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11
A Matter of Duty

Written for the LOTR Community "Two Sides" challenge. For Garnet Took for her birthday. Beta by RiverOtter.


~~~

A Matter of Duty


Gilmaros, Captain of the Guard of the Citadel, looked at the two men brought before him, his eyes bright with concern. Halargil had served more than a score of years as one of Lord Denethor’s personal guards, while Beregond had ever been faithful as a member of the Third Company.

Halargil was a seasoned warrior, having served under their Lord Steward Denethor during his days as the Captain-General of the forces of Gondor and Commander of the garrison in Osgiliath. He and his wife had a house near the bottom of the ramp from the level of the Citadel to the Sixth Circle, on the near end of Isil Lane. He was due to retire soon, and had planned to perhaps purchase a farm upon the Pelennor where he might raise poultry. He and his wife had ever kept a small coop behind their house, and ever had fresh eggs to share with others.

Beregond was but in his late thirties, a widower whose son stayed in the home of his brother Iorlas under the care of Iorlas’s wife, when the boy was not up in the Sixth Circle helping to clean the barracks or assisting in the buttery for his father’s company. Indeed, it was known that in spite of his low birth Bergil was being considered for a position as a page within the Citadel; there was no question that he intended to join the Guard of the Citadel himself when he came of an age to do so.

And now both Men were before him, both with faces grey with shock at what they had done. Beregond stood tall and still, his eyes wary and yet with still a hint of challenge to them. If what Gilmaros had been told was true, there was a good chance that he would be forced to kneel to the headsman’s sword all too soon. Leaving one’s post without permission from either the Steward or himself was, after all, a capital offense.

As for Halargil….

The older Guardsman was shaking, and his forehead heavily beaded with sweat. Suddenly concerned that Halargil might collapse, Gilmaros signaled to his aide to bring a chair that the man might sit. Fortunately it arrived in good time, and instead of falling to the ground, Halargil managed to sit down heavily, his lip trembling as he wiped a shaking hand across his face.

“Tell me, Halargil—what is it that happened while you were on watch over our Lord Steward Denethor?”

A muscle in Halargil’s right cheek was twitching irregularly as he sought for words. “I was outside the chamber where Lord Denethor sat by the cot on which his son lay. Lord Denethor—he was—he was not there when I—when I came on duty. They tell me he had been in the topmost chamber of the Tower of Ecthelion, wrestling with the Enemy in thought. I had been outside the hall for a good hour or better when—when he returned. He was pale, his eyes deep-sunk beneath his brows. He did not appear to notice as I opened the door to allow him to enter the room where his son lay, and he left the door open after him. He—he sat—heavily—by the cot, taking his son’s hand in his own.

“The night was waning when he stooped over Lord Faramir, feeling his face. He stated that his son was dying, and that—that it was time to take him to the Silent Street. He sent his body servants out to bring more blankets and—and torches.”

Through all this time he had not looked at Gilmaros more than fleetingly, his attention apparently fixed on the memory of what had happened. Now at last he looked into the Captain’s eyes, and he reached out his hand to grasp desperately at that of Gilmaros. “You must understand—he said that Faramir was dying, and we were certain he was right—everyone except for the Pherian Guardsman, young Peregrin son of Paladin. I do not believe that Peregrin understood what the Steward purposed to do. The Lord Steward indicated that Artamir and I were to each take a torch, and that Faramir’s personal guards were to take two more and follow behind.

“He had the servants lay Faramir upon the embalmer’s table, and himself beside his son. Then he sent us to fetch wood and oil, and Artamir alone remained to guard the two of them. Guardsman Peregrin had followed after, and was aghast that our lord would think to burn himself and his son, and he begged us to go slowly, and to remember that Faramir was yet alive. When I demanded to know who was Lord of the city, he told me----” He swallowed heavily; now his eyes were repeatedly pulling to the right, even as had been the muscle in his cheek. At last he resumed, “He told me that our Master had clearly gone mad, and so if anyone was now in charge of the city it must be Mithrandir, and that he was gone to fetch the Wizard. So saying, he ran off, and far swifter than I had ever thought to see one as small as he to run.

“I swear—I swear, the same madness that had taken our Lord Denethor had taken us as well. We went out of the Silent Street and back up to the level of the Citadel, but found that the stores of oil had been depleted—that earlier in the week supplies had been sent to each of the guesthouses on the Sixth Circle that no house should be without oil there. We had to come back down to the Sixth Circle and to the storehouses beyond the Guards’ barracks to find either wood or oil in sufficient quantities to meet Lord Denethor’s requirements. It took several trips before we had enough wood to please him, and then he sent us to fetch more oil.

