Unbroken Sword, The
1. The Unbroken Sword
Branches made brittle by the cold snapped at a touch and the sharp tang of pine resin marked his horse’s trail on that cold winter’s afternoon. The thin light of the winter’s day was fading when Halbarad reached the meeting spot near the foot of the pass. Blanketing his horse, he waited alone in a sheltered hollow beneath a thick lacing of pine branches. The cold ate into him as a narrow crescent moon rose in the sky above him, but it could not reach the frozen emptiness that had filled him since the message had come. He had been in an inn on the edge of the land around the Shire when it had reached him.
It was unsigned and the messenger did not wait to be questioned, but Halbarad knew at once that it was from the brethren Elladan and Elrohir and understood the barely stated message. Arathorn was dead, but his family had been taken to refuge in Rivendell – and now his body would be brought home to the Angle, and to his kinsman. He knew where the meeting place would be. They would come down the broken bridge pass from the Misty Mountains that Arathorn had shown him when he had first taken him to Rivendell. A family secret, he had called it, with a smile.
There had been time since for Halbarad to ride to his cousin’s house. It was empty – livestock and household goods given to neighbours, clothes and other belongings taken with them. The fire was a dead bed of ashes, cupboards were pulled open and emptied and the water bucket lay dry on the floor. Only a few traces of the family remained: a broken bridle hanging from a nail in the stables, the strong well cover he’d helped Arathorn make after Aragorn was born, and a sack of potatoes in the cellar, overlooked in the rush of leaving. Standing there in the emptiness Halbarad felt Arathorn’s death as though he had seen it. In the silence and in the cold he mourned for the cousin who had taught him his first sword strokes and taken him on his first hunt; for his wife, widowed after less than a handful of years; and for the child who would grow up away from his own people.
It was still the dark of the moon and Halbarad slept there for several nights; the fire drew well and the cottage was warm and dry. During the day, he rode to see neighbours and arranged for the news to be passed among the Dúnedain of their chieftain’s death. At night, he watched the fire burn and tried to craft a song for his cousin’s funeral rites. He was no hand with words, though, and got no further than Crownless king and swordless warrior…. In the end he shrugged and settled for watching memories of him in the fire – he would have to leave it to the Elves to sing for Arathorn.
On the fourth morning, Halbarad saddled up in the early morning when the moon and sun still shared the sky and, leaving a good supply of wood there for the next traveller to come along, began a slow ride to the meeting place.
There he had waited in the cold for the body of his chieftain to be brought home to him. They had brought Arathorn home strapped to his own horse, wrapped in a gold cloth of the finest Elven-weave with embroideries of silver trees and sceptres and seven shining stars. They brought him singing; it was the silvery sound of Elven voices rising into the night sky Halbarad heard first, before even they had breasted the crest of the pass. He had been able to find no words for his beloved cousin, but he added his voice to their song as he rode out to meet Elrond’s sons and their grave burden.
They brought not only Arathorn but also his sword, and in trust for the man’s infant son, Halbarad had taken both his sword and his role as leader of the Dúnedain.
For eighteen years Halbarad had served Arathorn in death, and now, on this warm autumn afternoon, he waited to welcome his new chieftain home.
Twilight had passed to the first shadings of moonlight when the three they waited for appeared. The milky-white coats of their horses shone in the pale light as they emerged from the shadows of the pass, but the riders were no more than indistinct figures wrapped in darkness. Halbarad swung back up in the saddle, and moved forward. The other three fell in behind him, and they rode down onto the trail. They waited there, spread across the path a little way from the base of the pass. The three behind still held bows, but Halbarad balanced only a sword across the pommel of his saddle. His horse lifted its head and played with its bit as it smelt the strange horses, and Halbarad ran a soothing hand down the side of its neck. He lowered his hands and urged his horse forward a few steps as the three riders appeared around the last bend of the pass.
“Greetings from the Rangers of the North,” he called.
Two silvery voices answered him, “Well-met, Halbarad.”
The third rider, the one in the middle, was silent for a moment. Pushing his hood back, he rode forward until he was almost abreast of Halbarad. In the clear moonlight, the Rangers studied him. He was young: not yet fully grown, even, but with the slender strength and beauty of a birch tree in the springtime of its life. He was plainly dressed but his cloak and tunic were of a soft dark material far finer than anything the Rangers wore, and simple embroidery traced the cuffs and hem. A bow slung across his back looked both worn and serviceable, though, and Halbarad, closer to him, noted the mark of both sword and bow on his hands.
Shyly, the boy raised his eyes to Halbarad’s, and Halbarad studied his chieftain and was pleased. He saw his old friend Arathorn in his son’s face, and he saw more. While there was a light in his eyes that came from the Elves his face bore both the fair beauty of an Elf and the authority of an ancient king. Halbarad doubted if the boy even knew his strength yet, but he saw it there in the face raised to his. Halbarad clasped his shoulder.
“I welcome the chieftain of the Dúnedain home. Welcome, Aragorn son of Arathorn.”
At that, the other three Rangers drew closer and echoed his words.
“Welcome, Aragorn son of Arathorn!”
Composed, though still with that faint shyness, Aragorn acknowledged their salutations.
“I thank you, my kinsmen. Long have I been gone from this land, but now I return to walk in my father’s steps.”
There was a moment’s silence, broken only by the rattle of bridle as a horse shook its head and the soft clink of stones as another moved restlessly. Halbarad ran his hand over the sword he had carried for so long and readied himself for speech. Aragorn spoke first, though. Turning to face the three rangers on his left, he said,
“Rangers of the North, may I make known to you my other kin. This is Elrohir and this Elladan; sons of Elrond, Master of Rivendell.”
It was well done, thought Halbarad – a clear acknowledgement that he would ever be more than just the chieftain of the Dúnedain.
“Aragorn,” he said softly, and when the boy turned to face him, handed him the sword.
It was a double handed sword and long bladed. Made of plain steel, smooth and unornamented, it was well sharpened and nicely balanced. It was a sword for riding with, a sword for fighting with: a sword with no history.
“It was your father’s sword,” Halbarad said, watching as Arathorn’s son held it lightly balanced and then moved it into guard.
Aragorn smiled at him as he lowered the sword to rest across his saddle.
“I thank you. I would carry no other.”
As they rode in the pale moonlight to the ranger’s camp Ostgond brought his horse back to ride alongside Halbarad at the rear.
“This boy,” he said gruffly, “he seems to have much of the Elf about him.”
Halbarad looked ahead to where Aragorn rode with Morben, listening with eager interest as the older man named forests and valleys that he had not known since the first days of his childhood. He smiled.
“Nay, to me he seems to have much of his father about him.”
This is still draft so any feedback, comments, suggestions would be very welcome. Particular concerns - did the double layer flashback get too confusing (be grateful - it almost went into three layers!); description - is there too much, is it overdone; will the ending do.
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.