captain—anything but.” A satisfied smile began to show. “It appears, sir, that their sins have finally begun to catch up with them, and it will be a matter of personal satisfaction to me if I can be there to see. And I may be able to—answer—some questions I’m certain will be put to them that I suspect they will be reluctant to answer on their own.”

The captain searched the younger Man’s eyes. “Oh—they are the ones you’ve spoken of before that you’ve always felt were corrupt, eh? Do you have any idea why they were brought here rather than to the prison?”

“I suspect it is because former Captain Borongil is already in the prison, sir. And if the northern lord and Lord Erchirion believe that these have been partners in crime with Borongil, they most likely won’t wish for them to be able to be in communication before they are questioned.”

The captain nodded. “Wise of them. Well then, permission granted. Choose someone who is fairly worldly-wise and not overly impressed by rank to accompany the three of you to the People’s Hall when the summons comes.”

“May I request Sergeant Eldhard, sir?”

“Eldhard? That sounds like a good choice. Yes, again permission is granted. And I hope that you find the results of the questioning satisfactory, Sergeant.”

“Oh, sir, I share that hope,” Ingoril said as he gave his salute and accepted the wave of dismissal.

*******


Healer Avrandahil had finally decided that, rather than Anwar, he would make for the village east of Amon Dîn where Master Fendril lived to consult with that worthy before presenting himself before Lord Benargil. He wasn’t certain why this Lord Berevrion had taken all of the pictures he’d done of those three boys as well as those involved in the murder of Drevendor of Amon Dîn by Dorndrol of Anwar, much less why he had ordered Avrandahil’s records room sealed. But it did not speak well for the future for either himself or Fendril, much less Lord Benargil’s Seneschal Enelmir. But he knew that this healer Bariol who’d accompanied Lords Berevrion and Erchirion had recognized the intent of the changes Fendril had ordered done of the enlarged picture of the one child’s buttocks, and who knew what conclusions that Elf had made from his own perusals of what pictures he’d seen? Imagine—an Elf who was also a healer, and in his surgery! Who ever would have expected such a thing?

It would be best to warn Master Fendril that the King’s deputation was likely to question why certain details were being altered at Fendril’s request. Forewarned was forearmed, or so it was said….

He’d ignored the oncoming guardsmen until they halted their horses before him, forcing him to rein in his own steed. “Master Avrandahil?” questioned their leader. “Lord Benargil has sent us to escort you to Anwar. He is anticipating having you answer some questions this afternoon, and will be most pleased to learn that you were responding dutifully to the orders given you by Lords Berevrion and Erchirion.”

Avrandahil felt his heart drop within him. He forced himself to smile. “How—thoughtful of Lord Benargil. I am honored by your presence.”

The three guardsmen turned to flank him, one falling behind to see he himself didn’t think to do so.

Most interesting—and alarming. It appeared that his own decisions were being anticipated….

*******


It was about an hour before noon that Masters Fendril and Enelmir approached the gates to Anwar, and found that there were eight guardsmen and soldiers awaiting them. “Ah, but the two of you have arrived in good time,” said the Captain of Benargil’s soldiers, who himself had come out to greet their arrival. “Master Enelmir, Lord Benargil has left instructions that you are await him in the Hall of the People. And you, Master Fendril—his Lordship requires that you remain within the Keep. These guardsmen will keep you company for the nonce, and I understand that Lord Berevrion’s personal guard is to remain with you after that. Lord Berevrion has requested that he instruct you in the most effective manner to send reports to our new Lord King, and that he question you regarding the extent of the worship of the Dark Lord that you have discovered here within Anórien. It appears that this question troubles our new Lord King mightily. I will be accompanying you, Master Enelmir….”

The two legal experts for the region exchanged surprised looks, but had no time to exchange more.

*******


Master Peldrion was not certain how he was going to manage serving luncheon. Master Fendril had been taken to Lord Benargil’s study, where he was to remain until Lord Berevrion’s personal guard Faradir returned once the three lords were finished with whatever it was they were doing at the moment. Master Galdrod was confined to his own quarters until Lord Benargil gave him leave to quit them, and Peldrion had no idea as to what the secretary might have done to earn his Lordship’s possible displeasure. Master Enelmir’s luncheon was to be taken to the Hall of the People, along with food for at least two guardsmen who were to remain at his side. He wasn’t certain when Faradir was to eat, but Lord Benargil had indicated he and the rest of the deputation and young Wendthor would need to eat swiftly once the three lords returned to the Keep, as they were all to be in the Hall of the People as close to the first mark after noon as was possible. And it appeared that Master Avrandahil was expected to arrive within Anwar at any time, and would also require a separate meal, and Peldrion had no idea where the healer from Hevensgil was expected to eat.

The chief of Lord Benargil’s personal guards knocked at the door to Peldrion’s personal study and poked his head inside. “I’m sorry, Master Peldrion, but word has just been received—Lord Daerloth approaches from Amon Dîn with a party of nine accompanying him.”

Peldrion was left shaking his head—only if the new King himself were to arrive could he imagine things growing more complicated! He sighed, rose, and headed to confer with Mistress Dalrieth.

*******


“You wish for me to locate and bring out all of the physical evidence gathered for both the trial of Danárion and his minions, and for the case against Master Dorndrol some years ago?” demanded Master Malthor, standing in the entrance to Anwar’s archives. “And by when will you need all this?”

“And we will need all of the transcripts available from Master Dorndrol’s questioning and trial as well,” Lord Erchirion told him. “And we will need them by tonight that Lord Berevrion can seal them and we can see them packed for transportation to Minas Tirith to the King’s custody. By the way,” he added, “do you know what became of the copy of The Book of Shadows taken from the home of Danárion of Destrier?”

Malthor’s mouth worked for a time, but at last he retreated back into the depths of his archive, and came back with a large, ornately bound volume. “We would have had possession of quite a rare volume,” he lamented as he gave it into the hands of the son of Prince Imrahil.

“I will ask the King if he will authorize the copying of it for your archive,” Erchirion told him, “although do remember that Lord Ecthelion had intended that the entire lot of the copies then in existence be destroyed. Considering the superstitious nature of much of the populace of Anórien, I wonder if it would be a good thing to have this available to be easily read here. It would be necessary to keep prominently within it Lord Astúrion’s warning that this is definitely a fiction, and that none of what was written within it truly has any effect for good or ill save to those who might actually try to perform the described actions, in which the effect would definitely be evil.”

“I understand,” Malthor said humbly, and he watched sadly as Erchirion carried the book away. It was, after all, a beautiful as well as a rare volume. Now—to gather those files….

And for some reason he could not later explain, he put all of those documents related to what Garestil had said about the crime at one point or another on top of the first box he filled.

*******


It was midmorning when a messenger from Destrier arrived with word as to how many had left the village that morning shortly ere dawn. Once the three lords had quitted the prison, Faradir was sent off to the inn where those who’d arrived the day before had spent the night to order that a meal for that many be prepared for those likely to arrive shortly after noon, and that two rooms be opened to the newcomers where they might refresh themselves and perhaps change their clothing. Looking at the fee paid into his hand, the innkeeper nodded, and sent his son and two servants hastily to the market for provisions, and set the maids straightening two rooms rarely used for guests. It had been quite a long time since he last had shown so much profit.

A quarter of a mark later, Faradir was entering Lord Benargil’s study and giving Master Fendril a sketchy bow. “I grieve that you must wait so long, sir,” he said. “I am Faradir of the Angle, one of the more distant kinsmen to our Lord King Elessar to come south with our late Steward Halbarad to fight at our Lord’s side here in Gondor. I have come to instruct you in the proper protocol for making reports to my Lord Kinsman. I had Master Galdrod prepare paper, quills, and ink for your use that you might take notes.”

There was a knock at the door, and Peldrion entered with meals for each of them, and as he closed the door after him he could hear the northerner saying, “It is always inadvisable to seek to interpret the words of a witness for him—the King is well capable of drawing his own conclusions from what has been said.”

Well, Peldrion thought, that should hamper Master Fendril mightily, as he always chooses to find hidden meanings in what has been said. And he was smiling as he returned to the kitchen to fetch the next tray of meals he was to deliver.

*******


Enelmir was required to remain in his office within the Hall of the People, and a meal was brought to him there. He found the situation somehow ominous, although he could little imagine just what true harm could be done him by these outsiders.

He had been of an age with Benargil, and had been one of his companions from their shared youth. Benargil was nowhere as brilliant as had been his sire, and Enelmir had always found it fairly easy to influence his actions and thoughts. He’d convinced Benargil that there was something sinister about Sindarin and that it was too difficult a language to master easily; and so it was that the Lord of Anwar as an adult could barely recognize or understand the most commonly used phrases in the official communications sent his way from Amon Dîn and Minas Tirith in spite of the fact that Sindarin was the official language in which all formal business of the realm was supposed to be conducted. With this true, Enelmir had been free to put whatever interpretation he pleased on what came to them from the Citadel and so manipulate Benargil into a feeling of resentment toward those in authority who, he believed, sought to dictate policy in upper Anórien.

But since the coming of the King’s deputation Benargil had been showing distinct signs of independent thought, and had not been anywhere as easily managed as was customary with him. And certainly his sudden questions regarding why Enelmir had allowed certain lines of questioning and certain individuals to testify in the trial of Garestil, Carenthor, and Danárion of Destrier was at the very least troublesome. It was for this reason that Enelmir had decided it would be best to engage Fendril’s aid in countering the influence of this Lord Berevrion.

Perhaps, however, he thought, it would have been better had I left sooner rather than later. I should have done so immediately after the party left for Destrier instead of waiting as I did.

