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Quenta Roqueni, Book One

THE THIEVES OF METRAITH

An Adventure in Middle-earth*


By Vincent Roiron and Lowell R. Matthews
With Gavin Carey, Woodrow H. Kroll III, George Photopoulos,
Trevor Sanders, and Christian Wirtnik
Copyright 1999-2000

Chapter XV: The Game's Afoot

Meanwhile, the sergeant knocked on the door, but there was no answer. He was signalling his men to deploy in an array around the house when the door opened on a diminutive figure, whose bare feet were hairy and bigger than what one would have expected on a man his size. "What can I do for you, sergeant?" asked the small man.

Phillip, Aeglorias, and Carangil all wondered if he was indeed a "Hobbit," as Elenárion had called them, when the young knight’s hiss answered them: "I knew it! One of those rats! Sergeant! Let’s go inside and search the house!"

The sergeant spoke then, in a much more polite tone, "Master Karnouk, these noblemen have reasons to believe that you or one of the persons in this house might be involved in the theft of their purses last night at the Fattened Ewe. We would like to search the house and interrogate its inhabitants."

The small man looked really shocked and astonished at the accusation, but he acquiesced nonetheless. "Sergeant, this must be a mistake. I live here with my two sons and my young nephew, and they are all good lads. I cannot imagine…."

But at the same time, the guardsmen clambered into the house, covering the small man’s voice. The men quickly began their search, when a commotion was heard on the second floor. In the middle of the noise, those inside the house were able to hear: "Frolo, don’t!"

Then a soft thump followed and a bellow of outrage came from outside: "The treacherous little thing escaped by a window!" Berek’s outraged voice was soon followed by the noise of someone jumping from the house’s roof to that of the house on the other side of the street.

Kirdan waited patiently in the street he had chosen to guard, his arms folded across his chest and his cloak fluttering in the slight breeze. A small figure of a man bolted out of a window of the house, heading in the squire’s direction. The hairy-footed bandit was quite fast on his feet and managed to slip past Kirdan in his initial run, but the young squire was not so easy to evade, and continued his pursuit down the street. "Stop! Thief!" he yelled as he ran after the Halfling, slowly catching up to his quarry. His cloak whipped behind him and his braid bounced about on his back as he ran. His shouts attracted the attention of some of the residents, who peeked their heads out of windows and doorways to watch the two pass by. The squire was right on top of him….

Seeing the thief escaping through the street past the startled Kirdan, Berek’s anger rose. "STOP HIM!" he roared, moving to the edge of the roof. Seeing Jiff jumping to another roof in pursuit did not lessen his temper, for he was quite sure that he could not follow the slim fellow on this tricky path upon the roofs. Driven by his mood, Berek decided to take the straight route down the roof. He went backwards over the roof, clinging to the edge with his left hand as well as with the blade of his axe. Due to his size, he quickly found a foothold on a window on the second floor, where he repeated his lowering and then let himself fall the last two meters. Breathing heavily, he found himself not only behind the thief and Kirdan, but also behind Aeglorias, who gave chase with an incredible grace. Yelling "HOLD, THIEF!" Berek started running, holding his axe in both hands. His pace was heavy and stomping, but once his weight gained speed he was able to gain ground on the thief and Kirdan—though not at all on Aeglorias, who in comparison looked like a deer outpacing a bear. Sweating heavily, he yelled again, and some of the windows of the houses opened and faces appeared in the windows. Some of the bystanders wondered whether that axe was really bigger than the little Halfling in the lead; others thought that the Halfling, Man, and Elf were all fleeing from that sweating figure, and their faces turned red with compassion should he catch one of them.

* * *

Back inside, Carangil realised he would not be able to aid in the pursuit, so turned his attention to the master of the house. "Master Karnouk," Carangil began in his cultured southern tones, speaking even more politely than had the sergeant, "I believe we have some matters to discuss." Karnouk nodded and sat down, dry-washing his hands and moaning slightly. "I am Carangil Anrohirion Dácilion of Dácilion, Master Karnouk. I understand you live here with your two sons and your nephew?" Karnouk nodded again, his eyes widening wonderingly. Who—what—was this strangely imposing Man?

"And one of them, named ‘Frolo,’ ran from the guards. You understand," Carangil said sombrely, "that running from one’s lord’s guards is usually taken as an indication of guilt, and the act itself may be a separate crime."

"I understand, M’Lord Carangil," Karnouk replied, looking nearly ready to cry.

"Who is Frolo?" Carangil asked.

"My nephew," Karnouk sighed. "My poor orphaned nephew. He’s only fifteen years old, M’Lord! Please go easy on him."

"We shall see," Carangil replied. "Your willingness to help us should weigh in his favour, and deflect undue trouble from you and your sons."

A guardsman soon came downstairs, prodding two disheartened young Halflings in front of him. They ran to Karnouk, who stood again and hugged them close, all shivering.

"Your sons?" Carangil asked.

Karnouk nodded. "Sameluk and Marlinuk, ‘Sam’ and ‘Mar’ for short, M’Lord."

"Well, then, lads, what can you tell me about Frolo?" Carangil began. It did not take long before the contrast between "good cop" Carangil and "bad cop" Elenárion produced results.

"It’s that girl, M’Lords," Sam said in a rush. "She talked poor Frolo inta helpin’ her!"

"Indeed?" Carangil asked. "What do you know about her?"

"Well," began the older—Sam, the men recollected—with a guilty look towards his father, "some months ago, Frolo met that girl…. She’d worked for Mich in the past, but the innkeeper fired her…. Anyway, he met her and… she certainly has a taste for sweets and expensive gifts, you know. Poor Frolo is so stricken…. He wanted to please her…. He said there was no way they could trace back to him…."

Karnouk looked increasingly sick as he realised what had happened. "Sam, are you telling us that Frolo robbed people to buy presents for a girl?"

"Yes, father," answered Sam in a miserable voice. Old Karnouk had to sit down again then, for he was left as feeble-legged as a newborn, and nearly voiceless. After a while, he found the courage to say, "Sirs, I hope for my poor nephew that your men will catch him swiftly, so that he can explain himself on that account…." Then the old Halfling began to nod silently, while silence fell heavily in the room.

It was not long before Elenárion stormed out to check on the pursuit, slamming the door so hard it nearly splintered. Carangil broke the tension at last. "Master Karnouk, Sam, thank you for your honesty. I shall not forget it. For the moment, let us talk of fairer things. Perhaps you will tell me of your people, whose story I do not know, and I shall tell you of faraway castles and the Starry Tower…."

