2. A Friend Is Gained
Several days passed from the day Faramir returned to Minas Tirith wounded, and matters seemed to go from bad to worse. The captain lay in the Houses of Healing, murmuring in a feverish delirium, in spite of all the healers' efforts to cure him; the enemy kept attacking the walls without mercy, whereas the people's hearts were filled with grief for Faramir and fear for the fate of the city.
Yet the one who seemed to suffer the most was Lord Denethor. He stayed at his son's side, not caring anymore about the realm's plight or the forces of the Enemy, who placed Minas Tirith under siege. Because of this, Prince Imrahil was forced to assume command of the Gondorian army before it was put in complete disarray.
Everyone, however, was aware that it was only a matter of time before Minas Tirith finally fell, unless aid came from the lands of Rohan. Thus they turned their heads towards the Home of the Horse-lords, some wondering why the reinforcements hadn't arrived yet, others hoping that the Rohirrim were already on their way to the White City.
It was during one of those dark days that Beregond had dinner with Bergil, spending thus some time with his son before going to take up his weekly night-shift duty. Bergil talked the most, describing to his father how his day had been, but Beregond hardly paid any attention. He merely nodded from time to time or let out an exclamation of acknowledgement.
The sound of plates clanging registered in Beregond's mind and showed him that Bergil had finished his meal and was now clearing the table. Instinctively he pushed his plate away in a sign that Bergil should pick that one as well, and rested his head in his hands. He barely noticed the sigh and a small arm across his broad shoulders.
"Father? You haven't eaten anything. Again."
Beregond turned to Bergil, forcing a smile. "Yes, I have."
"The plate is still full!" said the boy, clearly frustrated. "Like it was yesterday and the day before!"
"If you look at the water-jug, you will see that it is empty."
"That only shows that you have had a drink, not that you have eaten anything!"
"Then perhaps all I wanted was water," said Beregond with a sigh, growing weary of this conversation.
"Father, please! This can't carry on and you know it!" cried Bergil. "You don't eat; you barely sleep anymore; you become paler and thinner with each passing day, and I can't take it anymore!" Tears sprang up in the boy's eyes and, before Beregond could react, he had embraced his father tightly. "I don't want you to die like the Elves you've told me in your stories!"
Beregond stared at Bergil, stunned. Lost in his own grief for Faramir's condition, he hadn't realised how badly Bergil had become affected. His heart wrenching with guilt, he gently returned the embrace, nestling the boy protectively.
"I will eat something tomorrow," he said softly.
"Or next week perhaps," Bergil said in a hurt manner, his voice coming out muffled.
"I will eat. I promise."
Bergil was about to shake his head in doubt but Beregond stopped him and prodded his son to look up at him.
"Have I ever broken a promise to start now?" he asked.
"No," murmured Bergil.
"Then trust me when I say I will eat. Now go finish your chores, I have to get ready for my watch."
Nodding in obedience, yet his sadness still reflected in his eyes, Bergil started clearing the table once more and let his father be.
Beregond walked into his room, and picked up the armour to wear it. While arming himself, he couldn't help but think back on his conversation with Bergil. He had to admit that it was wrong of him to shut the boy out, so Beregond made a silent promise to himself that he would apologise to Bergil afterwards – his son deserved that at least.
On the other hand, all feelings that Beregond was capable of having ceased to exist a few days ago. All that remained was a void that kept gnawing his heart and dark thoughts of not bearing another loss. Indeed, he would rather die also if Faramir, the man who had been at his side almost all his life, succumbed to the fever that was tormenting him. It was only the thought of Bergil that kept such a consideration at bay. If he acted on his thoughts, what was to become of his son? He didn't want Bergil to go through with what he had when his own father died.
His gaze strayed onto the mirror hanging on the wall across him. He stared at his form reflected there for many long moments and smiled. Because Beregond had been told that, when he put on the armour, he was the spitting image of Baranor, he always took a good look on the mirror before leaving for his duty. In that way, he felt that he was actually looking at his father. It was the best he could do to recall him, for Beregond didn't have many memories of him. As a matter of fact, the only thing that he could remember clearly about his father was his funeral, when he was thirteen years of age; and there was a good reason for it. It had been the first time that he mourned someone, and also the day he first saw the person who was destined to be his best friend.
People didn't call his father 'valiant' for nothing, even after so many years since his death. A month after Lord Denethor had taken up his position as the new Steward, an assassin, hired from the Corsairs of Umbar, sneaked into the palace and hid in Denethor's chambers, his knife ready at hand. Baranor, however, a member of Denethor's personal escort, proved faster: when the murderer attacked, he unsheathed his sword and placed himself in front of his lord. Though Baranor received the stab wound into his own heart, he also managed to kill the assassin before his strength left him along with his life.
