In the eerie quiet of the morning two groups of people conversed together on the sparse, scrubby patch of ground while the wind gusted around them. The Battle of the Hornburg was over, and the group of Dúnedain Rangers calling themselves the Grey Company who had long been seeking Aragorn, had caught up with him here in Rohan. Legolas stood talking with Gimli and Merry, looking askance at the group of Men gathered around Aragorn. Merry’s words, “I am getting hungry”, did not register on his keen Elvish ears. Gimli watched Legolas curiously before replying to Merry that he, too, could use a meal.
“Are you coming with us, Legolas?” Gimli asked. “I say, Legolas!”
The Elf nodded. “I am sorry, Gimli, for not paying attention. Yes, I will come,” and he followed his two friends back toward the Hornburg. Dead leaves blew across their path in a sudden gust of wind. “Today, my thoughts are as scattered as those leaves,” said the Elf. “The arrival of the Rangers of the North and the Sons of Elrond has unsettled me.”
“Why is that, Legolas? Are you not relieved? They look like doughty men and they should be of some help to us, at least,” said Gimli.
“I know not why I should feel more saddened by their arrival than feel a sense of relief from it, but I do,” Legolas said. “Perhaps it is because their number is so few to add to our strength against so many of the enemy. Something has driven home to me the realization of the hopelessness of our Quest.”
“Shh,” warned Gimli, glancing pointedly toward Merry. The hobbit was uncharacteristically quiet. His chin was pressed to his chest, his once lively feet shuffling in the dirt.
Legolas looked long at his friends and stopped walking. “I have changed my mind,” he said. “My company will do you no good. I feel that I am not fit to comfort you at present and I am not hungry. Please do go on, though. Eat, refresh yourselves, and I will see you anon, my good friends.” With that, he left them, making an abrupt turn, and he walked back along the rock-strewn path to join the group of Rangers and two Elves.
Halbarad stood a little apart from the others, but he remained in conversation with Elladan and Elrohir, who had removed their bright helms and were paying Halbarad rapt attention as the tall Man spoke. Legolas was intrigued by the apparent earnestness of their conversation and sauntered up to the sons of Elrond, whom he knew from years of hunting and riding together. His keen glance swept over the tall Ranger with dark brown hair and eyes who stood with one knee bent, his long spear held in his hand as he tapped it on the ground in a low, staccato rhythm. The man was very thin, his face drawn and haggard, but his eyes were sharp and clear.
Halbarad noticed the Elf with the shining hair and bright eyes approaching and he stopped talking. An expression in Legolas’ eyes, the stoop of his shoulders, his slow gait, both intrigued and frightened him.
“Hail, Legolas,” the sons of Elrond greeted him. “Tales of your brave deeds in this recent battle have reached our ears.”
Legolas smiled. “Mae govannen, Elladan and Elrohir, yn-Elrond,” he said. “I did not fight our battle alone, as you make it sound. And you are a welcome sight. That you and your brother have decided to join the rangers is encouraging.”
“You can drop your veil of reassurance, Legolas,” said Elladan. “I detect in the inflection of your voice that you feel as defeated as everyone else.”
Legolas looked startled, and he chose to say nothing in response to that. Instead, he turned to Halbarad and held out a hand to shake the Man’s in greeting.
“Welcome, Halbarad Dúnadan, friend of Aragorn,” he said with as much of a smile as he could muster. “It is a relief to see you, nevertheless.”
The group of Elves and Rangers talked a while longer, Aragorn and Legolas giving the others a brief description of the land of Rohan, the Rohirrim and their recent battle at Helm’s Deep. Halbarad turned to Legolas after several minutes had gone by and the conversation had turned away from them, and asked him, “Would you walk with me, Legolas?”
The Elf did not appear surprised by this request, nodded his head in agreement and the two left the band of men and began to stroll along the rocky pathway that led down the hillside to the main road. They walked past the burial mounds of the fallen, some of which had been only freshly dug that day. The wind came up and stirred little dust clouds that swirled in the air above the mounds, looking like miniature maelstroms.
“These are probably the worst times through which we will ever have to live,” said the Elf after several minutes of silence. His despair showed in the tightness of the skin stretched over his cheekbones and the clenched muscles in his jaw.
Halbarad was surprised by his words. “Has your Elvish prescience told you anything about the upcoming war against Sauron?” asked the Ranger.
