9. I Am Sorry
Still waiting restlessly outside Beregond's room, the prince banged on the door forcefully once more. What was Beregond trying to do? Stay silent, pretending that he wasn't in there? Faramir knew the captain could only be in his room, for he had searched every other place in the fortress. He waited a few more moments and then banged on the door again.
"Beregond, I swear, if you do not open this instant..."
Just then the door got unlocked, and Faramir pushed himself inside.
Despite the prince's speed, Beregond had already protected his back against the wall and stood there looking at his friend through frightened eyes. Indeed, Beregond didn't even have the time to fight back or shield himself when the prince's fist hit full force on his face; he was helpless when he felt Faramir grabbing him by his shoulders, shaking him violently.
"How could you do this, curse you?" Faramir shouted at the top of his lungs. "I trusted you with my life all these years only for you to repay me like this?"
"Like what?" asked Beregond, half-dazed.
"Are you mocking me?" growled Faramir.
"No. Tell me like what."
"Keeping secrets from me! Stealing Éowyn! Fathering the child that is in her womb!"
"Who has told you I kept secrets from you?" asked Beregond again, feeling his courage returning.
"Ulfast!" shouted Faramir, the calmness in the captain's voice irritating him beyond words.
"And who has told you that Éowyn and I are lovers?"
"Ulfast," said the prince again. Where was Beregond getting with this?
"And who has told you that the child is mine?"
"Ulfast," he answered once more, the distraction making part of his anger flow away.
"My, my, that Ulfast fellow has certainly discovered many things," noted Beregond, with as much sarcasm as he could under the circumstances.
"Just say whatever it is to say," asked the prince impatiently.
"Where is his proof?"
Such a question puzzled Faramir long enough for Beregond to continue.
"Faramir, I know you are a just man. How do you reach a decision whenever two people ask for your advice on a legal matter? Don't you listen to both the men's side of the story? So far you have only listened to one: Ulfast's. Fair enough, I say. But you never heard mine."
"What more do you have to say in this matter?" asked Faramir bitterly. "I saw you and Éowyn together in her room."
"And here is why," said Beregond, reaching for his tunic. That abrupt movement made Faramir nervous enough to reach for his sword and unsheathe it, pointing it at the captain's heart.
Yet, the prince was to discover that there was no need for such alarm. The only thing that the captain had dug out from his tunic was a handful of letters, which he passed slowly to him.
"The signed note I found in my room the day before yesterday; it got me into Lady Éowyn's room. The slightly burned ones were in Ulfast's room," explained Beregond, trying to compose himself and to stop trembling. The way his friend - could he even consider Faramir a friend anymore, really? - had threatened him with his sword was one of the most frightening things in his life.
Meanwhile, Faramir examined the notes closely and he quickly saw that, even though it seemed that one of the notes was signed by Éowyn, that wasn't her handwriting at all; but it matched with the other three notes.
Such was the noble man's amazement at this that he let go of the captain and kept looking at the papers in disbelief.
"Are you ready to listen to what I have to say now?" asked Beregond hesitantly.
Faramir nodded; and the captain told him about everything that he and his son had found out, including the tattoo on Ulfast's hand. Faramir's eyes opened wide in shock, for Beregond had told about that mark when he had recounted his captivity.
"So Ulfast and the cloaked man are the same?" Faramir asked in the end.
The prince let the words sink in and, feeling his head heavy by all these revelations, sat on a chair nearby.
"He lied to me," he murmured.
"He was lying to you constantly from the start," answered Beregond in the same tone. He regarded Faramir's face and his heart contracted to see such disappointment and remorse there. In other times, Beregond would have draped his arms over the prince's shoulders in comfort, but now he hesitated. It was true that he proved Ulfast's malicious intentions; but that didn't mean that Faramir's faith in him had been restored again. And so he still stood with his back against the wall, not moving an inch from there.
Faramir looked at the captain, discerning in Beregond's own face utter sadness and regret; and, in an instant, guilt gripped his heart tightly. How could he have wronged the man so? How could he let Ulfast play with his mind and make him turn against the one person whom he was honoured to call best of friends since childhood? And Éowyn? How could he possibly think that she would dishonour him in such a terrible way?
He closed his eyes, for he knew the answer to all those questions and yet it pained him to admit it.
He was afraid to be betrayed again. Already his father, a man in whom Faramir had absolute faith in spite of their misgivings, was ready to have him, his own son, the only one after Boromir's death, burnt alive. It was true that everyone, including himself, kept saying that it was in a moment of madness and that his father indeed loved him, but... his own father wanted to burn him alive. That thought echoed constantly in his mind, and since that day, the same gnawing fear of betrayal lingered in his mind, though he never talked it with anyone - not even Beregond.
And now he let Ulfast take advantage of it. Could he have been more of a fool?