But they’d been separated on their arrival in Anwar, and he had no chance, it appeared, to communicate with Fendril at this point. His clerk had not answered the bell that usually summoned him from his own closet within the building, and those who stood outside his door and window had not allowed him more than a visit to the privy.

He’d been standing at the window pondering what this sudden isolation might portend for some time when there came a knock at the door.

“Enter!” he called.

The Captain opened it and gave a formal bow. “Lord Benargil asks that you attend him in the main hall, sir.”

“Of course,” Enelmir said, turning from the window to quit the room at last. He and the Captain did not speak usually, and that the soldier did not particularly like him had never troubled him until now. But he had to admit that there was an expression of satisfaction that disturbed him in the Captain’s eyes as he was led into the main hall.

The room had been set up as a courtroom, and at the front where he usually presided as magistrate a wide table had been placed, and at it sat—four lords. He could feel coldness sweep through him to see that Lord Daerloth sat there with Benargil at his right, Erchirion to his left, and Berevrion to Lord Benargil’s right. And the eyes of none of them held anything but consideration as they looked on him.

He was led through to a small table with two chairs set alone between the lords’ table and the benches where the spectators sat. In a swift glance along these benches he saw that to one side sat some he knew to be related to the criminals Danárion, Carenthor, and Garestil, while on the other he saw those he believed to be related to the three dead boys, and surrounding each group were others he knew were not citizens of Anwar.

And it hit him fully—this time the defendant was—himself!

He dared not sit, but stood in front of the chair and attempted to appear merely curious as to the meaning of this situation. Daerloth was apparently inspecting him from the top of his head to the toes of his riding boots, and it was some moments before the Lord of Amon Dîn and Anórien spoke to him. “Enelmir of Anwar, you were appointed magistrate of this region on the recommendation of Lord Benargil here, who has ever considered you to be eminently wise—or he did so until now. He tells me that ever when he has questioned your actions or choices you have been able to explain yourself sufficiently to satisfy him, even though now when he considers what you have told him he realizes that not all of what you said was truly intended to explain your actions so much as to distract him from the concerns he’d felt. He admits that he has never felt himself to be as wise and astute as he has thought you, and that usually he merely deferred to what you indicated you believed the right action to take, the right decision to make, and the right understanding to embrace, and he had become accustomed to suppress his own questions and objections.

“It is never wise for a lord of the realm to rely totally on the guidance of any one person in making decisions regarding the nature of his rule or the judgments he ought to be offering himself. And when asked to question a judgment made in his name, it is considered the proper thing to do to actually examine the case thoroughly and as impartially as possible that none should question that the judgment made is indeed just. Lord Benargil has admitted to me that he has not done this in more than one case in which he has received formal complaints regarding the manner in which you have carried out major trials, but that he has again merely accepted your own judgment that of course you did rightly in the manner in which the trials have been conducted, what you allowed the prosecutors to do in order to obtain convictions, and how you have habitually ruled against those who sought to defend themselves or the counsel to those who were defendants when they have raised objections that, on further consideration, he has realized were actually well founded. He admits he has been at fault in allowing you increasingly wide scope for improperly conducting such trials, and has agreed to submit himself to the King’s judgment as to whether or not he should continue as Lord of Anwar.”

Shocked, Enelmir turned his attention to Benargil’s face, and saw there that Lord Daerloth spoke truly. He could see a mixture of misery, anger, and determination he’d never seen in Benargil before, and realized that for the first time in many, many years his former friend had indeed searched his soul and found himself wanting, but also with a core of—something he considered a virtue that he felt was worthy of nurturance. Enelmir himself could not name that virtue, although Wendthor perhaps could have supplied him with its proper designation: integrity.

Daerloth continued, “It is legally bound upon me to offer you the chance to consult with one who might offer you legal counsel. I suspect that you would ordinarily wish to confer with Master Fendril, but must advise you that this cannot be allowed, as he will be appearing before our Lord King Elessar to answer for his own actions, firstly in seeking to revive the divisive searches for dark agents begun by Macardion of Dor-en-Ernil, and secondly in conducting the prosecution of Danárion, Carenthor, and Garestil of Destrier as he did in spite of more than adequate evidence of misconduct on the part of the major guardsmen who conducted the investigation of the murders of the children Nedron, Gilmar, and Bredwion; and in spite of overwhelming evidence that a good part of the proofs of guilt they offered were fabricated. I will not say that you are truly a conspirator with him to see injustice done, but the fact remains that you had more than adequate chance yourself to prove yourself impartial as a magistrate and judge for this case, but failed to do so. And, as Lord of Anórien and thus deputy to the ruler of the realm, I must now examine you.

“Do you wish to confer with counsel?”

For several moments Enelmir could not bring himself to speak. But, why should he dignify such accusations with any response at all? No one held authority to question his decisions—certainly not that fool Benargil!

At last Daerloth repeated his question. “Do you wish to receive legal counsel, Master Enelmir? If you do, I will gladly appoint one to advise you.”

“And who,” demanded Enelmir, finding his voice at last, “knows the laws of Anórien better than I do?”

“Then do you wish to serve as your own counsel? That is your right, although I will remind you of the ancient adage that he who seeks to represent himself too oft learns he has a fool for a client.”

Enelmir took the comment as an intended insult and responded coldly, “And whom would you appoint? Master Caraftion, who sits within this hall? He was not adequate to save his own clients from conviction. Or perhaps Pardronë, who sought to defend his particular client by merely allowing the youth to prove innocent in appearance, although such an appearance we all know often hides many sins. Nay, my lord—I will not allow anyone inferior to myself to seek to offer me advice on the law.”

“So be it then. Please note for the record,” he advised the clerk who sat to one side, “that Master Enelmir has refused an offer of counsel, although I will reserve the right to repeat the offer as this examination continues.” There was a nod, and Enelmir noted that other clerks and scribes were there as was common in his courtroom to each take down the words of specific individuals.

Daerloth continued, “The rules of this tribunal are that those who speak before it will behave in a courteous, respectful, and dignified manner, and that they will answer the questions put to them with the whole truth regarding what they are asked. We, who are lords of the Reunited Realm, will primarily ask the questions, although we will on occasion permit others to do so as long as the questions asked pertain to the case in point—our attempt to determine first whether Master Enelmir did offer a fair trial to these three defendants, and second, if it is determined that indeed he did not, how much blame he might hold for what happened within his courtroom. Those who offer questions must also be courteous and respectful towards all, including the accused. Is this understood?”

He swept the room with his gaze, apparently not satisfied until he had looked each and every individual within it in the eye and received an indication of agreement.

At last he concluded, “We ourselves will not be the final judges over Master Enelmir and the others who will be questioned here today. All, including the original defendants, will be appearing before our Lord King Elessar Envinyatar Telcontar himself for final disposition of their cases. There is good reason why there is a process by which judgments may be appealed within Gondor, and within Arnor as well, as I have learned this day. We are but the children of the Creator, and were not created without flaws; and there are times when our judgments are less than right. So it is that everyone may request that a judgment be reviewed by a higher court; and in the case of a capital offence it is required that this happen.

“I have been asked, But is it not possible that in such a manner perhaps a few who are guilty will be freed? And I will answer as I have been instructed by both the Lord Steward Denethor and by our new King himself: Within the lands founded by the Dúnedain who followed Elendil out of Númenor back to Middle Earth, we have chosen to believe it better that a few who are guilty might go free for a time at least than that one individual who is innocent shall be put to death for what he did not do. I have been assured that expedience is not to be considered preferable to true justice, and so I must rule.”

With that he sat back. “Our first witness will be Vendrion of the market guards for the village of Destrier, since it was he who found the bodies and who first named Danárion as the one who had killed the children.” He indicated that Enelmir was to sit, and the hearing began.

Vendrion was made to describe the finding of the shoe once more, and how it had been that Amdir had then dislodged Gilmar’s body, and he himself crawled down the ditch to find the rest. That the bodies were found deliberately pressed face-down into the mud was reiterated, and he was made to describe specifically how he laid them on the side of the ditch. He was asked to describe the area where the bodies were found, and at last Berevrion presented a map of the area surrounding the gully showing where prominent trees grew, how the ditch ran, where the bodies were found, where they were laid upon the banks by Vendrion, and where the footprints had been found, all of which had been drawn by Vendrion on the day the bodies were found.

“So, they were laid upon their sides when you found them?” asked Lord Daerloth.

“Yes, my lord. Considering how they were bound, I couldn’t lay them upon their backs.”

“And you did not change their positions after that?”

“No, my lord.”

“How long did they stay in that position before Master Avrandahil arrived from Hevensgil?”

“He did not arrive until between the fifth and sixth mark after noon, my lord.”

“And they were removed from the ditch about one to two marks after noon, you said?”

“Haven’t I said so more than once, my lord?” Vendrion was beginning to sound almost desperate.

“I merely wished to be very clear as to how they were placed and how long they must have been lying in that position. Let us leave the ditch, then. Why was it that you first suspected the youth Danárion?”

“Because we knew----” He paused at a significant look from Lord Erchirion. Vendrion began again. “We suspected that he worshiped the Great Enemy, my lord. He showed an interest in magic, dressed in an odd style, wore his hair strangely cut, listened to disturbing music, and asked questions about magic and arcane subjects. He said more than once he wished to see Elves and speak with the spirits of trees. It was known—believed” (again in response to a look from Imrahil’s son) “believed that he attempted to work magical spells and to conjure spirits. And he had in his possession a copy of The Book of Shadows when we went to arrest him, a book known—believed—to instruct one in the worship of the Nameless One in order to empower him.”

“What does this have to do with the deaths of the children?”

