Over the remainder of that day Aragorn held more public audiences as well as private councils with Gandalf, Prince Imrahil, Lord Faramir, and the other high lords of Gondor, and called on several who knew Beregond of the Guard of the Citadel to speak with him regarding the case of the Guard who had risked all for the life of his beloved Lord Captain Faramir. Called were Captain Gilmaros, Beregond’s brother Iorlas, several of his comrades from his company, the brother of one of the servants who had been slain by Beregond when he sought to keep those who brought fire out of the House of the Stewards, the Guard who had served alongside Halargil that night, and finally Peregrin Took. The King, Bard, Éomer, and Prince Imrahil, with Gandalf as mostly silent witness, discussed and debated extensively the information and testimony given them, and at last Aragorn was left to consider it in his heart.
He came down that evening to the house in the Sixth Level and begged Frodo to walk out with him, and considering the Man’s solemn demeanor Frodo agreed, if Sam might go with them as well. And so the three walked back and forth the full length of the main way of the circle, then up to the level of the Citadel where they walked around and about. Aragorn did not speak of the decision he would grant on the morrow, only told them that he was to make the final determination regarding Beregond and a few others the following day, before many of the guests to the realm must leave to return to their own lands in two days time. But they found themselves discussing the nature of faithfulness as well as what comprised honor and duty. They sat together on a bench in the garden behind the Citadel and continued talking, and finally going silent until at last Frodo began singing the song Sam had sung when searching for him in the Tower of Cirith Ungol.
Sam sat with his eyes fixed on his Master until Frodo was done. “You remember it,” he said at last.
“It was what brought me back out of the darkness into which I was falling at the time,” Frodo answered. “I think I was very, very close to giving over completely and letting go, certain that all was lost. To hear those words and see in my heart the star of Eärendil shining upon me was all that gave me strength at the moment to hang on, even if it was but by my fingernails. And then, then there was that orc, the one with the whip, and he was standing over me after he struck me--and then there was you instead. But the words are inscribed, it seems, on my heart.”
In the dim starlight, Aragorn could see that Sam was smiling through his tears.
Aragorn sighed. “In two days the Rohirrim and their Lord and Lady must return to Rohan, and my brothers and a few of my kinsmen from the North will return to Eriador to begin putting all into proper array for Halladan’s return in a few months. There is much to hammer out to put both realms into order to work one with the other in the future; and I look yet for the sign that all is in readiness for the realization of my own hope for which I’ve waited oh, so long.”
“What hope is that, Strider?” asked Sam.
The Man shrugged. “Long ago, when I was but newly come to manhood, I saw one treasure which I realized I wished to hold above all others. The price was high--very high--just to consider it. Never did I think to win it.
“Then when I was newly returned from Rhun and Harad and many labors, I found that perhaps it might indeed be entrusted to me; but again although I might at least contemplate it, I must win it fairly. And so I have worked all these years, even when exhaustion and the terror of the Enemy have threatened to plunge me into despair, with that light in view, at times my only hope, my only reason for continuing to strive against the enemies of the Free Peoples and those who would gladly see us all dead or enslaved. I have fought, again and again, and now wait for the time of my hope’s fruition.
“I only wish that my naneth had remained by me to see the day won as it has been, to see her hope fulfilled at last. But she died untimely for our folk. With her beside me, however, the waiting for my own hope to be fulfilled would be easier, at least.”
He reached to place a hand on the shoulder of each of the Hobbits. “At least I have you two here, for a time, and that makes things more bearable. We have each sacrificed so much of ourselves for the needs of Middle Earth and the peace of Arda. Your presence is aiding now in the recovery from the long fight, I find.”
“It must be a mighty hope to keep you goin’ this long,” Sam commented.
“Oh, a mighty hope indeed, and one which has proven terribly costly, so much so I have sacrificed most of my independence at the last. But once I can hold it as my own, it will be full worthy of that cost. I only hope that it doesn’t leave those who entrust it to me totally bereft. For I’m not the only one who has paid and will continue to pay for ages yet.”
About them the night singers chirped, squeaked, and whistled; a great white owl flew from its nesting place in a niche of the Tower of Ecthelion out over the city in search of skittering mice or rats or perhaps even a squirrel suffering a sleepless night; a breeze rustled the roses and the leaves of the flowering plum trees which in the daytime shadowed the bench. There in the starlight they sat, and it seemed to shine down most strongly on the three of them. Sam breathed in the scents of the flowers that were about them and the odor of the rich soil which rejoiced to lie now beneath Sun, Moon, stars, and the honest clouds of weather after years of unnatural glooms and fumes. He looked up at the stars overhead and smiled. Not a single star this time, but an entire field of heaven full of them, and he was certain he could hear their song, a song of content. And far toward the horizon they could see the light of Eärendil, the sign of promised hope that would indeed be fulfilled.
