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Unto the ending of the world: 14. Tidings
April 14, 3019
Bilbo was determined to have his morning stroll this day. It might be cold and grey, but it was the first dry morning in more than a week, and he had not enjoyed being cooped up inside for so long, not even in the Last Homely House. He had been oddly restless for weeks, and being indoors made it worse.
After an hour or so of wandering through the gardens, Bilbo had decided that enough was enough, and he might as well go inside again to warm up, when he spotted Arwen sitting on a low bench near a copse of birches. She had been unusually quiet and withdrawn lately, yet something in her manner suggested she might welcome his company.
"Would you mind if I join you, Lady Arwen?" he asked.
Arwen smiled as she replied, moving aside to make room for him, "No, not at all, Bilbo; come, sit down."
Bilbo joined her on the bench. "Has there been word from Glorfindel yet?" he asked.
She shook her head in denial. "No, but he should be back any day now, even if he went as far south as Tharbad."
The old hobbit cast a critical glance at Arwen. He shared her worries; he too was anxious to hear tidings of the Fellowship, but he worried about her as well. He could only hope Glorfindel would have news when his patrol returned
Halbarad paced impatiently as he waited for the others to get ready to depart. The dawn start he would have preferred was already lost, and at this rate they would not be under way before mid-morning. Gethron and Borlas both studiously avoided meeting his gaze, but the Elves were not so easily daunted.
Finally, Glorfindel called him over as the Elf walked to where their horses stood. "Stop pacing, Halbarad! We are less than five hours from Imladris."
"Five? About two, I would have thought," he answered, sounding more snappish than he had intended.
"Five," Glorfindel repeated, and went on as he was about to protest, gesturing him to silence. "You may not care whether you ride your horse to death on the final miles of the journey, but I will not thus needlessly risk our mounts."
Though his tone was sharp, the Elf's gaze was not unfriendly, and Halbarad had to admit the Gondorian horses were reaching the end of their endurance. Once they had set off, they rode in silence through the familiar surroundings of the road to Rivendell. Glorfindel set a steady pace; though faster than the leisurely ride he had threatened, it was still slower than Halbarad would have liked.
The nearer they came to the Last Homely House, the more Halbarad felt his heart sink. Telling Elrond of the death of his foster-son and of the failure of the Quest would be bad enough, but he truly dreaded having to tell Arwen. Now their pace seemed too fast, and he would gladly have slowed down.
To keep his mind off his failure to think of anything he could say to Arwen, Halbarad tried to at least give some thought to what he would say to Elrond; not just Aragorn's death, but Sauron's capture of the One Ring and Gandalf's strange behaviour... Gandalf! What about Elrond? He had a Ring as well. What if he... no, had Elrond been subverted, Rivendell would not still stand and Glorfindel would not be here. He looked over at Glorfindel. Would he know? Halbarad realised he did not know when the elf had left Rivendell. He had to speak to Glorfindel on this; at least he would not be breaking any confidences by mentioning the One Ring to him. Either Glorfindel could assure him that Elrond was safe, or else the Elf would be warned of a grave danger.
As they neared the Ford of Bruinen, Halbarad let his horse fall back to ride beside Glorfindel, and turned to address him. "I did not speak of this before, but there is worse news from the South. The Quest has failed. Sauron holds the One Ring again."
"Sauron has his Ring again?" Glorfindel said softly, careful that their companions could not overhear him. "That explains..." The Elf fell silent.
"That explains what?" Halbarad asked.
"Elrond," was all Glorfindel said, and Halbarad looked at him in alarm.
"His Ring? Has he been revealed to Sauron?" he asked urgently.
At that, Glorfindel pulled up Asfaloth, looking at Halbarad in surprise. "You know of the Three?" he murmured. Halbarad nodded once. Waving at the others to ride on as one of the Elves looked back to see what kept them, Glorfindel studied the Ranger with a keen gaze before he softly said, "No. I would have known if it were so, but that was not what I was about to say. I think now that Elrond knows, or at least suspects, already that the One is back in the Enemy's hand. But how is it that you know of the Three?"
