14. Executing Justice

'I'm glad it was you carrying that crown and not me,' Pippin said. 'I probably would have dropped it.' The hobbits were gathered for tea the day after the coronation. Pippin was certainly gratified to be keeping company with the Ring-bearers. He'd found as a guardsman that the people of Minas Tirith did not see fit to eat as often as hobbits would, getting by on merely two or three meals a day, and he was glad that someone was making sure the Ring-bearer and his companion had food available to them at all times.

'Then Gandalf would certainly have turned you into a toad for spoiling the ceremony,' Merry said.

Unabashed, Pippin grinned. 'It was quite a spectacle, wasn't it?' he said. 'Imagine, scruffy old Strider, a king!'

'O hello, Strider!' Frodo called cheerfully, and Pippin whirled.

His cousins laughed, and he put a hand over his heart. 'Don't *do* that to me!' he said dramatically. 'I think I've lost an inch of my height from the shock.' He eyed the tea tray. 'I need another cake to fortify myself.'

'You can have one of mine,' Frodo said. 'I couldn't eat another bite.'

'But Mr Frodo...' Sam protested.

Frodo turned on him. 'Don't you go offering him your share, Samwise Gamgee. You gave up enough meals on my behalf, you're done with such foolishness.'

'It's all right,' Pippin said off-handedly. 'I'll just eat Merry's share.'

'You already have,' Merry answered.

Pippin looked at the tray, surprised. 'O,' he said. 'So I have.'

***

'I'm getting tired of celebrations,' Pippin said. It seemed they'd been suffering through feasts and banquets and speeches and ceremonies for days.

'You? Tired?' Merry asked in astonishment.

'Well, the feasting is all right, I suppose, but the rest of it, all the trappings and ceremonies and speeches, I can do without them.' He yawned and stretched. 'I think I shall shut myself up in a tower like Frodo and write my memoirs.' His attempt to look serious and scholarly was rather spoiled by his cousins' shout. 'Or maybe I'll just join Frodo and help him write his.'

'No thank you, cousin!' Frodo laughed. 'I'm having quite enough trouble as it is!'

'Well, the next time a guardsman comes with one of those fancy invitations, tell him I'm not at home. I'm going to run off with Bergil and have an adventure instead.'

'Beregond will set Gilwyn upon the trail and find you,' Merry said, laughing. The seamstress had a knack for locating a hobbit who'd lost himself in the City, either by accident or on purpose.

'Now *that's* a celebration I wouldn't mind attending,' Pippin said. 'When is Beregond going to marry Gilwyn, anyhow?'

Merry sobered abruptly, tried to cover up with a laugh. 'O, Pippin, you know she's too busy trying to keep track of you and Bergil! She's no time for marrying at the moment.' And Beregond would not marry the widow, only to make her a widow a second time.

To distract Pippin, Merry returned to the topic of feasting. Food was usually a good distraction for the younger hobbit. 'How about the toasts?' he asked.

'As long as they keep pouring that good wine in my cup, I don't mind the toasts,' Pippin answered. 'Of course, it makes a lot more work, you know, as I have to keep pouring wine into Strider's cup as well.'

***

They did not see much of Strider these days, outside of the feasts and celebrations. 'He's too busy being king, you know,' Pippin opined.

'And what exactly do kings do?' Frodo asked him.

Pippin shrugged. 'O I don't know. Kingly stuff, I suppose. Polishing his crown, practicing walking without tripping over his robes and whatnot.'

Merry laughed. 'Pippin, you are impossible.'

His cousin regarded him gravely. 'I know,' he said. 'It's taken years of practice.' Merry was glad to see Pippin so much better, though he was not fully recovered by any means. His cousins worried what would happen if Beregond's execution were to take place before they left Minas Tirith to return to the Shire, an event that seemed more likely with each passing day. Merry had heard the murmurs of the guardsmen, had seen the strain on Beregond's face though he always greeted the hobbits with a smile.

