Prelude: Evil at Day's End
A warning, this is not a bright, happy story--anything but. I've indicated that this is a crossover--of sorts. Inspired by a real-life murder case that keeps unwinding and has been doing so since May of 1993, I have taken many of the circumstances involved in the West Memphis Three case and have set them in Middle Earth. The story starts with a murder and will go on from there. There are hints of sexual perversion, child abuse, spousal battering, incest, discussions of what happens to bodies after death, descriptions of animals scavenging on bodies found in wild places, and other unsavory doings, as well as corruption in local governments and the courts. I have tried my best not to be so graphic as to be offensive, but it is best to be forewarned.
Although this story is based in great part on actual events and many details from the real murders are contained within it, it still remains a work of fiction, and the characters are not intended to be accurate depictions of their real-world counterparts. Indeed, they are in fact original characters with many of the same attributes as the real people involved, going through similar circumstances, but still very different in most ways.
If I do manage to insult those who may be drawn to see themselves in this work of fiction, I do apologize in advance. But following this drama has managed to consume a good deal of my time and energy for twelve or thirteen years now, and I wished to explore how sometimes the justice system appears to fail spectacularly. If only we had a Berevrion in the real world to set things right anywhere as effectively.
Beta by Fiondil.
Murder Most Foul
Prelude - Evil at Day's End
Two days before Midsummer, 3018, Steward's Reckoning, a mark before sunset
He'd been sleeping in a roofless byre not far from the northern road from the borders of Rohan through Anórien. He awoke to hear three small boys approaching, leading two ponies toward his hiding place. They must have come from the nearest village, which was about two miles to the west. Once there had been a farmstead here, but it had to have been abandoned at least ten years ago, he'd judged by what ruins were left. The houseplace had been burned down, and most of what stonework had gone into it had apparently been carried away to use in building structures elsewhere. Indeed, he rather suspected that the stone walls about the village to the west had probably contained most of the stone salvaged from here.
He glanced through a chink in the stones at the back of the byre toward his horse, hidden behind a line of low berry bushes on the edge of the stand of trees that had served as the farm's woodlot, then turned to examine the situation. He could not risk word of his presence in Gondor reaching the ears of anyone likely to send troops to investigate.
He saw no sign of any adults about. It was late for boys of this age to be out on their own, for the evening meal would be placed on the tables of most homes in the region within the next mark, he knew. It was probable, then, that their parents had no idea where they were, and most likely were ignorant of the fact their sons had left the village. He raised himself slowly, until he could peer at the boys through a crack in the ruined gate to the stall in which he lay.
"You are certain you won't be afraid, here alone, Nedron?" asked the child with the darkest hair.
"Better here than back there with him," declared the one with the broadest chest. "Thank you for bringing me out. I'll sleep here tonight, and tomorrow I'll head for the White City and seek my fortune."
"How long do you think it will take?" asked the third child, one with a purple birthmark on the back of his neck.
The broad-chested one shrugged. "Perhaps a week," he said, "since I must walk."
The dark-headed boy shook his head. "That's not going to be enough food, then--three apples, a loaf of bread, that much cheese, and that sack of dried meat. When my ada and me went to visit my daeradar's farm it was a day's ride, and we ate that much along the way."
"There's only one of me," the runaway explained. "I won't eat as much as two of you, and I know how to tickle fish, and have a strike-a-light with me."
"You don't think he'll look for you, do you?"
"Him? Not likely—not till Nana's ready to come home from the alehouse. He doesn't care what I do when she's not home." The bitterness was plain to hear.
Just then the watcher's horse snorted, and the boys looked about in startlement. "I heard a horse—a big horse!" said the boy with the dark hair. "Maybe he's looking for you anyway!"
"But we don't have a horse!" the runaway said.
The one with the birthmark looked around. "Maybe it's spies!" he whispered. "Spies for—for the Enemy!"
Not good—certainly it was the truth! He'd have to dispose of them, then—no good letting them return to the village with word that some stranger was hiding out on the abandoned farmstead east along the road. From what they'd said, no one would think to look for them for some time. He ought to be able to dispose of them easily enough. He should have time to do things right.
