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Murder Most Foul
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
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23
Journey Toward Judgment

Journey Toward Judgment


A recess was called, and when all resumed their places Nessa was again seated upon a bench, but this time on the other side of the room, near Danárion’s mother. Nessa’s eyes might be puffy and her nose still red, but she was outwardly calm, her grief replaced by a new purpose. Tevern and Renalta appeared confused and possibly rebellious. Rindor sat somewhat apart from them, his own attention divided between those seated at the lords’ table and Caraftion.

Pardronë had finally arrived, reporting that he’d not been home in Lissom when the summons came, but had been to a farm outside Raeglib where he was helping an elderly farmer prepare for his imminent departure of the Bounds of Arda by seeing his affairs put into proper order.

“Why did you not allow Carenthor to speak on his own behalf?” they asked him.

“You have read the transcripts of the trials, or so it has been told to me. You know how Fendril twisted everything said by Danárion and managed to make it appear that he was lying. He would have done the same for my client.”

“Why did you not call others who could say that Carenthor was home caring for his brothers? There are those who could testify he was there.”

“His younger brothers? Do you not believe that Fendril would have done everything he could to make them look and feel confused and as if they were merely lying for him? They were children, after all!”

“Yet he called the two young girls who said that they had overheard Danárion admitting his involvement in the murders a week after Midsummer, and in spite of the fact they could say nothing beyond they believed they had heard this, they were believed by the jurors.”

“Yes, he convinced all that they told the truth even though they could not name those he told this to or say whether he said this as if it were a solemn secret or the worst of insolent answers to an impertinent question. And he managed to make the eight who said that Danárion was at the home of Targon’s sister and her husband appear to be lying, primarily because Danárion himself put himself there in the afternoon rather than after the evening meal. And why he would do this----“

“Did you not seek to find out why he might have been confused?”

“How can someone be so confused as to mistake whether one was in a place in the afternoon or the evening?”

Bariol said, “Because he was under the influence of both poppy and hemp, given him by the healer to help him with the pain of his arm.”

Pardronë for the first time appeared surprised rather than defensive. “This is true?” he asked.

“Yes—we have seen the records made at the time, and all agree that Danárion would most likely not have been fully coherent in his mind until after he’d had a full sleep. And before you ask, I know from my own experience with those under my care to whom I’ve given such mixtures that he would probably not have been likely to have behaved violently toward any at that point, and afterwards he probably fell asleep until the drug’s influence was fully spent. Also, those who served on the gate say he never left the village that night, much sought to enter it later—neither he nor Carenthor. And you did not think to summon one of these? But more to the point, the neighbor to Carenthor’s family has stated that he and Carenthor were engaged during much of the time he was supposed to have been outside the village in pursuing the family dog and removing it from the neighbor’s garden.”

“I did seek to have a gate guard speak for Carenthor, but Captain Borongil let me know that none of his Men would speak for any of the youths. He spoke most—persuasively.”

“Did he threaten you?”

“Not directly, but----” He shrugged, and it was plain that something in Borongil’s attitude had convinced the lawyer of his intent.

“Your family, perhaps? Or someone you care for deeply?” asked Berevrion gently.

Pardronë glanced into his eyes, then looked away, again shrugging. It was enough.

Erchirion asked, “Why did you not cooperate more closely with Master Caraftion? He was, after all, seeking as strongly to serve Carenthor as he was either of the others.”

“I knew that Carenthor was innocent, but could not know that of the others.”

“That attitude was obvious, and may well have added credence in the minds of the jurors to the idea that all were therefore guilty.”

Pardronë’s expression was pained. “Perhaps,” he admitted. “It is too late now to rectify that, however.”

“Perhaps not. Tomorrow we are to return to Minas Tirith with all who appeared here this morning. Will you go with us as the King himself examines the case and grants final judgment upon all?”

He straightened. “The King will be the final judge?”

“Even so, Master Pardronë. After all, he has been appealed to personally by Mistress Vanessë. Will you come with us?”

“I did not come prepared for this! Do you ride first for Amon Dîn?”

“Even so.”

“My wife and child—I would not leave them unprotected. May I go and fetch them—bring them with me? We can arrive there tomorrow in the evening, I’d think!”

Daerloth smiled. “Go, then, and I shall send one of my own guards with you to see to their protection as you ride. And ahorse you may end up arriving before us, for we shall have two wagons accompanying our party.” He turned again to speak with his aide, who bowed and gestured for the young lawyer to join him.