Faramir was doing his best to don his formal armor when he heard the knock at the door to his private chamber. “Enter,” he called, expecting Damrod to come in with the epaulettes he’d gone to fetch from the armorer. He was surprised when the one who entered was not the Ranger but instead Pippin in full uniform.
“Guardsman Peregrin Took, sir, sent to attend on you by the Lord King Elessar.”
“Our Lord King has sent you to attend on me today?”
“He said it was only fitting I should serve you today, my Lord Faramir. May I help you with your grieves?”
By the time Damrod returned almost all was in place. Damrod helped with the last of the arming, then brought out the formal black mantle and helped drape his Lord Captain with its folds. Once Faramir finally took his sword from the stand where it hung and fastened its hangers upon his sword belt he looked fully as regal as Aragorn himself.
“You look fine, Captain,” Damrod assured him.
“I’m glad, although I don’t understand why our Lord Elessar has requested this dress this day.”
Damrod shrugged. “He’s a canny one, and is proving a worthy Lord, I find.”
“I’ll say this,” Pippin said with certainty, “if anyone has reason to indicate a thing should be done in any specific way, it’s Aragorn. He always seems to know what he’s doing.”
A few minutes later Damrod and Pippin were following Faramir from the Steward’s quarters to the Hall of Kings where one of the heralds was watching for them, leading them out and around and to the Council Chamber. “The King has asked you wait here unseen until you are called, my Lord. The day’s audience will be a long one, I fear, although I believe he shall call you early before him.”
A half mark afterwards the call came, and the three made their way through the vestibule to the entrance to the Hall of Kings. “Faramir son of Denethor of this city and the House of Húrin, Lord Steward of Gondor,” the Herald announced.
The King rose from where he sat upon his throne and stood, fastening his sword to his belt, as he watched Faramir’s stately progress from the rear of the Hall. When at last Faramir stood before the dais, the King slowly paced down its steps. He, too, was dressed in formal armor today, and he wore also a black formal mantle edged with silver instead of the white one he seemed to favor. Even if he hadn’t stood on the lowest step of the dais he’d still stand over the Lord facing him, but his eyes were proud as he looked on his Steward. Beside him on one side stood Gandalf and Frodo, and on the other Éomer King and the Lady Éowyn beside him.
Three of the highest Lords of the realm, including Prince Imrahil and Lord Halladan, now came forward to stand, one on either side and one behind Faramir. Imrahil looked at their King and said formally, “My Lord Elessar, we bring before you this day our Lord Steward, and beloved kinsman. Much he gave in the fight against the Enemy, keeping many heartened when despair would have taken them and helping them order their ranks and hearts when terror sought to overwhelm them.”
“So it has been told to me by many witnesses, including Mithrandir. Great honor and respect to we hold for you, Faramir son of Denethor; and in token of this we wish to offer you one more honor, one which we believe you deserve before any other. Kneel, Faramir son of Denethor.”
Uncertain still what was to come, Faramir did as was asked of him. Húrin of the Keys came forward from the area behind the throne, carrying something on a black velvet cushion. He held it out to Frodo, who took it solemnly, then smiled brilliantly at the kneeling Man as he held it out to Aragorn. Aragorn held it briefly to Gandalf, who placed his own hand on it for a moment, then turned to his Steward.
“Once again is the nation of Gondor nearly complete, the only one of its original lands no longer part of it the land of Umbar. The land of Ithilien is now once again part of the realm, and a mighty land it will be in time. A lord it will need, one who knows and loves it and will seek to see it restored, both its wild places maintained and its gardens replanted and its fields once again ripening in the fullness of its bounty. I therefore name you Faramir, Prince of Ithilien.” So saying, he lifted the circlet he held, set with moonstones about its circumfrence and with a great one in its central boss, and gently placed it on Faramir’s brow.
“Rise now, my Lord Prince.” Aragorn then turned to Damrod. “Remove his black mantle.” Once this was done, Mablung came forward, his face alight with pride, carrying a silken mantle of glimmering white and silver, and gave it into the hands of Prince Imrahil, who with the help of Damrod saw this settled about Faramir’s shoulders and fastened with a great brooch in the shape of the crescent moon. The others stepped back, and Aragorn examined his new Prince from toe to head, and gave a great smile as he looked into Faramir’s eyes. “Let me first greet you as a Prince of the Realm,” he said, and reaching out he embraced Faramir, who, with tears in his eyes, embraced him in return.
