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Dulce Et Decorum Est
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
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3

"You mean to tell me," Galahir interrupted, "that you left your post and deserted the Citadel gate to whatever might come, based on the report of someone you had met only a few days earlier."

Beregond looked at his friend, trying to decide what argument would make him seem like less than a fool. But how could he explain this to someone who had not made the decision himself? "Yes, I suppose I did," he said at last. "But what would you have done?"

"I..." Galahir began, but he shut his mouth, clearly unable to think of a good counter-argument.

"If I had done nothing, I would be no better than those soldiers who built the pyre, too blinded by duty to spare Faramir's life."

Galahir nodded his head. "I suppose I would have done much the same," he said, "but that still does not explain why you consider Denethor one of the victorious dead."

"You have heard the stories," Beregond replied bitterly. "You should know what happened next. Beregond, guard of the Tower, moved from traitor to murderer, all for his beloved Captain of Ithilien."

"So the stories say," Galahir said, "but I would hear your tale."

Beregond smiled at that. "The stories tell no lies, but there is more to the truth than will fit in pretty rhymes."

*****

Having decided that he could do nothing but abandon his post, Beregond hurried through the Citadel gate and around the Sixth Circle, toward the Fen Hollen. The gate to the Silent Street was officially closed to all except the steward and those bearing some token of his, but Beregond had served as a guard of the White Tower for long years, both in the Citadel courtyard outside and as a door-warden in the halls of the tower itself. He had marched with the steward's family when they buried the Lady Finduilas years before, and he had often escorted the steward when he came to visit his wife's grave. He was better known than many by some of the wardens of the keys, and he hoped that, if by chance one of those wardens was on duty, this acquaintance would earn him passage.

At last he reached the gate and saw, much to his relief, that Daeron stood behind the gate. "My old friend," he called as he ran up. "I come from the Citadel on urgent business. Please, let me pass."

Daeron just stood there, looking Beregond over. "Have you a token?" he asked.

"No, I am afraid I haven't," Beregond said, hoping his impatience did not show. "But my business is urgent, and I had no time to return to the tower for one. But you know me! I have long served the steward, and his father before him. Surely you can let me pass without fear that I will desecrate the tombs..."

Daeron looped his thumbs through his belt and ticked his tongue disapprovingly. "Just what is this urgent business?"

Would Daeron let me pass, if he knew what I hoped to do? I scarcely can convince myself that I act rightly, to hinder my lord--how am I to convince another? "The steward's orders are secret," Beregond said, "and it is worth more than my posting to share them with those he has not given me leave to tell--"

"And it is worth more than my post to let you through this gate without some token, especially with the steward and his personal guard on the Street right now," Daeron argued back.

We are wasting time, Beregond thought, time I may not have to waste. He tried a different approach. Drawing his dagger from where it was tucked under his tabard, he held it out for Daeron to inspect. "If I don't get past that gate, something terrible will happen, and I haven't time to return to the Tower for a token. Now, I know how you like old blades--good blades, ones crafted by smiths who knew their business. I have such a blade here. If you will let me past, you may have it."

Daeron unlocked the gate and stepped out, but he did not move aside. He nodded at the dagger, and Beregond handed it to him so he could look at it more closely. Daeron balanced the grip in his hand, held the blade up to what light shone through the thick clouds above, and ran his thumb along the smooth side. At last he handed it back. "No, I do not think so. It is a fine blade, that's to be sure, but it is still not worth my job, which I'll surely lose if I let you through without some token."

"Come now, Daeron!" Beregond argued, now more agitated. "I've told you once already that I don't have time to go back for any token. If we live out the day, why, we'll be lucky, and I think the lord will pardon you this one time. But if you don't let me through--"

"I told you once, Master Beregond, and I'll tell you again--you're not getting by this gate--"

If Daeron would not listen to reason, Beregond would just have to force his way past. He stepped forward, and Daeron drew his sword. Suddenly a strange madness fell upon Beregond: whether from his own growing impatience or something outside himself or some combination of the two, he could not say. A barbarous cry rose in his throat, and a brilliant white light burned behind his eyes, blinding him to all else. His hand gripped the dagger more tightly, and he felt it slice through skin, muscle, and bone. The dagger fell from his hand, and Beregond heard it clang on the ground. The light died away, and Beregond saw the pool of blood at his feet. Daeron collapsed, and then he moved no more.

Beregond took Daeron's keys and picked up his dagger, wiping the latter on his tunic. He pushed the gate open, stepped over Daeron's body, and hurried down the street to the House of the Stewards. If he had not come this way several times before he might have missed the house, only one of many sleepy mansions in the shadowy dark, each one similar to all the others. But he recognised the black marble pillars that marked this house, suggestive of the steward's rod that Denethor bore. As he hurried toward the porch he saw one of Denethor's guards approaching with a faggot of wood. "In the name of the king, halt!" he cried, and he sprang up the stairs, bracing himself against the door.

"Beregond!" the guard called, clearly surprised to see him. "Why are you here? Who is guarding the Citadel gate?"

Beregond offered no answer. He unsheathed his sword and held it out menacingly. "Surely," he declared, "you shall not cross this threshold while I still draw breath. Leave, and find a better enemy than your friend and fellow guard, if you wish to fight."

Another guard approached, this one with a flask of oil, and four more guards soon joined him, bearing torches and more wood. "Why do you delay, Gelmir?" one of them asked the first guard.

Gelmir nodded toward Beregond. "This traitor would delay the lord Denethor's commands."

"Step aside, Beregond," one of the others said. But Beregond refused to move, and the guard stepped toward him, stopping before the first step. "Well, then, if you will not move willingly, you leave me no choice but to force you." He drew his sword and climbed the steps. Beregond blocked the guard's blow, and the guard Beregond's, sword-clangs breaking the peace of the Silent Street. At last Beregond found his mark and the guard fell.

A strange quiet fell over the remaining five guards. "Traitor!" one of them hissed at last. "Murderer!" He drew in his breath and spit on the ground before him. "A pox on you, and on your fathers before you, and your sons after you."

Gelmir stepped forward and drew his sword, touching it to his forehead. "I shall rid us of this miserable excuse for a guard," he said, and he climbed the stairs.

Their swords met, the sound of metal meeting metal profaning the Hallows. One, two, three times their swords met. "Stay! Stay!" came the cry from behind them. "Stay this madness!" Gelmir stopped his sword's descent, but Beregond could not master his blade in time. Gelmir fell at his feet. Beregond looked up in dismay, and the remaining four guards turned around. Gandalf and Pippin hurried down the street.

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