Daerloth now looked to those from Anwar and Destrier who still sat upon the benches. “We will be ending this tribunal, and thank you for your patience and courtesy. If you have any final concerns or information to share with us, if you will share that with us now?”

One of those from Anwar itself glanced at those Men who sat nearest him, and rose slowly to his feet, his hands on his upper thighs as he stood. “We here, we seven—we were among those who were on the jury. We could not begin to appreciate why anyone would question our votes for guilt, so we came this day to hear just what foolishness you would seek to provide that might serve to cast doubt on the verdict we rendered. We did not expect to find that Master Enelmir himself would be under investigation, much less all of these others. You say that all of these were in league, intent only on seeing to it this Danárion should take the full blame for the murders of the children and should suffer the rope? But why? Why would Enelmir agree to be party to such vile doings?”

Berevrion caught the gaze of Daerloth, who nodded to grant him the right to respond. “We asked much the same questions in Destrier,” he said. “There it appeared that all, even the village Master himself, was privy to the plan to see Danárion hang at any cost. But instead we learned that although the ends appeared the same, the reasons were varied.

“Danárion has not been a well loved individual there for some years, not since he became one of the primary butts for jibes and attacks by the youth Leverion, whose father is wealthy and whose mother has until now been perhaps too influential for the good of all. Sergeant Ingoril, I see you have returned here after seeing your charges to the prison. Can you perhaps help explain some things for these? Will you agree to answer our questions? After all, I believe you are much of an age with Leverion, are you not?”

“I am a half year older than he.”

“And already a sergeant?”

Ingoril’s face took on an expression of discomfort Berevrion had seen often enough on the faces of those who’d survived combat. “I somehow managed to survive several battles with the enemy, and to save more than I’d thought to from an ambush laid by a battalion of orcs and foreign Men some six miles east of here. One of those I saved was sergeant before me. He lost a leg and must be released from duty, and he begged our Captain to put me in his place—said I’d proved myself a canny one in battle, and quick to recognize dangers others missed, as well as one who was fair but still a forceful leader.”

“Then I will tell you that you will be honored by my Lord Kinsman for what you have done. He knows well how it is in a sudden battle, and how the quick awareness of one such as you may save countless lives and help to turn the tide toward victory.”

“Perhaps. Thank you, my lord.”

“So, it appears that Leverion has been one of Hanalgor’s—friends—for some time.”

“Even so. Although that may simply be due to the fact that many have always been unwilling to do aught to rile Mistress Anhildë. She has always seemed to think that her son could do no wrong, and that any who sought to criticize or correct him was being unfair, and she would prevail upon all, as she put it, to put things right, meaning that whoever had offered what she saw as offense needed to be made to apologize even if it was Leverion who’d done that one wrong. She was—tenacious, and in the end more deferred to her than they did to Master Nerwion’s wife. Although that perhaps is understandable, as Master Nerwion’s wife has committed the unpardonable sin of having come from Raeglib, which is seen as far more foreign in Destrier than having been born in the Eastfold of Rohan.”

“So, Mistress Anhildë might, then, have come to see those who she believed championed her son as her allies, and overlooked what else they might do?”

“Yes.”

“And Nerwion, although he was born in Destrier, might be seen as suspect solely because he had the temerity to marry a woman from Raeglib?”

“Oh, definitely.”

“When did Leverion begin to particularly target Danárion?”

“When did he not? No, I suppose it was about the time Danárion was twelve summers. He was very smart, and read everything he could find to read, and understood it. As Leverion saw it, that was getting beyond himself, so he began to make fun of Danárion, particularly when Danárion received constant praise from our teachers in the free school and he did not. That Leverion found nothing he felt worthwhile in study and was more intent on appearing to find the requirement we attend it distasteful and thus constantly earned disapproval made things worse. Once he found that Danárion was sensitive to the fact that his father by birth had left him and was certain that the Man was some paragon of virtue, he began to use the fact that Danárion was not Targon’s true son as a bludgeon against the boy. Danárion wasn’t sufficiently tall or strong enough to protect himself physically, but he was quick also to find weaknesses and to exploit them in barbed words. And it grew from there.

