Aragorn was seated in his office, examining a draft of the letter he was proposing to send to Paladin Took as the Thain of the Shire, Frodo and Pippin beside him, when there was a knock at the door, and a page delivered a missive. “Aha!” he said, examining the address on it. “Finally, more word from Berevrion. Hopefully he will be on his way back now.”
“Has he been able to determine whether this Danárion is guilty or innocent?” asked Frodo.
“From what I can tell, he appears to have established the innocence of Danárion and the two others fairly early on. However, in trying to find out how it happened that three innocent young Men should have been condemned, one to death and the others to a life of hard labor, he found himself facing a good deal of confusion, or so Margolan tells me. It appears this portion of Anórien will be requiring a good deal of straightening up.”
He had the message open by now, and was reading. His face grew increasing solemn as he read, and he straightened more the further down the page his eyes went.
“He’s going all kingish again, as Sam would put it,” Pippin confided to his older cousin. “Must by serious.”
Aragorn had obviously heard that as he said, “Yes, it is. I’m sorry, Frodo, Pippin, but we need to prepare for the arrival of a large party that is now on its way here from Amon Dîn. I suspect they will arrive possibly sometime tomorrow early in the day, but it’s not a good deal of time to prepare. And tomorrow afternoon I shall again be required to be fully kingish indeed. Do remind me to thank Sam for that word—I find I rather like it. We’ll have to resume work on this in a few days, once the furor of this invasion from Anórien is over. If you’ll excuse me, my friends. And Pippin—you are to attend on me in a mark and a half’s time, so you’d best get down and into uniform swiftly.” And he was out of the room, calling already for the Housekeeper and the Seneschal to be brought to him in the second audience chamber as swiftly as possible, and perhaps Lord Húrin as well….
Lord Húrin and his wife Lynessë had been visiting with Prince Faramir in his private quarters when the summons found them, and so came down to the second audience chamber together. Aragorn was leaning over a table, Mistress Gilmoreth, the head Housekeeper, on one side and the Seneschal on the other, as they went through a list of the guesthouses for the city in the Sixth Circle. The King looked up at the Warden of the Keys and smiled briefly to see his spouse with him as well. “Ah, you have come in good time,” he said. “We will appreciate the advice of both of you, I do believe. We are about to be invaded by a veritable army from Anwar and upper Anórien.”
“Who comes?” asked Húrin.
“Lord Daerloth will be returning to Minas Tirith alongside Lord Benargil of Anwar and his household. I believe that in Lord Benargil’s party there will be eight individuals, one of them Lady Marien’s lady’s maid.”
“Including his Seneschal, Master Enelmir?”
“Enelmir will be coming, but independently of the rest of Benargil’s family. He will be housed here in the Citadel, but I feel it better we put Lord Benargil in a guest house.”
“Perhaps Master Enelmir would enjoy the Blue Suite,” suggested the Housekeeper.
The King, however, was grimly shaking his head. “No, I have far different plans for his housing. Lord Húrin, are there any cells in the dungeons below the Citadel that are fit to house a prisoner?”
Húrin appeared shocked. “Enelmir is coming as a prisoner? But what did he do? Or, perhaps I should merely ask what did he finally get caught doing?”
“You aren’t surprised?”
“There’s always been an oily feel to Enelmir, and I know my Lord Uncle distrusted the amount of influence he exercised over Benargil. Our Lord Denethor had always suspected that one day Enelmir would go that step too far that would expose him for the manipulative soul he is.”
“How about Lord Benargil himself?”
“Oh, if it weren’t for Enelmir’s influence he’d be a nice enough person and probably a very effective lord of the realm. I don’t think that there’s anything particularly bad to him, which is why I said nothing when Daerloth vouched for him when you were considering the question of confirming his position as Lord of the district ruled by Anwar. There is no question of his loyalty or his willingness to hazard himself in defense of his own lands and of Gondor in general. But it has always been true that he has allowed Enelmir to dictate how he will respond to political issues. He’s not anywhere as brilliant as was his father, or than his son Wendthor promises to become, but mostly he’s a decent sort. I must say that if he’s bringing Enelmir here as a prisoner, it shows a good deal more initiative than he’s displayed in years.”
“He’s had the influence of my kinsman Berevrion to consider,” Aragorn commented laconically. “I remember he was a rather placid child when last I saw him, and that he followed me about like a young dog choosing its master.”
Seneschal and Housekeeper exchanged looks, but knew better than to ask.
“But why the dungeons rather than the prison?” Húrin asked.
“I wish to keep him isolated from a few of the other prisoners, and I have a particular aversion to those who act as judges who are willing to play a part in promoting court authorized murders.”
Lynessë had been scanning the list of those who would need housing, and stopped short at one name. “Oh, no!” she said. “Not that one!”
“Who?” asked the King.
“Fendril of Destrier. We won’t be housing him within the Citadel, will we? The Man is insane!”
The Seneschal appeared stricken. “That one? The one who used only his chamberpot and threw its contents out into the garden? Oh, but my lords, the servants would never stand for him to come again!”
Aragorn looked from one to another, his eyebrows raised. “So, he’s been here before, has he?”
“Oh, but indeed,” Húrin said. “About nine or ten years past. A most uncomfortable person who sees evil in everything upon which his eyes fall. Although I’d understood he removed from Destrier to a village not far west of Amon Dîn not long after he visited with us. Very close with Enelmir.”
“I will see to it that he dwells alone, then. Wait—the Princes’ Chambers in the Tower of Ecthelion itself—we could house him there. And I could set one of my own to wait on him. Läendril would be perfect to play the bumbling fool of a manservant for him, and could learn much for me. It will be but for a day or two before he is brought before me for judgment.”
