Dulce Et Decorum Est
Beregond reflects on his role in preventing Faramir's death, and justifies to a fellow guard why he considers Denethor one of the "victorious dead."
Beregond stood near the Citadel's wall, peering into the fog below, trying to make out what was happening in the battle he knew he was fated to watch instead of fight. The dark clouds from the East obscured his sight, but he saw the smoke-billows climbing toward the heavens and the distant red glow of flames far off. So it is true: the First Circle burns. What of the Second, and the Third? How long will the fires take to spread to the Citadel? He no longer doubted that they would and only wondered how long he must wait.
A heavy door clanged shut somewhere in the circle below, and Beregond hurried to the gate leading to the Sixth Circle. He held out his torch and saw the shine of a silver helm and tabard. So it was a tower-guardsman. But as the figure approached Beregond noted its short height, shorter even than Bergil. That could only mean...
"Whither do you run, Master Peregrin?" Beregond called.
Pippin turned, clearly surprised and pleased to see his friend. "Beregond!" he cried, running over. "I must find Mithrandir."
Beregond nodded. "He walks tirelessly through the lower circles, they say, and wherever he comes we forget our fear for a while." And quickly remember it as soon as he leaves, Beregond thought, ashamed of his countrymen. So many little more than boys...What more can I expect of them? But I would meet our enemies as best I could, and show those lads how to banish fear, rather than stand here and wait. "The lord's messages are urgent and should not be hindered by me," Beregond continued at last, "but tell me quickly, if you may: what passes? When I came on duty only a few minutes ago Bregamir said that the Lord of the City had left the Tower, and that his men bore Faramir before him." Beregond swallowed hard. He had heard the rumours, of course, that Faramir was gravely wounded, but if he was borne to Rath Dínen...
"Yes," Pippin said, his voice almost a whisper, "to the Silent Street."
So it is true. Beregond bowed his head to hide the tears he could no longer keep from falling. "They said that he was dying, and now--now he is--he's dead?"
Pippin shook his head sombrely. "No, not dead, not yet--but close to it." The lump in Beregond's chest eased slightly. "Beregond, listen to me. Faramir is not dead, and he may yet live--if I can help him. But to do that I must find Gandalf." Pippin took a step forward and placed his small hand on Beregond's forearm. "And the steward, Beregond...Denethor has fallen before his City. He is fey and dangerous." Pippin looked back toward the Closed Door and shuddered. "Long have I watched as Denethor sat beside Faramir. He is broken, Beregond; the steward's will is shattered, just as Elendil's blade was long ago. And I doubt not that the Dark Lord is just as much to blame for this as he was for Narsil in ages past."
Denethor? Beregond wondered. His will was as strong as the very walls of Minas Tirith. He began to object but decided against it; Pippin wore a more serious expression than Beregond had ever seen on his small face.
"Not more than two hours ago," Pippin continued, "Denethor left Faramir's side. He used a strange door--I have never seen anyone use it in all the time I have spent in that room--and when he returned some time later the lord had a strange gleam in his eyes. A cold fire. It frightened me. Denethor kneeled beside Faramir, felt his son's face and mumbled something to himself. I couldn't be sure, but I thought he said, 'Burning, already burning.' He had me call his men, and they took up Faramir's bed. I followed them out of the Citadel and through the Sixth Circle, down the Rath Dínen, until at last we reached a large house. Larger even than some here in the Citadel. But when we came inside, all I could see was table after table, a long row. The men set Faramir on one at the end of the row, and..." Pippin's tone grew more urgent. "Denethor lay down with him, and the men covered them both with a single shroud, and--"
"Calm down, Pippin," Beregond said, and Pippin looked up at him. What hope the hobbit had kept seemed to fade away, and his eyes filled with a desperate fear. "Denethor told the men to bring wood and oil, and to build a funeral-pyre. They are doing that even now. I must find Gandalf, before Denethor's guards do something we will all regret."
"Then you must seek the heart of the battle," Beregond said.
Pippin nodded gravely. "I know. The Lord has given me leave. But Beregond, I beg you--do anything you can to delay them. I fear I shall return too late."
Beregond frowned. "The Lord does not permit those who wear the black and silver to leave their posts for any cause, save at his own command."
"Well," Pippin replied, "you must choose between your duty and the life of Faramir. As for your orders, I think they come from a madman, not a lord. But do what you can. As for me, I must run. I will return as soon as I can, if fate spares me."
Pippin ran off again, more quickly than before if that was possible, and Beregond walked back to the wall. He watched Pippin pass through the haze until the hobbit disappeared.
Beregond stood at the wall for some time. How could he leave? He had promised fealty and service over forty years ago, and since taking that oath he had proven himself time and again. Was he willing to throw all that away, disobey his lord's command at the very hour Gondor needed him most, based on the word of someone he had met only a few days ago?
Aye, but what if the halfling spoke true? The rumours said that Faramir lay in the tower half-dead, but if he had actually died, surely that news would have spread more quickly than wildfire. And honest men can sense when others lie, if the ancient sages and Beregond's own experience could be trusted. He had only seen Pippin so frightened one other time, when they had heard the shriek of the Nazgűl. This was no bluff; Beregond was sure of it.
So what then? Should he abandon his post? What hope did Gondor have, if all of her soldiers acted as they chose and none remained to obey their officer's orders?
But this was not just any man; this was Faramir. The words Beregond had spoken to Pippin yesterday came back to him. He is bold, more bold than many deem; for in these days men are slow to believe that a captain can be wise and learned in the scrolls of lore and song, as he is, and yet a man of hardihood and swift judgement in the field. But such is Faramir. Less reckless and eager than Boromir, but not less resolute. Faramir was worth more than ten other men, and if Beregond could save him...
And yet, the simple fact remained that he was pledged to stand guard at this gate. If he left now he could pay for his absence with his life--and rightly so, if trouble should come from his shirking his duty. Gondor stood, yes, but only on one leg, and soon she would be reduced to her knees. Could he really abandon his post, now of all times?
Somewhere beyond the wall a door opened. He saw a boy--his son, Bergil, he realised--hurry away on some errand.
Bergil. If Gondor failed, whatever Beregond did would not matter. But if Gondor survived--if Gondor stood on her knees at least, and remained unbowed, how would Beregond explain to his son that the glorious Captain Faramir had died because Beregond of the Guard would not do what he could?
No. Beregond would act in such a way that his son would be proud of him, no matter what came after.