He rose and approached Beregond, who only averted his eyes and turned his head away. That pained Faramir to no end, for he now realised how deeply he had wounded the captain's feelings the past few days. With some apprehension, he drew him close, and held him in a warm embrace.
"Goheno nín..."* he whispered, his voice hoarse and raw with emotion, begging his friend for forgiveness.
Beregond shifted at that and Faramir feared for a moment that the captain wished to pull himself away. But he quickly felt his comrade's arms returning the embrace.
"Ú-moe edaved, gwador nín,"** he heard him say softly.
The term had surprised Faramir - and honoured him - beyond words. He faced his friend again and saw that, even though Beregond's eyes had turned misty with tears, a broad smile brightened his whole countenance.
Indeed Beregond couldn't be gladder to see Faramir back to his old self, the one that he cared for and had sworn to protect even with his life if necessary. However, now was not the time to rejoice, for Ulfast still had to be dealt with. He stood at attention and faced Faramir.
"Your orders, sir?" he asked with respect, although he couldn't force his smile away from his lips.
Faramir smiled approvingly and clasped a hand on the faithful guard's shoulder.
"Let us go find a traitor."
"Aye, sir," said Beregond, hardly containing his excitement. But just when they were about to walk out the door, he slackened, something troubling his mind.
"What?" asked the prince, turning to the captain.
"I am sorry too," he whispered.
Faramir frowned at these words.
"What are you talking about?"
Beregond didn't answer. Faramir watched how his friend looked down, fumbling a bit with his shirt, an obvious sign that he felt guilty about something. What could it be though? The captain hadn't done anything wrong, to the best of Faramir's knowledge.
Beregond raised his head again, as though startled from a dream.
"I will tell you later. Let us find Ulfast. I am afraid by now he could be anywhere."
"Is Bergil still watching him?" asked Faramir.
"Whenever he can."
"Then go find your son," said the prince decisively. "He might be able to tell you of his whereabouts. I will go find Éowyn and gather as many men as possible."
Beregond nodded his acknowledgment and they both parted, each to his own task.
Just as the captain had suspected, Ulfast wasn't in his room anymore. So now Beregond had to locate him swiftly before the wicked man would attempt any more harm on anybody else. The dormitories where Bergil spent his nights were close, so he hurried there, hoping to find his son. To his good fortune, he came across him as he was leaving to take up his task on watching Ulfast.
"Father? What is the matter?"
"The game is afoot, Bergil," said Beregond with urgency. "Faramir knows the truth, but Ulfast is missing."
"Then let us find him!" exclaimed the lad. "Do you have any idea where he could be?"
"Not really," admitted the captain. "Although, considering the place has proven too dangerous to stay here any longer, he might attempt to leave; and he will not allow anything or anyone stand on his path. Bergil, I don't think I have to tell you how dangerous he is. Are you armed?"
"I have my bow."
"Good," said Beregond. "Have it ready at hand always. I am afraid we will have to separate to find him the swifter."
"I am ready to do as you say."
"Then let us make haste," said Beregond. He was starting to walk away when he turned, remembering himself: "And watch your back, my boy."
"Always," grinned Bergil and headed in the opposite direction.
The captain quickly found himself in the yard, and he cursed slightly, because he still hadn't found any sign of Ulfast. He put his mind to work, trying to think of where could the fiend go. The Númenórean wouldn't leave from the main gate, that was for certain, since the guards there would stop him; so he had to leave through another way. But what would that be?
It was then that he remembered that the Dwarves had made a passage from which the people of the fortress could flee and escape to the plains in case of danger. That causeway was no secret among the soldiers, so he was positive that Ulfast had heard of it too at some point. Without further hesitation, he hurried to that direction, where, true enough, he saw Ulfast about to enter through the passage, wearing his black cloak once more to cover him in the darkness of the night.
Beregond sprang at once and pushed the scoundrel to the ground. Before Ulfast could get back to his feet, Beregond had unsheathed his sword and rested it against the fugitive's neck.
"Leaving again?" he asked, sarcasm in his every word.
Ulfast looked up at the captain, his fist clenching the ground in anger.
"What are you going to do, kill me? You can go ahead!" he said angrily.
"Oh, I know you would prefer to die than face the wrath of the one you deceived," was the captain's reply. "But I am not the one to decide your fate. The Prince of Ithilien will judge you for your crimes and the decision will lie within him."
"You fool!" spat Ulfast in contempt, "I do not answer to the laws of Middle-earth, nor will I ever!"
"You will, since I stand between you and your only means of escape."
Ulfast regarded Beregond through venomous eyes.
"I see. Well then..."
At that instant, the malicious man threw the dirt that his hand had grasped earlier at Beregond's eyes.
