Ranger training camp, the Angle – end of October 2951
Halbarad was glad to be heading back to the training camp and the relative comfort of a tent and a camp bed to sleep on; he and the other trainees in his group had been away for two weeks, sleeping outside with only their cloaks for shelter – when they had a chance to sleep. Between midnight marches and standing guard Halbarad knew he had barely slept. He was also hungry, for they had had to live off the land, and not all in their group were good hunters; lieutenant Soronto had offered no help when food became scarce – his only intervention had been when one lad triumphantly returned from foraging with a bag of deadly mushrooms. At least Halbarad had done better than that and had contributed several rabbits as well as nuts and good mushrooms for their meals… not that a rabbit went very far between ten hungry recruits.
"Let's see if our sentries are paying attention," the lieutenant said when they were some hours from the camp. "You come along," he added, indicating Halbarad with a brief nod. "The rest follow at normal speed; Gelmir is in charge."
The lieutenant set a fast pace, but when they reached the path that led to the camp he suddenly stopped to study the ground.
Halbarad saw it too. Footsteps. He bent down for a closer look, and looked up at the lieutenant. "They look recent," he offered.
"Anything else?" the lieutenant asked.
"Someone who's my height or slightly taller," Halbarad added after looking at the distance between steps. "And he's not trying to hide his tracks."
The lieutenant nodded in approval. "Not bad," he said. "Now let's see if we can give this fellow a bit of a fright. Follow me."
Again, he set a fast pace, but fairly soon he slowed again, and led Halbarad off the path. He said nothing, but Halbarad realised that he intended to cut off their quarry after the next bend. Sure enough, they arrived at a point overlooking the path, and the lieutenant looked up and down the path with a satisfied smile. It was not long before the stranger came into view.
Halbarad stirred, but the lieutenant's hand on his arm kept him from jumping up and betraying their position.
It was almost two days walking from Caras Dirnen to the Rangers' training camp, but Aragorn was glad to have some time to himself. The last month had been a constant stream of new people, new places, unfamiliar customs and sometimes even unfamiliar food. He had come to know his grandparents better and made some friends, but he still found himself missing Imladris. He missed his mother; he missed Elrond, his brothers and all the people he had grown up with. He felt a moment of gloom when he questioned whether anyone except Gilraen would miss him – for all he knew, Elrond and his brothers were glad to see the back of him after they found out about his love for Arwen. Yet Elladan and Elrohir had not shown any resentment at their parting; and though it was clear that Elrond was not pleased at the turn of events, his foster-father had not cast him out, and he knew he still had a place in Elrond's heart.
Even so, Aragorn could only admit that he had behaved like a love-sick fool; he should be glad that Elrond had not forbidden him Imladris and that Arwen had been kind enough not to mock him in front of all her father's household. She had been gently polite after their first meeting, but she had been clear also that she held him in no more than sisterly regard. It really would be for the best if he could put her out of his thoughts.
He took a deep breath, and attempted to banish his dark mood. At least, after a week of wind and rain, the day was bright and sunny, even warm for the time of year. Though he missed his horse, he didn't mind walking. Recruits weren't supposed to bring their horse – if they had one – to the camp, and as he agreed that he shouldn't be given special treatment, he was on foot.
He had argued – and won – against Dírhael's suggestion that it might be best if he didn't ride Súrion at all. His grandfather was anxious to head off any suggestions that he might be too Elvish in his manner for having been raised in Imladris, and held it would look better if he rode a Dúnedain-bred horse. Also, the Council had debated what name he should go by, so that eighteen years of secrecy would not be thrown away through carelessness. The outcome was that he did not entirely have to give up using his real name; he could remain Aragorn within the Angle – Dírhael and the Council deemed that would be safe enough, as long as he used some other name when he went outside. He had agreed, albeit reluctantly, and though he did not yet know what name he would go by. In all honesty, Aragorn wondered what difference a name could make; if the Enemy really was looking for Aragorn son of Arathorn, how could calling himself Estel – or some other name – be enough to hide him once he took his place as the Lord of the Dúnedain?
But when he thought of all that Elladan had told him about Arador and Arathorn dying so soon after each other, and how the Enemy's hand was suspected somehow behind it, he knew these measures had kept him safe for a long time. He should not break with them on a whim. It was not just his own life at risk; he also carried the responsibility for his people, even though Dírhael would remain acting Chieftain for now.
Presenting himself and the heirlooms before the Council, solemn as the moment was, had at the same time been little more than a formality; and he had felt silly for fretting about it beforehand. Then had come his swearing in as Chieftain and Lord of the Angle, followed by the Council and the others present swearing their fealty, and that had served to drive home that yes, he was Isildur's Heir, even if he could not yet oversee all that that meant. The weight of responsibility, and of his lineage, still rested uneasy on his shoulders, and likely would for some while, if indeed he ever became accustomed to either.