Thus Baranor earned admiration from the other soldiers, and Lord Denethor, in gratitude for the guard's sacrifice, arranged a most royal funeral for him. Eight soldiers carried the shield on which Baranor lay as he was taken to his last resting place, outside the City; while women, friends of the family, threw flowers at the path of the bearers. Isilme, wife of Baranor and the mother of his children, Iorlas, the eldest of the two sons, and Beregond, followed close behind.
Young Beregond, however, didn't get to see much of the funeral proceedings, for the adults were either hiding everything with their height or saying it wasn't a sight for "the poor child". There were still people though that went up to Beregond and told him how brave his father was, how proud he should be for him and that no tears should be shed for a man as strong as he was.
As his father's body was placed in the earth, however, Beregond knew that what people avoided to tell him was that he would never play or go swimming at the river with his father again; he would never hear from his lips tales of ancient Númenor; he would never hear his laughter or his footsteps at the door as he returned from his shift; that his father would not be anymore. What other reason did a child want to weep?
Nevertheless, Beregond tried to follow his mother and brother's example and he didn't cry, wishing to show that he was strong, truly his father's son. But when the ceremony ended and people started walking away, he didn't want to follow his family home yet, for all of Isilme's prodding.
"Just make sure you get back before the sun sets," she said in the end, defeated, and took Iorlas away. Only then did Beregond indulge himself and wept.
But, lost in his grief, Beregond didn't realise the time passing until the sun was less than an hour from setting. Wiping the tears off his eyes and keeping down his sobs, he set off for home hurriedly, for he knew that the gates closed once night settled in. As he still walked on, he realised, horrified, that he didn't have his brooch any more.
That brooch, which always decorated his shirt, was a small one, in the colours of the Citadel's Guards, and his father had given it to him on his birthday. It wasn't valuable, yet Beregond cherished it like it was made from the most precious of gems. Its grip had been loose for some time and he had intended to have it fixed the following week, but now it was gone!
Frustrated, Beregond retraced his steps back towards the grave, always looking restlessly down on the ground in the hopes he would find it. He had almost reached his father's grave, when he lifted his eyes and saw them: two people, standing close to his father's last resting place. Wishing to find out what was the meaning of this without being noticed, Beregond hid behind some bushes and watched on in wonder.
The pair was most odd indeed. It consisted of a tall, lean old man, his clothing all grey but for his large pointy hat, which was blue; and a young boy, perhaps a little younger than Beregond himself. They appeared to be talking, but Beregond was too far away to hear clearly what they talked about. Whatever it was, Beregond was certain that it had to do with his father. He was ready to step forth and ask for explanations, when suddenly, the boy turned at the grave and said something which Beregond realised it wasn't in any Tongue he had heard before. All he could tell of it was that it was beautiful, the words sounding as though bells were chiming and having this incomprehensible power to lift his spirits. Beregond watched how the old man nodded his approval and took the boy by his hand – and soon they were both gone.
Beregond stepped out of his hiding place, hardly believing his eyes at what he had just witnessed. He could easily guess who the old man was, because his father often talked to him about a grey-clad man by the name of Gandalf who could perform magic. But it was some days later that he finally found out who the young boy was.
The following week Beregond had to start again his training at the citadel's barracks; it was customary for the sons to follow into their father's footsteps and he was not an exception. Moreover, Beregond dearly wanted to be a soldier like his father, to serve and protect under his lord's commands. He was delighted to have his sword lessons and Maldir often said to Baranor that Beregond was quite good – in fact, the best student he instructed so far beside Boromir, the Steward's firstborn son.
In spite of all this, Beregond didn't wish to go on that particular day; he wouldn't have gone if his mother hadn't convinced him otherwise, for he had missed too many lessons already and more absences would be considered unacceptable. So it was with a heavy heart that he found himself sparring with Meneldor, another fellow student; while Maldir supervised and made sure that their posture, the position of their feet and the way they gripped their training sword and stroke with it were correct.
Yet Beregond's mind was not at the sparring; his gaze drifted constantly on a pillar near the entrance of the barracks, hoping that he would see his father again leaning against it, just as he used to whenever Baranor came to watch him training. He didn't care if it was impossible, he didn't even care if he was being unreasonable. He wanted his father there and yet that joy was taken away from him.
He should not have died!
The more he thought of it, the more furious he got. Before realising it, he had grabbed his sword with both hands and his attacks became more brutal. He heard frantic-filled voices telling him to stop, but he didn't listen to them. He kept hitting almost blindly, forgetting who he was fighting and now battling against in his mind's eye phantoms he believed responsible for his father's death.
A sharp blow near his brow crashed him back to reality. Such was his surprise and shock that he let himself fall on his knees, stunned. A pair of hands rested on his shoulders, shaking him slightly and calling his name. He lifted his eyes slowly, seeing that it was Meneldor… and he was trembling.
