1. The Last Hope
Another gloomy day dawned at Minas Tirith, thus mirroring the hearts of most of its citizens. The armies of the Enemy had been approaching the White City slowly but surely and, although the Gondorian knights fought them back bravely, there was no stopping them. Soon the dark masses were near the outskirts of the city, leaving nothing but smoke and fire behind. The watchers of Minas Tirith could clearly see them from up the walls, and despair nestled in their souls. In spite of it all, none remained idle. By Lord Denethor's orders, the beacons surrounding the city were lit up, warning of the approaching danger and signalling for any help the allies could send. Meanwhile, almost every woman and child had already evacuated the city and every Gondorian man who could be spared was now at all times clad in armour, ready to defend the city at need.
Beregond stood on duty by his post, watching everyone below go by on his errand. He watched some people working by the walls, thus strengthening them; others sharpening their weapons; others sparing; and others carrying within their carts the remaining civilians away from the city. The only ones to stay inside the city were the women who worked at the Houses of Healing so the wounded could be tended, and a few children, including his own son: they could help out by carrying messages or water and food to the soldiers.
Suddenly Beregond felt shivers down his spine, yet he knew that it wasn't because of the morning frost. He looked up and saw it. It seemed nothing more than a small black speck in the sky, but Beregond knew better. It was a Black Rider, circling on his winged monster over the city like a buzzard over a wounded animal, watching and waiting until its victim let out its last breath and so swoop for the kill.
The soldier's hands turned into fists and cursed the black speck under his breath. Not only did these unnatural beings terrorise the defenders of the City with their inhuman screams, they also almost killed Faramir when he was riding back from Ithilien with his scouting party.
He shuddered at the memory, which was still fresh in his mind. When he had seen the Riders attacking Faramir's party he had rushed forward to defend his captain, yet after a few strides he could not take another step, for he had become too frightened. All he could do was watch on in horror until Gandalf arrived and with his light blinded the winged steeds long enough to guide Faramir and the other men to safety.
A sigh escaped his lips. Lord Denethor had stated with confidence that the enemy could be defeated, which was true; the soldiers could fight the Orks. But what good would that do, if only a Wizard was their only defence against the terror hovering above?
Enough, he reprimanded himself. Do you think Faramir would want to hear you talking like that?
Beregond's thoughts strayed to his captain, and the burden the man had to carry ever since the tidings of his brother's death reached Minas Tirith. Beregond was aware that Faramir faced the task of two people now and this challenge was not made any easier by Lord Denethor's demands and continuous disapprovals of his actions. Yet seeing Faramir always complying with his duty and his father's orders with no objections filled the soldier with admiration and strove him to outdo himself as well. And Beregond knew he was not the only one to feel this way. He observed how lovingly everyone looked at their Captain whenever Faramir spared some time to lift their spirits with kind words of encouragement.
Nevertheless, Beregond knew also that all men have their limits. He recalled how worn out and shaken Faramir looked when he had returned from Ithilien, not only because of his encounter with the Black Riders. Beregond had wished at that moment with all his heart that Faramir could have at least a day's rest, even if things seemed ill; if the soldiers needed somebody to command them; if civilians needed somebody to look to for guidance; and yes, even if Faramir was the only man who could respond to all these duties.
But, to Beregond's dismay, the rest he had wished for his Captain was not meant to be. As soon as Faramir had entered the Great Hall, Denethor ordered him to ride out and make one last stand at Osgiliath, the ancient city that lay some miles away from the White City. Thus it was that, only two days after his return, Faramir had to gather new forces and set out again to fight an army that seemed unbeatable. The only thing that comforted Beregond was that Mithrandir and Prince Imrahil would be by Faramir's side, offering their assistance when and where it was needed.
On the other hand, Beregond couldn't help feeling perplexed about Denethor's behaviour towards his son. After all, he hadn't even given Faramir his blessing before leaving for the battlefield, something that Beregond didn't approve at all. Who would do such a thing to his own flesh and blood? Why would a father be so disappointed at having a son like Faramir, a man that amazingly combined the bravery of the best warriors with the wisdom of the eldest lore masters?
Beregond sighed sadly, knowing that he was asking for answers in vain. All he knew was that he would never treat Bergil in such a manner and, if by some misfortune he ever did, then he would wish the Valar to strike him dead.
