Since no daylight seeped down into my dungeon I had to count the meals that came in order to determine what day it was. By my reckoning I decided that it was after breakfast on Tuesday 16th May, the second day after the kidnap attempt and the 19th after the murder, that the guards came for me and marched me up the stairs, flight after flight of them, to the courthouse in the Citadel.

The courtroom was crowded. The news of Morfindel’s murder was out and hundreds of people came along to see who it was who was being arraigned for the crime. The court was hushed when I was brought in.

In the absence of the King, who ought to have been trying this case, they had brought an elderly judge out of retirement. The old fellow had been installed in the high seat and was being briefed by the clerk of the court. Such things, no doubt, as what the crime was, the name of the defendant, and whether he was guilty or not. That’s all a judge needs to know.

Glancing at the clerk of the court for reassurance that he was doing the right thing at the right time, the judge picked up his gavel and mumbled “Silence in court!” The gavel wouldn’t make a noise and it dawned on him that he was holding it the wrong way round. The clerk of the court hurriedly mounted up beside the high seat and resolved that little difficulty, whereupon the judge brought the gavel down smartly on the wooden block. By now of course the whole courtroom was watching him with curiosity, so silence reigned anyway.

The clerk of the court read the charges against me. One: wilful murder of a Ward of the King. Two: conspiring to abduct the Queen and hold her captive. Three: conspiring to kill the King and overthrow the lawful government of the Realm. Conviction on the first count alone carried the mandatory penalty of Death at the Stake, sentence to be carried out within the hour of conviction. The stake, I knew, would now already have been raised before the Great Gate.

From the prisoner’s box I was able to take a good look around to see who was in the courtroom. Imalad was prominent—he was clearly the chief witness, if not the actual prosecutor. There was no sign of Elandrine and I wondered if she was back yet from her exploits at the wain. I spotted Lady Éowyn sitting two rows back. I had a warm sense of relief that she was there. I couldn’t imagine her crediting the charges against me, and I knew she was quite capable of speaking her mind.

But my eyes scanned the courtroom in vain for Bergil. Where on earth was he? He most of all would be the one to exonerate me. That’s if he wanted to—I wasn’t altogether sure of that. But I told myself that Bergil, whatever else he was, wasn’t malicious. He was a stickler for the facts, and if the facts didn’t support the charges he too would speak his mind.

Prompted by the clerk of the court the judge announced: “The Ancient Court of the Realm of Gondor is in session. Call the first witness.”

A little old woman was brought on and sworn in. She was a cleaner in the White Tower. She recognised Imalad as the “high personage” who had invited her to step inside the secret passage—one she hadn’t been in since she was a girl. Through the peepholes into the bedroom she had watched a “wicked person” swing a sword and cut off the head of a young man lying on the bed. She saw the head when it was picked up and recognised it as that of Morfindel son of Gollum. She was able to identify the said “wicked person” as me.

The next witness to be called was an elderly retainer who essentially corroborated the old woman’s evidence. He too had been induced to enter the secret passage and watch the proceedings in the bedroom. He added the intelligence that Captain Bergil was also present and agreed to the proposition that the latter must therefore be considered an accessory to murder.

I was still smarting at the audacity of Imalad in bringing such a charge against me, and by implication Bergil, and when I heard the evidence I’m afraid I sighed loudly and raised my eyes to the ceiling. But in the absence of both the King and Bergil I quickly realised my position was precarious. I began to wonder if Bergil had been deliberately detained to prevent him giving evidence. There was another thing. Imalad may well have been watching us secretly while we were in the bedroom. But how was he to know that I would cut the head off the body? It may have occurred to him to collect witnesses to the fact that Morfindel was dead in case there was a cover-up. I concluded that my cutting off the head simply offered itself to him as a bonus.

I had elected to conduct my own defence and I took the opportunity to cross-examine the witnesses. They weren’t too sure when they saw me cut the head off, but they knew it was in the morning of Friday 28th April. Now, myself apart, only the King, Bergil and Megastir, the Inspector of Corpses, knew the true time of death, namely nearly nine hours earlier. But Megastir was dead, Bergil was missing and the King I now knew had been persuaded to ride out on a wild goose chase. I thought to petition the court for an adjournment until the King returned. But I wasn’t sure my defence would withstand the other charges—and they too carried the death penalty.

Suddenly I began to despair. Imalad had laid his plans well. I was framed, good and proper. I decided that my only recourse was to put all the facts before the court and hope that someone would believe me enough to investigate the matter when I was dead and gone.

…to be continued