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The Heart of a Knight
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
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3
Meeting Prince Faramir

A little quiz for this chapter:

Beregond briefly visits his best friend and his family. The name of this friend, of his wife, and of their two children are names of characters in stories of professional, published authors.

Hints:
1) They are two female, and two male authors; all four are writing in English.
2) All four authors are still living and writing sci-fi and/or fantasy stories.
3) All four characters die in the course of their stories; they are not necessarily major protagonists.

The first to send me at least 3 of 4 correct answers in a private e-mail gets as their “prize” a drabble, with a prompt of their choice.


~~~

Beregond sat, brooding, at the breakfast table, wearing his shabby but comfortable dressing robe.


All morning long, the scars across his ribs had been stabbing and itching abominably where the claws of the fallen troll had not quite missed him, and as his mood had already been low to begin with, this did nothing to improve it.


He wondered what was the matter with him: whatever it was, it had been with him since yestereve. After Pippin’s departure, the house seemed to plunge into a gloomy atmosphere, as if the Hobbit had taken the sunshine away with him. Beregond had not even found the concentration to finish his letter to his family in Lossarnach, had merely scribbled away and made nonsense doodles on one of the discarded drafts until he had finally given up and put the letter away for another day.


He had hardly slept that night, and when he finally did, he had experienced one of his more horrific nightmares. He had apparently woken Bergil with some inarticulate cries, because when he had become conscious of his surroundings, he found the boy standing at the side of his bed, one arm hovering over his father as if not certain whether or not he should rouse him from sleep. Fully awake, Beregond had gulped back rapid breaths and opened his arms to Bergil for a tight hug, until both their hearts had slowed to a more normal pace and the trembling had stopped. Beregond hoped his son had not noticed the wet tracks on his face in the dark of the chamber, but rather suspected that Bergil had.


The trigger for his bad dream had been evident: A brief but heavy shower of rain had fallen on the city during the night, and the loud, relentless drumming of the drops against shutters and roof had borne an eerie resemblance to the impact of missiles on stone walls, and the crackling of flames...


Beregond shuddered in memory even now in the bright light of early morning, and quickly left the table to rummage at random in one of the cupboards so his son would not see his face, the other hand rubbing over his side, while he sensed Bergil’s questioning, anxious eyes on his back.


He knew that, in truth, the rain was but the most obvious trigger for his nightmares. After he had convinced Bergil to return to his own bed, he had lain sleepless for a long time afterwards, at least until the small hours of the morning, his thoughts circling each other in fruitless chase.


He stepped behind Bergil’s chair and laid a hand on his shoulder to make him turn around.


When Bergil faced him, with eyebrows quizzically raised and uncertainty flickering in his darkly-smudged eyes, betraying his own lack of sleep, Beregond smiled a twisted smile.


“I am nervous because of the interview,” he confessed.


With one hand still holding a knife, and the other a slice of bread, Bergil simply nodded. “I understand, Father,” he said reassuringly, comfortingly.


A little of Beregond’s normal equanimity came back with this simple statement, and he gave his son’s shoulder a final pat before assuming his seat once more.


They finished their breakfast shortly and went on to do their morning chores together, tidying the kitchen and making up their beds, ending by putting the used towels and linen in the laundry basket in the bathing chamber. Beregond had never wanted a servant living with them in the house: he was used to caring for his own needs – his parents had never spoiled their children, and soldiers learned to be self-sufficient – and he and Faelivrin had brought up Bergil in the same vein. Employing Núneth from a few houses down the street as regular help had always been a sufficient arrangement.


Alone in his room, with only Bergil’s grumbling audible from next door as he apparently fought with a recalcitrant piece of clothing, he carefully removed his own attire from its chest to lay it out on the bed, then strode over to look out of the window, checking the weather once more.


The morning looked clear and bright, the garden freshly-cleansed after the night’s shower, the greens sun-drenched and sparkling, the soil a rich brown. The scent of spring flowers, blossoming trees and humid earth wafted up to him, and he took a deep breath. He lingered for a few moments to take in the view, to share the garden’s feeling of refreshment, and only reluctantly closed the shutters.


Shrugging out of his dressing robe, he put on his most formal outfit. It would be odd, entering the Citadel not in his uniform, he thought, lacing the cords of his linen shirt, donning his dark-blue tunic and straightening the embroidered folds, pulling on his freshly-polished boots with some effort, while suppressing grumbles of his own. In fact, it would be the first time he would ever enter the Citadel not clad as a soldier of Gondor. Somehow this made him feel vulnerable.


~*~*~*~



When he rejoined his son in the kitchen, Beregond poured himself another mug of tea with the last of the hot water. Mug in hand, he wandered over to Bergil, who stood nearly straight-faced for his father’s inspection, and Beregond made a show of frowning disapprovingly while he swept some non-existent specks of dust from his shoulders.


“I wonder how long it will take until Iorlas can leave the Houses of Healing...”


“We can ask when we visit him today,” Bergil replied. “I am glad he is recovered enough to walk around at least a little. It became boring, to have to stay in his chamber the whole time.”


Beregond smiled. “I imagine he feels the same. I know he regretted it deeply that he was not fit enough to wander in the gardens at a time when the White Lady of Rohan was still there. To take in the view. Of the garden, you understand.”


They grinned at one another, and Bergil had just opened his mouth for a no doubt cheeky rejoinder about adult oddities, when someone used the door knocker.


“Núneth is early today,” the boy observed instead and went to open the door.


But it was not the maid, it was one of Bergil’s own comrades, Gwinhir.


“Hullo, Bergil! Is your father there?”


“I am here, lad,” Beregond answered, coming up behind his son. “Is something the matter?”


