Carastar, early October 2951
Aragorn woke to ruthless chaos in the dark. A door slammed and someone was shouting downstairs. He up, his heart beating wildly as he remembered the orcs the rangers had killed a few days ago.
He pulled his trousers on, grabbed his dagger and ran barefooted down the stairs into the hall.
Aragorn saw other people emerging from their chambers and heard them following him.
Down in the hall stood only one man, his smiling face almost as dirty as his clothing. The ranger seemed to be wholly unconcerned about the racket that he had just made.
"Welcome back, my son," Araneth called out, and despite all that clung to the young man's filthy clothing, threw herself into her son's arms. "Welcome indeed."
"Aragorn," Araneth said, turning towards him. "This is my middle son Halbarad. Halbarad, this is Aragorn, your cousin and lord."
Halbarad shoved his dark curls out of his eyes and grasped Aragorn's hand resolutely. There was something in his expression that Aragorn could not place, the grey eyes watching him seemed to bore into his very soul. Then Halbarad smiled at him and the moment was gone. Aragorn put his dagger down and clasped Halbarad's arm.
"I am glad to finally meet my august cousin." Halbarad said. "But why did I not get word that you had returned? I would have come earlier and might not have missed the harvest feast."
"Because you were out on patrol and even this is no reason to desert your post, Master Important." Gildor came up from behind and placed a hand on his son's shoulder.
Halbarad yawned. "No, of course not, you have told us often enough that duty must come first. We did not dawdle on our way back and walked on through the night so we would not have to camp on the damp ground only a few miles from here. I will just get upstairs and catch a few hours of sleep." He made for the stairs.
"You will wash yourself before you touch anything clean, do you understand? A bucket is near the fireplace." Araneth said sternly and Halbarad groaned, but halted, dropped his gear to the floor, grabbed the bucket and went outside again, grumbling while he did so. After a moment, Aragorn took the lamp from Gildor's hand and followed him outside. Aragorn noticed that the older man had come to the door and felt more than saw Gildor staring at him and Halbarad.
He leaned against the well and watched Halbarad as he pulled the bucket of water up.
"I thought you might want some light."
"That is very considerate of you, but I can see well enough in the dark. They claim that I have eyes like a cat." He heaved the bucket over the rim. "How should I address you? 'My lord'?"
"You would be the first of my kin to do so."
Halbarad's face was half in the shadows and Aragorn could not clearly read his expression.
"I would? What do they call you?" He muttered something Aragorn could not understand as some of the water landed on his clothing instead of the bucket at his feet.
"That depends on the speaker. Your little brother seems to be very proud of the fact that I am his cousin, and never ceases to remind us of the fact. Others? Nephew, grandson, or just Aragorn."
"I am free to pick and choose, then?"
"You might say that, yes."
"Well, Aragorn it will be, then. I can remember you very dimly from before you left for Rivendell. Even though I had only just turned five when you left, I have the memory of us playing together." He leaned next to Aragorn and cocked his head to the side.
"You must know that I have an excellent memory and can remember the strangest of things. There was that time when you managed to escape your mother and ran out of the house. For some odd reason nobody noticed until you had made it to the sheep and were happily bleating along with them." He laughed. "I found it extremely funny, but the adults did not. Do you remember that escapade?"
Even in the sparse light the lamp provided, Aragorn could see the mischievous grin on Halbarad's face. Aragorn felt a smile tugging at his own lips at the image Halbarad's words had provided. Sometimes he found himself missing the memories of the time before he had been brought to Rivendell. All recollections of events and people had disappeared as he began a new life as Elrond's son. Until a few months ago, he hadn't even known that he had ever lived somewhere else than the Last Homely House. And here was one, not much older, who could tell stories of that time. Suddenly, envy overcame him and he shook his head vigorously.
"No, and I am thankful that I do not! Please do not mention such things again."
