It turned out Imalad was indeed conducting the prosecution, and I must say he proved a formidable adversary. “We have heard the defendant’s evidence and he does not dispute the fact that he cut off the head of Morfindel son of Gollum, and that Bergil son of Beregond was present when he did it. And let it be duly noted that Captain Bergil has declined to present himself at this court to give evidence!

“But the defendant asks us to accept that the son of Gollum died nearly nine hours before! The reason he gives for cutting off the head—to establish the time of death—beggars belief! It is so absurd that in the absence of someone knowledgeable in these matters (I refer to the recent tragic death of the Inspector of Corpses) I propose that the court attaches no weight to this evidence.

“Yet just supposing that the son of Gollum had indeed been killed nine hours earlier, namely an hour before midnight. Is it not strange that at around the midnight hour the same Captain Bergil, who were he not missing might well be standing trial for his life alongside the defendant, was seen by many people going to the bedroom of the victim. I put it to you Your Worship that over the nine hour period in question either the accused or the missing witness killed or injured the victim and that what I and other witnesses saw was the final blow in this atrocious episode.”

Which I thought was pretty good for a boy scarcely cutting his wisdom teeth.

Now in cases of treason it has ever been the custom in Gondor to try the accused not before a jury, but before a judge assisted by three assessors. Since the assessors are all knowledgeable men, well versed in the law, this is considered a fairer system than a trial before peers, who rarely possess all that much legal knowledge. The Law of Gondor is ancient, complex and laced with legal precedents. So when presently the judge said “The accusation is proven” and Imalad appealed for sentence to be passed, the three assessors conferred among themselves and decided that the rest of the evidence ought strictly to be heard, providing the Council for the Defence so wished it. Quite clearly the judge did not wish it, being in no fit state for a prolonged trial and wanting only to get out of his heavy uncomfortable gown and first to the loo and then back home to his garden and his potting shed. When I elected for the evidence to be heard on all charges he groaned audibly and went into conference with his assessors. The chief of the assessors then turned to me and spoke for all to hear.

“Since you have already had an accusation proven against you, which carries the highest penalty that this court can hand down, it is a total waste of time to hear any more evidence. His Worship proposes therefore to award a more lenient sentence: you will be given a narcotic drug prior to burning so that you will feel no pain. If however you insist on all the evidence being heard then the sentence will be carried out with full rigour.”

I replied, “Under the Law of Gondor I cannot be convicted until all the evidence has been heard which either the prosecution or the defence wishes to call before the court. I declare that I am innocent of all the charges made against me and in token of that innocence I shall put truth before pain. I’m willing to suffer any agonies for the opportunity to place before all here present the terrible facts of this past fortnight.”

That of course was the last thing that Imalad wanted, not to mention the judge. But it was exactly what the crowded courtroom wished to hear. Particularly in view of the fact that the news of Morfindel’s death had been suppressed, and for such a long period. They wanted to know why! And a murmur and a hubbub arose like an incoming tide. With a pang of gratitude I saw Lady Éowyn rise to her feet.

“Your Worship! I beg leave to address this court!”

Now there was no denying Lady Éowyn (whom the judge knew well) anything she might care to beg, so he acknowledged her courteously and bade her speak.

“The son of Gandalf is correct, not only as regards a specialised point of law, but I think he speaks for all present, indeed for the whole people of Gondor, when he demands that all the evidence to hand be heard. This entire affair has been conducted in the shadows! Horrendous rumours are abroad, that the Queen herself has been abducted and that the King himself rides in pursuit of her captors! If the son of Gandalf can cast light on these happenings, he does us all a signal favour! Even if we then repay him for it by burning him in full possession of his faculties.” Having said that she sat down with a thump.

Everybody cheered. The judge called for order and picked up his gavel, but only succeeded in hitting his thumb. Immediately he was assisted by all three assessors plus the clerk of the court. Even Imalad hovered anxiously over the little press of people clustered round the high seat. But the judge waved them all away.

At that point the judge should have called on the Counsel for the Prosecution to speak first, but for some inconceivable reason he turned to me. I took advantage of the situation.

“I thank this court for allowing me to place the facts before the people of Gondor.” (Murmurs of assent.)

“I shall confine myself to the facts!” (Applause and a few cheers.)

“Facts indeed which many people do not wish to be made public. I stand here accused—indeed all but convicted—of capital crimes of which I’m wholly innocent. Nevertheless I shall not reply to accusations with counter-accusations. It is I that am on trial for my life today, not my learned friend the Counsel for the Prosecution. Though I venture to suggest that were we to change places—he would be in just as much despair as I am now at the prospects of clearing his name and getting home in time for supper!” (Loud laughter.)

“So I challenge the Counsel for the Prosecution to corroborate everything that I shall say, most of which I imagine is to form the substance of the evidence he wishes to present against me anyway.” (Applause.)

…to be continued.