Prelude: Evil at Day's End
A Letter to the King's Majesty
Aragorn looked at the pile of letters laid before him by Iorvas, who'd brought them from the messengers who handled correspondence from the realm to the Citadel, and shook his head in dismay. He'd not yet taken a proper secretary. The two who'd been so employed by Denethor were no longer in residence: the older one had wished to retire after his former master's death, and it had taken only a quarter mark's interview with the younger one for the new King to decide this one was most unsuited to work beside him. Aragorn had no patience to deal with the arrogance and judgmental attitude the Man displayed toward those who'd wasted their time sending unsolicited correspondence to the Steward of Gondor; and unfortunately he could see how the secretary's attitude would have been approved by Denethor son of Ecthelion.
So, until he could locate and approve of someone who would do satisfactorily in this capacity, the King was reduced to allowing Galador son of Garenthor, the Master of Protocol, to so serve him. It was not precisely a successful arrangement, for Galador's priorities often were at odds with those of the King. However, when it came to knowing the lines of precedence and natures of the nobles of Gondor and the lands each ruled Aragorn had come to agree with Faramir that no one had greater knowledge within the White City. He only hoped that either Faramir or Galador could soon come up with a suitable candidate to serve as his main secretary, one who would allow Aragorn himself to set the tone within the his offices.
Galador had obviously recognized the seal on one missive, for he took it and used his letter knife to open it, examined it swiftly, and gave an ostentatious sigh. "Alas, my Lord," he said, "it is from the lord of Anwar in Anórien--the matter of the murder of the three boys from the village of Destrier. They plan to hang the oldest of the three youths found guilty in a month's time and require your signature on the new death warrant and the appointment of one to witness the hanging for the Stew--for the Crown."
"What is this?" Aragorn asked, reaching for the message, which the Master of Protocol surrendered most reluctantly.
` "Your Majesty, it is not fitting you should sully yourself with such matters. It is a most unsettling situation--just under a year ago three small boys disappeared from their homes in the village of Destrier. They were sought by the village constables and their parents on that night, and the next day at dawn a larger search was made, ending with the finding of the boys' bodies in a ditch adjacent to a farmstead a fifteen-minute walk east of the village near a common woodland where the children of the village commonly played or were sent to gather wood, or fruits or greenstuffs for meals. A youth of eighteen was identified as most likely guilty, and within a few weeks another youth who lived near the first, a simpleton by report, admitted he had seen the murders, seeing how both this Danárion and his friend Carenthor had inveigled the children into coming across the beam that served as a bridge over the drainage channel, then dragging them back into the small woods where they killed the children and hid their bodies. A most horrible situation, and beneath your dignity to examine."
"And why is it beneath my dignity to investigate?" Aragorn demanded, his voice with a hint of ice that Galador had learned to respect.
"It is said," Galador said most carefully, "that the three youths sought to offer this death to the benefit of--of the Dark Lord."
Aragorn paused. He'd sojourned within Rhûn, Umbar, and Harad and had seen how worship of Sauron had been encouraged there, and how temples had been built where deaths most horrid were offered for Sauron's benefit. Precisely how Sauron managed to harvest much of the life-force of the victims of these rituals was not appreciated, but somehow he'd been able to use them to build up his strength and the potency of his evil will until, although he could not yet take a proper bodily form, he yet was able to wield power over hosts of tens of thousands of orcs, trolls, wargs, and Men as well as the fires of Oródruin and even some of the weathers of the world. "They sought to honor Sauron?" he asked, amazed any within Gondor would think to do such things.
"Apparently, my Lord. It is a most distressing affair. It is likely that these three had little appreciation for what they did. However, the one said to be the leader and whom they seek to hang had in his possession a copy of the Book of Shadows----"
"The Book of Shadows?" Aragorn barked, not knowing whether to be appalled or to laugh aloud. "Someone still keeps that thing?"