Halbarad was silent for a while, perhaps he perceived Aragorn's mood. "I will not, I promise you, if it is your wish, nothing of it will ever pass my lips." He pursed his lips placed his fore-finger over them. "We will just get reacquainted. If you want to, we can pretend that we have never met before. May I ask you a question?"
Aragorn shrugged. "Do go on."
"Could you tell me, why did you come rushing down like you were chased by an ogre?"
An ogre? "Because you," Aragorn waved the lamp in Halbarad's direction for emphasis, "gave me one of the frights of my life. I thought we were being attacked."
"I did? I am sorry, I did not mean to startle you." He took his bucket and they went back in.
"I am sure you did not. Tell me, are you always so..." Aragorn stopped himself from using the word egocentric and searched for a word that would not insult him, "talkative?"
"No, only when I come home and find a new friend waiting for me."
Aragorn shook his head, and despite all, found himself liking the man.
In the hall Aragorn caught sight of Halbarad's discarded pack and carried it upstairs for him. He left him the lamp and wished his cousin a good rest.
Without the lamp, the hallway was almost completely dark and Aragorn blinked a few times to adjust his eyes to the lack of illumination. He made his way back to his room and flopped on the bed, sighing deeply and relishing the quiet. Halbarad was certainly a force of nature.
The next day Aragorn announced that he wished to visit Gilmith, and Halbarad said that he would accompany him.
The day was sunny and still warm, and many people greeted them as they crossed the square to Beleg's house. Children were chasing each other around the well and a few women watched them while doing some needle-work.
Halbarad knocked at Beleg's front door, and after a little while Beleg opened it. He smiled and gestured them in. Bidding them sit in the main-room, he went to inform his wife of their visit. Soon he came back and said that they could now go to her.
Aragorn knocked softly at the door and opened it at Gilmith's urging. She smiled at the both of them from where she was reading on the bed. She placed her book on the nightstand and patted the space next to her, inviting him to sit..
As he came closer, Aragorn could see that she resembled his own mother very much. The same piercing grey eyes and the same smile. For a moment he felt homesick in this place. He sat next to her on the bed and took her hands in his. They were cold. Halbarad remained standing near the door.
"Beleg said that I could not stay long because you needed your rest, but I at least want to say hello."
Gilmith laughed at that, a clear, mirthful laugh. "This is very like my dear husband. He is exaggerating, I am but a bit exhausted and so the midwife told me that I should stay abed for a few days." She placed a hand on her large belly.
Aragorn reached out his hand and let it hover over Gilmith's belly. "May I?"
Gilmith took his hand and laid it on her stomach. At first Aragorn felt nothing, but suddenly something was moving under his hand. A strange feeling overcame him, something that he could not quite explain. It seemed as if he could feel the mental presence of two beings. "This is a wonder," Aragorn exclaimed, looked up at Gilmith and smiled. "They are indeed two."
Gilmith nodded, her eyes gleaming strangely. "Your father' son. Now do you have time to stay a bit? I would like to talk to you. And Halbarad, you can as well take a seat. You look as if you were his guard and not his cousin."
Halbarad laughed, but did as he was bidden.
"Tell me of my sister, is she well? When, do you think, will she come home?"
Aragorn hesitated because he did not know the answer either. "I fear that it will be some time before she is ready to return. She never talked to me about it, not even as I made my farewell."
Gilmith sighed. "I do not understand why he hesitates. Now that you are here, she has no excuse to stay away. She is by far not the only widow on the face of Arda. The Dúnedain yearn for all their children. Many think that she is being selfish in this. She should just come back; we all miss her very much."
Aragorn looked down at his hands. Barahir's green stone caught the light and sparkled. He studied it for a moment.
"That may be, but what if she does not want to return? She feels safe in Imladris and is well cared for there."
Gilmith sighed, her expression becoming sad. "Yes, I do not doubt it, but are not the Dúnedain also able to protect their children? This is her place, as it is yours, Halbarad's, mine, and everyone's you see when you look out of this window."
"But ultimately, the choice is my mother's."
