Inspired by "Forfeit" written by Lady Branwyn, a story nominated for a MEFA this year. Beta by RiverOtter.
“And how long have they determined he has left?” the King asked as he walked at the side of his friend and Steward down into the town that had grown about the slopes of Emyn Arnen.
Faramir shrugged his shoulders, and beyond him Elboron mirrored his father’s gesture. “They will not hazard a guess, my Lord Elessar,” he explained. “All that is known for certain is that it will not be long.”
Aragorn nodded his head thoughtfully, his expression solemn and compassionate. One of the personal guards that had accompanied them came out of a lane leading toward the forested area that lay between the great hill of stone and the South Road. “All is well, my lords,” he said “They await your arrival.”
Together the King, the Prince of Ithilien and his heir walked the half-mile to the entrance to the estate granted to the family of Beregond, Captain of the White Company. Bergil’s wife Esselien met them at the door to the captain’s home, smaller than some of the great houses in Minas Tirith, perhaps, but certainly comfortable and proud enough for the Man’s family. “My lords,” she said, inclining her head respectfully, “he is sitting out in the garden. If I might lead you....”
She led them through the house to the double doors leading out from the dining room. There, amidst the rock roses and twining ivy they found Beregond of the Guard, sitting upon the garden bench, leaning forward with his forearms crossed and supported by the head of his cane, his son Bergil, whose own temples were now silvered, sitting beside his father, and grandson Bergemon sitting on a light stool opposite them, his black and silver tabard shining in the sunlight of a warm autumn day. “And then young Borogil sprang out from behind the cherry trees it is said Lord Denethor had planted for our Prince’s mother, pretending to be a dog,” Bergemon was saying as they approached. “It took the envoy from Khand quite by surprise, to find himself apparently being attacked by a small child who seemed taken by a fit of madness. That the King himself reached down and swooped up the child and bade him mind his manners startled him even more, I think! His older brother Hirlion was red with embarrassment.” The three Men were all shaking with laughter by the time King and Princes came even with them.
“That I would have loved to see--our Lord Húrin’s younger grandson pretending to be a hound--and before the envoy from Khand!” Beregond smiled, although it could be seen there was a decided level of pain behind his good humor. “Ah how our Lord King must delight to have small children playing in the gardens of the Citadel once again. Is that not true, my Lord Elessar?” he asked, looking up at the newcomers.
“Indeed. And you, my beloved Captain--how is it with you?”
Beregond shrugged. “As well, I suppose,” he said, “as it can be for one who knows his time approaches all too soon. I am honored you would come all this way to visit me.”
The King raised one hand. “Nonsense--you know I would not stay away once we heard the news. Too dear to our hearts have you become. Would you permit me to examine you?”
After some time the King straightened, having listened to the soldier’s chest and back, having felt his pulse and laid his hands over his belly, examined eyes and tongue and nails. He listened patiently to the descriptions of the symptoms noted and what had been said by the local healers. At last Beregond, Bergil, and Esselien had related all they knew.
Beregond’s expression was calm. “I have no fear for my family,” he said quietly. “You and our beloved Prince Faramir and now Elboron as well have ever done well by us. I have but one regret--that I have never seen the White Tree again blossoming within the Courts of the King.”
The Lord Aragorn Elessar searched the eyes of the old soldier, knowing the faithfulness of his heart. At last he said softly, “That can be remedied.”
He came again near sunset, carrying what appeared to be a casket of lebethron. He came into the great room of the house where Beregond sat before the fire of sweet cherry wood, his family about him, and asked that Bergemon set a table before his grandsire. As that was being done he lifted off the lid of the casket and gently pulled out of it a bag of worn yet still rich black velvet tied with silver cord. As he unfastened the ties he said quietly, “You are about to see one of the ancient heirlooms of our house, my friends. I ask that you not gossip of this with others.”
At their nods, he returned his attention to the cord, and having it at last loosened he lifted it away, allowing the bag to fall free of its contents. Gently he reached into the box and brought out a great ring of mithril, which he set upon the table in front of the former Captain of the White Company. Finally he lifted the palantir of Orthanc and set it upon the ring, carefully twisting it until it was in the proper orientation. He then knelt beside Beregond’s chair and pressed against it, setting his hands on each side of the stone, which swiftly began to glow. “Can you see, my friend?” he asked after a moment.
Beregond’s eyes were filled with wonder and delight. “See? Oh, yes--I can see! The Citadel--it is even more beautiful than I remember! And the Tree! Oh, how wonderful! And is that the Lady Melian beside her brother?” He leaned forward. “Oh, yes,” he whispered, his expression proud.
