In late March the King summoned to the Citadel Lord Benargil, who had arrived in Minas Tirith the preceding day from Anwar, and the Master Archivist for the White City and his newest apprentice, Danárion son of Targon. The young Man was blossoming in his new setting, and stood taller and more proudly than he’d done in years. Few in Destrier would have recognized him, with his hair now evenly cut and a beard beginning to make itself seen, and with eyes that were no longer defiant but filled with a patience borne of trial. With their lodgings in Destrier destroyed and what few belongings that had survived the fire gathered and sent by their neighbors across the lane, Mistress Vanessë had agreed to remain in the White City. A house had been granted the family in the Fourth Circle, and both Danárion’s mother and sister had found employment with a nearby inn, where Vanessë was now the head housekeeper and her daughter was employed as a cook and had begun to show a decided knack for the profession.
Carenthor’s family had returned to Destrier long enough to sell their home and collect their belongings, and had removed to Lossarnach with their dog, not far from the rebuilt Rammas Echor. Galdor had returned to Destrier, but walked taller and more proudly, glad to know that his son was now apprenticed to a troupe of tumblers in Lamedon where no one cared that he had once been named a dark agent and murderer. As the grandfather of the leader of the troupe himself had been a victim of Macardion of Dor-en-Ernil’s hunt for such supposed creatures, none within the group held such charges against the youth.
Mistress Nessa had returned to Destrier with Tevern and Renalta, and they’d resumed their lives as best they could, caring for their daughters. But somehow Gilmar’s parents could never quite put behind them the belief that Danárion, Carenthor, and Garestil had killed their son, even though they knew that the King himself believed differently. And they could not understand how Nessa could so treasure a gift given her by Carenthor before she left the White City of a picture of Nedron with his arm about his sister’s shoulder. But Rindor had been required to return to Minas Tirith, where he would be spending the next five years assisting in the rebuilding of the walls of the City under the supervision of the Dwarves, not that he appeared to find it particularly onerous. He and Dírhael had come to an understanding of sorts, and although they were not close, the two of them had come to respect one another.
Danárion had brought with him the leather-bound volume of The Book of Shadows that had been returned to him after his release from the charge of murder. He had agreed to see this housed in the Great Archive, and had insisted on practicing his growing mastery of Sindarin by reading it. “I will be able to begin copying it soon,” he explained to Lord Benargil, “and hope to have that copy done within a year to gift to your son, and perhaps another for Anorgil and Lyrien when they marry.”
“Wendthor will be glad enough to have it,” Benargil admitted. “Although I still feel odd at the thought of keeping such a thing, and mostly now because I know just how the evil of its author spread.”
“I know,” Danárion said, eyeing the volume that the King now held in his hands and was perusing thoughtfully. “But I’ve come to the conclusion that we must not forget it completely, or it is likely that the same evil will rear its head yet again. I saw recently a quote whose authorship cannot be fully established—that those who allow themselves to forget the evils of the past are doomed to suffer from them again and again until they finally learn the lesson that such things are intended to teach. And I do not intend to allow this particular evil to grow again if I can help it. I don’t want anyone more to suffer as Carenthor, Garestil and I did.”
The King nodded over the book. “It is indeed wisdom that you have uttered, and I suspect the original author of it was Gandalf. And at least with the few copies of this that remain in Gondor we have idea of what kinds of beliefs Macardion and his followers held that would indicate that someone elsewhere is seeking to revive the Dark Hunters once more. It appears that after the Lord Steward Turgon sent Macardion to the House for those with Unquiet Spirits in Lossarnach, his followers fled Dor-en-Ernil for Anórien where they began corrupting the likes of Fendril and Enelmir, and where Curunír used them to distract all from his growing attempts to infiltrate its government and courts. So far three more besides Danárion, Garestil, and Carenthor have been released from wrongful imprisonment, and reparations are being made to two families that lost members to Fendril’s hunt for dark agents and Enelmir’s corruption.”
He turned a page, and stopped, his expression somewhat twisted. “One thing I appreciate better this time than when I looked at this last years ago is just how foolish and childish so many of the rituals described within it are. This one appears to have had its roots in the culture of the land of Hinya, said to lie south and east of Khand. It directs that the intended victim is to be dressed in sheer silk and anointed with clarified butter, and then must be made to dance in a voluptuous manner for those gathered to watch the ritual before he is taken and slain—” his brows rose, “—rather painfully. And in this one----” Suddenly he began to laugh. “Oh, heavens—what a joke!”