“Judgment?” Húrin asked.
“You are surprised? But you yourself indicated but a moment past that he has ever been close to Enelmir. Oh, yes, I think I shall take a great interest in seeing both brought to their just desserts. Now, about that dungeon cell….”
Húrin’s smile was not particularly pleasant, although it was satisfied. “I rather think I know of at least two, my Lord King.”
As they approached the Rammas Echor, about which masons labored, Fendril found himself being joined for the first time during the two and a half days since they left Anwar by others. He’d been just as happy riding alone, actually, as he often had difficulty communicating with other people, a phenomenon he’d always attributed to the enhanced mental faculties he was certain he possessed. But he had to admit that he’d begun to feel particularly isolated, considering how large the party was and how everyone appeared to be purposely avoiding him.
Those now riding by him were that northern lord said to be a kinsman to their new King and Anorgil son of Gilflorin. The northern lord’s companion, that officious Faradir, joined the two mounted guards behind them. “Have you found it a pleasant ride, Master Fendril?” asked the lord.
“Not with that opposite us,” Fendril answered, indicating the Mountains of Shadow across the river, “knowing who hides therein.”
Berevrion’s glance at Anorgil was filled with question. He returned his attention to Fendril. “And who is it that hides therein?” he asked.
“You know who it is—the Dark Lord, in hiding as happened before. It is but a matter of time before he will emerge again and once more seek to make himself the Lord of all!”
“But he is no more, not since his Ring, into which he poured so much of himself, was destroyed.”
“And they lie to themselves who believe such things,” Fendril declared. “So he would have us believe. But in reality his secret worshipers keep him alive, and they will return to him the power he once held.”
“And you know this how?”
Fendril looked sideways at the Man. “It has been written,” he declared with all the authority within him. “It is why we must always be awake and aware, be on guard against those who seek that which is different, for he will ever catch them by their own curiosity.”
“I will not dispute that he, as is true of his Master before him, may remain as a malicious whispering within our hearts. But it is up to each of us to refuse to respond to the selfishness and abuse toward others that he would inspire in us.”
“I tell you, we must be constant in our vigilance, and cast down those who would tell us that he is defeated forever.”
“And why that?”
“Because by breeding complacence in us, they prepare the ground in which his evil seed will fall and take root!”
The Man fell silent, and Fendril was certain that he had been convinced of the fact that the Dark Lord but awaited the turning of his enemies’ backs to creep back into power once more. The lawyer looked forward, and felt anger and foreboding at the sight. While they were at Amon Dîn they’d been joined by several more, including Amborn, who farmed the land in the bend in the canal southwest of the gates to the village of Destrier, and his daughter Argilien. And now he saw that these two rode alongside the wagon in which rode those worshipers of the Dark, Garestil, Carenthor, and Danárion.
“No!” he exclaimed.
The northern lord appeared alarmed. “No to what, Master?” he asked.
“He will befoul her spirit, that Danárion! She must be told to ride elsewhere!”
“You would deny one condemned to the rope the chance to visit while he can with the one he has come to love, Master? You would not allow him that comfort before he must die the death?”
But Fendril was seeking to spur his horse forward, intent on ending so illicit and dangerous a conversation, only to have one of the two guards who rode before him fall back and put his hand on Fendril’s bridle. “No, Master,” the guard said. “You must remain in your place in the procession.” And something in the Man’s eyes warned him that the guardsman meant what he said, and would not fail to intervene with force should he continue to seek to go forward.
“Besides, she does not speak with those in the box of the wagon,” noted Anorgil as Fendril dropped back to his previous position. “Nay, she is speaking with the one who rides alongside the one driving it.”
“I cannot imagine why,” Fendril said. “Fool was useless when those who attacked the wagon leapt onto it as we left the gates of Anwar.” Somehow remembering that made him feel more cheerful.
“Those who guard the prisoners and the prisoner himself saw to the defense of all, it seems,” the northern lord said with a backward glance at the cart that carried the two who’d sought to assault the prisoners. “Although why those two would think to deny these the King’s judgment is beyond me.”
At that moment one of those who’d ridden at the front of the procession rode back. “Lord Berevrion!” he called. “We approach the gate to the Pelennor, and apparently one awaits us who would speak with you!”
The northern lord sighed, nodded, said, “If you will excuse me,” and rode forward to join the messenger, heading for the front of the line.
One he was gone out of earshot, Fendril glanced sideways at Anorgil. “So, you have done fairly well in Minas Tirith?”
“Well enough. I have been qualified both as a clerk and scribe as well as being able to offer counsel before the magistrates’ courts in the lower circles of the city. For the past year I have served primarily as one of the Master of the Guild’s personal clerks and scribes, and it was on his recommendation I was chosen to accompany Lords Erchirion and Berevrion to Anwar and Destrier.”
“And you, a son of Anórien, are convinced that there are none who worship the Lord of the Black Land?”
“I never said such a thing. Indeed, the King himself has told me that he is aware that such has happened.”
Fendril felt his heart lift at that. “He knows the truth, then? Then he is not as are those who question all?”
“Oh, he tends to question a good deal from what I have seen. But he feels himself to be required to treat the pleas of the most common of his subjects as seriously as he does the requests of the greatest of his lords. There is no question he already is putting his own stamp upon policy and perception within the realm.”
“And he himself would hand down the dooms of those three perfidious youths?”