“We knew that Danárion had often been sickly when younger. That his parents never bought him a pony was seen as somehow suspect. Although I suppose it would have been just as bad had we known that he could not touch a horse or pony lest it make him ill. He had no interest in currying favor with those who chose to run mindlessly, and became increasingly critical of Leverion for his bullying and for his brutish interests. This made Mistress Anhildë complain of him constantly to the constables and guardsmen, demanding they intervene to somehow protect her son, and so Vendrion began to be critical of the boy who so offended Leverion. Once he was established as a gate guard, Hanalgor at first sought to shape Danárion into one of his minions, but found Danárion saw through him. So he began finding everything Danárion did suspect, and his acceptance of the old tales of Elves as great heroes as ominous. We used to make fun of Hanalgor for his superstitious nature, and that did not earn us his favor, none of us who did not follow the lead of Leverion.”

“So Vendrion was mostly seeking to placate Mistress Anhildë, whilst Hanalgor was at first reacting to Danárion’s rejection of his advances and then probably the boy’s outspoken criticism and jibes at his expense.”

“Yes.”

“Was Danárion aware that Hanalgor stole from the marketplace?”

“Of course. We all knew soon enough. And he saw Master Nerwion’s refusal to investigate and do anything about the situation as him somehow being complicit with Hanalgor’s actions, so he had critical things to say about him, too.”

Berevrion summarized, “And then Master Targon went missing, and Danárion’s real father returned and proved anything but the paragon that the boy had expected.”

“Yes. And he was too stupidly proud to admit that the situation was horrible, even as Radamir spent away all of the family’s substance and they had to keep moving into meaner and meaner lodgings. Radamir was stealing, too, but the guardsmen would do nothing, and now that Borongil had come and was Captain of the guardsmen and constables, things grew steadily worse. Oh, Amdir tried more than once to take him in charge, but always he’d find that somehow Radamir was out again, and he’d be advised to leave him alone, that it was somehow important to the welfare of all that Radamir remain free. And then Borongil, Hanalgor, and Vendrion became allies in whatever it was that they did together, which I learned just today was in selling goods from Destrier to the White Spider of Isengard—it was simply not a good setting for anyone who held any measure of integrity.

“I’d always wondered why Nerwion didn’t interfere, and came to believe with Danárion that perhaps he, too, was party to whatever sins Borongil led Hanalgor and Vendrion into. But now it appears that he was under pressure from Master Fendril to allow these to follow their own way no matter what, and by the time he decided to intervene he no longer was able to wield the authority to curb them openly, and so must appeal to allies elsewhere to have Borongil removed.”

Erchirion suggested, “Then perhaps Danárion might have realized that his father and the guardsmen were together committing illegal acts and was criticizing them for it. That would surely add to their joint hatred for him, and would encourage Hanalgor to imagine even greater evils he was capable of.”

Ingoril nodded. “I would not be the least surprised. And once he and his mother together threw Radamir out of their house for seeking to force his daughter, and virtuously tried to return what they suspected to be stolen goods, that would have been the crowning offense in their eyes, if I know Hanalgor at all.”

“So,” said Erchirion, “to keep their secret and make aught that Danárion might say about them and their possible complicity with Radamir’s thefts appear suspect, Vendrion and Hanalgor began to openly accuse Danárion of worship of the Enemy and madness, seeking constantly to take him in charge or see him held in the madhouse here in Anwar, and Borongil freed Radamir one more time but publicly drove him out of the village and back to the company of his second wife in Raeglib. The murder must have been seen as the perfect vehicle by which to assure that Danárion could be gotten rid of permanently.”

“But,” said Wendthor as he joined the line of reasoning, “then they must rid themselves of Carenthor as well. After all, Carenthor was well thought of throughout the village for his gentleness, integrity, and artistic nature. If he were to protest that Danárion was being wrongfully accused, then people would be more likely to listen and perhaps intervene.”

Erchirion’s eyes were alight. “I think you have the right of it! Ah, Benargil, but you have a son to be proud of! Yes—so that is a good part of why they must make Carenthor appear a party in this—if he is suspect in the murders as well, then their own sins remain the more securely hidden! But they must find one they can manipulate into telling them what they would hear—and enter Garestil!”

Berevrion turned back to the party identified as the former jurors. “When we spoke with Nerwion at the last, he admitted that he had allowed them to investigate Danárion to distract them so that hopefully Constable Amdir could continue to investigate and possibly identify the true murderer. When he realized that they had already rendered Amdir as impotent as he found himself, he then suggested to Mistress Vanessë that she write to Lord Denethor and now our Lord King to send someone to investigate the case. Just as Master Nerwion needed to obtain help from someone in authority in Amon Dîn so as to circumvent Master Fendril’s influence and rid the village of Borongil’s corruption, if he was to further purge Destrier of Vendrion and Hanalgor he must find someone else from outside to come in and expose them.”

