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Murder Most Foul
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
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26
Final Judgments

Final Judgments


The noon meal brought them was light. None of the three youths felt deprived—their nerves at a fever pitch, they found it hard to eat all that had been served them.

It was near the third mark after noon that the guards came for them. Somehow it was harder this time to submit to the manacles once more, and particularly as the ones provided this time seemed somehow larger than they were accustomed to wearing. At last they were led out of the prison and around the Citadel to the main doors. It was alarming to find themselves under scrutiny from so many people. Many called abuse toward them, which was familiar enough—they’d heard more than enough of that after their arrests and as they’d been driven in an open wagon from Destrier to Anwar. Of course there had been more than foul names and curses thrown at them during that ride—they’d also had offal and rotten fruit and stones flung their way. Now, however, there were guards walking behind the line of onlookers, and more than one person was pulled back when it was seen he or she intended to offer more tangible abuse than mere words.

But they also heard calls of encouragement this time, and saw a good number of smiles that were compassionate rather than smug. Carenthor walked almost proudly; Danárion was more wary and less swaggering now than he’d been a year ago; and Garestil now looked ahead rather than just down at the ground as he’d always done before.

They were led through the main doors to the Citadel, and into the Hall of Kings. Garestil began to draw back in on himself, awed by the magnificence of his surroundings, while Danárion kept swallowing visibly. Carenthor, on the other hand, was looking upward at the throne, obviously fascinated.

One Guardsman had accompanied them to the front of the hall, and he now leaned forward to offer instructions. “You will stand here. The King will enter shortly from there, behind the throne, from the area of the living quarters. He will be accompanied by his Companions who will sit or stand there,” and he indicated the area to their right.

“The chairs are little!” Garestil whispered.

“Those two seats are for the Cormacolindor, who made the dangerous journey through Mordor. They have been named Princes of the West and Lords of all of the Free Peoples for their part in helping to defeat the Nameless One. They suffered greatly, and almost did not return to our comfort. They are honored greatly by all.

“When the King comes, all will bow, although you as condemned prisoners will not be required to do so. Once he ascends to his throne, however, you will be required to kneel here where you now stand.”

Garestil nodded his understanding. “Who sits there?” he asked, indicating the two chairs on the lowest step.

“The Black Chair is the seat for the Steward of Gondor, and so our Prince Steward Faramir sits there. The other one is for the Steward of Arnor, and the King’s cousin Halladan will sit there whenever he is present here in Gondor.”

“Where’s Arnor?” Garestil asked.

“It is the ancient Kingdom to the North, where the High King Elendil dwelt and had the primary rule. Our Lord King Elessar was born there of the lineage of Elendil’s older son Isildur.”

But then there was no time for further instructions or questions, for the hall was filling rapidly. At last a distant door opened behind the throne, and the Herald announced, “All rise, for the King approaches!”

Garestil suddenly whispered into Carenthor’s ear, “I’m bowing—I like him!”

Carenthor grinned, and wasn’t surprised to find that Danárion was already bowing low to greet the coming of the King.

So it was that on his arrival, the King found the three prisoners also bowing, and discovered himself smiling in response.

When the three youths looked up again, the King’s Companions were finding their places, and one of the Halflings was being offered a platter of cheese and fruit by a liveried servant. Garestil was obviously fascinated by the sight of more such individuals, and Carenthor gave him a nudge to remind him what they were to do now. Sighing, Garestil followed the example of the other two as they went down on their knees, and the Herald began to recite, “There come before the King’s throne the three youths Carenthor, Danárion, and Garestil from the village of Destrier in upper Anórien, charged in the unlawful deaths of the children Bredwion son of Rindor, Gilmar son of Tevern, and Nedron son of Lindon, gone missing a year past, two days before Midsummer and found dead on the afternoon of the day before Midsummer. These three youths were arrested, charged, tried, and convicted of the crime, and in response to a request by the mother of one of the accused the King sent a deputation to review the case against these three in accordance with the laws of the realm. Lo, our Lord Elessar, your deputation has returned and has presented you with its reports; and the evidence gathered that was presented in the court of Anwar where the youths were tried as well as other evidence gathered by those sent by you lies there for your perusal. And here before you kneel the three youths, who have indicated they are willing to be questioned by you that you might be their final judge, and so speak their final doom, for good or ill.”

All three youths flinched at the solemnity of the words uttered, and once more Danárion could be seen to be swallowing nervously.

“I have read those reports, and will look upon the evidence brought to show me momentarily. But first I would question them further, for the matter with which they have been charged is very grave.”

It was the same voice as the one they had heard that morning, but how different it now seemed—more remote and powerful. Garestil was shivering, and Danárion had his eyes squeezed shut. And now it was addressing the three of them! “Raise you heads, for I would see into your eyes.”

The one seated atop the dais appeared as remote as his voice, truly one above them all! He wore not the Winged Crown, but instead a diadem that appeared to be of the brightest of polished silver, set with a single bright gem of great size, as if he bore upon his brow a star, even as it was said that Eärendil himself bore the one remaining Silmaril as he sailed the Seas of Night as the Gil-Estel.

“Tell me your names, and whether or not you are guilty of the crimes with which you have been charged.”

Danárion spoke first, his voice quavering somewhat. “I am Danárion son of Targon of Destrier, and I tell you that I never did this thing—I never caused any harm to those three little boys. I don’t think I even knew them! I might have seen them in the marketplace or in the grazing commons where the children tend to play outside the walls of the village; but I doubt I would know them to look upon them. I had no reason to hurt any of them, and never went outside the walls of the village again once I returned from assisting in the full cleansing of Master Amborn’s cow byres, and that was in the afternoon.”

“I am Carenthor. I had seen the children at the free school, but barely knew aught about them other than that they went to it. They were with one of the teachers who dealt with the smaller children, and I barely saw them even there. No, I caused no harm to any of them, and although I, too, had been helping those cleansing Master Amborn’s cow byres, once I returned to the village about an hour before the time for the evening meal I never went out of the gates again, either. Indeed, I was charged by my parents to help care for my younger brothers while my parents visited with friends in the northern quarter of Destrier.”

“And you?” asked the King, looking down at the last of the three youths.

Garestil swallowed. “My name’s Garestil. My papa’s named Galdor. I didn’t hurt them boys. I was in Hevensgil, same as every week that day and that time. I was learnin’ t’juggle that night.”

“I understand that it was on your word that you and these other were arrested. How was it that you came to give false witness against them, then?”

Garestil shook his head, obviously not understanding the question asked of him.

“Do you understand what it means to witness or to be a witness?”

“It means to see something.”

“Yes, to see something so as to know it and to tell about it. So, what would it mean to give false witness?”

Garestil thought, and said tentatively, “To lie about it?”

“Very good. Yes, to lie about something that you said you saw or experienced but didn’t, really. So, why did you give false witness?”

The youth was shivering more. “I didn’t want to.”

“You didn’t? Then why did you do so?”

“You don’t understand—everyone knew Danárion done it—killed those boys, you see. Everyone knew it was him. They told me, you know he done it. All we need is you tell us you know. Then we can stop him doing it again.

“I said, how can I say I know he done it—I wasn’t there? They said, you just say you saw it. I said, but I didn’t see it. They say, it don’t matter you saw it or not—you say you saw it, they’ll believe you, and we’ll have him. Be able to stop him doing it again.

“I said, my papa won’t like it if I lie. He says I can’t lie on other people. They say, don’t matter—he won’t know. He’ll be proud you stopped Danárion from doing it again. I said, him won’t be proud if I lie to stop him. They say, he don’t have t’know. Don’t tell him. But—but I can’t lie to Papa. It’s not right t’lie to your papa! But they keep tellin’ me—you gotta do it—you gotta stop Danárion to do again! Tell us what it was like, out there in them woods. Tell us how Danárion tried to do them boys like they was girls. Tell us how come Gilmar wasn’t with them other two? He tried t’run away, didn’t he—and you stopped him runnin’ away. Didn’t he? Didn’t you? You stopped him, and that’s why him wasn’t with them other boys. You tell us! You wanna go home? You just a little boy, like them? You know what was done to them little boys? Want it t’happen t’you, too? Oh, it’ll happen, you don’t tell us what us want t’hear. You tell us! You tell us! The Black One’ll come for you—send his orcs t’get you, you don’t tell! We’ll see to it—you bet!” He was almost in tears.

The King finally asked softly, “Who was it who wanted you to lie, Garestil?”

“Them—them guards. Vendrion, Hanalgor, and Cap’n Borongil. They said—said I had t’say it. Said that they wasn’t gonna let me go ’less I told’em what they wanted me t’say. Said I had t’make my papa proud that I helped stop Danárion. Said if I didn’t, I’d be a Dark-worshiper same as them—Danárion and Carenthor, I mean. Said everyone knew I was there, had seed it! I had t’say it.

“Vendrion—him made it easy. Asked me questions—mostly all I had t’say was yes or no. And if they didn’t like what I said he’s just ask me again.”

“So, you lied.”

“Yes, sir—I lied.”

“How do I know you aren’t lying now?”

Garestil just knelt there, looking up at the King up at the top of all of those steps, seated on his high throne under that great carving of a helmet, looking as if he’d just stepped down from the starry sky himself, and he shook his head, trying to think what to say. Only the King wasn’t making it easy the way Vendrion had done. At last he remembered what he’d been told that morning—tell me the truth; if you don’t, I can’t let you go. So he said, “I can’t make you believe me. Can’t prove it—not really. But I—I don’t really know what it’s like there where the place is them boys was hid. I never been there.”

“But I’m told your father helped dig the drainage ditch.”

“I know, but him wouldn’t let me go there because of that Leverion. Leverion treated me bad—he’d pretend t’like me, and then in front of lots of other people would say how dumb I was t’believe him’d ever like the likes of me! Stole sweets and put them in my hands as him ran by, and then Vendrion’d say I stole’em, even though they all knew I didn’t. Them woods—t’get there, you gotta go by Farmer Medril’s place, and him’s Leverion’s papa. My papa didn’t want me anywhere near that Leverion—said him was bad.”

“Tell me, then, what you think that those woods are like?”