“One boy’s face was cut through the cheek into the cavity of the mouth under it, and another had been relieved of the—of the sac that holds the seed. It had first appeared that the manhood itself had been taken from him, too, but that proved—incorrect. It was merely missing its skin and the tip of it.”

“He was found face down and rump up in the water, or so you said?”

“Yes, my lord.”

“And you did not question whether an animal or fish might have relieved him of the sac that holds the seed?”

“How were we to even imagine such a thing, my lord?” the guardsman demanded.

Daerloth looked sideways at the warriors who flanked him. “Fellow obviously has never removed the bodies of the slain from a shallow river or stream a day or more after the battle,” he said, shaking his head. “And if they were naked to begin with—all the more likely that animals would go for such fleshy bits first. Had they been lying face up, the gorecrows would have gone after the tongue and eyes and cheeks first. The head of the one child must have been lying somewhat to the side.”

He looked back at the guardsman. “So, you interpreted the signs you saw as indications that they had been deliberately disfigured by whoever killed them and assumed it was the marks of some arcane ritual?”

Vendrion nodded, his eyes fixed on the floor in front of him.

“Did you find any signs of any ritual in the woods or gully where the bodies were found?”

“We found part of a wine jar in the water. And a place where it appeared the children might have been bound to an exposed root.”

“To which both Farmer Medril and his son Leverion say they bound ropes holding their catch-baskets partly submerged for when they caught fish and turtles there, my lord,” explained Erchirion.

“Was the broken wine jar any different than what you would expect to find along the Highway or in a secluded area where travelers tend to stay their journeys for rest or a meal?” asked Daerloth.

“Not really,” admitted the guardsman.

“Were there thick marks of blood upon the vegetation or the ground where the bodies might have been lying when they were cut in such a ritual?”

“No, my lord.”

“Have you ever before seen the body of someone who had been murdered?”

“Well, no my lord. Such things don’t usually happen in villages such an Destrier.”

“Again, you have obviously never been in combat, or you would never assume such rank foolishness. A person who is cut with a blade bleeds heavily if he is alive when it is done, and if the blade cuts one of the great vessels it can spray around a good deal. Even one who is slain will have some blood flow from a cut made after death, or at least it will seep out, particularly if the body is kept damp. But for a child to have his sac removed while he is yet living, there would be a good deal of blood where it was done. That you found no such signs of blood indicates that the child did not suffer such a wound there at that place while yet living.”

The Lord of Amon Dîn sighed before continuing, “And there were no signs of lamps or candles of strange colors, or arcane marks cut into the trees or scribed upon the earth itself?”

“There was a circle cut into the tree----” began Vendrion, but he was interrupted by someone who stood up from one of the benches.

“M’lord? May I speak t’that?”

“And you are?”

“Galdor, sir, of Destrier. The youth Garestil—he’s my boy. And I was the one who dug that ditch, back when I was younger. The farmer who lived there wanted a damp area in his field better drained, so I dug it back from the field into the woods, then turned to follow an older dry streambed down to the canal.

“I was courtin’ Garestil’s mother then, and—well, I wanted the world t’know. So I cut the love sign into the tree with the lifted root.”

Daerloth pulled at his beard, and turned back to Vendrion. “Did this mark you saw look like an old love sign?” he asked.

At last the guardsman nodded.

He looked at Berevrion. “Did any of your party see it?”

“I did,” said the Elf from where he sat with Caraftion, Wendthor, and the battle surgeon on the other side of the room from the table where the clerks sat. “It had been there for many years, and so I had reason to believe it had no bearing on what was supposed to have happened there.”

“And do you, as does your Prince Legolas, commune with trees?”

“I cannot understand them as well as does he, for I was born of the Lindar, and have little or no Silvan blood in me. But the trees of that area have no memory of such evil happening under them, and did not recognize the bodies as having been those of children of Men.”

“So, they were dead when brought there.”

“So it appears, my lord.”

They sat a few minutes in silent contemplation of what had been said, until at last Lord Daerloth asked Vendrion, “Did you manage to obtain a confession from any of the three?”

“Yes, sir, we did,” Vendrion said, his posture straightening. Berevrion produced the original scribe’s copy of Garestil’s statement given them by Veredorn, and Daerloth asked that it be given to Master Umbardacil to be read.

“And we dropped the bodies into the water, and I could see one wriggling like a worm….”

“Wait!” interrupted Lord Daerloth. “I thought that no one could see the bodies because the water was filled with silt! How could he see such a thing?” He looked to Vendrion. “Could you see deep into the water? Could you see the bodies pressed as you have told me face-down into the mud?” And when Vendrion merely shrugged uncomfortably he added, “Did you not say that this was why you crawled through the water, feeling with your hands, because you could see nothing below the very surface?”

Vendrion’s voice was almost a squeak as he admitted, “Even so, my lord.”

“What kind of foolishness is this?” asked Daerloth. “Does the mud of Destrier clear away as you say when murder is performed by it only to come back again when the murderers are gone? And what he describes is no ritual at all—merely happenstance! And you accepted this as true?

“And this foolishness of the other two doing—that!—within the ditch when it is obviously so shallow you, who are not a particularly tall Man, could crawl through it----” He was shaking his head firmly. “You are either exceedingly weak in the head, totally without any logical faculties, or are so desirous of blaming this Danárion that you will seize upon anything in order to put the blame upon him at any cost. And I do suspect it is the last that is true here.” He turned to Benargil. “Now, how might this one be part of Borongil’s dealings with Isengard?”

*******


Hanalgor’s testimony from the trial was read aloud by Master Umbardacil, along with both Pardronë and Caraftion’s objections to the manner in which he was accepted by Master Enelmir as an expert on the worship of the Dark Lord. Then was read the transcript from the questioning of the Man in Destrier before the King’s deputation. Daerloth did not appear to be greatly surprised by what he heard, not even the admission that Danárion had been purposely targeted because no one else could be found to take the blame for the children’s deaths.

Those who were at the hearing, however, were not as sanguine. “Then, when they told us that Danárion, Carenthor, and Garestil killed our sons they were lying?” demanded Gilmar’s father Tevern, who’d been among those who’d arrived that day.

“Yes,” Caraftion answered him. “They could not find who had truly committed the murders, and felt they must blame someone, and so chose one they were reasonably certain few of importance would question might have done so, one they knew many would like to believe had done so. Danárion was not well liked within the village, and his belief in Elves was believed to indicate he worshiped the Dark Lord, even though true Elves have been fighting the Enemy even longer than we have.”

“And what makes you believe that?” asked one who had come from Anwar itself.

Daerloth indicated Harolfileg. “Master Harolfileg has been active in fighting the forces of darkness for—how long was it, sir?” he asked.

“I fought Morgoth in the First Age of the Sun and through the War of Wrath, and have been fighting Morgoth’s former lieutenant most of my life since. I survived the fall of Eregion and joined the people of Oropher in the Great Woodland Realm. I fought Sauron in the Last Alliance, and our people have suffered from his immediate attentions ever since he settled in the guise of the Necromancer on the site of our Lords Oropher and Thranduil’s former keep and built there his fortress of Dol Guldur. While our Lord King’s son Legolas fought here alongside your Lord King Elessar, we were defending our own borders from Sauron’s last assault on our lands, as has been true throughout the lands of the Free Peoples north of Gondor.

“The Elves of Middle Earth have ever been his foes, and this was true even before the Noldor returned from Aman in the time before the Rising of the Sun and Moon. And I will tell you this—I am no Noldo, although those who are Noldor hold if possible even greater hatred for Sauron and his actions than do even we of Thranduil’s realm who have been his closest neighbors and foes for much of this last Age.”

Daerloth considered the Elf for some moments before turning his attention to the Man who’d asked the question. “We have been told many lies about the other peoples of Middle Earth, or so it would seem, Master. I have now seen Elves and Dwarves and Halflings, and have found that each race has been as devoted to opposing the Nameless One as we have been. Nor were Isildur’s heirs lost as we had been told, but have had to protect themselves from his active attempts to destroy them as occurred here in Gondor with the heirs to Anárion.

“Our new Lord King, who is descended both directly from Isildur and from Anárion through Ondoher and his daughter Fíriel, was himself raised in the hidden home of the Lord Elrond Peredhel, heir to Ereinion Gil-galad of song and legend, and own brother to our own Elros Tar-Minyatur, who was the first King of Númenor, and from whom all of our own kings have been descended. Lord Elrond has always felt himself honor-bound to educate and protect those of his brother’s descendants who would allow him to do so, and the heirs of Elendil and Isildur in Arthedain have all been willing to accept such services from him.

“So, it would seem that what history we have traditionally been taught in the free schools of the realm is nowhere as—romantic—as we have been accustomed to believe.”

There was a general murmur of comment throughout the hall in the wake of this, until at last all went quiet.

The door to the archive opened, and Master Malthor came through it and set a box of documents near where Caraftion sat, and disappeared again back into his own domain. Lord Daerloth looked after the archivist briefly before returning his attention to Hanalgor. “So, we have heard what you had to say both in the trials and before the King’s deputation. What have you to say for yourself now, Master Hanalgor?”

“What would you have me say?”

“Why particularly did you decide that the youth Danárion should be named the one who led the killing of the children Gilmar, Nedron, and Bredwion?”

“Because he seemed the most likely to have cut the children as they were found.”

“You once served in Amon Dîn, did you not?”

“Yes, my lord. I served as a clerk to the quartermaster.”

“The quartermaster?” He turned and murmured something to his aide, who sat behind him. The aide rose and left the room. “So,” Daerloth continued, “did you ever have occasion to fight in combat?”

“No, my lord.”

“And you never had the chance to see the bodies of the slain?”

