The Angle: Slashverse Arc
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Heirs of Isildur: 1. Heirs of Isildur
"I have not seen Tharbad in a long while. Perhaps I ought simply to go–" Aragorn was cut off as Halbarad latched onto an arm and yanked him forward. With his left hand locked onto Aragorn's left biceps and his right arm draped over the back of his friend's neck, yoke-like, he half-dragged the other forward.
"Now then, we all need a rest. And where better than home, Aragorn? As I recall, you saw Tharbad two months ago, whereas you have not seen the Angle for at least ten weeks," he said in as reasonable a tone as he could muster, considering that he was ready to burst from laughter. Aragorn, of course, heard it anyway, and shot him an annoyed look, which Halbarad ignored. "Besides, my friend, your people miss you, and it does them all good to see that you are alive and well. I am certain that Caranthar's family will want to see you. And then Hirion's, and Duilinher's, and Gilithras's and--"
"Yes, yes, rest assured, I can name them all by heart," Aragorn replied rather sourly. "'Tis not difficult to anticipate the invitations, one need only look to see who has an unwed female relation between the age of twenty-two, thanks to the example of my mother, and fifty."
"And there are so very many of them! We seem to have been blessed with many more daughters than sons," Halbarad continued blithely, enjoying the moment. "Why, there is Brethilas, Narwen, Firieth, her cousin, Gwathiel, the delectable Tarandis... oh, and let us not forget Ereniel and her sister, Niniel; and if you want twice the challenge, the twins--"
"Thank you, Halbarad."
"I do but serve my chieftain and my people," he replied with becoming modesty.
"Oh? Then perhaps you could stand in my stead at the wedding I constantly fear has been planned in my absence."
"Now, there is a word for that sort of suspicion, my friend...."
"Yes, men call it 'reason,'" Aragorn replied. At that, Halbarad no longer attempted to restrain his laughter, earning another dark look from his chieftain. "Laugh now, for later it shall be my turn when they begin to hound you as well. You are hardly the scion of a farmer, son of Hirthon."
"How fortunate, then, that I have Dírlas to keep the line of Anardil alive."
"Just watch yourself with that lass of yours, or you may find yourself married even ere I am."
"No fear of that," Halbarad replied, and for all that he spoke blithely, Aragorn gave him another sharp look, as if he had heard the undercurrent that dragged at that attempted levity.
"I had thought you were quite close to each other."
"Mm... I suppose you might call it that, but nothing shall come of it," Halbarad answered, and let Aragorn take that as he would. His friend wore a rather skeptically neutral expression, such that he felt constrained to add, "Truly, no one shall need to officiate over a 'Ranger's betrothal,' Aragorn."
"For which I thank you. I suppose 'tis understandable enough, but...." Aragorn shook his head, then hesitated, forcing Halbarad to pause a moment, as he slipped out of the other's grip to face him. His friend seemed troubled, embarrassed, almost, but there was also an edge of confusion or bewilderment or... 'incredulity,' that Halbarad was not accustomed to see in the other.
"What matter, Aragorn?" he prompted after a moment, reaching out to grip the other's shoulder bracingly.
"Do you want children, Halbarad?"
"Mayhap not tomorrow, but one day it would be... nice." Nice. Halbarad bit his tongue for the half-truth. What man does not want them, even so young as we are? Life is uncertain enough that it seems folly to wait too long, yet... I think it must be long ere I have any. If I have any.
"Even if not by the woman you would marry?"
"I... had not thought of that, for if I were to sire any, I would marry their mother. I swear to you, if you are concerned still, that there shall be no trouble, for Thiriel and I are careful--"
"'Tis not that," Aragorn waved the protest away.
"I suppose that I am not accustomed to think thus, for no Elf would. What need of heirs when one may expect to live forever, or else end no sooner than Imladris itself? What need of haste, then? I might expect to hear rumors and idle... vulgar... talk as a matter of course, but I would not have expected to hear any such thing said seriously."
"I have been asked if there was no one at all that I would get a child on, in or out of marriage." Halbarad stared. Aragorn was watching him now, gauging his reaction, though what he might have expected other than shock, Halbarad could not have guessed. His friend grunted at that, and in a sort of grimly satisfied, if disgusted, tone, said, "So I am not alone in my astonishment, it seems. I had wondered if that were a common question. It has been insinuated so often, but I never thought it would be considered an acceptable notion."
"Well... that is, it has happened before," Halbarad allowed uneasily. "But as I said, marriage follows swiftly, and for your fathers more so than for any other line in the Angle."
"It was not my understanding that marriage was expected, only children. Even a bastard heir is better than none at all, it seems," Aragorn said darkly, and looked away. "Arathorn waited too long, they say: he was the only child of my grandparents to live, and he had a duty to his people. And I can see, even, that he ought to have married sooner, even against his inclination, but...."
"You were not taught thus in Imladris, were you?" Halbarad said, voicing the unspoken objection, and sighed.
