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Lives in Nutshells: 9. New Day Dawning
The way matters turned out, Halbarad might have known about it years ago.
It was not that there had ever been a question of choosing between him and Arwen. They both knew there was no future in it, in them, that his heart had always already chosen, which wasn't to say forty odd years on and off, as the turns of fate and the Road allowed, meant nothing. Not at all. It was just... well, Aragorn was less settled at heart, could find a home anywhere—particularly in Gondor, the only place to find a crown these days if one were Isildur's Heir, a point to bear ever in mind for we must always remember destiny—while Halbarad was in love with Eriador, and there was the small matter that no amount of trying was ever going to make them fathers. Not with each other, at least. ("I think we needn't qualify that, Hal." "Quiet, you, I'm trying to make this easier, since you persist in making it difficult." "Oh, but I like it hard..." "Oh for Valar's—!")
For there was Arwen, of course. Still. Always. And perhaps, if fate were kind, as Aragorn was wont to say, forever, so far as Mankind could speak of such things. For even in the lesser eternities of mortals, it would always be Arwen in the end, she was sunk so deep in him he didn't know himself without her.
In the mean time, they had each other and the Road—on the move, under cover and covers, and if fate were kind, then there was a roof and a bottle of wine at the end of the journey. And Halbarad loved to complain about the awful tales of Woe and Romance, and jest that he was going to right the balance of maidens dying for their lovers. ("What, right now? Hal!" "What? I'll have you know I'm a perfectly good poet sober." "Every orc in Utumno is cringing! Sober or drunk, the only help for your verses is silence." "Pity for you, for I'm determ—mmph! Mmmm..." Silence.)
Pelennor had taken the laughter from that old jest. Or rather, it had simply buried what was left of it after the doom-saying at the Door. Halbarad would probably have said that it was for the best, that it would be a clean break, cleaner than they could manage together, and that that was needed. That in the end, there was something to be said (for a Ranger) for going down to a glorious death that got sung of, even. (And curse the fickle allegiance of poetic taste, the one verse in that entire lament to fall on deaf ears and be forgotten within a month would be the one listing Eriador's dead! Of course!)
But Aragorn will never know what Halbarad might have said; they did not speak of it all the long way from Dimholt to Pelennor. There were other things, of course, to do and think of and they were captains. (I'm a captain; you're the king, crown or no crown. Get it right—I didn't die for you to mix these things up, you know. It should worry him that Arwen doesn't even look askance at him when he tells her Halbarad complains to him still.)
And it's true enough it's likely easier this way. He has a wife he loves beyond reason or unreason, and soon enough there will be children, and there is so much to mend—lands and men and the scars they all bear within them. He would like one day to stop mending, to see things thrive, grow up beyond him, grow into the hands of his sons and daughters—of his and Arwen's sons and daughters. But for now, the king's hands must be a healer's hands first, and the first lesson every healer learns is that it does no good to let the patient pick at a wound.
So it is easier this way—lanced and done with, in one fell swoop of an Easterling blade. No awkward looks or steps, no missteps to be made—no temptation. He'll never see the anguish in her eyes or his when he turns to one or the other, unable to avoid betrayal for even if he keeps his hands where they belong, looks need no hands to touch depths a wife alone should feel. Halbarad is right—would be right—'tis better thus.
And yet, sometimes, when he wakes suddenly to another's breath at his side in the sweltering night, he remembers other nights alone in a lover's darkness—memory so sharp and vivid his heart speeds as he's struck with sudden doubt: is this new life that's come to fill the emptiness shaped like Halbarad a dream? If he but moves a little, he will know. It needs but one touch, he knows them both so well...
But truth looks better in the morning, love. Let it lie. Let it lie, and lie you here with me, just a little longer.
I always have, Hal.
And he always will: through the long watches, he holds himself perfectly still.
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