“Only those brought back to the fortress afterwards, my lord.”

“And did you help in the cleansing or preparation of the bodies for burial?”

“No, my lord.”

“So, you only saw them dressed in uniform, wrapped in their cloaks, ready for the grave?”

“Even so, my lord.”

“Had you seen beneath the uniforms and cloaks and sometimes helms, you would have often seen far worse than what you saw on those boys, Hanalgor of Destrier. Many of those we brought back to Amon Dîn while you served there had lost limbs, had had their eyes gouged out either by enemies or afterward by carrion birds, had lost parts of their jaws, had their bellies riven open. We might search two days after a battle to find some of the bodies, and by then birds, animals, and insects would already have begun removing the flesh and organs, and often limbs as well. It is what happens after a person is slain. And the animals will sometimes come and try to feed even before the soldier is properly dead. To believe that the removal of the sac for one’s seed would only be done by one who worshipped the Dark Lord is foolish, and particularly when the shaft of the manhood remains but is missing its skin. That, my friend, is the work of animals, and the face of death in the wild places.”

Daerloth sat back and took a deep breath. At last he asked, “When did you first begin having problems with the youth Danárion?”

Hanalgor shrugged, obviously thinking. “Perhaps five years past. He and Targon, who was as a father to him, had begun to argue, and at last Targon appealed to us as guardsmen for the village to put the fear of the Powers into him.”

“And you saw him from the first as perhaps the disciple of evil?”

“Oh, no, my lord—at first I felt only that he was in need of guidance and teaching, and I sought to offer him such instruction as I had to give. But he—he questioned much of what I said, and then began to ask those who taught in the free school and telling me that what I said was either wrong or was a misinterpretation of what was truly known. And when I offered friendship----”

A voice interrupted, “And was it the type of friendship that you offered me, Hanalgor?”

Daerloth turned to face the one dressed as a soldier of Anwar who’d spoken. “You wish to offer testimony regarding Master Hanalgor?” he asked. In response to the young soldier’s indication he did indeed, he asked, “For the record, may we have your name and position?

“I am Ingoril, a sergeant in Lord Benargil’s forces, and was born and raised in Destrier, my lord. I remember Hanalgor from my childhood, and remember when he returned to the village from Amon Dîn some years ago. And that I am now a soldier of Anwar is in many ways due to his influence.”

The young sergeant cast a jaded eye over the former gate guardsman for Destrier. “Hanalgor has had some questionable appetites, and boasts a very healthy concern for his own comforts. I caught him one day apparently stealing from my father’s stall in the marketplace where we sell the meat from our pigs and the produce of our fields, and I was uncertain what it was I should do. Once he realized I had seen him, however, Hanalgor was very friendly with me, telling me he had only sought to test how well I watched my father’s goods. He flattered and praised me, and appeared to put back what I’d seen him take, warning me that there were some who would steal, mostly wild youths such as was Leverion son of Medril, whose father farms on the other side of the village from the land my father holds.

“In time, however, I learned that he was indeed stealing from many of the stalls in the market, and I reported what I’d seen to Vendrion of the market guards, who promised to keep an eye on him. But instead I began to be harassed. Goods taken from other stalls began appearing in the basket in which my mother would pack my lunch, and more than once Leverion would take something from someone else and push it into my hands as he ran by me to make it appear I was his accomplice. And never would Vendrion go after Leverion, who had taken the thing, but instead would turn on me. He began to take me to the gaol, but never would the gaolers agree to hold me more than overnight, for once they questioned those who’d lost the goods and me and realized that it was Leverion again doing such things they would know I was not at fault and would let me go.

“After this had happened the third time Hanalgor approached me and told me that it would cease if I would agree to stop reporting him. If we were friends, he could do so much for me, he said.

“I told my father, who spoke with Master Nerwion. Master Nerwion spoke with Master Fendril, who convinced him that I was merely a troublemaker intent on seeing only evil in Hanalgor’s actions, and my complaints were brushed aside. Others I knew who were being treated similarly were afraid to speak out, and the few who did could expect to be taken to the gaol. Finally my father and I convinced one youth whose father used to sell fine leatherwork from Rohan and the North in the market to tell his story to Master Nerwion. Not long after, the father was assaulted by night as he drove back into Gondor from a journey to Edoras, and was beaten so hard he could no longer walk properly. Hanalgor and Captain Borongil insisted that it was wild Men from Dunland who had done this, but the youth was convinced that Hanalgor had arranged for the attack to come.”

Daerloth shook his head. “Wild Men from Dunland—they’d come all this way to do such a thing? Why not do so nearer to Edoras?”

“Master Nerwion advised my father to see me elsewhere, and helped him arrange to purchase weapons and a horse so that I might come and offer myself as a soldier in Lord Benargil’s service. But he also spoke with a courier from Amon Dîn, and certain agents came to stay in the village for a few weeks, and they caught Borongil setting up hurdles on the bridge over the canal to charge illegal tolls to those who traveled the road who were not from the area and who would be unlikely to question whether such tolls were authorized.”

“And what did you understand to be involved in being a friend to Master Hanalgor?” asked Erchirion.

“I would be expected to look the other way when he stole, and would at times be required to hide what he had taken from others. I might also be expected to steal for him when I could. I would be rewarded by being given money and by being allowed to drink freely in the alehouse, and would be invited to parties he threw at his home, and would be given his personal protection, which might, I learned from one other boy, involve sharing favors with him. I had no desire to do such things.”

“He is lying!” insisted Hanalgor.

“Is he?” asked the teacher from Destrier’s free school from where he sat on the benches near Master Galdor. “Then why have I heard similar tales from at least six others? These I have reported to Master Nerwion, who has forwarded the information, he told me, to your own Sergeant at Arms, Lord Daerloth.”

“As he did,” said one of the soldiers who had accompanied Daerloth to Anwar, who had just entered the courtroom alongside Daerloth’s aide. He approached the table and laid down several folders before his lord. Daerloth perused them, then handed a few documents to Benargil, whose brow rose as he read the portions pointed out by his liege. He in turn handed them to Berevrion, who examined them with interest. At last they were given to young Lord Erchirion, who straightened as he read them.

“So,” Benargil said, “you were dismissed from Amon Dîn on charges of misappropriation of weapons, equipment, and foodstuffs from the garrison’s warehouses. But it appears that former Captain Borongil and Master Fendril arranged for the records of this dismissal intended to be sent to Master Nerwion to be—amended so that he would be unaware that your record was not precisely clean.”

Erchirion smiled at the last document he held. “And then Borongil, who was stationed at the garrison for the beacon at Eilenach and served as quartermaster there, was dismissed on similar charges, but at the time the connection between the two of you was not clear.”

“And both,” concluded Daerloth, “ended up in Destrier, and on the recommendation of Master Fendril were given positions of authority as guardsmen there, and with the ability to go in and out at all hours with little chance for this to be remarked upon.”

“And the two of them both apparently were involved in smuggling goods out of Gondor and into the hands of agents of the traitor Wizard Saruman, also known as Curunír of Isengard,” added Berevrion. “Oh, my Lord Kinsman and Mithrandir will both find this very interesting.”

Hanalgor’s face was quite white.

“The goods, then, found in my man’s storeroom,” spoke up Mistress Vanessë from where she sat on the benches, “they might have been among things stolen by Hanalgor here, then? Things he and Captain Borongil had planned to send out of our village into the hands of enemies?”

She was identified to Lord Daerloth and her story swiftly told, and the Lord of Amon Dîn and Anórien’s gaze was very cold when he again turned it on the guardsman. “So, alongside Borongil you were stealing first from our own army and then from your own fellow villagers to supply a rogue Wizard gone warlord, were you? I think it is time to bring in Master Borongil and whatever others they had as accomplices and learn how they arranged all that they did.”

Borongil himself entered almost jauntily, not seeing Hanalgor and Vendrion where they’d been removed to stand under guard behind the bench where Harolfileg, Caraftion, Bariol, and Wendthor were sitting. His genial expression failed for the moment, however, when he saw not Master Enelmir on his low dais but instead Lords Benargil and Daerloth flanked by two more he did not recognize. He forced the smile back onto his face, and gave a smart military salute to Lord Daerloth. “My lord, I am at your service,” he declared.

“Are you really?” Daerloth returned. “I must ask, were you ever truly at my service? Or is it not true that you were instead serving yourself and Master Fendril in dealing with agents from Isengard and transferring to them quantities of goods intended for our armies and the people of Destrier?”

The smile wavered again. “And who has told you such stories, my lord?” asked Borongil. “I have ever been one of your most loyal soldiers!”

“When eighteen barrels of oil went missing, as well as the full contents of a storage shed that had been filled with salted pork and dried fruit intended to provide for those who man the beacon at Eilenach through the coming winter?” Daerloth’s tone was most chill. “And it appears that a consignment of spears was somehow mistakenly transferred from Amon Dîn by the quartermaster’s clerk Hanalgor into your charge, but instead of returning them you lost them. Is that not what led you to be dismissed from my service?”

“It was but a mistake that any might have made, my lord,” protested the former quartermaster and Captain of the guards and constables of Destrier.

When Radamir was brought in and Rindor cheerfully rose from his place in the stands to testify against him, however, his smile failed completely, and his brow and upper lip required frequent wiping as he began sweating profusely.

Master Malthor entered and set another box near Caraftion as the examination of Borongil’s activities went forward.

*******


Enelmir sat unmoving through all of this; and when at last Radamir and Borongil were returned to the prison, accompanied this time by Hanalgor and Vendrion, he rose from his seat. “I do not understand why I sit here as if I were a party to their doings,” he said coldly. “None has named me a conspirator in their dealings with Isengard. Nor can anyone name me a spy or traitor to Gondor, much less show that I have sunk to such a low activity as smuggling.”

