The Angle: Genverse Arc
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Reason to Celebrate, A: 1. A Reason to Celebrate
The Angle: Reference gleaned from: "Of thegns and kings and rangers and things." March 30, 2001. Michael Martinez. www.suite101.com/article.cfm/tolkien/64660
"Halbarad!" Hirthon's son flinched and closed his eyes a moment, leaning against the trees well away from the edge of the clearing. He had come here to hide, to escape the attention of others, but he ought to have known better than to think that he could elude anyone in the Angle. However relaxed the town's mood this evening, no Ranger worth his star could fail to remark his absence, and given enough time, it was inevitable that someone (or several of them) would abandon play to hunt him.
And Aragorn would be both the first to notice and the first in pursuit! Halbarad knew what the other wanted, and at the moment, he was in no mood to give it. Nevertheless, it was difficult to refuse a friend, particularly when that friend was also his liege-lord. So, gathering his strength, he breathed in deeply and tried to settle himself before the other found him. Valar help me, I think I will be sick! A hand landed upon his back, and he realized that he had run out of time as Aragorn leaned forward to get a look at him as he held up a small lamp. The Chieftain of the Dúnedain of Arnor said not a word, and his face was admirably serious, but the twinkle in his grey eyes was unmistakable: clearly, Aragorn was vastly amused by his discomfiture, and Halbarad spared a moment in his misery to vow deadly revenge when the opportunity presented itself. "Halbarad?"
"Yes?" Halbarad asked, managing to convey with that monosyllabic response a world of frosty resentment. Another might have been intimidated, but Aragorn's lips twitched as he fought a smile and shifted to grab him by the shoulders and shake him slightly. Oh no! Halbarad clapped a hand over his mouth, and doubled over, aware of his chieftain's laughter as a ringing in his ears. The other braced an arm about his shoulders, and he could feel Aragorn's hand against the back of his neck, pressing down, and the urge to vomit seemed to disappear… much to Halbarad's disappointment.
"That will not avail you, my friend," Aragorn said, his voice full of suppressed laughter, while Halbarad drew a couple of deep breaths and straightened slowly. The other began to guide him out of the trees, back towards the lighted clearing and the sounds of merriment. "For I shall not be the one to explain your absence to your sister tonight."
"If she were any part my sister, she would understand." Halbarad retorted.
"If you were any part her brother, you would be at her side even now." Which rebuke was unfortunately justified, but Aragorn had no sister, no close kinswoman to give him reason to worry, Halbarad thought. For Gilraen was safely in Rivendell, and his paternal grandmother had died in childbirth long ago. Arathorn's daughter had not lived either, and Ivorwen had passed away two summers ago. "Is it so hard, Halbarad, to wish Dírlas well of the man she has chosen?"
"I begrudge her nothing, Aragorn, as well you know! It is only…" he trailed off, groping for words, struggling more than was his wont, even, to find a way to explain what he felt to the man who was his chosen brother. Usually, Aragorn understood him quite well–better, he suspected, than he understood himself at times. But tonight, the other was silent, waiting for him to speak, and Halbarad sighed. "I love her, Aragorn. As if she were a part of me, and why not? We share the same blood; we have suffered together father's loss and then Eryndar's after but a few months of marriage! I thought his death would kill her!" He shook his head violently and quickened his pace, trying with that movement to ward off the terrible memories and another bout of nausea. "Was not that pain enough? Of all the men in the Angle and beyond, she had to give her heart to another Ranger!"
Aragorn watched his friend's agitated pacing and frowned slightly, knowing that he could say little to ease the other's anguished fear. And in part he could understand whence came Halbarad's dread. He had seen his mother's suffering every year upon the anniversary of his father's death, and he had brought the terrible news to too many wives and sisters to be ignorant of the racking grief the women of the Dúnedain faced. It was perhaps the duty that he loved least–less, even, than giving the orders that sent men to their deaths; less than sitting beside those mortally stricken until the end; and far less than facing peril himself. If it were my sister, would I feel thus? he wondered, and felt a quick spasm of regret that he would never know what it was to love a sister. Isildur's line might have survived the ravages of time and the hazards of the wilds of Eriador, but it had been a narrow chance these past few generations, when one and two-child families had been common. Still, his friend's fears might have seemed somewhat excessive to him, but for recent changes in his own life. Changes that no one, save Elrond, yet knows of! "Halbarad," he murmured gently, catching the other's arm to stay him a moment. "Barahan is a good man, you have said so yourself. You cannot prevent this, and if you were to try, I fear it would be the end of our friendship." He paused, thinking to soften that a bit, but Halbarad sighed gustily and leaned against him, seeming almost to wilt in his arms.