* * *

Kirdan felt a pang of guilt for the young Halfling, his eyes showing sorrow as he regarded the thief. Most likely thinks he will be beaten or worse… the squire considered as he clenched the shaking Halfling youth. "Calm down boy," Kirdan said in a calm voice. "No one will harm you just yet. We would like to ask you a few questions, though." The other companions were soon upon the scene, and so were the guardsmen. The Halfling began to shake again, almost clutching to Kirdan as he cowered away from the soldiers.

"THIEF!" bellowed Berek, pushing aside Aeglorias from behind. Wielding his axe in front of the Halfling’s face, he grabbed the young Hobbit by his collar and lifted him off the ground. The miserable sight of the small figure fearing for his life did not prevent Berek from shaking the boy back and forth.

If not for the interference of Aeglorias, Berek might have continued for some time, and might have even hurt the poor little fellow. But the Elf pushed himself between the two of them, and with a voice of command sternly spoke: "Calm yourself, friend Berek, our hunting is over!" Firmly, he pushed Berek’s arm together with the Hobbit down, and managed to separate the two of them, handing the Hobbit back to Kirdan.

"If we want to see your family heirloom back, we need sharp minds now, Berek," said Aeglorias as he led Berek some steps away from the frightened Halfling. Grumbling and mumbling in Atliduk, Berek gave in, but did not seem very happy about it, cooling down very slowly.

The Hobbit looked utterly frightened, and sought refuge from Berek’s angry face in Kirdan’s firm embrace. "Don’t kill me," he muttered in a very small voice.

Seeing the small thing so frightened, Jiff knelt down beside him. Wearing what he hoped was a kind but stern look on his face, he said, "No one will kill you, at least not right now…." He broke into a smile. "Provided you agree to help us—we’re looking for something, you see—or rather a number of things—things which were taken from my friends during the night…. Can you help us?"

Phillip arrived to hear the Hobbit’s plea. He gave the Halfling an evil smile. "I wonder how you would taste in a stew?" Phillip turned to Jiff and winked, "Your mother was always talking about some kind of Halfling stew, wasn’t she? I think this would be an excellent opportunity to try it ourselves if our captive doesn’t want to co-operate. I think it called for leeks and a lot of garlic to tenderise the meat."

Kirdan shot Phillip a cold stare as he spoke of cooking the Halfling youth. This will not be as easy if we scare the poor boy to death! the young squire thought. I will have to try this my way…. He turned his gaze to the young Halfling. "We just wish to ask you a few questions, regardless of the hasty words and actions of my companions," Kirdan began in a soft, soothing tone. "We need to recover an amulet that was taken from our room at the Fattened Ewe. It looks like…." He gave Berek a questioning glance, looking somewhat unsure of the description of the stolen amulet.

"It looked liked an amulet, and the gold that was stolen looked like coins," Berek grumbled, trying to ease his temper. What’s in Kirdan’s mind? How many amulets does this thief steal per night? And the burglar won’t get away without punishment, he thought, turning away to give Kirdan his chance in questioning the Hobbit. "Aeglorias, if you think it helpful, show your amulet to this … person … maybe then he will remember what he stole last night!" he said to the Elf, who stood nearby.

Aeglorias looked troubled. "There may be more here than what we can see on the surface, Berek," he whispered softly in Atliduk. With a thoughtful air, the Elf put his hand inside the neck of his tunic to retrieve his own amulet.

At the same time, a forcibly dignified Elenárion arrived and looked at the small form with obvious scorn. "So, here is our thief! Speak! Where have you put our money and Berek’s heirloom! Speak or face my legitimate wrath!" At the same time, he fidgeted with the handle of his sword.

It was obvious that the young Dúnadan was angry and quite serious, and Aeglorias put his own hand on the knight’s leather glove, while looking at him intensely. Elenárion looked at him in surprise, and muttered in Sindarin, "As you want, my Lord…."

Aeglorias then nodded to Kirdan, who said to the young Halfling, "Boy, this may end better for you than it looks, so tell us what you have done, and why!"

The young Halfling looked at Kirdan, then at the Elf, who he had not truly seen before, for Berek’s axe had concentrated all his attention. "My… my… Lord," he mumbled, "my mother always told me that your kin was fair and just? I beg your mercy! I stole because Mich said otherwise he will chase us out of the house," then the boy burst into tears.

Jiff, looking thoughtful, turned to Elenárion and said, "So, Sir Elenárion, it seems that one of the conclusions to which you jumped has turned out to be correct! The landlord certainly did have something to do with the theft!"

Still crying, the boy continued his confession. "He is our landlord, and he left us with few choices…. He mockingly allowed a delay to my uncle, but that was only a trap! Once he caught me in the street, and he told me that soon enough he would throw us all in the street to beg…. But he hinted that there was a solution, that if I could help him from time to time in a delicate affair…. He promised that if I stole for him precious things from his richest clients, he would not throw us in the street…. I never told my uncle of the proposal. I tried to ignore him, but every time he could corner me, he threatened me. In the end, I had to agree because I knew that we had no more money to pay the rent…."

Hearing the confession of the boy, Berek cooled down a little bit. "Hmmm…" he said from behind, a stern look still on his face. "So you confess entering the inn this very night and robbing the people in there, taking gold, gems, and an amulet?" Looking up—quite a long way, in fact—the Hobbit could only nod, tears still visible on his cheek. "And you did so several times before, right, waiting for a stormy night and a wealthy client Mich appointed to you?" Again, a nod followed, together with some bobbing of the head. "Hmmm, boy … boy … what be your name, boy?"

"Fro… Frolo," was the hollow reply.

"Hmmm, Frolo… last night after you hmmm… were at the inn… where did you put the valuables? Did you give them to Mich this morning or do you still have them?"

The young Hobbit controlled himself long enough to say, "I gave all to Mich this morning; we met on the market place as usual…."

"Sirs, if you don’t mind," interrupted one of the guards, "I think we should go to the sergeant now. This affair is more involved than it appeared at first."

Once everyone had regrouped in Karnouk’s house, the situation was quickly (and tartly) summarised by an angry Elenárion, who was more and more in a hurry to recover his belongings.

"Well, then, gentlemen, I suggest we go confront Mich," the sergeant mused, his expression stern. "But we should call Lieutenant Gailen first, to make it all nice and proper."

"Now just a minute, sergeant!" Elenárion protested, pointing angrily. "There are at least four noblemen right here! Why do we need to wait for your lieutenant?"

"You and your friends might be noblemen in your own countries, Sir, but here you are in Cardolan," the sergeant remarked politely, but firmly. "We will wait for Lieutenant Gailen."

Thus rebuffed, Elenárion fumed silently while Carangil meditated on the consequences of the sergeant’s implicit allusions to their real status here. How different things are here from our protectorates and allied Dúnadan states… thought the young noble.