“Perhaps not, but you allowed these to testify in your court that a youth was an agent to Sauron with little evidence that such could be true,” Berevrion said. “You yourself allowed Hanalgor to testify fully before the jury regarding what would be true of such a person, even though Master Pardronë had proved that not only was Hanalgor not the expert on the Great Enemy he presented himself as, but that he could not have read The Book of Shadows as he had claimed to have done, as he cannot read Sindarin.”

“But that was not part of the transcripts!” insisted Enelmir.

“Oh, yes, it had been removed from the final transcript at your direction as it was not presented before the jury, and the pages covering the questioning of Hanalgor by Pardronë with the jury absent were even missing from the scribe’s copy made by Mistress Lyrien here that was filed in the archives. But it appears that she, too, has learned to make duplicate copies of her work, having realized that official documents were being creatively—lost and amended.”

At the table where Lyrien worked alongside the other scribes and clerks, she could be seen to have a most satisfied smile as she took down her part of the testimony being given.

“Do you know the penalty to be imposed for altering official records, Master Enelmir?” asked Erchirion.

Enelmir’s face was stark white. “You wouldn’t!”

Erchirion gave him a surprisingly sweet smile. “Oh, I shan’t—in the end you are to receive your final judgment from our Lord King Elessar himself. But I will allow you to know now that he takes a very dim view of those who are granted authority who misuse it or allow others to abuse those set under them. And he appears to have a marked distaste toward those who twist the law to their own ends.”

“I do believe,” Daerloth said, “that we should now question Master Avrandahil.”

*******


“Do you know why you were called here to be examined today?” asked Lord Daerloth.

“I have no idea, my lord.”

“What questions were asked of you just prior to Lord Berevrion telling you that you were to report here shortly after noon?”

It appeared that the healer might be biting at the inside of his cheek. “I—I was asked why some of the enlarged drawings I did for use in the trials had some details—emphasized—from what they were originally.”

“Can you tell us what the pictures were of?”

“The—first was of Child Three’s buttocks—of the—cuts on Child Three’s buttocks.”

“And how had the—cuts—been--emphasized?”

“I had been asked to—emphasize the length of the cuts more than the separation between the marks.”

“Who asked this of you?”

“Master Fendril.”

“Does Master Fendril often ask you to do such special—emphasis?”

Avrandahil appeared stiffly uncomfortable. “I could not say for certain.”

“Does he do so for every trial in which he prosecutes the realm’s case?”

“No, not every one.”

“For what kinds of trials does he tend to require this kind of change?”

“They are not truly changes, my lord—it is merely intended to emphasize certain details.”

Daerloth’s gaze grew severe. “And what kinds of trials does he ask you to change emphasis for?”

Avrandahil gave a wooden shrug. “Sometimes it might appear that perhaps the—wrong—person—was being charged with a crime.”

“I see.” He turned to his aide. “Please summon Master Brëon.”

The aide bowed and again hurried from the room.

“So,” Daerloth continued, returning his attention to the healer, “he asked you to emphasize length of the wounds. In what way did you do so?”

“I—I drew them straighter, more regular, than they had appeared in the first picture.”

“So, in the first picture they had not necessarily been all that straight or regularly spaced?”

“That is true, my lord.”

“I came accompanied by Master Brëon, who rode with Théoden King’s company as warrior and healer, and whom I’ve known for some years. He chose to linger in my company for a few additional days before returning to his own land. On learning you were to be examined today, he asked to be allowed to be present when you were come before the tribunal.”

The door opened and the aide returned, followed by a Rohir of late middle years, his hair more silver than gold, his blue-grey eyes filled with curiosity until they met with those of Avrandahil, at which time the brows lowered. “Ah—it is the one who would think himself a healer, is it?”

“You know Master Avrandahil, do you?” asked Berevrion.

“Oh, that I do. A greater dolt with illness or wounds I doubt I ever saw. And do not trust him with any herbs that might harm if given wrongly—he has heavy hands indeed when it comes to dispensing medicaments.”

“And how is it that you know this?”

“I was one of those who was to oversee his apprenticeship when he came to Rohan to study to become a healer. And barely a leech did he prove by the time the period of apprenticeship was finished.”

“Then you do not find him particularly competent?”

“Oh, he is competent enough when detailing what he sees, what he observes. But he proved—incurious, and never learned to ask the questions that make a person a decent healer. And when he finally began to realize that some questions needed to be asked, he was not good at asking the right ones, and even worse at listening to what was told him, much less at realizing what was not being told him that needed to be learned.”

“Why did he come to Rohan for study?”

“Apparently he had tried apprenticing himself to three healers in Gondor, and did so badly that no others would accept him.”

Avrandahil was apparently grinding his teeth, and his eyes were dark with a fury that he knew he should not seek to otherwise express.

Brëon continued, “We told him he would do best to work with another—him to see the wounds, the other to deal with them. Or perhaps, we told him, he could help those who were dead—help to record what could be seen for another to interpret that in the end those who mourned might know how the one they loved had died.”

Lord Berevrion took up the drawing that Avrandahil had done of Bredwion’s buttocks and held it out. “If you will examine this and tell us what it is that you believe it shows, Master Brëon?”

The healer took the picture and examined it. “Did he do this?” he asked with a jerk of his head in Avrandahil’s direction.

“Yes,” Berevrion said.

“Excellent. A person’s seat, with scratches upon the cheeks of the arse. Dead—some hours dead, I’d say, from the color, when the scratches were made. Animal—one with fine claws, maybe a turtle, seeking to spread the cheeks wider apart.”

Bariol had been examining still another box brought out by Master Malthor, and straightened with something in his hand. He looked at the Rohir and asked, “And if you saw the same picture but with the wounds straighter, the scratches more evenly spaced, do you believe they might have been caused by this?” And he held up a weathered fisherman’s knife with comb-like serrations upon one side, intended to remove the scales of a particular fish common to the streams of Anórien. He rose and came forward to place it in Brëon’s free hand. The Rohir turned the thing, examining the serrations, and examined the picture again. “The age of the one who showed such scratches?” he asked.

“Eight summers, a wide build.”

Brëon looked at the picture, and finally turned to Avrandahil. “This was done as close to the size of the child as was possible?” he asked.

“Yes,” Avrandahil growled.

“I would say, no—the points are too close together on this.”

“But for one who is not trained as a healer, might he think this might have been used?”

“It is possible. A healer or warrior should see the difference—or maybe not. Not all understand pictures such as this. I did some training in Minas Tirith in the Houses of Healing, and such pictures are used there.” He looked again at the knife before handing it back to Bariol. “But why,” as he held forth the picture as well, “would anyone use this to scratch a dead child? A knife is to cut or stab, not to scrape.”

Berevrion now produced the picture that Harolfileg had found of the second child’s thigh. “This is a picture Master Avrandahil did of an impression he saw on the leg of a child. Here are several items that perhaps might have caused that impression. Do you think that you could identify what made it?”

On the table he set out a portion of a branch wrapped in cord, the handle of a walking stick that had been decorated with raised whorls, the tally stick Wendthor had found, a gaming piece, and a rod of metal about which leather had been braided. Brëon quickly flicked the gaming piece and the handle for the stick aside, then turned the other three items first one way and then another before lifting the tally stick, looking carefully between the picture and the item. “This,” he said at last, “and this part of it.” He indicated the section of the stick he was certain had been the source of the impression, setting the picture on the table and the stick over the picture.

Berevrion slid the two items in front of Lord Benargil, who examined the picture and stick closely before passing them to Lord Daerloth. For a moment Daerloth appeared uncertain how the two would have fit together, and then his eyes brightened. “Oh—it lay like this!”

Benargil leaned closer, as if trying to see what his liege lord saw, but shook his head. He looked up to meet Berevrion’s eyes, “But what does this mean?” he asked.

Bariol explained, “As one child died, he lay with his leg pressed against that tally stick. He probably lay that way for several minutes after death, but then he was moved. Master Avrandahil has told us that the blood had pooled mostly on the children’s backs, indicating that they lay primarily on their backs for quite some time after they died during the first half day after their deaths.”

Tevern stood up, shaking his head vehemently. “No! It cannot be! They told us that the children drowned in the ditch—that they were placed there yet alive!”

“But Vendrion told us he found them pressed down into the mud face first,” Daerloth said, “and that he placed them upon their sides when he lifted them from the water!” He turned to Avrandahil. “Is this true?” he demanded. “How were they lying when first you saw them?”

Avrandahil started to speak, but apparently changed his mind about what he’d intended to say. At last he said, “They were indeed lying upon their sides when I arrived.”

“And how did you place them in your wagon?”

It apparently cost Avrandahil much to admit, “Again, upon their sides. With the bindings still in place, I could not lay them upon their backs, and they had stiffened by then.”

Master Bilstred, who sat by Lady Marien, Belrieth, and Mariessë, displayed a pleased surprise as he exclaimed, “They could not have died drowning in the water as had been told us all, then. Master Bariol is right!”

“But we were told----” began Tevern, to which Lord Daerloth responded,

“You were either lied to, or you were told this by someone who has no experience in dealing with the dead.” Daerloth’s voice was stony as he stared at Avrandahil. “The blood could not have pooled in their backs unless they lay upon their backs for a considerable time within the first half-day after their deaths. As that half-day progresses the shifting of the blood slows, and after that the blood does not continue to shift. How often have we seen this with the dead upon the battlefield?”

“But there was some staining also of their faces,” Avrandahil said, almost as if to excuse himself.