"I will tell you later, if there is time," Halbarad replied, as they followed the others again.
Later on, letting the two Rangers and the other Elves go ahead once more, Glorfindel halted as they turned into the path that led to the stables. "Let me take your horse in. I will tell Elrond while you speak to Arwen."
Halbarad sighed as they dismounted. Delay would achieve nothing, even if it meant that he would have to face Arwen at once. Glorfindel added, "I will keep Elrond from coming to look for Arwen immediately. I think it best if she hears this from you."
"Tell Master Elrond I will need to speak to him later," Halbarad replied. "Would Arwen be in her rooms?"
"Yes, or in the gardens." As Halbarad was about to leave, the Elf held him back. "Halbarad, wait. Before you go, what news of Elladan and Elrohir?"
"They intended to go to Lothlórien first before returning here. They were well when we parted in Rohan," Halbarad responded, as he belatedly remembered that Glorfindel would know no more than what he had heard from Daeron in Tharbad.
As Glorfindel led their horses to the stables, Halbarad paused to pull himself together before he walked to the house. He had to see it through. He had promised Aragorn he would do this for him, and, though she would not thank him for it, he owed it to Arwen as well.
Bilbo shivered; it was still too cold for April, even if it was not raining. Perhaps he should go to the library to work on his translations for a while before lunchtime. The hobbit was about to take his leave of Arwen and go back inside, when someone came into the little garden. From the boots he heard approaching, he already knew it had to be a Ranger, and when he looked up, he saw it was the Dúnadan's cousin, Halbarad. Bilbo smiled to see him, but then he noticed how tired and grim the other looked. And it was only two months since he had ridden south with the standard Arwen had made for Aragorn; why was he back so soon?
The hobbit was about to ask whether Halbarad had any news for them, when Arwen stood up to greet him. To Bilbo's surprise, Halbarad, after stepping forward slowly and almost reluctantly, knelt before Arwen in a very formal manner, his eyes cast down.
"Halbarad," she exclaimed, looking bemused, "Please! Rise."
As Halbarad rose, still keeping his eyes low, Bilbo suddenly noticed the sword on the Ranger's belt. It looked like, no, it was Andúril, and he gasped, his heart understanding what his thought fumbled to comprehend. No, Aragorn, no...
At Bilbo's gasp, Arwen looked to see what had caused his dismay. For a moment she stood as if frozen, then asked in far too calm of a tone, "He is dead, is he not?"
Only then could Halbarad meet her gaze. "Yes, my lady. I... I am sorry."
Arwen sat down abruptly, and Bilbo, pulled out of his own shock, asked worriedly, "Arwen, are you all right? Do you want me to call for someo..."
"No, no need," she answered in that same unnervingly calm tone, yet her gaze as she looked up to speak to Halbarad belied that calm. "Halbarad, sit down. Now, tell me. Tell me all."
The Ranger first remained standing, looking away from them, then replied as he sat down, "Twenty-eight days ago. Upon the fields of the Pelennor, before Minas Tirith. Aragorn fought one of the Nazgûl and took a mortal wound. He died the next day."
Arwen bowed her head and was silent for a long time. Just as Bilbo was about to speak, Arwen's head jerked up and she sharply said, "A Nazgûl? Did he... was it a Morgul wound?"
Bilbo sat listening in shock. Like Frodo. It would be awful if... not that it was not so already, but he did not want to think about how much worse it could be. Last autumn, Frodo had only been saved from that horrible shard because of Master Elrond's skill in healing. The Dúnadan would not have had such a healer at his side.
"It was," Halbarad confirmed, and as Arwen buried her head in her hands with a low moan, he hesitantly reached out as if to put his hand on her shoulder. He continued speaking as he let his hand fall back down, "Arwen, heed me. Your brothers tended him. Elrohir said the shards of the knife did not reach his heart before he... before he died. He has not been made a wraith."