“I don’t know! I know you go across a beam t’get there—I seed it once when I was little and went with our neighbor t’get berries, but that Leverion teased me and she wouldn’t take me back again—said it wasn’t right. I know there’s the ditch in it my papa dug t’drain the field, but I don’t understand how no ditch drains a field. I just know they tell me it helps drain the field, and the canal helps the same way, but I don’t understand that, neither.”

“How deep do you think the ditch is?”

“My papa said it was deep what he dug—over his head. So, it’s over my head.”

“And the water in it?”

“I don’t know—I guess it’s deep, too, maybe deeper sometimes and not so deep others?”

“How deep did you tell them it was?”

“Don’t think I told them how deep, really—just that Danárion and Carenthor—was doin’ things in it. One of them duckin’ under the water, you see, and then the other one.”

“Did you say you could see into the water?”

“Yeah—said that. Because water’s clear, see? Only maybe this wasn’t so clear, since them couldn’t see the boys till one fell in.”

“And none of them corrected you on that?”

Garestil shrugged. “No, but maybe them was gettin’ tired of correctin’ me by then.”

“Did they write all of this out and make you sign it?”

“Yeah—Veredorn—him’s the scribe for the guards—him read it t’me just like it was said, and I had t’sign it.” He swallowed, and added, “But then them didn’t let me go home like them said—arrested me, and I ain’t been home since.”

The King looked down at the Steward seated in the Black Chair. “If you would please read from Guardsman Vendrion’s description of the finding of the bodies, please, my Prince? And then, Halladan,” he added, looking at the occupant of the other chair on the lowest step, “if you will please read the portion of Garestil’s description of the ditch in which the bodies were placed.”

All listened to the two different descriptions in respectful silence.

When they were done, no one was left unaware that Garestil really hadn’t known what the ditch was really like when he was led to confess to this crime.

“Faramir, please keep that copy, for we will soon be discussing the findings of the healer Avrandahil as he describes his examination of the boys’ bodies.” He looked down to the clerk who stood near the long tables placed along the wall. “Master Anorgil, will you please find the reports made by Master Avrandahil and give them to Lord Halladan? Thank you.” He then returned his attention to the three youths kneeling before him. “I will have you removed to just behind the Ringbearers for the moment, where a bench awaits you. I have some last, unfinished business regarding Masters Vendrion, Hanalgor, and Borongil and their associates.”

It was a relief to at last stand, and the bench was even more welcome. And the three youths had their first chance to truly see the four Halflings together, two standing and two seated. Garestil frankly gawked at them, while Carenthor and Danárion were almost equally fascinated—until the latter’s eyes strayed further and caught sight of two other individuals standing with the ease of long practice beyond them, one dark haired and the other golden as the sunlight, but clearly near kindred. “Elves!” he breathed.

But Carenthor’s attention had been arrested by the smaller, broader individuals beyond them, one leaning negligently on a broad axe. “And Dwarves!” he whispered.

Their guard leaned forward to warn them to keep their silence, and they reluctantly nodded their understanding. But Danárion was definitely lost in wonder—it appeared that not all marvelous things were gone from Middle Earth, or at least not yet!

Once the former guardsmen were back in their places, Rindor and Radamir were led to the front, Radamir in chains and Rindor not, and they gave their testimony regarding their dealings with Borongil and his fellows regarding the trade with the foreign agents. Radamir had used the storage room in the lodgings his wife had found after they’d lost her former home to keep those items being gathered for the next wagon sent from “Dunland.” He admitted that now and then he’d taken one or more items from this room for his own use, but had stopped that practice when caught at it by Borongil, who’d threatened to expose some of his other unsavory activities to his wife. That he wished to avoid at all costs, as he did not wish to lose this position and the extra coin he made in his part of the enterprise. When he’d become so inebriated that he’d tried to take his own daughter by force, however, that had led both his outraged wife and son to see him thrown bodily from the house, and Amdir had taken him in charge; and the gaolers had been most pleased to find themselves in charge of him, having looked forward to the day when he’d take that one step too far and would lose all he’d had.

Here, however, Borongil had intervened, terrified that if Radamir was questioned by Nerwion or any other it would lead to the exposure of the regular trading with Gríma Wormtongue’s people. So he’d gone to the gaol indicating he would be taking the Man to Master Nerwion’s presence, but instead had taken him outside the city where a horse and some supplies awaited him, instructing him to get himself back to the other side of Anwar as swiftly as possible and not to return.

The one supply Borongil had not thought to provide him with was drink, so he was reasonably sober when he at last reached Raeglib, where he quickly convinced his wife there, as he had Vanessë, that he’d changed for good, and she’d taken him back. But one night a former companion arrived in the village from Amon Dîn, and the two of them had ended up in the alehouse, and one thing led to another….

Yes, he’d heard that Danárion had been charged with the murder of the three small boys, and he’d been hard pressed to believe it. But, then—perhaps the boy had been more like his sire than Radamir had believed. He’d been shocked to find out how prudish his son had learned to be under that Targon’s influence. But perhaps he’d been wrong.

“And how would you feel to learn that in fact Danárion was not guilty of taking part in the killing of the children?” asked the King.

Radamir shrugged slightly. “I’m not certain. But then, should he prove better than me, I doubt not that such would be a good thing. Better he not become the wastrel I am.”

Rindor was permitted to stand by his stepson Dírhael but requested to remain once the audience was over and the lords of the realm were dismissed, and the King now turned his attention back to the former guardsmen.

“You and now we know that in truth none of you knows for certain who truly killed the children Bredwion, Gilmar, and Nedron. Why then did you decide to put the blame for this crime upon the youth Danárion?” he asked Borongil.

The former soldier and captain of the guards shrugged sullenly. “He is a difficult youth, and one who cannot and will not refrain from criticizing his betters. And in seeing to it that Radamir was taken in charge, he cost us a good place to store what we were readying for shipment and all that we’d gathered to that date. None like him, and few if any will miss him. We couldn’t learn who’d killed the children, and the villagers were demanding we punish someone. So, why not? And with his—interests—who else might have done it?”

“And so you chose to convince one such as Garestil here to speak this tissue of lies—” and here he pointed at the confession held by Halladan, “—so as to justify your actions in arresting two possibly innocent individuals—and three when you arrested Garestil as well? By choosing one as a possible murderer and arresting that person, are you seeing justice done by the children? Is offering a scapegoat for a crime the same as solving the case? It is likely to stop the real murderer from killing someone else? I rather think not.

“You three have not only committed high treason in seeking to trade with enemies of our closest ally, providing not only food and materials, but also in the past weapons; you have stolen from your own people, people you took oaths to protect and serve, in order to do so. And when one of your accomplices in this endeavor compromised your arrangements by becoming so inebriated he sought to force his own daughter and had to be forcibly restrained by the girl’s mother and brother, you sought to punish the young Man by accusing him of having murdered three children he admits he probably would not have recognized had he happened upon them within the village. And you have apparently threatened your own Men to restrain them from testifying that Garestil here returned at his usual time from tumbling practice in Hevensgil in company with his companions who partook in that practice, and that neither Danárion nor Carenthor went out or came back into the village after they returned from Master Amborn’s farm.”

“But one of those who’d said he’d been there with Garestil lied!” Vendrion shrilled.

“Did he? Is it not possible that he in truth was merely mistaken as to which week he started accompanying the others, including Garestil? For we have the records made by the potter of Hevensgil that although, as Master Hanalgor here learned, the one youth started attending practice a week after the murders, still Garestil had not missed a single practice since he’d begun them a year earlier. And we have the potter’s signed statement that he was threatened with violence toward himself and his family should he make himself available to Master Caraftion to speak for Garestil and to confirm his presence in Hevensgil during the evening of two days before Midsummer, at the hour when the boys went missing.

“And we have now more signed and sworn statements by others who have told our deputation much the same—that they were threatened should they approach either Master Caraftion or Master Pardronë in order to speak for any of the three youths, to offer testimony regarding when they were seen or how they spent their time or as to their true characters. And most identify Borongil or Hanalgor as the ones threatening them, although at least two have indicated that you passed on the warnings they received.”

“But Danárion drinks blood! He hates those in authority! He worships the Nameless One! He has plotted to father a child in order to offer its life to the Dark Lord! He----” Faced by the implacable stare of the King upon his throne, Vendrion ground to a halt.

The King’s voice was cold when he spoke again. “Is it not enough that you have lied and encouraged another to lie in order to seek to steal his freedom and his life from him?”

“He is guilty—he has to be!” Vendrion whimpered.

“And when you cannot find the proof of this certainty and instead you must elicit a lie from one such as Garestil and ignore all of the clear proofs he gives you that he has no real idea what the actual place where the children’s bodies were found was like, what does that say about your certainty that Danárion is guilty? Tell me—how did you know that the children’s bodies were to be found in that ditch?”

“I didn’t—we only saw the shoes floating there, Cuellion and me. I sent him to fetch others, gates guardsmen and constables. It was Amdir who fell in and caused the one child’s body to surface.”

“How was it that you found the bodies of the others?”

“I was crawling down the ditch, on my hands and knees, feeling for them.”

“Why were you crawling down the ditch? Could you not look to find them?”

“But the water was foul with silt and mud, my Lord! I could see nothing beneath its surface, even with my nose but inches from the water!”

“With that being so, then why did you believe that Garestil spoke truly when he spoke of seeing the body of one child twitching as does that of a worm as it sank out of sight? You have just said that you could crawl down the ditch within the water, feeling with your hands, did you not?”

“Yes, my Lord—that is precisely how it was!”

“Then tell me how a body should sink out of sight in such shallow water? Were the bodies not deliberately pressed down into the mud to keep them from discovery?”

“Yes, my Lord.”

“Then they could not be seen sinking anywhere, could they?”

Vendrion’s eyes were fixed now on the floor between his knees. “No, my lord.”

The King allowed all to remain silent for some moments. “I now find you three guilty not only of high treason, but also of eliciting lies in order to wrongfully deprive a citizen of Gondor of his liberty and life, which when committed by one in the public trust as happens with guardsmen and constables is a betrayal that is unpardonable. And I now pronounce your dooms upon you. Vendrion, you will be taken to the prison where you will remain five days before you will be flogged. You will be given ten lashes for each of the youths you have assisted to name a murderer with no true proof. You will then return to your cell until you can be removed to the quarries where you will work at hard labor for five years, after which you will be banished outside of Gondor or Arnor. And I pity any land that takes you in.