“Then why isn’t Master Fendril here before this tribunal as well?” demanded the Man who’d spoken before.

Berevrion smiled. “Oh, but we have decided to leave him to our Lord King’s own attention. And I truly doubt that he will find my Lord Kinsman’s attention—comfortable.

“But what of the seven of you? Are you still convinced that Danárion, Carenthor, and Garestil killed those three children?”

He who’d spoken said, “Well, I would certainly be unlikely to find them guilty were I to vote now. But I do find it impossible to imagine that an orc of some sort would be hiding out in a byre and would kill the children when they happened across him and then choose to hide the bodies in such a manner.”

Another in the party lurched to his feet, leaning on a crutch. “I used to be a soldier myself. Lost my leg fighting orcs in Osgiliath. And I’ve never heard tell of an orc who’d hide a body—they either eat them or hack them up and leave them lie.”

Berevrion tried to explain, “But the orcs that Saruman has bred are cleverer than are those that Sauron employed. They appear to have more Mannish blood, and are more capable of devious thought. They can be just as brutish as are the orcs of Mordor or the mountainous lands, but are better able to plan and foresee consequences than are Sauron’s creatures. And they would make better spies than would a common orc, who is barely able to think of more than following orders, seeking his next meal, fighting, and hopefully bettering his position by killing those who stand immediately above him and taking their places. If he had a decent store of food, such a creature would realize that it would be best to hide the bodies rather than eat or leave them, which would alert all that an orc was on the loose and send out soldiers to track him down.”

But he could see that three of them at least were unimpressed. Never having dealt with the Uruk-hai of Isengard, they could not imagine any orc could think in such a deep and logical manner.

“The question still stands,” he reminded them. “Would any of the seven of you vote to find Danárion, Carenthor, or Garestil guilty now?”

“But if these didn’t kill the children, and it wasn’t a new kind of orc, then who does that leave?” asked a third.

“I hate to speak ill of the dead,” said the teacher from Destrier, “but I tend to believe that, having realized that Nedron was running away, his stepfather Vangil followed the boys and sought to force his stepson to return home. But when Nedron refused to do so, I suspect that he struck him and hurt him so badly that he realized that the boy was apt to die, so he killed the others to keep any from learning the truth.”

“No!” said both of the couple from Destrier in concert with another observer from Anwar. Their next protestations overlapped one another: “You will never convince me that anyone other than that Danárion killed those children!” “You would let a killer of innocents go free to continue his worship of the Dark Lord and one day kill again?” “But Danárion killed those boys—everybody knows it!”

“No!” roared someone else, although later none could identify who this was. “It was Rindor who killed the children. Look how he killed Bredwion’s mother so soon after!”

The room was in an uproar, and at an order from Daerloth the hall was quickly emptied of all observers save for Rindor himself, the family members of Garestil, Carenthor, and Danárion, and the seven jurors. All of them appeared decidedly unsettled by what they’d just witnessed, and Rindor appeared torn between shock at the accusations just aimed at him, fury at those who named him the murderer of the one he’d always considered his son, and fear for his own life.

“Dírhael!” he suddenly cried. “He’s somewhere out there!”

“Fear not,” advised Daerloth, sitting back heavily in his chair and wiping his face with a kerchief. “I had one of my Men take him and the other members of the families of the children in hand, and they are to be taken to the Keep and kept safe under the care of Lady Marien.”

“Bless my wife!” murmured Benargil as he nervously combed his hair over his bald spot with his fingers. He looked across at a white-faced Wendthor, and suggested, “Perhaps you should go to her, my son, and help calm them as you can.”

Wendthor nodded, and he crossed the hall toward the door, pausing to give the assembled lords a final respectful bow. Benargil smiled at the youth. “I must say, I am very proud of you, my son,” he said, at which Wendthor looked up in surprise, a delighted grin breaking across his face before he went on his way.

Once all were calmer, the juror who’d spoken first sighed, looking toward the door. “You asked, my lord,” he said, turning back toward Berevrion, “what we would vote now. As I said, now I would not vote guilty. But I never dreamed that Master Enelmir himself was keeping a good part of the truth from us.”