The boy ducked his head in greeting. “Good morrow, Master Beregond. Mistress Ioreth sent me because she knew you wanted to take Bergil to Master Iorlas today. I...”


“What about Iorlas?” Bergil interrupted, alarmed. “Has his condition worsened? He was fine yesterday morning!”


The boy quickly made reassuring gestures. “No, no. It is just... Mistress Ioreth said to say that he had some bad nightmares this night and banged up his arm in his sleep so they have put it into a brace. But Mistress Ioreth said to tell it was only as a precautionary measure. And she has given him a sleeping draught to make up for lost sleep. He should sleep until late afternoon, she said, so you might wish to postpone your visit until he is likely to be awake.”


Beregond squeezed Bergil’s shoulder: It seemed he was not the only one in whom the nightly rainstorm had awoken dark memories.


“Thank you, Gwinhir. Will you not come in for a short while? I do believe we have some sweet raisin buns left over from breakfast.”


Gwinhir looked briefly tempted, but then regretfully shook his head. “Thank you, sir, but no, I have to go back immediately.” He hesitated, as if he wanted to say something else, but only shook his head once again.


Beregond smiled at him encouragingly, however, so Gwinhir took heart and asked, “When will you come back, Bergil? We miss you!”


Bergil obviously did not know how to reply, so Beregond answered for him, “I have an appointment with the Steward today, and I am certain we will know more after that. But now you had better go, and please thank Mistress Ioreth for the news.”


The boy nodded understandingly, smiled at Bergil, and hurried away.


Closing the door behind them, Beregond looked down at his son. “It seems, after all, that I cannot bring you to the Houses of Healing to pester Iorlas today while I am with the Steward.”


Bergil faked an offended glare, but seemed reassured by his calm reaction to the news of Iorlas’ setback.


“Maybe we could go to Diegan instead?” Bergil suggested as they went back to the kitchen. “I have not seen Eddard since they all came back from Lamedon. I want to tell him about what has happened here since they left with the wains. And I have not even seen the baby!”


Diegan’s son was three years younger than Bergil, but the two had always got along well. It would be good for Bergil to be in a house that was always so full of life and laughter; Diegan and his family would do their best to distract him from worrying about his father’s appointment. One way or another, it was better to finally end their self-imposed isolation, anyway, and better to begin in a friendly environment.


He smiled down at his son, who was eyeing one of the raisin buns speculatively. “We will have to go ask them first if they will want you around today. I am astonished that you are so curious about the baby – you do know that Eddard’s new sibling is a little girl?”


Bergil at this as he simultaneously grabbed the bun, blushed but then said, with all the logic of a ten-year-old boy, “She is too young to be a nuisance like the other girls. And I will teach her how to play properly with us.”


“I am sure you will... “ Beregond murmured, amused.


Shortly afterwards, another knock at the front door announced Núneth’s arrival, coinciding with the town’s bells sounding out the second hour. She greeted them both, and then said, “Master Beregond, you remember I said I would bring back the book you lent me by tomorrow?”


He nodded.


“Would you mind very much if...”


“...If you kept it a little longer? No, certainly not. I am pleased you like it that much.”


She blushed. “Well, yes, I did. But it is not because I have not finished it yet – I read it all in just four days, I did! But, my mother saw it lying on my bedside table and took it up yesterday and leafed through it. I was so glad to see her take an interest in it! You know how she has been since Henderch...” Núneth cleared her throat, overcome at the thought of her brother who had died when the Causeway Forts had been overrun.


“I am glad if the book provides a distraction for her. You are very welcome to keep it for as long as she likes. I myself have often found reading some of those poems a great solace.”


Núneth nodded gratefully and smiled shyly. Then she pointed to the basket she had been carrying. “I brought another few crocks of those preserved pears Bergil likes so much from my aunt in Lebennin. She said to say she is glad someone likes them outside of the family.”


Bergil grinned in appreciation, and Beregond thanked her. Then: “I am afraid we will have to go now, Núneth. There are some fresh raisin buns left over from breakfast – help yourself to them, if you like. I do not know when we will return today, so you will not have to prepare a hot meal. If you could just buy one of those loaves of bread from the baker down in the second circle, that would be good. And perhaps some cheese from the market, I will leave it to you to choose, but no blue cheese, please! I have put the laundry in the basket for you to take to the washers. I think the shutters on the front need a fresh scrubbing – the ash and dust from the burned-out house up the street dirtied them all over again when they finally pulled it down yesterday. Bergil, are you ready?”


“Not quite, Father!” the boy called, already clattering up the stairs into his room, and running down again to meet him, a wooden toy horse in his hand he held out to Núneth who had begun unpacking her basket.


“I cannot wait to show Eddard the horse Auntie Mairen gave to me! Look, Núneth, how do you like it?”


“Oh, a fine horse it is, and so detailed. Why, you can almost see the single hairs of its tail!” she exlaimed admiringly.


“Then we are ready to go, it seems. Good day, Núneth!”


“Good day to you, too. And good luck!”


~*~*~*~



On the way to Diegan’s home – which was situated down one level and just beyond the bisecting spur of the mountain – they did not speak much, as both were looking at the busy streets with interest.


Looking at the faces of the people they passed, Beregond saw that where before they had been carefully wiped blank of all expression, or had clearly shown the signs of strain, fear, despair and grief, now there were signs of excitement, of hope returned, of happy anticipation. Yes, there was still the sorrow of endured losses, but now people had a brighter future to look forward to, the consolation that the sacrifices had not been in vain, and the certainty that their long fight against the Shadow had not ended in defeat, after all, but in triumph against all odds.