“Hanalgor and Borongil, you two, having begun your treating with agents of enemies of our ally Rohan while you were yet soldiers in direct service to Lord Daelroth as a major Lord of the realm, you will be given over to the Captain of Daelroth’s hosts to be executed as is recommended by law for those who commit high treason while in service to the realm. And may the Lord of Mandos find some reason for compassion towards the two of you.” He looked up at the room in general. “Does anyone within this assembly find reason to dispute these sentences?”

Heads shook everywhere, and the assembled lords and commoners all answered, “Nay.”

“Then I bid these be taken away. And call for the healer Avrandahil.”

As Avrandahil was being summoned, still another seat was being deliberately settled on the wide step at the foot of the dais where sat the King’s two Stewards. This one was heavy, and to it was led a Man garbed in robes that might be rich enough but were now dirty and crumpled from several day’s wear in less than satisfactory accommodations. Master Enelmir, former seneschal for Lord Benargil and former magistrate for the lands administered by the Lord of Anwar, was seated in this chair and manacled to it, and all who filled the room looked on him with questions as to who he might be and what reason there was for him to be brought into this room now. A Guard of the Citadel stood behind him, but so far no explanation was offered to those within the Hall of Kings as to what his presence might indicate.

Avrandahil followed the herald sent to escort him to the King’s presence to the front of the Hall of Kings, nervously brushing down the fabric of the robe he wore. When he saw Enelmir seated at the foot of the steps to the throne he stopped, his eyes wide with startlement.

“Master Avrandahil?” asked the King, and the healer found himself looking upwards to meet the eyes of the Lord Elessar. “I wished you to explain your pictures to me. I broke the seal myself and set one of the Guards to arranging them as he saw fit.” With that the Man rose to his feet, affixed the hangers for his sword to its belt, and came down the steps, casually stepping around Enelmir’s chair as if it weren’t there and leading the way to the tables at the side of the room.

As he passed the seats set for two small figures that sat there, one of them rose. “May I accompany you, Aragorn, and see them with you?” the small, slender personage asked. Avrandahil paused at the sight of this one, realizing that whoever—and whatever—he was, he was one who had only recently recovered from a serious illness or wound of some sort.

The King’s eyes were searching the face of his petitioner, and at last he said, “If you wish, Frodo. I will not forbid you, you know.” Although it was plain the Man did not necessarily feel such was wise.

The one called Frodo stepped forward to accompany the King. “I would stand as witness for those who are lost,” he said.

The King nodded and turned back toward the tables, and now the three of them came to the end where stood a tall Man who was obviously an officer of the Guard of the Citadel.

The larger pictures intended for use in Enelmir’s court had been affixed somehow to the stone walls of the room, and Avrandahil found himself worrying that whatever had been used might serve to damage them. The smaller pictures on which those intended for public display were based had been laid immediately adjacent to the larger ones, with the rest laid overlapping one another based on the victim depicted. The topmost picture in each case was that of the face of each child, to which Avrandahil wanted to take exception, as he usually kept them at the back of each file.

A servant appeared with a footstool. “I believe that this may assist you, small Master,” he said as he set it before the small one.

“Thank you, Iorvas,” Frodo said, stepping up so he could more easily see what was on display. He looked at the three lines of pictures, and focused on the first face. “A beautiful child he must have been. What was his name?”

“That’s Child number One,” Avrandahil said uncertainly.

Prince Faramir, looking at the documents he was holding, answered, “Child number one? His name was Gilmar—Gilmar son of Tevern and Renalta.”

The Elven healer and the battle surgeon who had been part of the deputation to visit Avrandahil’s surgery joined them at the table. Avrandahil eyed them uncertainly. “I had thought that the pictures were to be considered by one taught healing by the fabled Master Elrond of Imladris,” he objected.

One of the King’s eyebrows rose. “Is that what you were told would happen?” he asked.

“Yes!”

“I see. Well, for the nonce I ask that you discuss these with me. You drew young Gilmar’s eyes closed. Did you check his eyes? Were there any hemorrhages to be seen?”

The King’s questions were very detailed, and in time Avrandahil found himself feeling as if he were being examined by his masters during the times he was apprenticed in healing and in examining the bodies of the dead. Lord Elessar examined every picture, asking him to describe in detail more of what he’d found, whether it appeared the wound had bled or if there had been seen certain signs under the skin or if bruising had begun to form. Had the child appeared to have swallowed water or mud? Did water pour from the mouth or nostrils? Were there signs of bleeding from the eyes or ears? Were there bruises to be seen toward the back of the mouth or the flap between mouth and the airways to the lungs? How much mud was found in the mouths or nostrils? Did this kind of wound always appear in groups of five? Did this other always come in fours? Where was it again that the blood had settled? And there was a lighter staining of face and chest? What attitude was it that the bodies lay when first he saw them? On which side for each one? What had he been told of the position of each when found? How deep the abrasions under the laces on ankles and wrists? Was there actual bleeding or merely seepage in these sites? Were the orifices dilated? Any signs of tearing or bleeding to the inner tissues? How stiff were the bodies when he first saw them? How about the next morning when he did his official examinations? How long had he spent on the examinations? Were any fly larvae to be found? There were—in the socket of one child’s eye? Were they living or dead? Why had he not checked them? And there were no split lips or eyebrows? No puffiness here or here? He was certain? No excessive puffiness or bruising on the torso? No underlying bleeding or indications of damage to the abdomen, eh? What kind of weapon did he believe might have left this kind of depression to the skull? How thickly had he said the blood was clotted in the hair of each boy?

And through it all stood the one called Frodo, quiet, taking in the details, listening carefully, and memorizing the faces of those who’d died.

At last they came to the picture of the impression found on Nedron’s upper leg. “When,” asked the King, “would this have been possible to form—before the child died, at the moment of death, or after the child was dead?”

Avrandahil, however, was now certain that the King had been carefully prepared to ask all he had asked. “They must have told you what was said about this impression during the hearing in Anwar,” he said sullenly.

“Actually,” the King said, “no, they didn’t. Knowing you were here for my examination, I purposely did not read the portions of the hearing dealing with the examination of you.”

“Yet they prepared you well with these questions.”

“Oh, did they, then? And who do you believe that they are who prepared me so?”

“These!” Avrandahil said, indicating Bariol and Harolfileg. “They must have told you what questions to ask!”

The King looked between the battle surgeon and the Elf. Both he and Bariol appeared amused, while the Elf remained inscrutable. “I believe that the only preparation I had from either of them was that they wished for the one who had been trained as a healer by Elrond to examine these pictures with you. And I must tell you that they are excellent—I believe I’ve only seen one Man who might equal you in skill in showing the wounds as they are; and only a few Elves might have been inclined to do similarly, and one of those my adar.”

He now turned to the paired pictures. However it was that the pictures had been mounted upon the wall, the first yet came away easily enough as the King took it and the smaller picture on which it was based into his hands and began comparing them. “I take it that the larger was based on the smaller one, which was itself done while viewing the body?” he asked. At Avrandahil’s agreement, he continued, “But why did you change the spacing of the scratches, and straighten them?”

“It was in response to a request by Master Fendril that I emphasize the depth and nature of the wounds.”

“I see. And is that also why you changed them from groups of five to one group of six and another of seven? Was that also at Master Fendril’s request?”

“I am not certain what you are suggesting, my Lord.”

“You are not, Master Avrandahil? Let me tell you this: my father died when I was but two years old, slain by an orc’s arrow to his eye. I barely remember him, mostly the smell of his body and the feel of his hands as he lifted me to his shoulder each time he came home ere he greeted my mother, the feel of the shaft of the Ring of Barahir on his hand against mine when he allowed me to lead him about the house, the love I felt from him and the security I knew from his mere presence. Shortly after his death, however, a pestilence swept through the village where my uncle had his keep and where my mother had taken refuge with me after my father’s death, and I was very ill. At one point I slipped into a coma, and my kinsman Berevrion’s mother, having seen me lying like one dead, assumed that this was true, and ran out to proclaim my death—most prematurely, you see. The greatest healer within the north, the Lord Elrond Peredhel, who after all is a kinsman to us by means of his brother Elros Tar-Minyatur, my great-father of old who founded the line of Kings and from whom all Kings of Númenor, Gondor, and Arnor have been descended, had sent his sons, trained in healing by him, to save me if they could. Once they recalled me from my coma and they knew I should be well, they made the decision to spirit me to their father’s house that Sauron should not learn that I had recovered and decide to send yet more assassins and plagues to continue to attempt to bring about my death and to trouble my people.

“So it was that I grew up in the house of Elrond of Imladris as if he were my father. His sons began teaching me woodcraft when I was yet the smallest of children, teaching me to recognize the footprints and scratches of all sorts of creatures as seen in the wild and as inflicted upon other creatures and on the skin of the Children of Ilúvatar. An animal with very fine claws caused these lines of scratches on this child’s behind—you can see at least three overlapping sets of five scratches each here, here, and here on this side alone, and four sets on the other.

“Yet on this picture, you have reduced the repetitions to two on this side and one on the other, you have straightened the lines of them and made the spacing more regular, and you have seven lines in this set and six each in those two repetitions on the other side. I ask again--was that also at the suggestion of Master Fendril?”

Avrandahil’s mouth worked for some time before he answered, “Well, I suppose he might have suggested this.”

“I see. And why should he desire to see the number of repetitions reduced so?”

“It would make it easier to discern the scratches and their depths?” This was definitely phrased as a question.

The King, however, was shaking his head. He went back to the line of pictures made of Gilmar’s body and swiftly located a specific one that showed four parallel lines, more scratches done by larger and duller animal nails, and tapped it with the two pictures he now held in his other hand. “These were done by what appears to be the paw of a dog or a small wolf. They were done by too large a paw to have been made by a fox. And here below them—these were probably made by a rat, and these perhaps by a mink or otter.”