The King showed him the whole of the city, now cleansed of wounds, its gardens filled with trees going gold with the autumn’s advance, late roses and chrysanthemums glowing like small fires, doves celebrating the last of the sunset by wheeling about the Tower of Ecthelion, their wings catching the golden light. And he showed him the Silent Street, the House of Stewards restored, the place where the old White Tree lay in honor. He then showed the House of the Guards of the Citadel. “I will ask this of you, my friend,” King Elessar said as Beregond examined the scene with an avidity that surprised even him, “if you would wish to lie there after death? Your honor and courage and the love all bear for you have earned you that right.”
Beregond shifted his gaze from the Seeing Stone to the King’s face, searching his eyes, his own face alight with a hope long thought laid to rest. “Then--then I shall be allowed at the last to reenter Minas Tirith once more?” he whispered.
The King smiled, laying the hand bearing his seal upon that of the soldier. “Even the Noldor under the Doom spake by the Lord of Mandos himself have found that they have been allowed to return to Aman,” he assured him gently. “How long it might be before they are housed anew in bodies restored no one can say, perhaps. And even the Lady Galadriel has been allowed to return to the land of her birth, having fulfilled her purpose here in the Hither Lands. Are we less than the Valar in forgiveness for one whose trespass was done in response to love and fealty rather than a baser motive? Oh, yes, child, the gates of the city shall open to receive you once more, if this is what you desire.”
A few days later the King’s party returned across the Pelennor from beyond the city of Osgiliath. Their King Elessar rode beside a low wagon within the box of which could be seen from the walls Captain Bergil sitting, his father’s head pillowed in his lap. On the other side of the wagon rode Prince Faramir, his son and others of their house riding before them. As they approached the city Lord Elboron urged his horse forward, coming to the gates and dropping down to speak with the Guardsmen there. The Captain could be seen straightening, and quickly he called out behind him in gladness. By the time the wagon approached six Men had gathered, and a youth was on his way up through the city to the Sixth Circle to alert those in the Houses of Healing. As the wagon pulled to a halt the King and Prince Faramir had dismounted and were already reaching to help ease out the padded litter on which lay Beregond, former Captain of the White Company and before that Guard of the Citadel, from the bed of the vehicle, and Captain Bergil was being helped to follow his father. The King signaled those summoned for the duty to come forward, and gladly they took up the litter.
Word was already running through the White City as they at last entered through the renewed gates, and Beregond was able to see that inside as well as outside the image of Elendil the Tall again watched over all who came and went from Minas Tirith. “It’s Captain Beregond!” he heard being called out, and folk came out to watch the proud procession. Soon women, children, and even some of the Men of the city were pressing forward to offer him bright blooms and sprays of orange and red and golden leaves. “Welcome home!” could be heard called from all sides. In each of the levels of the city it was much the same, and many pressed forward to see Captain Beregond brought home once more.
He lingered within the Houses for a full month, but the night of the eve of November he asked to be carried up to the Court of Gathering.
Prince Eldarion stood waiting for them, and the Princesses Melian and Idril held warmed blankets to lay over him. Beregond examined the memorial to the four Hobbits with pride. “What we have all owed to them,” he whispered before indicating he wished to be brought beneath the White Tree. It was losing its leaves, but was no less lovely for that. “And this,” he breathed softly, “is what we fought to see renewed. Yes, renewed indeed!”
They set his cot beneath the Tree, and those who loved him gathered around him. He held the hands of his son and his son’s wife, and smiled up gladly at the stars seen through the Tree’s branches. At one point he reached out to gently touch the bole of the tree, and went still with added wonder. “We aren’t the only ones,” he said, looking to the King, “to be beneath a White Tree tonight.” His hand gripped the bark more firmly than he’d held anything for days. His eyes closed, and he was smiling. “No,” he whispered, “not the only ones.”
At last he seemed to slip into a doze, and then came the time when the last breath was not followed by another, and they knew he was gone.
Three days his body lay in state upon the same catafalque on which had lain the body of Théoden King of Rohan, and a silver cloth of honor was laid across him up to his breast. Only when the full complement of the Guard and the White Company was gathered was the bier at last raised, and they carried Captain Beregond to his last rest in the tomb set aside for the Guards. He was laid upon the table prepared for him, and at last his son removed the pall and straightened his father’s white and silver dress mantle, opening it to show that beneath it he wore the black and silver of Gondor rather than the silver and white of Ithilien. “It was his wish,” Bergil said gently. “It was always his greatest pride that he had once been found worthy to be made a Guard of the Citadel.”