His own spirits lifted at the sight of women with baskets under their arms chatting gaily with their neighbours on the front stoops, shops and booths opening up or already busy, many more children than it seemed had been there before skipping on the stones of the pavement, families meandering through quiet sidestreets or sitting on benches on the small gathering places of the city.


When they arrived at the gate to the third circle, however, his mood suffered a setback again: One of the guards at the gate, whom he knew in passing as a younger brother of a guard of the Second Company of the Citadel, did not react to his hail of greeting. He stood staring straight ahead, and when Beregond repeated his words, he merely turned his eyes towards him, glaring at him coldly, still without saying anyhing.


Noticing Bergil trembling in outrage and on the verge of addressing the man, Beregond sighed, tugged at the boy’s sleeve and steered him quickly under the arch of the gate and away from the guards, only loosing his grip when they were out of sight.


“But, Father...” Bergil protested, dragging his feet. “He blames you for...!


“I know... I know...” he answered, as calmly as his own inner turmoil allowed, his hand creeping to his once more prickling scars. “It is all right, lad – I can understand him.”


Bergil stopped abruptly, and Beregond nearly bumped into him. “But the King’s judgement...”


Beregond looked around: This stretch of the street was nearly empty at the moment, only a man drawing a wheelbarrow was passing them by, and a maid with a yoke bearing two pails of water. Neither of them paid any heed to father and son beyond a cursory glance and a short nod of greeting.


Beregond returned his gaze to his son, blinking a few times to clear his sight which had blurred for a moment with his own emotions and his burning wish to make his son see. He laid his hand on his son’s shoulder, and when he spoke again, his voice was low but urgent and intense. “Bergil, King Elessar showed mercy and deemed my reasons for doing what I did justified... or at least excusable. What he did not say, however, was that what I did was right. Bergil, I left my post against strict orders... and I killed three men! Can you not understand that people might resent the fact that such grievous deeds go unpunished? Even more, that I came away from it with a promotion?”


Bergil shuffled his feet and lowered his head for a moment, before looking again into his father’s eyes. “Yes,” he said more softly, “yes, I understand this, Father. Or at least I think I do. But... But Mithrandir himself said that it was the Enemy’s fault, that S-Sauron was responsible for Lord Denethor’s madness and his plan to burn himself and Lord Faramir! And that the servants were blind in their obedience (1)! Why do you alone get the blame?”


Beregond straightened up, sighing again, and raked his hand through his hair. “You do not know whether this is in fact the case, lad. And you know that one does not speak ill of the dead.”


While they resumed their walk, Beregond once more mused about the question of whether it had been wise to shield Bergil so much from encounters with people who might have negative opinions regarding his actions, regardless how they were judged officially, and who might not hesitate to make these opinions known.


Arrived at last at their destination, Bergil was just lifting his hand to the knocker, when the door opened on its own with a loud bang, and a gaggle of giggling children of various ages stormed out, pursued by Malgelir, hands formed to claws, growling like some wild beast. Catching sight of the two visitors on the doorstep, he flashed a toothy smile of greeting, barked once in Bergil’s direction that had him flinching, and hurried after the children just retreating hurriedly around the corner.


Beregond burst out laughing, especially at Bergil’s dumbfounded expression. Shaking his head, he proceeded to enter the house, ushering the boy before him.


In the great, cosy central room which was used by the whole family, cluttered as ever with the evidence of many residents, they found Malgelir’s betrothed, sitting in a comfortable chair and rummaging in her sewing basket.


“Good morrow, Rían! Are you really certain you want to go through with your marriage to that madman?” He pointed in the direction Malgelir and his “prey” had taken.


“Well, at least life will never be boring!” she answered, rolling her eyes comically. “Hello you two! What brings you here so early?”


Beregond told her about his changed plans for the day, and her brow creased in sympathy. She and Iorlas were close – in fact Beregond and Faelivrin had at one time hoped they might become a couple, but it had never happened, and when Malgelir had come to the city from the Cair Andros garrison three years past, it had quickly become apparent that he and Rían had found their match in each other.


“I hope Iorlas has not re-injured his arm too badly! I am going to see him on the morrow or the day after; would you please send him my regards should you visit him later today? The others have gone down to the Pelennor to help with the clearing-up, and Malgelir is supposed to act the responsible adult and mind the children...” She rolled her eyes once more, and said, at Beregond’s guffaw, “Yes, quite! I do not know what my mother thought she was doing! I believe Diegan and Dianora are in their room with Eddard and the baby... Eddard was too tired to play with the other children, a tooth has been plaguing him the last couple of days. Ah, I just remembered: You have not yet made the acquaintance of little Raina, have you?”


Beregond shook his head, then lifted his hand in farewell and went with Bergil to the chamber Rían had indicated. There they found indeed Dianora seated on the great chest at the foot of the bed, nursing the baby under a cloth drawn modestly around her shoulders, Eddard leaning against her with half-closed eyes. Diegan sat opposite them, wounded leg stretched out, a small smile on his lips.


Beregond almost regretted intruding upon this homely scene, but just at that moment the others took notice of them.


After mutual greetings, Beregond turned to Eddard. “Bergil has brought something to show you, Eddard. I am certain he will allow you to play with it, too.”


Bergil lifted his hand holding the horse, and said, winking at the boy, who had become alert again at the sight of the visitors, “Of course: that is why I brought it with me, after all!”


Juggling the baby for its burp, Dianora prompted, “Eddard, go play with Bergil in the nursery. When the others return, you can go outside if you want to.”


“Oh, may I see the baby first?” asked Bergil.


“Of course.” Dianora obligingly turned sideways. Snuggled now in her mother’s arms with the boneless grace of small infants, the little girl was yawning widely, tired from the strenuous endeavour of feeding. “Say hello to Beregond and Bergil, chick!”