“What is it?” demanded Danárion rising and coming to stand by the King’s shoulder.
“This appears to have been inspired by my own people in the North. It is entitled the Rite of the Dwarf.” He looked at the two of them, mirth plain upon his face. “You see, my people have adopted a number of customs from others who dwell in our lands, and one of these is the Yule Dwarf. Yule is the name given by most in the north to the festival of mettarë. Many of those within the Breelands and the Shire tell their children that gifts given at that season are brought to them by the Yule Dwarf, and usually a venerable Hobbit is given a false beard to wear and a gilded axe to carry, and he comes to Yule parties with a great bag of gifts intended for the children. Even after they are too old to truly believe that this is a real Dwarf, the children continue to pretend to believe it for the sake of the younger ones.
“Among the northern Dúnedain this custom has become a tradition, also, but with a twist intended to make it plain that this is no true Dwarf at all, for it is the tallest Man within the village who is expected to play the Yule Dwarf. And after I settled down seriously to the work of serving my people as their Chieftain, every winter I would find myself having to play the role in whatever village I found myself when Yule came.”
He returned his attention to the book. “So here it says that the chosen victim is to be fitted with a false beard and given an axe of foil to carry, and he must first give out gifts to the children, and then is to—is to be attacked by warriors armed with real axes so as to be hacked to pieces.” All humor had fled his face. He took a shuddering breath. “Trust Macardion to take a time of joy and joking and turn it on its head,” he said, closing the book with a snap.
Benargil cleared his throat and sought to change the subject. “We have managed to confirm that this clerk of Fendril’s was indeed a close relative of Gríma son of Gálmód, sent into Gondor on purpose to seek out sources of weapons, food, and other goods to help feed and arm Isengard’s growing army,” he reported. “Three other groups of former clerks and guardsmen have been found in my district and in Lord Daerloth’s that were doing similarly to Borongil in Destrier. I only wish we could get our hands upon this Gríma himself, and that the Ents had not allowed Curunír to escape. They have much to answer for.”
The King set the book on a nearby table and took up what appeared to be a letter written in a particularly fair hand. “I wished to tell you what I recently heard from Frodo. You know that he left Gondor last summer to return to his own land, but I don’t know if you have heard what he found on his return. Shortly after he left the Shire to head for Bree where he was supposed to meet with Gandalf but where he met with me instead, a kinsman of his who had a very bad reputation decided that it was time to make a bid to become the tyrant of the Shire. This Lotho had been selling away much of the produce of the farms he owned, which were many, to an agent for one who called himself Mr. White. In time this was not enough to satisfy Mr. White, and Lotho began arranging for the produce of other people’s farms to be diverted from their intended purchasers and sent south along with what he was already selling outside of the Shire.”
“No!” said Danárion.
The King released a breath. “Oh, yes—Mr. White indeed was the Wizard Curunír, or Saruman as he is known in the North. Apparently he had been sending agents northwards for quite some time. The Shire is the richest land for farming anywhere throughout Arnor, and there are no better farmers than the Hobbits of the Shire. As his armies of Men and orcs and uruks expanded, Saruman’s need for foodstuff grew, and so he intended to infiltrate the Shire and make it a slave state that would feed his growing power. And Lotho was the perfect agent to allow this to happen.
“When the Circle of Isengard was destroyed by the Ents, there was but one place left in Middle Earth where Saruman still had creatures who thought of him as their lord, and that was inside the Shire. Lotho had agreed to allow a large number of the Wizard’s people to enter within the Shire’s borders to serve as his private army to cow his own people into allowing him to become their “Chief,” as he named himself. And in Lotho’s name these and a few Hobbits who found they enjoyed lording it over their fellows were gathering vast stores of food and goods into their own hands.
“This was the situation that Frodo, Sam, Merry, and Pippin found when they returned to their homeland. In three days they had completely turned the tables on Saruman’s folk, however, and those of his Men and half-orcs who’d been plundering the Shire who weren’t dead or captured were going into hiding or fleeing the Shire’s borders. Saruman and Gríma had managed to reach the Shire before my friends arrived there, and had gone to Frodo’s former home of Bag End and made of Lotho a prisoner, and then murdered him. When Frodo confronted the Wizard there, Saruman tried to kill him, but was foiled by Frodo’s mithril corslet. He was ordered to leave the Shire, but Gríma was invited to remain and heal before he would have to leave. The Wizard taunted him cruelly, and at last Gríma Wormtongue broke and attacked his master, slaying him and trying then to escape. It was by reflex that the archers of the Thain slew Gríma.
