25. The Final Trials Begin
The Final Trials Begin
The trial began soon after the noon meal, and the Hall of Kings was crowded with mostly such lords of the realm as were present in the White City at the time, each particularly summoned by the King's Majesty or the Lord Prince Steward Faramir. The Guild of Lawyers was also heavily represented. Relatively few commoners, however, were there, save for those who'd come expressly from Anórien to serve as witnesses or who were involved with the families of the victims or the accused. Although a certain couple from Destrier was given a place from which they could see everything.
First Lords Daerloth and Benargil came forward, both dropping to their knees at the foot of the dais, there between the Black Chair of the Steward of Gondor and the one in which the King's kinsman Halladan sat as the new Steward for Arnor.
Daerloth spoke, saying, "We come before you, Lord Elessar, to confess that we have realized that we have not been true to the stewardship we offer those people under our authority. We have learned that we have been convinced to allow what now appear to be innocents to be accused, convicted, and condemned for a crime in which we are now convinced they had no part. When asked to review the investigation and trial of those accused of a foul murder, we were convinced by those under us that there was no real reason to question the findings of the jury or the rulings of the judge. Even though we read most of the documents given us regarding the investigation of the murder and the manner in which the trial was conducted, we did not think to summon anyone to enquire more deeply into why any sought to lodge a complaint against the guardsmen or constables involved in the investigation, much less the conduct of the officers of the court that heard the case or possible malfeasance on the part of any of the jurors. We have failed these young Men and their families from beginning to almost the end, even as we have failed the families of the victims and the victims themselves by allowing injustice to proceed to the point that those accused of the crime were on the brink of the execution of their sentences. Had this happened, one would have died, hanged by the neck until he was dead; and the others would even now be in the quarries working at labor for which they are unsuited and to which they do not deserve to be put without them desiring such work.
"What is worse is that it appears that this may have happened before involving the same officers of the court, and we must needs ask aid in reopening all such cases that they be properly investigated to see if in the past they have done similarly by others, and if we have indeed done wrongly by failing to see that the justice offered in the name of the realm is indeed just."
Lord Benargil raised his head to look up at the august figure seated at the top of the dais, the Star of Elendil shining upon his brow, the Sword Reforged upon his knees. He swallowed noticeably and began, "My Lord King, I grieve to admit that for many years, even since my youth, I have allowed myself to be led by one I thought of as my friend, Enelmir of Anwar. He was far cleverer than I ever proved, and indeed I considered him, after my father, perhaps the most intelligent and discerning individual I had ever met. Yet, in spite of the obvious concerns expressed by my own father, I allowed Enelmir to become my closest counselor and confidant, making him in time my Seneschal as well as appointing him to be magistrate of the court of justice for Anwar and tribunals offered throughout the region.
"And when I began to receive complaints regarding the manner in which he conducted trials and the treatment given to appellants and many who served as legal counsel to those charged with major crimes, I allowed myself to be persuaded that there was no merit to them, that they were simply the grumblings of those who had lost the case. That the complaints were consistently regarding the same issues—that he notably favored one side over the other, that he refused to allow some to speak fully while allowing others who were known to be lacking true knowledge of the case to spout nonsense and lies, that he compelled some to apparently incriminate themselves, that he would belittle some who came to him seeking justice—that I ignored.
"Now, however, I can no longer find within myself a willingness to continue to be so led, and I am disgusted with myself for allowing myself to be cozened by him for so long. For I have learned that in this case he actively removed information from the reports and records before they were given into my hands for review, and even went so far as to enter the archives themselves to take pages from the scribes' copies of transcripts so that even should I think to probe more deeply I would not find the evidence that had been there of his perfidy.
"I wonder, my lord, if I am even worthy of continuing as the Lord of Anwar. Perhaps it is time for me to give my office to my son, who is far cleverer than I and who has ever shown the greater willingness to learn as well as displaying a far greater degree of integrity. I therefore offer up my office to the discretion of the King." So saying, he lifted the chain of his office over his head and laid it upon the step before him, and lowered his gaze to look at the tiles of stone that paved the step on which he knelt.