"I know I may not! And I shall not, but if you knew my fears…!"
"I know them," Aragorn murmured, feeling his heart speed at the thought. Pressed close against him, the other felt it, and as Halbarad drew back to gaze considerately at him, he gave a slight smile. "Come back now, and we shall speak later. Dírlas fusses over you enough as it is when you are away, my friend. Give her no cause to do so when you are here, and least of all tonight. Did I not know better, I would say it were your wedding I was called to witness!" Aragorn declared, jabbing the other in the arm, and Halbarad managed a feeble grin in response.
"One day, Aragorn… !" He shook his head, leaving the threat to hang in the air between them, but then he chuckled softly and acceded to the request. The two men turned and made their way out of the woods, back towards the clearing before the hidden town. It was a rare night that saw such light and laughter in the close-knit and wary community of the Arnorian Dúnedain, for caution had been bred into them over centuries of struggle. But a wedding was always reason to celebrate, and on such nights, there was a sense of relief as well as joy. For there must be some release, some way to break the tension and forget our fears for awhile, Aragorn thought. Even so, there were guards on patrol that night, for such noise and brilliance would draw many creatures, not all of them friendly. And though in Gondor no one came armed to such ceremonies, in the Angle, there was not a man who did not bear some weapon, whether sword or dagger, and about the clearing one could find quivers laid against tables or trees. Everyone understood that necessity, and the watch would rotate the shifts frequently so that all were able to enjoy at least a part of the evening. His own stint of guard duty would come in the dead time between midnight and dawn, but for the next several hours, he had naught to do but stand as formal witness to the marriage vows. And enjoy myself!
Beside him, Halbarad paused at the edge of the festivities and Aragorn glanced at his friend once more to reassure himself that the other was alright. Halbarad knew better than to get drunk before his sister's wedding–though given his behavior, others might doubt his claim to sobriety–but he planned to watch him closely to see how his mood unfolded. "Go on!" He half-shoved the other forward, earning a quick glare, but then Halbarad squared his shoulders and wove through the crowd to find the bride, leaving Aragorn to trail along in his wake. Hanging his borrowed lantern upon a pole, Isildur's Heir paused and let his gaze stray over the assembled guests.
This was the first wedding he had attended for quite some time, for he had been in Rohan, Gondor, and finally in Harad for nearly thirty years. In that time, many of the children that he had known had blossomed into young men and women, and his own generation had matured, hardened, earned scars and shed tears; some had suffered wounds that would never heal properly; others had died. The children that now chased each other through the field–dodging their elders and generally causing havoc–had all been born in his absence and he still marveled to see in their faces traces of men and women that he had known when he was eighteen and still ignorant of his ancestry. So much that confused me when first I came here is now so very clear! he thought. He had always felt as though the Dúnedain watched him with unusual interest, but until Elrond had taken him aside one summer's afternoon, he had not known precisely why. My people they are, and knew it ere ever I did. I still feel as though I am not much of a lord to them, so long have I been away, and yet…
"You seem quiet tonight, my lord," a light baritone sounded behind him, and Aragorn smiled as he turned to see Caranthar standing at his shoulder. His father's sole surviving lieutenant, Caranthar was deeply respected by all the Dúnedain, by Aragorn no less than the smallest child. "I thought this was a night to celebrate!"
"It is, and I do," Aragorn replied. "I could scarcely ask for a better home-coming."
