1. The King's Judgement
Not only was he apparently forgiven for violating an order and, far more severe, spilling the blood of good men, men who had been convinced that they were in the right in obeying their Steward's orders and seeing him as a traitor. Not only this he had to comprehend and digest. He had even received a promotion, to a post for which he had absolutely no experience.
It was simply too difficult, near impossible to take it all in right now.
Despite his short interview with the King in Cormallen four weeks ago, in which Elessar had assured him that he would do all in his power for Beregond not to have to face the death penalty as laid down by law, Beregond had not been able to let go of his doubts. The plain fact was that he did not know this man who was to be his king – a king nobody had really believed would ever return – and he did not know if King Elessar would actually have the power to reduce the prescribed penalty for his deeds to anything less severe. Beregond had thought, and still did, that it would not and should not be too easy even for a king to change time-honoured law. And all the support and encouragement he had received from fellow soldiers and other friends had done little for his anxieties, even while comforting him that others were able to see extenuating circumstances and thus perceive his acts in a more favourable light.
Living all these weeks in limbo, a time of suspended judgement, had been hard for him; in addition to his own remorse and the relentless questions of his own conscience, the war and especially the battle at the Morannon – and the march filled with dread and little hope which had preceded it – had taken their toll on him, as it had on all the soldiers. The strain had manifested itself in deep furrows on his brows and dark circles under his eyes. He even thought he had detected the first silver in his hair just yesterday while shaving.
Smiling crookedly at himself for having such frivolous thoughts in a moment like this, he made his way through the door on his left that would lead him to the little courtyard where his family would be waiting with some friends.
He mused that his fate had possibly been even harder on his young son than it had been on himself. Bergil, who had stayed in Minas Tirith during the last onslaught of Sauron as one of merely a handful of boys running errands or delivering messages, had lived through all the horror war inflicted on land and people. In addition to that, the loss of his mother who had died in childbirth not two years ago and the death of his newborn sister just scant hours afterwards was a matter still raw in his memories.
Beregond had wanted to send the boy south with the wains to his grandfather in Lossarnach, but the boy had pleaded so fervently not to be parted from his father that he had not had the heart to deny him, even though he had not been convinced that it was a good idea. Certainly it would have been so much easier on the child not to know the war and its ghastly manifestations this close at hand. And later Beregond would have given almost anything to spare Bergil the knowledge of what potentially lay in store for his father. He worried what long-term costs these events would have on his son.
He only hoped his own father Baranor had been kept in ignorance of it all, but knowing the swiftness of rumours he was not confident on that score. He resolved to write a long letter to Lossarnach as soon as he had a moment to spare, although he rather thought Bergil would monopolise him for the near future. Not that he objected to that, thought Beregond ruefully. He needed this closeness to his son for himself, as well.
Rounding the last corner, he left the building and stepped through the shadowed arches framing the little courtyard.
As if conjured by his last thoughts, his eyes fell on Bergil sitting huddled on a bench, the anxious expression that had never seemed to leave his face for the past weeks evident, despite his brave attempts to hide it behind an impassive mask. Iorlas held him comfortingly by the shoulder, but Beregond could see that his brother-in-law was as worried as Bergil.
As soon as they caught sight of him, their gazes raked him from head to foot in swift appraisal, as if wanting to assure themselves that no one had cut off any limbs and no other physical punishment had been meted out.
"Father!" cried Bergil then, springing up from the bench and hurtling himself into his father's arms. Beregond's throat closed a moment, completely overcome now that he held his boy in his arms. He hugged him tightly, only slightly loosening the embrace when Bergil wriggled a bit in discomfort.
Iorlas had followed at a considerably slower pace, but was now also squeezing his shoulders, his eyes searching his face. Beregond was only capable of a small smile and a reassuring nod over the head of his son, but it seemed it was enough for the moment. Iorlas let his breath out in a slow, soft sigh, and relaxed visibly.
He was still too pale, Beregond noted with concern, and silently questioned the wisdom of his being up and out of the Houses of Healing. The wound, incurred at the Black Gate by the axe of an Easterling who had narrowly missed severing Iorlas' shield-arm, was surely still quite tender and painful. But he had to admit that he was very glad that Iorlas had been here for Bergil, and for the mostly silent support that he had given them both in their tense situation despite his condition.
Stroking through Bergil's forever unruly curls, he found himself murmuring, over and over, "Lad, all is well, do not worry. Nothing will happen to me. The King has pardoned me. It is all right now..." Gradually he felt his own words affecting him as well, melting away some of the fears he had held under an almost desperate hold for so long.
After a time, he cleared his throat and moved Bergil gently away from him, gesturing at Iorlas, who had sat down again on the bench. "Let us go someplace where your uncle can sit down more comfortably and we can talk. I promise I will tell you all that has happened today in Court. Very exciting, all things considered, and not only for me." He wiggled his eyebrows at his son, and managed to coax a smile from him, still a little tremulous, but genuine.