At last he let him go, and turned him about. “My lords and ladies and citizens of Gondor and Arnor and guests of the realm, I present the Lord Faramir, Prince of Ithilien and Steward of Gondor.”
The cries of acclamation made fair to lift the roof of the chamber.
At last all was quiet once more as the King lifted his hand. He then looked at Éomer, who stood still on his right. The young King of Rohan looked at Faramir, who’d turned once more to face his Lord. “My Lord Prince, I have been asked a boon by my sister, and I now grant it, that you may pay court to her, our White Lady whom all in our land love. And I see you are indeed full worthy of her caring.” Again there was a cheer, and if those from Rohan were a bit louder and given to adding whistles of appreciation along with their acclamations, none sought to reprove them.
There followed a number of others to be honored by the King for special bravery or service to the realm, from within the regular forces, the Guard of the Citadel, the forces of the Southern fiefdoms, the ones who came from fields and fishing villages, those who fought from among the Men of the City. Many received the King’s commendations that day, until at last the call came for Peregrin Took son of Paladin to come forward. Many looked as surprised as the Ernil i Pheriannath himself to hear this.
“Peregrin Took, you have come from far to the North, here to Gondor, one who barely knew of the existence of this land before you left your home to accompany your kinsman on his dark quest. The tale of how your quick action and thought as you were carried and driven through Rohan by the forces of Isengard and Mordor is known to us, and then how your courage in the face of the enemy at the Black Gate saved at least three others beside yourself when you slew a troll intent on biting the throat out of your comrade is now known throughout the realm. Your commanding officer therefore has asked that in spite of the fact you are newly come to Gondor and have been part of the Guard of the Citadel for only a few months, that you be named a Captain of the Guard; and at this time I grant that rank.”
Once again the cheers boomed within the Hall of Kings.
Meriadoc Brandybuck son of Saradoc was then called forward. Aragorn smiled down on him, laying his hand on Merry’s head, then stepped aside in deference to Éomer. “Merry,” the young King said proudly, “we have already named you a knight of Rohan and Holdwine of the Mark. To mark this, we present you this day with a new sword to replace that which was destroyed when you and my sister together struck down the Witch King of Angmar.”
Éowyn came forward, taking from the folds of her skirt a fine sword which she knelt to fasten to Merry's silver swordbelt. She kissed his forehead and rose, leaving Merry facing his sworn Lord. King and Knight saluted one another, and then Éomer sank to his knees to embrace the Hobbit. One last time cheers and whistles filled the hall.
Now there was but one more to call, and Beregond of the Guard came forward dressed in unrelieved black, backed by his lieutenant and captain. All saw how proudly he stood before the King, whose face was filled with a stern compassion. When the King pronounced what appeared to be the sentence of exile all joined in a murmur of sympathy, until the King announced Beregond’s new rank as Captain of the White Company, the Guard to the Prince of Ithilien. Faramir, who alone with Captain Gilmaros knew the King’s decision, rose from his black chair with pleasure and honor. accepting the white and silver mantle which Húrin brought forward at this time to mark the Man’s new rank; Faramir himself settled the mantle about Beregond’s shoulders and embraced him, his own eyes shining again with tears of joy, after which he stepped back and Beregond knelt before his King.
“My Lord King Elessar, your justice and mercy are already becoming the stuff of legend, but for what you have given me....” Words failed him.
Aragorn set his hands on Beregond’s shoulders and raised him, smiling fully. “If you must leave this city, I know you will never leave the service of our realm, and we shall never lose the greatness of your honor and loyalty. And this one rejoices to receive the service you were willing to sacrifice for his safety and hope of recovery.” He embraced the Man and then turned him toward Faramir, who came to stand by his shoulder.
This time they did not cheer; but the bows given to Beregond spoke as strongly as the loudest call; and suddenly all were applauding as the new Captain of the White Company, accompanied by his Lord, walked proudly through the Hall of Kings, stopping to embrace his brother and son who waited near the door, and then through the vestibule and out onto the steps where the white mantle and glad smiles seemed to tell their own tale. There waited the Men who had been of his company, and the calls not given within were made outside, and a gladsome crowd walked around the Court of the White Tree and across the Court of Gathering, then went down the ramp to a celebration in the dining hall for the barracks.