6. Love and Death
Several weeks passed and it the incident with the Easterlings belonged now to the past of Beregond and Faramir. Yet for all the time that passed, Beregond was still thoughtful and absent-minded, and no matter how many times Faramir tried to make his friend confide in him, realising that there was something troubling the young guard, Beregond wouldn't open up. He simply kept answering that nothing was wrong whatsoever, which wasn't a lie. But still, Beregond had to consider over some things about himself and a certain other, and he didn't feel anyone could help him in this case; not even Faramir, in spite of the years of friendship they shared.
Finally, however, Beregond decided that he couldn't Faramir in the dark any longer. On one of the early spring nights, when Faramir came in his guise at Beregond's post, the soldier suggested that they should go somewhere quiet and talk for a while.
Though clearly surprised, Steward's son accepted without objection. Soon enough, they had reached the Great Silver Tree, the meeting point of their childhood.
"Well?" asked Faramir, resting his back on the silver bark. "What did you want to speak to me about?"
"Almiel," answered the guard. "Do you remember her?"
Faramir grinned broadly. "How could I forget her? The sweet little thing that won my best friend's heart is not something to be forgotten; especially since they both meet almost every day ever since that night at the inn!" he answered. "What of her then?"
It actually took a few great breaths for Beregond to finally speak.
"I want to marry her."
Faramir laughed a bit. "Congratulations."
Such answer made Beregond shake his head. "You think I'm joking, my friend. But, I assure you, these thoughts keep coming back to my mind whenever I'm on duty, for hours on end."
"Only then?" asked Faramir with a smirk, raising an eyebrow.
"All right, even more often!" admitted Beregond sheepishly. "And yet…" He stopped midway. He looked on the ground, not sure if he should carry on.
"What is amiss?" asked Faramir, concerned and all feelings of mirth ebbing away. "You are sure this is what you want, are you not?"
"Yes, but… will she have me?" Beregond finally managed to say in murmur, averting his eyes and turning crimson.
There was silence for a few moments; then Faramir placed an arm over his shoulder and prodded him to look at him.
"Have I ever told you that you worry too much?" he said kindly. "Think about it, my friend: she gave you that amber charm. Her eyes never leave when you talk to her and, moreover, she comes at the guards' posts whenever you happen to be there."
"She just comes to give water to the other soldiers," Beregond said dejectedly.
"That is what she claims," Faramir said with a sly smirk. "However, she is actually sneaking looks at you. Yes, trust me on it; I watched her with my very eyes. And that is why I say that she will indeed have you. There is one problem though."
"What kind of problem?" exclaimed Beregond.
"You did not ask her to be your wife yet."
The soldier couldn't help but laugh a bit, relieved. "Then I will talk to her first thing in the morning."
"No, second thing," corrected his friend. "You will have to meet me here before you see her."
"Why?" asked the soldier, not understanding.
"Because I will give you something for her," answered Faramir. "Do not ask me what it is! You will find out tomorrow."
Early the next morning and keeping his promise, Beregond hurried towards the Silver Tree once again, where he found Faramir waiting for him under its dried branches.
"Hello! And I thought I came early!" exclaimed the soldier in surprise.
"I know you do not want to be late for your other matter," grinned the Steward's son. "Anyway, here it is. It was my mother's." And with no other word, he dropped a golden ring in Beregond's hand.
Beregond stared at the ring in wonder. It was the most beautiful piece of jewellery he had set his eyes upon. Though it wasn't heavily elaborated, its every little crevice was shining under the sunbeams, making it seem as though it was studded with small diamonds; and on it was placed with experienced craftsmanship a green stone, amazingly wrought to resemble a rose.
The soldier felt suddenly very ill at ease. "This is a lady's ring!" he faltered, holding the jewel quite awkwardly, like it was burning his hand.
Faramir, however, pressed Beregond's fingers to close into a fist around it with a smile.
"It is merely a ring. My mother wore it at her wedding and now your beloved will wear it at hers."
"I don't know what I am supposed to say," Beregond said. "You already gave me the money needed to make up for the damages at the inn…"
"Which you paid back to me," Faramir reminded him.
"But now this? It is too much!"
"Then consider it as my gift for all these years you were my friend; that will make it only too little," insisted Faramir. "Now just say thank you and go find Almiel," he added half-teasing, half serious.
Faramir, however, just prodded him away. "I will make it an order, if I have to! Now go!"
In the end, Beregond ran off to the streets, crying his thanks to Faramir and hardly containing his excitement. In fact, so much was his hurry, that in less than a half hour he had reached "The Full Moon".