"And I can do no less, my Lord King," added Daerloth, laying aside both the circlet that marked him as a major Lord of Gondor and the chain of office he'd worn since he'd taken the title of Lord of Anórien from his father.
The King straightened upon the throne. "I grieve that you both feel this necessary. Both of you are known to be loyal to the realm and to rule your people well. Although much of the land along the Highway had been overrun by the Enemy's people and creatures, yet you managed to protect your own as best as could be done, and your courage and determination against the forces sent against you has been honored by all. Alas that such an act as this should be seen as necessary by not one but by both of you. Tell us how it is that this has come to be, that you should have come to the realization that another had sought to rule your actions and choices rather than you yourselves. Will you please go first, Lord Daerloth?"
"As you will, my lord," Daerloth said, his voice resigned. "It is over the matter of a murder of children…." And with as few words as possible he described how, two days before Midsummer the previous year, three children of Destrier went missing even as their mothers went to set the evening meal on the table, and how the next day one of the guardsmen spotted a shoe floating on the water in a shallow ditch, leading to the discovery of the three bodies, and the state of them.
"They were found in a ditch? Was the water in this ditch deep?" asked the King.
"No, my Lord King. Indeed I have been assured now by several that it was quite shallow, barely to the knees of the guardsman who first saw the shoe and who lifted the bodies out of the water to place them upon the bank."
"Then how is it that they were not seen, if the water was so shallow?"
"Because the water of the ditch itself was thick with suspended silt, so thick with it that nothing could be seen beneath the surface."
"And you have seen this yourself?"
"No, my lord, but several have assured me that this is true.
"Then I would hear this from those who saw this on that day. Can this be arranged?"
"Indeed, my lord—he who lifted them out of the ditch is here as a prisoner, and he whose slip into the water revealed the first of the bodies is also here, ready to answer your questions."
"Good—let them come before me, and if the two of you will take seats there by Prince Imrahil for the moment, we shall consider their testimony."
Amdir was summoned forward, while Vendrion was led before the King in chains. The King looked from one to the other. "I see that one of you comes before me freely, while the other comes manacled. How is it that this has happened? You, whose hands are bound, why is it that you are a prisoner?"
Vendrion's face was white with strain. "They have accused me of conspiracy to see to it that ones that they say are innocent were charged with a crime that they did not in truth commit," he explained.
"Is this true?" asked the King of Lord Daerloth.
"This is a charge that we believe should be set against him, my Lord King, if you should find for the innocence of the three youths convicted in the court of justice in Anwar of this crime. However, it is not the charge filed against him when we ordered his arrest."
The King's expression was stern as he returned his attention to the former guardsman. "Then you begin your time before me already with a lie, do you? What specific charge was it that was laid against you when you were arrested?"
Vendrion's lip trembled for some moments before he said in a strained voice, "Theft and smuggling, my lord. Conspiracy to steal and to smuggle what was stolen to—to one since identified as an enemy of our ally, Rohan."
"I see. And who is this enemy?"
"The Lord of Isengard, my lord."
"Did you know that you were dealing with the Wizard Curunír, then?"
Vendrion shook his head. "No, we did not."
"To whom did you believe you were selling these goods?"
"To people in Dunland. We were told that there were those in Dunland who were starving, and who deserved to be succored. We were told that they needed food desperately, and that their patron within Rohan would pay richly for what we were willing to send to them."
"And you approached the farmers and merchants of Destrier and nearby villages and farms to obtain this food?"
Again his lip was trembling, and Vendrion looked down at the floor before he admitted, "No, my lord—we did indeed steal what we sent them."
And the story was wrested from him. He said that the Gate Guardsman Hanalgor was the first to approach him and to bring him to Captain Borongil's lodgings where the whole scheme was unveiled. He might from time to time be asked to steal some items, but for the most part he was to see to it that Guardsman Hanalgor and those he recruited to steal for him were not impeded, and that from time to time as opportunities presented themselves to do what he could to make it appear that others, mostly youths within the village who had refused the approaches of Hanalgor and Borongil, were involved in the thefts.