“I voted guilty,” a second one said, “because I knew that Garestil had confessed. And I thought, no one who is innocent would think to confess to such a thing. But now I’m not so certain.”

The former soldier who was now crippled shook his head. “I’m not so certain they did it, but I still don’t believe in orcs who think more like Men. Maybe that teacher was right, though, and this Vangil did it. But, if so, how is it he wasn’t charged then? And did I hear rightly—he’s dead now? How did that happen?”

“I’m certain they’re guilty,” a fourth said. “I was certain then and am certain now. And this talk of conspiracies in Destrier involving even Master Fendril and Master Enelmir—preposterous!”

One of the remaining three said he couldn’t make up his mind whether they were guilty or innocent, and appeared surprised to learn that in that case, were he voting now he’d be required to vote innocent as he obviously was entertaining a reasonable doubt, while the other two merely indicated they’d no longer vote guilty.

Malthor came out with still another box bound for Minas Tirith. “I think there’s but one more box to go,” he informed Lord Benargil. “But we’ll need to see them properly closed and sealed. Most of the boxes with the evidence are still sealed from the end of the trial, although there are two that had no lids and so will need to be closed in some manner before they can be sealed and loaded into a wagon. And the inventory is not precisely in order or complete, I fear. This has all proved most irregular. And Lord Erchirion took The Book of Shadows already, and that was considered evidence, after all.” He looked at the seven former jurors and examined them uncertainly. “And are you to go to Minas Tirith as well?” he asked. “I’ve never heard of the jurors themselves being part of an appeal before! Although there is the report that Master Bridion just gave Master Enelmir last week regarding his client Dagon son of Trevorn. He was the foreman of this jury, was he not?”

“Yes,” said the one with the crutch.

“What about him?” asked Benargil.

“On hearing that our Lord King had sent a deputation to investigate this trial, Master Bridion felt Master Enelmir should be made aware that Dagon had consulted with him after the first day of the trial was over as to how he might convince the rest of the jury to vote guilty. It would seem Master Fendril had regaled him some nights earlier with details from the confession he had obtained from the youth Garestil, who he was now certain would testify against the others. And, having heard these details, Dagon was already convinced of the guilt of the three youths before he was chosen to become part of the jury.”

“Sweet Valar!” murmured Berevrion, sitting back heavily in his chair and letting his arms hang down loosely on either side.

“Oh, but it’s worse,” Malthor continued. “He had met with Bridion that night originally to consult regarding his own upcoming trial on charges that he’d been failing to pay taxes on the profits made on all of his sales of shoes and boots from his shop. And he told Bridion that Fendril had indicated earlier in the day that if he’d make certain that this jury would vote guilty, he would do his best to see that Master Enelmir dismissed the charges against him.”

“Where is this report?” asked Daerloth, his face grey with fatigue.

“In box eight,” Malthor said. “I rescued it this morning from the brazier in Master Enelmir’s office and substituted an old inventory from the warehouse where evidence is stored. You can’t just destroy reports like that!”

One of the last two jurors to speak looked warily from one party to another. “So,” he said, “it’s true—he wasn’t supposed to tell us what Master Fendril had told him about Garestil’s confession?”

“Indeed not!” Benargil exploded. “Of all the things to do! And Enelmir was concealing this from me? Forget garbing him as my Seneschal one last time! This is totally inexcusable!”

Berevrion was now rubbing heavily at his eyes. “He knew why we are here, and he would still let things stand and conceal this from all. And he insisted he was not conspiring to send one innocent to the gallows and the others to the quarries! I have a feeling that things are going to go very badly for him once Aragorn gets hold of him.”

Daerloth nodded. “So do I, Lord Berevrion. The King’s Majesty will not like this at all.” He turned to those who were still in the room. “I fear that all of you will be required to speak before the King. Benargil, summon guardsmen or soldiers to see these escorted to their homes to prepare for a hasty trip to Minas Tirith. They will need to sleep apart from their families tonight—this is not the type of news we wish spread throughout the city and the countryside without the walls before the King has dealt with it.”

“I will see to it,” Benargil told him. He sighed. “I’ll send word to Marien and Dalrieth to make up the rooms in the east wing for these and Master Rindor and his son. I do not believe it is safe for him to return to the inn.” He shook his head in frustration. “And what are we to tell the populace?”

