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14
Remembrance

B2MeM Challenge:O65: Roles and Names of Aragorn: Son
N33: Roles and Names of Aragorn: King; Aspects of Aragorn: Father
Format: short story
Genre: Angst
Rating: K
Warnings: Brooding youthful self-centeredness?
Characters: Aragorn, Halbarad, dead people
Summary: It is hard to live by half a ghost.


~~~

Remembrance

Their new Chieftain – Vána be praised for such renewal! – spends long hours closeted with the Ranger captains and the Lady, or on the road about the Angle, gaining his bearings in this land, among his people.

Sometimes, though, he disappears – an uncanny habit, or a Rangerly one, but hard for a people so long bereft to bear. ‘Tis Halbarad who discovers his retreat.

“You are grave today,” he risks jesting. Aragorn looks up, shakes his head a little, lips twitching. Halbarad, after a moment, takes that as invitation to sit with him beneath the shady tree, and he eyes the white stone graven with the arms of Elendil’s house. And about it, many smaller white stones – for the long line of Rangers, most especially those who did not come home.

“My br – the brethren, Elrond’s sons, say that my father fell in the hill country south of here,” Aragorn says. “They say they will show me the place one day.”

“That is good of them.” The grunt that answers is telling in its disinterest. “Surely they would only seek to help you,” Halbarad protests.

“They do.”

“What, then, if I may?” Halbarad presses, if gently – Aragorn is his chieftain for all he is young, and for all he likes him well. Aragorn eyes him speculatively.

“What do you know of my father, Halbarad?”

“Father says he was a good captain,” he answers promptly, for everyone says this. “He says the old Chieftain, Arador, trusted him with the Angle after the Fell Winter – that your father kept the Angle when the winter struck, and your grandfather and great-grandfather were caught on the Roads.”

“And?”

What else to say? That everyone remembered Arathorn as valiant, brave, and dreadfully unlucky? That he had put the Angle’s needs above his own, and married twice when he could not get an heir with the woman he had loved so long? That he had kept his people as well as he could in his time?

“He was a good man, I hear,” he finally settles for.

Aragorn looks at him with dark eyes. “Do you love your father?”

“Of course!” Instant reply, and Halbarad bristles a bit, all unthinkingly, confused and unsettled.

“And when he dies one day – bravely, perhaps, or fortunately, in his bed – you’ll mourn him, and lay a stone by your family’s marker, and be glad to be called ‘Son of Hirthon’?”

“I – yes. And why wouldn’t I be?”

“He’ll be gone when that happens, will he not?”

“We will remember him.”

“But only you will remain. He will be gone, and you will have what you need of him to make him yours – you’ll remember the time he struck you in short temper, or tripped on a stone, or faulted you for something your sister had done. You’ll remember how he argued with your mother. You’ll remember he was gone the day you tumbled a girl the first time.”

Halbarad shifts uncomfortably. “I will remember other things, too,” he insists, and gets a shrug.

“You will remember a whole man,” Aragorn replies. “And that man will lie in the earth, and what remains alive shall be an amputation – someone else, almost, for someone else. Someone to be sung of, perhaps, among Rangers or the Dúnedain. I hear much of Hirthon’s daring – he has an eye for tactics, to hear him speak in counsel,” the Chieftain admits, and Halbarad has, for a moment, a vision of his father, lying pale amid a pool of his own blood, which seeps through wounds wrought by orc-blades. He shivers.

’Tis not true sight, he tells himself, and hopes that is the truth. He feels Aragorn’s eyes on him, risks a look, and sees him frowning with concern.

“Are you well?” he asks.

“Aye,” he says, perhaps too quickly, and so hurries on: “Only I do not understand why you say this.”

Aragorn sighs softly, and fixes his gaze upon that stone again. “I never had a father, unless it were Elrond,” he confesses. “For long, I thought he must have done something terrible, for my mother to be sent away from her home with me, and for no one to wish to speak of him to me. And then I learned otherwise. And since I came here, I have not ceased to learn otherwise.”

“It is to honor him,” Halbarad says quietly. “Most men would wish to hear their father honored.”

“Then perhaps I am not most men. Or else a poor son,” Aragorn answered. A pause, then, in a low, quiet voice: “I have heard Elrond honored – in song, even, by my mother, who had it from her mother and down the line for Ages. But I know he breaks more quills than he ought, and that he did once have me shuck the stables for nothing I had done. And I saw his face that day, when we – ” Aragorn pauses then, and he shakes his head, waves a hand. “Never mind,” he says to Halbarad’s raised brow. “He is not my father, but I know him beyond the songs, and should he die, I will not mistake the man they sing of for the one who is gone.”

Halbarad ducks his head. He sees it now, the trouble. “It is only,” he says after a time, “that it is hard to speak ill of the dead.”

“I know it. But no one else is his son. No one else has to say, ‘I am Arathorn’s son’ and so live by him.”

They lapse then into silence, for what can be said? Halbarad does not know what captains might say behind closed doors, or in their cups, when no one else is about to hear them. But plainly it is hard to be so close-companioned to half a ghost.

“If I have children, will you tell them of this?” Aragorn asks suddenly.

If you have children?” Halbarad demands, rather sharply.

“When, then. Will you tell them?”

Halbarad considers. “No,” he says at length; “For I’ll not say now that they shall not know you, to need my tales; nor will I commit to the idea that on your death, you’ll merit any better memory than the whole of you deserves!”

At that, Aragorn laughs, ruefully. “Well served, sir,” he acknowledges the hit. Then holding out his hand: “Thank you.”

Halbarad takes it. “If you would thank me, then can we leave this place?”

Aragorn does not waste words, but rises, and pulls Halbarad up with him. And he claps him on his shoulder, and gives him a friendly shove on ahead, ere catching up to walk shoulder to shoulder with him. It is a small thing, a little living warmth to counter the cold splendor of his dead, perhaps, and Halbarad for a moment is tempted to say what’s desired, to reassure and promise, Yes, I will remember this to others, when your time comes.

Instead, he holds his tongue, and drapes an arm about Aragorn’s shoulders. For kings and sons of kings need tempered friendship, lest one day they linger on in memory as dark and terrible specters to haunt their people. He never knew Arathorn, but for just a moment, he sees him – and sees him smiling.

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