It is the task of kings to be the chief among the judges of the people. All law is administered in the king’s name from the most trivial of cases in the most remote of villages to the weightiest of matters in the greatest city of the land. And most important of all the people must know that the king will always act according to the ancient customs of the land and will be not partial to any and most certainly not to himself and his own interests. The 1662 Book of Common Prayer of the Church of England prays that the council of the monarch may “indifferently minister justice”. C.S Lewis once asked an uneducated member of the Headington congregation of which they were both part what he thought was meant by indifferent justice. The context of the question was that the proposal that indifferent should be replaced by impartial as people would understand it better. The man thought for a moment about Lewis’s question and then replied, “It means making no difference between one and another.” Lewis was satisfied that no revision was required and whenever I have prayed the general intercession in the service of Holy Communion I have always used the version written for the 1662 Prayerbook.
So it is that one of the first tasks that Aragorn has to undertake as king is the minister justice to all in the time between the end of Denethor and his own crowning. In part this means the treatment of the peoples who had been allies of Mordor. Among them are the Easterlings and the peoples of Harad. Aragorn chooses not to punish them and he gives the slaves of Sauron, who readers will remember that Gandalf pitied, land that they can call their own.
At last he has one particularly difficult case to judge. Beregond of the Guard of the Citadel in Minas Tirith had defied the orders of Denethor to aid him in his suicide and in the slaying of Faramir. If Gandalf had not arrived in time Beregond would have been faced with the choice of whether or not he should strike his lord in order to save Faramir but thankfully he was spared that. Nevertheless he slew two fellow members of the Guard and justice has to be done.
“Beregond, by your sword blood was spilled in the Hallows, where that is forbidden. Also you left your post without leave of Lord or of Captain. For these things, of old, death was the penalty.”
Aragorn remits the penalty “for your valour in battle, and still more because all that you did was for love of the Lord Faramir.”
Note that Aragorn does not forgive Beregond. He remains guilty of the crime that he committed. Remission is not forgiveness but the decision of the judge not to carry out the penalty for a crime. But even though the reasons for the crime have mitigated it a crime has been committed. The king must declare the punishment.
“You must leave the Guard of the Citadel, and you must go forth from the City of Minas Tirith… You are appointed to the White Company, the Guard of Faramir, Prince of Ithilien, and you shall be its captain and dwell in Emyn Arnen in honour and peace, and in the service of him for whom you risked all, to save him from death.”
Tolkien tells us that Beregond perceived the “mercy and justice of the King”. Mercy alone could not suffice. Beregond could only hold his head high by atoning for his deeds. All are satisfied that the law has been respected and all are satisfied that Beregond’s brave deeds have been respected. Perhaps too all may begin to come to terms with the sad and tragic death of Denethor knowing that a man had to commit a crime in order to save Faramir from his despair.
Aragorn begins his reign with an act of wisdom, and soon all the land will hear of this and their faith in the King and of the new life of their land will deepen. They have a king once most and he is a man of justice and of mercy.