"No. I grew up calling Elrond 'father,' and I grieved for him that his wife was gone. Five hundred years he has been alone, but he has never desired another, nor would take another wife, nor have a lover in Celebrian's absence," Aragorn replied, shaking his head, as he began to pace in an agitated manner. "To have a child alone or to have one unwilling, alongside or outside of marriage... it does not happen among Elves. In Imladris, I have heard it said that Men are wanton. Since I came to know you and others, I have tried not to judge as Elves do, but I cannot make myself accept any such... proposal. For even had I not been raised in Imladris, there is still my mother," he said, pausing before Halbarad. "Gilraen never remarried, nor shall she ever: she loved my father so. And though for long I knew nothing more of Arathorn than that, have you any idea of what that means to a lad? I would be to the mother of my children what my father was to my mother, and I cannot see myself as able to do that if it is a union, or even a marriage, only in order to get heirs."
"Then you do have a problem, my friend," Halbarad replied, frankly. "'Tis your ill luck to inherit the Chieftainship after your father and grandfather. Only another seven years, and you will have spent as much time in that post as they did between the two of them. If you do not choose a woman, one will be provided for you soon enough, whether you take her to wife or only to bed." Aragorn scowled at that, but Halbarad pressed on, undaunted: "I mean not to offend, but since that is the case, and since we speak of this matter as friends, then could you get a child if you had to?"
"I am not a horse," Aragorn replied with a certain amount of heat. "I cannot just... no. I do not know. Perhaps. I cannot imagine it, though."
"Have you tried to learn to love any of your many admirers?" Halbarad demanded, forcing his own tone to remain calm. And when Aragorn said nothing, only folded his arms across his chest and stared uncomfortably at some fascinating bit of foliage, Halbarad continued reasonably, "Then perhaps you ought to try. If you think that you could not perform unwilling, then you will need to learn to be more willing." He paused a moment, struck by a sudden thought. "Aragorn, you do not dislike women, do you?"
"No!" Aragorn answered swiftly, and then just as swiftly added, "But I have no interest in any of the lasses at home."
"Not a one?"
"Why?" Halbarad had not meant to ask that question, but as ever, it simply slipped out, and he winced. Well done, Halbarad! Make him feel the outsider still more! "I meant it not thus baldly–"
"It matters not," Aragorn replied somewhat sharply, dismissing the apology. "I simply do not feel any desire to wed any of them, nor to bed any of them, however beautiful."
"Feelings change. You may have been raised by Elves, who do not change their affections, it seems, but you are a Man. There are many in the Angle who did not marry for love, but who have learned to love each other. Many expect that that is how it shall be at first," Halbarad insisted. "And it is not so difficult to fall in love, Aragorn. Or have you never listened to talk at the campfires?"
"I have listened," Aragorn said, and something like a smile tugged at his mouth as he continued wryly. "And for some of the men, I need but count the days of the week to know how many times they fall in and out of love in a month! Or rather lust. But that is not enough, or else in honesty, I would have acted by now."
"It may be the least of reasons for marriage, but no few have wed for no more than desire. But," Halbarad passed quickly onward, sensing that such a suggestion did not sit well with Aragorn, "for you, since you needs must marry, best you work now to learn to love one of the many who would very willingly wed you, given the chance. If you can say that you incline toward one lass or another, then I do not doubt you would be less... harried, as it were."
"'Harried' is one way to put it," Aragorn sighed.
"'Tis not so bad. If you can but say you are committed to another, then that will end the matter. So, gird your loins–" Halbarad smiled as the other groaned over the play on words, and made haste to block a more or less friendly jab "–and remember that there are more onerous duties than this. Ow! Aragorn," he complained, as his friend slipped past his defense to land a solid blow to the shoulder. "Such thanks I get for trying to advise you!"
"Payment in kind for the last time we sparred. You cheated!"
"I did not cheat, that was an ambush!" Halbarad protested, slapping another punch aside and grinning broadly.
"Base tactics," Aragorn replied haughtily, but then spread his arms in token of truce. He shook his head and sighed, glancing down the slope whither the Angle lay, and he gripped Halbarad's shoulder tightly as they resumed their homeward course. And as they walked, he said, "I shall try to do as you say, Halbarad. Mayhap you are right, and I should not expect so much, or worry that I feel nothing immediately." A pause, then, "When did you grow so wise?"
"You think that you are the only one who must learn these things?" Halbarad asked, raising a brow. And at Aragorn's surprised look, he continued quietly, "Thiriel and I may be close, but there is another I would love, but cannot. I doubt it would ever be permitted, and I would not set my hopes too high. So I will love Thiriel, and I do, and the other I wish well. From afar, at least."
"I did not know," Aragorn murmured. Halbarad shrugged.
"I had not told you. But now that you do know, say nothing of it, I beg!"
"Of course not."
"And since that is now settled, have you decided?"
"Whose invitation are you going to accept?" Aragorn sighed and shook his head, but he smiled as he replied:
"Remind me again of the names."
"Well, as I was saying, there is Mariel, and Gwilas, and Narwen–did I mention Narwen before?"
"Aye, you did."
"Celendil, then, and Arthis, and..."
"Arthis is a widow; she must be close to sixty years old!"
And so, as the trees swallowed them and their bantering, they lifted voices laughter light to cheer each other. Thus in better spirits, they returned home.
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