"Aye, you did manage to time that quite well. It has been an oddly peaceful three months," the older man admitted, stroking a salt-and-pepper beard as he considered his best friend's son. So very like his sire, and yet so very different as well! Caranthar thought, and then gave in to the impulse. Reaching out, he laid a paternal hand upon the other's shoulder as he said in a low voice, "'Tis good to see you safe, my lord." Aragorn gazed back, and clapped him on the shoulder, smiling slightly ere he was forced to jump back as a trio of children darted between the two of them. "Rascals!" Caranthar growled, but all in good humor.
"Indeed! Was the lead girl not your granddaughter, Caranthar?" Aragorn queried, and the older man rolled his eyes.
"Valar help me, her mother was never such trouble. At least not usually. All right!" Caranthar threw up his hands under the pressure of his lord's knowing gaze. "I admit, Inidhril was… a handful."
"A handful?" Aragorn repeated skeptically, quirking a dark brow as his eyes grew quite mischievous. For Inidhril had a reputation for her high spirits and head-strong ways, and though she was of an age with Aragorn, she had always treated him as a younger brother in need of careful handling. Which was simply another way of saying that she fussed over him unbelievably whenever the opportunity arose. "Is that what you told her husband as well?"
"Her husband agrees with me!" the other retorted, and the two chuckled. "But that leads me somewhat far afield. I had meant to ask if there was aught troubling you, for you do seem somewhat subdued, if I may say it."
"Merely thoughtful," Aragorn replied, turning slightly to survey the crowd again. "It has been a long road since Rivendell!"
"There is no short road, my lord, and if ever you find one, stay clear of it for it will lead to naught but trouble," Caranthar advised.
"Have no fears on that account. But I feel as though much has passed me by in the last three decades," he shook his head, gesturing to the people milling about. "Well and good that I now know much of Gondor and Rohan, and even of the ways of the Haradrim, but I feel as though I still have much to learn of my own people..."
"Yet?" Caranthar asked, sensing that something hovered still at the end of that sentence.
"Yet… for all the long years of absence, this is home, and to see them thus gives me a sense of peace that I have long missed." Absorbed by the swift ebb and flow of the crowd, Aragorn did not see the other's smile, at once tender and proud, for Caranthar had waited patiently over the decades to see what sort of man Arathorn's son would be. And glad am I to have been spared for so long, for my pride could be no greater were he my own child! So much depended upon him, and yet Caranthar doubted that the other realized fully what he meant to all those men and women. Too concerned with learning to fulfil the duties he felt were expected of him, and worrying about his absences, Aragorn seemed to have overlooked the fact that his people were proud of him–that they looked to him with hope and fierce approval for the pains that he took. He is not ours alone, Caranthar thought. He never has been, and that we have not been able to say since Arnor fell! It is time our star rose again, if only briefly, and glad am I that it falls to Aragorn to lead us, rather than another. But even a king must have some time to forget himself.
"Go, Aragorn," Caranthar said after a long moment, and the younger man glanced back at him. "Dírlas cannot wait all night to speak her vows, after all. And then enjoy this time, for who knows when the next such occasion will arise?"
"A good evening to you then, old friend. Give my greetings to Inidhril," Aragorn replied, accepting the gentle dismissal.
"Greetings indeed! If you do not go swiftly, I shall send her after you! Her husband will doubtless appreciate the reprieve," Caranthar growled, and grinned as Aragorn laughingly retreated before that unusual threat.
"Spare me, I beg! A good evening to you, sir!" Turning away, Aragorn quickly spotted Halbarad again and made for him in as straight a line as he could manage. It was an odd sort of dance as he slipped through the knots of people, having to excuse himself as he eased around groups while at the same time acknowledging the salutes that came almost instantly upon recognition of his identity. Eventually, however, he reached his friend, and as Halbarad hailed him, two others stepped forward. Barahan he knew as a Ranger, and the bridegroom offered a polite, if deferential, greeting; Dírlas, having known him since she was a child, was rather less restrained.
"My lord," she said, smiling as Aragorn took her hands in his and raised them to his lips.
"Congratulations, Dírlas," he replied. And when he had eased his grip a bit she freed herself to throw her arms about his neck in a fiercely joyous embrace.
"Thank you for standing for us! Thank you for coming!" she murmured ere she released him to step back, and Aragorn felt constrained to bow.