“There are three major leaders to the Shire—the Thain, whose office was established by my ancestor Aranarth, son to Arvedui Last-King; the Master of Buckland on the eastern banks of the Brandywine River, and the Mayor, who is elected to office for seven years at a time. Pippin is son and heir to the current Thain of the Shire; Merry is son and heir to the Master of Buckland, and Frodo is now deputy Mayor of the Shire, appointed by Mayor Whitfoot to serve in his stead while the Mayor himself recovers from the imprisonment he suffered at the hands of Saruman’s Men. As they have gone through those places where Saruman’s folk lived, they have found much that had gone missing, and a few items that appear to have come from outside the Shire as well.
“Four days ago I received a small package sent by Frodo, accompanied by this letter.” He smoothed it and began to read.
“Dearest Aragorn, my friend and my King,
“As we were going through the sheds that the Big Men built in the gardens of Bag End we found certain things that were obviously taken from people outside the Shire. One true Man captured a week ago who had lived in one of these sheds identified another who’d lived there as one of Saruman’s Uruk-hai, one who’d served as a liaison between Saruman and Sauron’s forces east of Cair Andros. This was one who was more Manlike than many of his fellows, but who still possessed the great strength of his breeding.
“Inside the shed this one had taken for his own we found a good deal of clothing, mostly smallclothes, and all from those of Man-kind. But among those garments he appeared to fondle most we found these three garments that I send you now. They appear to have belonged to children, and the name “Gilmar” is embroidered upon one of them. This uruk was identified as one killed by Pippin in the Battle of Bywater, so he can trouble no others. But I do think that you can assure the parents of Gilmar, Nedron, and Bredwion that their sons’ killer has been identified and has received whatever justice there is to be found in being killed in battle.
“I’d never thought to find signs of that one here in the Shire.”
The King stopped there, and handed the small bundle to Benargil. The three garments had obviously been carefully laundered, but there were still stains that caused the hearts of the King’s guests to twist. And there on one of them was carefully embroidered by Mistress Renalta’s skilled hand the name of her son.
“At least he will kill no others,” Benargil sighed, carefully wrapping the items again in the cloth in which the Ringbearer had packaged them. “I will tell them, but do not believe I will return these—I suspect they would cause too much grief.”
“And I agree with you,” Aragorn said quietly. “But I felt that you two should stand witness for them.”
Talk turned to more cheerful subjects, but still was more solemn than it had been on their arrival. Before they left, as the King was thanking them for coming and returning The Book of Shadows to Danárion, there was a knock at the door, which opened even before the King himself had bade whoever was there to enter. Prince Faramir burst in, his eyes alight, a bundle of papers in his hands. “Ah, good—you have not left as yet!” he said to Danárion. “I have found it at last! Frodo and I combed through my father’s personal archives for this, but we failed to find it there, and it was because it was in his personal library in the Steward’s Wing instead—inside a chest by his chair that the Seneschal had moved to one corner of the room when he sought to make it more my room than my father’s.” He smiled at the papers he held with a solemn pleasure. “This was written to Lord Daerloth in early February of last year, instructing him to take Masters Enelmir and Fendril in charge, for he’d been doing his own research into the murders of the children and had come to the conclusion that the charges against the three of you were false, and that there was need to seek just how deeply the corruption might have sunk throughout Anórien. And he, too, had noted that the names of Borongil and Hanalgor were already tied to the thefts of stores of food and weapons from what was intended for the garrisons at Eilenach and Amon Dîn, and had heard from his personal contacts in Anórien that they appeared to be dealing with agents of someone from the northwest. It appears that he was already suspicious that these agents had been actually sent by Curunír, and might serve to explain just why he greeted Mithrandir’s arrival as suspiciously as he did.”
He held out the papers to the young Man. “Take them. It appears that the war grew worse simply too swiftly for my father to see these dispatched; but even he realized that you were most likely innocent, my friend. And you cannot imagine how much good it did my heart to find these tonight, although you might thank my beloved bride for pressing me to find out just what was in that chest! She and our Queen are even now congratulating one another for seeing me so excited and pleased. But I now know that my father was not ignoring your mother’s letters as it might have appeared!”
Benargil felt tears of compassion threatening to overflow, and knew that their beloved Steward was feeling the same relief that Wendthor had felt some months earlier when he realized that his father, in his heart of hearts, desired true justice as strongly as he did himself. It was good to know that he and Denethor had managed to exceed their son’s expectations and to so retain their respect in the end.