“Halbarad,” replied Legolas. “I am armed with so much real information that leads me naturally to certain conclusions. I do not need prescience to tell me of our probable doom. There is hope, of course, but it is as slim as the first appearance of a crack in a wall. What made you decide to come here when you did not know what you would find, nor whether you would ever return home again?”
“To give our assistance to Estel, of course,” said Halbarad, taken aback by Legolas’ despairing attitude and his negativity.
“You could not know,” said Legolas, “what would befall you when you left your home. Did you not give thought to staying there and continuing to protect those who have come to depend on you?”
“Of course,” said Halbarad, “but there are many others who are able to do that. We have spared only thirty Rangers from a much larger group to come here.” He was shaken. Legolas’ words had stirred up not only fear, but a realization of what was left behind to lose if they should fail.
“Do you have any loved ones who would have preferred that you remain at home?” asked Legolas.
Halbarad was silent for a moment. “I won’t say no,” the tall Man replied, a shadow of sadness flickering across his dark gaze. “In Bree there is a lady, a miller’s daughter, whom I – I –“ His voice trailed off in his hesitance to speak more of her to the Elf, who was a virtual stranger to him.
Legolas stopped walking and placed a hand upon Halbarad’s arm. “Nay, you can speak of her to me,” he said softly. “Come, let us sit. I want you to tell me everything that you can remember. Talk to me about those pleasant memories that you have, and try to relive all of the tender moments that you spent with your lady. What is her name?” And Legolas found a comfortable place for them to sit, and he began to gather twigs and branches from the fallen trees in order to build a small fire that would keep them warm as they talked.
“Her name was Veronica. Like the flower,” said Halbarad in wistful reminiscence. “My times with her, though they were few in number, were more than mere moments.” He smiled, a wan, sad smile.
“Were they? Please tell me about them,” urged Legolas, leaning forward, his elbows resting on his knees, his legs in crossed position.
Halbarad gazed at the Elf with a faraway look in his eyes. Already he was beginning to feel comforted by the attention that Legolas was paying him. The Elf was strange, at first doom-filled and inspiring fear, but the next minute he was comforting and he distracted Halbard from his private terrors. “We first met when the other Rangers and I were passing through Bree – Veronica and I were both walking through the streets and literally bumped into each other. I was trying to find the inn where I could get a meal, and she was on her way to meet her father’s sister. She had dropped a parcel she was carrying, and I picked it up for her. The instant our eyes met, I knew that we were destined to be together. Do you know that feeling, Legolas? When you first meet a stranger who does not feel like such, but more like someone you have known before and perhaps have not seen in a long time. That is how I felt when I first saw Veronica.”
“I do know what you are saying,” Legolas said. “Please go on.”
Halbarad looked past Legolas’ shoulder at the hills rolling away to the south. He saw patches of green and gold, dotted with scruffy shrubs, their wayward branches a tangle of brown, red, gray and green in the early spring. “We met when we could, whenever I was traveling through Bree, and that was not often. Her father did not approve of me because of my occupation, the fact that I was always on the move and never stayed in one place for more than a day or two. Of course, there was no way to explain to them that we were protecting their lands and people, and we were not sinister strangers who should be feared by the citizens of Bree or any other settlement in the north.”
“Veronica told me that when it became too difficult for us to see each other she planned to leave her parents’ home and start working at the inn so that she could see me more often.”
“That sounds like too drastic a solution. For her to leave home to move to an inn would surely place her in the midst of strangers who may not be friendly. Do not tell me that that is what she did.”
Halbarad nodded, looking sad, his brow furrowed and shoulders hunched. “Yes, she did move there eventually. You see, by then we desired each other greatly, and could not bear the long intervals when all we did was think of each other, but could never be together.” Halbarad broke off, his face flushed with self-consciousness, this putting a halt to his ability to speak freely.
“Halbarad, tell me what it was like when you were together,” said the Elf. “There is a reason that I am asking this of you, and it is not because my interest is prurient.”
Halbarad looked at Legolas closely. The Elf smiled back at him with a farsighted and benevolent look of wisdom in his eyes, and Halbarad trusted him. Or perhaps it was the time to unburden himself. Telling someone else of his innermost feelings felt cathartic, and it was also taking a welcome load off of his shoulders. Halbarad gave a deep sigh and hunkered down across the fire from Legolas.