"I'm sorry," he heard him say as from afar. Was that a small quiver in his voice Beregond could discern? "I didn't mean to, but you kept hitting me."
Beregond tried to speak, but he was still too confused. Just when he thought he had found the strength to apologise, he blinked. Red liquid was covering his left eye.
"He's bleeding!" exclaimed one of the other boys.
"And quite a lot too!" seconded another one.
"Stand back, boys! Give him some breathing space and keep practising," Beregond heard Maldir say calmly. "Meneldor, let him go. Don't worry, he'll be all right." Beregond felt Meneldor's hands let go of him reluctantly to be replaced by two strong arms, prodding him aside. "Can you hear me, lad?"
"Yes, sir," answered Beregond.
"Good," Maldir replied; yet Beregond knew he would not get away so easily. "Do you realise what you have just done?"
"Yes, sir," answered Beregond again, swallowing hard.
"No, I don't think you do," Maldir declared. "Meneldor was not the enemy and you treated him like one! You could have easily broken his arm with the force you attacked him if he wasn't quick in defending himself! I like to think I taught you better than that."
Beregond felt himself shrinking at the rebuke. "I'm sorry," he managed to utter in a murmur.
Maldir sighed. "I know you are; but you should apologise to Meneldor at the first chance. I'm certain he thinks he did something to you to earn such hate."
Beregond gasped. "He didn't do anything, he's the kindest person I know! I was just…" He stopped.
"Angry," Maldir completed for him. Another sigh escaped the man's lips. "I understand your exasperation, but this reaction won't do. Is that what your father would want from you?"
Beregond shook his head, stopping himself in time before an involuntary sob was heard. Too late he realised that two droplets of tears had trickled down his face, mixing with his blood.
Maldir's gloved hand gently wiped the face. "You should stop training for today. Have that cut on your brow taken care of and then go home."
"My mother… and Iorlas…" started Beregond softly.
"I will pass by later to explain to them, all right? Don't fret, lad," Maldir said encouragingly; then went back to his instructing.
Beregond nodded and walked away, yet he didn't go to the healer's house or his home. He simply wandered aimlessly, not caring for the blood that still flowed down his face, until finally he reached some stairs. Feeling emotionally drained, he sat on the first step and remained there, staring at nothing in particular.
"That is a nasty gash," said then a child's voice.
Beregond turned around, startled. To his surprise, it was the boy that stood over his father's grave a few days ago. On a different day Beregond would have greeted him, introduced himself properly and asked him his name; he would perhaps even try to find out what the boy was doing at the funeral. At that moment, however, he didn't feel up to it.
"I guess it is," he said simply with a shrug.
"You should have it taken care of," the boy noted.
Beregond huffed under his breath at being mothered by a mere child. "Maybe I don't want to have it taken care of," he said, trying to show as much patience as possible.
"Why?" asked the boy then, "Don't you want to get better?"
"No, I don't!" snapped Beregond. "My father was looked after and he still died!" He bit his lip when he saw the boy getting startled. He had done it again! He quickly rose and started walking away, fearing that if he let his anger run away with him again there would be worse consequences.
"I know about your father and I am sorry he had to die. I understand how painful this must be to you," said then the boy, composed once more.
Beregond stopped. He certainly didn't expect such kind words, not after his behaviour. He appreciated the gesture but… he simply couldn't believe it.
"You cannot understand," he said with a sigh, his back still on the boy.
The boy approached and brought himself in front of Beregond again. "I lost my mother three months ago and there has not been a single day I have not missed her."
Beregond looked up, feeling for the boy at once. "I'm sorry. It seems we've both lost somebody dear to us." He suddenly stopped, uncertain if he should say the next thing in his mind. "Do you think the pain will ever go away?" he finally asked softly, aware that the boy would probably know of what pain he spoke.
The boy returned the gaze, and Beregond thought for a moment that he could see reflected in his eyes an unusual depth of wisdom for a child that seemed no more than ten years of age.
"No," the boy said. "It will only lessen but it will not go away. But, you know, neither my mother nor your father are really dead – not as long as we remember them with love. At least, that is what Mithrandir says."
"Mithrandir?" echoed Beregond, not really understanding about whom the boy was talking.
"So there you are!" exclaimed another voice out of the blue.
Beregond turned again and saw the grey-clad man he knew as Gandalf approaching them and stopping in front of the boy, panting slightly. "I am too old to run after you around the place to make you finish your lessons, my boy. You said you would be back in five minutes and it has been half an hour!"
The boy blushed, embarrassed.
"I am sorry, Mithrandir. I forgot myself watching the training."
