Choices: 5. The Choices of a King

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5. The Choices of a King

There was a great bustle of dismantling and packing. The tent city that had stood the last few weeks was gone, a trampled meadow where it had been. Loaded wagons had been leaving for the past few days, and the last day the guardsmen found themselves seated on the ground to eat dry rations as if they were on a long march, and they slept that night in their blanket rolls instead of in beds.

Gilwyn had not wanted to go back to the city with the waggons of wounded not yet recovered enough to march, but Beregond had been gently insistent. The army would march back to the City, and there would be no place for a woman. She looked up, running her fingers over his face as if trying to memorize him, and he could see the anxiety she tried to hide.

'It's all right, Gilwyn,' he soothed. 'Nothing is going to happen yet. Not until after we get back to the City.'

'How can you know?'

He smiled. 'I have been thinking. Lord Aragorn is not a cruel man, to prolong the waiting, nor a kindly but weak man who delays to give us more time together. In truth I believe he hardly knows we exist. He has been busy with matters of command. He is not King yet.'

'I don't understand.'

'Do you not see? He put off his crowning to march to the War. He did not choose to be crowned until the fate of Middle-earth was decided. Wise of him. Who would want to be King of a failing realm?'

'But what does that have to do with...?'

'Because he is not the King, under the law he cannot judge me. Faramir is still Steward of the City. I am sure he would have given me a swift end after the battle was decided. He is a fair man and he knows his duty. But Faramir is not here. And Lord Aragorn is not yet King.'

He smiled down at her. 'Do not fear. This is not the final parting. Wear your blue dress to stand at the City wall. I will look for you when we march in.'

'Oh, Beregond...' she buried her face in his chest, holding him tightly enough to hurt his bad arm through the splint, though he made no sign.

When she relaxed, he gently disengaged from her and handed her into the waggon.

The march was the same distance as it had been when they had come down this road to do battle, but now they were headed homeward and the distance flowed under their feet. Pippin had been allowed to stay with the Company, though he rode the better part of each day on the supply wagon. Targon was not completely healed; he was limping by the end of the day, though he kept his grumblings to himself. He did not want to be ordered to ride. Beregond marched with his men. There was nothing wrong with his legs, after all. Still, at the end of each day he was ready to stretch out after seeing to his men. Often Pippin would bring him a hot drink from the fire, and they would sit and talk. Beregond asked him questions about his life, and he learned much about the Ring-bearer and the other Halflings and their life back home. Strange that such a funny, simple folk should have such steel inside.

He did not wear the surcoat over his mail, but carried it in his pack. When wakeful late at night, when all slept and only the sentries on the fringes were awake, he would sometimes take it out and trace the broidered Tree with his finger. He was glad that he would see the White City again. He wondered if his trial would come before or after the crowning of the King. He rather wished it would come before. Somehow it seemed more fitting for Faramir, his Captain, to declare his fate. His respect for Lord Aragorn had grown, however, and he supposed the man would do a fair job once he was King. For the most part, he put it out of his head. No need to worry about tomorrow. As his gran said, today's troubles were enough to deal with for today. Not that there were many troubles, the men were too disciplined for that. He enjoyed the marches, and the evening bivouacs. In truth, he was at peace, living each moment as it came, savouring every bite of food, every sip, every word, every sight and sound.

As they approached the City they could see bright pavilions standing before the walls. Faint upon the breeze came the sound of clamouring bells from the City, and they saw as they approached the standard of the Stewards, raised upon the White Tower of the citadel for the last time. Banners flew from every wall.

The soldiers were in fine array. Every piece of gear that would take polish had been buffed to high gleam. They marched in perfect unison towards the Gate, and when ordered to halt a furlong from the Gate they stood like statues, proud.

There was a barrier across the road and men in the uniform of the Tower Guard waited, swords drawn, glittering in the sun. Before the barrier stood Faramir the Steward, Hurin Warden of the Keys, other captains of Gondor, and many of Rohan, and on either side of the Gate people thronged, their garments a rainbow of colors. Sweet-scented flowers perfumed the air. Beregond let his eyes rest with satisfaction on Faramir. It was good to see the Captain alive, well, strong, himself again.