Following Elenárion’s concession all agreed that perhaps Lieutenant Gailen should indeed be present for the meeting with Mich, and the sergeant sent one of his men back to fetch him. Carangil thought about going along, but concern moved him to stand between the suffering Hobbits and the fuming Elenárion and Berek.

In short order Lieutenant Gailen arrived, accompanied by the messenger and two more soldiers. The sergeant—"aided" by the still-angry Elenárion, the red-faced Berek, and the cautiously objective Carangil—explained the situation to the officer, whose face was a picture of thoughtfulness throughout the story.

Gailen’s decisiveness was swiftly apparent. He ordered the two new soldiers to remain behind with the small folk and the remaining six to accompany the aggrieved companions back to the Fattened Ewe Inn to discuss matters further with Mich. Swiftly, the large group moved off from the small house. Upon arrival within the inn’s courtyard, Gailen ordered his men to surround the building, ensuring that no one could escape the building unnoticed. Then the companions and Gailen moved onwards to enter the Inn.

* * *

As they approached, Jiff heard a small voice calling, "Sir…. Sir…." Looking around, he saw the stable boy waving to him while carrying out his duties with a pitchfork. Judging that the other companions could do without him, Jiff detoured to talk to the boy.

"Hello, my friend!" Jiff said while entering the stables, where the boy Gárion was again hard at work. "How are you right now?"

"I’m fine, Sir," he replied. "The horses are behaving well and my afternoon jobs are almost done. I might get some time to relax by myself today…. But Sir, I have a question: Why are the soldiers standing around the Inn, and why are all those Gentlemen going in looking really mad?"

Jiff thought for a moment and replied, "Your master, Mich, has broken the law… or at least we think he has…. You know that my friends…."

"The big man and the tall man?" the boy jumped in.

Jiff continued, "Yes… the big man… Berek… and the tall man, Sir Elenárion…. Well, do you remember they were robbed last night?"

"Yes."

"Well… we have found the person who stole from us, and he says that Mich made him steal from us, and that he gave Mich what he stole…. The thief was a small… small… person called Frolo…. Do you know him? Does he talk to Mich a lot?"

"Frolo? I’ve seen him once or twice on the marketplace. He’s nice enough, though somewhat strange."

"In what way is he strange?"

Gárion groped for the right words. "He looks… so serious, while most of his people appear to be of the merry type!"

"I see…. Could it have been the small person who you saw leaving the Inn that night? You said it was a man-sized person…. But Frolo is very small, don’t you think?"

"Small…. Yes, he’s small, but he’s taller than me. But the person I saw in the night looked taller than him. But I must say I didn’t see well with the storm."

"So, you don’t think it was young Frolo? Or aren’t sure? I’m sorry I have to be very precise in what I know, but from what I’ve learned, precise is very important when things are put in the hands of the guards!"

"I’m sorry, I cannot tell you for sure. I’m not quite sure I would have recognised my own father between the night and the rain…. I saw somebody, not so tall, now that I think about it…. It could have been Frolo if he had been wearing something on the head…."

"That’s okay, don’t worry…. It isn’t a huge problem anyway…." Jiff smiled in what he hoped was a ‘calming’ manner. "Do you know anything else which might help us?"

"I’m afraid that’s all I know. What will happen to Frolo?"

"What will happen to him? Well, that depends on a number of things… whether what he has told us, about stealing for Mich, is true, and what reaction both my friends, and the Lieutenant, have to the theft. I should think that if he has been honest with us, he will be okay…. But surely you should worry about Mich too?"

"Mich… is not exactly the kindest master one could hope for," answered Gárion. "I suppose you could say he is a bully. I’m sure he had Frolo steal for him! He is also a coward, a lazy coward!" the boy added with some heat.

"I see…. Well, I’m sure he will pay for his bullying Frolo this time! But what will become of you? I don’t know what will happen to Mich; I have seen many punishments for theft, none of which are particularly nice. Maybe he will lose his inn…. Maybe you’ll get a new boss!"

Gárion looked baffled for a moment, and then blurted, "Well, I had not thought of that…. I suppose the new innkeeper will also need a stable boy…."

Jiff smiled. "Yes, indeed…. I’m sure he will…. And I promise here to do all I can to ensure that you, and the other people who work here at the Inn, are well looked after in all this mess…. We don’t want to create still further victims in Mich’s crimes!"

"That’s very kind of you!" answered the boy, who still looked thoughtful, but not really upset any more.

"Well, my friend…. If you do remember something… please come and find me or one of my friends…. I’ll be staying at the Blue Oak. If we aren’t there you can leave a message for me there and I’ll find you later…." With that Jiff left the stables to join his friends inside the Inn….

* * *

The other companions entered the Inn, led by Gailen, who was closely followed by Elenárion and Berek. Approaching the counter within the Inn, Gailen called to a young woman, in a commanding voice, "Where is the landlord of this establishment—I believe his name is Mich?"

"Yes, Sir," was the reply. "He is through that door in his private office, Sir."

"Fetch him for me," Gailen ordered.

The young woman scurried into the office, entering with a light knock. A few muffled words were heard before she returned, followed by Mich, who was wearing a smile upon his face. "Why, Lieutenant Gailen, what brings me the pleasure of your presence in my humble establishment?" Mich began.

Mich’s smile did little to lighten Gailen’s stern face, while Berek’s head seemed only moments away from exploding and his hand began stroking the head of his axe. "Mich, do you remember these gentlemen?" Gailen asked. "They stayed here yesternight, did they not?"

Mich replied, "Indeed they did, Sir, but they took leave of my establishment earlier this morning. My security arrangements were not to their liking, it seemed…."

"Indeed," Gailen nodded. "In fact, we have been informed that perhaps it was your ‘security arrangements’ which led to the loss of some property of theirs. What do you say to these claims?" Berek’s keen senses, aided by his closeness to Mich, picked up a slight change in Mich’s demeanour, and all present noticed that the Lieutenant’s last words had removed the smile from the landlord’s face.

"Sir… I… I don’t know what you are talking about…. Who has made these claims about me?"

"Well," Gailen replied, focusing on the innkeeper, "this time we managed to catch the thief, a young Hobbit, that is. He confessed his crime, and accused you of threatening him into it and enabling the theft."

"What? A Hobbit? But dear Lords, this is absurd! We know that these little rats are scum and steal all the time…. Of course this scum would put the blame on someone else!"

"And so you had no dealings with one of them?"

"No, my Lord, never, I do not know any of them and I…."

Gailen interrupted, "Mich, be aware that the accusation weighs heavily. Do not tell me but the plain truth, otherwise the consequences will be dire!" Hearing the lieutenant, Berek hummed, nodded, and continued playing with the blade of his axe. "So, Mich, are you not the landlord of a Hobbit family headed by Karnouk!"