*******


Master Bridion, a lawyer of Anwar, went to answer the pounding at the door, and found a guardsman from the Keep outside. They spoke briefly, and the guardsman saluted and withdrew, leaving the lawyer looking after him despondently.

“What is it, beloved?” asked his wife.

“I am summoned to Minas Tirith, to the King’s presence,” he said, his voice heavy.

“But that’s to the good, is it not, to come to the King’s notice, and as young as you are?”

“Not in this manner,” he said darkly. So saying, he turned toward their bedchamber to begin packing.

*******


Dagon son of Trevorn was just sitting himself down with his friends, a pitcher of ale before them and filled mugs for each, when two constables entered the inn and approached him. “Dagon, son of Trevorn?” one asked.

“Yes. What is this about?”

He was totally unnerved when one laid a hand on his shoulder. “You are to come with us, and I must advise you to say nothing to us, for aught that you might say may be used against you at trial. You are under arrest for malfeasance while serving on a jury in a court of this land.” And he was hauled to his feet and led out of the inn, his friends watching disbelieving in his wake.

*******


Benargil came out upon the steps of the Keep to face those who stood in the square between the keep and the Hall of the People. “I must tell you,” he announced, “that the King’s deputation sent to inquire into the case built against the youths Carenthor, Danárion, and Garestil of the village of Destrier in the matter of the unlawful deaths of the children Bredwion son of Rindor, Gilmar son of Tevern, and Nedron son of Lindon, has finished its investigation here within upper Anórien, and tomorrow will be returning to the King’s presence with what they have learned. They have chosen to leave unresolved the question as to the guilt of the three youths and their final fate. It will be now up to the King himself to pronounce their doom, for good or ill.

“With them will go others to also be examined by the King himself, for in the exercise of their commission they have managed to uncover a ring of smugglers who were selling goods stolen from the people of Destrier to agents of enemies of our ally, Rohan. These individuals have had a dark history of theft and misappropriation of goods from the garrisons at Amon Dîn and elsewhere, and appear to have been aided and abetted by at least one prominent lawyer for the fiefdom who will have much to answer for before the King. In the exercise of these illegal activities, these have been found to have apparently engaged in falsification of legal records, unethical behavior with those chosen to serve on juries, attempts to suppress and destroy evidence of their perfidy, and attempts to corrupt the courts of the land.

“I and my household will be going with them, and in our absence the business of Anwar will be conducted by Master Crëarnil, the Master of the Guild of Lawyers for Anórien, who has graciously agreed to serve as my deputy during our absence. There will be a number of individuals who will be accompanying us, for we have far more who will be required to serve as witnesses than we had anticipated.

“I will leave you with this: our Lord King Elessar Envinyatar Telcontar has declared that he will have the justice offered in this land be truly just, and he would have us all reminded that when we come before magistrate, judge, or lord for justice, we are to be considered innocent until and unless we are proved guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. And he will not deal lightly with those who seek to turn this precept around, and who will insist on seeing any accused of any crime as being guilty until proved innocent. He truly wishes to see Gondor and its people renewed, and that is the goal we now all strive for.

“I thank you for your courtesy, and I have no doubt that when we return it will be to find that Anwar and its lands will be in good array and continuing to prosper, now that the greatest evil of our time has been removed from this Middle Earth.”

With that he dismissed them and returned within the Keep. “I still feel that using the term doom was perhaps far too solemn,” he said.

“You will not regret it in the morning,” promised Lord Daerloth. “Now, put off the gloom. You will be meeting the Lord King, you and your family, and I suspect you will find him quite different from what your expectations might be. And I find I am anticipating the reactions you will know when you see him and his Companions for the first time. Sit down, Man, and have a glass of this excellent wine. Tomorrow, after all, will be the start of a new day.”

Benargil wasn’t so certain of that, but allowed himself to be persuaded to relax for what remained of the evening. And as he sipped from his cup, he certainly hoped that what his liege lord had just said would prove true.

*******


The door to his cell opened, and Danárion was instantly awake, feeling beneath the thin pillow granted him for the rod he’d removed from his bedstead, hoping he would not be required to use it. In the earliest days of his confinement here that door had been opened in the early hours of the day by guards intent on seeing this prisoner humiliated and degraded, and he’d come to dread the opening of it when it happened without forewarning.