The hobbit breathed a sigh of relief. Only the shudder that went through Arwen gave any indication that she heard Halbarad's words. After some time Arwen sat up straight again, looking south, her face expressionless.
"How..." She started to speak, then fell silent again, before she stood up abruptly and asked, "Halbarad, will you be here long?"
Halbarad shook his head as he got to his feet as well. "No, I must leave for Caras Dirnen tomorrow morning, but there is yet more we should speak of."
"Then come to me in an hour. I... I cannot... I need to be alone for a while." She walked off quickly, before either Halbarad or Bilbo had a chance to say anything.
The Ranger looked after her as if he would have followed. He sat only when Arwen was out of sight and dropped his head in his hands. Bilbo wondered whether he ought to go after Arwen. Even if she said she wanted to be alone, she should not be. Perhaps he should look in on her a bit later to see how she was? He glanced at Halbarad. Nor should you be alone. The hobbit made himself sit and wait.
After some time, Halbarad raised his head to speak to him. "Alas, there is more, Bilbo, and that too concerns you."
Bilbo looked at him inquiringly, and with not a little apprehension. Halbarad hesitated before he went on. "The Quest failed. The Enemy has his Ring back."
The hobbit felt as if the ground was pulled from under his feet. Oh, my lad. "Frodo?" he asked.
"I know not," replied Halbarad sadly. "He is either captive or dead."
Bilbo's shiver now not was from the cold. He could almost hope it was the latter. To be Sauron's prisoner... No matter what else the Enemy would do to Frodo, the worst must be to see him wearing the Ring.
Had it been the right thing to do to send the Ringbearer as the Council had, with only a few to protect him? Had they only sent Frodo to death or torment? Would it have made any difference if Elrond had accepted his own offer to take the Ring to be destroyed? Bilbo almost laughed at his foolishness. Even if he did not like to admit it, he knew very well he was too old to be out travelling in the Wild. The Fellowship would have had to carry him like fat old Bombur before even crossing the mountains. No, he might not like it, but the Council of Elrond had made the best possible choice under the circumstances.
"And the other hobbits in the Fellowship?" Bilbo continued, emerging from his thoughts again. He had little hope for them on this day of bad news, but he had to know. "They are my cousins as well, you know, except of course for dear Samwise."
"Pippin is in Gondor, he serves the Steward," Halbarad answered. "Merry is sworn to the Queen of Rohan. They both asked me to have word of them sent to their family."
Relieved to hear that they at least were well, Bilbo suggested, "I can have messages sent through the Elves, if you like."
Halbarad agreed, and Bilbo went on. "And Sam? You said nothing about him yet."
"Alas, Sam is dead," Halbarad replied.
"Do you know how he died?" Bilbo asked. He would have to see that word was brought to the Gaffer along with the other messages. It was easier to think of this than of Frodo.
"Men of Gondor found him and Frodo in Ithilien. It seems Frodo evaded them by putting on the Ring."
Bilbo frowned. Frodo should have known better than to use It again.
Halbarad had fallen silent, and Bilbo indicated he should carry on. "Sam was captured. He tried to escape to follow Frodo, and was killed by an archer."
Poor Sam... At least it will have been quick. Bilbo sighed. "Why did Frodo leave him behind? That was ill done."
As he spoke, Bilbo wondered whether it had been the influence of the One Ring trying to reach Its master again that had made Frodo put It on. He knew very well how the Ring could get on one's mind. Had it truly been eighteen years since he had given It up? He shook his head. He had heard a lot this day, and none of it good. My poor lad.
Suddenly Bilbo thought of Gandalf. What if there was a way to rescue Frodo? After all, Gandalf had broken into Sauron's dungeons long ago to find Thráin, too. "Halbarad, what about Gandalf? Where is he? Could he not do something for Frodo?"
The Ranger looked away, his face unreadable. Bilbo was about to repeat his question, when he replied, "I know not where Gandalf is. He was in Minas Tirith with us, but left on his own before the fall of the city. Even if we could find him, I doubt it would be possible to rescue the Ringbearer." Bilbo looked down. Halbarad was likely right, but one never knew what surprises Gandalf might have up his sleeve. He thought about all the narrow escapes and miraculous rescues Gandalf had performed on their long-ago adventure and tried to find some hope.
