The Angle: Alternate Arc
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To Unwrite Them: 2. Kinsmen
'"I do not speak of my daughter alone. You shall be betrothed to no man's child as yet."'—Elrond, to Aragorn, of Arwen. Appendix A, RotK, 423.
'"He went thither some hours ago, saying that he must take thought, and only his kinsman, Halbarad, went with him."' —Legolas, of Halbarad and Aragorn, "The Passing of the Grey Company," RotK, 57.
"Giving his reins to Merry, he ran forward and embraced the newcomer. "Halbarad!" he said. "Of all joys this is the least expected!"—Aragorn to Halbarad, "The Passing of the Grey Company," RoTK, 51.
Ever since Aragorn's departure some five years ago, Gilraen had made a practice of making her home open to the Rangers who passed through Imladris. Now that there was no need to shield her son from rumor, she could safely offer them lodging when they came, and a friendly voice that sounded of home. After all, she knew how difficult it could be, to feel as the only frog in a chorus of birds, and indeed, the Rangers more often than not accepted her hospitality gratefully. Sometimes they even had news of her son, which was good, and she delighted to hear it, for she missed him and wondered anxiously how he fared in his new life. And if, every so often, one of her guests gave her a measuring look, the one that asked silently what bound her to Rivendell when her own people would welcome her home, she simply smiled and said nothing of how badly it hurt to think of the Angle, to remember the place where she and her husband had dwelt. There are still too many ghosts there, echoes of the one I love, and I cannot face them. Not yet. Still, she did miss her own, and was always glad to receive them into her home.
But today word had come from Elrond himself, asking for her to come to his chambers to speak of a private matter, of a guest who had come to Imladris. That had piqued her curiosity, for Elrond was not usually so reticent, not in matters that he chose to discuss with her, and if he wished her to see to a guest, he had only to give her a name and she would see to it. And so she wondered, as she made her way through the corridors of the Last Homely House, who it could be that merited such secrecy. Arriving at Elrond's quarters, she knocked, and waited a moment until she heard Imladris's lord bid her enter, then went within. "Ah, Lady Gilraen," Elrond said, politely, although to Gilraen's eyes, he seemed... concerned.
"My lord," Gilraen replied and then glanced right at his gesture... and felt her heart stop, it seemed. Seated in a chair was a young woman. Gilraen did not recognize her, but clearly she was Dúnadan. And as she met Gilraen's eyes, she rose, then dropped her a profound curtsey.
"May I introduce Haldeth, daughter of Barandir?" Elrond said, and then paused, as Haldeth, without looking up, reached out a hand to one unseen and made a "come hither" gesture. And Gilraen's eyes widened as from behind the chair crept a child. A lad, from the looks of it, mayhap two or three years old, with a mop of dark hair and wide grey eyes. Reaching up, he caught his mother's hand and pressed close against her leg, peering up at Gilraen with great interest.
"My dear girl..." Gilraen breathed, but could not finish.
"This is Halbarad, her son... by Aragorn," Elrond spoke to cover that awkward pause, his tone carefully neutral. "I apologize, Lady Gilraen, for the surprise, but I had thought it best to speak in person."
"And I thank you," Gilraen managed then, and wished she dared let her knees give out. But Haldeth was clearly ill at ease, and remembering how she had felt when first she had come to Imladris, she shook off the spell and said more briskly, "Well, I shall certainly take them into my care, my lord. Were there any others who might need a place to stay tonight?"
"I have already found lodging for the Rangers who accompanied her, but if you wish, I shall send to them that you would speak with them later this afternoon," Elrond offered.
"Please do so. But come my dear," Gilraen said, moving to lay a hand under Haldeth's chin. The girl looked up, almost painfully dignified despite the anxiety that leaked out from behind that façade, and only slowly straightened at Gilraen's prompting. "You will want to settle quickly. Come, I shall show you my home, and now yours as well for as long as you should wish. 'Tis not far. Come. Halbarad?" She held out a hand to the child, who, after a moment's hesitation, took it. "Good day, Elrond," she said, nodding to him, and receiving a nod in return. "This way."