He failed to note the stiffness with which Anorgil responded to that question. Anorgil managed to keep his voice smooth enough as he shrugged and answered, “As he had promised to personally look into the plea of the mother of Danárion, it is in the end his right and duty to hear all that not only Lord Erchirion and his own kinsman Lord Berevrion have to say, but the testimony of all those who bear witness and complaint regarding the actions of those who might be responsible for this terrible crime.”
Fendril felt pleased. “Excellent!” he said. He glanced behind him. “I had hoped to ride beside Enelmir and learn more of his concerns. He apparently has felt much agitated by the questions he heard from those who have formed this deputation the King has sent.”
Again Anorgil shrugged. “I must assume that you appreciate that such matters as the worship of the Great Enemy tend to be discounted by most in other fiefdoms.”
“The more fools they,” Fendril said darkly. “Their own smug surety that there are no such creatures as those who worship the Nameless One will in the end prove their undoing, I fear. Such foul creatures thrive in the blindness of those about them, and rejoice to be overlooked by those among whom they move undetected. It is up to us who know the truth as revealed by the Champion of the Light to use whatever means we find needful to unmask them and bring them to the ends they deserve! The land must needs be purged of their foulness and perfidy! Else, such innocent creatures as yon maiden shall become tainted by their inner darkness, and may also need to be removed lest she spread the taint the faster.”
“So, you feel justified in using whatever means necessary to expose these horrible individuals?”
“Oh, yes! Why, they will even suborn children to speak for them to protest their supposed innocence, and we must be willing to prove to all that this happens.”
“What if it appears that those who must decide the guilt or innocence look to possibly choose wrongly?”
“Then you must be willing to offer incentive to those who subscribe to the Light to pressure the rest to change their minds.”
“You would do such a thing?”
“I have told you—I will do anything I must to see brought down those who might seek to empower the Dark Lord to rise again!”
“But it is said that this cannot happen, that he poured too much of himself into his Ring, and that with It destroyed he cannot return.”
“As I have said to the King’s kinsman, so he would have us believe. Oh, indeed we must practice constant vigilance….”
“I see. Oh, but wait; it appears that Lord Erchirion summons me. Forgive me that I must leave you.” And so saying, Anorgil rode forward to the side of Imrahil’s second son, leaving Fendril riding alone again, a lone guardian against imagined ills and devils.
It was with relief that the party from Anórien dropped from their mounts at the gap where once the great gates to the White City had stood. Guards in black and silver surrounded the wagons and carts, taking the various prisoners in charge and marching them rapidly inside the walls and away. The cart that held the boxes and crates of evidence and documents also disappeared within, and a pony cart waited to accept the luggage of those who’d come to observe the King’s justice fall upon Danárion and his companions.
Fendril stood uncertainly, surveying the blackened land that had once held the farms that had primarily supported the populace of Minas Tirith. “Stars!” he whispered. “What happened here?”
Faradir, who was nearby, releasing worn saddlebags from the ties that had secured them during their journey, paused, raking the scene with his eyes. “War happened here,” he responded. “By the time we who followed our Lord to the battle arrived, Sauron’s forces had razed the farms and villages, and all who had refused to leave their homes on the direction of Lord Denethor had been cruelly slain. We could not see the surface of the earth for the vast number of soldiers, Men, orcs, and Trolls that struggled here. They had poured balls of stuff flaming with fire over the walls and set much of the lowest level of the city ablaze, and there were even buildings in the Second and the Third Circles alight. We are told that not long ere we arrived the Witch-king himself had directed the use of a great ram to break down the city’s gates, but had been interrupted ere his creatures could enter in and utterly destroy the First Circle by the arrival of the Rohirrim. To our knowledge no evil Man or beast managed to enter the city itself, but it was not for want of trying.”
The two of them had turned as he’d spoken, and now looked up at the signs of battering and soot that had defaced what had been the White City’s shining walls, and Fendril found himself trembling to see the defilement that the Great Enemy had managed to leave in the wake of his armies. “He must be made to pay!” he declared.
“Who must pay? Sauron himself? Oh, that he has already been made to do. To watch the Towers of the Teeth and that great wall that were the primary symbols of his lordship and cruelty swallowed up by the Earth itself as at last the Powers finished up the battle before the Black Gate was the most terrible and awe-filling sight I have ever beheld. And in the distance we could see the tower of Barad-dûr crumble into rubble and Oródruin tearing itself into pieces.”
“You should not have the temerity to speak—that one’s—name,” Fendril said, amazed at the other Man’s foolishness.
“Why? Am I to believe that by doing so I somehow invoke him? But we of the North have never feared to speak the name of our greatest foe, who has ever sought to see us utterly destroyed and the last lines of the ancient Kings reduced to mere memories. We have never ascribed to him more power than he actually wielded, although there is no question that such was bad enough. But always to us he has been known as Sauron the Accurst, Sauron the Deceiver, Sauron, the Enemy of all who would live free.” So saying, Faradir pulled his bags from the back of his steed, and gave the beast over to the grooms come out to see to the horses. Laying the bags over his shoulder, he said, “Come. It is a long climb through the streets of the city to the Citadel.”
Refreshments awaited them as they found themselves halfway through the Fourth Circle, and even Fendril found himself dropping a few coppers onto the trays of the servers who’d awaited them, although he suspected that the King had already directed that these be paid for the hospitality offered the party from Anórien. All of the citizens of the city appeared happy enough as they bustled about seeing to their own affairs. He found himself shaking his head at the pleasure they seemed to take in the day. Did they not realize that the victory was in actuality merely a sham, and that even now the Dark Lord’s supporters were meeting in secrecy, offering dread sacrifices intended to allow him to once again rise from the depths of defeat to a new age of threat? He must convince the King of this threat, and inspire him to seek out the Dark Agents hidden throughout the realm. He must share with him the warnings left by the Champion of the Light….