"Why, yes, I am…." Mich visibly started sweating, and twisted and turned his head from one side to the other. "But of course I had no dealings with him concerning thievery! We have a normal, honest business relationship…. He pays his rent, and I lend him the house…. So he is a thief…. My, my, he seemed such an honest old fellow…."

"It was not Karnouk who confessed the crime, but his young nephew, Frolo. He accused you of threatening him to steal or else. What do you say to this?"

"H… how was this name, ‘Forlo’? I remember Karnouk has children, but I never met them nor threatened them, so that thief is obviously lying to get away with his crime!"

"How is it, then," Elenárion interjected, "that you were seen talking to Frolo in the marketplace this very morning?" Shifting to face Elenárion, Mich was not able to see the frown upon Lieutenant Gailen’s brow that quickly faded into his unmoving face of duty.

"Well… well, Sirs, this very morning, I… I did some shopping in the market, and had some boys running errands for me…. I didn’t even know their names; they bought some supplies for me I needed!"

"Mich, Frolo said that he gave the stolen goods to you in the marketplace because you threatened to throw his family out of the house…" Gailen continued the questioning.

Mich’s head shot around towards Gailen, and his face turned white. Mich stumbled, "A… a lie, all this thief tries is to save his own skin."

"Aye…" Berek growled, "…save his… hmmm… skin."

"Of course you understand that my guards will have to search your inn, turning everything upside down," Gailen said, his voice outwardly mild but with a core of steel. "I am sure you won’t object…." Gailen moved the door and called the sergeant and three guards to advance, leaving only two outside.

Reaching into his shirt, Aeglorias took out his amulet. "This shall be evidence of the theft, for the amulet stolen is nearly its twin."

"And a convicted thief, hindering investigations, will surely not find mercy in the judge’s eyes," Elenárion sternly added, hand on the hilt of his sword.

Mich’s eyes darted from one to the other, the stress clearly visible. As Berek bent forward and growled, "If the thief can live to see the judges… without his … hmmm… skin," Mich broke down.

Falling on his knees in front of Gailen, Mich whimpered, "Sir, please have mercy… I… I… it’s all still there, nothing missing… please… I was blinded by the money…." And so Mich confessed that Frolo had spoken the truth and that the stolen goods were hidden in a secret drawer of his desk.

Gailen soon had had enough of the whining man lying in front of him. Scowling fiercely, he snorted in disgust. Motioning to his sergeant, he said, "Take him into prison, and record the details of his confession. And question Frolo, Sam, and Karnouk as well, but separately, so we might soon wrap up all details of the theft!"

Nodding, Carangil added, "Right, Lieutenant Gailen. There are still open questions. For example, what about the woman that Sam told us about? What about the three thefts that have already occurred? And what about Mich’s incitements against Drukha’s people?"

"I wholeheartedly agree with you, Sir, those questions must be addressed, but first, we should try to find your friends’ possessions. And as far as your last question is concerned, I am afraid that the answer is common prejudice…." Switching to a somewhat accented Sindarin, he added, "Not all Dúnedain here approve of… interaction with the indigenous… to say the least. Some don’t even suffer the sight of mixed blood like your most faithful squire…. Such an attitude is, by extension, reflected by the common people, who loathe the Dunmen. I believe that Mich, a well-known xenophobe, simply indulged himself there, hoping to throw the suspicion and guilt on those he feared and despised. Alas, I am most chagrined to see such an attitude in the last followers of our Kings in exile…" Gailen’s voice died out gently, while he half-closed his eyes, obviously lost in his thought.

Carangil smiled and said softly, "Perhaps some good can come of all this."

In Mich’s private room, finding the secret drawer was an easy task once they knew where to look. Springing the mechanism, Kirdan opened the drawer. The contents included Berek’s amulet, gems, and some gold, as well as some of the money stolen from Elenárion, but no valuables from the prior thefts turned up. Berek and Elenárion showed the goods to Gailen, and he finally smiled, glad they were recovered. A short discussion of evidence and trials followed.

Berek snarled to Aeglorias in Atliduk, "Why must these ‘civilised’ people make everything so complicated!"

As Aeglorias smiled and inspected Berek’s amulet, he said privately to the bear of a man, "Just bear with them. As I told you before, your family must have a long history of connection with my kin, for this is indeed an officer’s pendant."

"Hmmm…. I would be glad to hear more about the origins of this amulet, Master Aeglorias. Maybe we can spend some time in the evening in private…" Berek replied.

"As soon as we find some time to discuss this quietly and privately," answered the Elf.

* * *

Later, on the way to the Thalion, Aeglorias took Berek aside. He muttered, "My friend, this boy had little choice in what he did. I think that you are not inclined toward severity, but perhaps you should try to placate our young friend, Elenárion."

"You are right, Master Aeglorias. If Frolo speaks true, he is, hmmm… guilty only of not speaking up to his ‘parent’ at the right time, trying to prevent an evil by committing a crime, hmmm… and lying to his family, which I think a bad thing as well…. But he acted in good faith, and therefore his ‘punishment’ should teach him the right values, and how to act in the future. Yes, he should learn about honesty and faith in others…. In my home village, I would propose some kind of public service like stocking firewood in all shelters made for travellers around our village for some time. Then, I would ask some people, maybe his family or even our elders, to walk along with him and have some deep discussions. I will try to convince Elenárion that this is a more suited course of action than following the, hmmm… law.

"For Mich, however, hmmm…. If I were to punish greedy theft in the woods…" Berek’s expression made it quite clear that the punishment would be both drastic and direct.

"I understand your feelings, friend Berek, but here you know that things are more formal. I’m sure that Mich will be heavily punished, and all the more so since he involved an innocent young man in his schemes."

Even doubting the privacy of their conversation on the way to the Thalion, Berek changed to his native tongue, Atliduk.

"Hmmm… another thing we need to discuss is my amulet. As you saw it, your reaction was, hmmm… strong. Since you said you would be called ‘captain’ among the Elven Rangers of Greenwood, I think my heritage is not even the officer’s pendant you were expecting."

"You are partly right, my friend, and this is something we will discuss in good time, I swear."

Chapter XVI: Interrogations

Before long, the various groups gathered back at the Thalion. Lieutenant Gailen quickly read the sergeant’s report. Recalling the discussion with Carangil of outstanding questions, Gailen called for the guards, ordering them to bring the young thief to his office. While they waited, Gailen told Berek and Elenárion that they were free to ask questions. "Please note that this affair appears to be more involved than one could think at a glance. Your opinions will weigh heavily in this child’s judgement, and, as opposed to that infamous Mich, I believe that he deserves some indulgence. Question him, and we’ll discuss it further in given time."