He set this down upon the line of pictures done of Gilmar’s body, and again held the other pair separately. “There are a few creatures that could have left these wounds, including some with fur and certain turtles. I would guess that, considering this was of Child Three, the boy Bredwion, and that he was the one whose sac for the seed was missing, that this was most likely done by a large turtle—certainly the wound lower down is consistent with the work of a turtle as it removed the soft tissue there, which I have been assured by more than one is a turtle’s favorite first choice when approaching new carrion. Birds tend to prefer the eyes and tongue; turtles prefer the privates. And the gouging wounds around the edges of the groin are certainly more in keeping with the wounds left by a turtle’s beak rather than the teeth of animals that bear fur.

“In changing the number of scratches in each set, in straightening the wounds and making them more regularly spaced, however, it appears that the attempt was made to disguise that they were actually caused by an animal, but to imply that instead they were made by the scraping of an instrument down the skin. That speaks of a deliberate attempt to convince a layperson that these were made by the accused rather than by animals scavenging the bodies for a meal. And such a subterfuge I will not tolerate.”

Avrandahil found himself shivering at the tone of the King’s voice, and even more so once he met the Lord Elessar’s eyes. It was a moment before the King directed, “My Lord Halladan, if you will please read the description given by Master Avrandahil of the buttocks region for the child Bredwion son of Rindor.”

“Overlapping sets of roughly parallel scratching wounds breaking the skin on both sides.” The Steward of the North Kingdom looked up to meet his Lord’s eyes. “That is all he says, my Lord.”

“And my lord Prince, if you will find that portion of his testimony and read his description of this picture, identified as Avrandahil One?”

Prince Faramir turned through several pages before finding the section wanted. “Fendril: And will you describe this picture that you have displayed before the court? Avrandahil: This shows the buttocks of Child Three. One can see how something with a number of tines or points has been raked across the skin on each side of the anal orifice. Fendril: Perhaps something such as this particular knife with its odd tines at regular intervals along the side opposite the cutting blade? Avrandahil: There are perhaps a number of things that might have left such a pattern, but, yes, something similar to that knife could perhaps have left such a set of wounds.

“Thank you, my Prince. That is enough for now.” The King set the two pictures he’d been examining on the line of those done of Bredwion, and went on to the next pair, taking up the smaller picture first. “Ah—it appears that those creatures that live in the mud of such ditches and ponds as this were quite active, finding this child’s belly a good place to feed. I see many of the small wounds they tend to leave.” He then took the larger one in his other hand, and frowned as he compared the two. Finally he held the smaller of them out to the healer. “When you did the first, did you tint the skin the actual color you saw it as being as you examined the child’s body?”

“Well, of course, my Lord King.”

“Then why did you change it in this one? You have given a darker tone to the flesh, as if there were underlying injuries to the sinews and organs beneath the skin. Were there indeed such injuries, as if the child had been beaten?”

Avrandahil felt the sweat break out on his brow. “Oh, no, my Lord King—there were no signs of beating to be discerned on the children’s bodies.”

“On none of them? Did none appear to receive a blow with a fist?”

“Well Child Three had five linear bruises across the back of his upper legs, as if he’d been struck with a switch.”

“As I understand he had, his adoptive father having found him playing when he was supposed to have been working. Is that not right, Master Rindor?” he asked, turning in the direction where the big Man stood with his remaining stepson.

“Yes, my Lord, and I’ll never cease grieving that this was the last attention he knew from me before he died.” Many turned at the sound of Rindor’s voice, for the grief was genuine, and they could see how he tightened his grip gently on the older boy’s shoulder, as if assuring himself that this child, at least, was still alive and well.

The King returned his attention to the healer. “Were there any others who appeared to have been truly struck before he died, other than the blows to the backs of their heads?”

“Child One had been struck across the mouth, driving the inner lip into a crossed tooth and causing the lip at that point to bleed.”

“But there were no other blows that appeared to have been caused by a beating with weapons or fists?”

Reluctantly, Avrandahil shook his head. “Nothing else besides the blows to the children’s heads, and perhaps the upper buttocks of Child One.”

“Then why the darker caste to the flesh in this picture? What emphasis did Master Fendril ask for this time?”

“He—he wished for—for there to be more contrast to make—to make these small puncture wounds stand out the more.”

“Except that this darker caste to the skin does not appear to make the small wounds stand out—indeed, they are less rather than more discernible. Halladan—the description of Child Two, abdomen, please.”

“Flesh appears mostly clear and smooth. Numerous puncture wounds.”

“And his testimony from the trials on picture Avrandahil Two, my Prince?”

“Fendril: And what does this depict? Avrandahil: This is the belly area of Child Two. There were a number of small wounds of unknown character here. Fendril: When there is a darker, almost bruised look to the area, what can that mean? Avrandahil: It can often show where blows might have fallen that have caused serious damage to underlying tissue or organs.

Again the King interrupted. “Again, enough.”

Avrandahil protested, “I did not lie!”

The King fixed him with a cold stare. “Oh, no—that you did not do. Indeed, you told the strictest truth, but in such a manner that the jury was made to think that more could be seen here than a number of small puncture wounds inflicted by those creatures that live in the mud at the bottom of stagnant ponds and ditches.”

And in each of the remaining sets of pictures similar forms of misdirection were found. When they were done with the last, the Lord King Elessar Telcontar straightened, releasing a breath of distaste for the Man before him, and Avrandahil was in a terror for his very life. Yet he found it within himself to release one more bout of bravado. “But why is it that you are going through these pictures with me rather than the healer said to be trained by Lord Elrond?” he demanded.

The King gave a particularly feral smile. “You still have failed to divine the truth?” he asked in what Avrandahil now knew was a deceptively calm voice. “I am the direct descendant of the Ladies Lúthien and Idril, an heir with my foster father Elrond Peredhel of Eärendil and Elwing. As did he, I inherited the special gift of healing from these illustrious foremothers and the one who has been granted his role as the Gil-Estel. And once I came into his household I, as has been true of all of those of the line of the Kings of Arnor and Arthedain in especial, was given particular instruction in how to most effectively use this portion of the King’s Gift. Many among my closest kindred in the North display some level of healing capability, but it has been within the lineage of my fathers back to Elendil and Isildur themselves that it has ever been most strongly embodied. And so it is that, as the one most carefully and thoroughly trained by my great-uncle Elrond of Imladris, it has mostly fallen to me since my return to my people when I was judged ready to assume my father’s role of Chieftain of the northern Dúnedain, to tease out just how those found dead under mysterious circumstances came to that estate.” He said to the two Guardsmen who stood not far behind the healer, “Bring him before the throne.” So saying, he turned, briefly grasping and releasing the shoulder of the small one with an exchange of glances, and made his somehow both swift and yet unhurried way back to the dais and easily bypassed Enelmir’s chair and the pale figure of Fendril of Destrier, who had been brought to stand there during the King’s examination of Avrandahil’s skills, going up three steps and turning to look down from his already impressive height at the advancing healer.

Avrandahil, realizing that Fendril had been brought quietly to see the fruits of their cooperation in this case unveiled, stopped and had to be prodded forward by the black-and-silver-garbed soldiers on each side of him. Reluctantly he stopped before the dais beside the lawyer, avoiding Fendril’s eyes, fixing his attention instead on the rumpled figure of Master Enelmir, manacled to his chair.

It was so quiet that he could hear the low murmur of a higher than normal voice whispering, “Here, Frodo—sit down again, and here’s a goblet of water. I don’t know why you went with them, really.”

And he heard the murmured reply, “Someone needs to remember the children, not just what was done to them, Merry.” Avrandahil chanced a swift glance sideways and saw the small personage sitting back in his seat, another of his own kind dressed as if he were a Rider of Rohan leaning over him in concern. Avrandahil swallowed and turned back forward, fixing his gaze now on the front to the second step of the dais, aware of one of the finely made black boots the King wore and wishing he were back in Hevensgil in his home, doing yet another painting of the turtles he so often watched on the banks of the river.

The silence grew more intense, and he was aware of the grey eyes of the King fixed on his bowed head and shoulders. At last he could bear it no longer, and raised his own gaze to meet that of the Man who stood over them all.

At last the King spoke once more. “I have received the report on your training in Edoras made by Master Brëon, and another from Lossarnach from those who sought to teach you the studies of death that were intended to prepare you to exercise your current craft. All speak highly of your artistic skills—your ability to see the anomalies that are before you and to remark on them and depict them superbly well, capturing the nature of wounds and the colors of them faithfully. And all bemoan your striking inability to fully appreciate precisely just what it is that your eyes see, as well as your inability to empathize with those you examine, a quality that is far more important to the art of healing in many cases than the ability to accurately diagnose an unusual illness.

“It has been Master Anorgil’s opinion, I understand, that you should indeed have stayed with art as your profession, and after what I have seen this day, I tend to agree with him, although I suspect that in your attempts to work with human models there would always be something important lacking in your drawings and paintings. I truly believe it would instead be those pictures you produce of natural scenes and animals that would do best by you.”

Avrandahil could not dispute that—he’d realized this long ago.

“That you are pragmatic enough to realize that in such times as the world has known until recently there has been more need for healers than there was for artists speaks well of your ability to reason. That you felt that a mere need for such things would somehow lead to better acceptance of you in such a role for which you have proved remarkably unsuited, however, tempers that first judgment. You should have done as you were advised by your instructors—you should have served as a diagnostician alongside another to actually work with those who came to you for the services of a healer. But, perhaps too proud to do so, you instead put yourself at the service of such as this Man,” and he indicated Fendril, “who has proved willing to twist the truth in order to obtain convictions for those who have been accused wrongfully of crimes they did not commit, or that at the least they did not commit with the ferocity with which he would charge them.

“Masters Harolfileg and Bariol here have seen your work, and easily recognized that you had begun prostituting your skills on behalf of Master Fendril here. And it is notable that they recognized this from examining only a few examples of what you produced for this case. Master Bariol served beside me in the camp in Cormallen where the Army of the West rested after the battle before the Black Gate and has more than amply demonstrated his skills as both healer and surgeon, and also as a diagnostician. Master Harolfileg has studied and served as a healer for more years, I believe, than my foster father has been alive. He may have avoided working often with Men, but still has had to deal with those found dead more often than any finds comfortable.”

The Elf gave but the slightest nod of assent.