They were met at the gate to the Sixth Circle by a veritable army of servitors and even more guards, each of them apparently directed to greet specific parties within the bulk of the new arrivals and lead them to whatever guesthouses had been made available for them. A Guard of the Citadel approached the lawyer. “Master Fendril? Good! I am to lead you to where you shall be housed, in the Princes’ chambers in the Tower of Ecthelion itself. If you will follow me?”
In the Princes’ chambers in the Tower itself? he marveled. How wonderful it was to learn that word of his own championship of the Light had preceded him! Ah, but he should soon become one of the King’s own counselors, and see finished the work begun so long ago by Macardion of Dor-en-Ernil, and so succeed him in the title of Champion for the Light.
And with pleasing images of himself directing the King’s policy rolling through his brain, he followed the Guardsman up the ramp to the Seventh Level.
They were halfway across the Court of Gathering when the sound of remarkable voices drew his attention.
“I tell you, Master, as I’ll be hard-pressed to get them scones for Lord Strider done afore suppertime. I suspect as we ought to’ve gone down to the guesthouse an hour or two ago.”
“Oh, Sam, do stop bothering yourself about it. You know as well as I do that Aragorn won’t starve if he doesn’t receive your scones with his evening meal! He’ll be even gladder to have them in the morning to break his fast with.”
Fendril’s jaw dropped and his eyes widened with shock at the sight of two exceptionally small individuals with alarmingly odd feet approaching him. “Orcs!” he cried out. “There are orcs here, here just outside the Citadel itself!”
Both paused and looked about with concern. “Where?” cried the broader one, drawing a sword appropriate to his stature from a sheath he wore at his waist. “And you refusin’ to wear Sting today of all days, Master! Get behind me—I’ll see you defended!”
Fendril found himself wishing he had bowed to convention and carried a sword himself, and he reached in an attempt to remove that worn by the Guardsman beside him. But before he could wrest it from the Man, he found the point of another’s blade at his throat and he stopped, knowing that if he even trembled the keen edge of the sword could easily slice through his flesh and deprive him of his life.
This sword was held by Faradir, whose face was suffused with fury. “What foolishness is this?” the northerner demanded. “Unhand your guard’s weapon, and on your knees, you scurrilous dog! Yes, on your knees, and beg pardon of the Lords Iorhael and Perhael for naming them, the Ringbearers themselves, creatures of the Enemy!”
The taller of the two had gone pale, although his cheeks flamed. The other straightened, his mouth agape as he looked into Fendril’s face. “You thought as we was orcs?” he demanded, and finally rammed his weapon back into its scabbard. “What kind of person is it as don’t know what orcs is really like?”
Fendril’s blade hadn’t wavered. “Kneel,” he hissed.
Realizing he’d not be freed of the threat at his throat until he complied, Fendril dropped to his knees, although he found himself unable to speak, not that he could think of a single word to say. Faradir withdrew the sword some, but did not sheathe it. “Beg their pardon, sirrah,” he directed. “And, if I felt you were worthy of it, I would have you kiss their blessed feet that carried them in secret through Mordor to Sauron’s destruction. Now, speak!”
Fendril swallowed a couple of times, and finally managed, “I beg your pardon. I had no idea….”
The taller one, whose cheeks were an even brighter color than before, considered him. “It is difficult to imagine that any Man of Gondor should remain ignorant of the nature of orcs,” he said. “Particularly as I am told that Sauron’s folk overran so much of the land. We will forgive you your error, but would advise you to learn whereof you speak before you manage to offend any other. Had you been facing my cousins, I suspect either one of them would have had you flat on your back before they bothered to put their swords to your throat. Oh, let him stand, Faradir,” he added, shifting his attention to the northerner. “And how many times must we ask you to call us by our given names?”
Faradir, however, was shaking his head as he sheathed his sword. “Nay, I was there when the Great Eagles announced your rank in the eyes of the West, and I shall never think of you as less than that. I do not intend to offend you, but even our Lord Kinsman will ever defer to you, I suspect.”
The color in the small person’s cheeks had faded, and he was now almost solidly the hue of ivory. “If you feel you must,” he said stiffly. “I am sorry, gentlemen, but I fear Sam and I must be on our way.”
So saying, he gave an overly formal bow and turned to resume his walk, the other pausing to say to Faradir, “You shouldn’t ought to of said that, Mr. Faradir, sir. You know as how he feels about that lordship business.” He eyed Fendril briefly and added, “And he was right about you—best learn what orcs is really like afore you say aught more about them. Now, if’n you’ll all excuse me,” and he turned away to hurry after his fellow.
“I shall have to speak to Aragorn about this Lord Iorhael business,” the taller one said as his companion caught up to him.
The other, however, was shaking his head. “That’s no good and you know it, Mr. Frodo. Lord Strider’ll just shake his head and say as he won’t compel anyone to call you otherwise. You know as him and Gandalf is both tickled pink whenever anyone treats you the way they think as you deserve. But enough of that—about them scones….” And as they went, those who had business on the Seventh Level bowed and curtsied as they passed, those in uniform saluting them and receiving casual nods in return.
