There was a great excitement the next morning as all trouped to breakfast. There was to be a special audience this day, and the rumors were rife that there was to be special recognition for many given during it, and a good deal of discussion as to what was to become of Beregond of the Guard, who was to be called before the King for judgment for having left his post without permission and----
“He shed blood in the Hallows?” Systerien asked Alisië, unwilling to believe such a rumor.
“Yes--for Lord Denethor had gone quite mad and was intent on slaying himself and Lord Faramir both,” the other girl answered in extremely low tones. “He sought only to preserve Lord Faramir’s life, Beregond did. And it is said for that he must die!”
It was a sobering thought, that one who’d thought only to save the life of the Steward’s son might die for such loyalty. Systerien found herself hoping fervently that she’d not be one of those sent to cleanse the stone of the Court of Gathering of the Guardsman’s blood. If the ruling was death, then that would be where it was done, according to tradition.
There was a gallery near the back of the Hall of Kings, directly over the main entrance to it, where many of the servants of the Citadel with no pressing duties might gather to watch audiences, and she set herself to be one of the first within it, for with this special audience all of the visiting lords and ladies would be gathered to watch also. Alisië came soon after her, leading Airen by the hand, and the three stood in the leftmost corner where they could see well enough--undoubtedly better than most of the lords and ladies gathered below, Systerien thought.
“The King plans to reward the Guardsman,” Alisië confided in a whisper. “He won’t order him dead. And there’s something afoot for our Lord Steward Faramir as well, though none will speak of it. But Balstador and Mistress Gilmoreth are both all but in rapture with the delight of it, you see.”
Below them the footmen and heralds were all in a dither, and there was much subdued but excited rushing about as they saw various people settled here and there. Then a whisper spread through the crowd in the hall below and the servants bunched in the gallery above, followed by a profound silence as the King entered, dressed in formal armor this day, and Systerien had her first glimpse of their new sovereign as he took his place on the bottom-most step of the dais to his throne beneath the stone canopy made in likeness to the Winged Crown itself. Beside him today stood the small form of Lord Frodo and the tall form of Mithrandir, dressed not as he’d been when Systerien had last brought wine to him in the archives beneath the Citadel a year and a half past, but in shining white, his new staff elegant in his hand.
A low chair had been set for the slender Hobbit in the shadow of the Throne, and after a time he was dismissed from the King’s side to sit there. Iorvas and what she thought was the Elf she’d seen the previous day attended on him, seeing to it he had food and drink and that he was made to partake of it. Another low chair was set near his own, and on it sat another Hobbit, a far more substantial one than Lord Frodo himself. Systerien gave Airen a small jab with her elbow and indicated him, and was rewarded with the whispered identification, “Lord Samwise, Esquire to the King’s Friend.” Systerien nodded. Airen continued, “I haven’t seen Sir Peregrin yet today. He must have been sent to attend upon Lord Faramir.”
The audience was long, but when Lord Faramir was called forth and came out in formal armor and a black and silver mantle fitting to his office all went fully still, unwilling to miss a single word spoken. Those in the gallery could easily see the Rangers Damrod and Mablung coming forward carrying a shining garment of silver and white between them, and Lord Húrin with something shiny upon a black pillow. The Pherian Frodo had again risen to stand at the King’s side as he stood once more on the bottom-most step of the dais with Mithrandir, while the new young King of Rohan and his sister had come to stand on his other side. Beside Lord Faramir stood his uncle, Prince Imrahil, and another Man who’d been sitting in the new grey chair that sat on the opposite side of the dais who stood now at Lord Faramir’s shoulder, with Lord Elphir, Prince Imrahil’s oldest son, standing behind, and two Guards of the Citadel, one absurdly short, on either side.
“There’s Sir Peregrin!” Alisië murmured excitedly.
“My Lord King,” began Prince Imrahil, and all went still once more to see why it was that their beloved Lord Faramir was so called before the King. As small Lord Frodo received the coronet of mithril and moonstones from Lord Húrin and presented it to the King, Systerien could see how brilliant was his smile. For a moment she felt somewhat apart from herself, as if she stood slightly out of touch with her body, and she realized something--that the King and Lord Frodo both had about them a distinct mithril Light as if they reflected the light of a myriad stars, while Lord Samwise, who’d risen to stand protectively at the Ringbearer’s shoulder, seemed to stand in a beam of the Sun’s light as he rested one hand on his friend’s upper arm. As for Prince Faramir--Tilion himself might have been standing at his side! And Mithrandir! She shook her head, for it seemed she saw a shining flame of purest Fire in his heart as he stood there, observing all as Faramir was made Prince of Ithilien at the King’s hand.