Berevrion, who had been standing near the chair of Steward Halladan, asked, "Then, when you approached the youth Danárion and accused him of having stolen a crate of apples from the marketplace, you already knew that he was innocent of this charge?"
It took Vendrion a long moment before he answered, "Yes, I did." And at prompting from the Guard of the Citadel behind him, he answered more fully, "Yes, I approached him and accused him of the theft, knowing that he had not done it. Why? Because I believed that others thought him capable of doing it, and if he could be suspected of it, then the other thefts would be easier to hide. But mostly I did it because I was certain he did indeed worship the Nameless One and needed to be taken in charge ere he caused harm in his attempts to show the Black Enemy honor."
The King sighed. "And even before the murders you were already thinking to accuse him of crimes he hadn't done solely because you believed evil of him. But before we look into this, we need to deal first with the charges of theft and smuggling against you and these others. Bring before me the former guardsmen Hanalgor and Borongil. And you," he directed Amdir, "if you will please step to the side while we deal with this other business. We will come back to the finding of the bodies when we are through. And I do thank you for your patience."
Amdir did as he was asked, looking a bit bemused, but increasingly interested as the King teased out the knots in the skein of events that had led to the business dealings between these and Gríma son of Gálmód, for too long the chief Counselor to Théoden King of Rohan. The situation in Destrier had grown out of the former dealings between Hanalgor and Borongil on one side and with Gríma on the other when both the Gondorians had been serving in the Quartermasters' Corps for the various garrisons stationed near the Beacons along the northern slopes of the White Mountains. Soon the reports sent by Daerloth and his captains regarding losses of stores of weapons and foodstuffs while these two were working as they had been were being produced and summarized. Then the question of how these two had managed to avoid being taken in charge and imprisoned was examined, followed by how the two of them, thrown out of Daerloth's service in disgrace, had yet managed to obtain positions of such trust and authority in Destrier—and now the name of Fendril, previously of Destrier, was being repeated. Somehow specific documents previously located by the officers investigating the misappropriations of goods had begun disappearing, and a few who had been telling all would refuse to speak again after a visit from Master Fendril. Stories were told of coercion and threats of legal actions by Master Fendril: it appeared the Man had an uncanny knack of finding the most carefully concealed skeletons in metaphorical closets and threatening to expose many long-forgotten indiscretions in most damaging ways. A report by Master Nerwion was read, indicating how Fendril had just happened to mention how first Hanalgor and later Borongil needed employment and would do well in guardsmen positions in Destrier, associated with thinly veiled threats to expose a youthful indiscretion by his wife back in her home village of Raeglib, had led to him granting the position of gate guardsman to the former and Captain of the guards and constables to the latter, although Nerwion had indeed planned to offer the second job to Amdir, who was far more eminently qualified than this newcomer. The recommendations and reports he'd received on these two before he granted them their new positions had held no indications that they'd been drummed out of service in Lord Daerloth's army. Along with the report, Nerwion had forwarded the originals of these, and when asked to examine them Daerloth was able to confirm these had been written partly by Fendril himself and partly by Fendril's personal clerk and scribe. And it appeared that the agents sent by Gríma son of Gálmód had been introduced to Hanalgor and Borongil by Master Fendril's clerk….
"I believe we have more than enough to arrest both Master Fendril and his clerk on charges of illegal and improper business dealings with officials of foreign nations and their agents," the King said in dry tones. "And I do not believe that starving Dunlendings would think to plow their fields with shipments of swords, or weed their furrows with spears, much less use sheaves of arrows as plant supports. These knew fully well they were helping to supply a foreign army, and thus were committing high treason.
"Now," he said, "to return to the matter of the finding of the bodies in that ditch."