The Lord Aragorn walked slowly into the space before the gate, followed by the Dúnedain in their silver and grey. For the first time he looked to Beregond's eyes like a King. He was clad in black mail girt with silver, a long white mantle clasped at his throat with a green stone that shone afar; a slender fillet of silver bound a star upon his forehead. With him were the Ring-bearer and his Companion, Éomer of Rohan -- Merry by his side --Prince Imrahil, and Gandalf -- truly a White Wizard now, no longer veiled. Beregond couldn't help the twitching of his lips in a smile to see Pippin in his fine guardsman's uniform standing with the great folk, jaunty as ever.

The massed crowds cheered and bright cloths fluttered from many hands. Without moving his head, Beregond searched the walls until his eyes found a blue dress. Beside Gilwyn he saw her son Fargil and his son Bergil waving and cheering lustily.

A single trumpet sounded and dead silence fell. Beregond heard a horse stamp, and then even the beasts were still.

Faramir walked forward to meet Aragorn, followed by four men in the high helms and armour of the Citadel, bearing a great casket of black lebethron bound with silver. They met in the middle of the open space, and Faramir knelt to surrender his office. He extended his white rod, and Aragorn took it, but then he gave it back, proclaiming that the office of Steward would remain for Faramir and his heirs as long as the King's line should last.

Then Faramir stood up and spoke in a clear voice: 'Men of Gondor, hear now the Steward of this Realm! Behold! one has come to claim the kingship again at last. Here is Aragorn son of Arathorn, chieftain of the Dúnedain of Arnor, Captain of the Host of the West, bearer of the Star of the North, wielder of the Sword Reforged, victorious in battle, whose hands bring healing, the Elfstone, Elessar of the line of Valandil, Isildur's son, Elendil's son of Numenor. Shall he be king and enter into the City and dwell there?

Beregond felt the pride thrill within him as a stubborn place melted that had up until this moment remained deep within, a kernel of fierce loyalty that would allow no other to take Faramir's place of command. He shouted, 'Yea!' with all the host and all the people, and the banners and cloths were waved wildly on the walls and in the crowds beside the Gate.

Faramir spoke again, of how kings had been crowned in the past. The guardsmen stepped forward as one, bringing the casket to Faramir. He opened it and held up an ancient crown, shaped like the helms of the Guards of the Citadel, save it was loftier and shone white and fair in the sun, and jewels sparkled from it.

Aragorn took the crown from Faramir and held it up, crying out in a strange tongue. Then, to Beregond's wonder, Aragorn did not place the crown on his own head but gave it back to Faramir. By his direction, the Ring-bearer took the crown from Faramir and carried it to the White Wizard; Aragorn knelt, and Mithrandir set the crown upon his head.

Beregond was set to cheer with the others when the newly crowned King arose, but the sound died in his throat. He felt as if he had never seen him before, this man he had followed into horror and battle, with whom he had shared bedside watches and a jolting waggon, this man he had so often seen sitting with the Dúnedain by the fireside, drinking quietly and talking like any common soldier on a march.

Tall as the sea-kings of old, he stood above all that were near; ancient of days he seemed and yet in the flower of manhood; and wisdom sat upon his brow, and strength and healing were in his hands, and a light was about him.

'Behold the King!' cried Faramir. All the trumpets were blown, the barrier was set aside, the people shouted and sang, waved banners and threw flowers, music poured forth, and the King entered his City. As the armies of the West stood at attention, they saw the banner of the Tree and Stars unfurl upon the topmost tower and knew that at last, they had a King.

***

Beregond had little time to himself in the next days. Though he was not a guardsman he was still assigned to duty in the City. Wise, that. They didn't want to give him time to brood -- not that he was brooding. Tired, more like. Tired of the waiting and ready to get on with it. Sometimes he dreamed he ran a race where the finish beckoned just ahead, yet if he looked down and up again would seem to have retreated.