Those guards were gone now, removed from service in the wake of the wonder of late March. Those who’d served since in the portion of the prison housing the death cells were more akin to the gaolers in Destrier, respectful but firm when dealing with their charges. Still—who knew what evils even these might be willing to demonstrate?

A figure entered, whispering, “Danárion—wake up! We have to prepare for the journey to the King’s court! And we’ve decided on one change.”

The voice was strangely familiar, waking memories of his earlier youth. “Ingoril? Is that you?”

“None other, Danárion. Get up, relieve yourself if you must, and we must get you dressed before the other guardsmen come to bring us away to the wagon.”

“Us? What’s this about us?”

Ingoril was removing his coat of mail and laying it over the foot of the narrow cot. “We’ve decided to have you sit by the driver, you see, and I’m to take your place in the wagon bed. I’ll be wearing leather armor under your clothing, and you’ll have my mail to wear to protect you. There are some vicious folk out there, we’ve learned.”

“Wait—but you’re a soldier now, aren’t you?”

“Yes.”

“And I’m to pretend to be you, and wear your mail and uniform?”

“Haven’t I told you that?”

“But I’ll have to wear your sword!”

“So? Are you planning to use it on me or the driver of the wagon?”

“Of course not! But I’m a prisoner still!”

Ingoril laughed. “You are going to need to become reacquainted with life in freedom, won’t you? Now, let’s get moving—we don’t have much time!”

*******


A stepstool had been provided to help Garestil climb up into the bed of the wagon. There were two benches here, and ahead of him a figure already sat, chained to staples fixed to the floor of the box.

“Watch yourself there,” a soldier said, his tone remarkably pleasant as he helped the youth maintain his balance. He commented to another, “I swear this one is almost as small as the two larger of the Pheriannath, and I’m almost tempted to help him as I would a child, just as I am with them.”

His fellow laughed. “Try that with the Ernil i Pheriannath and you’re likely to find yourself on the ground with the point of that sword of his at your throat. For all of his small size he’s yet a canny warrior.”

Between the two of them, Garestil was comfortably seated and the chain attached to the staple before him. “There’s a pallet there if you wish to lie down,” he was advised. “And there’s a water bottle there. And do put on the hat—don’t want to end up red and in pain before the morning’s out.”

A few minutes later and Carenthor was seated beside him, and he, too, was being advised to don the hat left for his use. One soldier explained, “We’re sorry you’re to miss your meal here, but they’re to bring a basket of food for you. The wagon will be going first with a ring of guards about it. And know this—we’re here to protect you more than we are to try to keep you from escaping. Although seeking to escape would work to the bad anyway—you’ll be far safer in Minas Tirith than you would be here at this point.”

A few more soldiers came forward, and one who was smaller than the rest was proving rather clumsy as he walked to the wagon and climbed onto the seat by the driver. Carenthor suddenly straightened. “Danár—” he began, but the formerly friendly guard struck the bench with the sheath for his sword.

“Quiet there, prisoner!” he said, loudly. “You will not speak unless spoken to, do you understand?” He then leaned forward as if inspecting the chain and murmured, “If you value the safety of your friend you will sit quietly and not seek to speak to him. We’re doing our best to safeguard you all. There have been threats.”

Carenthor nodded stiffly, and turned his head to examine Garestil. There was a strange smile on his face. “They meant what they said yesterday,” he whispered.

Garestil wasn’t certain what all of this meant, but he knew one thing—that short soldier—that was Danárion. And if that was Danárion, who was seated on the bench ahead of them? He reached down and got the hat and put it on as commanded, and wordlessly handed Carenthor his as well.

*******


The couple from Destrier arrived at the gate to the city with their horses, and Berevrion found himself muttering under his breath, “As if things weren’t complicated enough without putting up with more fools!” as he came forward to speak to them. “You are going all of the way to Minas Tirith?” he asked.

“Yes—we are going to insist on speaking with the King. He can’t let these escape their just punishment!”

“If you think that our Lord King will listen to your statement and blindly bow to your superior knowledge of the situation and do as you demand, you obviously do not know my Lord Kinsman,” he said. “But if nothing will deter you, let it be on your own heads. But you will need to pay your own way. I never counted upon having so many to bring for the King’s judgment, but then I’m not certain why I thought this deputation would prove to be straightforward in nature.” With that he turned and strode away, checking to see that the rest of the prisoners were properly accounted for, and making certain that Enelmir’s horse was ready for when they brought him from the guardhouse.

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