After Vendrion described how he had identified Danárion as the probable killer from the moment the child Gilmar's body was laid upon the banks of the ditch, the King asked him, as had the others before him, what signs he saw that indicated to him that Danárion indeed worshiped Sauron. Again Danárion's interest in troubling subjects such as Elves, spirits, and communication with trees was named along with the odd cut to his hair and the wearing of black and silver (there were a good number of quiet comments, none of them flattering to the former market guardsman, in response to that throughout the room, in which a large portion of the company were either in uniform or wore black and silver garb, cloaks, or tokens upon their persons), the interest in Sindarin and the searching of ancient histories, and now the additional charge that Danárion considered himself a child of Thuringwethil. "He told the healers in the mad house in Anwar that he gained power by sucking blood from living victims," he said.
There was an inarticulate cry from the party of soldiers who'd come at the command of Lords Benargil and Daerloth to help deal with the various prisoners, and His Majesty gave the offending party a severe look. "You will please hold yourself patiently and with dignity," he directed.
"If you please, my Lord King, I have something to tell on this matter," said young Sergeant Ingoril.
"When we are finished learning what Master Vendrion has to say, then we will allow you to speak."
"Yes, my Lord King," Ingoril said, bowing low.
"And how is it that you know this?" the King asked the guardsman.
"Well, after Danárion sought to elope to Rohan with his former love, I took him directly to the gaol while her father Beslor took the maiden to Anwar to the mad house, for he was certain that to seek to run away and possibly wed such a wastrel youth as Danárion she must have lost her wits.
"He was housed in a large cell in which the youths of the village who have been taken in charge tend to dwell together during their terms there. One of the other young Men had a wound upon his neck, and having seen this, Danárion threw himself across the room to fall upon him, knocking the unfortunate soul upon the floor, and seeking to tear off the clotted blood upon its surface so as to feed upon the living blood underneath. I saw him do this, and took him----"
He was being interrupted by peals of laughter from Ingoril, and glared at the youthful sergeant. The King admonished the soldier, "Sir, I must ask that you restrain yourself until this one is finished speaking."
"I do beg your pardon, my beloved Lord King, but…." At a significant look from that august personage, he subsided, but his eyes were dancing with humor.
Unhappy at this rude interruption, Vendrion continued sulkily, "Having seen this terrible attack, I sought reassurance from one of the gaolers that they would not let the youth to go free that evening as they'd told me they would do, for as I told them, he'd just proved himself a danger to those who live within and surrounding the village. The gaoler laughed at me and told me there was no danger in what Danárion had done, so I withdrew him from the gaol at such an outrageous statement and carried him directly to Anwar and the mad house there myself! And it was the next day that the healer told me that when asked if he considered himself a child of Thuringwethil, Danárion had said that he gathered power through the drinking of blood!" Now finished, he cast a defiant glare Ingoril's way.
"Now, what is it you would say? And if you will please identify yourself first?" the King asked Ingoril.
"I am Ingoril of Destrier. My father raises pigs on a farm outside the west wall of the village, so I grew up knowing Danárion. Although we were not exactly friends, yet we were not enemies, either, and there was more fellow feeling between us than with many others because we were both often the targets of Leverion son of Medril. I was one of those that Hanalgor had sought to corrupt, but I would not do what he desired of me, so he convinced Leverion to do what he could to harass me. One day I had had enough of restraining myself, so when Leverion tripped me up as I was carrying in a large ham to hang up in my father's market stall, I left the ham lying upon the ground, but leapt up and attacked Leverion. He scratched me badly during the fight we had. Vendrion and Hanalgor broke up the fight, and I, of course, was the one taken to the gaol.
"A mark before noon they brought in Danárion, and it was apparent that after they had him in their custody Vendrion and Hanalgor had beaten him, for his eye was puffy and his lip split, and bruises were beginning to form on his arms. He was put into the common cell for youths, and told to sit upon the bench where I sat, so he sat himself at my side. Hanalgor left but Vendrion stayed, trying to convince the gaolers to keep him forever—well, perhaps not forever, but longer than they wished to. Danárion leaned towards me and asked if I'd like to see him rile up Vendrion the more. When I asked how he'd do this, he told me to just watch.