Little Raina had the dark eyes and swarthy skin of her mother who was from the hill-folk of Lebennin, but the raven-black hair of her father, curling around her sweet little face. The two strange faces moved her to wave her arms around, but she quickly subsided when her mother turned her around again.


Beregond explained once more the reason for their unexpected visit, and it was quickly agreed that Bergil would stay here until his father would come and fetch him.


“Did Iorlas already tell you about Balanoth?” asked Diegan then.


“No! You mean Balanoth son of Halladar? What about him?” Beregond straightened up from where he had sat down on the edge of a linen chest, and Bergil, too, pricked his ears at the mention of his uncle’s hero.


“Hm, well, perhaps he had not known of it yet when you last visited. From what I hear, two days past, King Elessar apparently wrote a personal invitation to Balanoth to come to the Citadel. And imagine – he actually came, back from his retirement on his estates! It is also said that he has taken up residence in his town house again, so it seems he intends to stay for a while. I would never have thought it possible after that uproar with Lord Denethor back then...” Diegan shook his head in bafflement. “I wonder what the King said that made him enter the Citadel once again after he had sworn never to return in his life...”


They indulged in some speculation about the ancient, almost legendary former Ranger and his possible reasons for acceding to the King’s summons, but could only do so for a few minutes before it was time for Beregond to take his leave and make his own way up to the Citadel at last.


~*~*~*~



The higher he went up within the city, using some short-cuts to forego the long, winding main thoroughfare, the less traffic there was in the streets. In contrast, the more he was nearing his destination, the more looks he garnered from passers-by, ranging from mere speculation, to recognition; and from the latter on over the whole range from approval and congratulation, to disapproval, and, at times, open hostility.


Just when a man in the livery of a messenger, who clearly felt rather inimical towards him, seemed ready to accost him – the first one prepared to go this far – a familiar figure came out of a sidestreet and converged on himself as well: It was Mistress Almarian, distributing the same sunny, innocuous smile on him and the messenger both. The latter backed away with a final glare thrown over his shoulder, and Beregond realised that Almarian’s appearance just at that moment had not been quite so coincidental as it had seemed at first.


Steam and a pungent but nevertheless delicious smell was emanating from the big, covered kettle she was drawing behind her on a small trolley, and after greeting her, Beregond offered to take over towing it. She agreed with a grateful nod, and Beregond asked her – over the din of the rattling wheels as they walked on – what victuals she was carrying around so early in the morning.


She put a finger to her mouth and grinned slyly, her bright blue eyes twinkling under her plain, cream-coloured headdress, decorated only with a small stitched garland of ivy leaves. “A highly secret family recipe. My sister told some of her colleagues in the healing stations that it would perk up even the most grievously ill or injured, so the head cook of the Houses of Healing, with whom I am trading recipes from time to time, asked me for this one. But since it is one I will not share, we compromised and I agreed to cook it myself and bring enough for the more adventurous patients.”


They laughed together and for the short stretch to the Houses of Healing Beregond tried to wheedle her secret out of her, grateful to her for not addressing the near-miss of an unpleasant encounter with the messenger. He was no more successful than the cook of the Houses of Healing had been, but at least he managed to obtain a promise from Almarian to prepare some of this wondrous dish for him and Bergil when next they visited The Ship and Bough.


A smile lingered on his lips after he had handed over the trolley when they parted ways again, and it did not leave his face all the way up the street and through the gloomy tunnel to the seventh gate. He did not register the reactions of the guards he encountered, and it was only when he passed the White Tree with his usual reverent bow that he noticed that his scars had finally stopped hurting.


A page was already waiting for him in front of the doors of the White Tower and quickly led him down the corridors to the Steward’s office, where he pointed to a long bench alongside the wall opposite the door and said, “Please wait here, Captain Beregond. Warden Húrin had some unexpected business with the Steward. Lord Faramir apologises for the delay.”


He did as requested, feeling a little odd at this still unfamiliar address, while the page knocked at the door, opened it upon a call from within, and announced Beregond’s arrival. When the page closed the door again, he turned to him once more and asked, “May I offer you some refreshments in the meantime, sir?”


Beregond declined with thanks and as the page departed, he settled himself for a longer wait.


It was quiet in the hallway and empty. Only a few tapestries hung on the walls here and there to absorb cold and sound, their rich colours faded by time, yet the scenes they depicted still recognisable.


His eyes were drawn to the picture of Steward Cirion sending out the six messengers bearing the desperate call for aid against the Balchoth to the Éothéod (2), but he kept getting distracted by the voices in the Steward’s office. While he could not distinguish words, he recognised Faramir’s calm voice, Húrin’s brisk tones and thought the third voice with the rolling cadences, which kept increasing in volume, might be Rohirric.


His suspicion proved correct when, shortly thereafter, the door was wrenched open and a long-limbed, broad-shouldered warrior stormed out, his long, white-blond braid jerking behind him with the force of his movement.


He halted for the blink of an eye at the sight of Beregond, gave an abrupt nod by way of greeting, and went his way without waiting for a response, leaving Beregond to follow him with his eyes and wonder what had caused this ferocity. He did not know the Rider by name, he only knew that he was one of Éomer King’s personal guards.


“See? That is exactly the reason for this... what – third? fourth?... complaint!” Beregond could hear Húrin’s words clearly now – evidently the Warden of the Keys had moved to close the door again and had halted beside it. “He has a volatile temper and is rather outrageously rude!” A pause, while Faramir said something low and presumably soothing, then: “To me, ‘blunt’ is something different, Faramir, even for someone from Rohan! His manners go far beyond ‘bluntness’ or even ‘discourtesy’... I really wonder what has possessed Éomer to leave him of all people behind as a liaison!”