When not on duty he still had little time to himself, for friends surrounded him. He spent as much time as he could with Gilwyn and Bergil. The lad would be all right. Gilwyn had practically raised him since his mother's death. The boy would not be truly orphaned. Beregond and Gilwyn did not speak of the future; there was no point in worrying the boys. It was hard to hear Bergil and Fargil make plans of going back to Lossarnach in the summer and the many adventures they would have together. If the adults were quieter than usual, the boys in their exuberance hardly noticed.

***

Faramir sought him out. They quietly shared a mug of ale, talking over old times. It was good to have some time with the Captain. He always saw things so clearly.

The Captain was shaking his head, 'It is an ancient law, and no one saw any reason to change it. Not even when Valdil made his choice. It may be rewritten now...'

'But not in time for me,' Beregond observed quietly.

'We of Gondor have always prided ourselves on swift and sure justice.'

Beregond laughed softly. 'Swift indeed. Some weeks, already. I could die of old age waiting.'

Faramir's eyes were sorrowful. 'I think there will be no danger of that, my faithful guardsman. The King has been busy, in truth, but most of the pressing matters have been settled.'

Beregond nodded, then looked up, unspoken question in his eyes.

Faramir put a hand on his good shoulder. 'I will be there.' He took his hand away, drained his mug, stood. He hesitated a moment, saying, 'Do not surrender all hope, Beregond. The King is a wise man.'

'Hope?' Beregond asked. Despair was not in his eyes, only calm acceptance. 'The only hope I can see is for a fair morn and a swift stroke.'

Faramir paused as if he would say more, but no words came. He saluted the guardsman, turned, and walked out.

***

The Surgeon had taken the splints off his arm. Though he still needed a sling, he was told the arm was healing nicely. Good news, he supposed. He was given a new uniform to replace the one adjusted for a man with arm bound to his side. A waste of fabric, he wouldn't be needing it that long. Still he wore it. Might as well look like a soldier as long as he was one. He dutifully exercised the arm as the Surgeon had instructed. He was always one to follow orders.

***

King Elessar laid aside the last parchment and sat back with a sigh, rubbing his eyes. He looked up at the scribe. 'All right, Gumbrad, you may leave us.' The scribe nodded and laid down his quill. After bowing, he exited the chamber as quickly and neatly as he transcribed the business of the Kingdom.

Faramir stretched in his chair. 'Are we done for the day?'

'With official business, at least.' Faramir started to rise, but the King forestalled him. 'I would not keep you any longer from your Lady, but there is a matter to discuss...' A parchment was pulled from under another pile, this in the King's own hand. He tossed it over to Faramir, who caught it with a questioning look. 'Read,' the King urged him. 'The facts of a case I must judge.' Faramir began to scan the page rapidly, but slowed and raised his eyes to meet the King's before he was halfway down the page.

The King leaned back in his chair. 'If you were still Steward, what would you do?'

'Not an easy question... the blood he spilled in the Hallows... one might argue he was executing the law by trying to prevent a murder, but I do not think the man himself would agree. He is haunted by the blood he spilled. Oh, a soldier expects to loose a lot of blood with his sword, but not the blood of friends.' He sighed and repeated, '...not the blood of friends. On the other hand, he saved my life. I would owe him his, I know. But the Stewards have upheld the law for centuries.'

'In this one case...'

Faramir smiled grimly. 'Ah, but that is how it always begins. Like standing at the top of a grassy slope and taking one step down, only to find yourself sliding on the dew. You bend one law, and soon the courtiers are coming around asking you to bend another law. Just a little. And then another, just for convenience. My father taught me that. He learned his lesson early.'

'Denethor? He was one of the steadiest men I knew.'

'Firm and unyielding might be closer to the truth. He would have executed Beregond on the spot. The law would have upheld him. When a man deserts his duty, you do not necessarily have to bring him to trial. Finding him away from his post without leave from his Lord is enough to try and to convict him.'