More were honored, including the King of Rohan’s small esquire and Sir Peregrin as well, and Systerien found herself cheering with the rest.
But it was Beregond of the Guard and the judgment to be given him that all awaited now. More whispers that the King would not see him dead were uttered there in the gallery, but they were silenced as the former Guardsman presented himself. When the doom of banishment was spoken Systerien felt the disbelief of those who stood nearby, but she was watching as a movement from behind the throne indicated a second garment of white and silver was being brought forward.
“He’s going to give him to Prince Faramir!” she heard herself whispering to her two companions, and so it proved indeed.
None cheered, but there was clapping, a clapping that spread throughout the Hall of Kings, both on its floor and in its gallery, as all greeted the King’s justice with awe and respect. Beregond might never again enter the White City, but he went forth not in disgrace but with the highest honor such as he might expect--far higher honor than any had thought to see. All bowed with respect as he passed them, his face shining also in light of what had transpired, and all smiled as he went forth, and from outside they heard at last the cheers none here within the Citadel had uttered, as the gathered Guard of the Citadel saw the joy in the face of one of their own, and recognized the import of the white and silver mantle laid about his shoulders.
Then suddenly all there on the gallery were being chivvied away, back to their duties. There would be lords and ladies who would wish refreshment or to change their attire or to take baths, the hall below would need to be swept of petals fallen from flowers tucked into hair or carried by this lady or that; and there were meals to prepare, gowns to shake free from folds and surcoats to be donned. But those who went out to offer these services and more went with their hearts lightened, rejoicing to know that they served such a King who offered such honors to those who deserved it.
Airen and Systerien found themselves being sent to the Royal Wing with trays for the King’s Companions who were gathered there in the receiving room at the end of the hallway. Iorvas accompanied them past the guards, having made their names known to them, and the guards having examined the trays with approval. “I hope Lord Frodo can be brought to eat fully of that sent,” commented one.
Lord Frodo sat on a low divan, a goblet already at his hand. His Light was less discernible, and he looked rather fatigued but still happy at what he’d observed that day. His smile brightened as they came forward, not so much, Systerien realized, for the food brought as at the recognition of Airen and herself.
A door opened behind them, and once she’d seen her tray set upon the table set to receive it, Systerien turned, and realized the King himself was approaching, now relieved of his armor but still wearing the padded shirt that had protected him from his hauberk. “Ah,” he sighed. “It seems forever since I last had aught to drink. I thank you, Airen, and ...?” He looked at Systerien in question.
“Systerien, my Lord King,” she said, curtseying deeply. “Systerien of Celebstrand in Dor-en-Ernil.”
“Ah, yes--Hardorn had told me one had returned late to take up her service. You have served in the Citadel how long?”
“Three and a half years, my Lord King. Lord Delrond sought to offer honor to my father, who died in his service some four years since, by promoting me to a place here in Minas Tirith, and Lord Denethor allowed the preference for me.”
“A fine Man, Lord Delrond. I grieve he chose to return to his place so early, but I can understand why he did so. I would gladly have honored him before the nation this day as well.”
Systerien felt pride fill her for her proper liege lord. “I thank you for him, sir,” she said, holding her head up joyfully. “He is a fine Man, my Papa always said.”
“And you, Mistress Systerien,” he continued, “what do you wish for yourself? It is a question I’ve asked all within the Citadel with whom I’ve come into contact. Some have wished to remain in service here, while others have indicated that when Lord Faramir’s house is built they might follow him and serve him there, while still others have desired to retire from service at all. What is your preference?”
She realized he was searching her face even as she found herself examining his, noting the nobility reflected there, the skin darkly tanned, lines some deeper than they’d looked at a distance, indicating he was older than he looked and inclined equally to sternness as to laughter, his eyes of that piercing Dúnedain grey. Her lips parted some, and at last she answered him, “I’m not yet certain, my Lord King. Perhaps I might desire to follow our Lord Steward----” She found herself smiling, suddenly. “Our Lord Prince Steward,” she amended. “That was well done, sir.”
He smiled, as brilliant a smile as that of Lord Frodo, and gave her a nod of the head. “I am honored you approve, young mistress,” he said. He looked to Airen. “You, too, approve?”
“Oh, my Lord King, all of us who serve the Citadel approve and rejoice in this,” she answered, then flushed to realize she’d answered so much.
“Then it appears I did the right thing,” he replied. “Now, off with the two of you--we can serve ourselves from here. And I thank the both of you.” He gave them a brief wave of his hand, and turned to Lord Frodo, commenting, “Now, my friend, I believe they’ve sent the segments of orange fruit particularly for you.”