"What do I know anyway? I'm nothing but a soldier. I don't carry the burden of an entire city on my back as Lord Denethor. The death of Boromir cost him enough already."
"Talking to yourself again, Beregond?" asked a cheerful voice out of the blue.
Beregond turned, startled, his hand instinctively grasping his sword. The only thing that he finally did, however, was to let out a small groan. It was only his relief, who was now approaching him with a broad grin that reached from ear to ear.
"It's unwise to sneak up on people like this, Borlas," Beregond warned. "I swear to you, one of these days, I will not be able to control my hand, and then I will have to explain to your wife that she should blame her dear husband's pranks for her becoming a widow."
"Yes, only too true," said Borlas, chuckling. "But then no one would wish to come and relieve a madman who kills for the sole reason that he doesn't like being surprised. In which case you would remain here, all alone, day and night, winter and summer, year after year, until Bergil had children of his own and you grew a white beard long enough to touch the floor – maybe even longer! You can laugh all you want, my good fellow, but I'm only saying the truth!"
"I cannot help it," said Beregond, still laughing mildly at the image that Borlas had so meticulously described. "You are in a very good mood, considering the plight the city is in," he added in wonder.
"And you are in a very serious mood," replied Borlas. "I am only doing what my grandfather would suggest whenever there were times like these to face."
"What would that be?"
"We cannot despair if we know there is hope; and if we see there is none left… Well, death smiles on all of us. All we can do is answer with a smile of our own."
Such words made Beregond shake his head solemnly. "I am afraid there lies the problem, Borlas. No one knows if there is any hope left or not. If we knew, perhaps we would know what to do." Without realising it, he let his gaze drift towards the direction of Osgiliath.
Borlas looked at the same direction, understanding what his comrade's thoughts were.
"Is the son of Baranor the Valiant afraid about the outcome of the battle?"
"No, more likely frustrated that he hasn't heard news of any outcome yet. I assure you, you can throw me amidst the strongest servants of the Enemy and I will fight them, or at least die trying. But I cannot battle my own fears."
"Come now, it has only been four days since the men set out for Osgiliath. And did not that wizard, Mithrandir, come to the court yesterday, while you were on duty? Surely he had tidings to tell."
"He only said they are still fighting and nothing more," answered Beregond, correcting his belt and gripping the handle of his sword nervously. He looked again far beyond the border of the city, straining his eyes to see as far away as possible as though in an attempt to see the battle that was raging there.
"And the Captain, too?"
"Hmm?" Beregond remembered himself and turned once more to his fellow guard. "I am sorry, what did you say, Borlas?"
"I asked you if Captain Faramir is still fighting with them."
"Yes, at least that is what Mithrandir said. And now, my fellow comrade, you will have to forgive me, but I have been on duty all night and I am so tired that I think I can even hear my bed calling for me. Have a good day."
"Have a good rest, Beregond. May you soon get the news that you so desperately wish to hear!"
They unsheathed and saluted each other, as it was customary at the change of shifts; then Beregond walked down the stairs to reach the main section of the city and from there the road towards home. He greeted some other guards who were leaving also as their own shift ended, and quickened his pace before he was engaged in conversation again.
As a matter of fact, Beregond wasn't as tired as he claimed to be. He merely wanted to leave the citadel in order to forget his fears. And now, as he was walking down the road and watched the people go to and fro and the children play, he felt a weight was lifted from his heart.
Just then, another guard waved at him. Beregond recognized him instantly, like any soldier would upon meeting Maldir. After all, Maldir was the oldest guard in service, the trainer of most of the guards in black and white that served at the citadel and, of course, the sword instructor of the Steward's children. Moreover, he was a man to be marvelled at because, in spite of his age, he still retained the prideful stance and vigour of a man in his prime. It was true that his austere face and strictness at training could be intimidating at first (Beregond still remembered how he trembled under his gaze the first time he had met him), yet he quickly proved a dear man and a good friend. Everyone looked up to him, for he had seen many battles and had grown wise in matters of war. Furthermore, he often told amazing stories of his time as a young soldier whenever he was in the mood. So, Beregond was more than glad to see him.
"Morning, Maldir," he said. "I trust you are well?"
"You doubt that, lad? I can still defeat you and ten more guards like you anytime!" Maldir said good-humouredly. "Are you going at the gates?"
"No," answered Beregond, "I was actually going home. Why do you ask?"