“Which would be expected if they were then placed face-down and left for several more hours,” commented Brëon. “But after that the time for the shifting of the blood would be past.”

“But,” Tevern tried again, “when at last the report came from Master Avrandahil regarding what he learned on examining our sons’ bodies, we were told that he agreed with the guardsmen and constables who told us that the children died of drowning within the ditch!”

“Let me think of the wording as it was given us,” said the teacher. “No, it did not say that he agreed, but that he would not disagree with those who said that they drowned.”

Caraftion held up a document. “Here is a copy we brought from the archives of Destrier.” He read aloud: “As for what caused the deaths of the children, each suffered potentially mortal wounds as each endured multiple blows that cracked the skull, although this healer would be hard put to disagree with the belief of those who found the bodies within the water that the children most likely died of the effects of being denied the ability to breathe.”

All of the healers and Lord Daerloth turned to look at Avrandahil, each with an expression of consideration or censure, while the parents of Gilmar appeared to be desperately pleading, Mistress Nessa’s expression was that of disbelief, and Rindor appeared angry. The woman from Destrier rose to her feet, her voice strident, shouting, “See—he is the healer who saw the bodies, and he said that they drowned!”

Daerloth turned to a guardsman. “If she does not sit down and keep a civil tongue in her mouth, see her removed.”

Shocked, the woman dropped heavily upon the bench.

Daerloth returned his attention to Avrandahil. “Which is it, Master? Blows to the head, or drowning? Had any swallowed water or mud?”

Avrandahil’s nostrils dilated as he inhaled deeply. “It is not my duty to overrule those who found the bodies,” he began.

“Then whose is it?” demanded Erchirion. “Is this not why you are employed as you are—to examine the bodies of those who are found dead under questionable circumstances and to indicate just how it was they might have come to die?”

“But I am the servant of the court and the people----”

“Who have the right,” interrupted Benargil, “to have the truth given them, and not for you merely to bow to the judgment of those who are not qualified to determine the cause of death. Were the guardsmen and constables who found the boys’ bodies trained as healers?”

“Of course not!” Avrandahil objected.

“Then why did you allow them to determine how it was that the children died?”

To this it appeared that Avrandahil had no satisfactory answer, for he did not respond.

Caraftion, who had accepted the transcript of Avrandahil’s testimony in the trial of the three youths from Anorgil, raised the pages in one hand while holding up a document he’d found in one of Malthor’s boxes in the other. “There are other questions as well, my lords. Here is a transcript made of an interview that Master Pardronë and I had with Master Avrandahil after the first day of the trial. I asked you, What of the question as to whether the children had been violated before they died—is this true? to which you answered, No, of course not. If they had, there would have been notable sign, and particularly there would have been tearing of the tissue and probable bleeding. I asked, Then you found no such signs, and you answered, No. Pardronë asked, Did you tell this to Master Fendril? You answered, I never told him there was any sign of the children having been violated. He asked, Did you tell him that the children had not been violated? You answered, He did not ask. He merely asked what signs there would be should this have happened.” He set the sheet down in the box from which it had been taken.

“Yet, in the trial,” he continued, “when Master Fendril asked if it were possible that the children had been violated, you said that it not impossible. He said, The orifice on each was dilated. You responded, Yes, this is true. He asked, Is it possible that this could have been due to the children having been violated? to which you answered, It is not impossible. He asked, Then there might be no other signs of violation? You answered, If the member used to probe the orifice is small enough and is sufficiently slick, it is not impossible for it to have left no other sign.

Brëon gave a sound of disgust. “But when one dies, this usually happens, that the opening relaxes to release the contents of the bowels and that the bladder lets go its burden of urine!” At a glance from Daerloth, however, he subsided.

Caraftion set the portion of the transcript he held down on the bench beside him. “Why did you indicate that it was possible to do that act without leaving a sign of it?”

Avrandahil shrugged. “As you must know by now, almost everything is possible.”

“But you told Master Pardronë and me that it had not happened.

“Yes, I did.”

“But you left the jurors with the idea in mind that, yes, it was possible that this had happened.”

“If they indeed were convinced that this was happened, who am I to correct them?”

“But you are the one to whom they look for instruction as to whether or not such a thing might have occurred. They have, for the most part, little if any experience or training in such matters. And by leaving them with the belief that it was possible for a person to do such a thing and yet leave no sign, you possibly helped to promote an injustice!”

“My duty is to examine the bodies and report on what I find and to show the unusual things I note as faithfully as possible through the pictures I produce. It is the duty of the one who prosecutes the case to determine if there is sufficient evidence of guilt to present this evidence before the court and so convince judge or jury of the rightness of his case. It is the duty of the one appointed counsel to the defendant to either prove that the one offering prosecution is wrong or to counsel his client in such a manner that he accepts the justice due him. It is the duty of the judge or jurors hearing the evidence to decide on guilt or innocence. It is the duty of the magistrate or lord presiding over the case to see that the trial proceeds in a proper and mannerly order in accordance with the law of the land.

“It is not my duty to prove the guilt or innocence of the one who has been charged.”

“So,” Berevrion said, “although you knew that no one sought to violate the three children who were killed, still when Master Fendril suggested to the jurors that this happened anyway, you would not gainsay him.”

“Even so.”

“And although you knew that the children had to have been dead for some time before their bodies were hidden in that ditch, you still allowed the guardsmen who found the bodies to indicate that the children drowned there, and would not gainsay Master Fendril when he indicated to the jury that this had happened?”

“He is the one who is to decide how the case is to be presented, and not I.”

“And when the case is fraudulent, you allow it to go forward?”

“Who am I to say it is fraudulent?” demanded Avrandahil.

“You are the one who knows that the charges are false, and you as a citizen of this realm are responsible not to allow a lie that promotes injustice to be presented as if it were true!” Berevrion’s eyes were blazing, although he kept his tone as civil as was possible. “No, you did not openly lie, but by concealing the truth, you allowed another’s lie to stand, and thus are complicit with him in promoting injustice.

“Now, looking at this picture—” and he held up the picture done of the child’s buttocks indicating the series of scratches on each side, “—what did you believe was likely to have caused such wounds?”

Avrandahil again appeared uncomfortable. “I do not see myself as one who identifies what causes the wounds—merely the one who reports them.”

“Then who is it who is supposed to interpret them?”

“I do not make the case----”

“So, you will allow Master Fendril to make the determination as to what caused these wounds? Just as you allowed him to direct your hand to change the lines when crafting the copies so as to make it appear more likely that a scaling tool was used to cause the wounds rather than the claws of an animal?”

“I am the servant of the court!”

Avrandahil’s hold on himself had broken, and all were taken by surprise by the vehemence of his words. For a moment all sat staring at him, shocked by his shout and his now furious eyes. Erchirion started to lean forward to speak, but was gestured back by Daerloth, whose face was exceedingly grim. All deferred for the moment to the Lord of Amon Dîn and Anórien, who chose to allow the silence that had followed the healer’s outburst to continue.

At last Daerloth broke the silence. “In what way are you a servant of the court?”

“I have told you—I serve those who are in charge of promoting the laws of the realm. My responsibility is to them.”

“And when they require you to lie for them?”

“I do not lie!”

“We know—you merely change emphasis as is desired of you, and refuse to gainsay them when they are wrong or would present a lie. Tell me this—when Master Caraftion and Master Pardronë asked you after the first day of trial whether you had told Master Fendril that the children had not been violated, did you share that this conversation had happened with Master Enelmir?”

“Yes, I did.”

“Why?”

“It is my duty, as an officer of Master Enelmir’s court, to let him know what is asked of me.”

“And what did Master Enelmir say to you in response to your report?”

“That I was not to bother my head about the concerns of those who would defend those who have been charged with such heinous crimes.”

All of the lords straightened and exchanged questioning looks. At last Erchirion asked, “Are not those who offer counsel to those accused of a crime as much officers of the court as is Master Fendril?”

“But they defend those who have done terrible things!”

“Is it not possible,” Erchirion continued, “that some accused of a crime might actually have been wrongly charged?”

“You speak of the three youths from Destrier convicted of having murdered these children, do you not? But one of them confessed to the crime.”

“Under great pressure, yes, he told a story to the guardsmen indicating that he was involved, but what he said has proved to be completely unsupported by the evidence.”

“Does it matter that it is unsupported?”

Again the lords stopped, looked to one another, and collectively shook their heads. Berevrion suggested, “I suspect that at this point it would be best to leave this to my Lord Kinsman. Master Avrandahil does not appear capable of realizing that when what is offered as justice is anything but just that something is deeply wrong.”

Daerloth and Benargil nodded their agreement. “So be it,” Benargil said. “Guards—take this one to the prison.”

Avrandahil straightened, apparently only now realizing the danger into which his own words had brought him. “But I am an officer of the court!” he insisted.

“Even officers of the court end up facing judgment when they participate in promoting injustice,” Daerloth told him.

Enelmir watched a shaking Avrandahil as the healer was led out. He then looked at the four lords who sat before him. “Then you are saying that I, too, have participated in injustice.”

Berevrion answered him, “Yes.”

“But you have no proof that the children did not die as Garestil said in his confession.”

“But we do.”

“But Garestil confessed to having participated in the murders.”

“And if he lied under pressure from those who wished to have Danárion charged with the murder whether he was involved or not?”

“But you cannot prove that!”

“Did you not hear the reading of the admission by Hanalgor that indeed they sought any pretext to arrest Danárion, and that they put pressure on Garestil to tell them what they would hear?”

“But how do I know he actually said this?”