“Before Veronica moved into the Prancing Pony, she and I would meet in her uncle’s barn. Her aunt and uncle were more sympathetic to our plight than her parents. Her uncle would leave the door unlatched for us, and her aunt would lay out blankets upon the straw and set out food and wine for our refreshment. The first time I lay with Veronica it was in that barn, and I will always remember the sounds and smells of that place. Though we shared the space with pigs and horses, it smelled of life, fresh as flowers or otherwise. And that sensation of being alive excited us. Desperate and eager we were, and we made love with much joy. I will never forget the feel and taste of her. Her skin so soft and alive it was like liquid silk. Her hair smelling of fresh-mown hay mixed with flowers. The low moan of her voice in the moment of passion that we shared will resonate in my ears forever.”
Lost in reverie, the years fell away from his face as Legolas watched him carefully. Lines and wrinkles seemed to smooth out, until Halbarad was no longer the Ranger, but a young man, reliving the joys of his relationship with the woman who had captured his heart.
“What was it about her that you loved the most, Halbarad, and is the first thing you remember when you think of her?” asked the Elf.
Halbarad sighed. “First, it is her hair. It was—is—of a coppery-brown color that shines as brightly as the red sun on a hot summer morning. It is wild and unruly, as is she at times. And her eyes, Legolas. They sparkle with mischief, as if she always has planned a surprise for someone. I do miss her vitality especially in these doom-filled times.”
Halbarad stopped speaking for a moment and swallowed hard as if choking back tears. “After Veronica moved into the Prancing Pony, we saw each other more often, but it was still not often enough. The Rangers met there frequently to reconnoiter and go over our objectives, and it became much easier for Veronica and I to meet.”
“Was she safe there?” Legolas asked, concern showing in his unlined face, his eyebrows arching, and a little pucker appearing between them.
“Oh yes, Mr. Butterbur, the proprietor, was kind, and because he has some knowledge of the purpose of our work, he took special care to make sure that no harm would come to her.” Legolas nodded, and Halbarad went on.
“He gave her a room of her own at the inn, and I would stay with her when I was in town. Those were the best times. We were relaxed and able to enjoy each other. And we would laugh. I can remember every detail of that room, so well that I could sketch a picture if I had paper and pen.” He looked wistful, his gaze reaching beyond the sparse scenery spread over the ravaged lands, his sharp features outlined by the orange glow of the fire, making them even more craggy than usual.
Legolas shifted over so he was sitting next to Halbarad. He pulled a roll of parchment from beneath his jerkin, and a piece of charcoal from a pocket in his leggings. “Here,” he said. “Please draw it for me.”
Halbarad laughed that the Elf should be carrying these things with him, but he took the parchment and charcoal and drew a picture of Veronica’s room in Bree. When he was finished, he held it up for Legolas to see.
The Elf appraised it with an admiring glance. “You are a good artist,” he said. “You will be glad that you have that drawing. You will look at it in difficult times and remember better ones. Now, can you draw Veronica for me? I would like to see what she looks like as you see her.”
Halbarad looked at the Elf with tears in his eyes, and then looked down at the parchments and began to sketch anew. “You have a special gift, Legolas,” he said, his voice breaking on the words.
Just then Aragorn reappeared with Elladan and Elrohir. Halbarad tucked away the parchment quickly, and composed himself while Legolas stood to greet them. “I had forgotten how fair the sons of Elrond are,” said Legolas in a cajoling manner, by way of allowing Halbarad time to pull himself together. “You are a welcome sight amid this gloom and smell of death and dust.”
“You jest with us, Legolas,” said Elladan, but smiled broadly at his Silvan kinsman.
“No, your armor is exquisite,” said Legolas. “I had forgotten how bright and well-made the Noldorin armor is. To see it on such fine-looking Elves as you is very uplifting.”
“Thank you, Legolas,” said Elladan. “You do have a courteous—nay—encouraging tongue.”
“He does indeed,” said Halbarad. He had risen to his feet and strolled over to join the others.
“Well, if you are all finished complimenting each other,” said Aragorn, “it is time to get some food and rest before we must leave.” The finality of the moment was almost palpable. Aragorn’s aspect was haggard and weary. Legolas and Halbarad exchanged glances, and Halbarad gave the Elf a grateful pat on the shoulder. Then they followed Aragorn and Elrond’s sons back up the path to the Hornburg.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
Amid the dust and stench of the Pelennor after the battle, Legolas stood looking out over the sea of broken limbs and bodies and the rivers of blood. He combed the area in which he had seen the Rangers fighting. His keen eyes had grown used to the darkness, as day had turned into night.