The Steward laughed, and now Beregond was able to discern his words, as well. “If I took a guess, I would say that is exactly the reason why Éomer chose him as his liaison: Éothain is the head of his personal guard, and he needs to learn at least some modicum of diplomacy now that Éomer is king. I think he is also feeling miserable because he was left here and cannot do his duty of protecting Éomer personally – I gather he is fiercely devoted to him... But let us end this discussion: I do not want to keep the good Captain waiting any longer. And thank you for bringing the report from the shipyard about that dromund; my uncle will be ecstatic once he learns he is to receive the ship as a gift from Aragorn.” (3)


Both men burst into laughter, and then the door opened to let the tall figure of Lord Húrin step out with a stack of paper in his hands and a quill behind his right ear as was so often the case. He gave a friendly smile to Beregond, but did not linger to speak, his long legs swiftly carrying him away down the hallway in the direction of his own office, which was just around the corner.


Faramir had one hand on the door, and greeted Beregond with just as kindly a smile as the Warden of the Keys had, and waved him in with the other hand.


Beregond acceded with somewhat weak knees, and followed the Steward into his office


~*~*~*~



“Good morrow to you, Captain.” Faramir indicated the comfortable-looking chair on the other side of the immense oaken desk and took his own place behind it. “If you will excuse me for just one more moment, please, I have to bring these reports into some kind of order...”


Beregond sat as directed. “Of course, my lord. And a good morrow to you, as well.”


Beregond took a surreptitious look around the study while Faramir put the papers into neat stacks to one side of the desk, pausing now and then to take a closer look at one of them, adding quick notes in the margins, or his signature at the bottom.


The room looked markedly changed from what he recalled from the few instances he had been summoned here by Lord Denethor. It seemed larger and much lighter, which was in great part, but not exclusively, due to the fact that it was almost bare now, the desk one of the few remaining pieces of the dark, heavy furniture favoured by Steward Denethor. There were a few chests and baskets on the floor along the walls, as well as some objects still draped with protective cloth, doubtless new furnishings for the office. He wondered if the desk would go in the end, as well.


A brief glance at the new Prince of Ithilien revealed that Faramir was completely recovered from his wound and the fever. His pale face had gained some colour and finally lost the gaunt look of the sickbed. His eyes were clear and there seemed to be a new brightness in them, which Beregond suspected had as much to do with with a certain White Lady, as with Faramir’s complete convalescence. He was wearing a formal outfit, but had casually loosened the laces at his throat of both tunic and shirt, and rolled up his sleeves a short way.


Finally, Faramir put away the last of the documents, intertwined his fingers and put his hands on the desk, before he looked at Beregond.


“Captain, I thought today we might at least begin to discuss matters concerning the White Company – how it should be built, structured, and maintained, what its duties are going to be, and so forth. I would also like to hear your input concerning the future of Ithilien, not only as it pertains to the Company, but also in more general terms, if not today, then in future discussions, in particular as I am hoping some other people might join us then for at least part of the time.” He smiled a slight, mysterious smile, but continued without elaborating, “First of all, however: Do you have any other questions or difficulties? I know the King’s decision must have come as quite a surprise.”


Did he have any questions? Beregond inwardly shook his head. He had a lot of questions, and the Steward’s open and encouraging expression gave him the nerve to burst out with the one that had occupied his mind the most for the past few days: “My lord, I... I apologise if I... if I failed to understand correctly, and I assure you my question is by no means intended as an objection, merely as a request for clarification, primarily for the sake of my son, but... Am I truly to be exiled from Minas Tirith?”


Faramir stared at him with a blank expression, quite obviously stunned by the question. “But... Why do you think...?” His hand reached out and drew a parchment in front of him. Judging from the elaborate curlicues and the seals and ribbons attached to it, a very important document, which Beregond suspected might be the official copy of his sentence.


After swiftly scanning the lines – it was obvious he was already familiar with the contents – Faramir returned his gaze to him, penetrating but sympathetic. “Aragorn... King Elessar declared that ‘all penalty is remitted’, Captain! (4) I deem exile would constitute a penalty, however – would you not agree?”


Beregond was unable to speak and merely nodded, dazed.


Faramir’s eyes narrowed and he asked, “Just how long have you been living under the assumption you were going to be exiled? No, let me guess – the full four days now since the hearing... But – I do not understand... Have you not received your copy of the decree?”


A slow shake of the head was his answer this time, and Faramir closed his eyes and rubbed the spot between his eyebrows with his thumb and middle finger, sighing.


When he opened them again, he said, “I do apologise, Captain Beregond! I will enquire into this matter – and I will find out where the error is to be found, rest assured!” He glanced once more at the document and said in a musing tone, “If all you had to go by was your recollection of the King’s words as he spoke them to you when you were no doubt under much strain and expecting the worst, it is no wonder the significant line ‘all penalty is remitted’ might have escaped your notice, in particular considering the ominous words which came directly before them, am I correct?”


“Yes, my lord.” Beregond rubbed his sweating hands on his thighs, still feeling rather tongue-tied and light-headed. In an effort not to appear simple-minded, as well, he said, “I am sure there was no malice behind the missing document, my lord, merely a clerical error.”


“You are most likely correct, Captain, but still I need to get to the root of this: I will also have to check if yours was the only document that went missing. You have the right to have this certificate, and I will ensure you will receive it, however belated.”


He stopped and, with a guarded and at the same time sympathetic expression, gazed searchingly into Beregond’s eyes, while reaching blindly for another sheaf of papers with one hand, and sliding it in front of him.