In the time since, though people in Caras Dirnen had been welcoming, he also felt that they were taking his measure, waiting for him to show his mettle. He understood their reservations; after all, he had appeared out of nowhere to be their Chieftain, after almost twenty years in which many of them believed him dead. It would have been stranger had he been received without hesitation. At least some had warmed to him more; his grandmother mothered him more than even his own mother ever had, and while Dírhael kept slightly more distance than his wife, clearly such was his grandfather's nature, rather than that Dírhael doubted him.
By now it should only be a few hours to the camp, and Aragorn's thoughts turned to what he could expect. He wasn't new to either battle or woodcraft, but he expected he had much to learn about the Rangers. Even so, he doubted there was anything new about weaponry he could learn here, and he didn't look forward to perhaps spending months repeating things his brothers had taught him years ago. He did look forward to seeing his kinsman Halbarad again. They had only met upon his arrival in Caras Dirnen, and after an awkward start had swiftly become friends, as much as the few days before Halbarad returned to the training camp allowed. Aragorn had also met Halbarad's father when Halladan came back from patrol, and recognised him as one of the Rangers in that one patrol a few years before. When he found out, Halbarad had resented the deception on Aragorn's – and his own – behalf, as much as he understood the need for it.
With another deep breath, Aragorn returned his attention to the path, berating himself for becoming so lost in thought. It was very easy to imagine the telling off Glorfindel or his brothers would give him for daydreaming. He couldn't help a quick grin as he acknowledged that he felt almost homesick enough to welcome that scolding from any of them.
Someone stepping on a branch.
Aragorn quickly turned around to find himself facing two Rangers, one of them a smiling Halbarad.
The other Ranger wasn't smiling. "Had we been Orcs, you'd be dead," he said curtly.
At first Halbarad had been surprised when the lieutenant didn't tell the other recruits Aragorn's name when the group caught up with them, but then he realised it was probably a good idea not to use it outside the camp. There were still plenty of curious glances at the unknown newcomer though; and from the considering looks one or two of the others gave him, Halbarad knew that they had put one and one together from the news he had brought when he had returned from leave.
Halbarad wanted to know why Aragorn was here, but as the lieutenant had set him to guard the back of their group he couldn't ask. He also wondered how the recruits in the camp would react to Aragorn's arrival. One thing was certain, there wouldn't be the laughter that had greeted his news of the return of Isildur's Heir – when everyone knew Arathorn's wife and son were long dead. Halbarad had noted though that the captain and the other Rangers did not laugh. He had been vindicated in the eyes of his peers as soon as messengers confirmed the news, but his smugness at that confirmation had resulted in a fight with one of the others. As neither he nor Indor could hide their bruises, they ended up with a week of night sentry duty; at least they had shared the punishment.
From Aragorn's dejected stance as he followed the lieutenant it was obvious that he had already been subjected to one of the latter's tongue-lashings over letting himself be ambushed so easily.
When they arrived back in the camp, Halbarad and the others of his group were immediately set to work cleaning and repairing their gear, so that it was already late when he returned to his tent. There was a lit lantern standing outside, and the tent flap had been tied back to keep it open.
"I was told I'd share with you. I hope you don't mind," Aragorn said as he entered, "This side was free, so I put my pack here."
"No problem at all," Halbarad replied as he dropped his gear on his own side and sat down. "I hope Arthad remembered to treat his blanket with fleabane before he left."
"Fleabane?" Aragorn started to edge away from the folded blanket.
"It's clean," Halbarad relented, laughing. "Don't worry." Aragorn looked annoyed, then laughed as well.
"So, you're going to be a Ranger?" Halbarad asked next.
"Yes," Aragorn said. "Why do you ask?"
"Well," Halbarad started, "Back in Caras Dirnen I thought the Chie… Dírhael and the Council wanted you to take up your duties as Chieftain as soon as possible."
Aragorn nodded. "I think that was what the Council would have preferred."
"But?" Halbarad waited.
"But." Aragorn grinned. "Since I am to lead the Rangers as well as rule the Angle, I should know more about how you… we… operate; and to be Chieftain… there's so much I need to learn. I still barely know my own people. I talked about it with Dírhael, and he will remain acting Chieftain while I become a Ranger."
"Yet you've already been in battle, and have been on patrol with the Elves; I can't imagine there is much to learn for you," Halbarad said.
"Maybe not, but you and lieutenant Soronto sneaked up on me this afternoon without much trouble," Aragorn said.
"Did you truly not know we were there?" Halbarad asked.
"No." Aragorn shook his head. "I wasn't paying attention to... Anyway, the lieutenant said that if that was how well I heeded what I should have learned in Imladris, I will likely die of old age before I'm even let out on patrol."
Halbarad snorted. "Soronto always says things like that to all the recruits. Don't worry about it. Just don't be caught so easily again."
"I suppose you're right." Aragorn still looked worried.
"Of course I am," Halbarad replied. "Now turn down that lantern and let me get some sleep."
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.