"Sometimes, Aragorn, sometimes people have no choices." Gilmith leaned back against the pillows, her face showing her weariness. "But these words are too dark for this beautiful day and I beg your forgiveness. Is there something you do delight in doing?"
"It is only a fancy, but I can draw and paint relatively well."
Gilmith's face lightened up at that. "You must show me your works, nephew, I love the fine arts, though we see little of it here."
"I could not bring my works with me, but I found a little space for my utensils in the hopes that there might be some time granted to me to indulge such things. I will bring them on my next visit and draw you, if I may."
She laughed. "Of course you may. The next time we see each other, it will be outside. I have been trying to convince my stubborn husband to let be get up, he will have to grant me my wish sooner or later."
They sat for a while longer until Beleg stuck his head into the room and announced that it was time for Gilmith to rest. She pulled a face.
"Why were you so quiet?" Aragorn asked Halbarad after they had left Beleg's house.
Halbarad shook his head. "It is only something I saw. It disappeared as soon as it had come. You need not trouble yourself."
Aragorn chose to ignore Halbarad's last words. "You mean foresight?"
"I do not know, maybe, it comes and goes. Some of us have this gift, or course." Halbarad's voice had lowered until his last words were not much more than a whisper.
"What did you see?"
Halbarad looked into the distance and shook his head again. "You need not trouble yours..."
Something in Aragorn's head shouted a warning. "Halbarad, what?"
Aragorn clutched his shoulders and gave him a slight shake. Halbarad went rigid under the touch and Aragorn instantly regretted what he had done. He let go of the other's shoulders.
"Do not push me," Halbarad said through gritted teeth.
Aragorn raised his hands in a defensive gesture. I have overstepped the boundary. What has come over me? "I am sorry, I should have known better than to press you. I care for all of you, and I thought that if there is anything, ah, I did not want you to suffer for it."
Halbarad nodded slowly. "And you must understand that sometimes people want to leave some things to themselves. Just forget it, will you? Now let us not speak of such dreary things, I have to keep up my reputation as a merry man. We have heard about your skill with the sword from the elves. A bit of sparring will surely distract us from our black thoughts."
They walked in silence towards the training grounds and Halbarad picked up two practice-swords. He handed one to Aragorn and turned around as if searching for something.
"Where is Haldor? My little brother never misses an opportunity to train and at this time of day, he is almost always to be found here. He is slowly developing into a fighting machine. Foes beware once he receives his star."
"Oh, he got punished by your mother. He touched something he should not have."
Halbarad's groaned. "Siblings, you should be glad that you have none. And he is not the worst of them."
"You are speaking of Halladan?"
"Yes, he is someone you do not want to know better. I know that it is not nice to speak badly about other people, but sometimes I think that it would have been better if he had never been born. He seems to be of the same opinion and has already made several attempts to kill himself. And alas, he has enough reasons." He leaned against the fence. "Only look at his hand. He has been born that way and could never accept it. And then his illness. And whilst my mother would have liked to chain him to the house, my father does not care."
Aragorn felt his face paling and had to use the post next to him for support. "These are harsh words."
"But no less true."
They took up their sword and began sparring. It felt wonderful to go through the familiar moves that had been drilled into him and had use them against a new opponent. Halbarad was a very good swordsman and made Aragorn work hard for his victory. Halbarad's footwork was excellent, though not near as graceful as those of his previous sparring partners in Rivendell. When Aragorn had finally disarmed him, they were both sweating and out of breath.
It was Halbarad who proposed to go swimming in order to cool down. Aragorn volunteered to fetch two towels because it was too later in the year to dry in the sun. He used his sleeve to wipe the sweat from his brow, straightened his clothes and returned to the house, while Halbarad headed for the stream. Gildor was there, some papers in front of him. When he saw Aragorn, he smiled. Aragorn smiled back at his uncle.
"So did you have a pleasant morning? I heard you payed my niece a visit," Gildor inquired, indicating that they should seat themselves at the table.