Faradir was still fixing Fendril with a critical stare. “It appears that while I was instructing you as to the proper protocol to use when making a report to our Lord King, I ought perhaps also to have touched on how to behave toward his personal Companions, and particularly the others who came south from Rivendell with him in the Fellowship of the Ring. These seven individuals particularly are very dear to his heart, and there is none he holds in higher esteem than he does Lord Iorhael, the Ringbearer, and Lord Perhael, known here as the Ringbearer’s Esquire. You did most badly in offering either of them offense, and particularly here in such a public manner.” And indeed many of those within sight of Fendril were giving him cold looks and outright glares. “It is true that few of the people of Gondor have ever seen a Hobbit, but to accuse them of being orcs will be seen as a mortal insult by any of us from among the northern Dúnedain. I suggest that you behave in a far more respectful and circumspect manner with those who are of other races that you might encounter from this point on, or you are likely to find yourself missing some portion of your body that you will dearly mourn.” So saying he gave a stiff bow and stalked off toward the Citadel.
The Guardsman’s expression was almost as disapproving as had been that of the northerner. “That was indeed badly done. Once you are in the chambers given to your use, I suggest you remain within them until summoned to the King’s presence. I will not answer for anyone who might feel compelled to demand satisfaction from you for the offense offered to the Cormacolindor. This way.”
A tall Man with the dark hair and grey eyes common to so many of those of the purer blood awaited them at the door to the Tower of Ecthelion. The Guardsman greeted him, “Master Läendril? Here is Master Fendril of Anórien, who is to be in your especial care until the King summons him. Unfortunately, he just only just managed to cause particular offense toward Masters Frodo Baggins and Samwise Gamgee, apparently mistaking them for orcs. It might be wise for him to avoid public places for the nonce.” With an abbreviated salute he turned to head for the Citadel, leaving Fendril in this Läendril’s charge.
Läendril in his turn was examining Fendril closely. “You mistook a Hobbit of the Shire for an orc, did you? And I am told that much of Anórien, and particularly along the Highway, was overrun by the Enemy’s creatures during the days surrounding the siege of the City. How was it you had no sight of them? Did you spend the time they were scouring the countryside and setting up their ambushes intended to keep the Rohirrim from joining the battle of the Pelennor hiding under your bed or cowering inside your wardrobe? Ah, well—come with me and I shall show you where it is you will be housed for the next few days.”
This Man’s suggestions of cowardice on the part of Fendril hit home, for indeed he had gone into hiding within his home when the reports had come that orcs and foreign Men had invaded Anórien. He did as he was told, but with resentment in his heart toward these who he knew looked down upon him. He followed the Man up the stairs to the third level of the tower, totting up the score of resentments he held in his heart toward this one, the Guardsman, and that Faradir.
Carenthor, Garestil, and Danárion were led around the Citadel to the prison, but instead of being taken to isolated cells they were shown to a rather comfortable suite of rooms with real beds rather than pallets or narrow cots, a proper water closet, and even a small but adequate bathing chamber.
Warden Madog explained, “The primary reason you are being held here rather than in the Citadel itself is to better provide for your protection until such time as the King can publicly rule on your case. However, he, Lord Erchirion, and Lord Berevrion are all certain that you pose no threat to any, and deserve to be reasonably comfortable. Meals are to be sent from the Citadel itself, so you should find things a good deal better than you knew in Anórien.”
Garestil seemed overwhelmed, as did Danárion; so it was left to Carenthor to thank the Warden for his courtesy. But as they heard him lock the door after him, the hearts of all three tightened at least some—in spite of the relative luxury of their surroundings they yet remained prisoners, and their future still likely to be found built upon the sands of uncertainty.
Two long tables were set up along one wall in the Hall of Kings. On one Malthor, with the assistance of Anorgil, Lyrien, and Berevrion, set out the relevant documents detailing the findings of those who’d discovered and seen to the recovery of the bodies and the search of the wooded gully that surrounded the ditch where the bodies had been hidden, the inquiries made by guardsmen and constables, the interrogations of suspects, and the transcripts of statements, the various confessions, the trial, the reports made to Benargil and Daerloth, their rulings, and finally the reports and transcripts of the various inquiries and hearings made by the King’s deputation and the reports of activities during the transportation of the prisoners to the capital. Assisted by the Master of the Guild of Lawyers, the Master Archivist for the Citadel, and Prince Faramir, the King chose documents to review and took them back to his office and later his private chambers to read them and take notes before returning them and taking more. Meanwhile, Malthor and those assisting him were now engaged in setting out the physical evidence collected, each with the documentation surrounding it that described where and how it had been found and collected, and surmises on what it apparently indicated regarding how it was that the crime had been conducted. One whole end of this long table was covered by the pictures and reports made by Avrandahil; the King himself broke the seal Berevrion had put upon the packet containing these, and set the Captain of the Guard of the Citadel to make certain that each item was laid out neatly and would remain undisturbed until the King himself could see to them.
The families of the victims were housed together in a guesthouse at one end of the Sixth Circle, while those associated with the three youths were housed similarly on the far side of the circle, and various lawyers involved found themselves sharing a guesthouse in between. Benargil and his household were given what had once housed an embassy from Rhovanion; Daerloth and his people stayed in his townhouse in the Fifth Circle; the guardsmen and soldiers were housed in an empty barracks building in the garrison complex on the north end of the Sixth Circle, while the carters were given rooms in one of the few inns in the First Circle that had survived the fires of the siege. Many of those who were to speak as witnesses had been given rooms in an inn in the Fifth Circle that often placed its facilities at the disposal of the Citadel, while those who’d come along merely as spectators were left to find their own accommodations.
After a particularly nice evening meal, the three youths were visited by Wendthor and Ingoril, both of whom carried great bundles of clothing. “We decided to see you properly garbed,” Ingoril explained, “so we were given access to the storehouse to which citizens have brought clothing that will no longer be needed by those who were lost in the war. I hope we have chosen clothing that will fit you.”
