September 12, 2980, sometime in the evening
Dineth had retired early, leaving him alone with his thoughts. Before she went to bed, she had claimed that looking at him sitting there scowling was about as pleasant as having a tooth pulled. For good measure, he scowled again as he put a log on the fire.
Halbarad looked back at the raid on the Orc camp. He had not lost any men, though there were several wounded, and the encampment had been destroyed, so at first glance the raid had been a success. As far as he was concerned, though, it had been a disaster. Not, he thought as he cradled his injured arm, because of his wound – he had taken much worse without complaint – but because of Aragorn.
Though that had probably been his own fault, for letting their just returned and to the younger men almost mythical Chieftain be part of the raiding party and not expect there to be trouble over leadership, he thought grimly. Not that Aragorn had tried to take over command of the raid, or had questioned his orders, but many of the men had seemed uncertain about who was in charge, and they had been just a touch slow to react, as if they were waiting for their lord to confirm – or counter – his lieutenant's word. It had not been so pronounced once the attack was in full swing, but it had cost them their initial advantage of surprise too soon.
Afterwards, he had quarrelled with Aragorn over it too. Though that was bad enough, at least it had not been in front of the men. Unfortunately, they had not yet had an opportunity to talk the issue through more quietly. In fact, they had not spoken at all since the return of their party to the Angle.
Halbarad sighed as he finished his ale. He should get some sleep and then sort this out on the morrow. Just then, there was a knock on the door, so he rose, wondering who it might be at this hour. As he opened the door, he saw it was Aragorn, carrying a very dusty stoppered bottle.
"Can I come in?"
"If you must, but I was about to go to sleep."
"We should talk, Halbarad."
He sighed. "Very well then, seeing as you went to the trouble of bringing what looks suspiciously like master Handir's best apple brandy."
A quick grin flashed across Aragorn's face as he came inside. "Even better, his father's. Thirty years old. I found it this morning as I was putting my house in order."
Halbarad quickly located two earthenware cups, and Aragorn poured them both a measure. They sat in silence savouring the taste of the liquor for a while.
Finally, Aragorn set down his cup and spoke. "What would you say was the problem in the raid on the Orc camp?"
"The men were not sure who was in charge," he replied.
Aragorn went on. "Are they badly trained that discipline is that weak?"
"I would have thought not," Halbarad answered. "Obviously, I was mistaken." He did not like where this might be heading. From their earlier argument, he already knew Aragorn seemed displeased over the way he had led the raid. "As their commander, the fault of course is mine."
Aragorn nodded sharply. "And how would you resolve this?"
Halbarad thought quickly. "The men need to learn that it is not their place to judge who should be in command. Beyond that, I will not again take command if you are included in a company. If you are there, you are in charge." Taking a deep breath, he continued, wounded pride raising its head now, "Or, if you feel my error of judgement means that I am not up to the task, I will resign from my position as your lieutenant and second, if you so wish."
Aragorn met his gaze as he replied, "Halbarad, no. I was too eager to take part in the raid. I should have known better than to think I could be just one of the men, even just for an afternoon. So any error of judgement was mine as much as yours. Besides," he finished with a sheepish grin, "as your commander, any fault of yours is implicitly mine anyway."
While Halbarad could not help but laugh at Aragorn's ultimate conclusion, he also was well aware of both the reprimand and the apology he had just received from his Captain.
With the issue that had clouded the last few days at last resolved, and with many years to catch up on, they continued talking well into the night, finishing the bottle of brandy somewhere along the way.
The next morning, waking up with what felt like an army of industrious dwarves trying to hammer their way out of his skull, Halbarad wondered whether the brandy had not after all been some very subtle form of punishment for his mistake. But no, he thought with a slightly malicious grin, Aragorn was bound to feel worse than he did; he had always had a better head for drink than his kinsman.