"You have heard of it?" Galador appeared amazed.
"Of course I've heard of it," his Majesty the King responded. "Do you think I'm unaware of the hoaxes of the Dark Seekers of Turgon's day? One of my closest advisers is Gandalf--Mithrandir, after all. I have no intention of allowing those dark times to occur again, when folks were encouraged to name their neighbors and acquaintances as dark sorcerers and raisers of demons." He shuddered--tales had been told during the times he served as a Captain of Gondor's hosts of how an obscure lordling from Dor-en-Ernil had begun unmasking Sauron's allies hidden within the southlands of the realm, in time rising higher and higher in the respect of much of the land as he found more and more traitors and would-be dark wizards on all levels of society. Then he'd sought to name a younger sister to the Prince of Dol Amroth to that number, and his power had unraveled swiftly. Ecthelion, as Turgon's heir, had come to question both the findings of this Macardion of such widespread evil among folks of all stations and, more importantly, his methods of identifying them.
He'd come specifically to investigate the charges brought against the Prince's sister, and had learned she'd been denounced first by a former servant who'd lost his post after having been caught stealing from his employers twice, and after charges had been made by three maids of the household that he'd sought to importune them, with more women both within and without the Citadel of Dol Amroth coming forward once he was gone to indicate they, too, had suffered from his attentions, abuse, and threats. The Prince's sister had supported the maids, and so earned the former servant's hatred.
The second of the denunciations had come from a young Man from the city of Dol Amroth who'd become enamored of the idea of becoming the lover of the Prince's sister. He'd begun following her, learning her schedule and being at her intended destination on her arrival, sending her unwanted gifts and suggestive letters, and in time had managed to catch her cut off temporarily from her guards and had declared his love for her in such terms he quite frightened her. He'd been brought before the Prince, who'd ordered him to leave his sister alone and to avoid her from that time on. He would have done worse to the young Man, but his sister, having determined this one was not quite right in his head, had urged mercy on him, particularly as he was the only surviving child of his father remaining to his widowed mother.
The third to denounce her was a minor lord of Lebennin who himself had been under assault by Macardion and who'd sought to put his persecutors off himself by giving a name he'd never dreamed the populace would take seriously as a follower of Sauron.
Ecthelion had been sickened by what he'd found, particularly the use of the Book of Shadows as a means of identifying malefactors. Reportedly this was written instructions penned by Khamûl of the Ring-wraiths on how to perform rituals pleasing and beneficial to the Dark Lord. It was learned it had actually been written by Macardion himself and included all the rumored actions thought to empower Sauron, most of which Aragorn had learned to be false. While in Umbar, Rhûn, and Harad he'd spoken with individuals who had visited the Red Temples and had observed Sauron's rites, and had even entered one himself. Ecthelion had received the reports of the spies his father kept in those lands, and what Aragorn had learned tallied exactly with what Ecthelion reported he'd been told. The reality was dark enough; the details written into The Book of Shadows indicated Macardion himself and those he counted as his friends and advisors had imaginations that were inflamed with tales that were fantastical, in some cases impossible, and even worse than the reality of Sauron's worship.
Macardion was eventually confined to an institution that offered care to those known to be mad; but Ecthelion hadn't been able to find all copies of the Book of Shadows to see them destroyed. Aragorn had seen two copies himself--Adrahil of Dol Amroth had kept one as a reminder of how the evil imaginations of Men could bring worse darkness at times than Sauron himself; and a minor lord in Anórien who had hosted the Lord Captain Thorongil had once shown him a copy that he'd kept as a curiosity.
Now he was casting his memory back--the lord who'd shown him that--the lord who'd possessed a copy of the Book of Shadows--had been lord of--of Anwar. "I see." He looked at the letter he'd picked up that had lain immediately underneath the one that Galador had opened first. It was written upon a grade of foolscap he knew from his own days in Gondor was commonly used by public scribes, and on examining the seal he saw the symbols that indicated this was so, with a special scrawl it seemed all such folk would adopt automatically once they were so licensed indicating this had been dictated to Seragon son of Seragil of Anwar in Anórien.