Frolo was ushered into the office still trembling with fear, and, undoubtedly, with shame. When Gailen told the boy that they were going to again ask him questions about the affair, he looked at the adults around him with the air of one who knows himself condemned. Kirdan and Berek could not, in spite of themselves, restrain a grimace of compassion, whereas Elenárion remained impassive and severe. The immortal Aeglorias’ features were unreadable, while various expressions were visible on the others present. Drukha looked more ill at ease than anything else, as did, curiously, the young Jiff, who was probably impressed by the formality of the situation. He sat pondering the situation with a strange, unreadable look on his face, and took little part in the interrogation drama.

"So, young Frolo, it seems that you were persuaded to rob people on Mich’s behalf. That fact is condemnable in itself, but we could find it less severe if it appears that you were really threatened into theft by Mich."

Gailen paused while Elenárion took a sharp breath, but he stopped when the lieutenant looked at him sharply. It seems this… bandit… will not be punished the way he deserves… thought the young knight, who nonetheless took Gailen’s point and said nothing.

Gailen spoke again, in a gentler tone. "Your cousin Sam spoke of a girl…."

"She has nothing to do with it!" interjected Frolo. "I misled Sam because I didn’t want Mich to throw us out of the house…. Sam thinks I stole things for her…" Frolo burst into tears.

"May I, Lieutenant?" Carangil began, then continued on Gailen’s nod. "Frolo, you may call me Hir Carangil. So then, is it your testimony that you did not steal for a girl, but for Mich personally? Does this girl of whom Sam spoke even exist?"

Knowing that he made a frightening impression upon the young lad at first, Berek tried to show Frolo a gentle expression of understanding. Hmmm… he surely made a bad mistake, but if his story is true, the real blame is on Mich…. His guilt is more being an unguided child, Berek thought, and asked Frolo, "What did Sam know about the, hmmm… thefts anyhow? Did he ever see you going out at night, so you had to invent a cover story? And why did you not tell Sam about the threats made by Mich?"

Frolo looked more than a little disturbed by the two big Men questioning him. He looked haggardly from Berek to Carangil, and then his eyes fell on Kirdan with a pleading look. Kirdan raised a questioning brow that did not escape Carangil, who nodded his agreement. "Please answer Master Berek truthfully, young man," said Kirdan.

The young Hobbit collected his ailing courage, and finally said, "Sam knew not much…. I had to tell him I had a girl, and he believed I stole minor things for her, nothing serious…. I couldn’t tell him the truth because… because Uncle Karnouk is too proud and would never have accepted, and we would have ended in the streets…."

"Let us go back to last night, Frolo," Carangil said. "You went to the Fattened Ewe, entered several rooms, and took anything you thought was valuable?"

"Yes…" whispered Frolo.

"Did Mich indicate the rooms to you?" asked Berek.

"Yes…."

"How did he contact you?" Berek continued.

"I went to the inn early in the evening, like most days, and he told me that he had… interesting clients…. I knew what that meant. I came back in the heart of the night and woke up Mich, who told me what rooms to go in…."

"And how did you know how to pick the locks of the rooms—did you use any tools for that?" finished Berek, who made a good show at appearing less frightening than before.

"I didn’t pick the locks—I have the key." Frolo pulled out the key he wore around his neck, which appeared to be a kind of crude master key. "I left marks on the locks with my dagger so that on closer scrutiny, one would believe they had been picked…."

"And how did you come to have this key?" asked Carangil.

"Mich gave the key to me. I don’t know where it comes from, my Lord."

"That’s not that unusual for innkeepers to have such keys," interjected Jiff. "I’ve sometimes worked in inns, and I’ve seen things like that, but this one is very crude!"

"Appears crude, at least," Carangil agreed. "It was probably made that way to make the lockpicking deception more believable. Well, then, where did you go after that?"

"I went out, my Lord, towards the high town. Mich instructed me to do that if I had any doubts of a pursuit, to mislead the hunters."

"Did you know that you were followed and tried to shake off the pursuer?" asked Berek.

"Yes, I had seen a shadow behind me. I was afraid, so I ran as fast as I could. Since I knew the small streets of the high town, I tried to lose him there."

"How well can you see in the dark, Frolo?" Carangil asked.

Frolo shrugged. "I don’t know. Well enough to not fall down."

"Stand here beside me, Frolo; Jiff, take his other side, please. Aeglorias, please look closely at us." As the others exchanged puzzled glances, Carangil moved to Aeglorias and poured out a deluge of questions in Sindarin. "Does Frolo really look like he could be the person you saw and followed, someone able to evade you, lead you on a long chase through a storm into Upper Metraith, and then trap you in a food cellar? Do his feet look like they could have left the prints you followed? Did not Jiff tell us the stable boy said the person he saw was Man-sized? You told us the thief was small but not ‘diminutive’; Frolo looks pretty ‘diminutive’ to me. And what about the ‘trick’ or ‘illusion’ you said you felt in the cellar?"

Aeglorias mulled over the questions for a while, and then answered. "This boy certainly looks somewhat shorter than the silhouette I followed, but at night and during a storm, even my Elven sight can be misled. As for his feet, though he is standing barefoot now, the prints I saw were boot prints, which can alter ones print greatly. As far as the stable boy is concerned, you should remember he was awakened in the middle of the night by a storm. Between that and his young age, he could have been mistaken! As for being able to escape and then trap me, why not? I have seen stranger things, Carangil."

"I don’t doubt that!" Carangil smiled, then turned back. "Frolo, what did you wear last night, and where is it now?"

"Other clothes, my Lord…. They are drying at home…."

"Did you wear any kind of perfume?" Carangil asked—seriously, but at least two of his companions thought otherwise.

Phillip laughed and leaned over to Jiff and whispered, "Eau de Hobbit?"

Jiff smiled back. "Parfum de small-people?"

Phillip let out a loud chuckle, then quieted down after receiving disapproving looks from the others. Carangil smiled wryly and murmured, "Touché," then turned back to Frolo.

"Yes, Mich told me to use some grease like the Dunmen do," Frolo answered. "I felt it too smelly, so I used them on a wig, which is also at home."

"What about boots or shoes? You are not wearing them now."

"Yes, I had to wear them. Hobbit-tracks are obviously Hobbit-tracks. As well, boots make me look a couple of inches taller."

"I see," Carangil nodded. "Very well, then, I just have a few more questions for now. We know that your pursuer chased you into the ‘high town,’ and that you led him through the pigsty and into the cellars. How do you know Upper Metraith well enough to do that?"

"I am sorry, my Lord, I’m not sure that I understand you. I’ve lived in Metraith for all my life, and we are not unwelcome among the old folk…." Frolo answered, somewhat puzzled by the Dúnadan’s question.