“We all of us are rightfully concerned when one we would see as a colleague turns from our path to instead put himself in league with one who instead of making the world a better place chooses to decide for all who is likely to be or to become a danger, seeking to excise such individuals from society preemptively. By allying yourself with Master Fendril and purposely changing your depictions of what you have seen to what he would have the judge or jury to see, you have stepped away from the oath you took to do no harm in the exercise of your art and skills.

“It is for this I must decide your fate now. Just how many you have helped send into hard labor or to the rope unjustly we do not yet know, and we may never know this for certain. But we have here three clear examples.”

“But I never lied!” Avrandahil objected again.

“But is it not true that by changing the underlying color of the flesh and in speaking of the manner in which damage can be done to the internal organs by heavy blows you helped to leave in the minds of the jurors the impression that Gilmar, Bredwion, and Nedron were indeed beaten extensively with fists as had been reported of Garestil’s confession? By straightening the lines of scratches and the number of wounds in each set did you not help hide the fact that the children had been clawed at by animals after they were dead, seeking to convince jurors that instead such wounds had been inflicted deliberately by one or more persons to these children when they were yet still alive and likely responsive to such torture?

“No, you did not yourself overtly lie, but neither did you tell the truth! You were lying by seeking to twist or conceal the truth, supporting the lies Fendril here would have the people continue to believe to be true. So it is that you have managed to bring yourself to this pass. A diagnostician is intended to enlighten, not to obscure the real truth. Your skill is intended to serve all of the people, not just the ambitions of such creatures as this!” And he pointed at Fendril, whose face was as pale as milk.

“Hear now your doom,” the King said to Avrandahil. “You will first be held here in the Citadel’s prison until a thorough examination is done of the records and pictures you have kept in your personal archive in order to identify previous victims of your collaborations with Master Fendril. When we are satisfied we have learned as much as can be learned from that study, you shall then be taken north and given into the keeping of those who seek to rebuild the ancient roads that once united North and South. You shall labor five days each week in seeing the roads repaved, and one day each week you shall be required to record the work done by your crew in drawings and paintings. You shall know such labor for ten years, after which you shall be required to settle in a village headed by one of the lords of the northern Dúnedain who will be advised fully of your story, and you shall do such work as is appointed to you. But never again will you be allowed to serve as a healer or a diagnostician, although you may on occasion be required to record what may be seen of particular wounds or manifestations of illnesses for one who is qualified to work as such. And be grateful I do not choose to send you to the rope as it may well prove you deserve.”

He now turned to Fendril. “It is apparent that you have chosen to see yourself as the proper heir to the one who named himself Champion of the Light, the Man known as Macardion of Dor-en-Ernil. As was true of him, you choose to see agents of Darkness everywhere you turn, and have sought to remove them, oftentimes before they have done any harm whatsoever. I wonder how many have been driven into the very acts you have accused them of by your accusations and persecution? I wonder how many such as Avrandahil and the guardsmen of Destrier you have turned from serving truth and justice to supporting your own perverse view of the world?

“Macardion saw evil everywhere he turned, and in seeking to eradicate it he instead caused it to spawn evil seed, destroying innocence, causing individuals to name one another as agents of Sauron with little or no evidence such might be true. Those who had malicious thoughts toward their neighbors were free to call them what they could and see them destroyed; those who were innocent were browbeaten until they named anyone else they could think of as fellow-travelers, and the more prominent and outwardly blameless the ones they named, the happier Macardion was to report them identified as dark agents.

“And now you do the same. You told me that you will willingly sacrifice flowers rather than see the taint of Sauron spread through the alleged actions of those others see as questionable and whom you unquestionably accept as evil. You have encouraged others to lie, both openly and covertly, in order to see those you prosecute found guilty. You have used bribery and coercion to gain convictions in highly questionable cases.

“For one to so distort the intent of the law of the land to promote your own ambitions and to root out alleged dark agents is as great an evil in and of itself as aught ever done by the likes of Sauron and his creatures. Certainly by doing what you have done you have in the end allied yourself with him. Know this—you can never, never defeat evil by adopting its own tactics!

“Macardion was sent by Turgon and Ecthelion to the House for Those with Unquiet Spirits, where he died in the end from refusing to eat, accusing those who cared for him of seeking to poison him with some substance they were alleged to have fetched from the Moon. I suppose I could do similarly with you—send you to a house for those found mad, but I do not believe that quite all of your actions are guided merely by madness and delusion. No, there was too much that was purposeful in your dealings with this case. And there is evidence that you, too, were profiting by the trading done by Borongil, Hanalgor, and Vendrion with Saruman’s agents.

“No, instead we shall keep you here, imprisoned, pending fuller inquiries as to just how deep your own treason toward the Free Peoples of the West went, and as to how many others can be identified as victims of your malice and contempt for the intent of law. And it is likely that in the end you shall indeed be found guilty of high treason in dealing with the enemies of our allies as well as of simpler judicial murder through wrongful prosecution and persecution of individuals you have chosen to consider Sauron’s agents. I suspect that in the end you will end up being condemned to be executed, but until then you shall remain in prison.”

He looked out at the room filled with nobility and lawyers and asked, “Do any here question this judgment?”

No one disagreed with him.

“Take these two away,” he directed the Guardsmen, to which order the Men responded willingly.

Next Dagon, who’d served as foreman for the jury chosen to hear the trial for Danárion, Carenthor, and Garestil, was brought before the King on the charges of illegally coaxing the jury to find for guilt and discussing with them the details of Garestil’s confession, even though they had been told they were not to consider it in making their determination of guilt or innocence. First the jurors and then the lawyer Bridion were brought in and questioned regarding how this matter had been breached with each party, and Bridion had to account for why he had not earlier reported the conversation between himself and Dagon.

“Fendril’s clerk came to me, my Lord King, and—and let me to know that should I say aught about the matter I should perhaps then consider how vulnerable my wife might be when I was away from home.”

“So, no overt threat was given, but a threat was made nonetheless?”

“Indeed, my Lord King.”

“But now you decided to send your report anyway.”

“Yes—with your deputation in Anórien examining the case made against these three I felt that I could no longer withhold this information, and I trusted that Master Enelmir as Lord Benargil’s chief magistrate would pass that information on to you.”

“Then you believed that the three youths might be innocent?”

“Oh, no, my Lord—the details of the original confession made by the youth Garestil had been released to all of those who served as lawyers and offer legal counsel throughout Anórien. Having read it, how was I to consider the three youths innocent?”

“And which of the alleged confessions did you read, I wonder?” commented Prince Faramir. “I’ve read at least four different versions he’s supposed to have given, plus the laughable description of the crime and the crime scene he gave to Master Caraftion just ere the trial began, after Master Fendril had tried to convince him to testify against Danárion and Carenthor.”

Bridion appeared startled by this. “It was signed by Master Umbardacil is all I know, my lord.”

“The original confession and clarification statement were both recorded by Master Veredorn of Destrier as the proper scribe for the constables and guardsmen there,” Prince Faramir advised him. “The one you read most probably includes the third or fourth set of amendments wrung from Garestil. They kept attempting to make the details he gave appear more in keeping with the actual state of the site where the bodies were found and the states of the bodies themselves, so they continued questioning him up until the time of the trial.”

“But it is not unusual to continue questioning the accused,” Bridion pointed out.

Faramir shrugged and gave a wry smile. “But to take the original statement and insert the new details into it as if they had been given during the original questioning is not allowed according to the laws of the Dúnedain—indeed, it has never been allowed. Reading each version of the confession, one after another, has allowed me to see precisely how first the guardsmen and later Master Fendril sought to make it appear increasingly more damning and more believable. And only the last time, when they sought to gain a wholly new statement from him to use rather than the original one, did they allow Master Caraftion and Master Pardronë to know that the questioning was ongoing.”

“But that is illegal!” objected Bridion. “Questioning is not to go forward without the presence and agreement of the counsel to the defendant!”

“Indeed.”

That simple response by the Steward of the land appeared to leave Bridion unable to think of anything other to say.

“And so it is,” the King sighed, “that the count of Fendril’s iniquities continues to mount—and those apparently of his clerk as well. Where is this Man, by the way?”

Berevrion spoke up from where he stood near Halladan’s chair, “I am sorry, Aragorn, but we did not think to secure him.”

“Then, if he is not already flown, we must find and arrest him.”

It was at that moment that the Master of the Guild of Lawyers for the White City said, “And there is one thing more, your Majesty—as Master Dagon here discussed with the rest of the jurors the information he had received regarding whichever version of young Garestil’s statement Master Fendril had shared with him, by the laws of Gondor regarding trials by jury, the verdict must be set aside and a new trial ordered—should Lords Benargil and Daerloth believe that there is indeed sufficient evidence that the crime did go forward as it was represented by the constables and guardsmen who took the accused in charge, and as the case was presented by the lawyer who represented the province.”

“Which we must admit,” Lord Daerloth said from where he and Benargil had been following the day’s dealings, “we do not believe we could justify at this point.”

“But,” objected someone from those who were observing the King’s judgment, “you can’t just allow these evil creatures to go free simply because Master Fendril and this commoner broke the law!”

Berevrion took a deep breath. “I was wondering when we’d hear from these,” he muttered loudly enough for the King to hear.

“And who are you?” asked the King, fixing the woman who’d spoken up with an intent look.

“We are from Destrier, my husband and I. We were among the first to hear that the children had gone missing, and have followed all to do with the case intently. We were shocked to learn that there were Dark Agents within our village, but then I suppose they are everywhere. And then here comes this deputation claiming to be there on your behalf, intent on overturning the verdict imposed by a jury of their peers----”

Claiming to be there on my behalf?” asked the King. “Lord Berevrion is my kinsman, Mistress, and knows far better than to claim to do anything on my behalf without my express direction.”

“Which makes it all the worse that he came all of the way to Destrier on this foolish errand, bringing with him these!” the husband said, indicating the other members of the King’s deputation.

“You mistake me, sir,” the Lord Aragorn Elessar said, his voice suddenly filled with steel. “I knew that they went to Destrier because, as they told you, they went on my behalf, on my request, each with the blessings of his own superiors. Do you think to question my authority to order a deputation of enquiry to examine a case of murder to determine whether or not it was judged rightly or fairly to begin with?”

“But they were charged!” the woman said.