Iorlas' face lightened up as well. He chafed at being cooped up in the Houses of Healing, far away from the exciting events that seemingly followed one another in lightning-quick succession these days –although Beregond secretly wondered how anyone around garrulous Ioreth would not always be provided with all the latest gossip and could complain about being shut off from current affairs.
Some of Beregond's comrades and other friends had been present in the Hall of the Kings and had in the meanwhile obviously told their fellows who had waited with Iorlas and Bergil what had passed within. They had apparently held back until this point to give the family a little privacy, but now came over to him to proffer their congratulations.
The first to come forward was Diegan, one of Beregond's oldest friends in the guard.
"Beregond, I am so glad for you," he said quietly, smiling at him and taking his forearm in a hard grip. Then he looked down at Bergil and asked, "I suppose that means I will have to move out of your house immediately so you can have it all for yourselves again?"
Bergil still looked rather dazed and could not answer. Instead it was Beregond who responded, "I would be happy for you to stay as long as you like. But will your own family not be waiting for you to finally return, now that they have all come back again?"
Diegan had been released from the Houses of Healing a while ago after an ugly leg wound. He had, on Beregond's request, stayed with Bergil while Beregond was away from Minas Tirith, and since his own family, apart from his brothers-in-law, had left the city to find refuge with some distant relatives in the south quite early on when it became apparent that his wife was pregnant. Bergil was quite fond of Diegan, so it had been a great relief for Beregond to know that his son was not only not left alone, but had a friend staying with him, and sparing him having to leave his familiar surroundings.
"I rather fancy Diegan is not so eager to return to his family," called Malgelir, another comrade from the Third Company, striding to the front of the throng, his tawny-haired head as always a startling contrast to the typical Númenórean dark hair of most of his peers.
Passing Diegan who waved a fist at him in mock warning, he came to stand before Beregond and delivered a hardy blow on his back that made him stagger.
"You know how they all are: The whole lot of them will all converge on him the moment he sets foot in the door, and fuss and bustle and quickly drive him mad! I wager he was rather glad for having a little peace and quiet in your house, Beregond."
His words were greeted with a great shout of laughter. Diegan lived in his parents' home, together with not merely his parents, his own wife and now two children, but with his a brother and a sister and their families, as well as his youngest sister, Malgelir's bride-to-be. They all loved each other dearly, but the situation was the source of endless, good-natured teasing by his comrades.
Consequently, Diegan simply rolled his eyes and answered dryly, "Yes, I am sure I will wish to have stayed in the Houses of Healing to enjoy the stillness and solitude there. Not to mention the unobtrusive and taciturn services of some of the healers." After waiting for the fresh laughter to subside – he, too, had been in the healing wing Mistress Ioreth was in charge of – he said to Beregond, "Seriously, I think you two will have much to talk about, undisturbed. I think it would be better if I leave you to it. And, I admit, I begin to miss my home, hard as it may be to credit it." He winked at Malgelir.
Beregond acquiesced to Diegan's suggestion, and tried to convey with a look how deeply grateful he was for all he had done for them. Diegan seemed to understand, and nodded briefly, before he stepped back, pulling Malgelir with him, to let the next congratulator approach.
It was Mairen, who had been a good friend of his wife. She seemed at a loss for words, merely looked him over seriously, and then hugged him fiercely.
Beregond held her for a long moment, feeling her trembling, and blinked a few times to clear his eyes, which kept wanting to blur. He swallowed hard, then whispered in her ear, "It is all right, Mairen. Thank you very much for coming, and for visiting Bergil after your return to the city."
She smiled tremulously up to him and then released him, making way in her turn for his other friends.
The back-slapping and hand-wringing went on for some time, many of his friends clearly at a loss for words in their relief, and to his amazement Beregond noticed even stoical Targon surreptitiously wiping his eyes.
Then he caught sight of his captain.
The others fell back, leaving Eradan to step forward until he was facing Beregond. The latter unconsciously straightened, unsure what to expect from the Captain, whom he had last met such a short while ago when he had been escorted by him to the Hall of the Kings to receive his judgement.
It was impossible to read his grave expression with its deep scar marring the left cheek, impossible to guess if he agreed with the King's decision or not. The Captain nodded, once, flicking his strange, light-brown eyes over the assembly. Then he said, "Beregond, upon the King's command, you are released from all duty for the next four days. After that, you are required to present yourself to Steward Faramir at the third hour of the following day." His gaze then turned to Bergil, who had stepped close to his father again, clutching his arm anxiously. "Bergil, the Warden of the Old Guesthouse is already informed that you are still off-duty for the time being." With these words, and a further nod which included the whole assembly, he turned and strode off.