The innkeeper was certainly surprised to see a panting soldier by the doorstep. He looked at him from head to toe curiously.
"Goodmornin'… Beregond, isn't it?" he asked. "Can I help you with somethin'?"
Beregond nodded, unable to speak just yet. As soon as he had caught his breath, however, he explained things to the innkeeper. And the latter was quite pleased that someone wished for the girl's hand in marriage, because he cared for her and wanted to see her happy by a good man's side. He led Beregond to the upper floor, where Almiel resided, for she had no home of her own ever since her parents died.
"Here we are. Just open the door, lad," he said when they reached her room; then the innkeeper went down, letting the soldier be on his own.
Beregond did as he was told, though his heart was now drumming loudly in his ears for more reasons than the sprint he made from the Citadel. He stepped in, and his eyes were instantly fixed on her sitting form in a gaze that would soon be returned.
"Beregond? What are you doing here so early?" she asked in a surprised tone; yet her eyes didn't hide her joy seeing him as she rushed towards him for a strong embrace.
He, however, only stood still as though frozen, doing nothing else but stare at her. Whatever he meant to say to her simply stuck on his throat, forming a very familiar uncomfortable lump.
"What's the matter? Is something wrong?" she asked, puzzled.
She didn't get an answer.
"At least say something!" she exclaimed nervously.
"Valar!" sighed Beregond, his hands caressing lovingly Almiel's face. "Forgive me."
"What?" She was more puzzled than ever now.
Beregond smiled. He had finally found the courage he had been looking for. "I came here with the intention of saying every wonderful thing that has ever been uttered in this world and thus show you how much I care for you, but the only words that will come out are 'I love you'. I loved you ever since I laid my eyes upon you and I can't imagine living the rest of my life without you."
His fist opened, revealing the sparkling ring.
"Do you feel the same about me? Do you want me yours as I want you mine?"
Almiel's eyes had opened wider with every single word that Beregond spoke, and she was certainly awestruck when she saw the ring. All she did was look at him, clearly lost; until, to Beregond's delight, she extended her arm towards his open hand.
She only pushed it gently back to him. "You can't give me this."
Beregond's world at that moment seemed to shatter in pieces. "You don't…?"
She smiled though. "I always lose things. I know that you will keep it safer than me till our wedding."
It took several moments for Beregond to realise what was Almiel really saying to him. Until, laughing joyously, he grabbed her in his arms and sealed their lips on a loving kiss. Almiel answered his affection, sharing her joy with him.
On the same day, the soldier took her to meet the man he wished – and, more importantly, could, according to the laws – marry them. At first, Almiel thought he meant the Steward himself (after all, only he and his sons had that kind of right); but she soon found out she was wrong. And she also discovered who was in fact the beggar she fed so often in the past. She tried to apologise for any instance that she might have been rude to Faramir, but the latter assured her that she never did anything wrong. And he, of course, accepted to perform the wedding ceremony gladly.
Thus it was that, in less than a month, Beregond was united with Almiel. Faramir blessed their union by the River Anduin, where the only witnesses were the sun and the trees. Once their vows were exchanged, the newly-wed couple resided in Beregond's home. And such was their love for each other, that it wasn't long before Almiel conceived.
During his married life, Beregond still went on duty at night and met Faramir. However, their meetings never lasted long now, for Beregond wanted to be at Almiel's side as she carried inside their child. And soon came the time when Beregond and Faramir's outings ceased altogether, since the Steward's son had taken up the position of Captain of Ithilien and he had to remain there, keeping the area safe from the Enemy. So the two friends finally parted, promising to each other that they would write of any tidings of importance to the other. Thus the days and the months flew by quickly, and Beregond remained always happy by his wife's side.
One night, however, as Beregond and Almiel were sleeping, each of them tired with their own burdens, the guard felt his wife stirring, waking him from his dreams. He had settled back to sleep, when she woke him with her restlessness again. He had already declared in his mind that at the third time he would not open his eyes, when he heard Almiel whisper softly to his ear.
Beregond lay completely still with his eyes closed, pretending not to hear. But Almiel wouldn't let him off so easily. She shook him and whispered to him again:
"Husband? Are you awake?"
"Not if I can help it," he mumbled back, keeping his eyes stubbornly shut.
"Well, you can't. It's coming."
He turned to her with one eye half-open.
"What is coming?" he asked with a tinge of annoyance. Then both his eyes flashed open in realization and he sat up with a jolt. "The baby!?"
Almiel managed to nod yes before she let out a small moan of pain and held herself protectively.
"But… It's too early! It's been barely eight months!" Beregond faltered.
"Explain it to him when he comes out!" exclaimed Almiel painfully.