“And if your neighbor, envious of your husband’s success in his business, should choose to denounce you as a Dark Agent solely to see the two of you lose your living and your reputation? You would have been charged, after all—would you not wish to have the charges properly examined and your reputation restored?”

“But we would have been innocent!” the woman objected.

“And are only you, in all of Destrier, capable of being innocent when possibly charged with something that you didn’t do?”

“But—but we are important businesspeople within Destrier! My husband is a skilled artisan! Those boys—they are—they are nothing!”

“Are only those you consider to be nothing capable of being guilty of crimes, think you, Mistress?”

“But everybody knows that they killed those children!” the husband insisted.

“And for eighteen years everybody knew that I had died of the pestilence when I was but two years old,” the King said coldly. “Everyone, that is, except for my mother, Lord Elrond and his sons and people, and seven among the Elders of the Dúnedain of the North who were chosen to stand witness to the fact I had not died after all, but had been taken into hiding to protect me from Sauron’s agents sent to see me dead. You see, sometimes what everybody knows is not necessarily true. That is why I sent a deputation of enquiry—to determine if what everybody knows could in this case be false rather than true.”

He looked from one to the other. “Come forward, and stand before the throne,” he said, and such was the force of his command that they unquestioningly did as he directed, standing together before and somewhat to one side of Enelmir’s chair. “Perhaps you did not listen or pay attention earlier when we spoke of Macardion of Dor-en-Ernil and Master Fendril. Macardion was an individual in whom festered a great anger at the world and suspicion of all others, one who believed himself capable of identifying evil in others even before it manifested itself. Once he realized that he could convince others that they were surrounded by secret agents of Sauron, he began going throughout the southern fiefdoms not only denouncing all who caught his attention, but then demanding that they denounce others. Many afterwards admitted that those they named were blameless of any wrongdoing, but such was the power of his presence that they would name those who first came to mind when he demanded they identify their fellow travelers.

“Master Fendril is of the same sort, apparently. On merely hearing his name many who have served in the Citadel recoiled, remembering a past visit by the Man and the accusations he made that poppy seeds were weevils and that there were flies to be found in his soup in the cold of winter. He, too, has seen evil everywhere he looks, and there is no question that in order to make certain the evil he has suspected is destroyed before it can cause harm that he himself has been willing to flout the law and to encourage others to do likewise.

“Now, I may be King, but I am also constrained by the very laws that gave me this position. And among the laws I must respect is one that states that when the law is broken in order to obtain a conviction of a citizen of Gondor or Arnor, that conviction must be set aside, and the authority that saw that citizen tried before must decide whether or not the one accused in the past will be tried again. This law was not written with the sensibilities of such as you in mind, but in the spirit of what is both just and fair.

“We have been examining some of the evidence used in the original trial of Danárion, Carenthor, and Garestil. We have found that not only has this been deliberately tampered with in order to make it appear that the stories told by Garestil might be true, but that Masters Avrandahil and Fendril purposely conspired together in order to decide which details would be best to change and apparently also as to which questions should be asked and how they might be best answered to both allow Master Avrandahil not to tell an outright lie and yet to allow those who heard the answer to be convinced that the unspoken lie was true. All was done to make it appear that Garestil had indeed been there and spoke truly when he described what was supposed to have been done by Danárion, Carenthor, and himself.

“What was truly done to the children was bad enough—from my examination of the pictures done by Master Fendril, it appears that each of the children was struck more than once on the back of the head, and probably with a large stone, and the child Gilmar appears to have been struck exceedingly hard across the mouth, throwing him back with force against a stony obstruction. The first major blow to the back of his head was not done with a smooth stone, as were all the blows to the backs of the heads of Nedron and Bredwion. Also, there is bruising to one wrist that Master Fendril depicted that indicates Gilmar had been caught and held and possibly dragged by it by whoever killed them. I would guess that he alone had time to attempt an escape, and that he was caught and dragged back to wherever the children died, and for some reason, perhaps merely because he’d had the temerity to attempt to flee, was dealt a ringing blow and fell back against whatever rough stone was there and suffered in that manner the first fracture to his skull, and that afterwards all three were given additional blows to the back of the head to make certain all would die of skull fractures and damage to the brains.

“Now, there was one additional picture that I saw that intrigues me. It was one involving the child Nedron, a picture done of his upper thigh, that indicates that at the moment of death and for some minutes thereafter he lay with his upper leg pressed against some artifact manufactured by a sentient being. It appears to have been a rod of some sort around which were fastened raised rings of some material. Yet such an item was not found by Vendrion as he crawled through the ditch, feeling in the mud to find the bodies and such evidence as he might encounter. Considering how clear the impression is in the picture done by Avrandahil, that item should have been found by Vendrion at the time he found the bodies, had they indeed died within the ditch. Also, Avrandahil indicates that the blood had pooled in the children’s backs, yet they were found deliberately pressed face down in the ditch—there is even an indication that something heavy such as a foot was pressed to the back of Nedron’s head to make certain he would stay down, caught in the embrace of the mud at the ditch’s bottom. And all have agreed that when their bodies were retrieved, all three children were placed on their sides.

“There is no question that the bodies were moved from where they originally died.”

“But Avrandahil indicated all three died of drowning!” the husband insisted.

The King gave a pained smile. “Oh, indeed they would have at least strangled on fluids—and most likely their own. When someone receives a major blow to the head, the first impulse is to vomit. But when one is knocked unconscious by that blow, one cannot turn in such a manner as to allow the vomitus to fall clear of the mouth; and all too commonly what is being ejected by the stomach ends up being breathed into the lungs. And it takes but a little to cause the individual to drown in the liquids from the victim’s own stomach. If it has been hours since the victim last ate, then the liquid found in the lungs, which is usually a very small amount, is indistinguishable from water, unless one has a special seeing glass and can examine it to find if the tiny creatures found in water from pools might be there in the liquid.

“Those who drown in lakes, rivers, or the sea tend to swallow large amounts of water, and often fair amounts of water are found also in the lungs. But almost nothing drained from the mouths and noses of the victims as described by those who examined the bodies immediately after they were found, and no appreciable amount of mud was found inside their mouths or nostrils indicating the children had tried to breathe with their faces pushed firmly down into the mud at the bottom of the ditch. The indication, therefore, is that the children had been dead for some time, dead of blows to the head accompanied by the strangling on their own fluids I have explained, before they were brought to the ditch, for it takes some hours for the blood to pool so strongly in one portion of the body that it will not easily change position when the body is laid with a different portion facing downward.

“Now, if what was pressed against Nedron’s leg as he died could be found and identified, it could tell much about where he really died.”

“And here, my Lord Kinsman,” Berevrion said, forestalling any comment by the couple from Destrier, “is where we would ask that you examine the items brought that were presented as evidence in the trial of Carenthor, Garestil, and Danárion and that we in your deputation have found since, as we do believe that we have identified where it was that the children died.”

The King’s attention was caught, and with a gesture to follow him, he led the couple from Destrier back to the table where the pictures lay, now going beyond them to the other items lying there. Malthor had already retrieved the picture that the King had mentioned, and held it out wordlessly. Lord Elessar took it with quiet words of thanks and examined the first objects that lay there side by side—the gaming piece, the metal rod with laces wound about it, the tally stick…. A quick comparison between the tally stick and the picture done by Avrandahil, and the King’s face lit. “Aha! This is apparently what his leg lay against!” He lifted it up and compared it more closely to the picture before at last giving the picture back to Malthor to place with the others done of Nedron’s body.

The woman protested, “But they had to have told you about this----” but her words failed at the look in the King’s eyes.

“No, no one has told me about this. I have not read the records done of the various hearings Lords Erchirion and Berevrion held, although I have asked my Stewards to do so for me. Instead I have focused on the original statements made by Garestil and those who saw the site first and those who took part in the investigation and arrests and who testified in the trial. Both Lords Faramir and Halladan have, along with Erchirion, Berevrion, Faradir, Daerloth, and Benargil, Anorgil, Harolfileg, and Bariol, answered my questions about certain matters beyond what was shown in the trial, but I had purposely asked not to be told more than what must be known of the findings of my deputation, for I did not wish my own judgment to be tainted by too much foreknowledge of what they might tell me. I have not looked at the pictures done by Avrandahil until you saw me do so. I have not examined what else is on this table until this moment. And I tell you that what was pressed against Nedron’s thigh at the moment he died was apparently this item, or another identical to it, including the distances between the rings of cord about it.

“Who found this?” he asked, raising his head and turning to look out at the spectators.

Wendthor stepped forward from where he’s stood somewhat behind his father. “I did, my Lord King,” he said, bowing low.

“And where did you find it?”

“In a byre, a ruinous byre, perhaps a mile to a mile and half from where the bodies were found.”

“And was there other evidence that the children might have visited that place?” the King asked.

“Yes, my Lord—when we revisited the byre together, members of the deputation together with me, we found that evidence. It lies there.”

Malthor handed the King the reports made by each of those who’d visited the byre after leaving Master Avrandahil’s home, and indicated the items retrieved from there—the satchel, clothing, and picture that apparently Nedron had carried with him, the stone apparently used to strike the children, and the other stone, prized from the wall, against which apparently Gilmar’s head had struck. The King read swiftly through the reports, none of which was particularly long, and at last returned them to the archivist and turned to examine the satchel and its contents, and finally the two stones.

He turned to the couple from Destrier. “This satchel has lain in a partially protected area, lying against both earth and a stone wall, for almost a year. One can see how the roots of surrounding plants had begun to work through the weave of the cloth of the satchel here, away from where it lay against the stone. And one can see how moss began to grow here, and where mice gnawed a hole here to remove what food was within. Mildew can be seen on the garments held within it here and here, indicating these were most likely furthest down, closest to the ground, where they were kept dampest. The strike-a-light was made of a foil of tin with a steel striking plate here, and you can see that there is some rust to it. And the picture….”

He set down all else to take up the picture, and it was plain that the simple drawing moved him. “This is his mother?” he asked.

Mistress Nessa spoke. “Yes, it is of me holding his sister when she was but a babe. I’ve not seen it since the night before he disappeared, and in my worry over him being gone I never thought to look at it that night. And the next day my husband had me to my parent’s home with Mardeth, and when we returned to Destrier it was to live outside the village, and I knew not what had become of the picture—I rather thought that my husband perhaps had disposed of it, for he was ever jealous of what I held dear.”