“I do, however, have other papers here that concern you. Captain Eradan brought your discharge papers.” He paused, cleared his throat, then resumed in a tone kept carefully matter-of-fact. “You will have to sign them and deliver one copy to him in person. I... I must also ask you to hand in your uniforms to the quartermaster of the Third Company, as well as any pieces of arms or armour not your own.” He was quick to add, “You will, of course, be issued replacements, appropriate to your new posting and rank.”


Once again, Beregond was at a loss for words, and managed only a short nod. With the reality of the discharge papers lying in front of him, seeming to mock him with their neat black lines on crisp white paper, and the prospect of having to give up every article that linked him to his company, his comrades and the career he had pursued diligently over so many years, the finality of the end of this part of his life began to sink in at long last. In comparison to the exile he had been dreading, this might perhaps not be a penalty – in particular considering that a new, honourable task was already awaiting him – but it felt like a penalty, at least at this moment.


~*~*~*~



Faramir had fallen silent, giving him some moments to himself to absorb it all. After a while, he asked calmly, “May I offer you some refreshments, Captain, before we proceed?”


Beregond took a deep breath, but before any words left him, there was a knock on the door.


The Steward appeared somewhat annoyed at the interruption, but nevertheless called his permission to enter.


A different page entered the office and made a neat little bow. “My lord, Lord Angbor has arrived back from Lamedon; he is currently in council with the King and enquires whether he might invite you to dine with him at his residence tonight, at a time of your convenience.”


Faramir’s eyes lit up. “Please tell him I happily accept the invitation, and I will come by...” he trailed of, mentally riffling through a list of his duties, it seemed, then resumed, “at the twelfth hour.“


The page ducked his head in acknowledgement and made to dash off, but Faramir halted him with a gesture, his eyes on Beregond, questioning.


Beregond thought a moment, then asked for some cider, whereupon Faramir told the page to bring a jug of cider for the captain, a bottle of light white wine for himself and, grinning suddenly as if the wine had reminded him of something, added, “You may also tell Lord Angbor I expect to be served the finest vintage from his wine cellar – he will know the reason!”


The page returned the grin, quite against the rules of correct behaviour for a page, and departed for his various errands.


Faramir chuckled under his breath, before graciously explaining, “A reminder of a rather inglorious episode of our youth... It involved two adventurous but foolish lads, a dare, and the darkest, dustiest, cob-webbiest corner of the wine-cellar...”


Beregond had to smile himself, trying hard to wrap his mind around the image of a young Faramir sneaking into the wine-cellars with a friend.


While they were waiting, the Steward stood and went to open one of the large clerestory windows that lined one side of the corner office. He stayed there for a moment, letting a stray breeze from above ruffle his raven-dark hair and breathe in the green scent finding its way from the private garden the small, regular windows on the perpendicular wall were directed at. Cheerful laughter was heard, and Faramir turned smiling to Beregond.


“The Pheriannath have recently taken to occupying this secluded spot whenever they manage to escape the attention of their numerous admirers. It seems Peregrin and Meriadoc have used their time spent in Minas Tirith on their own well to track down the loveliest corners of the city, and the ones where they are least likely to be disturbed.”


A knock on the door had him call, “Enter!”, and the page arrived bearing the requested beverages on a tray. He laid out everything on the oaken desk, careful of the numerous stacks of papers, and poured for each of the two men.


He then addressed Faramir, who had just resumed his seat. “My lord, Lord Angbor sends his regards and says he is looking forward to tonight’s dinner.” The boy could not suppress a grin as he added, “He also bade me to pass on his promise that he will be certain to fulfil his obligations at long last, but that he would hope you will be satisfied with a less uncomfortable venue – he assures you that his salon is a perfectly adequate location in which to enjoy a bottle of wine or two.”


There was no doubt in Beregond’s mind that the Lord of Lamedon had regaled the page with a full account of his and Faramir’s exploit; and Faramir’s comically rueful smile as he captured Beregond’s eyes after shooing away the page with a mock-growl made it clear that the Steward was equally aware of it.


Alone once more, both men took up their drinking vessels, but while Faramir sipped at his chased-bronze goblet appreciatively, Beregond merely turned his beautifully-crafted glass around and around for long moments.


Finally, he put it down carefully. “My lord,” he began tentatively, “you spoke of the King’s decision as having been a surprise. I... I wonder if it had been one to you as well. I do not know what might have moved him to appoint me as captain of your guard, but you must certainly know that I do not have any command experience. And perhaps... Perhaps you would feel more comfortable with a man who is better known to you.” He paused, took a deep breath, anxiously watching Faramir who was regarding him patiently, clearly prepared to listen to anything he might say. He started again, but had to clear his throat before he was able to continue. “A man you know – a man you can be certain will be... faithful... in following your orders... I only beg you not to judge me by how I served Lord Denethor at the last. It was certainly not my intent to be disloyal to him, and I would never be disloyal to you, my lord. My actions were no mark of any disregard of Lord Denethor’s rule. I would never presume to make myself judge of the decisions of my superiors. It was merely...”


“Captain Beregond...!”


“...I had to... I just could not...” His speech had become faster and faster towards the end, stuttering and stumbling over the words, too caught up in the flood to notice Faramir’s interruption.


Beregond, stop, please!” Faramir set his goblet down and raised both hands to call a halt to his outburst, and this time succeeded.


Beregond covered his mouth with one slightly trembling hand and stared anxiously over it at the Steward.


Faramir lowered his hands, to make a soothing motion with them. “Captain, please – I assure you, such thoughts never did and never would cross my mind!” He had to clear his own throat, discomfiture mingled with deep sorrow flashing over his face. “In fact, I feel remiss as I have never even thanked you for saving my life and risking so much, even your own life, in the process. Thank you, Captain Beregond!” He bowed his head towards Beregond before reaching over with his right hand and taking Beregond’s in a firm grip when he instinctively accepted it.