"It is my pleasure," he replied, glancing then from Barahan to Dírlas, and thence to Halbarad, who aside from looking a bit pale, seemed to have regained control of himself. "The hour draws nigh, and I wish you well of each other!" Barahan nodded, trying hard to suppress a nervous grin as he grasped Dírlas' hand in his, and his betrothed eased closer to him. "Shall we begin?"
Among the Dúnedain of the north, it was customary to begin the festivities in the late afternoon and wait until a particular hour of nightfall to speak vows. In any other people, that might have made solemnity somewhat difficult to attain, but the folk of the Angle were accustomed to harsher discipline. So, when Aragorn sounded the klaxon, silence fell quite suddenly as instruments were set aside and adults hastened to restrain the children. All present pressed forward to watch as bride and groom faced each other. Aragorn stood behind them, and Halbarad took his place at his sister's shoulder, while Barahan's mother stood just behind him as tradition demanded. Aragorn was silent a moment, waiting until he felt everyone's attention was well and truly captured ere he spoke, repeating the words that had been handed down over millennia; words which, from Gondor to Bree, marked the beginning of marriage.
"'As a light in the darkness is the love of a man and woman for each other, and in that light lies the hope of our people.' A year ago today, Barahan, son of Benirion, and Dírlas, daughter of Hirthon, plighted their troth as a test of their love. And has it been found true?" A roar of approval from the crowd came as answer, and Aragorn smiled as he held up a hand for silence once more. "Assuredly it has! Therefore we are met today to see that promise fulfilled. The Evening Star is risen, and the Heron stands now upon the horizon. If you would be bound to each other even as Elwing and Eärendil of whom we spring, then speak now!"
All eyes turned to Barahan, who managed not to flinch under that collective, eager regard, and his voice trembled but a little as he said: "I, Barahan son of Benirion, do bind myself to Dírlas daughter of Hirthon, for as long as my life shall endure. Let the seas rise, let the earth change, let the stars extinguish themselves, I shall not forsake thee!"
"And I, Dírlas, daughter of Hirthon, hear thy words, and accept thy suit, Barahan son of Benirion. I shall cleave to thee, and to thee alone, for as long as my life shall endure. Let the seas rise, let the earth change, let the stars extinguish themselves, I shall not forsake thee!"
As they spoke, Barahan's mother and Halbarad each took the hand of son and sister and laid the one in the other. Aragorn was pleased to note that there was no trace of that former wrenching fear in his friend's expression. He even managed a slight smile as he bowed to Barahan and then withdrew to one side. Aragorn laid his hands over those of husband and wife, saying, "As it has been witnessed, so be it!"
And that was the end, as Barahan kissed Dírlas in full sight of everyone, and the celebration continued in earnest. Aragorn watched the two move away into the crowd once more, and then sighed softly, well content, ere he turned to Halbarad once more. Gripping the other's shoulder comfortingly, he murmured, "Was that so terrible?"
"If I get sick later on, you are coming with me!" Halbarad replied in an undertone.
"As if I would leave you to your own devices!" Aragorn retorted, biting down on a smile that would go quite unappreciated by his friend in that moment. "Come, Halbarad, you have done your duty so you may as well take the sweet with the bitter. Enjoy yourself. Ask Lanaríel to dance with you!"
"Tell me, did you learn such cruelty of the Haradrim? You know she hangs on me!"
"It is only a dance, my friend," Aragorn replied, refusing to let the other slide back down into his solitary misery.
"Only a dance, he says! I do not see you joining that group."
"Alas, I have no partner," Aragorn sighed, as if regretful, though his eyes sparkled. Halbarad gave him a fulminating look, but then blinked, seeming to gaze past him. And then a most unexpected grin stole across the other's features, which expression sent warnings up and down Aragorn's spine.
"Aragorn, my friend, you are the most eligible bachelor in the entire town. The day that the Heir of Isildur cannot find a woman willing to partner him in any dance he likes I shall hold that the end of the world is come. Fortunately, it seems that that dark day is postponed yet again," the other said.
"What do you–"
"Aragorn!" Aragorn turned to see a dark-haired, bright-eyed woman nearly upon him, and beyond her, he saw Caranthar standing there with a wicked grin upon his face. Likely it matches the one Halbarad wears this very moment! he thought, and staggered as Inidhril threw her arms about him.