"So you have gone to the Dunnish people’s cellars before, that was how you knew how to use them as a trap?"

"Yes, my Lord. I’ve been there before, but I never stole anything from them—they are poorer than we are, and they always treated me kindly when I was a kid."

Carangil had to smile at that one. "When you were a ‘kid,’ eh? What are you now, then? Hardly an old man." He turned serious once more. "What did you do to your pursuer to confuse him while you escaped, through the air vent, wasn’t it?"

Frolo looked obviously uneasy, and, after a short hesitation, answered, "The air vent, my Lord? No, this was a decoy…. I went back to the door, then out of the wine cellar."

"Hmmm…." Berek bent forward, making it clear that his mood would change quickly again if the Hobbit did not tell the truth. "So you say that you… that you knew that you were followed, chose to go down into a cellar, then let the pursuer enter the cellar. Hmmm…. Then you decided to not use a favourable route for escape that you knew existed, but decided to somehow go back the way you came, avoiding the pursuer, and leaving by the same door you just entered? We need some clarification, boy!"

Frolo looked somewhat anxious, frightened once more by the great Man’s stature. "Even for me, the vent is quite narrow, and not easy to climb up. I tried once, and I had to stop in the middle. On the other hand, I made sure the iron bars on the surface were broken apart, so that one would think that I had used the vent to go out, if I ever had to trick somebody in."

Carangil frowned slightly. "Very well, you did not use the air vent. What did you do to your pursuer to confuse him? He has told me that something happened to him in the cellars, something out of the ordinary."

If Frolo had looked uncomfortable after Berek’s last interjection, now he looked really sick when he said, "I… used a trick… I know how to distract people…."

"A, hmmm… trick? What kind of, hmmm… trick?" Berek’s and Carangil’s questioning glances made it quite clear that the way in which Frolo had been able to slip by Aeglorias in the cellars was not to be dropped quickly.

"Yes, a trick that allows me to confuse people…."

"That much we know, little one…. How do you work that trick? Do you, hmmm, need some item to do so? Can you show us how you do it?" With a sideways look, Berek said to Carangil, "I already feel quite, hmmm… confused!"

Carangil smiled broadly for a moment, but soon returned to seriousness. "Yes, it’s quite a tangled story, isn’t it? No, friend Berek, this is something more." His voice dropped and took on a wistful tone. "I wish my brother—or better yet, Heri Náranna—was here to see this. Hir Aeglorias," Carangil’s voice rose again and emphasised the "Hir" title to Frolo, "I think you might be the best judge of this question. Frolo, as Master Berek asked, can you demonstrate this ‘trick’?"

"It does not work every time, and I need somebody to trick…."

"Can you give it a try, Frolo?" Berek asked. "Try to make me lose my concentration." Saying so, Berek started humming and clapping his hands on a nearby table in a simple pattern. Aeglorias smiled, for he recognised one of the nursery melodies sung among the Beijabar. Although Berek’s behaviour was strange enough, the company’s attention stayed on the young Hobbit, and what he might do to work his "trick."

The Hobbit looked somewhat baffled, and then blurted, "I’m sorry, Sirs, but I cannot do that—all I know is how to make people not notice me. That’s what I did in the cave…."

Carangil looked towards Elenárion and Aeglorias, who both nodded their agreement. "Then perhaps you should try that on me."

"Once more, I cannot," Frolo replied worriedly. "I know how to make people look the other way, so to say; I can’t make people that know that I’m here ignore me. Last night in the cellar, I hid myself behind a big barrel, and then I used the ‘trick’ to escape Hir Aeglorias…."

Berek nodded in understanding while his hand involuntarily went to his chest to feel his amulet on his skin. The Beijabar decided not to go deeper into that topic. Hmmm, he thought, probably we have got all the information from Frolo now, maybe we should move on to Mich and then talk with Gailen about the punishment to be expected. However, he waited for Carangil to continue with the questioning.

"I see," Carangil replied to Frolo. "Very well, I think I understand how your ‘trick’ works now. But what makes you think Hir Aeglorias was your pursuer?"

"Because unless there is another Firstborn in Metraith, and I am quite sure my pursuer was one of them, from what I saw during the night—I have good sight, you know—he should be the man who chased me. Besides, his clothing is quite similar to that of my pursuer." Aeglorias was indeed clothed in practical gear, quite similar to the clothes he had worn the night before. After a brief silence, the young Hobbit added timidly, "I am sorry to have tricked you and put you in an embarrassing situation, Firstborn…." Frolo somehow looked even more ill at ease than before.

Slightly amused by all this, Jiff piped up, "Perhaps then, we should go into the courtyard and play a game of hide-and-seek? Then maybe we will better observe this phenomenon. Maybe we should place one person on the roof, so they know where Frolo is, and can observe the others not noticing him?"

The immortal glance of Aeglorias fell on Jiff. Though there was no actual condemnation or severity therein, after a while, Jiff blurted, "Well, perhaps another time…. All right, not a good idea," he added with a grin. Aeglorias and Berek looked at each other….

"I think it would be fun," Phillip whispered to Jiff.

Jiff flashed a smile to Phillip and replied, "Thanks, Cousin."

Carangil smiled indulgently, nodded, then turned aside to Lieutenant Gailen. "Fascinating lad, is he not? Smart, resourceful, highly skilled. How unfortunate it is that his abilities were turned to corrupt uses." He turned back to Frolo. "I think you have answered all of my concerns regarding the method of the theft. Now I want to hear everything you know about Mich. Why does he steal, or extort others to steal? To whom does he sell his stolen goods? Does he have others stealing for him besides you?"

"About his motivations, I know nothing, but he is a well-known crook. He repeatedly had me steal things from patrons… I don’t know, perhaps a half-dozen times in the last two years. Most of them were rich merchants, a few travellers… and as far as I know, I was the only one he used to steal."

Phillip leaned over to Jiff. "Cousin, maybe you could get our little friend to teach us that trick. I know it could have got me out of a few binds from time to time—but if I remember correctly, you probably already know how his little trick works." Phillip gave Jiff a knowing look. Jiff gave Phillip a slight nod and a smile….

"We shall make sure to ask him," Carangil said to Frolo, unaware of or perhaps ignoring the cousins’ exchange. "You are sure you don’t know what he did with the stolen goods after you turned them over to him?"

Frolo shook his head in sign of ignorance. "I’m afraid I know nothing on that account. Mich only ordered me to rob, that’s all."

"Very well, then. I have no more questions for you at this time." Carangil’s gaze swept around the room. "Master Drukha? Kirdan? Aeglorias? Berek? Elenárion? Jiff? Phillip?" As no one added anything, Carangil continued, "Then we shall surrender him back to your charge, Lieutenant Gailen. Whom should we question next? Sam? Master Karnouk? Some of the people from the Fattened Ewe? We should probably save Mich for last, so that we can use everyone else’s testimony against him."