None of them saw as he rose silently to his feet, lifting a stone from the floor. A strike or two to the back of each head ought to do nicely with a minimum of sign as to what had happened to them. Those two had their backs to him, after all.
And the plan worked--he was able to immediately knock the one with the broadest chest senseless, and the other two stood, frozen in shock as the child fell. He took advantage of the others' immobility to treat the second boy as he had the first, but the taller one with the dark hair fled—or at least he tried to flee. The spy had him before he got more than three steps outside of the byre. He grabbed hold of the boy's wrist and dragged him back inside the structure, placing his hand over the boy's mouth to keep him from shouting out, pulling the child close to his chest. But the boy bit him, and he reflexively struck the child with the back of his hand, slapping the boy violently against the ruinous wall. There was a sickening crack, and the boy crumpled to the ground.
The Master would not have approved of the word he uttered. This one would not waken from his encounter with the wall, so he'd best finish off the other two swiftly as well. Two more strikes to the heads of the other boys, and after checking to see that no one else was in the area, he turned the children face up to examine them. Yes, one was already gone, and the others would breathe their last fairly soon. No, none of them would tell of seeing a Man of mixed breeding with the White Hand of Saruman on his breast sleeping in the ruined byre, sending soldiers after him to ascertain his business. Now—to find a way to dispose of the bodies so that they would not be found particularly swiftly—the longer the local people searched for their sons, the further along his road he would be before anyone was likely to search for strangers. He was to meet his contact from Mordor two evenings from now, and he still had a long way to go to reach the banks of the Anduin.
Best not to leave them here—it would be obvious they were killed by a passerby, and most likely a spy; trackers would be dispatched immediately, he knew. But he'd crossed a bridge not that far away that led over a drainage canal—it might take days to find them if he were to hide their bodies there. He would possibly be heading northwest through Fangorn Forest back toward Isengard again before the boys were found.
He went out and brought the ponies into the byre where they would be out of sight of anyone passing on the road—just in time, as it proved. He placed his hand over the muzzle of the smaller beast, which was proving skittish at the scent of blood, just as voices could be heard approaching from the east.
"Come on, Garestil!" someone called. "Keep up, won't you?"
"Don't be so impatient. He is smaller than we are, and must take three steps to our two," another admonished in lower tones.
"I'm coming! You could wait for me!" said a higher, younger sounding voice.
"We are waiting," the second assured him. As the smaller youth came up even with the taller three who walked together, he added, "And the potter had a good deal of praise for you. You did well today!"
The youth Garestil puffed out his thin chest. "I did do well, didn't I?"
He who'd not spoken before answered him, "Yes, you did. And I've finally mastered juggling four balls! Perhaps soon he will allow me to try knives!"
"You'll only manage to cut off your foot," the first to speak grunted. "And some tumbler you will make with one foot!" He went down on his knees, going forward. "Behold, the mighty one-footed tumbler, juggling balls and plates for your entertainment!" he proclaimed in a loud voice, and the others laughed good-naturedly, the youth Garestil's laughter starting after that of the others as if assuring himself that it was indeed time to express his appreciation of the humor.
"Well, we must hurry. Even now the gates will be closed, and we will need to convince Hanalgor to open to admit us," cautioned number two, leading the way forward more rapidly.
The half-breed peered after the four youths as they disappeared down the Highway, undoubtedly on their way to the village he'd passed on his way eastward. He would have to wait for a time lest others still traveled the road, he realized, so he sat down for a time to resume his rest, listening for any further traffic. A few wagons and horses passed him a time after the youths, and then all went quiet.
Finally, three marks before dawn with no one else passing on the road, he decided it was safe to remove the bodies elsewhere. He stripped the small corpses and bound them with the laces from their boots, one end of a lace to a wrist and the other to the corresponding ankle to make it easier to carry the bodies out of the byre. He would loop the bindings to the pommels of the saddles on the backs of their own two ponies to carry them to where they might be better hidden. It took some time to calm the ponies so he could load them properly, and he hung two bodies wrapped in their cloaks over the larger of the two of the animals, and the heaviest body from the saddle of the smaller, younger pony along with the children's clothing, which he'd bundled inside the largest of their cottes. At last he mounted his own horse and led the ponies back toward the village, following a disused and rutted track, looking for signs of the canal. He was most grateful for the light of the full moon, as that aided him in the going. He crossed a field that had not been worked for some seasons, and saw another tumbledown houseplace against the horizon. At last he saw there was a thick line of trees and vegetation ahead, and beyond it another farmstead--an active one this time. But lines of trees such as this generally indicated a source of water....