“And where is he now, this jealous husband of yours?”

“Dead, my Lord King. He sought to run away after he stabbed my brother near to death, and took a little girl from the village as a hostage. And the father tree from the common grazing ground took exception to him threatening a child and grabbed him up, accidentally injuring him to his death.”

“A father tree?” The King looked to meet Berevrion’s eyes.

“There is an Ent who has stood for some time on the edge of that grazing ground, my Lord Kinsman, listening for rumors of the Entwives. He drowses deeply most of the time, but has been seen moving often enough that the region is filled with a belief in father trees who guard the forests and innocents. He says he stays there because that is where the children of the village come most to play, and he loves children.”

The King sighed. “Word, then, to bring to old Fangorn himself when we pass Isengard next.” He returned his attention to the husband and wife. “You have heard all of this before?” he asked.

“Yes,” the husband replied reluctantly.

“And you will not believe it?”

“Why should we?” demanded the wife. “It’s only intended to cause doubt----”

The King lost patience. “It is intended to do nothing! It existed before the coming of my deputation into Anórien. And if it causes doubt, that is because what was told first by the guardsmen who directed the investigation was wrong! They did not know what it was that they saw when they beheld the bodies, and assumed that the removal of the child’s sac for the seed was done by whoever killed them. Their total lack of experience in knowing what happens to bodies left in the wild combined with imaginations fired with stories of the alleged rites committed by those who worshipped Sauron led them to interpret the mutilation as some arcane rite that I tell you now was never practiced by those who truly directed the re-empowering of Sauron through the sacrifices performed within the Red Temples. I saw such sacrifice made in Umbar, and heard it described in Rhûn, Khand, and Harad. And I have read The Book of Shadows, and assure you that what was written there was not what was truly done.

“You were led to believe a lie; and if you continue to choose to believe that lie in spite of all you have learned since, what does that say about you?” He shook his head. “I bid you leave my presence, for if I have little tolerance for those who deliberately lie for reasons of malice or to conceal the truth, I have even less for those who willingly lie to themselves. Captain Peregrin?”

One of the small personages came forward. “I am here, my Lord King.”

“I know that you are not now on duty, but if you will accompany these down to the Sixth Gate, I will be very grateful. They are not to return here to the Seventh Level—let the Guards there know.”

“As you will, my Lord.” The small one turned an imperious glare on the two who had offended his friend the King. “You two shall go first,” he ordered, and shocked and dismayed by this, the two of them turned and hurried out of the hall, pushing past those who all but blocked the way to the entrance hall and the great doors to the Citadel.

The King himself watched after them before turning to examine the items that had been presented as evidence in the trial, and finally looking at those items that had been collected but not presented before the jury. Suddenly he stopped. “Legolas! Gimli! To me, please!”

All watched with interest as one of the Elves and one of the Dwarves present came to the King’s side. “What is it, Aragorn?” asked the Dwarf.

“Look at these items and tell me if you see anything that appears particularly familiar,” he directed.

Elf and Dwarf exchanged glances before doing as had been asked of them, and both ended up staring at the contents of a pair of awkward boxes. The Elf reached down and picked up the paper that lay beside one of the items, and began reading aloud. “A footprint found near the tree with the upraised root. Foot is exceptionally large. Cast in wax by Constable Amdir.”

The Dwarf peered upwards at the King. “We certainly saw enough of those footprints as we followed the trail of Saruman’s Uruk-hai across Rohan,” he commented. “Plus we saw the feet of those shod in such boots in plenty at Helm’s Deep.”

“So, the two of you see precisely what I have seen,” the King said. “It would seem that the one who killed the children was no child of Men, but instead one of Saruman’s breeding.” He carefully lifted one of the cast prints out of its box to display to all. “Behold the print left by one of Saruman’s creatures, bred by him in the tunnels he had excavated below Orthanc in the Wizard’s Vale in Isengard! For three days we three followed a trail of such footprints across Rohan to the eaves of Fangorn Forest, and there we saw the remains of such boots smoldering on the pyre built by Éomer’s Riders when they burned the bodies of the orcs they slew, although some orcs from Mordor had joined with them. And when Saruman sent his army of Uruk-hai to assault Théoden King’s people at Helm’s Deep we had more than enough examples of this cobblery to deal with to recognize it easily now.”

“So, we were right!” Berevrion said. “We recognized that whoever disposed of the ponies must have had extraordinary strength, for few among Men could have begun to dispose of the two ponies as was done, with the bodies of the animals cast or dropped into the water rather than pushed or dragged.”

But one of the jurors who’d lingered near the throne objected, “But orcs don’t hide bodies—they either eat them or leave them to be found!”

The King was shaking his head. “These were not precisely typical of orc-kind. They preferred Man-flesh, or so they told us when they taunted us as we stood guard upon the wall of Helm’s Deep. But they are cleverer and closer to the thinking of Men than we have seen with the orcs of the Misty Mountains or those from Mordor itself. It appears that in order to breed a strain of orcs capable of withstanding the light of the Sun, Saruman has bred the greater Uruks to Men—or more likely to women stolen from amongst the race of Men. A new breed for what he believed to be a new Age with him rather than Sauron himself as the tyrant under whose feet all who remained within Middle Earth should lie. Rejoice that apparently the most of such brutes died either at the hands of the defenders of Helm’s Deep or those of the huorns of Fangorn Forest.”

So saying, he returned the cast to its box, quietly thanked his Companions, and returned to the dais, this time climbing the steps to the top and seating himself upon his throne, laying his sword across his knees. He looked down on Dagon, where he’d stood so long between his guards. “Do you realize how it is that you broke the laws of the realm?” he asked.

White faced, Dagon nodded. “Yes, my Lord,” he breathed.

“You shall spend a full month within the prison here, after which you shall return to Anwar. And you shall be fined thrice the amount of outstanding taxes with which you were charged before, which you shall have three years to pay. This shall be in addition to the usual taxes you will be expected to pay in that time—do you understand? And if you do not manage to pay your taxes and fine in that amount of time, you will be exiled to work on the roads of Arnor for a year’s time, and then will be forced to find a place for yourself in the North kingdom. This is my judgment against you.”

Bridion was given a reprimand and warned that should he fail to report such an infraction again, he would be stripped of his livelihood. He blessed the King’s mercy before he left the Hall of Kings.

The two who had attacked the wagon carrying Danárion, Carenthor, and Garestil to Minas Tirith were given each three years’ service in the quarries. They admitted that they’d been goaded to their actions by the clerk for Master Fendril, although neither could say what had become of him afterwards. But he’d found them drinking in a lesser alehouse in Anwar, and had bought them a few rounds and had fed their disgruntlement that it appeared that the three murdering youths might just be freed by the machinations of the King’s deputation.

It was as these were being returned to the prison that one of the door wards approached the chief Herald, and outside the Citadel could be heard the tramp of feet and the issuing of orders. The Herald heard the news communicated to him, and then hurried forward. “My lords!” he exclaimed. “There is a new group arriving from Anórien, sent by Lord Daerloth’s son who has served as his father’s Steward during this visit to the capitol. It appears that Master Nerwion of Destrier has managed to capture Master Fendril’s clerk as the Man fled westward toward Rohan. He stopped within Destrier for the night, and incited some in the alehouse there to go to the quarter where dwelt Danárion and see the house in which the youth’s family dwelt set afire. He then sought to bully his way out of the village gates after they’d been closed for the night, but Master Nerwion, having learned he was inside the walls, had given orders that he be taken prisoner. Nerwion himself brought him to Amon Dîn and gave him into the keeping of young Lord Rigil, who had soldiers from the garrison there bring him here to Minas Tirith as swiftly as might be.”

Fendril’s clerk proved to be from Dunland, and a more sullen creature it was hard to imagine. In the end he was referred to the prison until the King had time to study his case. “Another tie to the policies of Curunír, perhaps,” suggested Faramir.

“I suspect that we shall find this very true,” agreed the King. “It would suit him well to have those who dwelt on the borders of Rohan looking for evil within rather than being on guard for the former White Wizard’s creatures crossing their lands in pursuit of the joint ends of Isengard and Mordor.”

Now at last he ordered Enelmir’s chair turned around so that the Man could look up upon the King’s Majesty. For some moments the Lord King Aragorn Elessar Envinyatar Telcontar examined the failed judge. When at last he spoke his voice was particularly solemn.

“My foster father sought to prepare me well to exercise all of the manifestations of the King’s Gift to be found in me. I was trained as a healer and taught how to do surgery as well as how to call back the spirits of those who’d come far under the Shadow. I was taught how to search the hearts of those brought before me. I was taught to follow trails weeks old and older still. I was given the skills of a warrior and commander of armies. I was taught the histories of the days before Days, of the return of the Noldor to Middle Earth, of the wars against Morgoth and Sauron, of the rise and fall of Númenor, Gondor, and Arnor. I was taught the arts of diplomacy, and the tongues not only of our heritage but also of our allies and enemies. And I was taught law, and allowed to study the land, people, and ways of Gondor to prepare me for the day when I might at last, as the Heir of Isildur and Anárion both, come to lay claim to the Winged Crown.

“Law is a tool with which we might build a better and more equitable world. But, as with all tools, it can be used to wreak havoc as well as to ease the way of those who lie under it. And I have come to hold a particular antipathy toward those who misuse it.

“You have been caught seeking to destroy a report that would have forced you to reverse a ruling made in your court. That alone condemns you. Reviews made of the trial of Carenthor, Danárion, and Garestil of Destrier indicate that you repeatedly upheld the objections of the prosecutor, Fendril of Destrier, even when his objections had little or no substance, while you repeatedly denied the objections of those who counseled the defendants, even when their objections had all of the force of the law and legal precedent behind them. You so limited those experts brought by the defense in what they might say before the jurors that in the end their words had no meaning to those who were meant to learn from them. And, at the same time you allowed the guardsman Hanalgor of Destrier to speak at length, reciting the words of one you knew had been declared insane and speaking freely on his own ideas as to what so called dark agents might wish to do to allegedly honor and strengthen Sauron as if they were known to be true. And you did this even after he and his sources had been unveiled as fraudulent by Master Pardronë. And when one individual asked repeatedly to speak with his own counsel before answering a question that could be interpreted as incriminating himself in a different matter, you forced him to answer anyway, returning the next day to forbid any to reveal outside the courtroom that you had so broken the law of the land. And you have been found to have purposely removed certain sections of the transcript of the trial from the archived records so as to conceal both your own errors and those of Masters Fendril and Avrandahil.