Lieutenant Gailen nodded his agreement. "Yes, we should save Mich for last, but that may prove inconvenient. You two," he pointed to two of the guardsmen and ordered sternly, "take the prisoner back to the holding cell." They saluted and laid huge hands on the forlorn Frolo, then led him out of Gailen’s office firmly but without excessive force. A moment of silent gazes loaded with various emotions passed around the room.

* * *

"Sergeant!" Gailen broke the reverie. "Take a squad and round up everyone at the Fattened Ewe for questioning—workers and guests both. Leave some men there to seal the building and search it from stem to stern. Make sure someone takes notes." The sergeant saluted and left, leaving only the lieutenant, his bodyguard, and the companions in the office.

"My Lords," Gailen continued, "since it will take some time to bring the Ewe’s residents here, I suggest we question the other Hobbits next." Carangil and the others agreed, so the lieutenant rose and spoke briefly with someone outside. "Besides, the dinner hour approaches. If you wish to continue today, I will invite you to dine with my fellow officers and me. Otherwise, I will continue my official"—his emphasis was obvious to all—"investigation and invite you to return on the morrow."

"I think we all want to finish this as soon as possible, so I, for one, will accept your invitation," Carangil said. He glanced around at his companions and smiled. "Some of us probably think I’ve taken too long already." Soft laughter echoed around the office at that.

With that decision, Gailen summoned Karnouk the Hobbit and his sons Sameluk and Marlinuk. All three bore expressions of mingled fear and sorrow, certainly for their own plight, but more so for Frolo’s. Some of the companions wondered at the obvious difference in their ages, which was nearer to that of grandfather and grandsons than to father and sons. "He must have married late, or perhaps he adopted grandsons as sons," Carangil murmured to Kirdan.

Karnouk and Mar testified that they had known nothing of any thefts until that afternoon, but they did talk of Mich the harsh landlord and Frolo the bright but troubled orphan they loved. Sam told again his story that Frolo had stolen to please a girl who had been fired by Mich, but by that time, the interrogators believed that this was merely Frolo’s cover story to Sam. Only a short time passed before Lieutenant Gailen dismissed the three Hobbits. "You are clearly free from guilt in this matter; therefore, you are free to return to your home. You may rest assured that Frolo will not be treated harshly, but he must be remanded until this matter is resolved. That will be soon, I assure you."

As they departed, the lieutenant honoured his invitation to share the evening meal in the officers’ mess. It was perhaps an imposing experience for the two young cousins, who kept largely to themselves, but the warriors found many kindred spirits. A few officers greeted the foreigners with an arrogant disdain, which faded but did not disappear even in the presence of the noble Sinda Aeglorias, but these were easily noted and avoided. The food was far better than typical garrison fare, but it was obvious to the companions that the current cook was a poor replacement for the one now lending her grace to the Blue Oak Inn.

As the lamps were lit to banish the gathering dark, Gailen courteously sent a messenger to the Blue Oak to make sure the companions’ reservations were held, then the company returned to serious business. It was time to question the other residents of the Fattened Ewe. This exercise, however, proved to offer little new information. Of the guests, most, including two merchants from Arthedain, had gone to the Ewe because the Blue Oak was full. A few, including three Cardolani journeyman craftsmen, chose the Ewe because it was cheaper than the Oak. One Martin, a peddler from Tharbad, said, "Y’see, M’Lords, I use’ly sleeps out’n my wagon, but it rained so fearful’ hard las’ night I went to th’ Ewe for some, uh, ah, fort’fication ‘gainst th’ weather." None of the present company could disagree with that logic, and they shared its good cheer. When Martin was dismissed, Jiff and Phillip volunteered to escort him out, swapping tales of familiar neighbourhoods and families along the way.

The staff interviews proved less pleasant. The serving girls know little about any thefts, but they complained much about harsh treatment by Mich and his wife, Merta the cook, and even worse behaviour by guests, to which Mich had turned a coin-tolerant eye. Gárion also told of harsh treatment, then told of what he had seen the previous night. As this testimony matched what he had told Jiff earlier, with Jiff’s confirmation, he was quickly dismissed.

Merta proved rude and uncooperative until the companions’ glares (rather, the violence leashed therein) and the lieutenant’s threat of charges against her personally broke her resolve. "A’right, a’right, I’ll tell," she snarled at last, sobbing. "Yeah, I knew Mich stole things sometimes. But I swear I never ‘elped ‘im, and I never knew ‘e stole from guests, on my life!"

"This is a most serious matter," Lieutenant Gailen summarised sternly. "Merta, I hereby indict you on charges of aiding and abetting grand theft. Count yourself fortunate that I do not add corruption of a minor, perjury, obstruction of justice, and other charges to the list. Sergeant!" At Gailen’s order, the guardsmen carried Merta away to a holding cell, and the companions noticed that they handled her with less care than they had taken with Frolo.

* * *

"Well, then, gentlemen, that is the last of the prospective witnesses, save one," Gailen smiled. "The night is advancing; if you do not object, we shall save him for tomorrow."

"That is quite reasonable, Lieutenant," Carangil replied. "I, for one, would like to thank you for your dedication and time this evening."

"All in the line of duty, Lord Carangil," Gailen smiled, and sent a guardsman to fetch drinks. "Before we adjourn, though, I wish to hear all of your thoughts on what should be done to Mich and Frolo in the (likely) event that they are found guilty of their several crimes. It will be interesting to hear how our cousins to north and south, and the Eldar and Beijabar of Rhovanion, would handle such matters."

"I say he should be shown the same, hmmm, mercy he showed to others," Berek growled. "He robbed travellers, forcing them on the road without money, so that’s his punishment: Go out, never come back, take nothing but your clothes, leave a cut-off finger to mark you as a thief, and cut another finger off to mark you as a child-spoiler."

Gailen’s eyebrows rose. "Cut off his fingers?"

"Master Berek’s people live in a hard land, Lieutenant," Carangil interjected, "and their punishments appear to be equally hard. (You might find some punishments in Gondor equally harsh.) Friend Berek, since gold is the lifeblood of Cardolan, I would suggest that fines and restitution might be more appropriate. Let us say, for example, that his punishment should include a fine of half the value of all property stolen but recovered, and restitution for half again the value of all property stolen and unrecoverable. Following that, he should suffer permanent exile upon pain of death. That should probably include a brand or some other permanent mark, but I would stop short of mutilation for Mich’s crimes appear to lack violence.