Halbarad spoke again, "Bilbo, before I talk to the Lady again, there is one last thing." Bilbo raised his head to look at the Ranger, noting the slight catch in his voice. "Aragorn asked me to give a message to you." The hobbit nodded as Halbarad continued, "He said, 'Ask Bilbo to remember his friend the Dúnadan kindly, and if he can, forgive me for failing Frodo.' "
Bilbo closed his eyes trying to keep back his tears, for Aragorn, for Sam, for Frodo. Dúnadan, Dúnadan... How could he not think kindly of his friend? Yet he also nearly sighed in exasperation. There was nothing to forgive. "But what you told me, there was nothing he could have done. It was not his fault."
The other almost smiled at that and shook his head. "No... but you knew him well enough. He would have thought Frodo's safety his responsibility, even after the Fellowship fell apart. And now I should go to see Arwen. Will you be all right?"
"Yes, thank you. I think I shall go inside soon. Halbarad, do not worry about me. Go to the Lady."
It took a long time before Bilbo felt like going inside. He would miss his friend terribly, and he knew that with the Ring back on Sauron's finger, bad times were coming, but his main worry was for Arwen. She would take it hardest of all, worse even than Master Elrond. And Frodo... Bilbo shivered. Gandalf, save my lad.
As he walked towards the house, Halbarad wondered how Elrond had taken the news. Even if he had been relieved to leave telling him to Glorfindel, he would still have to speak to Elrond later. First though, there was Arwen.
Inside, Halbarad first went to the room that was his to use when he was in Rivendell, leaving his pack and his cloak there, taking only what he needed to give to Arwen. As he took off his swordbelt and placed Andúril against the wall, he cursed himself for his thoughtlessness in letting Arwen find out like that, before he had a chance to say anything to prepare her for the shock.
He knocked on Arwen's door, walking in as she called for him to enter. Though she was pale, her eyes were dry, and she appeared calm.
"Halbarad, there was more you needed to tell me?"
"Yes, my lady. And it is more bad news. The Quest has failed. The Enemy has his Ring again."
Arwen looked at him sharply. "Does Father know this yet?"
"Glorfindel will have told him by now," Halbarad replied, then went on, "I also have a letter from your brothers."
"A letter? They did not return with you?"
"No, they are going to Lothlórien first, and intend to return here once the passes are open."
He handed Arwen the letter, waiting while she read it. She remained silent, staring at the paper for a long time after she finished reading, then looked back up at him.
Halbarad hesitated before he went on. "Aragorn asked me to bring the Elessar back to you," he said as he took the jewel from the piece of cloth it had been wrapped in and held it out to her.
First, Arwen only looked, then she took it from him with a trembling hand. "I left this in Lórien when I was last there, and asked Grandmother to give it to him when he passed through, for I knew he would do so, even if I did not know when," she replied softly, as she traced the edge of the great eagle brooch with a finger. "With this token I sought to strengthen his resolve, his hope for the final trial. Now the stone returns to me, and hope is forever lost."
"Aragorn also asked me to tell you... to give you his message. He said: 'Tell Arwen I love her unto the ending of the world, and beyond.' "
Arwen looked at Halbarad expectantly, wanting more. He shifted his feet uneasily, wondering whether to speak of Aragorn's last words. It was all he could offer her. Overhearing that whispered outcry, so filled with despair, had felt like an intrusion into his kinsman's most private thoughts, yet Arwen should know of it. "Arwen, his last words were of you."
As he was about to tell her what Aragorn had said, Arwen stopped him. "I think I heard him..." she said, falling silent before continuing pensively, "I thought I heard him call me, but I was not sure that it was real."
"My lady... Arwen, you heard that, yet you were unaware when he died?" Halbarad shook his head in disbelief. He went on as Arwen turned away, "I am sorry, Arwen. I should not..."