Berevrion stopped, and looked at Enelmir with unbelieving eyes. “Do you,” he asked, his words deliberate, “accuse us of doing what you have allowed—the removal or changing of information from transcripts of interrogation that might cast doubt upon what has been decided in your courtroom?” He indicated Veredorn, who sat amongst those who surrounded the families of Carenthor, Garestil, and Danárion. “There sits the official scribe for the guardsmen and constables of Destrier. He was prevailed upon by Borongil, Hanalgor, and Vendrion to change transcripts he made of the original questioning of Garestil, and he would not. So they had a scribe from Hevensgil do the changes instead. Mistress Lyrien and Master Anorgil took down all of the records of our proceedings in Destrier, and you already have had evidence this day that Mistress Lyrien is most painstaking in seeing her records complete and exact. And remember that Master Anorgil was recommended by the Master of the Guild of Lawyers of Minas Tirith himself, and charged with his duties by our Lord King Elessar. I do not believe that either changed even a word from what was actually said.”

“I change nothing in the official transcripts of trials held here in Anwar,” Enelmir hissed.

“I must admit that so far we have not found changes of words within the official transcripts, but do you deny that you have instructed Master Umbardacil to leave out of the official transcripts those conferences and times of questioning that occur when the jury has been excluded from the room?”

“But such information is not used by the jury to form their decisions of guilt or innocence!” Enelmir objected.

“Those who review trials must know all that is discussed, both before the jurors and in their absence, if they are to truly appreciate whether the trial was fair or biased.”

“Are you saying that I was biased in my handling of this trial?”

“Did you enter the trial convinced either way of guilt or innocence? Did you favor either the prosecutor or the defending counselors when they objected to something said by the other side? Did you allow the witnesses either for defense or prosecution to speak fully while limiting what was said by those who supported the opposing case? If any of these is true, then you have displayed bias. We are all guilty of bias from time to time, which is a good reason why there is the process of appeals available, and why it must be utilized when dealing with a case in which a man’s life lies in the balance. It is why, when depicting Justice as a figure, the one holding the scales is shown wearing a blindfold.”

Benargil looked toward where Anorgil sat amongst the clerks and scribes. “Master Anorgil, how many times did each side offer objections in this trial?”

“I have counted fifty-four by Master Fendril, and a total of seventy-two between them by Masters Pardronë and Caraftion, my lord. Master Enelmir supported all but three objections made by Master Fendril, while he supported twelve made by Master Caraftion and three by Master Pardronë.”

“Did he limit the testimony of any of those called as witnesses by Master Fendril?”

“No, although he did so with five, no seven, of those called by Masters Caraftion and Pardronë.”

“Was the authority of any of those called to testify by Master Caraftion or Master Pardronë questioned?”

“No, my lord—none of them was challenged by either Master Fendril, Master Enelmir, or any other on the basis of their qualifications to speak. But there were questions regarding the likely truthfulness of the testimony to be offered by at least three who were allowed to testify for Master Fendril, and two others were shown at the time to have fraudulently described themselves as qualified to speak on matters on which they were to testify, yet were allowed to speak freely before the jurors anyway.”

Daerloth asked, “Were all who contributed to the materials to be reviewed in considering the appeals of the defendants allowed to present what they pleased to both Lord Benargil and me?”

Anorgil eyed Enelmir before changing to a different document and perusing it. “Neither side reported objections to the reports presented, although Master Caraftion did lodge a formal complaint that the consultations on what would and would not be allowed presented before the jurors had been excluded from the transcript of the trial that had been prepared for the reviews. We do now know that certain pages of the scribe’s copies made by Mistress Lyrien were removed from the archive before our arrival here, and Master Malthor told Lord Benargil earlier in the day that the only one to examine the files since he was entrusted them by Master Umbardacil after he brought them with the final official copies of the transcript and before he, Masters Enelmir, Fendril, Caraftion, and Pardronë met to prepare the materials to be presented to Lord Benargil and then you, Lord Daerloth, for the review of the appeals, was Master Enelmir, a week before that meeting was to occur.”

“So,” Daerloth said thoughtfully, his eyes on Enelmir, “should either of us seek to see what might have been excluded and asked for the scribes’ copies, those pages would not be available to us?”

“Apparently.” Anorgil set the paper down upon the table, his gaze now fixed on it.

Caraftion had been looking through the folder on top of the first box Malthor had set by him, and stopped, bringing out a thick sheaf of papers bound together on one corner and examining it closely. Something in his intensity caught the attention of everyone else. Daerloth enquired, “You have found something, Master Caraftion?”

The lawyer looked up and asked, “Do you have any record of exactly which documents you read during your review of the case?” he asked.

“Yes.” He turned toward the table at which the clerks and scribes sat. “Master Crëarnil, did you bring with you as I asked the record of when you and I went through the documents presented us on the appeal sent regarding this case?”

“Yes, my lord. I have it here.”

“Good. Bring it and come stand by me.” As Master Crëarnil did as was asked of him, Daerloth explained to Berevrion, “Master Crëarnil is the Master of the Guild of Lawyers for Anórien and my own advisor on matters of the law. I would have asked him to stand by Master Enelmir had he asked for counsel, but as you know, Enelmir refused.”

Once Crëarnil stood beside his lord, Caraftion rose, the thick document in his hand, and approached the table at which the lords sat. “Will you please read the list of documents that you examined, Master Crëarnil?”

The venerable lawyer cleared his throat and began to read: “The official transcript of the trial of the youths Carenthor, Danárion, and Garestil of the village of Destrier in upper Anórien in the matter of the unlawful deaths of the children Bredwion son of Rindor, Gilmar son of Tevern, and Nedron son of Lindon. The writ of appeal submitted by Caraftion of Pustien on behalf of the youths Carenthor, Danárion, and Garestil of the village of Destrier in upper Anórien in the matter of the unlawful deaths of the children Bredwion son of Rindor, Gilmar son of Tevern, and Nedron son of Lindon. The writ of appeal submitted by Pardronë of Lissom on behalf of the youth Carenthor of the village of Destrier….”

The list droned on for some minutes, and through it all Caraftion kept his eyes fixed on the title of the document he held, his expression becoming grimmer as he listened. When Crëarnil was done, he asked, “You did not find in it the document entitled, “A transcript of a questioning of the youth Garestil son of Galdor made three days before the proposed trial of the youths Carenthor, Danárion, and Garestil of the village of Destrier in upper Anórien in the matter of the unlawful deaths of the children Bredwion son of Rindor, Gilmar son of Tevern, and Nedron son of Lindon?”

Crëarnil went through his list again, although thankfully without voicing it, and at length answered, “No, that was not among the documents that we received.”

Caraftion looked to Lord Benargil. “And do you remember going through this document when considering the appeals, my lord?”

Benargil shook his head uncertainly. “The names of all of the documents all end similarly,” he said. “But what was the thrust of the document?”

“When my clerk and I arrived here three days before the trial was to begin, Master Fendril came to my lodgings to tell me that he had approached Garestil hoping to encourage him to recant his own recantation of his original so-called confession, and to testify against Carenthor and Danárion in the coming trial. He told me that Garestil had agreed to do so. So, I went, accompanied by my clerk from Pustien, to the lesser gaol where youths are held and asked him what it was he intended to say. This is the transcript my scribe made of that conversation. I asked him to tell me what he had been doing on the day of the murders, and first he gave me the details for what he had done on the day before Midsummer that we already knew to be true, and spoke of how he had been approached by Carenthor to go to the woods on the other side of the canal from Master Medril’s farm to pick blackberries.”

“But the murders took place two days before Midsummer, did they not?” asked Daerloth.

“That is true, but ever in his mind Garestil has been convinced that the children died in the morning of the day on which their bodies were found. I did not seek to correct him this time, my lord, for I would have him say this as he believed the murders to have happened. I asked him to describe when he first saw the children, and he now said he had seen them first as they rode into the woods where he and the others sat, drinking the brandy stolen from Master Medril’s stores, the brandy we now know was actually taken by Leverion son of Medril and shared with his friends.”

Wendthor raised his hand. “I have reports pertinent to that, my lords. I’ve been keeping them until it appeared there was an appropriate time to see them presented.” So saying, he leaned down to pick up a stack of papers from beneath the bench and rose and approached the table, handing each of the four lords a copy of a report on the conversation he’d had with Narvil and his friends in which the murders had been discussed, including Narvil’s revelation that he knew that the liquor had truly been stolen by Medril’s own son and shared amongst Leverion’s companions. He also handed each a copy of a statement written by Narvil himself to this effect, giving the original into Daerloth’s hands.

“Now, my lords,” Caraftion said as Wendthor returned to his seat, “I will read to you selected portions of this statement that at first he said was true.”

What he read made it very clear that Garestil had not seen the actual gully and drainage ditch where the bodies of the boys had been found and where they had supposedly died. He then asked Master Crëarnil to read the description of the same place as given by Vendrion from his first report on the finding of the bodies.

“So we found it as well,” stateded Berevrion, with indications of agreement from the rest who’d been to Destrier.

Carenthor continued, “He was asked to describe the water in which the bodies were found. ‘It was deep, real deep,’ he’d answered. ‘Over their heads. Over my head, too. I could see them, down too deep to reach, and one was wriggling like a worm.’ When asked what time he’d left the village with Carenthor and Danárion he now indicated that they’d done so at the sixth mark after noon. He’d brought the bottle of liquor, which he now claimed had been given into his keeping, and he described it as being a common green glaze such as was used in the alehouse.”

Anorgil then read from the report made by Medril to the constables on the theft of the liquor, and it was made plain that he purchased his bottles from the potter in Hevensgil and that he specifically chose ones that were unglazed on the outside and were made from a mixture of terracotta and a fine white clay, leaving them a pleasing light reddish brown.