And finally he saw him. Halbarad, the valiant Ranger, dark of hair and eyes but light of speech and heart, crumpled in the dirt like a bundle of rags and bones. His throat had been cut and he bore many other wounds. Legolas knelt down beside him and cradled the Man’s head in his hands. The once-weary face was now at peace, its lines now smoothed, and its worries over. Legolas bowed his head in respect, and after a few moments he unclasped the star-shaped brooch from the Ranger’s cloak, and his careful hands removed the scroll of parchment from within Halbarad’s jerkin.
“Rest, my noble friend,” the Elf said.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
Ten years later, Legolas stood before Barliman Butterbur in the Prancing Pony. “Do you know of a lady named Veronica?” he asked the Man. Barliman stared at the visitor. This strange Elf wore his hood pulled so closely around his face and shoulders that the innkeeper could not see him properly. It lent the creature an air of otherworldliness not often seen anymore in the lands about the Shire.
“Veronica Goldspanner? Aye. She is one of the barmaids.” He looked suspicious.
“Is she here at present?” asked Legolas.
Barliman looked nervous. “I am not sure I ought to tell you that,” he said, glancing up at the tall, mysterious figure. Legolas pulled his hood back a little, and the innkeeper gasped to see the beauty of the Elf, so seldom seen in these parts, the light shining from Legolas’ face almost blinding him.
“I came as a friend of Halbarad the Ranger,” said Legolas. “I mean no harm to you.”
“Halbarad! I have not seen him in years!” cried Barliman. “Veronica will be well surprised! Come, I will take you to her.”
Legolas followed the innkeeper up a narrow flight of stairs to a room along the upper corridor. Barliman knocked on the grey wood of the door and presently it opened with a creak.
Before them stood a lady who must have been in her thirties, but she looked a little older than her years. Legolas noticed her striking hair first; it fell about her shoulders in unruly ringlets of brown shining with red. She gazed up at them with curious bright eyes, but she did not smile.
“Veronica,” said Mr. Butterbur, “an – er – friend – has come to see you.”
Veronica peered at the hooded Elf. “Do I know you, Sir?” she asked with some wariness.
“I should have said that he is a friend of Mr. Halbarad’s,” Barliman corrected.
Veronica’s face turned white as Legolas threw back his hood to reveal himself. He caught Veronica as she fell down in a faint. The Man and Elf supported her into the room and Barliman shut the door. He went to pull over a chair from under her plain wooden table so that Legolas could seat her upon it.
“I am sorry to have startled you,” said the Elf. “I will not stay long and cause you any more distress.”
“You – you spoke of Halbarad,” she said haltingly. “I have not seen him for years now.”
“Yes, I know,” said Legolas. “He and I fought in the war to the south together,” he told her.
“Did he tell you of me, then?” she asked, staring at Legolas in wonder. “I had no idea that he knew any being such as you. I did not know much about him at all. I thought he had left me.”
“Did you love him?” asked Legolas.
Veronica gasped and her hand flew to her throat. “I do not know by what odd fate you have come here to discuss my life with me,” she said, “or why I should tell you of my innermost private feelings.”
Legolas’ eyes shone with pity. He reached beneath his cloak and took out a parcel wrapped in a linen scarf tied with a velvet ribbon. He held this out for Veronica.
With trembling hands, she opened the small bundle. Within lay Halbarad’s silver brooch and a parchment scroll. She picked up the brooch and stared at it. Then she unrolled the parchment. When she recognized her room in the picture, her face crumpled and she held the brooch to her lips. When she unfurled the drawing of her own likeness, she began to sob.
“I am sorry to tell you that Halbarad died in battle,” said Legolas. “He was a brave man to the end. Several days before he met his fate we talked of you and he made that drawing of you and your room from memory. He said he would never forget this place. He loved you. I wanted you to know that, and so I took those things from his body, and I have kept them until I could come here and give them to you I hope you can take comfort from knowing that he was comforted being able to look upon your likeness and remember you.”
A few moments of silence passed while Veronica stared at the last pieces of Halbarad’s memory. “Thank you,” she said finally. She was weeping softly.
“I will see myself out,” said Legolas, rising.
“Wait,” she said. Legolas stopped, his hand on the door-handle, and turned to look at her.
“Yes,” she said. “You should know that I loved him.”
A/N: TIMELINE OF EVENTS
March 3: Battle of the Hornburg
March 6: The Dúnedain overtake Aragorn
March 7: Aragorn comes to Dunharrow
March 8: Aragorn takes the Paths of the Dead
March 10: The Dawnless Day – the Muster of Rohan
Halbarad died on the Pelennor fields on March 15. (from P. 882 – LOTR: Alan Lee Illustrated Edition.)