She spun round to look at him again, eyes afire with anger. "No, indeed! But tell me, Halbarad, how is it that Estel lies dead, yet you stand before me living?"
Halbarad flinched. In his mind he saw again the Nazgûl's attack, and the desperate moment when Aragorn stumbled, and he knew he would not reach him in time. This is an evil door, and my death lies beyond it. Had that been the meaning of his foresight?
Somehow he met Arwen's gaze, and held it for as long as he could bear it. Think you I would not have taken that wound for him if I could have, if there had been a chance? He nearly spoke out loud as his own anger stirred, yet in the end he merely sighed as he looked down and said, "I was not fast enough." He walked towards the window. Anger had no place here.
It seemed a long time before Arwen stepped up beside him and placed a hand on his arm in apology. "I should not have said that. I did not mean..." Her voice trailed off as he turned away.
Arwen continued softly, not meeting his gaze when he looked at her again. "Perhaps... I should have known. I could only feel that he was wounded, and in pain, and even that I could not perceive with certainty. Now that you tell me that the Enemy has regained his Ring, I understand why my sight has been so flawed."
After a long silence, Arwen stepped back from the window and turned towards him, expression unreadable. Perhaps an Elf could interpret the look on her face. Halbarad did not wish to try. "Thank you for coming to tell me, and for... for being with him at the end." Apart from the small catch, her voice betrayed nothing.
"I... Arwen..." He faltered. "I should go speak to your father now. Arwen, I will not ask if you will be well, but if there is anything..."
She shook her head in dismissal as she accompanied him to the door. Outside, it took Halbarad several deep breaths before he felt able to walk to his room. Even so, he noticed curious and concerned looks from several Elves he passed along the way.
Back in his room, he sat down to attempt to brace himself for the encounter with Elrond, but quickly got up again. If he stayed in here, he would only continue to mull over Arwen's words.
The door to Elrond's study was closed. As Halbarad knocked, the door was opened by Glorfindel, who made ready to leave, but was called back by Elrond.
The first thing Halbarad noticed as he entered was that Elrond's desk, which was usually almost empty, was covered in maps. First leaning over the desk to move some of the markers indicating Ranger companies to their correct positions on the maps, he waited for Elrond to speak.
The Lord of Imladris remained silent for a long time, giving both Halbarad and Glorfindel a stern look. "It would have been better if you had let me tell Arwen."
Noting the small shrug from Glorfindel, Halbarad met Elrond's gaze and held it. "No, Aragorn asked me to do this for him."
"How is she?" Elrond asked, to Halbarad's relief not pursuing the point further.
"You should probably go to her later, but she wants to be alone at the moment."
Elrond turned away and took a deep breath before he looked at Halbarad again. "Halbarad, tell me of my son."
Halbarad bowed his head, collecting his thoughts. "After the Grey Company caught up with Aragorn in Rohan, we followed your counsel and took the Paths of the Dead to try to reach Gondor in time, and arrived at Minas Tirith with a contingent of Gondorian troops. As we tried to break the Enemy's siege, Aragorn came up against one of the Nazgûl and was wounded. We made it into the city, and took Aragorn to the Houses of Healing where Elladan and Elrohir tended him. He died the next day."
"His wound?" Elrond asked. "How was he wounded?"
"Morgul knife. Gut wound," Halbarad replied bluntly, the sharp pain of grief renewed making his answer harsher than he had intended. "It would likely have killed him even without the Morgul spell." He closed his eyes as his memories took him back to Aragorn's side, unable to do anything but watch him linger in pain. There had been nothing he could do against the Enemy's continuing attacks, though he had known that in that battle Aragorn stood to lose not just his life, but his very soul.
"It was definitely a Morgul wound?" Elrond continued, drawing him from his thoughts.
"Yes, but Elrohir said he escaped the shards of the knife and the spell, as well as Sauron's other attacks."
"Sauron's other attacks?" Elrond leant forward anxiously.
"He was attacking Aragorn through the shards in some way," Halbarad said, "Elladan and Elrohir stopped him somehow. Aragorn has not been taken by the Enemy, that we are certain of."