Gilraen's house had been built after Aragorn's departure, for while he had been a child, she and Elrond had agreed that it would be best if he were treated as one of the Elf-lord's family. So they had lived for long in a suite of rooms not far from Elrond's quarters. But comfortable as such accommodations were, Gilraen had been glad of a place wholly of her own. It had space enough to house herself and three or four others at a pinch, and if it was still not quite home, it was quite enough for her. I hope only that it shall be enough for these two, she thought, as she ushered the two into the guestroom. "Usually Rangers stay here," she told Haldeth. "But it shall suit you, I hope."
"I am very grateful, my lady," Haldeth said, dropping another curtsey.
"Gratitude is a garment that quickly wears thin in uncomfortable places, my dear," Gilraen replied, and smiled when Haldeth gave her an anxious look. "You are my daughter now. Surely you knew that?"
"If you will forgive me, my lady, I was not certain you would approve. Aragorn is not... that is, he is not as we are, and I thought that perhaps you, too, had grown apart from us, since you have lived here so long," Haldeth said, with admirable composure for one surely no older than her son. And though it stopped short of disapproval, it was a skeptical, uncertain look that she turned on Gilraen, as if seeking the measure of her humanity.
"Ah." Well, I suppose that I can expect no less, Gilraen thought, and sighed inwardly. Rangers might be less shaken by strangeness than a lass of the Angle, but in the end, their mildly questioning looks came of the same doubt that Haldeth displayed now. Best not to feed it, then, she reasoned, and so said briskly, "Well, come and sit, and we shall talk, and Halbarad can play if he likes. I do have a few of my son's things still, much to his chagrin." Gilraen paused, and smiled warmly, seeing Haldeth's anxiety begin to sink beneath a more simple uncertainty. "I never thought to have a use for them so soon, but all to the good. Come!"
And so, some short while later, while Halbarad busied himself on the floor, playing with the small wooden knights that Elladan had made so many years ago, the two women sat at the table in the kitchen and spoke over tea. "Chamomille. After a long journey, 'tis calming," Gilraen informed the other as she placed the cup before her and then seated herself beside her. And I think our nerves are both frayed enough by surprise and anxiety, she thought, but said nothing. Haldeth was silent as well, but she did sigh softly as she sipped at her tea, seeming to sag a bit. Gilraen left the other to her silence for a time, listening as was her wont for that moment when speech would get a hearing. At last, she caught Haldeth giving her a measuring, somewhat puzzled look out of the corners of her eyes, and Gilraen smiled inwardly. With a soft, contented sigh, she set her own cup down precisely and said, "And now, my dear, tell me how this came about. For in truth, I did not look to see a grandchild for many a year."
"I think your son did not, either," Haldeth replied, and then, at Gilraen's frown, added quickly, "Oh, not in that sense! No, 'tis no child of chance we got between us. I meant only that, when he came to live among us, he was surprised to find so many seeking him out. More, I do not think he understood at first why so many of us made excuses to keep his company. He learned quickly enough, though I think me Captain Caranthar had to speak with him on the matter."
"Dear Caranthar! And poor Aragorn," Gilraen sighed, though she did have to smile, envisioning the particular expression of disbelief that likely her son had borne when he had realized the intentions of the lasses of the Angle, and the reasoning behind it all. For we were the Faithful, and we remain faithful to the hope that we shall be allowed to redeem Isildur's fault, but the line must continue and faith in the good will of fortune is not enough, after all. "No, I fear he was not well prepared to face the women of the Dúnedain, nor their fathers and brothers. 'Tis not done thus here, for there is no need, and we had to keep much from him concerning the customs of the Dúnedain. But it seems that you overcame, in the end."
"'Tis more that the elders of the town overcame," Haldeth admitted. "The line of Isildur must be secured; that, all know. It took three years, but he agreed in the end." She paused, then glanced sideways at Gilraen, seeming to steel herself a little ere she continued, "I should say that I am not your daughter, but your kinswoman, my lady."
Not a daughter, but a kinswoman. "I see," Gilraen replied, and tactfully took another swallow of her own tea, considering this. I might have guessed from the manner that Elrond introduced her and Halbarad. Not 'wife', but 'Haldeth, daughter of Barandir'. Not 'Halbarad, son of Aragorn', but 'Haldeth's son by Aragorn'. "And were you chosen, or did you choose?" she asked, after the manner of making such inquiries in the Angle.
"I chose," Haldeth replied promptly, which was some relief. So it had not been purely a matter of duty, then. Good lad, Aragorn. At least you do not ask others to choose for you, nor choose one who would not have you otherwise, she thought. And at least you seem to have fixed on a sensible lass, and a good-hearted one.