“We returned to find—this one----” He shot a poisonous look at Beregond. “This one had come to the gate of the Silent Street and demanded that the porter should open the way. But the porter would not do so, saying that he could not do so other than to those he knew to be serving personally upon Lord Denethor without the Lord Steward’s direct permission. This one had not been able to convince the porter, and in the end he’d slain him and taken his keys to open the gate. Now he stood before the door and sought to deny us entry to the House of the Stewards. Artamir came out and demanded that he return to his proper duty on the gate to the Sixth Circle and let the Steward be. But he would not! Artamir drew his sword and threatened him, and in the end this one raised his own weapon anew to protect himself!”

Halargil’s voice had become a harsh whisper. “He slew Artamir! He slew one of the servants as well! And when our lord would have come out, he held the door closed with one hand and threatened us with the other! We could hear Lord Denethor calling out for him to give way, hear him seeking to throw open the door, hear him beating upon the wood—but this one would not allow him to come forth—the Lord Steward! He denied the Lord Steward himself! How dare he?”

Beregond licked his lips, and stepped forward to lean with his hands braced against the desk. “I could not,” he whispered, his face bloodless. “I could not allow them to enter in with more oil—when I got there already the smell of it was strong within the chamber! The servant who held the torch within the House of the Stewards came out to remonstrate with me, and I managed to drive him down the steps, and pulled the door closed. Then Artamir came forth, pulled the door from my hands, and I had no choice but to defend myself! I had no choice! And I could hear the groans of Lord Faramir—there was no question but that he was yet alive! Am I to allow them to slay a wounded man out of hand on the word of one clearly taken by madness? Who would be Lord of Gondor should, in his own madness, Lord Denethor manage to slay himself and his son? Already is our land bereft of the proper heir to the Steward, Lord Boromir having died upon the northern borders! Are we to lose Lord Faramir also, and before his time?”

“It is not yours to question the orders of the Ruling Steward of Gondor!” hissed Halargil.

“It is my responsibility, as a Guard of the Citadel, to protect the ruler of Gondor and his heirs from all harm!” insisted Beregond. “I could not protect the Steward from his own madness, but I could and did protect his remaining heir!”

“He was dying!”

“We do not know that—he was yet alive, and where there is life there is yet hope!”

“And what hope have we, with the Enemy at the gate, and in such numbers?”

“But the Enemy is no longer at the gate, or have you failed to notice that?” demanded Beregond.

Halargil went still, and his pale face went even greyer, his lips nearly blue, his eyes caught by those of Beregond. “What do you mean?”

“The battle still rages, but no longer is the Enemy at the Gates to the City. For even as we bore Faramir from the Silent Street we could hear the horns of the Rohirrim as they bore down upon the foe! And Berestor came but a short time ago to tell the Captain here that the black ships seen upon the river carry not more enemies but instead men from the south, from the vale of the Morthond and from Dol Amroth and Pelargir! Angbor has come with reinforcements—and others! Strangers dressed in grey and green as if they were themselves Rangers of the borderlands, who fight from horseback with unsurpassed skill! Hope returned to Gondor with the rising of the Sun, and even now are the veils of Mordor being wrought asunder by a south wind I am certain the Nameless One never intended to blow this day!”

The two men now looked at one another, Halargil’s eyes frantically searching those of the younger Guardsman, trying to assure himself that his words were a lie.

“He speaks truly,” Gilmaros said heavily, and Halargil turned to face him, his eyes still wide with shock, and the tic even more pronounced. “The emblems of Elendil the Tall were unfurled upon the deck of the largest ship, and one bearing what must be the Elendilmir led those who came off of it, riding a great brown war horse, his standard bearer at his side. It appears that the Heir to Isildur has come to raise the siege of Minas Tirith, even as of old Eärnur went to Arnor to succor the army of Arvedui against the assault by the Witch-king of Angmar. The day grows late now, and the Enemy’s forces are in retreat—those who are not already dead.”

Halargil’s mouth moved wordlessly for some moments. At last Beregond said, “We have not been defeated, Halargil. And had our Lord Steward’s will been followed, Gondor would be even now without a proper Lord.”

“But we must obey the orders of the Steward!” whispered Halargil, collapsing forward upon the surface of the desk, the side of his face pressed heavily against the wood.

“Indeed, that is our vow,” returned Beregond. “But what of those times when doing so endangers the realm? Yea, our fealty is to the Steward—but is it not equally to the entire land of Gondor?”

“What happened within the tomb of the Stewards?” asked Gilmaros at length. “How came it that Lord Denethor destroyed himself?”