Surprised and blinded, Beregond didn't have time, or the chance, to defend himself against Ulfast, who, seizing the opportunity, grabbed his knife from his belt and attacked. Holding Beregond's throat with one hand, Ulfast used his other to plunge the knife deep into the captain's chest. Beregond cried out in pain and then, feeling his strength and senses ebbing away, he fell in a heap on the ground.
Ulfast looked at Beregond's still form with immense satisfaction. Even though he hadn't succeeded in ruling Ithilien, at least he had gotten his vengeance on the man that had foiled his plans.
It wasn't meant for his triumph to last long, however. Just as he was turning to the passage again, he heard behind him the twang of a bow and felt the sharp, stinging pain of something piercing him through. The last thing he saw before the cold fingers of death gripped his soul was the just wrath in Bergil's eyes.
At about the time that Beregond was heading for the passageway to find Ulfast, Faramir was sending every soldier that he encountered on his way to search for the traitor also. It wasn't long before he had found himself in front of Éowyn's room. Knowing very well that she was in, he knocked in a polite manner at the door.
If the lady had heard him, she didn't make any such sign; but Faramir didn't intend on giving up on her so easily. He felt truly sorry for what had passed between them and he wanted to get this off of his chest.
"I know Ulfast was lying," he said, hoping he would be heard through the closed door. "Beregond explained everything, including what brought him in your room. He showed me Ulfast's notes."
Still no sound could be heard from inside. Sighing deeply, Faramir rested his head on the door in defeat.
"You have every right to be angry with me, and I will understand if you do not wish to forgive me after what I did. For all that it is worth, I wanted to say that I am sorry for doubting you in such a cruel way; I am sorry for my lack of faith in you; and I am sorry for hurting you... both."
He waited for a few moments, hoping that he would get an answer this time, no matter what it would be; then lowered his eyes saddened, seeing that it was of no use. He was about to walk away, his heart filled with bitterness, when the door opened and Éowyn came out.
"You are fortunate I love you so much," remarked the fair woman, throwing herself into his arms and tears falling down her pale cheeks.
Exhaling a breath that he hadn't realised he held till now, Faramir returned the strong embrace, his own joy written on his face, and their lips sealing again the unity which they both feared they had lost. They remained for many moments in each other's arms, not wishing to let go of the other.
"I am glad that it is over," declared Éowyn with a sigh, her heart still beating happily against her husband's. "What of Ulfast, then?"
"I do not know where he is," answered Faramir, his eyes darkening at the mention of that name, "but Beregond and the rest of the men are looking for him even as we speak. It will not be long before they find him and place him into custody."
"How come you did not go with them?"
"I wanted to talk to you first, otherwise I would never be able to lift the burden that had settled in my soul," admitted the prince. "Anyway, I am certain Beregond will take care of everything."
Éowyn smiled slightly at this.
"It is good to see that you have come to trust him once more."
Faramir answered with a smile of his own. It was then that a voice calling out for him made him turn.
"Over here, Damrod!" he cried back.
Soon enough the second captain, accompanied by a soldier, appeared before the couple. The look on both their faces was so strangely sad that it puzzled Faramir.
"What is it?" he asked apprehensively.
"It is Ulfast, sir," replied Damrod slowly.
"He has escaped?" exclaimed the prince.
"No, my lord, far from that. But Captain Beregond is... your presence is needed, sir," the captain finally blurted out.
Faramir actually felt the blood draining from his cheeks at such words. His eyes darted back and forth between Damrod and Éowyn, clearly showing his indecision: he was frightened about what might have come to pass, but he didn't wish to leave Éowyn either.
In the end, it was the woman that whispered to him what to do.
"Run to find him. I will follow."
Faramir didn't have to be told twice. Kissing his wife lightly on her cheek, he turned to Damrod and asked him to lead the way, leaving the soldier and Éowyn behind.
The two men hurried outside and, in a matter of minutes, they had come to the Dwarven passageway, where Faramir saw a group of soldiers standing in a circle, looking down at something. But nothing had prepared the prince for the sight that he was about to witness. In the middle of that circle he discerned Bergil on his knees, his arms cradling the limp, bloody form of his father and his tears wetting Beregond's face as they were shed without stop.
Without losing any time, Faramir rushed at the lad's side and looked at his friend's face. He was shocked to see it deathly white.
"What happened?" he asked, but his eyes quickly saw the knife still protruding from Beregond's chest.
"Ulfast stabbed him... please, help him, sir," was all that Bergil managed to say amid his sobs.
"I will do everything within my power," Faramir assured him. He quickly turned to Damrod. "Where is the healer? Is he on his way?"
"I fear not, sire," replied the captain in regret; "He had another call this afternoon in town and he hasn't returned yet."
"Do you know where he went?"
"Then go fetch him, quickly!"
"Aye, sir!" replied Damrod and ran to the gates.