'Even if Beregond had saved his last remaining son from death?'

Faramir looked troubled. 'I cannot pretend to speak for the dead, or know his mind. But he was so stern, so immovable in these latter years, as the Shadow stretched out its hand... yes, I think he would have. With some regret, perhaps. But no mercy. There was no mercy left in him at the end.' He sighed and looked down at the manuscript still in his hand. 'You have talked with Beregond?'

'At length.'

'Does he plead for mercy?' He looked up again to meet the eyes of the King and shook his head. 'I thought not. He is a fine guardsman and has great pride. He is sworn to uphold the law and has done so without thought for himself, all his life.'

'He asked...'

Faramir leaned forward. 'What?'

'He asked for the choice of Valdil.'

Faramir leaned back, shaking his head. 'He would. I expected that.'

'It fits well with tradition.' The King sighed deeply. 'Tradition lies heavy on the White City. Every person I have talked to expects Beregond to be put to the sword. Sooner than later. They are not happy about it. And yet... in truth, I think many would find relief in it.'
He met Faramir's questioning gaze. 'They would be reassured that the King is not about to sweep away all the old tradition with his new broom.' Faramir nodded in understanding. Every new ruler, unless he was a tyrant, faced the same challenge. Aragorn repeated, 'No, they are not happy about it. Still, they expect it.' He looked up to find Faramir unexpectedly smiling at him.

'But they do not know their King,' the Steward said.

***

One day the captain of the Guard came to Beregond as he was coming off duty. Beregond started to greet him but the words died on his lips at the sight of the captain's face. 'When?' he asked, quietly.

'Tomorrow,' the captain replied.

'I am ready.'

'I know you are.' The captain hesitated, started to speak, then set his lips in a grim line. He raised a hand to Beregond's good shoulder, squeezed hard, and turned away.

Somehow the news preceded him to the mess. The men picked at their food in silence, shrouded in gloom.

Suddenly Targon climbed up upon one of the tables. Beregond stared at him in astonishment.

'Whatever are you all just sitting there for?' he demanded. There was a stir and a murmur. Fists on his hips, Targon glared around the room. 'What kind of a sendoff is this? Is this what ye'd give the man to remember you by?' Another guardsman slammed his mug down, sending a fountain of ale sloshing over its sides. 'No!' he shouted in reply then jumped up from his bench. 'Let's have a song, lads!' He began to shout in his rough voice a lively marching tune. More tuneful voices joined in and soon the mess rang defiantly with song.

Later that evening Beregond was sitting with Gilwyn when Bergil burst in, face wet with tears. 'It's not true! Say it's not true!' he shouted. Gilwyn shot Beregond a glance, bit her lip, and started to rise. Beregond put his good hand on her arm to restrain her. She sat back down as he regarded his son.

'Sit down, Bergil,' he commanded.

'No! Tell me it's not true!'

'Sit down and tell us what the shouting is about,' he repeated calmly. Bergil, breathing hard, stood locking eyes with his father for the space of several breaths. Beregond neither moved nor spoke. Finally, as if a cord had snapped within, Bergil loosed his fists and lowered them. Beregond nodded to the bench on the opposite side of the table and finally the boy sat down.

Beregond kept his eyes on the boy's. After a few more ragged breaths, the boy half-sobbed, 'I heard men talking in the marketplace. They say you're to be treated like a traitor. They say you are to be put to the sword. They say --' His voice died as he looked into his father's face.

Beregond was nodding slowly. 'Yes,' he said coolly. 'That is right, Bergil. I left my post in time of war. I killed men who wear the same uniform I wear. The law calls my actions those of a renegade and outlaw.'

The boy said desperately, 'But I thought --' He swallowed hard. 'They didn't do anything. There was no trial. They sent you off to battle. And then you came back, and still nothing happened, and I thought --'

'No, Bergil,' his father replied quietly. 'The King has simply not had time to hear my case.' He smiled. 'It has been good to have this time together, hasn't it?' The boy stared at him in shock, then suddenly put his head down on his arms and sobbed violently.