"Very much, Gilmith is pleasant company. Afterwards Halbarad was so kind as to show me the training grounds. And I was about to fetch towels and return outside to go swimming."
"A wonderful idea. You look like winded. I hope my son did not bore you, for his words show the simpleness of his mind." For a moment Aragorn wondered why Gildor called Halbarad simple-minded, but had no time to contemplate this because Gildor leaned forwards and continued to speak.
"But this is not the reason why I bid you sit with me. I have been thinking about your place here, and came to the conclusion that it would be better if you concentrated on your training, getting to know us and learning our ways. I know this is much, and this is why I am of the opinion that the leadership should remain with me until such a time when you have accomplished the other things I have mentioned. You are young yet and there is enough time for you to learn of leadership." He looked expectantly at Aragorn.
Aragorn had to agree with Gildor. He had been away for a long time and his first duty lay in getting to know his people and their ways. He was young and there was yet much time to learn. "Your advice sounds sound, uncle, and surely you are right. Knowing that leadership rests in your capable hands lifts a heavy burden from my shoulders and I can turn my mind to other things for the time being."
Gildor smiled again and clapped his shoulder. "Very good that the matter is settled and we understand each other. I would have hated to see you overtax yourself." He turned back to his papers.
Aragorn leaned over to take a closer look at what he was doing. It turned out that Gildor was working with a map that was pinned to a wooden board. Little red and black pins stuck in various places. Aragorn could easily guess for what they served.
"I gather that these," he pointed to a red pin, "signify the patrols, and the black ones the latest sightings of the enemy?"
Gildor nodded but did not look up. "Aye, and we are in need of new black pins."
He took a black pin and pushed it into an area not far away from Carastar, marking the place of the orc-ambush a few days ago.
"After each report I mark them anew and put the board back in its place on the wall in the council chamber. Is there something else you wish to know?"
Aragorn was silent for a while, watching the pins on the map. Finally he looked up and shook his had. "No, not just now. I think I have let Halbarad wait long enough. He will start to wonder were I have gone to."
Gildor eyes did not leave the report he was reading. "Yes, enjoy your swim and then go and speak to the people."
Aragorn welcomed the bright sunlight after the gloominess of the hall. Breathing was easier out here and he looked forward to the swim. He shifted the towels and made for the stream. When Aragorn arrived, Halbarad was sittning on the shore, letting stones skip on the water. He smiled up at Aragorn.
"Had I known it would take you so long, I would have gone myself. Surely the towels were not that hard to find."
"No, they way not. Indelin was so kind as to fetch some. Your father was in and we spoke. We came to the agreement that it would be better if kept the role of the leader so that I have time to get to know everyone and learn what I do not know yet. It seems sensible."
"And it doesn't surprise me," Halbarad answered. "In his opinion, no one under forty is not even supposed to touch anything that resembles leadership. So everything will remain as it was. Now let us go and have a swim." He sripped out of his clothing and was in the water by the time Aragorn had managed to get rid of his shirt.
The water was cool, but not unbearably so. They splashed and dunked each other happily for a while, but before long, Aragorn found himself floating on his back. The sun shone upon them through the canopy of the golden coloured leaves of the stand of trees on the other shore, creating a play of light and shadow.
"I was wondering," Aragorn said at last, "I was wondering why Gilmith called me 'my father's son' earlier.
"After you confirmed that she is having twins?" He was quiet for a moment. "It is hard to tell for me because I did not know your father very well. But how did you know that there are two children?"
"I was told at the harvest festival. And when I laid my hand on Gilmith's belly, I felt their presence. It was most strange. Maybe my father knew such things as well."
Halbarad grunted. "I do not know. Maybe, maybe there is another reason."
"Ah, I just want to better understand my father. I know nothing of him." He shivered and swam back to the shore. And it was true, for the short time he had now been in Carastar, he had heard much about his father, but the man remained a stranger to him.
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.