Beregond felt his neck and cheeks heat in a flush of embarrassment. “Please, my lord, I... You do not need to...” Faramir’s increased the pressure of his hold until Beregond nodded in acquiescence and acceptance of the gratitude, and only then loosened his clasp entirely and put his intertwined fingers once more on the desk in front of him.


They shared an awkward smile, and then both turned to their drink, as if to a refuge.


When both vessels were put down once more, emptied, Faramir said, turning his clear grey eyes on Beregond with an earnest expression, “Captain, you will perhaps understand why I did not speak about this before your departure for the Black Gate. Once I... Once I knew what had happened, you were no longer within reach. When the King turned to me for counsel in your affair, I presented the facts that I knew of the incident, but naturally recused myself from the further proceedings due to my... obvious personal interest in the matter. Thus I did not speak further about this with King Elessar, but I also felt I should refrain from communicating with you until a decision had been reached.”


“I understand, my Lord.”


“I am glad that you do, Captain! Once the King, together with the few people he had consulted with, had reached his decision, he felt free to turn to me again for my opinion on the matter. He told me of his decision to remit all penalty in your case, but thought some form of concession might be in order, such as a formal discharge from the Guard of the City. At this point in time, I already knew I was to receive the incredible gift of my new princedom, and I was pondering about the composition of my principal staff. You are right that I considered appointing a man familiar to me as the head of my guard – you are acquainted with Captain Mablung? But the King and I are in agreement about keeping the Rangers as an independent force in Ithilien, and Mablung is simply too valuable to lose as my successor as Captain of the Rangers... In any case, when King Elessar showed concern about the need for some sort of gesture in your case, I knew I had found my Captain. It was I who suggested this ‘compromise’, of discharging you from the Guards of the Citadel, and re-assigning you to me in Ithilien.”


Faramir reached for the wine and re-filled his goblet. After taking a sip to wet his throat, he continued, an intense look in his eyes as he caught and held Beregond’s own, which had opened wide in surprise at this last revelation. “Captain, I can well imagine that the King’s decision to forego the usual punishment in your case is not welcomed everywhere.” His eyes narrowed as Beregond could not prevent a new flush from burning his face. “Ah, so you have already noticed... This was one more reason why the King suggested that you be released from duty until we would have spoken today, and Captain Eradan concurred. The Captain assured me that while he may be personally glad of how things fell out for you, and that he is sorry to lose you, he is concerned that your staying in the company might cause dissension and disciplinary problems among his men and among the other guards of the city.”


Beregond nodded, very relieved to hear that Captain Eradan bore him no personal ill will.


“Your removal from the Guard of the City could therefore be effective against voices who think there should be some form of punishment.”


Faramir sipped at the goblet once more, and Beregond re-filled his own glass and immediately downed half of it.


“Things being as they are,” the Steward continued with an ironic smile, “a transfer to Ithilien could actually be regarded as an exile in truth. There are hardly any accommodations, everything will have to be built or re-built from scratch, in particular what will be the chief settlement in Emyn Arnen and the headquarters of the White Company. We will also have to address the infrastructure and buildings in some of the old villages. It will be hard work – and dangerous work. We cannot afford the illusion that, with the Dark Lord’s fall, every evil in the world has also vanished. The Rangers keep encountering Orcs and other enemies who are not all content to flee from the place of their defeat. The land itself, I am sorry to say, has not escaped unscathed: there are poisoned streams; defiled trees and meadows; traps; weapons and other dangers lying around, buried or half-buried, which might hurt the unwary. And for this ‘pioneer work’, if I may call it thus, I need people who are diligent and thorough, who are dependable and prepared for hard work, who can cooperate well with people of all kinds, and who can keep their heads in critical situations or emergencies. These are all criteria that fit with what I knew of you from my own few observations, confirmed by what your your superiors or your comrades have reported to me. As for the fact that you do not have command experience: I am convinced that you have the best of qualities and prerequisites to quickly acquire the necessary knowledge. I am, of course, fully prepared to help you in your new task, and to also bring you in contact with people who will do the same.”


Faramir smiled encouragingly at Beregond, who blushed once more, this time at hearing that Faramir and others thought so highly of him.


Both men emptied their drinking vessels a second time, before Faramir resumed, in a very serious mien and tone, “But in particular, Captain Beregond, do I need men who can use their own heads and their own judgement when necessary, even in the face of serious or life-threatening risks to themselves. No matter what the risk. Your actions proved that you are such a man, and eminently suited for the task of Captain of my guard in Ithilien. When I suggested this to the King, he immediately agreed.”


Faramir had apparently finished, and after a few moments, Beregond in a fumbling way tried to express his gratitude at Faramir’s good opinion of him, and his relief that it had been Faramir’s very own idea to appoint Beregond as head of his guard, not a decision by the King he had merely dutifully accepted.


~*~*~*~



Beregond felt now comfortable enough to reveal to the Steward, albeit in an uncertain, groping way, his own lingering, still unresolved feelings regarding his killing of the three men.


Haltingly, he said, “My lord, I thank you very much for relieving so much of the anxieties about my future that had been weighing on my mind. However, I am also greatly concerned about the future of the three families that are mourning their kin because of me. I know that nothing I could do would in any way take away the loss they suffered because of my actions.” He had to clear his throat to regain control of his voice, but continued resolutely, “Nevertheless, I feel they are owed something from me, even if it can only be a sincere expression of my regret and remorse. And... I am not a wealthy man, but however meagre and inadequate a material offering can be when lives have been lost, if such small funds as I could contribute might help them in any way...? I am especially concerned about the family of the slain porter, Avadoron, as I have learned that beside his own family, he was also the supporter of his widowed sister and her small son.”