The others, who had watched the exchange with faintly worried expressions, seemed as if released by the Captain's departure, and converged again upon the family.
After a time Iorlas tapped his brother-in-law's side from his place on the bench and said in an undertone, "I am sorry to disturb the festivities, but I fear I will have to go back to the Houses of Healing."
Beregond looked at him closely and nodded in agreement when he noticed Iorlas' pinched expression and the light sweat on his face, which had all of a sudden lost even its last trace of colour.
Bergil, with the air of an expert, piped up, "It is time for your medicine, Uncle!"
Iorlas rolled his eyes in annoyance at the reminder, which prompted Malgelir to say slyly, "Bergil, you will have to make sure your uncle actually drinks it all."
"Thanks ever so much, Malgelir!" Iorlas groused sourly.
Beregond winked at his son, who grinned back unrepentantly.
The others, not wanting to tax Iorlas unduly, left with many cheery waves and the promise to celebrate properly at a later date. Merely Diegan stayed, to help Beregond in supporting Iorlas to his room in the Houses of Healing. There he left as well, to prepare for moving out of Beregond's home to return to his own family.
Once they had reached their destination, Beregond helped Iorlas to shed his clothes and crawl under the blanket in his nightshirt, sending Bergil to get the healer with the medicine and ask for a jug of water for them all.
After a short while the boy came back from his errand, bringing Ioreth with him, who had insisted on accompanying him personally. She brought not only the medicine, but also a servant who carried, in addition to the requested water, a beaker of sweet ale, as well as a quite varied plate of bread, cheeses, cold meats and some apples. While handing out the medicine to Iorlas, who swallowed it with a grimace, and a cup with the juice of an orange to Bergil, who sipped his drink with considerably more appreciation and wide, delighted eyes at the rare treat, she was living up to her reputation and explained at great length how happy she had been to hear of Beregond's fortune, how she had brought the food because she felt certain that they were hungry after all this excitement, how all growing boys had to eat properly, how the oranges had come all the way from Harad with the embassy and how the King himself had personally ordered for them to be sent to the Houses of Healing.
"He is a great healer, the Lord Elfstone, just like I said, he has 'the hands of a healer' (1). He suggested how the fruits would be beneficial for all the patients, and how the juice should be pressed for those too weak to chew. We have known of this usage of oranges before, of course, but as they are so rare to come by even here in Minas Tirith, it was good of him to remind us. And he ordered that the fruits were not merely for the patients, no. The King ordered explicitly that the staff should have some, too. As I always said, the Lord Elfstone has a golden heart..." (2)
After renewing Iorlas' bandages, chattering all the while in a never-ending but oddly soothing stream of words, she left them with a final tousling of Bergil's hair, smiling kindly.
The boy grimaced surreptitiously, but waited with the futile task of trying to bring his hair in some kind of order until Ioreth was gone. He had grown quite fond of the old woman in the past months, his father knew, when Bergil had so often been in and out of the Houses of Healing for this or that errand.
Then he eyed his father and demanded, a little impatiently, that he finally begin with his account of today's happenings.
Beregond, highly amused, considered delaying his report still further with insisting on eating first, but let this plan fall at once – it would be inconsiderate of him to let them wait any longer after they had gone through so much worried waiting already. And he did plan to let them wait a while in any case, preceding the report of his own case in favour of relating news of a more general import. Furthermore, he suspected that his desire for teasing them was more a consequence of the giddy relief he was still feeling, hence he tried to rein in his self-control once more.
He drank a cup of ale to moisten his throat before remarking, "After all, you already know the gist of it: I am still alive." They greeted this feeble attempt at a joke with the wrinkled noses it deserved, but he continued unabashedly, "and you overheard my fellows in the courtyard. Surely they were enthusiastic enough for you to understand them."
"But it was all so confusing!" complained Bergil in frustration, grabbing one of the apples. "All you said was that you are pardoned and that everything would be all right. But what did the King say, exactly? And the others just now – I think they said some other things happened as well. But I could not understand very much, they all kept talking at once – and you know Auntie Mairen, she always speaks so softly you can hardly hear her! I think that now I understand even less than before!"
Beregond had to grin at this outburst. He shrugged nonchalantly and drawled, "Well, you will just have to wait until I come to the point myself."
Bergil specifically tried to look unimpressed at first, to get his father to jump directly to the part that was most important to the family, but Beregond noticed that both his son and Iorlas soon were drawn into the flow of his narration.
"And he has pardoned the Easterlings? Sent them home free, just like that?" His brother-in-law frowned upon hearing of this decision. He had refused Beregond's offer of the food, only downing two full cups of water in quick succession to get rid of the bitter taste of the medicine.
"Well, if he pardons the Haradrim, he cannot very well punish the soldiers from Khand, can he?" countered Beregond in a reasonable tone, although he knew that this was not the point of contention.
