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1

Beregond leaned back against the wall of the Drunken Dragon, resting his head against the rough-hewn walls, and sighed. He watched the sun sink behind the distant buildings, dyeing the horizon a sanguine red. Lend had arrived.

"To Dareon!" someone called from across the room.

And so it began: the naming of those who had given Gondor their lives this past year. It was one of Beregond's favourite customs. Every year soldiers gathered in inns much like this one across Gondor, raised a mug, and drained it to the memories of the men with whom they had fought. This year they all had many to commemorate, and Beregond did not doubt the inn would remain full well into the night.

"To Belegorn!" someone else called. Mugs clinked. To Veandur. To Amrothos. The names came more quickly now, one after another, until the soldiers wove a strange macabre tapestry with a pattern all its own. Forlong. Halbarad. Dnhere. Gelmir. Mablung. Hirluin.

"To Ecthelion's son!" Beregond found himself lifting his mug, surprised to hear the words pass his lips. Of all the names he could have called, Denethor's was not the one Beregond thought he would have honoured so naturally.

The men cried with one voice: "To the sons of Ecthelion! To Gondor! Hail the victorious dead!" Mugs clinked, ale splattered, and the men continued to call the roll of their departed comrades.

One of the gate-guards took the seat across the table from Beregond. "You did not speak of Ecthelion's sons," he said, "but of Ecthelion's son." He stared at his friend as if he was trying to make sense of this behaviour. "You would toast Denethor?"

"Good lend, Galahir," Beregond said, ignoring the question. "I did not know you drank with us this evening."

Galahir shook his head, his disbelief evident on his face. "I find it hard to believe that you--of all people!--would honour him. I have but heard the stories of what passed on the Silent Street; you saw it."

"Not all tales are true," Beregond said simply. "You say you have heard the stories, and that I saw it. In that you are correct. But if I see fit to honour him, whilst others would curse his name--"

"We are gathered here to honour the victorious dead," Galahir interrupted. "Denethor is dead, aye, but victorious? He fled the field of battle and surrendered before his enemies could ever break the Great Gate. How is that a victory?"

Beregond rested his cheek in the palm of his hand, looking at Galahir pensively. "No orc had crossed into the First Circle, that is true, but a battle had raged in the Citadel for many years."

Galahir arched his eyebrows at that.

Beregond shrugged. "If you would rather believe the minstrels than hear the truth, so be it." He took a long pull of his ale and let his gaze wander across the room.

"No," Galahir said. "I would hear your story."

Beregond held his mug in the air, and soon the innkeeper had refilled both his and Galahir's. "As you wish," Beregond said after the innkeeper had left. "I had just come on duty when Pippin came running by the gate to the Sixth Circle, as quickly as if one of the Nine was chasing him."

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