"And do you hope for marriage, dear?" Gilraen asked, as mildly as she could.
"We spoke of it, but... no," Haldeth said, and shrugged slightly. "He likes me well enough, or he would not have asked me at all. And I am fond of him, for all that he has some peculiar ways—elvish, I suppose. If he asked my hand, I would give it, I think. But if he does not, then I shall be happy to find another."
"Good," Gilraen replied, and meant it, though inwardly she sighed. I suppose five years in the Angle have not taught him to forget Arwen, after all. More's the pity, for I think he might have done well with Haldeth, even so young as they are for marriage. Aloud, though, she said only, "So Halbarad shall be my son's kinsman, then."
"Aye, he shall."
"Well and good. But answer me this, if you will, Haldeth," Gilraen said. "Why did none send word to me earlier? I would have been glad to learn I had a grandson. Why wait so long?"
"It was Aragorn's wish. I think that he feared you would be ashamed of him. As I said, he has some peculiar notions, for though 'tis not so common, this has been done before, at need. And," Haldeth drew a deep breath, and shot Gilraen a somewhat embarrassed look, "I confess, I began to believe that he might be right to expect your scorn. I mean no offense, my lady, but I was so surprised that he would not tell you that I... well, I suppose I thought that you had been changed by the Elves, from having lived among them so long, that you no longer knew what need was. For otherwise, why would Aragorn fear that you not know this custom, or not understand? You are Dúnadan."
"Ah, but there you are wrong: I am not Dúnadan, I am his mother," Gilraen corrected, with a smile. "And one's mother does not approve of such things, given that one was raised by Elves, among whom these things do not happen."
"Ah." Haldeth paused a moment, considering this, and then nodded sagely. "I see. Then truly, I must apologize, my lady-"
"For what offense?" Gilraen cut her off gently. "Tis no fault of yours, child, that my son can be denser than stone at times." She shook her head and chuckled softly. "Poor lad! I do not think he knows that his own father was 'kinsman,' not 'son,' to Arador for the first three months of his life, before Arador married Giriel."
At that, Haldeth blinked, and something like a giggle escaped her. "Truly? I had not heard that."
"I am not surprised. It was such a brief period, and Arador and she had been betrothed already. What need to remember it? But I think it shall be different for Halbarad," Gilraen said, glancing down at the boy, who played on, oblivious to her scrutiny. She was silent a moment, then, before she asked softly, "You do know, Haldeth, why Aragorn will not marry you, now or ever, though I know he would much rather be a husband than simply the father of a child?"
"There is another, is there not?"
"Aye, there is."
"But who is she? He would not say, not even to me. Any unwed lass in the Angle is his for the asking, so long as she says 'yes,' in or out of marriage. And he must surely know it by now, he has been pressed so hard!" Haldeth replied, brow furrowing with confusion.
"Well," Gilraen sighed, and gave the younger woman a long look up and down, "since you have borne me a grandson, I may tell you, but I will have your word that when you return to the Angle, you will say nothing. Not to Caranthar, though he has always served our people well, and not to the man you marry—this is between kinswomen."
"I shall not tell," Haldeth promised.
"Good. Then the reason that my son will not wed you or any other is named Arwen, daughter of Elrond of Imladris." At which, Haldeth's jaw dropped in a most unladylike fashion, and Gilraen nodded grimly. "Aye. Do not think I have not tried to dissuade him, and I had hoped that he would find someone in the Angle to rival his affection for her. But thus far it seems he is constant, duty notwithstanding. So long as there is hope, I think Halbarad shall never be Isildur's Heir, short of Aragorn's untimely death."
"What does Lord Elrond say of this?" Haldeth asked, hesitantly.
"That I shall not repeat, and the wise will not question him on the matter. 'Tis enough to know my son's reasons, my dear," Gilraen warned.
The women fell silent for a time then, and out of habit, their eyes drifted to Halbarad, still quite happily at play. He is such a sweet child, it seems. And he does look like his father did at that age. Uncanny. "Does he love him, Haldeth? Does he care for him as he ought?" she asked softly.