Iorlas rubbed at his arm in an unconscious gesture, wincing when he pressed too hard on the still healing wound. Beregond gently took his hand and drew it away from the bandages.
"But why does he pardon them at all?" Bergil wanted to know. "They attacked us and killed many men!"
Iorlas looked as if he wanted to ask the same question.
Beregond sighed inwardly; it was not a question he felt able to answer, as his own feelings on the matter were ambiguous as well, and, naturally, he did not know the reasoning of the King and his counsellors. But he owed it to his son to try. And to Iorlas as well, who had lost even the last long-lingering traces of his youthful exuberance since his sister's death and the last great battles. The siblings had been very close, and Iorlas' posting in the first circle had brought him face-to-face with the enemy, far closer than Beregond had been himself before the final battle in Mordor. From the little Iorlas had told, or what Beregond had overheard in nightmare mutterings sitting beside his sickbed, he had been in a part of the town where the gruesome barrage with the heads of their fallen comrades had come down. No wonder the King's decision did not sit well with him.
To give himself time to formulate a helpful answer, Beregond took refuge with the food tray. He picked a piece of aromatic cheese, a rasher of bacon, and put it all between two slices of bread. Then, noticing his son's wistful gaze, he gave it to Bergil, making another one for himself. Just like he used to do when his son had still been a small child. A look of perfect understanding passed between them.
After the Standing Silence, and between bites of this impromptu sandwich, he explained slowly, "Well... Look at it this way: We have won, and if those men return home, they will bring news of their sound defeat and of the downfall of the Dark Lord with them. This should frighten their leaders who are responsible for sending the soldiers to attack us, and weaken the confidence of their people. And now they are utterly decimated. They are no longer supported by masses of Orcs, and any magical devices of the Enemy have vanished with him, as we have been told by Mithrandir. From what I know, the alliances of these diverse peoples among themselves and with the creatures of... of Sauron were tenuous at best. Without him to control them, many will presumably begin to fight among themselves, and so stand alone and separated against the combined might of the West."
He had actually hesitated a moment before speaking out loud the name of their vanquished foe, but talks in Cormallen with a lot of different people had made him appreciate the notion that to fear to call things or persons by their name was to give them a hold on you, to increase the dread they induced.
After swallowing his last bite and cleaning his fingers on a napkin he concluded, "Maybe they will be so frightened of us that we will have peace for a time. Maybe, and I admit I have a hard time imagining it, but just maybe they will abandon their aggressions now because they want it, because they see that to strive for peaceful relations is the better way. Do you not think that would be a good idea?" That last was addressed particularly to his son.
Bergil frowned, thinking through all his father had said. Hesitantly he answered, "I guess so. I mean... Obviously it would be good if there were no longer any fighting. But it is nevertheless unjust if they can just go even though they have killed our soldiers."
Iorlas and Beregond exchanged sober glances.
The latter began, slowly, groping his way through this extraordinarily thorny topic, "Bergil, although they were our enemies, they are not necessarily evil. Soldiers fight, and if two persons fight, only one can win, which often means the death of the other one. Soldiers have to follow their orders; if they are told to attack someone, they must obey. It is truly horribly difficult to say, 'No, I will not obey these orders' if one disagrees with them. And it happens almost never without dire consequences. If not, if soldiers would be allowed to argue and question every order, it would seriously disrupt the discipline of the army, lead to inefficiency and could, ultimately, lead to chaos and anarchy. It is especially difficult to decide in the heat of battle, or in similarly urgent or confusing situations. Most of the time, soldiers often merely know that the enemy is the enemy; they might not know the exact reasons or the detailed circumstances why they are fighting there and then. Soldiers who do question or disobey their orders nonetheless must be prepared to face a very severe cost for this disobedience."
Bergil had become very still during the last words, clearly re-examining his own father's situation in this light. He put down the rest of his sandwich, moved closer to Beregond and groped for his hand.
Beregond gave his son's hand a firm squeeze, to remind him that all was well. Softly, he resumed, "Son, it is hard for me to speak of this, but I must tell you: Sometimes the right thing to do is to disobey certain orders if they are wrong and you can see that they are wrong,even if you know what the consequences will be – and you must then be prepared to accept those consequences! But you must listen to your conscience and think of all you know of the facts and the circumstances before acting. I am sorry that I left my post without the necessary permission, and I deeply regret..." He had to clear his throat before he was able to continue, "...I regret from the bottom of my heart that I killed those men in Rath Dínen. But I am fairly sure I would do it again in the same circumstances. Even had the outcome not been as favourable as it is now – and you know I could not have known that it would indeed turn out so well as it now has."
"...Which you still have not revealed to us, brother mine," Iorlas remarked, lightening the bleak mood reigning in the chamber at this moment.