Beregond continued as soothingly as if he had been gentling a fractious horse back on his father's farm. 'Bergil. It will be all right.'

Finally the cloudburst was over and the boy raised his head, sniffling. 'How can it be? How can anything ever be all right again?' he said raggedly.

'You have your home with Gilwyn and Fargil. Things won't be that much changed. Even now I only see you every few days.' The boy stared, breath shuddering. Beregond smiled, doing his best to maintain the soothing, even tone, the last gift he could offer his son, some kind of hope, some kind of peace in the midst of the world's ending. 'Perhaps you and Gilwyn and Fargil can move back to Lossarnach. That is a fine place for a boy to grow to manhood. There will be nothing to tie you here.'

'What kind of a King would put you to death for saving Faramir?' the boy demanded angrily.

'Bergil!' the voice of the father cracked like a whip. 'I will not hear that kind of talk! The King is a wise man and fair. I have heard of the judgments he has already handed out. But there is a law, and he is sworn to uphold it. He will do what is right.'

His voice softened. 'I killed, Bergil. People whose names I knew and who had families and friends. There's not a house untouched by grief, but I, a guardsman, spilled this blood, not an orc, and that must be paid for. Perhaps the King could somehow rule that in leaving my post I was doing my duty towards the Captain, but how can he excuse those deaths? How can I ever wash their blood from my hands?'

He repeated, 'The King will do what is right.' He gazed compassionately at his son, so tall for his age. Surely he would grow to be a tall man like his father, and his father's father before him. He added gently, 'Can I do any less?'

The boy bowed his head in silent defeat, then threw his head back again, not willing to admit that this was what must be. 'But, why?' came the agonized question from the boy.

'We all have choices we must make in this life, Bergil. When the time came, I had to choose between my own life and that of my Captain. If I could go back and change what I did... well, I would not. How could I choose to let Faramir die if it was in my power to save him? How would I live with that choice? There are times when we must choose to do the right thing, no matter the consequences. I hope that I have taught you that at least. I am sorry I will not be able to teach you more.'

'Oh, Father...'

'My one regret is leaving you, Bergil. Leaving those I love.' His eyes met Gilwyn's. 'Promise me you will seek to live well, to choose rightly, to walk with honour as I have tried to teach you.'

'I... promise.' Unable to bear any more, the boy buried his face in his hands. Beregond rose from his seat and went around the table to him. Bergil rose and turned to embrace his father fiercely, and Beregond held him tightly with his one good arm. He nodded to Gilwyn, and she came to hug the lad from his other side. They clung together for a long time as the boy wept until he had no tears left.

***

The next morning he dressed carefully. Targon had polished his gear and his boots to a high shine. The arm was enough better that he declined help, so when Targon entered as he was trying to fasten the clasp of his cloak one-handed, he looked up, surprised. Targon came to him and grasped the cloak, undid the clasp Beregond had just managed to fasten with much fumbling, and laid the cloak over his arm. He went over to the bench where the surcoat still lay in its neat folds. 'You are to wear this today,' he growled. At Beregond's look of surprise he jerked his chin sharply. 'Orders.' Of course. Having lived as a guardsman, he was to be permitted to die as one. He nodded and took the garment from the old guardsman's hands, slipping it over his head, settling it until it fell smoothly against the mail. His fingers caressed the Tree for a last time.

Targon started to pick up the sling, but Beregond forestalled him. 'No. I won't be needing that.' The old guardsman nodded and took up the cloak he held, fastening the clasp at Beregond's throat.

'The helmet, too,' he said, and Beregond picked up his helm and tucked it beneath his good arm.

'I am ready. Are you coming?'