"In pursuit of justice," Carangil continued, "the Prince should confiscate all of Mich’s worldly goods and apply their value towards the fine, the restitution, and any incidentals like court costs. If anything remains, the Prince should give it back to him in cash and send him packing. If, as I think is likely, Mich owes the Prince money, the Prince should recoup the balance in forced labour. The exile should be deferred until such time as the Prince has been repaid (which could, of course, become a life sentence)."

"There are not enough witnesses for that long a sentence," Gailen demurred. "Frolo testified to other thefts, but only Master Berek and Sir Elenárion are here to accuse Mich. The inn should possess sufficient value to send Mich (and perhaps Merta with him) on the roads after one year or so of forced labour."

"That seems fair to me," Carangil nodded. "And if I may offer an offbeat suggestion, perhaps the Prince should confiscate the inn, then lease it back out to Master Karnouk and his sons. It would be poetic justice."

"That’s a great idea, Sir! Definitely!" Jiff exclaimed happily.

"Yes, it is," Gailen agreed. "I shall keep it in mind, should the circumstances so develop. Now then, what about Frolo?" Gailen prompted.

"Hmmm," Berek mused, "it seems to me, Master Gailen, that Frolo’s… hmmm… ‘punishment’ should teach him the right values, and how to act in the future. He should learn about honesty and faith in… hmmm… others. In my home village, I would propose some kind of public service, like… hmmm… stocking firewood in all the travel-shelters around our village, for… hmmm… several seasons. Then, I would ask his… hmmm… father and several of our elders to walk along with him and teach him."

"I agree with Berek," Carangil began. "Personally, I think Frolo deserves a fair measure of mercy, for there are several mitigating factors in his case." Carangil quickly scanned the room and saw expressions of agreement on many faces, including that of Lieutenant Gailen but excluding that of Elenárion. "First," he ticked off the point on his fingers, "Frolo is still a youth. Second, he committed his crimes while under extortion; fear for one’s family is powerful motivation. Third, once captured, he co-operated with this investigation.

"Nevertheless, he has committed several serious crimes. In Gondor, they would include multiple counts of breaking-and-entering and grand theft. The ‘trick’ he used on Aeglorias might be considered assault, and lastly, he fled from your guardsmen. Clearly, he merits punishment, but I would request that it be something designed to make a proper citizen of him, not something which would do lasting damage."

"Perhaps we should press him into service here at the Thalion," Gailen mused.

"Perhaps," Carangil replied, "but I will offer another offbeat suggestion. It will be conditioned, of course, upon what my companions have to say.

"I seem to find myself in need of a page to complement my squire, and Frolo seems to have talents that should not go to waste. Were I to enlist Frolo into my service, we would all have opportunity to correct his errant ways, and he would have opportunity to serve those whom he has wronged directly and thus make recompense. What say you, gentlemen?"

"Why…. Lord Carangil, I think that would be marvellous!" exclaimed Jiff. "It would be nice to have another youngster along with us, and I’m sure he’d enjoy the travels too—but would it be fair to remove him from the family he doubtless loves so much, at such an age? Maybe he’ll be needed at the Inn should Master Karnouk take up the lease?"

"Hmmm…" Berek reasoned, "I am not so sure if this is a good idea, considering his age…." He glanced aside towards Jiff and added, "Yes, friend Jiff, I remember saying that a man will grow by his tasks… hmmm… but this kid has to find his way back into his family, get comfort after these events, and not go out adventuring… especially considering the places that lie ahead of us. Master Carangil, I do not doubt your ability to, hmmm, educate this young Hobbit, but I think his family should be given that task at this very moment of time. As for ‘recompensation’…" Berek let out a deep sound of amusement, "are you sure he will save me the sweat I wasted while chasing him through the streets?"

Carangil laughed merrily. "No, friend Berek, probably not. Well, I did say it was an offbeat suggestion…."

"What!?" Elenárion spluttered, finding his voice at last. "You must have lost your senses, Hir Carangil! I can understand that he was probably not happy with what he had to do, but should you take him out of his rat’s hole and take him into your service, you would be doing him a favour…." Elenárion looked like somebody on the verge of strangling himself with fury.

Carangil returned to seriousness and turned to the stone-faced Elenárion. "No, my friend Elenárion, I have not lost my wits. I felt plainly that you would most likely wish no part of such service, but I also felt obligated to make the suggestion. As Berek reminds me, we will be taking grave chances which should not be forced unwilling on one so young, criminal or no. Friends, do you feel the lieutenant’s suggestion of service here at the Thalion to be the best alternative?"

Jiff replied, "Well…. If Frolo is anything like me, I’m sure he’d love to work in a place like this," he waved, indicating the Thalion. "It must be full of so many memories, and the people must have many stories to tell!"

"I think maybe we could give Frolo the choice. I think he could be an asset but, that’s just my opinion," Phillip said.

"And I certainly value your opinion," Carangil replied. "However, I think that in the present circumstances we need Sir Elenárion’s good graces more than we need a potentially useful ward—even were Frolo to so choose and the Lieutenant to so allow. We are, after all, planning to travel with Sir Elenárion to his homeland." Carangil moved to Elenárion and laid a calming hand on his shoulder. "My friend and brother in arms, I shall yield to your judgement, and where you lead, both my companions and yours will most likely follow willingly. Yet I would ask you to choose with cold reason, for that way lies the most benefit to yourself and perhaps also to House Orros."

Elenárion released his breath in a long sigh, and with it went the teeth of his anger. He clapped his hand over Carangil’s and brought it down into the warrior’s clasp. "Your composure is amazing, arms-brother; I would give much to see it hold so fast when next the Orc-blades are drawn against Arthedain."

"I pray that never comes to pass, but I fear it will come to pass all too soon."

"Indeed," Elenárion nodded, then sighed. "Perhaps you are right in saying that the little thief could have his uses, and I concede that he should benefit from our moral instruction. Very well, then, if the Lieutenant allows, make your offer and let the boy choose his own destiny—with his family’s help, of course." Besides, he smirked, there’s something likeable about the lad in spite of it all.

"I find your proposal quite fair," Gailen smiled and lifted his cup, "though it will most likely horrify Master Karnouk. We shall see. Gentlemen, let us drink to Justice, then call it an evening. A carriage will come for you at the first hour."

"Thank you, Gailen," Carangil grinned broadly and hoisted his own cup. "To Justice!" Echoes and the sounds of toasting filled the room.

* * *

As the companions made their way towards the Thalion gate, Carangil fell back beside Drukha. "Did you have nothing to say, Master Drukha?"

"Nothing you people didn’t say already," Drukha replied with a wry smile. "Tomorrow will be different, I think."

"Will your father attend the trial?"

"I think it will interest him," Drukha smiled. "I go home now to tell this story."

Carangil held out his hand. "We have met well. Until the morrow, then."

Editor's Note

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