"You haven't heard then? Oh, but you were on duty till now, how could you?"
"The lads have returned from Osgiliath. They're passing the gates as we speak."
"What was the outcome of the battle?" Beregond asked anxiously.
"Not good, I fear," said the old soldier. "The only thing that comforts me is that most of the men have managed to return safely."
"What about Faramir? Has he passed the gates as well? How is he?" Beregond asked again.
"I cannot answer you that, my boy, I only caught a glimpse of the people that were gathered there, learned all that there was to know and now I'm heading to my post! A soldier on duty does not have the luxury to be idle, you know."
"Of course…" replied Beregond, his face turning crimson for having to be reminded of such a simple thing.
Maldir, however, smiled. "You wanted to be with him at the battle, didn't you?"
"At least then I could make sure that he stayed safe," answered Beregond truthfully, seeing that Maldir still knew the people he trained only too well. Then again, Beregond could never lie to Maldir, for he saw in him the father he had been unfortunate to lose long ago.
"I understand, lad," said the old soldier. "But," he added, his lips tugging to a mischievous smile, "you could have swum the river and dogged the army. You have done it before."
Beregond let out a small grown of mock annoyance. "I was only a boy then and I didn't know any better! I have already apologized more than enough times for it!"
"I have to remind you that neither of you knew any better!" retorted Maldir teasingly. Then his eyes shone with clear pride. "It is still good to know that you both turned into the fine young men that you are now. And I realize that you can hardly keep still and talk to a babbling old fool when you know Faramir is returning, so I bid you farewell. You may yet see your friend, if you hurry at the gates."
Beregond didn't need to be told twice. After bidding Maldir farewell, he ran at the gates as quickly as his feet would carry him. When he arrived there, he was amazed to see how many people welcomed the troops back, though there was no joy in that gathering. The soldiers looked weary and full of regret. Some of them were even wounded: others lightly and others quite badly. Lastly, it was with a heavy heart that Beregond saw the carts that carried the dead. He knew some of the fallen well and he felt sorry for their sad end.
Then his gaze drifted everywhere for any sign of Faramir, yet there was none; a troubling thing, since a Captain was supposed to ride with his men, side by side. Has he already passed then? he thought, puzzled.
Another familiar voice suddenly sounded near him.
"Father! I am glad you could come!" cried Bergil, rushing towards Beregond.
"I am glad too, my boy," said Beregond, kneeling and opening his arms in embrace, happy to find his son among this crowd. "Have you been here long?"
"I was one of the first to come at the gates," answered the boy with a touch of pride.
"So you saw the Captain."
"No, I didn't. He hasn't come yet, and everyone is getting concerned."
"I do not blame them, Bergil. I am getting worried myself," Beregond said. Dark thoughts entered his mind and his eyes darted at the group of the soldiers restlessly.
Where is he?
Then the soldier heard cries of anguish and grief, yet it wasn't that that horrified him the most; it was the single name that was clearly uttered amid them: Faramir. He went as near to the gates as possible to witness for himself what was the meaning of it all, praying to the Valar that it wasn't what he suspected.
Though Bergil had also turned and ran at that sound too, he couldn't see what was happening because of all the people in front of him. What he saw was his father's face turning pale and a look full of sorrow settling in his eyes.
"Father?" asked the boy, not understanding. "What happened? Can you see Captain Faramir?"
Beregond did not answer. He remained still, watching as if stunned.
"Father?" asked the boy again, deeply troubled. "What is wrong?"
Again Beregond didn't answer. He merely turned, taking Bergil's hand into his own and slowly guiding him toward home. His walk was quite uncertain and a vacant look had settled in his eyes.
"Father, please!" pleaded the boy, not taking this silence any more. "What did you see? Was it the Captain?"
As though shaken off a dream yet still dazed, Beregond stopped and turned his gaze towards him. He nodded slightly and he uttered a hoarse, almost inaudible: "Yes."
"What did you see?" asked Bergil once more.
"The Captain, being carried by Lord Imrahil on his horse," Beregond answered quietly, his voice raw with emotion. "His face deathly white and, for all the cries of his people, his eyes remaining shut… Bergil," he added, the tears he had been holding back till this moment now being shed without stop, "Faramir, the Captain of Minas Tirith, the last hope of this city and the best of friends that a man like me was ever fortunate to have in his life, fell."
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.