Pippin had been assigned to guard the Ring-bearers, not that they needed guarding, but it was a way to keep him under the watchful eyes of his cousins. As a result, he did not come in much contact with the guardsmen of the City these days, making it easier to keep the secret from him. Merry had told Frodo and Sam, of course, for he was counting on their help to deal with Pippin if and when the day for Beregond's hearing came.

The day came when Merry's fears were realized. The four hobbits had been strolling down a corridor on the way to the Hall of Records, where Frodo wanted to look up some information. Sam came, of course, as he went everywhere that Frodo did. Pippin was along as the Ring-bearers' guard; he took his duty very seriously, and besides, you never knew when another tray of food would pop out of nowhere to tempt Frodo's appetite. Merry was with them for want of anything better to do; Eomer did not require his attendance at the moment.

They heard brisk footsteps approaching behind them, and turned to see Beregond, Targon marching by his side, the Captain of the guard behind them as if an escort. Merry noted that for the first time since he'd met the guardsman, he was dressed in full uniform, wearing the black surcoat with the Tree broidered in silver on the front, instead of the plain black surcoat Merry had always seen him wear. He had not been allowed to wear the uniform of a guardsman since that terrible night when he abandoned his post to save Captain Faramir from the flames.

Pippin greeted him with delight. 'Beregond! You're a guardsman again!' At that moment, Merry noticed that Beregond's scabbard was empty; he bore no sword. The sudden, sick certainty hit him; he knew where the escort was taking the guardsman.

As Pippin moved to walk with them, Merry pulled him back by the arm. 'Pippin, no!'

Pippin tried to shake him off, but Merry gripped more tightly. 'Pippin, you mustn't, you don't know what is happening.'

'What's the matter with you?' Pippin demanded.

'Pippin, he's going to his execution!' Merry said bluntly as Frodo took Pippin's other arm.

'What do you mean?' Pippin cried out. 'No, I don't believe it! Beregond!' He stared after the three guardsmen, who did not break stride nor look back at his shout.

'He didn't want you to know,' Merry said miserably. 'He was hoping we would leave for the Shire before this, and you would never know.'

'But why?' Pippin cried miserably, then sagged in his cousins' grip. He knew why. He knew very well.

'Pippin?' Frodo asked gently.

The younger hobbit shook his head. 'It's my fault,' he said brokenly. 'If I had not stopped to talk to him that night, he'd never have left his post.'

'Faramir would have died,' Merry said softly.

'No,' Pippin said, still shaking his head. 'No, I could have found Gandalf, he could have been in time.'

'Faramir would have died,' Merry repeated. 'You know that, Pippin. It was Beregond's life... or Faramir's. Beregond made that choice. You must respect that.' He didn't have to like the laws of Men, but he could understand that they were better off to have laws to live by.

'Come, Pippin,' Frodo said. 'You need to sit down.'

'I don't want to sit down!' Pippin protested. 'I want...' he sagged still further and Merry feared he was about to faint. 'I want...' he said more softly, then, 'I don't know what I want...' He took a few sobbing breaths and straightened again.

A hand touched Merry's shoulder, and he turned to look up into the face of a guardsman not in Beregond's company.

The Man seemed ill at ease, but said, 'So you know about the hearing...'

'Yes,' Frodo said quietly.

'It is tradition for executions to take place at midday. When the silver trumpet sounds...' the Man looked grimly at Pippin. 'Are you well, Sir?'

Pippin laughed without humour. 'As well as can be expected.'

Merry was surprised at the question, but the guardsman continued, 'There is a garden, where the friends and family wait to receive the body.' Pippin nodded. 'Beregond charged me to find you, to tell you, if you were still in the City when his hearing was called.' He gave them directions to the garden, saluted, and marched away.

They found Beregond's son and the rest of his family waiting in the little garden set aside for families to receive the bodies of their dead, to take them to the final resting place. Birds sang, a spring breeze blew, the day promised to be fair.

Merry and Frodo supported Pippin as they entered the garden, Sam hovered solicitously, helpless to do more. Pippin shook off their hands and went to greet Bergil and the widow Gilwyn, whom the guardsman might have married under different circumstances, and her son Fargil.

'I'm sorry,' Pippin said, but could find no other words to add.