With a grateful look at his late wife's brother, Beregond squeezed Bergil's cold hand again.
"Well, I am still not through with the rest of the news, am I?"
Consequently he described all he had been able to register from the back row even in the distracted state he had been in at the time: Of them the embassies that had come from all over Middle-earth.Of the rewards that had been given to the valorous. And he reported on the releasing of the slaves of Mordor and how they had been gifted with the lands round about Lake Núrnen (3), news that was met with incomprehension by his audience.
"If I had been a slave in Mordor, the last place I would want to be and to stay is close to that wretched place," said Iorlas with utter conviction, and Bergil nodded in agreement.
"From what I can tell, the lands around the lake are quite fertile – it is where the food for the armies of Mordor had been produced. My best guess is that many of these slaves do not have a home to return to anymore, or are afraid of returning, or have built a home there, despite their position as slaves. A further reason may be this: They have invested so much blood, sweat, tears and pain in these lands, now they finally have a chance to garner a just profit by it. For my part, I, too, find it hard to comprehend, and perhaps there will not be that many people who do decide to stay there."
As if the thought of slavery triggered a feeling of thirst, Bergil finally relinquished his father's hand to pour himself a cup of water, seeming a little disappointed that the orange juice had been limited to one cup only.
Beregond, who was headed to the part in the narration that was eagerly expected by his audience, allowed himself one final detour to tease his brother-in-law. Knowing that Iorlas was quite fascinated with the exploits of the White Lady of Rohan, he reported, "The Rohirrim will depart in the next few days. Éomer King wants to start bringing his lands in order as soon as possible."
"And Théoden King?" Iorlas wanted to know. "Will he be buried here in Gondor?"
"No, he will not. He will stay in Rath Dínen for the time being, but the Rohirrim will make all the preparations for an appropriate burial in their own land and then return here in two months' time to escort Théoden with all honours to his final resting place. It is expected that this funeral cortège will be joined by many nobles and important personages from many different lands and races." Then, in a casual tone, he added, "The Lady Éowyn will accompany her brother back to Rohan now as well."
Iorlas' eyes widened in his surprise, and his face showed disappointment and regret.
But it was Bergil who voiced his feelings, obviously as upset as his uncle at losing the presence of the White Lady who had been a welcome guest of the Houses of Healing for so long, and who had spoken kindly to him a few times.
"But I thought she and Lord Faramir wanted to marry! Has something happened between them?"
"Not as far as I know. The lady wanted to accompany her brother to help him, I gather, and to say farewell to her home before her marriage. I dare say Lord Faramir has similar feelings right now as you two." His eyes twinkled merrily.
Bergil blushed bright red, while Iorlas hid behind an extremely dignified expression, which however resolved itself after only a few seconds in a bashful grin, his dimples deepening in his cheeks.
In a seemingly abrupt shift of topic, Beregond asked then, "Iorlas, how long until you are fully healed?"
Iorlas eagerly seized on this topic to distract from his embarrassment. "The Warden said I could leave in a week, but I still have to take care of my arm for a few weeks after that, and I will have to return here regularly for some further treatment. I guess I will be ready to resume my duties in two months' time, at the latest."
Beregond fought to suppress the grin that was trying to break out with his next words. "So... Would you have any interest in changing units again and work for the Captain of the White Company of the Prince of Ithilien?"
Total silence greeted this question.
Then: "White Company?" Bergil asked baffled.
"Prince of Ithilien?" was Iorlas' equally puzzled query.
Seemingly ignoring their bewilderment, Beregond elaborated in an earnest manner, "The Captain of the White Company is looking for good people for his staff and I am sure that, as a former Ranger, you would fit right in, Iorlas."
Frowning, Iorlas sat up in bed, cramming some pillows behind his back with his sound hand to help him stay upright. "I am sure I have never heard of a 'White Company' before! And even if there is one such company, should you not discuss it with their captain before you offer someone a place among their ranks?"
Blandly, Beregond answered, "I do not usually discuss things with myself."
Seeing their utter confusion, he could not hold back his laughter any longer. It rang through the chamber, even resonating slightly in the crockery on the table. Tracking the thoughts in their open faces, the slowly dawning comprehension as they finally came to the right conclusion, was pure delight.
"The King made you Captain? Really?" Bergil hugged his father with shining eyes.
Iorlas made a gesture suggestive of a salute. But the confusion had not abated, and he pressed for an explanation. "White Company? And since when, by Tulkas, is there a Prince of Ithilien? And whoever is that supposed to be?"
Now that the truth was finally out, Beregond downed a new cup of ale in practically one gulp, returning his child's embrace one-armed, but ignoring his brother-in-law, who settled himself with evidently little patience but a lot of goodwill to wait for him. Obviously Iorlas guessed that Beregond was suddenly overwhelmed himself all over again by this revelation, as if only saying it out loud had truly given it substance and reality.