“We’ll have simple clothing first,” Wendthor said, dividing what they’d brought into six piles. “After all, you are still to be seen as appellants in the eyes of most people. But these are for afterwards, when we are celebrating your acquittal at the King’s hands.”
“I don’t like the idea of counting myself free before I actually hear the door of the prison close behind me as I exit it,” Danárion said dryly.
Wendthor flushed, but admitted, “Yes, I can appreciate that. But believe me—this time it will happen. The King will probably summon you to a private meeting fairly early in the morning, for he wishes to question you himself. You will have to return here, but only until the actual final trial is held. After you, he will be questioning others and making his decisions as to which will be publicly questioned and which will be dealt with privately. Both Lord Daerloth and my father have to explain the decisions they made, although the fact that Enelmir himself saw to it that they weren’t able to review all that had been learned in the trials makes things better for them.”
“You are saying that your father and Lord Daerloth are also here to be judged by the King?” asked Carenthor, shocked at the idea.
Wendthor nodded. “My father admits he often didn’t read everything himself, but allowed Enelmir to tell him what was supposed to be in the documents. He’s not certain how many people whose sentences are worse than they deserve or who might actually be innocent there have been whose appeals he’s denied, but he admits it’s probably several.”
“And the King sent for him to explain these?”
“Oh, no—the King’s not had time to learn that on his own, not yet. No, Ada decided to come on his own. And for Lord Daerloth it’s much the same—realizing how Master Fendril and Master Avrandahil and Enelmir were cozening everyone, he, too, intends to kneel before the King and ask for help in reviewing many cases that he admits he may not have thoroughly reviewed before merely confirming the rulings.”
Danárion turned his head to look at his friend. “I take back every evil thought I ever had against Lords Daerloth and Benargil,” he said. “And they weren’t even caught doing wrong—they realized it on their own!”
Garestil looked to catch Danárion’s gaze. “They’re brave, aren’t they?”
Danárion nodded, answering, “Yes, very brave indeed.” He smiled shakily. “I only hope I can prove myself as brave.”
The sky outside was just beginning to go grey when a guard knocked on their door and suggested they rise, cleanse themselves, and prepare to walk to the Citadel to meet with the King.
“No breakfast?” yawned Carenthor.
“I don’t know that I could swallow anything today,” Danárion said as he rose and turned to straighten the bed linens. He smiled softly as he did so, running a finger over the soft blanket that had covered him the previous night. “I’d forgotten how comfortable a bed could be,” he murmured.
They’d taken turns bathing the previous day, Garestil fascinated to learn how spigots and drains could fill and empty the copper tub in which they immersed themselves. A quick scrub of faces and hands this morning, and they were soon fully dressed and waiting when the door opened again and Warden Madog entered, examined them, and smiled. “Our Lord Elessar will be pleased,” he said. “That you care enough to prepare as well as you have for this meeting will speak well for you. If you will come?”
They were led to a side door, and along a wide hallway to the second great door on the right. Guardsmen, one in black and silver and the other in silver and grey, opened the door and gestured the youths down another hallway to where what appeared to be a boy in the black and silver of the Guard stood by another ornate door that he opened with ceremony, indicating they should go inside. The door was closed after them, and they found themselves in a room that appeared to be the living quarters for someone’s suite of chambers, with a large bookshelf and desk just inside the door, a heavy dining table and chairs, a finely made sideboard along the wall opposite the bookshelf, and a number of comfortable chairs and divans grouped for conversation or reading at one end of the room. Steam rose from under the covers of a number of dishes that lay upon the sideboard, and the table was obviously prepared for four individuals to break their fast. Danárion and Carenthor’s eyes widened as they exchanged wordless looks of surprise, while Garestil, his eyes almost goggling, was still staring at the door they’d just entered through.
“He’s a Halfling!” he croaked.
“What?” asked Danárion vaguely.
“Him what let us in—he’s a Halfling—din’t you see his feet?”
This certainly caught the attention of the others. “What do you mean?” demanded Carenthor.
“Our neighbor, when I was little, she used to sing a song about Halflings, only she called them Hobbits.” And he began to sing:
“Do you ken ye the Hobbit with the hair on his feet,
the hair on his feet, the hair on his feet;
He’s the most generous fellow as you’re e’er like to meet,
And he dances by the light of the Moon.
“He’ll gie ye a plate and he’ll gie ye a cup
gie you a cup, gie you a cup.
He’ll bid that ye drink and he’ll bid that ye sup,
And that ye dance by the light of the Moon.
“He’ll offer a place for ye to sleep in his hole,
sleep in his hole, sleep in his hole.
He’ll laugh and sing and comfort your soul
As ye dance by the light of the Moon.
“He’ll call for his pipe and he’ll call for his bowl,
call for his bowl, call for his bowl.
He’ll make ye laugh till on the floor ye shall roll,
And then ye’ll dance by the light of the Moon.”
“And where did you learn this?” asked a voice, and they turned to realize that they had been joined by a very tall Man who’d apparently emerged from one of the two doors that led to other rooms on either side.
“From our neighbor,” Garestil said. “When I was little.”
“And I wonder how one native to Gondor learned a song sung mostly in the Breelands and the Angle?” the Man asked. “Come forward, and we shall see what they have prepared for our breakfast. But I do think that we can talk as we eat.”
“Never heard of no Breelands,” Garestil said.
“I’m not surprised, for they are very far north and west of here. And I suspect that this is the first time any of you has been further from Destrier than Anwar.”
“Have you been there?” asked Carenthor.
“Oh, yes, most certainly. But then I was born in the ruins of Fornost and lived my first two years in the Angle where most of our folk dwell, and have spent most of my life since in the northern lands—until now.”