Gilwyn's face was pale, but calm. 'He didn't want you to know,' she said softly. 'He set great stock by your friendship. He would do nothing to jeopardize your recovery.'

'Can we do anything?' Frodo asked.

She shook her head. 'You can wait with us. You can honour his memory.' Her voice broke, and she turned away for a moment to compose herself.

Bergil slipped an arm about her waist and faced the hobbits. 'Thank you for coming,' he said soberly.

Gilwyn took Bergil's hand, and held out her other hand to Pippin. They walked together to the little fountain, stood watching the water cascade into the bowl in a never ending stream. A silver trumpet rang out above the City, and the mourners stiffened. Pippin returned Gilwyn's intense grip on his hand, wishing he had more comfort to offer. He wondered as a great shout was heard, but she said only, 'His comrades honour his passing.'

It was not long before they heard the sound of a cadence call and booted feet marching in the street outside the garden. They heard the company called to a halt. Gilwyn straightened and turned to the gate.

Targon entered alone, and the mourners walked to meet him. Targon held out his hands to Gilwyn. 'The King's justice has been done,' he said flatly, and she nodded. He looked intently into her face. 'The verdict was not death,' he said. Pippin stood wondering as Gilwyn caught her breath. 'Exile?' she demanded, in horror. Exile... to be cast ceremoniously out of the City, bringing shame and disgrace upon his family. Not that Gilwyn cared about herself, but she knew that to Beregond this fate was worse than quick death by sword.

Targon shook his head, and to their wondering eyes, began to smile. 'No, lass, not exile. The King has shown justice, and mercy, and infinite wisdom.' He turned, and behind him they saw Beregond walk into the garden. Gilwyn gasped, broke free of Targon, ran to him.

Beregond smiled down at her. 'I told Targon to break it to you gently,' he said. 'I didn't want it to be too much of a shock to you, when we all expected the worst.'

'By rights...' she said.

'By rights, I'd be dead now,' Beregond said. 'By justice... I am appointed Captain of the White Company of Ithilien, guard to Faramir, prince.' He held his arms open, and Gilwyn and the boys hugged him all at once in a glad throng. He looked past them to Pippin. 'Well, Master Perian,' he said. 'It seems our friendship has not been cut short after all.'

'Beregond...' Pippin murmured. 'I don't know what to say.'

'You, speechless?' Beregond laughed. 'This is an historic occasion!' He gave a last hug to his family, then gently shook them free. 'Come, let us leave this place,' he said. 'We don't belong here.' He looked at Pippin. 'Master Perian, are you still sick of celebrations, as I heard you say the other day?'

'No, I think I could manage one more,' Pippin answered.

The guardsman grinned. 'Good. We have something to celebrate after all.' His gaze encompassed the other hobbits. 'Bring your friends, we'll show them how we guardsmen make merry.'

As they exited the garden, Merry joined in the laughter. He fully intended to live up to his name.

***The End***

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Notes to readers: For events following this chapter, see the short story "All's Well That Ends Well", which I will try to upload in a day or two; it just needs a bit of tweaking first.

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Budgielover: I hope I have managed to keep that consistency of tone in chapters 13 and 14, I messed up a bit last night and started writing in two open files at the same time. Kind of like scattering two decks of cards. My word, it was difficult to get them all picked up and sorted out...

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Shirebound and Dana, (and others whose reviews I might not have seen yet): thanks for the encouragement! I hate to finish a story, always get that breathless feeling waiting to see if another will pop up or not. Ah, well, at least I have a stable full of already-written stories that need a bit of exercise and polishing before taking them to the show.

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Gilwyn and Fargil are characters in several other stories set at this time (the aforementioned "All's Well That Ends Well", "Choices", and "Duty"). I did not want to distract from the main thrust of this story by doing more than mention them, but needed for my own brain to keep things straight to stick them in where I know they'd be. I hope the brief mention is not a distraction to the reader. Hopefully their stories will appear here at ff.net as I have time to finish incorporating beta comments and upload them. Just plain old writing takes up so much time! ...not complaining, not at all, I hope that muse keeps whispering, I'm having so much fun...!