Faramir listened patiently, but at this last suggestion he tipped his head from side to side in a doubtful way. “Captain, of course I can understand your wish, and it truly does you credit,” he said eventually. “But I strongly advise you against taking such a step. The families are having a difficult time right now, not merely due to their loss: For similar reasons as you, the actions of their kinsmen are the subject of much discussion in the city, and from what has been reported to me, several of them already had to endure some unpleasant and upsetting encounters. I know that King Elessar has spoken with them and has offered comfort and help should they need it – and should they accept it. I have long debated myself whether to send my condolences – I do not feel free from responsibility for my part in the death of the three men, myself.” He bowed his head a moment in sorrow and regret.


Beregond wanted to say something, to assure Faramir that he was by no means culpable for what had happened in Rath Dínen, but he, sensing his intentions, stopped him with a wave of his hand. “Let us not go further into this, Captain Beregond. Let me just say that in the end I decided to write letters to the families, after all, as I felt I owed this to them personally, at the very least, but also in my official capacity. Would you be content with writing a short note I might enclose in my own missives?”


Recognising the wisdom in Faramir’s proposal, Beregond agreed to this course of minimal action for the time being, albeit reluctantly and with regret.


The Steward came back to his reasons for choosing Beregond, and revealed to him that a further reason had been Pippin talking about Beregond’s curiosity and openness towards new people and new experiences. Faramir also counted it an asset that Beregond’s ancestors had once dwelt in Ithilien. It was important to him, he stated, that not merely soldiers inhabit his new princedom: he wanted to make it once more a place for families to settle – and what better start than to choose men who had families of their own, but no ties to sunder by starting a new life in Ithilien?


“But for the time being, of course, I need you here in Minas Tirith, readily available for consultations,” Faramir concluded. “You must, however, expect to take frequent trips to various sites in Ithilien, sometimes lasting for several days or even longer. Do you have someone who can watch over your son – Bergil is his name, is it not? – during those times?”


Beregond assured Faramir that yes, indeed, he had friends here in the city, who would be prepared to mind Bergil, or even his father or sister in Lossarnach, in case of longer absences.


Then the men finally started discussing the White Company itself, following Faramir’s suggestions proposed at the start of their meeting. Faramir also summoned a clerk now in order to take notes in addition to those the two men were scribbling down for themselves. It was intense, concentrated work, highly instructive work – and thirsty work, besides, as Beregond found when their drinks had run out without him even noticing. The Steward rang for a servant to replenish them.


They touched on the question in how far the forces of the White Company and the Rangers of Ithilien should coordinate their duties and responsibilities and how far each should have their distinct area. This subject matter was one of several which Faramir proposed to fine-tune in further conferences, and with Captain Mablung, among others. Although the name ‘Balanoth son of Halladar’ was not mentioned, Beregond had the niggling suspicion that this was another of the advisors Faramir had in mind. He was very much looking forward to a meeting, curious if he might find out what could have prompted such a formidable man to leave his self-imposed exile and apparently change his mind about working in some capacity for Gondor’s government ever again.


They broke up the meeting shortly before noon, just in time for lunch. Faramir was to join the King who had invited the delegations of Erebor, Dale and Esgaroth to take lunch with him, and Beregond was looking forward to spending the rest of the day with Bergil, and Diegan and his family, before it was time for the visit with Iorlas. Although Iorlas had not been stationed among Faramir’s direct command, the former Captain recalled him as Beregond’s brother-in-law and bade him send his regards and his wish for a speedy recovery to one of his Rangers, and declared his intention of looking in on him on one of his next visits to the Houses of Healing. He was in favour of Beregond’s suggestion of Iorlas joining the White Company, although he wanted to wait until he had spoken with him and his commanding officer himself, and until the healers had pronounced him once more fit for duty and released him for good.


They agreed to meet again in two days’ time, at the same hour. Beregond saluted formally, and when Faramir reached out, smiling, he clasped his arm in a firm grip. Finally, he picked up his discharge papers, holding them gingerly as if he was touching something distasteful – which he was, as far as he was concerned –, nodded to the clerk who returned his greeting with a friendly smile, and left the office, down the hallways and finally out of the White Tower.


However, in front of the great doors, he stopped abruptly as if struck, and took a deep breath. And another one. He glanced around, and chose a path that led between two smaller buildings housing different branches of Gondor’s administration.


Around a few corners, the path led to a secluded place at the parapet of the Citadel. Once there, it seemed as if all strength left his legs, and he leaned heavily against the foot of the wall on his right side, his head bowed. On a very remote and detached level of his mind he became aware of the fact that his whole body was shaking.


After long minutes of simply trembling and shaking his head at himself, he slowly calmed down and concentrated on breathing steadily. When he had regained his composure completely, he straightened up, turned around and climbed the battlements, to look out upon the Pelennor Fields, to see the people looking like busy ants from so high up. He let his gaze roam further afield, and at the sight of the Ephel Dúath reflecting the sun under a clear sky, a smile spread over his face: It seemed to him a symbol of everything that had changed – the pall of his doubt had been wiped away just as the Shadow had been diffused, and a bright new future was awaiting him, secure in the knowledge that he possessed the appreciation and trust of his prince.

Throwing his head back, he let out an exhilarated laugh.


Then he set out to join his son and friends.

~~~

Author’s Notes:


(1) RotK, The Pyre of Denethor
(2) This scene is described in UT, Part Three II (ii), The Ride of Eorl
(3) This refers to my drabble Transformation.
(4) RotK, The Steward and the King

My thanks to my beta readers Gwídhiel and Lady Masterblott.


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