"Now, I'd been picking at one of the scabs that had formed on my arm where Leverion has scratched me that morning, and it had begun to bleed. Borongil had just entered the gaol and was joining the argument with the gaolers, and just as both Vendrion and Borongil looked his way, Danárion took my arm, lifted it up, and—and he licked the place where it was bleeding, giving them that stare he'd perfected that he knew drove both of them mad. Vendrion was dragging him out of the cell and off to Anwar almost before I realized just what Danárion had done to me!"
"So much for flying attacks on the young Man's neck," the King commented, his own eyes filled with an amusement he still kept in check.
"I'm certain that the one who cast it in that light was Borongil," Ingoril told him. "He's much given to such exaggerations. And knowing Danárion, I strongly suspect that what he told the healer was an answer he considered to be just as outrageous as the question as to whether he believed himself a child of Thuringwethil."
The Lord Elessar fixed his attention on Vendrion. "So, you felt that Danárion was secretly in league with the Enemy. Did you have any real proof of this?"
Vendrion looked both ways, and finally reached clumsily inside his shirt to bring out a battered parchment. "I took this off of him that day. He said that he'd found it where Lord Benargil's Men had run down six orcs some two miles west of Destrier. But I know better! He was in communication with the Black Land, I tell you!"
One of the King's guards stepped forward to take the parchment, and the King himself descended from the dais to take it into his own hands. He opened it, scanned it, and started to laugh. He looked down at where the two Cormacolindor sat to one side of the hall as observers. "Here, Frodo—you can read Adûnaic, can't you?"
"Adûnaic? Yes, some. Didn't you tell me that Sauron's people used it and the Black Speech for the most part for official communications?"
"Yes. Please read it and tell them what it's about."
"I'll try, but I warn you I'm anything but fluent in it—there just wasn't enough that Bilbo could find written in the language to have me read." He turned the parchment and frowned at it, and eventually his expression lightened. "You mean, that's what it really is?" the Halfling asked.
"Oh, yes. Tell them!"
"It's—well, it's addressed to someone named Grishnak, and contains directions for getting through Anórien to Isengard, apparently by way of what must be Fangorn Forest. Apparently whoever had sent these orcs knew one of them could read some, and was afraid they'd get lost!" He was smiling and shaking his head at the wonder of it as he returned it to the King, who handed it on to Prince Faramir to examine.
Faramir scanned it quickly, commenting, "And he further instructs the orcs to specifically ask the Wizard about anything his agents might have found some time back when they went on Curunír's orders to the Gladden Fields."
The faces of Prince, Halfling, and King became very serious. "So," said the realm's new monarch, "he had learned that Saruman, too, had been searching for the Ring."
"So it would seem," the Perian answered, his good humor fled away. He sat back, first rubbing at his left shoulder as if it pained him, and then at his right hand.
The King turned to look down at the three former guardsmen, shaking his head. "The three of you are all guilty of high treason for trafficking with a people known to be an enemy to Gondor's closest and most faithful ally. And if Gondorian weapons were found in the hands of Dunland's warriors, what were the Rohirrim to believe but that Gondor was apparently now treating with their sworn foes? And, to hide your own doings, you were willing to sacrifice three youths you considered expendable in order to supposedly 'solve' a crime whose details you did not even fully know.
"You have abused the authority granted you by your positions to steal from the very ones you were to supposed to be protecting and to cause harm to the most vulnerable members of the community. You have sought and on occasion managed to corrupt the youth of the village and its environs, and have used threat of exposure to force its officials to do your will.
"But I will not pronounce your sentence yet, for your most influential partners in crime have yet to be heard from. You will be removed to a room nearby and held there until we have dealt with Master Fendril. It does appear that he has a great deal to answer for. But first we shall recess for a time, for it has been too long a period for all of us to remain still indefinitely. We shall reconvene in half a mark."
The Chief Herald repeated the King's words, and all rose and bowed as the King left the chamber, followed by his Companions and his Guards. Vendrion, Hanalgor, and Borongil were led to a nearby secure chamber, and all others did what they could to offer themselves what relief they might require.
Thuringwethil was, in Tolkien's cosmology, the mother of vampires.