"Father said to come find you, and I can see why. You are too serious, Aragorn!" Without asking permission, and in spite of Aragorn's greater strength, she half-dragged him towards the dance square. Isildur's Heir quickly recovered himself, however, and took the lead, for it would not look very good for the Chieftain of the Dúnedain to seem so manifestly unwilling to partner her. Nevertheless, the look he shot over his shoulder at his friend and cousin was priceless.
"Vengeance is sweet," Halbarad sighed contentedly as Caranthar came to join him.
"I did warn him," Caranthar replied, "Truly, though, I played but a small part in this. You know she loves him."
"I know," Halbarad replied with a smile. "So do we all! I think me, however, that you might consider Fornost in need of your services for a time, sir. If Aragorn does not devise some retribution, surely her husband shall!"
"Arion is a good man, and he knows well that Inidhril sees Aragorn as a part of our family. He has no objections. I only hope that someone will catch our chieftain's eye, and soon! One never knows how fortune shall twist, and Isildur's line has had bad luck these past two generations." The pain in the older man's voice was palpable, and Halbarad darted a surreptitious glance at him. Caranthar's friendship with Arathorn was legendary in the Angle, and the older man's face was bleak with the memory of that loss. Some wounds never heal! Halbarad felt a great sympathy for the other, who had in his day served his friend and lord even as Halbarad now served Aragorn. The haunted look in the other's eyes as he followed the path of his best friend's son was more than he could bear.
"Do not fear for Aragorn, sir," Halbarad said softly, easing closer so that no others would overhear them. "His is a different fate from his father's, and my heart tells me that the test of his strength is not yet come, and shall not for many a year. We shall not lose him as we have others." He had never confided that secret to anyone before, but as Caranthar turned to him, he was glad that he had made an exception. The other's relief was almost painful to behold, but then the older man managed a smile and nodded.
"Good lad," he said softly. Then, shaking off the mood, he said in a firmer voice, "Well, you do not need me to hover over you tonight. Go on, then. Find yourself a lass to dance with before Aragorn returns, or I think I shall fear him less!" And with that, Caranthar ambled away, leaving Halbarad to contemplate the wisdom of those words. But his eyes went instead to his sister and Barahan who led the others in the dance. I wish I could be so certain of Barahan's destiny! If anything happens to him… If anything happened to him, he did not know where he would find the strength to see Dírlas through a second such loss. For a time, he truly had feared that his sister would die of grief, even as Elves sometimes did, and the thought of facing another tragedy made him feel sick all over again. She is happy now, and for that I am glad, truly I am! But it is a dangerous business, to love a Ranger. Do I not know it well enough myself? He had lost friends, men whom he counted almost as family (and some of them were) and he hated the thought of laying yet another white stone upon the funeral plain.
Just then, the music ceased, and amid the applause of the onlookers, couples broke up and reformed, and Halbarad frowned, glancing about suddenly. His attention had been so fixed upon Dírlas that he was rather surprised to find that he had lost track of Aragorn. Likely he seeks Arion to come and reclaim his wife, he thought, returning his gaze to Barahan and his sister. Barahan leaned down and kissed her again, whispering in her ear, which roused a number of protective, brotherly instincts that needed quickly to be suppressed. She is his now, Halbarad, so watch yourself!
"Traditionally, the bride and groom are to leave quietly and slip away into the night. They cannot do that, Halbarad, if you continue to watch them like a hawk." Aragorn's amused voice at his elbow startled him badly, and Halbarad folded his arms across his chest to try and cover his reaction.
"Barahan is a Ranger. If he cannot worm his way out of this company unnoticed, then he has much to learn still ere he is worthy of that star," he replied.
"I think I have never seen you in so contrary a mood, my friend," Aragorn shook his head and caught the other's arm in a firm grip as he turned him away from his sister and into the crowd once more. "Unless it were that one night in Bree, " he added pointedly.
"Must you remind me of that?"
"Only if you insist upon providing a comparison. Now, I note that while I took my turn with Inidhril and a few other lasses, you did not seek out the fair Lanaríel. If I have to ask her for you, I shall be quite irritated with you."
