5. When the Stars Are Strange
A slight shiver ran down Aragorn's spine, and he suspected that the chilly wind of the autumn night was not its only cause. He glanced about him with apprehension, taking in what details he could make out in the wet and cloudy night.
His eyes came to rest upon Halbarad who slept soundly beneath his cloak. His huddled form was barely visible beneath the thick tangle of thorny undergrowth where they had sought shelter form the pelting rain in the afternoon, abandoning their aim to reach the Ranger's camp near the ruins of Fornost ere nightfall.
Not for the first time he wondered at Halbarad's ability to sleep wherever he lay, for Aragorn oft found it difficult to do so in the Wild, though he had slept soundly beneath the stars countless times before. But then he had been in the company of his brothers whom he trusted blindly.
With Halbarad, however, that was a different matter entirely. Mayhap 'tis his youth, Aragorn mused, for Halbarad was even younger than Aragorn himself, and barely more versed in the ways of the Wild.
Aragorn shook his head to clear his mind, but could not quite rid himself of the lingering anxiety. He had never been one to get easily scared and he desperately sought for an answer that would explain his sudden fear. Raising his eyes to the sky he sought comfort in the stars that had become visible through a tear in the thick layer of clouds. But the sight that greeted him was none to comfort his frayed nerves.
Carnil and Borgil stood high in the southern sky, too close for Aragorn's comfort. When Carnil and red Borgil meet, blood is about to be spilled. Aragorn had first witnessed their 'meeting' more than ten years ago. His brothers had provided the tale that went with that constellation, but whether they had meant to teach him the language of the stars or merely frighten him, he had never been able to tell. He had refused to believe that tale, of course, but a few month later he had been told that that very day had been the day of the Battle of the Five Armies.
Aragorn jerked as an eerie howl drifted through the forest. He shifted his position involuntarily until the thicker stems of the brushes poked in his back, for a prickling sensation between his shoulder blades had increased his fear that now bordered on the brink of panic.
Aragorn sat up straight, his hand seeking the hilt of his sword. He managed to keep his panic in check for about five minutes longer while the howling grew louder, eerily amplified by the wind that had picked up in strength.
Aragorn bit his lower lip and, losing his internal struggle of whether to make a fool of himself by waking Halbarad or not, reached out for his sleeping companion.
"'Tis not yet my time to take the watch," Halbarad yawned, leaving the obvious question as to the other's reason for ending his slumber lingering unspoken between them.
Aragorn swallowed hard for he felt like a child yet feared that his panic might show in his voice. "There's something amiss in the forest," he answered in a whisper, "can you not hear those howls?"
Halbarad raised an eyebrow in surprise at both Aragorn's words and the urgency in the other's voice. "Were there no deer in Imladris?" he asked, slightly amused.
"Deer?" Aragorn queried, feeling his cheeks flush in embarrassment while silently hoping that Halbarad was still drowsy enough to forget the whole incident come morning.
"Yes, deer," Halbarad said, "my dear. Those howls are nothing but the rutting calls of stags. I thought you were familiar with their ways."
"Of course I am familiar with their ways!"
"Then pray tell what else scared you out of your wits that you mistake deer for creatures of the Dark Lord and wake me from my well deserved rest?"
"Well ..." Aragorn sighed, "it's the stars!"
"Aye, the stars."
Aragorn sighed, then pointed to the sky where the clouds were receding. "You see those reddish stars?" he asked, then continued when Halbarad nodded in the dark. "The upper is Carnil, the other Borgil. They are in alignment tonight. When Carnil and red Borgil meet, blood is about to be spilled. That, at least, is the saying of the Elves." Aragorn paused, then added somewhat sheepishly, "Or rather what my brothers told me."
"I would have never thought that you were prone to superstition," Halbarad laughed, but his mirth quickly vanished, and his tone became more serious. "I would, however, not belittle your fears. The rain has stopped, so we should leave this place ... unless you require rest as well."
Aragorn regarded Halbarad with mild surprise, then shook his head, "Nay, I would leave this place as well."
That said, they gathered their damp belongings and untangled themselves from the brushes, eager to be on their way.
The morning found a pair of muddied and exhausted rangers being hailed by one of the guards of the Fornost camp, one leaning heavily upon the other, favouring one leg, a gash upon his forehead.
"My lord, are you well?" the guard inquired as soon as he recognized the ragged figures.
"Aye, 'tis but a scratch and a sprained ankle," Aragorn replied tiredly, shooting Halbarad a quelling glare.
"When Carnil and red Borgil meet, blood is about to be spilled," the other recited, deliberately reaching for Aragorn's forehead where blood still oozed from the wound.
"Had I not roused you when I did, we would have never escaped from those Orcs."
"Though your tussle with that ditch almost gave us away. However, your premonitions are not to be dismissed," a grinning Halbarad replied while steering his friend to the hidden path that lead to the safety of the Ranger's camp.
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