While Elrond remained silent, staring at the maps on his desk, Glorfindel asked, "Halbarad, his grave? Where..."
"There is none," Halbarad replied.
"What do you mean?"
"A pyre was set in the square in front of the House of the Kings."
Now Elrond looked up again. "A pyre." His expression was blank as he repeated Halbarad's words.
"There was no time to open a tomb. The city was about to fall. The Gate was already breached." As he glanced at Glorfindel, Halbarad saw him nod sharply to indicate his understanding of their desperate situation. "With the Morgul spell... nor would we let his body fall into the hands of our enemies."
Elrond flinched and turned away, but said nothing.
"At the last, the Steward of Gondor chose to acknowledge Aragorn's claim, and placed the crown of Gondor on the pyre with him, proclaiming the oath of Gondor's Stewards fulfilled." Halbarad did not try to keep his disgust with Denethor out of his voice, and Elrond gave him a questioning look.
"The man is petty, stubborn, arrogant, calculating, unpredictable." Halbarad gave Elrond an overview of the Council Denethor had called, and how the Steward had there rejected the validity of Aragorn's claim, only to then apparently change his mind, or to see some advantage in acknowledging it after all.
"Would you say Gondor is served well by Denethor? And can we trust him as an ally?" Elrond asked.
"I would prefer to deal with the Prince of Dol Amroth," Halbarad replied, "but yes, he serves Gondor well. As to how far we can rely on him? He will not turn to the Enemy, but his fief is Gondor, not the whole of the West."
Before Halbarad could finish, Elrond spoke again, "I would also know all that you can tell me about what has befallen the members of the Fellowship, beginning with Frodo. Do you know where he was when he was captured by the Enemy?"
Halbarad replied, "Not exactly. He was last seen in Ithilien, where he and Sam ran into Men of Gondor. Frodo escaped by putting on the Ring. Sam was killed when he tried to get away from them."
"The other two hobbits?" Elrond asked.
"They are well. Merry is in Rohan, as an esquire to their new Queen, and Pippin is in Gondor and has sworn fealty to the Steward," Halbarad said. "Of Boromir, I only know what Aragorn told me, that he fell near Amon Hen," he went on. "Legolas and Gimli are on their way back to their own homelands, travelling with Elladan and Elrohir as far as Lothlórien."
At this, Elrond held his gaze. "Did my sons say when they would return here?"
"No, but I would expect as soon as they can."
"I see. And Gandalf, what of him? I already know of what befell him in Moria."
Halbarad remained silent to gather his thoughts before he responded. "Gandalf was acting strangely in Minas Tirith. First, after Denethor's Council, he tried to convince me to let him use the Orthanc palantír, despite knowing that the Stone is unsafe while Sauron holds the Ring. And worst of all, even though he knew that the One Ring is in the Enemy's possession, he persisted in using his own Ring."
"His Ring? What do you know of that?" Elrond interrupted sharply.
"I know of the Three," Halbarad replied.
Under other circumstances, he would have been deeply amused by Elrond's expression of baffled shock at the fact that he knew of one of the best kept secrets of the Age. As it was, he merely went on with his account. "One thing Gandalf did to aid us was to slay the Ringwraith who had wounded Aragorn, but then later, when he came to the Houses of Healing he tried to persuade Legolas, Gimli and Pippin to leave with him immediately. He refused to say why, or where he intended to go, nor would he give a reason for why he would abandon Aragorn, rather than stay at his side until the end. He would not even look at him, and his manner was cold, indifferent."
Even the memory was enough to raise his anger at the wizard's actions again, and it was all Halbarad could do to not stand up to pace in frustration, while Elrond and Glorfindel remained deep in thought for some time.
"It would be dire if Gandalf has indeed been overwhelmed through his Ring," Elrond eventually broke the silence.
"But why would he continue to use it if he knew the Enemy had regained the One?" Glorfindel asked.
