Tales of the North
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Well met again: 1. Welcome
September 6, 2980, just before dawn
He usually liked standing guard, as it gave him time to think, but right now Halbarad wished he hadn't volunteered to take the early morning watch. As he stifled a yawn, he heard a noise from further down the path that led from the Road to their camp. He reached for his bow and stood up carefully. It sounded as if there was someone coming.
As he looked out from his hiding place, being careful to stay well within the shadow of the trees lining the path, he saw he was right. A Man, wearing a dark green cloak, hood drawn low over his face, was walking down the path, moving quietly but not attempting stealth. Halbarad hesitated, wondering whether to challenge the intruder himself or warn the next sentry along.
At the same time the other slowed down, looking around warily, and Halbarad knew his decision had been made for him. It was clear the intruder knew he was being watched. Quickly, he drew his bow and stepped on to the path about thirty paces from the stranger, arrow nocked and aimed.
"Halt! Who goes there?" he called.
"A weary traveller," the answer came.
Is that...? Halbarad wondered, and spoke aloud, "Stranger, I would see your face."
The other spoke as he moved to comply with the command, "Halbarad?"
He lowered his bow. "Yes! Aragorn?"
The other nodded, a grin on his face, as they crossed the distance separating them and embraced.
"Halbarad. It's been too long."
"What took you this long? After your last message, I've been expecting you since the spring."
"I was delayed somewhat," Aragorn replied, his grin even wider.
"What held you up? Did you come through Rivendell?"
"Only for one night, and do you want the full report or only my recent movements?"
"For now only the recent. I suspect the full report would take some time."
"That it would... On my return from the South, I was allowed into the Lady Galadriel's secret country, and Arwen was there. She accepted my suit, and we plighted our troth."
Halbarad clapped him on the back, his grin mirroring that of his kinsman. "That is wonderful news! And I take it that would also explain why you were only in Rivendell the one night? I doubt Elrond is pleased by this."
"No, he is not," Aragorn replied as his face became serious again, "And he has set conditions."
"I see," Halbarad said, "We will talk more later, but I'd better let you go on to the camp now and warn the next sentry that you're coming. I am supposed to be watching this path; unless of course you want your first official act on your return to be the disciplining of a negligent sentry?"
"Now, what was the penalty for dereliction of duty again? You'll have to remind me," Aragorn replied.
Halbarad groaned at the mischievous glint in the other's eyes. "First offence? Loss of rank."
"I see... Who commands this camp?"
"Ah, that would complicate the matter. And who leads the Rangers in my absence?"
"Again, I do."
"You have moved up in the world," Aragorn replied, "But then I'd better be on my way before you have to report yourself. By the way, there's an Orc encampment about three hours to the north of the Road."
"That is why we're here. I intend to attack this afternoon."
"You'd best be careful. They're digging in," Aragorn pointed out.
"Oh? Did you get a good look at their fortifications?"
"If you will, talk to Beleg when you get to our camp, and go over the map he has made. I'm off duty here in an hour, and will join you then."
Aragorn nodded, and after they embraced again he set off for the camp, as Halbarad gave the whistle signal that told the next sentry there was a friend coming down the path.
Smiling, Halbarad returned his attention to his task. It was good to have his kinsman home again.
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