"Yes, of course. Have I not taken care of it this far already?"
Much later that day, listening to the water far below him and looking out into the darkness – and under the Enemy's gloom it seemed even darker than it should be – Halbarad thought back to how they had ended up aboard these Corsair ships. He found it grimly amusing that the ships taken from the Dark One's followers were now taking them another step closer to restoring the kingship in Gondor and Arnor. Not that that outcome was guaranteed; there was still the small matter of succouring Minas Tirith and having the Steward acknowledge Aragorn's claim. The other matter, the Ring that even now had to be moving closer and closer to Mount Doom, he could barely bring himself to think about. Though he had been as good as certain for years about the One Ring having been found again, it had only been at the Hornburg that Aragorn had felt free to confirm to him that his long-ago guess had been right; even so, his blood had run cold at learning the purpose of the Quest. If the hobbit failed, it would hardly matter whether their own mission failed or succeeded.
The battle at Pelargir had been hard, and until Aragorn had called on the Army of the Dead, the outcome had been in the balance. As Halbarad joined the fray, he had briefly wondered whether this was where the doom that he had foreseen at the Door of the Dead would overtake him, but he had felt no further warning, and quickly put the thought aside. There was never any certainty in battle and events would run as they would. And that brought him to why he was out here gazing into the dark, rather than asleep in his bunk. Unlike at Pelargir, now he did know that he would not see the end of the next day.
He was accustomed to occasional flashes of foresight, though they were rarely strong enough to compel him to speak. Yet he also wondered what the point of it had been. He knew well enough that he was mortal, that he would die, and that with the danger they were heading into, it was not unlikely that it would be soon. At least his resolve in crossing that threshold had been enough to avert the spell of fear that had threatened to fall even over the Grey Company, and had encouraged the others to follow him on the dark road that Aragorn led them on.
Halbarad was drawn from his thoughts as Aragorn joined him, and they stood together in silence watching the almost unseen water of Anduin as it flowed past their ship. He waited for Aragorn to speak. There had been little opportunity for them to talk since he had spoken his fateful words at the Door of the Dead, as during the ride to Pelargir they had either been in the saddle, or too weary to do more than sleep. It was obvious now that his kinsman wanted to say something, but it was equally obvious that he did not know how to begin.
Finally, Aragorn turned to meet his gaze. "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." Halbarad did not mention the small twist of fear he felt when he let his mind dwell on knowing that at some point during the next day... Yet he would not – could not – take the risk that anything might happen to Aragorn because he was not there, because he let fear for himself rule his actions.
"But to go into battle, and be certain that..." Aragorn started to say.
Shaking his head, Halbarad replied, "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."
He did not speak the knowledge that suddenly came to him. Aragorn would be victorious, would be King, and all that they had hoped for, all that they had worked for, would come true. That also had to be. And that he had not seen before. Another foresight, and this one blessing rather than curse.
He also did not speak of his grief at the thought of his wife and youngest son, who would wait torn between hope and fear until the news of his fall came to them. Yet, as so often, Aragorn knew what was on his mind, for his friend now put an arm around his shoulders and said softly, "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 as he returned Aragorn's gesture, though he had to blink hard to keep back his tears.
With a shake of his head, Halbarad pulled himself together. He realised that they would end up crying on each other's shoulder if they talked much longer. These were not thoughts to take into battle, and he had no intention of being so distracted on the morrow that he would fall sooner than he had to. "I suppose I ought to at least attempt sleep," he said finally, though he did not move.
Aragorn nodded in agreement, but did not step away from the ship's railing either.
Aragorn parried the first attack of the Easterling facing him. His arm went up and Andúril blocked his opponent's stroke again. Behind him were Elladan and Elrohir, and Halbarad with the standard.
Then, from the corner of his eye, as he swung at his foe and knew Andúril had struck true, he saw an enemy axeman come past him. No time to react, as another took the place of the man he had just killed; he would have to trust to those behind him to guard his back.
Just as he was about to engage his new enemy, Elrohir sprang to his side, dispatching the man in one blow, with some of the men of the Grey Company also coming to the fore. Elrohir grabbed his arm and urgently pushed him to fall back to the centre of their group.
Aragorn looked over his shoulder and saw Hunthor holding the standard and Elladan tending to one on the ground, Halmir next to him. Halbarad!
He rushed to kneel at Halbarad's side, seeing at once that the wound was mortal. The Easterling had struck with enough force to shatter the rings of Halbarad's hauberk and had cut deeply into his left side – trying to strike at the standard, Aragorn realised – yet Halbarad had still managed to strike a reciprocal death blow at his opponent before he went down. Elladan had stopped the flow of blood as much as he could, but from his kinsman's waxen pallor Aragorn knew it had been to no avail.
Halbarad opened his eyes as Aragorn sat at his side, and a faint smile touched the dying man's lips as their eyes met. Halbarad's hand sought his, and helplessly, he grasped it.
A barely to be heard whisper. "The standard did not touch the ground, my King."
All he could say was a soft "Farewell, friend," and watch as the light faded from Halbarad's eyes.
This is a work of fan fiction, written because the author has an abiding love for the works of J R R Tolkien. The characters, settings, places, and languages used in this work are the property of the Tolkien Estate, Tolkien Enterprises, and possibly New Line Cinema, except for certain original characters who belong to the author of the said work. The author will not receive any money or other remuneration for presenting the work on this archive site. The work is the intellectual property of the author, is available solely for the enjoyment of Henneth Annûn Story Archive readers, and may not be copied or redistributed by any means without the explicit written consent of the author.