Somehow he had spent all his words for the time being, and instead let go inwardly of his hold on his feelings. He practically revelled in it, in this thrilling sensation, light-headed and light-hearted, which he had experienced, on and off, since his doom had been proclaimed which had resulted in such a joyous reversal of his grim expectations.
He could still not grasp the fact that he should be a captain, a captain of a whole new unit, in a completely new environment. He was exhilarated, not merely for his reprieve, but also for this extraordinary chance he was given.
Yes, he did wonder if this high honour was not beyond him. As thankful as he was, he felt overwhelmed with it and, to be honest, uncomfortable when thinking of the events that had lead to this distinction: the disobedience, the fight, the loss of life, and the grief of the bereaved.
Once again, he tried to push this to the back of his mind for the time being; he knew he was incapable at the moment to cope with all that when his family was here and was in such a glad mood.
Concentrating therefore on more practical matters, he thought of the high responsibility the task would entail – also a source of anxiety, but less fraught with regret and doubt. He was, after all, merely a man from the rank and file and had neither lordship nor had ever held a rank in which he would have had the chance to learn expertise in leadership (4). He hoped that during the upcoming appointment with Prince Faramir, he would have the chance to discuss the requirements of this assignment.
'Prince Faramir'. The thought of Faramir's new rank and that he would henceforth have the chance to work closely with him gave Beregond a warm glow in his heart and, he admitted it freely to himself, a little bit of pride for his small part in saving such an admirable man. Preserving his skills, his qualities, his virtues, both as a man and a captain – in future as Steward and Prince as well – for the good of this new realm. There was certainly no man in Gondor worthier of such honour and distinction, he thought. That the new king would know this and act so quickly was further evidence in Beregond's eyes – if after his own experience he had had need of one – that Elessar would indeed rule with justice and sure discernment.
Dimly he became aware that Iorlas was distracting Bergil from his father's ongoing silence by talking with him about this surprising news. The name 'Mistress Almarian' fell; apparently Iorlas had asked his nephew who would be the first he would tell of his father's good luck, and that the cook of the errand-boys' quarters in the Rath Celerdain was near the top of Bergil's list.
Beregond smiled to himself hearing this, but he felt not yet ready to leave off his pondering, resuming with his list of people whom he might ask for advice on his new situation.
Perhaps he would be granted an audience with the King. Elessar might have certain notions for how he wanted this new unit to be built and run. And as the long-time Captain of the Ithilien Rangers, surely Faramir himself would be the ideal expert to turn to, as well.
Beregond felt that, additionally, Mablung might be a great help. On the march to the Morannon, he had had opportunity to talk with the Ranger once or twice, before Mablung had rejoined his unit in scouting forays. Beregond hoped he would have the chance to talk with him some more. He had seen him in passing in the last few days, and despite being caught up in his own troubles, had spared a pleased and delighted thought for the brave man who had been made a captain today.
Listing just some of the most immediate tasks he envisaged for his position, his feelings sobered again. Not for the first time, Beregond wondered what the upcoming interview with Faramir might entail. If Faramir actually wanted him as the captain of his personal guard, if he did not harbour any ambiguous feelings towards him. Beregond was, after all, the man who had blatantly disregarded not only general standing orders for his post, but had also disobeyed Steward Denethor personally, and had employed deadly force in the process, no less. He did not believe Faramir had known him except perhaps by sight or name before the dramatic events in the House of the Stewards, or rather the time of his convalescence. Perhaps Faramir would prefer someone who was personally known to him as the leader of his guard, or at least someone who had command-experience. Or someone who had not defied the lord of the city who was, after all, also his father.
But on the other hand, he had had a few words with the convalescing Steward. They had not spoken of the dramatic and painful events that had happened on the day of the Battle on the Pelennor Fields, for the most part, their few exchanges had been small-talk about everyday things.
Beregond had been dutifully heeding Mithrandir's instructions about keeping the details of Denethor's last days secret from Faramir (5), quite relieved that it did not fall to him to reveal them. And Faramir himself had been, it seemed, unable to recall much of what had happened after the arrow had struck him on the field. Or, if he did remember some details of what had happened after, he had kept his own counsel in Beregond's presence.
Bergil had told him that Faramir always had a kindly word and a friendly smile for the boys running errands and messages; and when Faramir had realized that Beregond's son was actually one such boy, he had asked after him, wanting to know what he and the other boys were doing, how it was to be in the Old Guesthouse with so many other children, how he liked the schooling taking place there and how he liked his duties, how often father and son managed to be together and so on.