"Please do not!" Halbarad begged in an undertone, and the sincerity of that request caught Aragorn's full and somber attention. Glancing around, he spotted a table pushed to the far end of the clearing; it stood in an island of space, for most people were closer to the dance grounds, which made it ideal for his purposes. Pulling Halbarad along, Aragorn slithered through the thinning edges of the crowd 'til he reached his destination.
"Sit down," he told the other, and Halbarad obediently sank down onto a bench, while Aragorn took a seat opposite him. "You have fancied Lanaríel since I first knew you, and you admit she seems more than fond of you. Yet you say naught to her. This runs deeper than your sister's marriage, and I would know what it is that troubles you. Tell me!"
Confronted with all the authority of his chieftain and the weight of a friend deeply worried, Halbarad knew he could not deny the other an explanation, even if he knew it was a cowardly excuse he was about to plead. "Dírlas married when she was twenty-three… too young, meaning no offense to your mother, Aragorn." For Gilraen had married at twenty-two, even younger than Dírlas, and it struck Halbarad forcibly that both of their marriages had ended in the same tragic manner. "I worried about her then, and when Eryndar was slain… I cannot, Aragorn, do you not see that?" He lifted his eyes and met the other's searching stare. "I cannot do that to another… leave her ever waiting, ever worrying." He shook his head. "'Tis hard enough to watch friends die and know that one day you may have to bring news of my death to Dírlas."
Aragorn was silent a long while, seeming to consider this, but at last he sighed and bowed his head, leaning forward on his elbows to ask in a low voice, "Do you tell me that you will not court Lanaríel because you fear to leave her a widow?"
"Yes." And because I would not hurt you either that way, Halbarad thought to himself, watching his friend carefully. I see what it does to you to tell others that a husband or son will not return. How could I ask that of you, when I know well that you will be called upon to do so one day? I know it! I feel it in my bones, and have since we were twenty years old, alone on the road for the first time. But he was not about to tell the other that, for there were some things that one did not share, not even with one's best friend. Not even when my best friend has every right to order me to confess! Let it lie, Aragorn. Take the bait I offer–for it is true enough. Take it, and look no further!
"I would argue with you if I thought it would change your heart," Aragorn said at length, pinning him with smoke-dark eyes. "As it is, I will say only that I think you make a mistake, Halbarad."
"Mayhap, and do not think I am unashamed by this, but… I simply cannot!" Halbarad replied, feeling relief ripple through him as the other accepted his excuse without question. Both men sat silently for a time, and after a bit, Halbarad found himself unable to withstand the other's gaze. Bowing his head, he stared down at the table, seeking some way out of this conversation. After a time, he felt Aragorn's hand upon his arm, and glanced up again to see the other smile sadly at him and shake his head.
"You are my brother, Halbarad, but in this at least I think we shall part ways. But know that I expect you at my wedding, whatever your fears."
"Of course! When the time comes, as it must, I shall be there." And then Halbarad paused, eyes narrowing as he took in the gleam in the other's eyes and realized that what he had taken for a hypothetical statement was nothing of the sort. "Aragorn?" His friend's smile grew broader at that query, and Halbarad stared, feeling torn between joy and incredulity. "Do you tell me…?"
"Yes, I do."
"You–!" Halbarad quickly lowered his voice, leaning forward further. "Who is she? And when? You have been gone for thirty years! How could you find the time…?"
"It is very recent, and I fear it may go very ill with her father," Aragorn admitted. "And she is not one of our people."
"Please tell me she is not one of the Haradrim!" For some reason, Aragorn seemed to find that quite funny, for he laughed outright at the suggestion. "Then whence comes she? Gondor? Rohan? Bree?"
"Nay, none of those."
"I begin to run short of guesses, brother, and if you do not wish a thorough trouncing, you had best tell me now!" Halbarad threatened, which was really quite pointless since Aragorn usually won their wrestling matches. Still, when the inspiration struck, he occasionally got the better of him, and at the moment he was feeling quite inspired.
"She is someone I have loved a very long time, though I have had little hope of that love ever being returned," Aragorn said slowly, and Halbarad heard the undertone of amazement still in the other's voice as he spoke. "Arwen is her name."