These were lowlands and had once been swampy. In order to farm them a wide drainage canal had been dug to draw the water away from the fields, and in a thickly brushed gully surrounded by trees he found a smaller ditch had also been dug to drain runoff from the fields he'd just crossed, the ditch also now filled with water. It wasn't particularly wide or, he found when he explored it, deep; but it would be deep enough for his purposes. Pleased at what he'd found, he climbed out of the ditch and went to the waiting, snorting ponies. He found the pony carrying the one bundle had wandered a bit--well, let it be for the moment--it wouldn't go far. He lifted the two slighter bundles off and unwrapped them, and lifted them up, using the ties he'd done to carry them. It took but a moment to carry them down into the gully where he pressed them into the mud at the bottom of the ditch, just below the surface of the water. Then he went up. The other pony had moved away from the canal, near the head of the ditch. He finally caught it and tied its reins fully about a young tree, and removed the heavier bundle, unwrapped it, and lifted it up by the ties as he had the other two; then taking the bundle of clothing in his other hand he headed down into the gully by the nearest path. He soon had this one disposed of as he'd done with the others, and grabbing some fallen branches he first swept away possible footprints before using them to press the bundle of clothing and the shoes, except for some of the small clothes he'd saved as trophies, also down into the mud. When all was hidden to his satisfaction he went back up and gathered the ponies. In normal times he'd eat the animals, but his master had given him plentiful supplies as well as the horse stolen from Rohan's grasslands, and he'd stayed his errand long enough. No, he'd have to dispose of them as well.
He found a footpath leading toward the larger drainage canal, and he led the animals along it. Soon he saw where a thick beam of wood had been laid to make a bridge of sorts, allowing those from the farmstead and village side of the canal into the woods on the east side of the great ditch to search, he suspected, for berries and truffles and other natural sources of foods in their seasons. He led the ponies down the steep slope until they got near the head of the beam. There he swiftly struck each one where it would do the most good with the blade of the smaller knife from his boot, and, with the strength of his kind, he dropped them into the water, one each side of the beam. Then he turned back toward the way he'd come, and slid slightly as he went up the slope to where his horse waited. He slid his trophies into his bag and once again headed eastward. He ought to reach the Anduin in two days' time, and the master's contact should be waiting for him. Putting his recent activities out of his mind for the moment, he whistled as he rode.
The other wanderer to pause as sunset approached near the site of the ruined byre was a feckless youth originally from Dunland. Having heard there was more chance for one of his ambition in Rohan or Gondor than in the hill country his folk inhabited, and finding himself disliking the insistence his parents made that he continue helping with the farm from which they scratched their living, he'd headed south. But with the growing fear those of Rohan were beginning to feel toward the white spider of Isengard and the loyalty he'd bought from the Dunlendings, the young Man had found no welcome within the Mark, so he'd turned his feet eastward. In Anórien, however, the only employment he could find was on the very farms he'd hoped to escape by leaving his own land, so he'd continued onward.
He found for a time employment in a tavern not far from one of the watch posts for the Beacons. During the four months there he developed a taste for the liquor served; the third time he was caught sleeping off his own drinking in the back room of the tavern while patrons helped themselves to the product he was supposed to be dispensing for brasses and coppers, he was shown the gates to the settlement and sent packing--once he was awake enough, of course, to go. He'd continued on eastward and finally south toward Minas Tirith. He'd work on a farm or with a carter long enough to have sufficient money to purchase food and sufficient spirit to satisfy him for a week or so, and then continue on.
In Minas Tirith he'd been first able to find employment in an inn as a cook--until one night he brought his spirits with him into the kitchen, and while very drunk managed to accidentally start a small fire. He found his way to another, rougher establishment where he'd washed dishes, until the second time he didn't show up for his shift and was found passed out in a pantry.