'I will stand with you. Haven't I always?' Their eyes met. There was no need for more words. They left the deserted barracks. Beregond wondered where all the men were. Ah, well, they had taken their leave in the mess last night. Walking jarred his bad arm a bit, but he didn't mind overmuch. It wouldn't be bothering him that much longer.

The captain of the Guard met them outside the barracks. No words were exchanged. None were needed. He fell in behind Beregond and Targon, a proper escort.

Striding through the corridors towards the Hall of the Kings, they met the hobbits. Pippin greeted him with a delighted shout, 'Beregond! You're a guardsman again!' He smiled even as Merry was hushing his cousin in consternation. 'Aye, Master Perian, that I am.' Pippin would have walked with them but Merry pulled him back by the arm, whispering urgently. He caught Pippin's look of confusion, deepening to horror, and then their strides had taken them past the little group. He heard the hobbit cry out behind him, and shook his head slightly. Perhaps they shouldn't have kept it from him. But no. It was better this way. Beregond wouldn't have wanted anything to impede his friend's recovery.

When they entered the Hall of Kings he saw the men of his Company, gear polished to highest gleam, drawn up in razor-straight lines. Come to see him off. Good men. With the captain of the Guard behind him and Targon at his side, he walked up to the King and fell to his knees. Finally. The waiting was done. Time to get it over with. He felt a curious sense of relief. He gazed directly into the eyes of King Elessar.

'Stand before the King,' the captain of the Guard ordered. He rose to his feet, eye-to-eye with the King.

And the King said to Beregond: 'Beregond, by your sword blood was spilled in the Hallows, where that is forbidden. Also you left your post without leave of Lord or of Captain. For these things, of old, death was the penalty. Now therefore I must pronounce your doom.'

Beregond sensed Targon moving beside him. From the corner of his eye he saw the guardsman draw his gleaming sword and hold it at the ready by his side. King Elessar saw as well, and hesitated. A grim smile touched his lips, and for a moment Beregond saw not the King, but the man Aragorn he had known, if only slightly. Smile gone, it was once again the King who stood before him. He met the King's gaze, waiting. Ready. Time seemed to stretch out to eternity.

'All penalty is remitted for your valour in battle, and still more because all that you did was for the love of the Lord Faramir. Nonetheless you must leave the Guard of the Citadel, and you must go forth from the City of Minas Tirith.'

He heard Targon gasp beside him. The impact of the words struck. Not death then, but exile. Another kind of death. He realized he had been holding his breath, and now he exhaled sharply, his heart seemed to stop, he bowed his head. Was this truly justice? Was it mercy? He heard the King continue,

'So it must be, for you are appointed to the White Company, the guard of Faramir, Prince of Ithilien, and you shall be its captain and dwell in Emyn Arnen in honour and peace, and in the service of him for whom you risked all, to save him from death.'

It took a moment for the words to sink in. He raised his head to meet the King's eyes, and Lord Aragorn... King Elessar was smiling. Beregond stared unbelievingly until the King nodded. Joy filled his heart, and he dropped to his knees to kiss the hand of the King. He heard Targon shout, saw the old soldier throw the gleaming sword high in the air. It cartwheeled and came down again to his hand. His company behind him erupted into a great cheer. The King reached out to raise him from his knees. Eyes shining with joy, Beregond marched out, the captain of the Guard, and Targon, and then the rest of his company falling in behind him.

This is a work of fan fiction, written because the author has an abiding love for the works of J R R Tolkien. The characters, settings, places, and languages used in this work are the property of the Tolkien Estate, Tolkien Enterprises, and possibly New Line Cinema, except for certain original characters who belong to the author of the said work. The author will not receive any money or other remuneration for presenting the work on this archive site. The work is the intellectual property of the author, is available solely for the enjoyment of Henneth Annûn Story Archive readers, and may not be copied or redistributed by any means without the explicit written consent of the author.

Story Information

Author: lindelea

Status: Reviewed

Completion: Complete

Era: 3rd Age - Ring War

Genre: Drama

Rating: General

Last Updated: 11/29/03

Original Post: 02/04/03

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