"Arwen?" Halbarad blinked, and felt his jaw go slack. "Arwen Undómiel? Of Imladris?" At his friend's nod, Halbarad shook his head sharply, trying vainly to break free of the shock. "Varda's stars, you do not aim low, do you?"
"You sound like my mother," Aragorn complained, though he was clearly fighting a smile.
"Shock reduces all men–and women–to the same numbed level," Halbarad retorted. "And Elrond does not yet know?"
"He knows, and we have spoken of it. I decided it would be best to make my stays in Imladris brief for the next decade or so."
"And you have been hiding this for the past three months?"
"Not hiding… "
"What would you call your silence then?"
"Discretion," Aragorn replied, and Halbarad rolled his eyes. Lightning quick, he struck and cuffed the other sharply in the arm. But Aragorn, just as quick, managed to trap his hand against his shoulder. "And I shall continue on with that discretion, for I would not risk Elrond's wrath. Keep it quiet, my friend. You I can tell, and I would tell for I cannot hold this entirely to myself," he said, offering a slight smile that nonetheless lit his eyes to their very depths. "It will be a long wait in any case, for Elrond's acceptance of our betrothal is conditional."
"Upon a claimant to the thrones of both Gondor and Arnor, and I have many years of toil ere I earn that chance. You understand." It was not a question, and as the other's hand tightened about this own, Halbarad nodded firmly.
"I do. I shall not breathe a word," he said, and smiled. "I am glad for you, though."
"Thank you. And now you know why I understand your anguish, for now it is my task to stay alive long enough…" Aragorn sighed softly. "For like you, I would not cause her pain!"
"Never fear, you have all of us at your service in that endeavor," Halbarad vowed. "If we can in any way prevent it, your Arwen shall suffer no grief on your behalf, for we, too, would not be left bereft! Truly, Aragorn," he insisted, seeing that the other shrugged off such words. "You have our loyalty, but also our love. Know that! Feel it, and do not ever doubt it."
"Then I shall strive to be worthy of it, for your love is no small gift," Aragorn replied, and rose. Halbarad did as well, and the two men stared at each other a long moment ere Isildur's Heir gave a low chuckled and clapped Halbarad's shoulder, drawing him into a fraternal embrace as he pointed to two figures going swiftly away from the light and back into the town proper. "There she goes, my friend, with her Barahan. Wish them well!"
"He will never hear the end of this! That is stealth?"
"And if you tease him too unmercifully, I shall not stand in his way when he challenges you."
"Oh, very well. Not that I fear him, but I would not deprive my sister of her husband's attentions while he recovers from the thrashing he would get if he so dared!"
"Generous of you," Aragorn remarked. "Well, if we have finished our business, and if you will not dance, then at least go back and let your friends have at you for a time. The brother of the bride is never allowed to escape his sister's wedding unscathed, you know."
"Are you certain that the guard could not do with an extra man?"
"Do you question my judgment?" Aragorn demanded, raising a brow in mock severity, and Halbarad sighed as he yielded.
"All right! I go, I go! You need not hover. Go find another partner ere Inidhril claims you again!"
"I think I shall. Until tomorrow, then!" Aragorn bid his friend farewell, watching as the other made his way back into the heart of the crowd, and a cry went up as a number of the men–Rangers and relatives, mostly–swarmed about him. He knew not what the others had decided to inflict upon Halbarad, but he was certain it would be entertaining to watch. Nevertheless, in spite of his words to his friend, he remained where he was, gazing at the people gathered in celebration. My people. He sighed softly, feeling the powerful emotions that attached to those words: love and fear and fierce loyalty. I was bonded to them–married, I suppose–ere ever I looked upon Arwen, and I shall not fail them! A moment more he lingered, feeling the weight of that awesome responsibility, and then he drew a breath and made himself set it aside for a moment. Not entirely, for he could never be free of his obligations, but enough so that they would not impinge unduly upon him tonight. For tonight we have reason to celebrate, all of us! With that, he returned to the babble of voices and laughter, to the welcome of the Dúnedain as they greeted him once more as he moved among them, and he knew himself to be truly at home once more.
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