Danárion was puzzled. “I thought we were supposed to meet with the King this morning to be questioned by him.”
The Man smiled. “I am the King, although I assure you I need to break my fast as much as does any child of the Creator. Ah—good! Sam has apparently been here early, for here are some of his scones! Gandalf has been insisting for years that Sam’s scones are even better than Bilbo’s, although this is the first chance I’ve had to try them. Here—bring a plate. The cook’s eggs are usually excellent, although I can’t recommend those small fish there.”
Somehow that they could never later explain, it seemed the most natural thing in the world to be directed to fill their plates by the King Returned. At the time they merely did as he bade them, moving in a daze as he patted their shoulders and saw to it they had generous portions of each dish that appeared to catch their interest. In moments they stood by their chairs with their plates ready for them, although they were reluctant to sit before their host did so. As he finally finished filling a plate for himself he smiled at them and set it on the table, then turned westward for a moment before seating himself at last and indicating they should do likewise.
Garestil eyed him. “Did you know that the one at the door is a Halfling?”
“Oh, has Pippin taken up his duty already, then? Excellent. I’d have him in to join us if it weren’t bad for discipline—Captain Gilmorin would be most upset that he’d leave his post even with my permission. And just how did you recognize he’s a Halfling?”
“He has hair on his feet.”
“Most observant. I congratulate you, as most people tend to miss that fact when they first see him.”
Danárion stopped with a cup of juice halfway to his lips. “You mean that he is a Halfling?”
“Yes, he is. There are four Hobbits within the White City at the moment—that is if Merry hasn’t ridden his pony out upon the Pelennor, for he’d thought possibly to do so this morning.”
“But where did they come from?”
“We traveled south from Rivendell together, Frodo, Sam, Merry, and Pippin, Gandalf—or Mithrandir as you probably have heard him called, Gimli for the Dwarves, Legolas for the Elves, your Lord Boromir, and I.”
“If you’re the King, how is it you come from the North?”
“I am descended directly from Elendil, Isildur, and Isildur’s youngest son Valandil, and from Anárion as well through Ondoher and his daughter Fíriel who married my ancestor Arvedui when he was King of Arnor.”
“So—so you are the Heir of Isildur?”
“Yes, and on such authority did I claim the Winged Crown at last. Best eat before all goes cold, my lad. Now, you are Carenthor, correct? Tell me what it was you were doing two nights before Midsummer last year.”
Whatever they might have thought a King might be like was wiped away by that breakfast. That they were eating in the King’s own quarters did not strike any of them until much later, after they’d returned to the prison again. He would ask a question and allow them to answer freely, then pose yet another and listen closely until they’d finished before continuing.
At last he indicated he was satisfied with what he’d heard. “You will be brought before me formally while I am seated upon the throne later today,” he explained. “I will warn you that I will not speak then as I have this morning. When you come before me then it will be in a formal audience and a final trial. Unfortunately, you must needs come before me with your hands manacled. I beg you not to be disheartened by this. I assure you that in the end you will find it better thus.
“I will pose some questions to you, and I must tell you now that you must not lie or even think of lying when you answer me. Do you understand, Garestil? I know that Hanalgor and Vendrion and Master Fendril in the past have told you that you must do so, that you must continue to tell the lie that they taught you. But, if you wish to live again with your father, I tell you that you must answer me with what really happened, and answer truthfully when asked why it was you lied before. If you do not do so, then I cannot free you. Again, do you understand?”
Slowly and with a level of uncertainty, Garestil said, “Yes, sir.”
“And do not be frightened if I sound different than I do now. Then I must be the King indeed. Here I can be myself and speak openly. Just as you must be different when you take part in your tumbling.”
Suddenly the youth’s eyes lit with understanding.
“Good. Then, Danárion, if you will poke your head out the door and let Pippin know that you are done, he will return you to Warden Madog’s custody. He has made you comfortable? Excellent. He’s a good Man, and fully worthy of his position.”
And so it was that they followed a Hobbit back to the main hallway where the Warden awaited them, seated on a bench. He rose, returned the Hobbit Guardsman’s salute, and led them back to their captivity for the final time.
Fendril found the room in which he awaited the King’s attention familiar, for it was here that he’d waited some years earlier for the arrival of Lord Denethor’s Chatelaine. The audience chamber was much as it had been then, with the same objectionable vases that had depictions of Swanships upon them. Why they had not been removed when he’d made complaint about them before he could not say. Could the folk of the Citadel not appreciate how inappropriate it was for death omens to be publicly displayed like this?
But even more terrible was the hanging on the wall behind the shelf on which stood the detestable vases. The tapestry depicted a variety of figures gathered about a great Man who stood with his hand upon the bow of yet another Swanship, the Man robed in the blue of summer skies embroidered with sparkling stars, a shining diadem bound to his brow. His face was pale and proud, and there was to him a great gravity. Behind him the sky darkened from sunset, and distant clouds yet shone rosily, promising a day of high summer to follow. He shuddered to look upon it. Why had anyone thought to bring such a thing into the King’s house?
The door opened at last, and a tall Man entered, garbed in black trousers and a shirt of a dark wine color under a simple black surcoat. Whoever he was, Fendril was disheartened that he felt he must come armed, for he wore a long sword suspended from a black harness fitted with silver. His hair was dark brown, almost ebon, in fact, but with white threads appearing at his temples. His dark beard had even more lighter hairs running through it.
“Master Fendril? I have come to offer you greeting to the Citadel of Minas Tirith, although I understand that this is not your first visit.”