“The strangest thing of his narrative, beyond his placing the murders the day before Midsummer, is that he has them leaving the village at the sixth mark after noon, yet returning home midway between the seventh and eighth marks, well before sunset, in order to make ready with his father for the celebrations for Midsummer and to join with those who lived on either side to go to the village square for the Midsummer Feast. Yet, when asked to describe the time it would take to get to the gate and then from there to the beam where they crossed to the other side of the canal, he stated it would take better than three quarters of a mark to make the entire journey from his home to the beam. Yet he says that they were gone only for the time of one and a half marks? How was there time to go, do what was done, and return again?

“And in describing what could be seen from the place where the children died, he described the farm beyond Master Medril’s farm, and made some major errors in his description. But none of this was visible from the ditch, and he specifically answered the question as to whether he’d gone through the woods into the field, No.”

Caraftion stopped, and laid this document before Benargil. “Does any of this sound familiar, my lord?”

“I never read this, or heard its like,” Benargil admitted.

In response to a look from the lawyer, Daerloth said, “Nor have I seen or heard this,” to which Crëarnil agreed.

“Yet I specifically placed this document in with what was to be sent to you, my Lord Daerloth. See my seal here?” Caraftion pointed to the place.

Wendthor, who was rummaging through the same file, lifted up a second document. “Here is another copy of the same, with a letter attached addressed to my father, begging him to read this thoroughly,” he said.

Caraftion straightened. “Master Fendril, Pardronë, and I each left our own set of documents in the hands of Master Enelmir, who was charged to see them forwarded to each of you, my lords. Not even his clerk was to touch these until Enelmir saw them placed in the boxes in which they would be sealed by him to be carried to your attentions. I included this to demonstrate to the two of you how it was that the youth had no idea as to what those woods or the ditch within it were like, much less when the children actually went missing. When your responses were returned and the list of documents reviewed by you did not include this one, Enelmir merely sniffed and advised me that I had sent too much, and you both must have felt it beneath your dignity to bother yourself to read this one, or one that Pardronë had sent, either.

“And now I find this in this box prepared by Master Malthor for us to take to the King’s presence….”

Malthor had just come out with yet another awkward box, and paused when he realized the attention of all within the room was on him. Daerloth said, “Master Bariol, if you would take the box Master Malthor holds, please? And Wendthor, please give that document into Master Malthor’s hands. And if you, Master Malthor, will please tell us how it is that you came into possession of this?”

Malthor took the document into his hands. “It was the evening when all of the lawyers came here to prepare with Master Enelmir the boxes of documents intended to be reviewed by Lords Benargil and Daerloth for the appeals. I’d come with the boxes, and stood by to see Master Enelmir begin to pack them. But there were a few documents he did not place in the boxes, and when he had the boxes filled and then closed and sealed he told me that there was no room for these and that there were already documents that covered this information. He instructed me to see these documents burned. But—well, my lords, it goes against my training to see any properly prepared document destroyed….”

When Wendthor took him into his embrace and squeezed him mightily, Malthor appeared alarmed, and many within the room laughed, although Enelmir’s gaze ought to have seared the flesh from his bones.

“We have heard enough,” Daerloth said. “What think you, Crëarnil? He now goes to the King for judgment?”

“Indeed so,” the Master of the Guild of Lawyers for Anórien said. “And to think we even considered him to take my place when I am ready to give over my office!”

Two soldiers came forward. “Hold him in the guardhouse rather than the prison,” Benargil directed. “First, I suspect that the prison is becoming overly crowded, even for just overnight. And I would hold him where he cannot communicate with the others. He is to ride tomorrow in the midst of a circle of six mounted guards, at least two of whom are to be bowmen. He is to be properly garbed as my Seneschal—for the last time.”

“But,” demanded Rindor once Enelmir had been taken out, “if Danárion, Carenthor, and Garestil are innocent, how was it that our children died? And where?”

Wendthor brought forth the satchel they’d found outside the byre for the abandoned farm, and Berevrion held out to him the tally stick. Both were laid upon the table before Lord Daerloth. Wendthor described how he and Faradir had been sent to examine the track from the abandoned farm opposite that of Medril to the second one two miles east of Destrier along the Highway, and how when a second path seemed to lead more directly toward the Highway he’d taken it and found it led to the byre. He explained how he’d explored the ruined building while he’d awaited the arrival of his companion and found the tally stick and realized its intent, and how he’d taken it to show his lord father.

Berevrion then took up the tale. “It was Harolfileg who saw the picture of the impression that Avrandahil documented as having been found on the upper leg of one child and asked after it. We all examined it, and we decided to take all of the pictures and reports that Avrandahil had made regarding the deaths of the children, and at Anorgil’s suggestion we also brought away those regarding the murder of Drevendion of Amon Dîn allegedly by Dorndrol of Anwar, as again in that case it was made to appear that arcane beliefs and practices related to the worship of Sauron were involved. Anorgil put these two into his own satchel, and the rest were gathered and sealed until they can be reviewed in Minas Tirith by a healer trained by Master Elrond of Imladris.

“When we arrived at the gate to the village, Wendthor was awaiting us, the tally stick in hand, and I recognized that this was what had left that impression on the child’s leg. So, once Harolfileg and Bariol had agreed, we sent the rest of the party on, and we set off for that abandoned byre to search it. Wendthor showed us as best he could where he’d found the tally stick, and we found the stone with which two of the children had been struck, and where the third was thrown against a wall and his skull cracked. Once we knew where it was that they had died, we went out and looked down the narrow path that Wendthor had followed, and saw how it would lead back to the other abandoned farm and the drainage canal, and how the one who slew them had sought to hide the bodies so that he might be far away before they were found.”

He indicated that Bariol should now continue. “From what we had read of the reports sent by Master Avrandahil to the people of Destrier, it was evident that the true cause of death in each case was the repeated blows to the back of the head of each child. One child appears to have died very shortly after he was struck, and it was he whose body lay face-down with his leg pressed to the tally stick. Whoever struck them then probably fetched in the ponies that they not be seen by passers-by and cause someone to come close to learn why it was that two ponies stood there. He then apparently turned the children over upon their backs to ascertain whether they yet lived, and decided that it would be best to remain where he was until he was certain all who were likely to pass by might have returned to their homes in Hevensgil or Destrier.

“After a time whoever killed them stripped their bodies, and bound them loosely with their own lacings, one end of a binding to a wrist, and the other end to the same ankle. It is similar to the manner in which some animals are bound after they are slaughtered to carry them to the cool room to be hung up and bled. The bodies were carried thus, perhaps suspended from the pommels of their own saddles, to the ditch and were hidden there. The ditch was shallow and would not be likely to be considered a proper hiding place for the bodies; but the mud was thick at the bottom of it, definitely thick enough to hold the bodies down, and the water dark enough the bodies would not be seen.

“The ponies were then led back along the path to the beam that bridges the drainage canal, and there they were killed and thrown into the water. They were not pushed or dragged—they were thrown. There were not the marks upon the ground to indicate creatures of such weight and with shod hooves were forced over it, or so Master Amdir has told us.”

“But what does this tell us?” asked Benargil.

“First of all, that none of those accused of this crime could have done such a thing, even working in concert. Danárion could barely hold anything using his one arm, with it newly released from a splint after it was broken. Then, as he could not bear the touch of a horse, it is not likely he could bear that of a pony, either; how, then, was he to help in the disposal of the bodies of the creatures? Garestil is too small to have assisted in lifting such an animal free of the earth, and we are told that at the time Carenthor was little taller, although he appears to have grown a good deal in the last few months.”

“I cannot think what sort of Man might have lifted the bodies of two ponies and thrown them as if they were bales of hay into the water,” Benargil said. “One would need the strength of a troll to see it done, or so I would think.”

“Or perhaps one of the greater Uruks,” suggested Berevrion. “We know that the Enemy had enough of those at his disposal, and my Lord Kinsman tells me that Saruman was apparently breeding Uruks with Men, and that many against whom they fought in Helm’s Deep were mightily strong.”

“I can vouch for that,” grunted Brëon. “Many were not only larger than Men, but were immensely strong, often raising their massive siege ladders alone where it would take several Riders of the Mark to do the same. And they did not quail from the light of the Sun as do most orcs and goblins, and more resembled Men than have any others of the creatures of the Dark that I have ever seen.”

“Then, perhaps such a creature killed our sons?” asked Mistress Nessa.

“So we have come to believe,” Harolfileg said. “Not all who have sheltered in the ruins of that byre have been Men, or wholesome.”

“But what in Middle Earth were the three of them doing there, two miles away from the village?” demanded Rindor. “How was it they came into the clutches of such a creature?”

Berevrion opened the satchel and lifted out a cotte and laid it upon the table, then a pair of trews, and then a shirt, and Mistress Nessa cried out, “No! Those were Nedron’s!”

“We know,” agreed the northern lord, his own voice filled with grief and compassion. He pulled out the small picture. “And this was there, too. We believe he intended to run away, even as he’d told his sister. He could no longer bear the cruelty of Vangil, apparently.”

“And they would see him upon his way,” continued the Elf, his eyes filled with the grief his kind knew all too well here in the Mortal Lands. “So they brought him to the nearest shelter they could think of where few were likely to seek for him until he could be clear away. Only they could not know that another already sheltered there.”

Mistress Vanessë had left her place and approached the newly stricken woman who had blamed her son for the death of the other’s child, and took her into her arms, her own tears joining with those Nessa was shedding, her croons of offered comfort mixing with sounds of the other’s grief. “I am so sorry, Mistress,” she murmured as she stroked Nessa’s hair. “I am so, so very sorry.”

And Nessa wept into the other’s shoulder….

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