Halargil rolled his head wordlessly against the desk, and with a sigh Beregond explained, “It was at the coming of Mithrandir with Guardsman Peregrin before him. He demanded that we stay this madness, at which time I let go the door to the tomb, and Lord Denethor came forth, his own sword unsheathed, intent on slaying me where I stood. And I would have allowed it, had the Wizard not intervened and forced the Steward back into the chamber, following him closely. The rest of us came after, and we could hear Faramir calling out in his fever, calling for his father. Denethor forgot all else and dropped his sword upon the floor, hurrying to the table where already oil had been poured over the wood, reaching out to touch his son’s forehead.

“But Mithrandir took up Lord Faramir’s body and brought it out of the tomb and set it again upon the bed that lay before the doors, bidding Lord Denethor not to deny his son aid when he was not yet dead and indeed might not die after all. He insisted that Denethor return to the Citadel and lead the defense of the White City, and once more did Faramir thrash about and call for his father. Only Denethor grew distant and grim, and swore that although the Wizard denied him his son, he could not deny his right to rule his own end. And he brought out—I am not certain what it was he held, but must guess that it was the Seeing Stone of which legends speak. He held it up and insisted it showed a dark threat already approaching the city that could not be denied, and would not listen when Mithrandir sought to speak out against whatever it was he had seen within. Instead he demanded obedience from us, and that one give him a torch!”

“And whose hand gave him that torch?” demanded Gilmaros.

Beregond’s eyes squeezed closed in grief, and he would not speak. And so it was that the dead voice of Halargil answered the Captain’s question: “It was from my hand he took it. I pressed forward, and he took the torch from me.”

Gilmaros stood and turned away from both of them. His aide stood behind him, his face filled with grief and horror. “What will you do?” the aide asked him.

“What can I do?” Gilmaros returned. “I could order Beregond slain outright. The law is clear—he left his post without order or permission. He spilled blood in the Hallows, killing the porter, a fellow Guard of the Citadel, and one of Lord Denethor’s own body servants. But in doing so he may well have allowed our land to continue in proper order, for Lord Faramir is yet alive, if barely, and I must suppose that until he draws his last breath he is now the Ruling Steward of Gondor. What disorder might have befallen our nation had Lord Denethor been allowed to do as he intended in slaying not only himself but his son as well I cannot say. I doubt that the Council would have easily accepted Lord Húrin as Steward, seeing that he is grandson to Ecthelion by way of his older daughter rather than through a second son, not to mention the fact he is maimed.”

He turned back to look upon the two men on the other side of his desk. “It is not up to me to mete out justice here, I deem,” he said. “Yet until Faramir—or another—takes over rule of Gondor and the City, I must make shift to do what I can to see to it that both justice and what is right are equally served. I am sorry, Beregond, but I must require you to put off the emblems of the Guard of the Citadel. The Quartermaster has plain black shirts proper to those who are no longer in full service to the Guard, and that you must wear until your case is heard by whoever it is that takes up the rule of Gondor. However, Lord Mithrandir has made a request—that as you offered up your position and possibly your very life in service to Lord Faramir, whom you clearly love, that you should be sent to the Houses of Healing to share the guard before his door until he is either returned to health or until he dies.

“As for you, Halargil….”

But it appeared that Halargil had lost consciousness. His hand had slid from the surface of the desk, and his body twitched uncontrollably.

Both Beregond and the aide moved forward to the older Guardsman’s side. The aide looked up to catch the eyes of his Captain. “A brain storm!” he said. “He suffers a brain storm!”

Gilmaros sighed. “Then he must go to the Houses of Healing—not that they will be able to do a great deal for him, I deem, with so many wounded being brought into their precincts.” He shook his head in grief. “Alas that in spite of the triumphs of this day so much evil should manage to invade the White City itself! Now go!”

The aide went to the door and called for assistance, and soon Halargil was borne out of the office to receive what aid might come to him, and Beregond made to follow them. Gilmaros stayed him briefly with a hand upon the young Guard’s arm. “I am sorry, Beregond. You have been a good man to have amongst our number.”

“I am not sorry for what I have done, even if I must die for it. At least our beloved Lord Faramir has a chance to live, as slim as it might be, and none will question his claim to the Black Chair. But my son—I fear that there will be no place for him now within the Citadel as a page.”

“Probably not,” agreed Gilmaros.

“Please, I beg of you—do not let him see me die.”

“I promise—if it should come to that, my friend. For, after all, we have no idea as to what tomorrow might bring. If indeed the Heir of Isildur fights before the City upon the Pelennor….”

And in his heart Gilmaros felt a lightening of the grief he’d known but moments before. The day outside might be now ending, but who could tell now what tomorrow might bring? He felt himself smiling reassuringly at Beregond as the younger man gave his final salute and went out to find the Quartermaster.



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