Quickly and trying not to lose control of the situation, Beregond gently made her lie down on their bed again.
"I'll go get help," he reassured her, caressing her face with affection; then rushed to find Mauwin.
Mauwin had also helped Isilme deliver Iorlas and him, so Beregond was certain that she could help Almiel too. He banged at her door quickly and, as soon as she came out, he told her what was happening, and while she was putting on a shawl over her shoulders and going toward his house, he ran to the Houses of Healing to find any other women that could offer their assistance. In just an hour, he had managed to find four other midwives that were now by Almiel's side. Letting them be, he waited outside the room, unable to stop himself from pacing back and forth in his anxiety.
However, as the time passed, his anxiety was to be replaced with worry. None of the midwives had come out yet to tell him about their progress and he didn't know what to make of it. Could it be that something was wrong? Something bad happened to the baby? Or even Almiel? He shuddered at such black thoughts of his and quickly reassured himself that everything was all right – it had to be.
So engrossed was he in such thoughts that he almost jumped when he felt a hand placed on his shoulder. He turned instantly, coming across a familiar face.
"Maldir? What are you doing here?" he cried in shock.
"I was at the Houses of Healing taking care of some old wounds of mine, when I heard the commotion you created back there. Upon asking, I was told your wife is giving birth earlier than due, and I felt I had to come."
"Thank you… But you could have knocked instead of frightening me like that," Beregond said.
"I did knock – more than once! It was only when I didn't get any answer that I walked in and found you acting like a wild animal in a cage," pointed out the old soldier. "You didn't get any news yet, then?"
The young man shook his head solemnly. Maldir frowned at this and was about to speak, when Mauwin came out, followed by the other women, carrying what appeared to be a small bundle of white clothing.
Beregond hurried at her impatiently to hear the news and only then did he notice what the small bundle actually was. He looked at the chubby little face amazed, scarcely believing that he was looking upon his child. He extended a finger towards it and saw how a pair of small hands grasped it with tiny fingers of their own.
"You are blessed with a beautiful son. But I'm afraid his mother won't see him grow," said Mauwin choking down a sob.
These words cut through Beregond's heart like a knife. He took a few steps away, looking at her in confusion.
"What are you saying? Out with it, woman!" cried Maldir, voicing Beregond's thought.
Yet none of the women were able to hold their tears now. "She's… dead," Mauwin whispered in anguish.
Beregond stared at each and everyone in the room, feeling his head floating and his limbs almost giving way underneath him. He heard someone shouting repeatedly "No!".
It was himself.
Then, as though stung, he rushed inside their room to find Almiel's lifeless form lying on the bed.
And yet, she didn't seem dead. Her eyes were closed and her lips slightly parted, while a light rosy colour still clung to her cheeks. No, she wasn't dead, Mauwin was wrong. She was merely resting, Beregond reasoned. It was a difficult birth after all. And now she was simply sleeping, just as she would sleep every night after a trying day. Beregond half-smiled. He loved the way she slept, because all he had to do was give her a soft kiss to wake her up and see her smiling at him.
Without thinking much else, his lips touched her own tenderly.
She didn't wake up.
Beregond opened his eyelids heavily once more and looked at the other side of the bed. That's what he had been doing the last couple of days. Or was it a week? Maybe even more? He honestly couldn't tell. All he did know was that it had to be night now, for it was dark and a lamp was the only light in the room. He closed his eyes, held them shut for a few moments and then opened them again, only to get, yet again, the same sight: an empty space. He extended a tired arm and felt the side of the bed. It was empty, no mere trick of the eyes. He heard himself let out a quavering sigh and then he remained still again, his eyelids dropping themselves shut. He was feeling too exhausted to even weep anymore.
It was then that he heard a light knock at the door. He didn't even move a muscle toward it, his limbs feeling numb. Why didn't they let him be? The only thing he wanted now was to stay in his bed, where he could still sense her presence: they had no right to deny him that at least. His mind wondered for an instant at that fateful day, though the memory was blurry. He remembered as in a dream staying by Almiel's body, holding it close to him until they took her to prepare her funeral; he clearly recalled his screaming and fighting; then nothingness. He had hold on to her so fiercely that he had to be knocked out to pull her away from him.
Yet it seemed that it still wasn't enough for them: a woman came every day, holding a tray of food, and constantly tried to talk him into eating. At first he would tell her off, but lately he simply ignored her. That was what he planned to do now, as he heard the door creaking and footsteps behind him. He didn't even stop to wonder how these steps were heavier than his ears had got used to.
"Put it with the rest of your trays and go away," he said tonelessly.