"He might have thought that his strength was sufficient," Elrond mused. "I hope Galadriel has been more circumspect."
Halbarad carefully kept his expression blank. He had not known about Galadriel, though had he had to guess, he would have named her first.
"Was there any sign where Gandalf was headed when he left?" Elrond asked.
"Nothing beyond that he passed through Ethring in Gondor. He was either going west, or making for the Paths of the Dead and the North," Halbarad answered.
Elrond continued, changing the subject. "Halbarad, I understand that you are now Chieftain?" Halbarad nodded in confirmation. "You mentioned the Orthanc palantír. What is to be done with it? Are you the rightful user?"
"Yes," Halbarad replied, then raised his hand to stop Elrond interrupting him, "But I do know not to use it, save in dire need. Aragorn warned me against that, as he had barely been able to wrest it from Sauron's control himself."
Not that he had needed the warning, Halbarad thought. He had stood by Aragorn in that struggle, and had seen how much it had taken from his kinsman to break the Enemy's hold over the Stone. He knew he did not have the strength for such a confrontation, certainly not now that Sauron held his Ring again.
"Aragorn used it?" Elrond asked. "When?"
"At the Hornburg, before the Paths of the Dead, to draw Sauron's Eye away from the approach of the Ringbearer." He shook his head, trying to dismiss the memory of facing Sauron even indirectly. Elrond gave him a sharp look, but did not interrupt, and he went on, "Then, a second time in Gondor to see whether we would reach Minas Tirith in time."
"You speak as if the memory is evil," Elrond said, giving him another searching look.
"Yes," Halbarad replied, "I stood by Aragorn as he looked in the Stone the first time, and though I did not look myself, I knew what he saw and felt. The second time, Aragorn looked alone and in secret. That is when he found out that Sauron had regained the One Ring."
He briefly met Elrond's sorrow-filled gaze, then looked away. When he looked at him again, the Lord of Imladris had regained his composure.
"What are your plans with the Stone?" Elrond asked.
"It would be best to have it remain here for safekeeping. Aragorn advised that it should only be used in the direst of need."
Elrond replied, "I am willing to guard it against that day. Did you discuss what is to be done with the heirlooms?"
"Andúril is mine, as is the Elendilmir. The Sceptre is to remain in your keeping, as there are none with the right to claim it." There was no need to mention Barahir's ring; they both knew where that had been bestowed.
From the startled looks both Elrond and Glorfindel gave him at the mention of the Sceptre, Halbarad realised that Daeron had not told Glorfindel all that he could have.
"But you are close enough in blood that you..." Elrond began.
"Any claim of mine would be disputed, and we can ill afford conflict among the Dúnedain, not with what is coming." Aragorn could have named him Isildur's Heir as well as Chieftain, Halbarad knew, even if his claim was weakened by his mother's birth. There was no one else within the same degree of kinship, and under different circumstances Aragorn might well have named him as his heir in full.
Elrond looked as if he was about to object, but Halbarad shook his head as he went on, holding Elrond's gaze, "It is better this way. I have no desire to be Heir, and I agree with Aragorn's decision that the line of the Kings ends with him. Let him have been the last Heir of Isildur."
It must be bitter for the Lord of Imladris to see all his years of work on behalf of his brother's descendants come to naught, and Halbarad could only wonder what went through Elrond's mind. Finally, Elrond nodded, and Halbarad went on. "Scrolls were made detailing Aragorn's will for both North and South. I would leave one set of copies to be kept here," he said. "Now, as to the future, agreement was reached with Gondor that, should they need it, the North will offer what help we can. This would be mainly grain and iron ore, and possibly taking in refugees."
"I see," Elrond said. "And did you think to ask before committing Rivendell's resources?"
"That was Aragorn's proposal," Halbarad said curtly. "Elladan spoke for Rivendell." He stood up to point at one of the maps on the desk. "Apart from what is owed for past alliances, for our own sake too we cannot let Gondor fall too soon. Also, we agreed on an alliance in Rohan. It will be the task of the North to keep Dunland in check. What is most important, however, is that Rohan has sent envoys to Lothlórien, and will send messengers here also, as will Gondor."