“Tell me—do you truly believe that Macardion of Dor-en-Ernil was the Champion of Light he named himself?”

Enelmir shrugged. “What do I care about the likes of Macardion of Dor-en-Ernil?”

“Do you believe that there are those throughout Gondor who would so seek to honor Sauron that they would sacrifice others to further empower him?”

“It is not impossible.”

The King shook his head. “Now you sound like Master Avrandahil when he seeks to keep from contradicting Master Fendril. You have read what was presented as the confession of young Garestil?”

“Yes.”

“Did it sound to you as if he were describing any sort of arcane rite or ritual?”

Enelmir’s expression was even sourer. “No—it appeared that the three were crazed with drink and bravado, and having the children chance upon them that they suddenly turned upon them and beat them for all of the harm done toward themselves all the preceding years.”

“What harm is this?”

“Well, none of the three had an easy time of it, apparently.”

“You see this as true? But what of the youth Carenthor who was found by my deputation to have been highly respected, even by those who detested Danárion and who openly belittled Garestil? Why would such as he agree to such an act as this—beating children to within an inch of their lives and then throwing them into a ditch for them to drown?”

“Who can say what someone will do who allows himself to become enamored of the likes of Danárion? After all, the three of them were charged with this murder!”

“And what,” interrupted Lord Benargil of Anwar, “what of us who had become certain that you were the wisest individual we knew, who believed you that we were too weak-minded to need to study policy and the law and—and Sindarin, and allowed you to guide us even when our previous training indicated that not all you would have us believe was necessarily true? I do not believe I would have allowed you to talk me into beating someone to death for you, but I have certainly allowed the complaints of many to lie unanswered, assured by you they were but the grumbling of those who had lost the game and would do aught in their power to draw attention to their petty grievances. And now I am left wondering what kind of example I have set for my own children, as well as the quality of governance I have offered those who lie under the sway of Anwar. After all, as we have been reminded so often lately, just being charged with a crime is not in and of itself proof that the charges are true or just.”

“You did not need to change your allegiance to this spawn of the debased North kingdom!” spat Enelmir, then paused, struck immobile by his own inability to govern his bitterness and scorn, thus revealing his true self to all within the chamber.

Throughout all of the proceedings of the afternoon Mithrandir had stood, unmoving and little noted, leaning on his staff, behind the seats for the Ringbearer and his companion. Now at last he stirred, stepping forward where the reflected light from one of the high windows to the hall fell upon his dazzlingly white garments. “And have I not heard this argument before?” he said mildly. “Did not Lord Denethor himself say, ‘I will not bow to such a one, last of a house long bereft of lordship and dignity’?”

“And why does that remind me of what that foul fallen Wizard said,” Gimli grunted, “calling the House of Eorl a barn ‘where old Men drank in the reek and their brats rolled in the rushes amongst the dogs’?”

“Both of which were the beliefs Sauron himself wished for those who might support his greatest enemies to hold,” Gandalf noted. “Look upon those who might offer true rule and leadership as debased, and it is easier to be swayed to oppose them and unwittingly support Sauron’s own policies instead. And so he always sought to sow division that he might in the end reap the final victory. Only when all of the Free Peoples worked together were we able to truly hold him at bay that the destruction of his own artifice might destroy him completely.”

“But his evil remains with us still!” Enelmir said.

“Indeed—if we will listen to his whispers in our hearts,” agreed the Wizard. “His own Master had too strong a part in the construction of this world for the compulsion to bitterness and selfishness and destruction to have been all swept away with his defeat, much less that of his disciple. Now it is for each of us to fight the battle between good and evil within us that we not allow it free play in the outer world.”

“As has indeed been true all through the history of Arda,” Aragorn concurred. He fixed his own attention upon the former judge who awaited judgment. “How is it that those who offer false justice and who seek to falsify official records are to be punished?” he asked.

“You would not do such to me!” Enelmir said through gritted teeth.

“Think you so? Again, what does the law hold as the proper punishment for the unjust judge and for one who falsifies legal documents?”

Enelmir would not answer, fixing his eyes on the steps between himself and the King. At last the Master of the Guild of Lawyers said, “The set penalty is that he is to lose his right hand, and he is to be branded upon the remaining hand and his forehead with an I glyph in token of Iniquitous.”

“And is it as he has said?” Aragorn asked of Enelmir.

At long last the former magistrate for the district of Anwar grunted, “He has said it.”

“And so it must be,” the King said. “In three days’ time you will lose your right hand as the law decrees, and when you are recovered from that you shall be branded also as the law dictates. And I will not send you elsewhere, for as you have seduced your former lord and friend you might still seek to seduce others elsewhere. No, in your case I shall indeed seek to keep this enemy close at hand. You shall dwell within the city, in a small house in the Sixth Circle where your comings and goings shall ever be kept under watch. And when the magistrates courts in the lower city hear cases, you shall be required to sit in a prominent place within them, that you might learn through observation what true justice is like, and that those who see you might be reminded what becomes of those who seek to raise themselves above the very law they are intended to dispense.”

Enelmir stumbled when they came to free him from the chair, and had to be half-carried out of the Citadel, back to the prison. The chair itself was removed, and the King at last summoned the three youths to return to their place before them.

It was growing toward twilight now, and the light now fell only upon the King on his high throne. As before, he appeared now as if he had indeed stepped out of a starry sky to sit in majesty above all. Danárion turned his attention toward the two Halflings seated to his right, and saw that the slender one, the Ringbearer himself, was as pale as had been Enelmir, yet about him was a similar soft glow to that which appeared to surround the King above them. Mithrandir stood behind him, his hand on the Halfling’s shoulder as if in reassurance.

The three youths stood together for a moment, and then knelt, Carenthor first as before, followed almost immediately by the other two. The King rose to his feet. “I must set aside the judgment made on you in Enelmir’s court,” he said, “and I do so gladly, knowing in my heart that indeed you are innocent of the charges made against you. First, it is plain that the crime as it was represented first by the guardsmen of Destrier and then by Master Fendril never even occurred. For the children did not die there, and definitely not at your hands, but a mile or better away from the gully where their bodies were found and at the hands of a creature foreign to Gondor.

“It will be said by many that I pardoned you, but in truth it is I who must beg your pardon for the great crime committed against the three of you. I do ask that you indeed forgive us all.”

Garestil looked up in wonder. “But it weren’t you what did it—it was that Master Fendril and the judge, not you.”

“But I now stand in the stead of all who believed that evil of you. And you must needs remember that there are those, like those two I had Pippin escort out of the Citadel, who will cling to their beliefs that you really did it because they cannot admit that they were befooled by the likes of Hanalgor and Fendril.”

Danárion stood, his hands still manacled before him. “It was me that most wished to believe guilty of this horrible thing, and I admit that I probably brought upon myself their suspicion. I cannot now believe all that I once said, thinking most too stupid to deserve to live considering what they wished to think and how self-absorbed and sanctimonious they appeared. I have my own amends to make. I am only grateful that it appears I will be able to do so while I yet live. And for that I thank you all.”

“Enough of this!” declared the Dwarf Gimli. “What say you, Aragorn? Shall I finally be free to strike those shackles from their hands?”

The King smiled. “I think it is time and past time for that, my friend. How about there, against the base of the statue of my great-father Ondoher? I have a strong suspicion he would be delighted at the prospect of seeing these three declared free.”

The Dwarf delivered his great axe into the hands of one of his kindred, and pulled a throwing axe from his belt as he walked casually to the base of the indicated statue. And if many within the Hall of Kings appeared scandalized at the proceedings, neither he nor the King himself appeared to care. Garestil was made to set his hands just so, and the Dwarf cocked his head, and swifter than thought had the back of the axe against a particular joint, and the manacle fell free, striking the marble-tiled floor with a particularly satisfactory clunk! Carenthor appeared more anxious when he was made to go next; and at last Danárion followed, willingly holding out his hands that the manacles he wore might be struck free of them. And as he stood, rubbing the circulation back into his wrists, Berevrion stepped forward to push into his grasp that small purse made of patches of leather, his eyes bright with pride.

*******


The last to stand for the King’s judgment were Daerloth and Benargil, who were given full pardons for all that might have been done under their watch. The Master of the Guild of Lawyers for Minas Tirith was commanded to choose three to work with himself and Master Crëarnil in reviewing all trials in which it appeared that Fendril or Enelmir might have twisted the judgments against those charged with crimes, and to examine also those situations in which, as had happened with Dagon, what appeared to be rightful charges had been summarily dismissed. Faramir and Halladan returned to the two lords their chains of office and Daerloth’s circlet as a high lord of the realm, and both were applauded as they took back their rightful authority.

At last the King addressed those who had been specifically bidden to attend the day’s proceedings. “There will come times when each and every one of us who hold authority within the realm will be tempted to take the easy way, to allow one person to stand for judgment when others were also involved or were indeed the true offenders against the laws we are to enforce and protect. Know this—the throne names I have taken upon myself were chosen with great care. I am the Elfstone, the Healer. I am Envinyatar, the Renewer. I am Telcontar, the Far-strider. I will not rule from a place hidden away from the greater population of Gondor, here in the White City as if Minas Tirith were the whole of the realm. I will travel from one end of the reunited realm to the other, from the northern wastes to the garrison at Poros; from the Firth of Lhûn to the borders of Rhûn. And I will see this realm healed of its long-held wounds, and the will of the people to dwell fully renewed. And this I require from you, also.

“Let all of you know this day that you are as bound to the healing and renewal of Gondor and Arnor’s glory as am I. And if you are found wanting and will not amend your ways, you will face the judgment not only of the King, but of the entirety of the lands built by the hands of Elendil and his sons. Now go forth, committed to seeing that true justice is dispensed in your lands.”

“So has ruled the King of Gondor,” intoned the Lord Steward Faramir. “This long audience is dismissed.”

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