He quit drinking for a time after that and managed to obtain a position with an individual who imported pottery from Dunland and leatherwork and horsehair goods from Rohan. He did well for himself for the eight months he abstained from drink--his new master appreciated his knowledge of Rohan and Dunland both and his ability to speak the languages of those lands. But then one Highday evening he was invited by one of his master's clients to a tavern, and before the evening was over he'd been quietly inveigled into following a new companion into the back alley, where he was struck over the head and robbed of all he'd carried on him, including the keys to his rooms in the lower Second Circle and his master's offices. When at last he woke and found his way home he found his rooms had been rifled and all of any value taken from him; and when he showed up at his work the master stormed at him that due to his carelessness the place had been gone through, records stolen or destroyed, and the strong box located and emptied.
After that he'd resumed drinking, finally accepting a small wage and a place in a storage shed for a fruiterer's shop for sweeping the place daily and helping sort through for produce that had begun to rot. He was allowed to eat whatever was felt to be of too poor quality to sell to the populace of the city, so he didn't starve.
Now, however, he'd determined the best hope for him would be to return home to his parents' farm, so he'd set off north and then west, again working for a few days here and there to get sufficient funds to purchase food and drink so he could make it the next few miles....
Until this day at sunset, when hearing a terrible noise he crept toward the ruined byre on the abandoned farmstead and saw--saw what was happening there, what that great, overly muscular figure was doing to those boys! At that he'd turned and crept away until he found the road and, certain he couldn't be heard by the figure in the byre, began to run, running eastward at a rate he'd never attained before in all his life.
At last he spotted the walled village, its gate not yet closed for the night, and darted within. He saw the familiar bulk of a tavern and hurried through the courtyard to the outhouse. It was then he realized that sometime during his flight he'd managed to bash himself into some obstruction and hadn't even noticed--he had a deep gouge on his arm and bruises all down one side. He looked at the awful gouge and thought on what he'd seen, then, sitting on the outhouse bench, he leaned forward and began retching, just as another patron opened the door and started in, pausing in revulsion at the sight of this stranger so involved. He'd turned and hurried back to the tavern, and the barman had come out to check on him, forcing his way in and realizing the outhouse's occupant was both ill and injured.
The Dunlending youth was too involved in his own misery to answer the questions put him or to come out at the Men's insistence, and at last they left him.
There was a bucket of fresh water there for purposes of cleansing hands and face before folks returned to the taproom, and having found it the youth washed himself as best he could, his mind clearing as he cleansed away the worst of the blood and vomit. He was a stranger--and a Dunlending. The folk here were unlikely to deal well with him; and if those boys were from here, once their absence was noted they would most likely blame him for it. And if the bodies were ever found--he shuddered to think what he was likely to suffer in that case. No one here was likely to accept his word he'd had nothing to do with it, and it was probable he'd be hung out of hand, if not spitted on a sword or spear and allowed to die slowly and painfully of a gut wound. No, he'd best leave now, before the rest came back.
He checked outside the outhouse and saw none waited in the courtyard. He crept out, then carefully checking both ways approached the tavern's kitchen. A few meat pies sat cooling on the worktable, and the cook could not be seen. He grabbed two of the pies and folded them in his shirt, then set himself to slipping out of the village as best he could. The gate was closed now, but he found a lower place in the wall where he was able to scramble up on a refuse bin and climb over it.
Once outside he crept eastward until he was certain he'd put at least three miles between himself and the village, at which time he returned to the road, at last taking shelter in a haystack for a farm. After sleeping a few hours he returned to the road. He was overtaken in time by a train of wagons heading toward Rohan, followed half an hour afterwards by a single wagon that had dropped behind to reseat a lynch pin on the axle. The carter, happy to have company, allowed him to ride with him, and together they talked as they drove westward, the youth leaving his benefactor as they finally came in sight of the rest of the train paused to camp for the night.
No one in Gondor ever saw the young Man again.