"More than he cares for me, I think," Haldeth replied. "I cannot fault him that, though he shall be long away." There came the sound of paper rustling, and Gilraen blinked as a sealed letter appeared before her. She glanced at Haldeth, who nodded for her to open it. Breaking the wax, Gilraen unfolded it. Her son's hand, quite evidently, and she found herself holding her breath as she read:
I hope that this letter finds you well, and that you will forgive your very wayward son his fault in not writing sooner. I could have sent word, but did not, and now I fear I take once more the cowardly way out.
Haldeth and Halbarad you will have met by the time you see this. I hope that you will not look ill upon Haldeth, for she is a brave lass and whatever else may be said, she has been kind to me, and I would gladly call her friend. As for our son, Halbarad is very dear, and so far as I understand the custom here, he is mine and I shall never deny it, come what may. I hope that you will look after both of them, for Imladris is very different from this place, which has only just begun to feel like home to me.
And is that not ironic? For just as I begin to think that I am happy here (when I am here, as opposed to everywhere else—and I am not unhappy there either, so fear not), I must tell you that I have left the Angle and Eriador for a time. I am bound for Rohan for awhile, and perhaps also Gondor. The past years have taught me that I know very little of Men indeed, even of my own people. And so it seems to me best to learn more of those other peoples, for if the Angle is not Imladris, neither is Dale or Laketown or Bree or Ostfal the Angle, as I have learned traveling the caravan routes with the Rangers.
Thus I send Haldeth and Halbarad now to Imladris, as is customary, for safety. Better if I had come myself and stood by them, but I am fearful enough of your judgment and Elrond's that, as I said, I shall take the coward's way and send you this instead, hoping that when next we meet I shall be more deserving of your good opinion. Or failing that, that lessons learned elsewhere shall teach me better courage than I know now. But do not let my faults reflect on Haldeth or our son, I beg.
I shall write when I can, or send word through the Rangers. Be well, Mother! Give Elrond my greetings (if he will receive them), and my brothers, as well, and Arwen, if you can, and if she will hear them. And, if you would, tell Halbarad something of me, even if only my bad points, for I do not know how long I shall be gone. I would not have him grow up wondering about me.
Yours in contrition, but with much love,
"He said I was to give it to you when we met," Haldeth said quietly, as Gilraen came to the end. "And I was to say also that he loves you, and that he is sorry."
"Estel, lad," Gilraen sighed.
"Nana?" a little voice piped up then, and both women glanced down to see Halbarad standing there, watching them.
"Aye, love. Here," Haldeth reached down and picked the child up, who was quick to wrap his arms about her neck, and bury his face against her shoulder. But then, after a moment, he turned slightly, eyeing Gilraen covertly, and Gilraen smiled.
"Hello, Halbarad. Do you know who I am?" she asked. That got an uncertain look, and the boy glanced up appealingly at his mother, who smiled and replied:
"That is your grandmother, Hal. We shall see a lot of her, for we shall stay with her and have a nice, long visit. Will you say hello?" That got a nod, and the boy squirmed round in his mother's arms to face Gilraen more fully.
"H'lo," he said. "Ada?" And looked at her so appealingly, that she caught her breath sharply, as the years fell away all at once. Of a sudden, she looked into her son's eyes, as Elrohir and three Rangers did their best to impose order on the chaos of their arrival, to find space immediately for them, to get baggage into the right rooms, in some semblance of order, while Elladan had gone to explain what had happened to Elrond. Aragorn was crying. We left so suddenly, and arrived nearly in the middle of the night. Elrohir held him, and kept telling him it would be all right, and I think I might have been sitting... I barely remember what I did. All he wanted to know was when his Ada would come back. That was between screaming for me. He does not even remember that, now....
"I think, love, that we should not ask too many questions right now," Haldeth's voice broke through the memory just then, and Gilraen blinked to see the concern on the other's face. But she shook her head.
"No, no, tis no trouble," Gilraen managed, drawing a deep breath, and she reached out her arms. After a moment's hesitation, Haldeth lifted Halbarad and set him gently in her lap. Halbarad looked from mother to grandmother in some confusion, but Gilraen managed a smile then. Placing a finger under his chin, she gently raised his head so that he looked up at her, and said quietly, "Your Ada must be away for awhile, Halbarad. He does not want to be, but he must."
"Because he loves you, Halbarad," Gilraen replied. "There are things that he must do for you, that you cannot know about yet. But he does them for you, because he loves you, and he loves your mother. And he sent you here, because this is where he would want to be. Do you love your Ada?" A nod. "And your Nana?"