"Why am I not surprised?" asked the wizard good-humouredly. "Anyway, I found you now. Let us go! You very well know I have to go to the city's library afterwards and I do not like leaving unfinished business such as Elvish lessons behind me."
"Yes, Mithrandir," said the boy. Beregond, however, noticed that something was clearly in his mind. "Mithrandir… do you mind if the boy here could come with us, so you can look at his brow? I know you can heal it."
Gandalf turned his gaze at Beregond as though he noticed his presence only then. Beregond smiled sheepishly at the piercing look and averted his eyes.
"What is your name, boy?" asked Gandalf.
Beregond said his name with all the courage he could muster.
"Well, well, the son of the guard that saved Lord Denethor from the attack on his life, is it not so?" said the wizard thoughtfully. "I suppose you could come then. Besides, that cut needs attention."
Thus it was that Beregond finally came to meet Gandalf, also known as Mithrandir or Grey Pilgrim. Seeing the injury, Gandalf assured Beregond that the gash could be healed, yet he also warned him that the cut was very deep and it would probably leave a scar. Understanding, Beregond let Gandalf tend the gash and clean his face from the blood. At the boy's request, Beregond also stayed at the great room where the Elvish lesson took place. Beregond spent the next hour listening to the words rolling on the boy's tongue in wonder, wishing he could speak that fine language, too.
When the lesson finished, Gandalf picked up his staff again. "Will you children stay here?" he asked, just before walking out of the door.
"If that is all right with you, Mithrandir," answered the boy swiftly before Beregond spoke.
"That will be fine by me. Just do not stay here too long. I am told that when you stayed here yesterday you were late for supper. The Steward of Gondor should not have to wait for anyone, not even his own son. Well, good day, Faramir."
Beregond felt like somebody hit him with a training sword again. He stared at the boy, agape, finally noticing the resemblance he bore with Boromir, and recalled that Lady Finduilas, the Steward's wife, had died three months ago. Berating himself for not making the connection sooner and for his rudeness, he knelt before Faramir, his eyes locked on the ground.
"My humblest apologies, my lord."
"Why?" Faramir asked, his surprise evident.
"You're Lord Denethor's son and your servant showed disrespect. Your servant should have known better before addressing himself to you in such manner."
"Stop that!" exclaimed the boy, laughing. "Call yourself 'I'! You're not a slave, why should you talk like one? And call me Faramir; that is what Mithrandir calls me!"
Beregond looked up, hardly believing in such kindness.
"As you wish… Faramir."
"I do! Now stand up, that is not what you are here for!" said Faramir, smiling.
"Then what am I here for?" asked Beregond.
"When I went out to the barracks I was actually looking for you. I found this and I wanted to give it to you."
Faramir took something out of his pocket and handed it to Beregond. To the latter's surprise and joy, it turned out to be his brooch!
"Thank you!" Beregond said, hardly able to contain his excitement, "I was afraid I had lost it for good! But…" he paused, looking at Faramir wonderingly, "how did you know?"
"I am glad to have been of help! As to how I knew, the colours of the brooch are of the Citadel's Guards. Since it had fallen on your father's grave, it was easy to guess the rest," said Faramir, beaming at his cleverness.
Though Beregond knew that he was probably making a fool out of himself now, he couldn't help but keep staring at Faramir in wonder. And before he could help it, the question that had been nagging his mind for the past few days flowed out of his lips.
"My lord… I mean, Faramir. What were you and Mithrandir doing by my father's grave?"
Faramir grew sober again. "I wanted to go. After losing my mother, I did not want to lose my father too; so I was glad that your father saved him. I just wanted to thank him."
"Was that what you were saying in that strange language back there?"
"Yes. But how did you know that? Were you there?"
Beregond nodded silently. "It was beautiful and thoughtful of you." There was a small pause before he ventured his next question. "Perhaps you could teach me that language?"
Faramir pondered on this for a few moments. "I am still learning Sindarin myself, but I suppose so," he concluded grinning.
Beregond smiled broadly. "Thank you!"
"You are welcome. Come, do you want us to go outside and play? It is such a lovely day!"
Beregond was more than happy to join Faramir in his games. Following him outside, they both played for the remainder of the day, forgetting their grief for their parents, if only for a little while.
When the sun finally set, a servant came out into the courtyard and called Faramir inside: it was time for dinner. Before Faramir left, however reluctanctly, Beregond stopped him.
"Faramir, will you be coming tomorrow at the barracks?" he asked.
"I am afraid not," Faramir said sadly. Then his face beamed up as he remembered something. "But Mithrandir said that the day after tomorrow he will go see a friend of his and so we will not have any lessons for a while. I can come then!"
"Then perhaps we can meet again. I would be really glad if we did!" said Beregond.
"So would I," said Faramir.
And with that they parted, each to his home.
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.