And in the darkness of the night, creatures stirred about the banks of the drainage ditch. An otter came down and entered the water, and swam about the body of the one near the head of the ditch, climbing onto its back and biting at its shoulder, pulling at the side of the child's face with its claws, seeking to expose more of it. The buttocks were more fleshy; it bit at one of them, then was frightened off as an owl flew low over the surface of the water. When it sought to come back a muskrat had taken its place, and defended the body with a good deal of vigor and defiance. Further down the gully a fish ventured up the ditch from the canal, and worked at tasting the body of the first of the two who lay there. The otter reentered the ditch midway between the placement of the single body and the other two. Again it approached the child it had visited before, but again the muskrat chased it away. The otter turned down the ditch and realized that there were more food sources available, and climbed upon the nearer child's back as it had done earlier. It scratched at the child's arm and again sought to gnaw at this abundance of meat. It licked at the caked blood about the head wounds. It chewed on the back of an ear.
Again the owl swooped over, clawing at the otter as it was focused on the child's body. The pain of the talons catching at it drew its attention to its danger, and the otter turned and bit at the owl's leg, which had failed to get a good purchase. The bird screeched in its pain, and the otter, the other talon withdrawn, dove beneath the surface and swam for the deeper water of the canal itself, seeking the place nearest its burrow where it typically entered and left the water, looking to lick its wounds in peace.
Rats and muskrats came and prodded the bodies; but they were too large and freshly killed to easily prey upon as yet. At one point a wild dog approached, but was chased away by a number of smaller scavengers.
No one, however, sought to dissuade the badger when it came. It entered the shallow water near the third child, and worked frantically trying to release the delicate face from the hold the mud held on it. Eyes and cheeks were usually soft, after all. It managed to do a good deal of scratching to one cheek and worried at one of the ears.
Several of the rats did their best to bite the bodies here and there, or dug at them with their claws, until a snake came gliding through the ditch and took one of them from in the midst of them all; the rest fled.
Then the ditch was quiet as the sky greyed in the east. Night hunters and scavengers were now looking to return to their dens for the day; a different group became active.
Father turtle had burrowed into the mud for the night just above the point where the ditch joined the canal, and as Anor shone more fully down on the ditch and the water temperature began to rise he awoke and clawed his way out of the mud. Smelling the scent of carrion within the water he began working his way toward the source of the scent, stopping when vibrations indicated Men were passing through the gully. Once they were gone and all was again still, he continued on his way until he found himself at the nearest body. The hind-parts were presented, considering the manner in which the body had been tied and then pressed, face down, into the mud. There was soft flesh here, and he came closer to examine it, bit here, bit there, then found a goodly body of soft tissue. The body didn't move--it was plainly dead and ready for the eating. Satisfied it could take its time, the great turtle opened its horny beak and bit down, severing the tender sac, pulling soft skin off adjoining members, glad to have this wonderful, filling meal. Having finally secured its prize, the turtle turned toward the canal, swam down into it until it found its favorite sunning spot, there pulling itself out to eat at its leisure.
Smaller turtles followed their father, biting and clawing, each leaving its mark. A few weasels examined the bodies as well, digging their claws into the flesh to try to get a better purchase.
Meanwhile, down in the mud under the bodies, the mud-dwelling crustaceans began awakening and congregating about the bodies, each leaving its tiny, bloodless wound as it found enough flesh to provide a more than ample meal for such small creatures. Some of the larger such creatures that sifted the mud about the clothing managed to break the suction that had held one shoe down; then a second one. The cured leather of these items was not particularly succulent, so they returned to the bodies.
Near noon father turtle returned, crawling up on the back of one of the bodies and, like the otter, trying to get at the face, turned as it was slightly to the side. The marks of its claws were left on the child's shoulder and cheek when more vibrations indicated that Men had returned again to the wooded gully. The turtle slipped rapidly into the water and swam under the surface back into the canal. The crustaceans burrowed back down into the mud. Rats and weasels slipped away and into hiding.
Before the scavengers could return again, one of those who'd come into the gully this time had scurried back to the village, summoning village guardsmen. Within an hour the bodies were lifted out of the water and laid on the banks, and one of those who'd found them, looking at the damage done to the genitals of one of the bodies, proclaimed, "Danárion has done this, seeking to offer worship to the Nameless One!"
And those who'd come agreed--all knew that Danárion of Destrier had a bad name and had interest in subjects that were best left alone.
Father turtle, later in the day, returned to the ditch, but the source of the delectable meat he'd enjoyed was now gone. So it turned back toward the canal, where it soon found an unwary fish. Soon it was back at its sunning spot, completing a second meal for the day.