Tales of the North
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Foresight: 2. Foresight - reversed
Aragorn told himself he ought to sleep. The hour was late and the next day would be demanding. The next morning they would at last reach Minas Tirith. At least he had shaken off the terrible fatigue from the struggle for the palantír. Even if the ride from Erech had been hard, that had been a much healthier kind of weariness than the bleak exhaustion from confronting the Enemy and bending the palantír to his will. As he found he was still too restless for sleep, he went up to the ship's deck. Some fresh air would undoubtedly clear his head and allow him to rest.
At least all others had found sleep, he thought, seeing that except for a few members of the crew the deck was empty. No, wait, there was one other Ranger on deck, standing at the railing near the prow. Halbarad. They had not yet had time to truly talk to each other since Halbarad's words at the Door of the Dead, though as soon as the words were said, Aragorn had recognised them as a true foretelling.
Aragorn made his way across the deck to stand next to his kinsman. Halbarad was deep in thought, but looked up to acknowledge his arrival, though he did not speak. Aragorn hesitated. No battle was ever certain, and while they might all be dead by the next sunset – and even if they were victorious, Frodo was still out there; as long as the Quest hung in the balance, anything they did here was ultimately irrelevant, except to keep the Enemy's attention away from his own lands – it did make a difference whether one went into battle with merely the normal risks of war to confront, or under a doom of prophecy.
He turned towards Halbarad. Even though he knew what the answer would be, he knew also that this had to be said. "Halbarad, you need not take the field. You are under no obligation to..."
"No obligation, no; other than friendship or fealty. Aragorn, I have been a Ranger for most of my life. I never expected to die of old age."
As he winced at his friend's attempt at levity, Aragorn also acknowledged Halbarad's unshakeable loyalty and courage. Even as he started to speak again, he realised that he could do no other than accept what he knew was unavoidable. "But to go into battle, and be certain that..."
Halbarad shook his head. "Friend, fate cannot be cheated. Were I to keep back from the battle tomorrow, no doubt I would stumble over a pebble and break my neck in the fall. All the prophecy said was that I would die after passing that damnable door, and since I have not become an Elf overnight, that is hardly a revelation." He paused briefly, then smiled wryly as he placed a hand on Aragorn's shoulder and went on, "But no, I know, as do you, that tomorrow I will die. I do not seek death, yet that is what has to be."
Aragorn lowered his head in defeat. Yes, he did know, and to argue any longer would be an insult to Halbarad's sacrifice. He looked up again, blinking back tears. Halbarad was deep in thought now, and Aragorn knew he was thinking of his family. He took a deep breath to steady himself as he put an arm around Halbarad's shoulder. "I will see that Dineth is looked after. Does Haldan still want to be a Ranger?"
"Thank you. And yes, he still wants to be like his uncle Aragorn; he should be ready to start his training this year." Halbarad smiled now as he embraced Aragorn in return. Aragorn could only smile too, even if a bit wanly. It had been a long-standing source of amusement between them that, while Halmir had wanted to follow in his father's footsteps, Haldan had always insisted that he wanted to be like his 'uncle'. The argument that his father was a Ranger too had never made much of an impression on the lad.
Halbarad shook his head and turned towards the railing again. "I suppose I ought to at least attempt sleep," he said finally. Though Aragorn nodded in agreement, neither of them made a move to leave for a long time.
Somehow Halbarad had managed to find sleep the previous night; this morning he had woken up early, feeling strangely refreshed after too few hours of rest. Though he still had the awareness that he would die this day, he felt almost cheerful now. He managed to maintain his mood at least outwardly as he joined the other Rangers. He was still the Captain of the Grey Company, and his men looked to him for guidance. They all knew that they would reach the Harlond this morning and that battle was upon them.
At breakfast he had sat next to Halmir, trying not to remind himself that this was his farewell to his son, even if perhaps Halmir did not realise it. However, from the occasional silences in their conversation that were just that bit too long, he suspected that Halmir did know.
Aragorn had not come to the ship's mess for breakfast until late, and as he met his kinsman's gaze, Halbarad knew that Aragorn was not fooled by the smile he gave him. They spoke briefly, but only to plan the first stage of the battle. Everything else had already been said.
From the moment they left the ships, they were in the thick of the battle, and the day was a blur of cut, thrust, parry, dodge, lunge, cut, stab, parry in which Halbarad found that there was no time to think of fear or foresight, no time for anything but the moment. At first the standard was an encumbrance, but soon enough it seemed as if he had never fought any other way, even if he was still aware of its weight and bulk. He stayed as close to Aragorn as he could, well aware of his duty as standard-bearer. Elladan and Elrohir were constantly near them, and he caught occasional glimpses of the other Rangers around them as they fought their way across the Pelennor.
Halbarad soon realised that the standard made him as much a target as Aragorn, who was also attracting disproportionate attention from their opponents. Even for those who did not know who Aragorn was – and not all would recognise the meaning of the standard – he was at the front of their group, and the Elendilmir bright on his brow marked him as someone important. Aragorn was more than holding his own though, and he knew he did not have to worry about him.
Another enemy. Curse it, an axe, he thought as he sidestepped the Easterling's first swing. Now he really would have preferred a shield, rather than the standard. Doubly cursed, he is aiming at the standard, he realised as the other hewed at him again. While the Easterling did carry a shield, each of his attempts to strike at the standard left him briefly open, and Halbarad tried to make use of these short moments. Every time the Easterling was too quick and blocked him. Elladan was also trying to eliminate their opponent, but this one was truly a skilled fighter, and the half-Elf could not dispatch him quickly either. Another swing from that axe, and as he pulled the standard out of harm's way, suddenly a flare of pain in his side, and he knew his doom had found him.
It hurt. It hurt worse than any wound he had ever taken. Yet he still stood, even if not for long. As he pushed the standard towards the Ranger behind him – Hunthor, he registered distractedly – and clutched his left hand at his side, slick and warm with blood, he saw the triumphant look in the Easterling's eyes, and lunged forward with his sword. He might be done for, but he would not go alone. Avenged, he thought as he saw the other go down at the same time that he felt himself start to fall.
Someone caught him before he hit the ground, and he realised it was Halmir, as his son gently eased him down. Elladan was there too, and he felt the peredhel press something to his side. Why was he so cold? His son… where? He felt a hand softly stroke his forehead, and forced his eyes to focus. Ah, there was Halmir… and he let his eyes flutter shut, content to let go. It was so cold.
No, not yet.
Aragorn. At his side.
He opened his eyes again, and smiled at Aragorn as he met his gaze. His hand. He... Aragorn had taken his hand. He could barely feel the touch any more, except for the warmth enveloping his cold fingers.
"The standard did not touch the ground, my King." There. He had said it. He would not see his friend crowned, but at least he was first to call him King.
He kept his eyes on Aragorn for as long as he could. It was growing dark. And colder still. Aragorn said something, but he could not hear him. It no longer mattered. It could wait until they met again, he thought, still smiling as the world faded away.
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