The steps stopped for a mere second, but they didn't turn back. They still moved at his direction until they came to the level of his bed. At that moment Beregond felt to his surprise a warm hand grasping his own as it still lay a few inches away from him.
Only then did he look up - to encounter a cloak-covered face. Before he could say anything, the hood was removed and a pair of familiar eyes looked back at him sadly.
"You… here?" Beregond whispered incredulously.
Faramir nodded solemnly. "Yes. I only wish I could have come under better circumstances than this."
"You know about it? How?"
"Maldir told me. He sent me a letter telling me about Almiel's death and how you are letting yourself die as well. He begged me to come as quickly as possible before you wasted yourself away, and that I did, though my second-in-command was quite surprised when I told him that I would go away to report to my father – even more so when he found out I would go on my own."
"Didn't anybody tell you then?" asked the soldier through glazing eyes.
"Tell me what?"
"I'm already dead. You're talking to a corpse!" answered Beregond. A grim, soulless sound resembling laughter came out of his lips.
"Stop it!" cried Faramir, backing away in shock. "This is not you talking, it is your grief."
"But it's still true. When she died, I died too. I might as well finish what it's started."
"No!" exclaimed Faramir. "It does not have to be this way. She loved you so dearly that she even gave herself up so you could have the best possible gift: your son! Are you so willing to make her death meaningless? To leave him behind, the same way your father did when he died?"
Even afterwards, neither of them could understand how Beregond, who until then could barely move his eyes without some effort, found the strength to spring for Faramir's throat in the blink of an eye and push him against to the wall. However, it happened; and the captain was suddenly pinned powerless by a man whose face was heavily distorted by his terrible wrath.
"Don't you dare mention my father in such a matter again, ever! Everybody knows he died to save your father's sorry skin!"
"That is true," said Faramir calmly, his eyes not betraying any emotion of fear or anger. "But look what you are dying for. Are you sure it is out of love? Or is it mere selfishness?"
At this the soldier let out a loud cry and raised his fist to strike; yet he never hit Faramir. His fist simply brushed by Faramir's ear to hit the wall behind. The force of the impact was such that Beregond let go of the man, still shouting at the top of his lungs; then he let himself drop on his knees, cradling his bleeding hand against himself and his cries gradually changing to heartbreaking sobs.
Faramir watched him for a few moments; then knelt beside him and drew him close, letting Beregond's head to rest against his chest.
"It hurts," said Beregond, his voice small, resembling a hurt child's.
However, Faramir knew that his friend wasn't talking about the hand.
"I know," he said kindly, his own eyes welling up with unshed tears; and he remained still, holding his companion in a soothing embrace as the latter kept sobbing.
The next morning found the two men sleeping: Beregond in his bed, where Faramir placed him as soon as the mourning man had started nodding off; while the captain slept on a chair nearby, so he would be close at hand if his friend needed anything.
It was the soldier who woke up first, feeling something stirring him off his dreamless sleep. He opened his eyes, trying to figure out what it was. He heard it again, more clearly. Finally understanding, he rose quietly from the bed in order not to disturb his friend's sleep, and walked out to find out what was troubling the baby.
His son was in the cradle, like Beregond expected him to be, still crying. Now Beregond knew that it wasn't lack of food or anything of that kind which could distress the baby so, since the woman that came at his home always took care of that. And so, not knowing what else to do, he picked him up and rocked him gently. To his amazement, the baby calmed down in an instant.
"So you just wanted company, little one! You missed me from our first meeting and wanted to see if I'm here?" he whispered at the baby with a small smile, receiving a light gargling sound for an answer. "You're right: I should be here."
"Now you understand what I was trying to say all along."
Beregond turned. Faramir had apparently walked in and watched Beregond tending the baby, trying to see what he would do. Now, however, he had come at his side, clasping his friend's shoulder. "He needs your love, my friend - now more than ever. He managed to come to this world in spite of everything; I think he deserves a chance to become the man he is destined to be."
"I don't think I can help him," said the guard sadly.
"I know you can," Faramir reassured him. "But, for starters, he needs a name."
Beregond only looked at the baby's eyes.
"He has one now: Bergil. That's what Almiel had suggested if we were to have a boy. It was her father's name."
"Bergil it is then," said Faramir, smiling with approval. "Now come! You should have something to eat after so many days of fasting."
"Not yet. There is still one more thing to be done."
Faramir stared at Beregond, puzzled.
"They performed her burial without me present," explained the guard. "I should go at her resting place at least and say farewell to her. I'll take Bergil with me; and you can come too, if you want."
Faramir accepted the invitation, and the two men walked out in the sunshine, welcoming the rise of the new day.
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.