Thoughts of his son brought him back to the present again. Hugging him tightly once more, he settled Bergil next to him, gave Iorlas a wry nod in thanks for tolerating his absent-mindedness when important things had to be clarified, noting as he did so that his brother-in-law had begun tugging at one of the pillows, whether in eagerness for him to get on with the tale or in discomfort, he did not know.
With a raised eyebrow and a gesture in the direction of the pillows he asked if he should rearrange them, which was answered in the affirmative with a short nod. After arranging the pillows to Iorlas' satisfaction, he finally deigned to elaborate his rather cryptic announcement.
"King Elessar proclaimed Faramir Prince of Ithilien and..." Here he was interrupted with enthusiastic shouts, and it took some time before he could go on, "...and Ithilien is given to him as his princedom, much as Belfalas is the fief of the princes of Dol Amroth. And the King made me Captain of the unit that will guard the Prince..." Smiling at the renewed cheers, he reserved a part of that smile for himself for, once again, he felt a warm glow inside at speaking the new title of Faramir. Doggedly, he went on, "...which is to be called 'White Company'. In keeping with the Steward's banner, I presume. Or maybe to honour its future lady?" With a wink at Iorlas he ended, "So, my first act as Captain is to offer you a position on my staff – provided, of course, that Prince Faramir agrees. Do you accept?"
A glow of pride and eagerness blazed in Iorlas' eyes, and he could only nod and croak, "Yes. Gladly," before his smile widened, showing again the dimples that his nephew Bergil had also inherited from that side of his family.
Mindful of his uncle's wound, Bergil patted him on the sound arm, before taking the last apple on the plate. Beregond made himself another sandwich, hungry all of a sudden, and after refilling his brother-in-law's cup with water once again, there was a companionable silence for a time as all applied themselves to their food.
Being finished with his, Bergil put the rest of the food, together with the used dishes and utensils, in a more or less orderly stack on the plate, emptying the last of the sweet ale in his father's cup. Slowly, he then asked, "So, is it true, the King will not punish you at all? I mean, you will not have to... I do not know, pay a fine or do some sort of penance or something?"
Beregond rubbed his hand across his forehead, then over his mouth with a drawn-out sigh.
"To be honest, I cannot really say with absolute certainty."
Looks of incomprehension greeted this, before he continued, "What the King said was a little ambiguous. He said – I quote: 'Nonetheless you must leave the Guard of the Citadel, and you must go forth from the City of Minas Tirith.' (6) I do not exactly know if this entails an actual banishment from the city."
Bergil's eyes grew round. "But..." he started.
Beregond smiled slightly to reassure him. "I am almost certain that it does not, son, because he continued, with the announcement that I was to become Prince Faramir's captain in Emyn Arnen. And that does not sound like some kind of punishment, now does it?"
Bergil seemed reassured for the most part; but his father addressed the tiny flicker of doubt still remaining in his eyes with as much calm and confidence as possible in his own gaze, hiding his own spark of uncertainty.
"You will see, I am going to speak with Captain Fa..." He stopped, grinned, and corrected himself, pointedly, "... with Prince Faramir in four days. We will have to decide how to organise this White Company, and other attendant business. Building a company out of nothing will not be easy, especially as Ithilien is practically deserted, and has not entirely escaped Sauron's depredations. And we will have to build a home for Faramir and his lady, and a base for the Company. I do not know if there are already some projects being carried out there, if the Prince has already made some plans, if he has some specific wishes for his new guard..." He trailed off, at once eager and apprehensive about the great work ahead. "You do not happen to have any instant suggestions, Iorlas?"
His brother-in-law, who had been on an extended assignment to the Ithilien Rangers before he had been posted back to the regular army, frowned some moments in concentration. "Nothing specific. But I would think it important to co-ordinate this guard-business with the Rangers. Perhaps you can even recruit some of their men, although they will already be seriously under-manned at the moment."
"Good idea. I would have to recruit all over the other units in any case, but Rangers would be quite appropriate: They know the land already, after all. And perhaps I should try to get primarily men in the company whose ancestors were from Ithilien; they would have a vested interest in helping rebuild the land in addition to merely regular guard duty. Or other men, for that matter, who would be interested in such groundwork. I will ask the Prince if that is all right with him."
He looked again at Bergil, who had listened attentively to the discussion of his elders. "Did I ever tell you that your grandfather was born in Ithilien?"
Bergil nodded shortly, but clearly wanted to hear it again, so his father obliged him.
"Your grandfather was one of the last children to be born there before the last of the inhabitants fled over the Anduin in 2954. I do not think he actually has any recollection of the land, or of the flight to Lossarnach. What do you think – once we have built something in Emyn Arnen where people can live, shall we invite your grandfather to come for a visit? If he feels himself up to it, we could even look for the place where he was born, although I cannot imagine that there is still much left to look at."