“No—indeed not. I was here some nine years past, I think it was.”
“I see. And do you find it much changed from before?”
Fendril shrugged. “Not a great deal, save that many of the seats in this room appear to have been designed for children. Is the King a father, then? Or does he plan ahead to the day when he will be that?”
He didn’t notice a muscle move in the other Man’s jaw.
“And then there is this,” he added, indicating the tapestry. “It is bad enough that Lord Denethor allowed this room to be filled with death omens, but to do one so large, so prominent? What a terrible thing to place here!”
Even he could not miss that his companion’s face had begun to grow prominently cool. “The vases belonged to the Lady Finduilas, brought by her from her father’s halls in Dol Amroth. They were set in this room by Lord Denethor after her untimely death as a memorial to the beautiful, gracious, and so well beloved wife he lost. And the tapestry is a depiction of Eärendil the Mariner, who after all was ancestor to both the Lord King and his Steward, Prince Faramir. As the King grew up in the house of Eärendil’s remaining son, Elrond of Imladris, he feels it particularly fitting that it should hang here.”
“But, my lord—swans?”
“What about swans?”
“As I say—they are death omens!”
“A bird that is the symbol of grace and fidelity is to be seen as a death omen?”
“But it is the bird of the Lord of the Sea, who is associated with death!”
“No more so than is Lord Aulë, the Lord of the Earth and all made by Craft, or the Lady Yavanna Kementari, the Lady of Harvest and Growth. Indeed, it is Lord Námo who is the Lord of Mandos and the Final Healing, not Lord Ulmo.”
Fendril felt the familiar frustration growing within him. Why would no one listen to his warnings? “But death is not to be courted!”
“And who courts death here? Indeed, to accept his role as the Harbinger of Hope, Eärendil had to foreswear the death he’d always intended to know as the mortal Man he’d always considered himself.”
“But death is the greatest evil!”
The other Man’s mouth fell open in surprise and dismay. “Is it truly?” he asked once he’d regained his voice. “Then why do we honor those who offered up their lives that others might live, or those who hazard themselves for the safety of others and the integrity of their homeland? Nay, my friend, do not seek to emulate the prideful sin of Pharazôn, who came to see death as not the gift it was intended to be but instead as something to be fled from. So it was that Númenor foundered, I would remind you.”
“So they would have you believe,” Fendril said, turning away to stare at a mirror over a half-oval table standing against a wall. “And why have you come?”
“The King looks into the case surrounding the deaths of the children Bredwion, Gilmar, and Nedron at the behest of the mother of the youth Danárion.”
“You may tell him that the case was solved and that the author of the children’s death is the fruit of her own womb.”
“And what evidence am I to tell the King has been found to prove this?”
Fendril turned again to face the Man. “The words of Garestil are enough, and he has admitted that he saw the deaths and even participated in them.”
“And when what he says is not supported by even the reports and statements made by Master Avrandahil, who as a healer examined the bodies? He has stated directly, after all, that none of the boys was violated as Garestil had said happened, although he would not put the lie to that when you suggested in court that thus it had happened anyway.”
Fendril ground his teeth. “He never said such a thing,” he insisted.
“Oh, but he did, the other day before the tribunal held before Lords Daerloth, Benargil, Erchirion of Dol Amroth, and Berevrion of Tirith Fuir in Arnor, one of the King’s own kinsmen. And before that he told this to Masters Pardronë and Caraftion as the counselors to Carenthor, Danárion, and Garestil.”
“They did not object to my indication that it might have happened.”
“They attempted to do so, but were forbidden by Master Enelmir from exposing the lie you uttered. For from what Master Avrandahil said he indicates he had also told you that this had not happened, but you chose to indicate before the jury that it had anyway.”
“And you know this how?”
“I have been made privy to the reports, Master Fendril. I would understand why you chose to indicate this in spite of the words of Master Avrandahil.”
Fendril examined the face, and decided that perhaps this one might be open to reason. “What are we to do to stop the spread of the Enemy’s evil across the land of Gondor, do you think? We know that he is empowered by deaths offered for his benefit.”
“So the King has learned was true in the past.”
“So I have been told as well that he knows.”
“And would you lie to stop such evil?”
“I will do anything within my power to stop such evil,” Fendril admitted.
“And what if it is ever proved that indeed even one the three condemned for having committed this terrible crime is in truth innocent?”
Fendril shrugged. “What does it matter? Danárion was already headed to a life of crime that would undoubtedly have resulted in him ending up with the rope of justice about his neck—we merely have forestalled him from harming numberless others ere that day might come. And Garestil will never be fit for any employment but the most menial, and that we have given him.”
“And what of Carenthor, who all say has always been most devout in his dedication to Lord Béma and the other Powers, and who has ever been respected by all for his gentleness and courtesy and artistic nature?”
“Sometimes to cut out the weeds of evil, flowers must be sacrificed as well.”
There was something in the evaluative look given him that suddenly made Fendril realize just what he’d admitted to. “I see,” the Man said. He called out in a louder voice, “Will you please come forth?”
Fendril had barely noted the curtained door beside that half-oval table. But out of it came four Men, none of whom he had met before, but one of whom he certainly recognized—Prince Imrahil’s image was represented even in Anórien, after all.
The main door to the room opened, and two Guardsmen entered, one of them absurdly small. “Captain Peregrin son of Paladin and Guardsman Gilorion, will you conduct this Man back to his quarters in the Tower of Ecthelion, please?”
The eyes of both were intent as they gave the collected lords of the realm a joint bow and turned their attention to Fendril himself.
For the first time since his arrival in Minas Tirith he found himself sweating.