"Then can you be a very brave boy for them, and stay here with your Nana and me for awhile?" she asked. Halbarad hesitated a moment, but then nodded enthusiastically, and Gilraen smiled again. "Good lad. Give us a kiss?" With all the shyness of children, Halbarad did so-a quick (if somewhat wet) peck on the cheek before he squirmed about, clearly wanting to return to his mother. Gilraen handed him back, and Haldeth stood, with Halbarad clinging to her neck.
"I think it is time this one took a nap. 'Tis only the excitement, I think, of strange places that has kept him up," Haldeth said, by way of excusing herself, and Gilraen nodded as the other swept out of the kitchen. And as soon as Haldeth was out of sight, she leaned her head in her hands, and squeezed her eyes shut. After a thoughtless time, she opened them again and drew a deep breath as she made herself sit up straight, and reached unerringly for the tea cup. Though usually she preferred not to gulp, this time she did down the rest of the cup in a swallow, and found herself wishing for something stronger to numb the shock. I have a grandson; my son is a father, and I am a grandmother. It scarcely seemed possible. Mayhap she had been too long among the Elves, and merely mortal time had begun to lose its hold upon her, but it seemed not so long ago that she had said farewell to Arathorn for the last time. It seemed only a very little while ago that Aragorn had left, painfully determined to take up the burdens of a heritage he knew but little of. That he had now a child of his own, even if Halbarad would carry his mother's name, seemed impossibly swift.
So it begins again, she thought, staring at the tea leaves in the bottom of her cup, and wishing she could so easily read the whim of fortune there. Or mayhap not. It seems my lot to prophesy pain, and I would not wish that upon a child. Such a dreadful gift, foresight. But at least there was also hindsight, and though she knew not what emotion—relief or regret or pride, or all at once—flared within her breast, there was a certain... comfort, an almost grim satisfaction to be found in it, and in the knowledge that here was a place she had been before.
Aye, it begins again. It was not in vain, my husband. We have a son, and now a grandson, and the line continues on, unbroken. And this time, she resolved, I shall be able to do this rightly, so that Halbarad does not grow up ignorant of what and who he is. He shall not be caught, as Aragorn is, between Imladris and the Angle. Not this time. Determinedly, then, she rose and went to join Haldeth in the guestroom. She found the other sitting on the edge of one of the beds, staring at and past a sleeping Halbarad, who was apparently not nearly so fussy about naps as his father had been.
Haldeth glanced up as Gilraen approached, and Gilraen felt a pang of sympathy for the look in the other's eyes.
"I did not wish to come here, you know," Haldeth murmured after a moment. "'Tis so far from home, and... I..." Do not wish to be as you are. Unspoken it was, yet clear as day to one who knew the weight of exile.
"I know," Gilraen replied softly, and laid a comforting arm about the young woman's shoulders.
"I want him to be my son—not a confusion of Man and Elf," Haldeth said, with quiet force.
"And he will be," Gilraen promised. "What was done to Aragorn is not usual. My husband was not one who suffered any confusion as to what he was, nor his father before him. Halbarad is and shall be your son, not Elrond's, and he has and shall have no brothers nor a sister—" at which Haldeth winced slightly, apparently having just put two and two together "—only a mother, a grandmother, and a father, who is a Ranger like many others. When the time comes," she said firmly, as she stared down with Haldeth at the sleeping child, "he shall be ready to go home."
And mayhap, then, so also shall I.
In the summary, I said that a full quarter of the Chieftains died untimely. Well, that may not be exactly true. The percentage may be slightly higher. If you count the names of the Chieftains in Appendix A ii: "The Realms In Exile-The Northern Line", you will find sixteen names, Aragorn II's included. If you read further, however, in "Eriador, Arnor, and the Heirs of Isildur", you find the following: "There were fourteen Chieftains, before the fifteenth and last was born, Aragorn II" (RoTK, 363). A little earlier, it had been noted that "the line of the Kings was continued by the Chieftains of the Dúnedain, of whom Aranarth son of Arvedui was the first" (RoTK, 362). So it is not even the case that we can discount Aranarth. There are sixteen Chieftains if you count the names, fifteen if you read the text. I think this is clearly an instance of an error that was never caught. But it is interesting, and since both numbers are there, clearly there's scope for some sort of fictional reconciliation of the two...
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