Beomann should have known serving dinner in a castle would be nothing like serving customers at the Pony, For one thing it was a lot quieter. And there was only the one table set up in Lady Finduilas' sewing room, or solar as the Rangers called it.

She was there with Belegon and Gilvagor and another Ranger Woman and two or three more Men, and Asgon of Gondor who did most of the talking about the happenings down south.

Quite a lot seemed to have been going on there. Beomann couldn't follow it very well, there were too many people and places he'd never heard of mixed up in it, but it sounded
pretty alarming; winged demons and armies of Orcs and Evil Men, and important people burning themselves alive and all. Most disturbing of all was this army of ghosts, the Oathbreakers Asgon called them, who'd strangely enough been on the Good side, crawling out of their graves to help Strider rescue the Southern capital.

Asgon made it sound like it was one of the early Kings - Isildur? - who'd turned them into ghosts. Surely that couldn't be right? Still Beomann worried over it as he served and cleared and when Gil drew him aside after dinner, he found himself bursting right out with it.

"I'm afraid it's true." Gil answered soberly. "The Dead Men of Dunharrow were a mountain tribe that swore fealty to the Kings of Gondor but broke their oath at the behest of the Dark Lord."

"So the King cursed them?" Beomann asked incredulously.

"To find no rest until their oath was finally fulfilled." Gil agreed heavily.

"But - but how could he do that?" Beomann stammered. "I mean dead's dead isn't it? How could he force their ghosts to stay in the world?"

Gil smiled a little, not happily. "By what you would call magic. The Line of the Kings has Elven blood in it, and another strain even more powerful. We can do such things if we will."

Beomann stared, round eyed. "Could you do that?"

Gil's face went very grim. "Yes."

The Bree Man swallowed hard. "Would you?"

Gil sighed and the grimness fell away and he looked only sad and troubled. "I would like to say no, never, for you are right it was a terrible punishment. More cruel perhaps than even such a crime as theirs deserved. But who can say what foresight was upon Isildur when he chose it?"

"You mean he might have known Strider - the King - would need a ghost army thousands of years later?" Beomann asked incredulously.

A smile flickered briefly over Gil's face. "Something like that. And so I cannot truthfully say I would never do such a thing - only that I fervently hope I will never have to."

Beomann shuddered agreement. Bad enough to have something like that done to you, worse still to have done it and carry it on your conscience.

"To bind yourself by oath to the Kings of the West is a perilous thing," Gil continued quietly, "it puts you in our power and that power can be terrible indeed. That is why I have put off asking any oath of you, Beomann. I wanted you to see something of the life
you would be committing yourself to before you did anything irrevocable."

Irrevocable, Beomann shivered. He knew the kind of power Gil was talking about, he'd seen it with his own eyes back in the Barrow on the Downs. And thinking of that reminded him of something else. "That's how you called little Tom and Daisy back from whatever place they'd gone to isn't it? 'By the oaths of Elendil the King and Hundeth
the Chief' you said. We already belong to you don't we, to the Kings that is."

"As the Heirs of Elendil belong to you." Gilvagor said quietly.

It was like turning a piece of cloth over and looking at the pattern from the right side. The House of the Kings had never hurt their people and never would. For Beomann to be afraid of Gil, magic or no, was as silly as him being afraid of his family or of his town.

His apprehensions melted away and he squared his shoulders. "Well I've seen and I
haven't changed my mind."

"Very well then." Gil said, turning brisk and businesslike."Beoman son of Barliman, are you willing to swear head and heart and hand to the service of the King of the West?"

"I am!" he answered firmly, reflecting there was probably proper ceremonial answer but he didn't know what it was and Gil didn't seem to think it mattered.

"Then I accept your service in the name of King Elessar Telcontar." Gil put his hand on Beomann's head and went on. "As the liege man binds himself to his Lord so is Lord bound to his liege. This oath shall stand in memory of the Faith of Elendil the Faithful and of Hundeth the Wise in the keeping of those who sit upon the thrones of the West and of the One above all thrones forever."

Beomann swallowed, feeling tears brim. He had no idea what that last bit meant but it wakened feelings in him, unfamiliar and powerful.

Gil gave him that smile, the one that made him look no older than Beomann and more mischievous then all three little Butterbur boys put together. "Now my new Liege, we have much work to do. Shall we get to it?"