Though desperate, and certain of his failure, Vasil couldn’t stop thinking about the events of the last day.
The Steward had to be either dumb or involved in some manner in the successful outrage on the King. If it was the latter, Vasil thought it was a chance for him to be still alive, and that was also the thought of his wife.
Her wife, Jeya, was a most admirable woman. She wasn’t extraordinary beautiful, and many thought that Vasil could have had better, but she had a clever mind and was often able to puzzle things that Vasil could barely see. Without her, he didn’t know how he would do now to bear the problems he had.
Vasil was no fool. He knew perfectly that even Jeya could do nothing against the Steward, but she has still a good advice, and it was the reason she was sitting now with him, while he was preparing for the oncoming trial of the merchant Will Shaven.
She had insisted to go with him, and of that he was grateful, now that the hour approached and that his anxiety rose.
They were now passing through their vision of the problem, playing with the idea that they could solve it and beat this Steward.
Jeya, as usual, was speaking.
“I can see but a few possibilities on this whole mess. Either the Steward is involved, and it can only be a plot to take the throne for himself. In this case, the King’s son is in danger, but we can do nothing. Shaven will be charged of the murder, and will be executed – and we will be discredited. If the Steward is just an honest fool, then we may yet make the truth plain.”
Vasil nodded enthusiastically.
“For sure. But I don’t see who could have done it but the Steward. Who else could have interest in killing the King of Gondor and Arnor?”
Jeya stared him blankly.
“Don’t be a fool, Vasil. Loads of people would. The enemies of the Free People are hidden in the shadow, but I believe they are still somehow active. Corsairs, Haradrims, or one of those mysterious people from the East. Or even the Dwarves!”
Vasil shook his head.
“You may be right. But how can we know more about this? I can’t just let the things happen and remain an observer, especially if Gondor is in danger.”
She nodded, and shut her eyes, seemingly deep in thought.
After a long silence, she spoke again.
“We can do nothing before the trial. There, we will perhaps be able to see what’s going on, if it’s possible.”
“Is there no one who could help us?”
“No, I don’t think so. We are alone.”
Someone knocked on the door, and a grave, official voice rang in Vasil and his wife’s ears.
“Vasil the Blacksmith, you have been named as witness in the trial of Will Shaven. By order of the Steward, you must follow us to the Court of Justice.”
Vasil gave a quick nod toward his wife, and together they got out of the shop, and followed the lead of the soldiers.
Vasil thought there would be many people into the Court, all nobles or rich people from the city, eager to see the trial of the one who was suspected of the murder of their King, but in that he was deceived.
The great room, heavily decorated and filled with gold ornaments, was almost empty compared to its size.
There were only a dozen persons there, added to the guards. The Steward was there, of course, sitting well in sight of everybody, ready to hear the witnesses and to take position.
Will Shaven was standing in a corner, with two guards surrounding him. The other people included Sarah Redhairs, Vasil and his wife, and some persons Vasil didn’t know.
As soon as they were seated, the audience began and the Steward stood up.
“I require silence for the trial of Will Shaven, charged with murder on the person of King Atanatar. I want it to be quick, well-made and without any contestation. The first witness to be heard is Vasil the Blacksmith.”
Vasil advanced under the curious eyes of the others. He was probably the only one who wasn’t part of any noble family, and who had no Númenorean blood flowing through his veins.
A bit nervous, Vasil stopped and began his story.
“Uh… Well, I’ll only repeat what I already told the Steward sooner. I am a Blacksmith, and I forged the weapon that was used for the crime. I forged it for Will Shaven, and put his stamp on it. However, this dagger was stolen before I could deliver it, on the very day of the outrage. I don’t know who is the thief, but I don’t see why Will Shaven would bother to steal his own dagger…”
The Steward had a bitter laugh.
“Perhaps he thought none would suspect him if he did. Perhaps he thought it would be a good defense.”
Will Shaven spoke for the first time, and his voice was harsh and full of retained anger.
“And why would I have done that? I hold nothing against the King, or the crown of Gondor and Arnor! For Eru’s sake, I’m only a merchant!”
The Steward smiled.
“That is what you say. I ask now Lord Brehar to come forth and to give his own opinion on the problem. I would like to add that Lord Brehar is a respectable man whose word can be trusted.”
An old man stood up and joined Vasil in front of the Steward, wearing an odd smile.
“Thank you, my Lord Steward. What I have to say won’t please the Blacksmith, I fear. But I believe he’s honest, and his mistake was just that: a mistake.”
He nodded to Vasil, who didn’t seem to be pleased.
“As you now, my Lord Steward, my work for the throne of Gondor often takes me to Arnor, where I see to the affairs of the King when he can’t do this himself. In one of those journey, I head this man, Will Shaven, in his own shop, saying these very words: I wish someone put a knive in Atanatar’s back, it would do no harm to the world of Men!”
Will gave way to his anger.
“This is a lie! You are talking nonsense, Lord Brehar, and – “
The Steward cut him off.
“I believe Lord Brehar, and I made my decision.”
Vasil shook his head.
“Your decision was made before the trial.”
There was some condescendence in the Steward’s look.
“It is not the moment nor the place for you to contest my opinion, Blacksmith. We will take care of your case later.”
He took a deep breath.
“The sentence for a murder on the person of the King is death. Will Shaven, your execution will take place in two days. The trial is over.”
In total confusion, Vasil joined Jeya and, together, they left the room and went back to their shop, a look of desperation on their face.