Faramir's eyes then locked on another guard nearby and he signalled to him discreetly, motioning his head toward Bergil. The soldier nodded his understanding and took Bergil away, even though the boy resisted at first. At that moment, Éowyn arrived as well, and the first thing she saw was the body of Ulfast, lying where it had fallen, forgotten.
"Take him away, we will bury him outside the gates tomorrow," she ordered the soldiers nearby, "and no name shall be placed over him, nor shall the fiend be named again from this day forth. With his burial alone he has already earned much more than he deserved."
The guards bowed in acknowledgment and lifted Ulfast's body in silence. Just before they had disappeared in the darkness of the night, they all cast a worried glance at their captain, all sharing the same thought: that their lord would help Beregond pull through.
Meanwhile, Faramir was working on Beregond desperately. He had removed the knife, something that resulted in more blood gushing out from the wound. Being prepared for it, the prince pressed on the injury with a piece of cloth he had ripped from his own tunic, trying to hinder as much blood loss as possible. After binding the cloth in place with his belt and covering the guard with his overcoat, Faramir tried to wake his friend up, sometimes patting Beregond's ashen cheek, sometimes rubbing his frozen hand; and all the while speaking to him, slipping continuously from the Common Tongue to the Elven and back in his upset state.
Éowyn knelt by her husband's side, looking with increasing worry at the effort the man made without managing any response from Beregond.
"Is he...?" she started.
"No, he cannot be," answered Faramir hastily, his eyes never leaving Beregond. "You hear that, mellon nín? You are not dead, so fight! Rennich i beth lín?*** Do not dare back away from it now. Gerich faer bell. Maetho, aníron!"****
However, nothing happened; so Faramir placed a trembling hand over Beregond's heart, hoping that he would sense at least a heartbeat. Some moments passed, and the prince still hadn't picked up any pulse.
"Baw, Beregond,"***** Faramir said in a hushed quivering voice, tears of exasperation that had welled up finally streaming down his face. "Do not do this to me. Give me a sign that you are still alive. Do not let Death claim you as his own, not yet. Lastach beth nín?****** I do not want you to die now!"
Time passed, and Faramir still held his hand over his friend's heart, his own hammering against his chest. He had become almost delirious as he begged Beregond to stay alive.
But, no matter how hard he tried, he never felt any heartbeat.
As soon as this realisation sank in, the prince's body started trembling, while his hands grasped the shoulders of the lifeless form and started shaking it violently.
"You had promised!" he cried out, "'I will die when you say I can!' These were your exact words!"
"Faramir..." said Éowyn, but he wouldn't listen to her. He still talked to Beregond, beside himself now.
"Why do you back away from your promise now? Why, curse you? WHY?" he asked again and again, his voice finally reaching to a scream.
"Husband, enough!" cried the woman, cupping his face in her hands and forcing him to look at her. "It is over."
Faramir regarded her, his eyes reflecting his confusion and shock.
"But, Éowyn," he said finally after long silence, "he cannot die... He simply cannot! He has still so much to offer in this world! I, of all people, know this best! Was he not always there for me, listening to me, comforting me, making me laugh, protecting me? And when he stood up against my father he gave me more than life, he gave me you! For had I died at my father's pyre I would never have set eyes upon you and loved you!" His voice became mellower, his mind drifting to better memories. "You know what he called me a little while before we parted? Gwador - sworn brother. And, truly, he had been my brother in everything. Everything except blood."
His eyes turned to look upon his friend. It was strange, but at that moment it seemed to the prince that the lines on Beregond's pale face smoothed away, and that he was looking now at the face of his childhood companion as he remembered him in a similar situation: the time when they were children and Beregond had caught pneumonia because they had swum across the Anduin to escape the Orcs that had attacked them. When Beregond had lost consciousness, Faramir had thought that his friend had really died, and it took a great amount of effort from the bridge-keepers that had found them to convince him that his companion was actually alive.
Now, however, he had to believe in a different kind of truth: that he himself had looked for Beregond's heart, only to find out that its beating had ceased.
His shoulders shuddering with spasms of grief, Faramir nestled Beregond's form in his arms and, lowering himself down, kissed the captain's brow as two words flowed out in a soft whisper.
"I am sorry..."
Then, resting his forehead against his dear comrade's, he let his mournful sobs reach up to the star-embroidered sky above.
*Goheno nín: Forgive me (sindarin)
**Ú-moe edaved, gwador nín: There's nothing to forgive, sworn brother. (Sindarin)
*** Rennich i beth lín?: Do you remember your word? (Sindarin)
**** Gerich faer bell. Maetho, aníron!: You have a strong spirit. Fight, please. (Sindarin)
*****Baw, Beregond: Don't, Beregond (sindarin).
****** Lastach beth nín?: Do you hear me? (Sindarin)
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.