"Rohan is sending envoys to Lothlórien?" Elrond asked. "That is surprising."
"It is, but it is also good news indeed," Halbarad responded, "And they should both profit from it. I am still concerned about Isengard. Saruman is not a danger at the moment, but he may become so again, and control over Isengard is vital for the defence of the Isen."
"Very little can be done as long as he remains within that fortress," Elrond said. "You should also not forget that Isengard still belongs to Gondor, and to do anything without consulting with the Steward might not be wise." Halbarad nodded in slightly irritated agreement as Elrond continued. "Have you thought yet about what you will do first when you return to Caras Dirnen?"
"Do what needs doing in taking up the Chieftainship, and see to the brigands around Bree," Halbarad answered. It would be hard to make further plans until those two things were behind him.
"Do you expect much trouble from the Council?" Elrond asked.
"I hope not, but it is difficult to say how they will react." Halbarad said no more. Opposition about the way Aragorn had dealt with his succession was likely to be minor compared to how the Council would react to the revelation of how they had been kept in the dark over the One Ring.
All three were silent for some time now until Halbarad broke the silence again. "Master Elrond, there is one matter on which I would like your counsel. I can see no other way than to tell the Council of the Angle of the One Ring, but I would hear your thoughts on this."
Elrond only spoke after some consideration. "If you can keep the news from spreading too widely, it may be the best approach. There no longer is a need for secrecy, but I do fear too many would lose heart."
"Yet to keep silent now, and have it revealed at a time not of my choosing would be worse. It will be bad enough when the Council hears that Aragorn kept this from them for so long, even if they may understand the necessity."
Elrond nodded in agreement. "That is true as well. Then I would say to tell them if you must, but keep the knowledge limited to no more than a few if you can."
Now Glorfindel spoke. "You must not wait too long to take action on the situation around Bree."
"I have to wait for the reports from the Rangers there, but I would like your opinion, as well as on the Ettenmoors and the mountain passes," Halbarad answered
Elrond stood up. "Then, if there is nothing further that needs to be discussed now, I will go see Arwen," he said as he headed for the door. "Tell me later what you come up with against the brigands," he added to Glorfindel.
"I should get at least Borlas if we are going to discuss this now," Halbarad said, as Glorfindel returned his attention to the maps.
"We should leave it until after dinner," Glorfindel said, a suggestion Halbarad realised was more than timely, as it had been a tiring day and he had not eaten since the morning. He nodded in weary gratitude as they left Elrond's study and quickly went to find Borlas and Gethron.
Their evening meal was a sombre affair. Word had spread, and the few Elves that came to the hall ate quickly and left again without speaking. Halbarad was relieved when Glorfindel rejoined them, and they spent the rest of the evening going over maps and considering possible strategies. Even if much of what they came up with might need revising later, he welcomed the distraction.
Later that night, Halbarad went into the gardens for a walk, still preoccupied with planning for the attack on the brigands. He sat down briefly, trying to clear his mind, and was about to get up and go inside again, when he realised he was being watched. He looked up to see Elrond approach and sit down next to him.
"Master Elrond," he greeted the other, and waited, observing Elrond in turn. The Lord of Imladris looked weary, almost old, if that were possible. In an impulse, Halbarad asked, "The Fellowship... Why? Why did you send them off like that?"
Elrond met Halbarad's gaze, but hesitated before he spoke. From his reply it was clear he understood that Halbarad was not looking for a summing up of the reasons for the Council's decision. "I saw no other hope." Elrond bowed his head, then met his gaze again as he went on, "I do not believe even now that we could have made any other choice than the one we made."
Halbarad said nothing.
Elrond sighed. "Halbarad, he was as dear to me as my own sons, and I too grieve for him."
Halbarad still said nothing, but he forced himself to nod in acceptance of Elrond's words. Despite the mistakes the Council, and Elrond himself, might have made – and in truth, he could not say that he would have decided differently – this he knew was true.
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