Bergil greeted these suggestions with avid enthusiasm. An expedition with his family into the wilderness was clearly something he was eagerly looking forward to as an exciting adventure. Beregond hid an affectionate smile behind his hand, buoyed up once more by his son's cheerful mood after all these weeks when he had been so subdued and withdrawn.
Oddly, it was this cheerful, carefree mood the lad now exhibited that, by its very contrast, made him aware for the first time how Bergil had matured over the course of the last months.
Beregond grieved a little for the loss of innocence and untroubled childhood. In hindsight, he realised how Bergil's plea to being allowed to stay in the city had not been a first step towards a next stage in his development, but rather an outward sign that it had already been taken, a proof of a greater awareness of his surroundings and the concerns of the people. His request had not only been a wish not to be separated from his father, but also a wish to participate in helping the city, to make a contribution to its defence and survival. And, analysing his own more or less swift compliance with his son's entreaty, it seemed as if he himself had subconsciously realised this.
Looking at Iorlas, he saw that his brother-in-law shared his pleasure at Bergil's high spirits. But he also recognized signs of beginning weariness.
"Bergil, would you please go for a healer again? I think it would be best if we left your uncle to his rest soon."
"Of course, Father" said Bergil readily and departed right away.
Beregond was mindful of the need to take care with Iorlas; both regarding his physical wound, and his recurring nightmares, so he hoped the healer would bring something that would enable Iorlas to sleep restfully.
Soon, Bergil returned with Ioreth, who made Iorlas drink a fresh dose of the bitter brew, humming under her breath a melody Beregond recognised as a lullaby from Lossarnach. Because of the unusually few protestations of his brother-in-law against the medicine, and the narrow look Ioreth wore when she scanned his pale face and felt his brow with her hand before she left uncommonly quietly, Beregond could see that he had judged rightly and Iorlas really needed the rest. Ioreth's smile and her calm nod to him as she left assured him, however, that there was nothing more serious to worry about.
After gulping the draught down in large swallows so as to taste it as little as possible, Iorlas stood with the help of his brother-in-law, took care of his personal needs, then sank exhaustedly down on the bed, Beregond supporting him while Bergil rearranged the pillows for a better sleeping position.
As had become habit, both stayed with him until his eyes finally fell shut with a last drowsy smile for Bergil.
Tip-toeing out of the chamber, Beregond companionably wrapped his arms around his son's shoulders and asked softly, "Where do you want to go? Shall we go home and I will make you a proper supper – a few apples and a sandwich surely were not enough?" This remark earned him a cheeky grin and a shake of the head, so he went on, "Or shall we go to The Ship and Bough and see what Mistress Almarian has conjured up tonight?"
"Let us go to Mistress Almarian," requested Bergil predictably, hopping over the threshold of the main entrance of the Houses of Healing.
Father and son both liked to go to this tavern in the second circle. Not only was the food always delicious – for the past weeks more so again with the arrival of new provisions up the re-opened roads from the south – but both also had a liking for the sister of the landlord, who produced all this tasty food there as well as in the Old Guesthouse, she with the kind eyes and the warm smile.
Directing their steps down the street, Beregond could not resist tousling his son's hair again, despite Bergil's resulting long-suffering sigh and vigorous finger-combing. Which had at best an indifferent effect as always, Beregond noted, stifling a grin. Then he became sober again.
"And after the meal, we are going home and talk about all that has happened today and in the past weeks. You may stay up as long as you like; you can sleep in on the morrow because you and I will have some free days to be together. You could tell me how it was in the Rath Celerdain with all those other boys, what the most exciting or odd or funny errand was you had to run, what you and Diegan did while I was away, what devious plans you devised with your friends..."
He and his son grinned at each other, before Beregond stopped and cupped his son's face gently between his hands and gazed down at him seriously. "And you may tell me all that was not so pleasant in all that time, what you did not understand, or what frightened you. Yes?"
Bergil nodded, a little uneasy, but determined.
Beregond concluded in a still more serious tone, "And you may ask me about my experiences as well. I will not promise to tell you everything. You are much too young, and I am quite sure you do not want to hear all of it anyway. But I promise that what I tell you will be the truth. We will help each other understand and come to terms with all the things that have happened. The bad things, but also the many good things. Is this all right with you?"
Bergil nodded once again, and father and son resumed their way down the winding streets of the White City.
Title inspired by RotK, The Pyre of Denethor
(1), (5) RotK, The Houses of Healing
(2), (6), RotK, The Steward and the King
(3) My drabble Justice provides another look on this incident
(4) RotK, Minas Tirith
My warmest thanks go to Gwídhiel and Lady Masterblott for their insightful and careful beta reading. Thanks also to Gwynnyd for some helpful suggestions.
The idea of Mablung being promoted to the rank of Captain in one of Aragorn's audiences after his coronation is from Isabeau of Greenlea's "Captain my Captain" and is used here with her consent.
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.