Galador was noting the seal and sign as well, and gave his Lord an uncertain glance. "That was not sent by a lord of the realm, Lord Elessar."
Aragorn paused in the act of lifting the seal to look up into Galador's eyes. "Is not a farmer or woodsman from Anórien as much one of my subjects as are the lords and ladies of the realm? I am not ruler only of those who are born to title and privilege, but to all those who live within the boundaries of Gondor and Arnor. Remember, Galador, that the two to whom we most owe our continued freedom lived as a scholar and a gardener in their own land."
Galador dropped his eyes, accepting the correction with more grace than Aragorn was accustomed to seeing in the Man. "I apologize, my Lord," he said. "You are, after all, right there."
With an abbreviated nod, Aragorn turned his attention back to the letter in his hands. The seal lifted, he unfolded the missive and began reading.
To our honored Lord King,
I am at a loss what to say, for we've not had a King before for so very long, but it is my hope that you can help me if you will. I've sent letters to our Lord Steward Denethor, but all the answer I ever received was that word of my request would be given him, and naught else. But we cannot wait longer for aid, my Lord. For they say my son is to hang within a month, and for a crime that he could not have committed. Oh, sir, cannot you send one to learn the truth of it all? I have begged Lord Benargil to examine the facts of the case, but he says that as the magistrates and Master Enelmir have judged the case and he cannot see that they have done aught wrongly in the judging that he can do no more for me. They will not listen, my Lord--my son did not do this--he was gone for a time, yes, visiting with his friend who lives on the opposite side of the village from us; but after that he returned home again and went not out--I swear to it; and there was no time for them to have gone so far to do so foul a deed.
Dear my lord, please to send someone--anyone with wisdom and not superstitious fear of the darkness--to examine the case against my son--my son and the others, for they have judged the three of them and condemned them all--my son Danárion to the rope, his friend Carenthor and Garestil to life in the quarries. None of these is any kind of murderer, my Lord, none of them. I am certain that Garestil said only what was taught to him, for he is not one born to understanding.
Again I beg of you, our Lord King--send one to us that my son not die the death for what he did not do. Only if your servant agrees with the rest will I come to accept that my son will be ever lost to me. Know only this--there are those in our village who have imagined evil of him in their hearts, for he is not of the same mind as the others his age, and his dreams are of other things. It is only because he is not as the rest that they would cast blame on him instead of seeking to know the truth.
Written for Vaness ë of Destrier
this third day of May of the year 3019
in the manor town of Anwar in upper Anórien
He took a deep breath and looked to his Master of Protocol. "I wish for you to please call for my kinsman Berevrion to attend on me, as well as Prince Faramir and Prince Imrahil, and if they are within the Citadel, please ask Prince Legolas and his brother Prince Tharen if they will join us as well. I will meet them in the lesser audience chamber. Do you know if there are other records of this matter of the murders in Destrier here within the Citadel?"
"Lord Benargil and his secretary send regular reports on the quarter days as is customary, and as this was a case of capital murder there were monthly reports as well, I am certain, that being the standard for such matters. If there are no records in the records room off the Steward's office then they ought to be found in the archives."
"More reason, then, for me to meet with the Steward, is it not? Then add to the list the master of the realm's archives. I will look to their arrival there within a half a mark. And ask the master of the archives to bring with him such as he can find to hand on the matter of Danárion of Destrier. I would know the full extent of the case before I sign such a thing as a death warrant or send one of mine to witness an execution."
"Yes, my Lord," Galador said as he watched the King set aside the two letters from Anwar and turn to the next letter in the stack. He bowed deeply and withdrew to gesture the page who waited nearest, asking him to find several of his fellows and to summon those the King had named.