Written for the LOTR Community Potluck challenge. For Cairistiona for her birthday.
Elladan came to his sister’s rooms intending to fetch the grey cloaks given to himself and his brother by their grandmother. Arwen had taken them to see them cleaned and refreshed, along with certain other garments that she knew they would want ere they set off to the south to join Estel for the last battles against Sauron and his armies. She’d also indicated that she had items that she wished to see taken south for her beloved, that when he should face the forces of Mordor he look the King he was intended to be.
The Elven cloaks lay side-by-side across a divan, the slanted sunlight of late winter bringing out the sheen of new leaves and silver glints as of running water from the weft threads. Nearby sat a watertight bag in which their sister had indicated she would pack garments for Aragorn, obviously packed tightly, its flaps properly deployed and its ties fastened. A stack of shirts for Elladan and his twin had been set with a number of underthings and new pairs of leggings upon a chest. But Arwen barely indicated awareness of her brother’s arrival, for her attention at the moment was centered upon what appeared to be a roll of black stuff, wrapped about with cords of silver gilt. He was confused until he saw that emerging from the roll of fabric was a great staff of elm, at which time he took a deep breath.
“Then you have finished it at last?”
She gave a distracted nod. “Yes, and last night Boraënur fixed the two rings with which it is to be held to its staff as well as delivering to me the cordage to be used in fastening it when furled.” She gave a deep sigh, still examining the bundled standard she’d worked on for so long for Estel’s usage.
“I shall take it, then,” he began, reaching out his hand toward the staff, but she pulled it away, her eyes fearful.
Elladan was confused. “But surely I can deliver this to our brother,” he said.
“You must not touch it now, Elladan! Only I may touch or carry it until it is delivered into the hands of the one intended to serve as Aragorn’s first standard bearer.”
Suddenly he understood. “Then you have foreseen----”
She gave a single nod to her head. “Yes.” Her face was pale, but set with determination. “Halbarad and I have discussed this, and he is willing to chance the vision.”
He grew still, his concern clear to be seen. “Halbarad? But Aragorn sees him as much a brother to himself as he sees Elrohir or me.”
Again that single nod, and he could see the grief she felt. “Yes. I know. Halbarad knows. But if the first to bear the standard is likely to fall in battle, he wishes to take that hazard upon himself for his Chieftain’s sake.”
“Then you shall ride out with us to meet with the Dúnedain?”
She gave him a twisted smile, her eyes unnaturally bright with unshed tears. “It would appear that I must, Elladan. But I will entrust this to no one save to Halbarad himself.”
A guard of eight accompanied the three children of Elrond when they left the bounds of Rivendell, Arwen heavily cloaked and carrying the furled standard in her arms protectively. When they were spotted by those chosen to go south with the Grey Company, there was quiet comment on the number of Elves in the riding, for it had been expected that only the sons of Elrond would go with the Men of the North to their Chieftain’s aid. “There are few enough warriors left in the hidden valley to see to its defense should the Enemy send forces to lay siege to it,” commented one of the older Men.
“Indeed,” answered one of Halbarad’s brothers, both of whom had indicated they would not agree to stay behind.
“They are come as escort only, and will be returning to the valley forthwith,” Halbarad cautioned the rest.
One of the younger Men snorted. “And since when have the two brothers required an escort?”
“It is not for Elladan and Elrohir they have come,” Halbarad said. “Three of the Peredhil have come forth this time, and one will return.”
“But Lord Elrond is not among those approaching,” one of the others objected.
But Halbarad’s younger brother was shaking his head. “He did not say that Master Elrond came forth, only that there were three of the Peredhil in the party. It is the Lady Arwen who comes to bid her brothers and us farewell.”
There was a general straightening of the riders as the rest sought to see the reclusive daughter of Elrond, she who had held the heart of their beloved Chieftain for so long. Only Halbarad’s eyes were not upon the lady, but instead upon the roll of black fabric she bore. His face was pale, but set. He had accepted the hazard, and knew that it was very probable that he would not live to see his cousin crowned King. It was, for him, an acceptable sacrifice, although he knew that it would tear at the hearts of Aragorn and his brothers and other close kin. Silently he begged for the strength to endure what he must face, and an unseen Eonwë noted down his unspoken vow to bear this as far as he might for the sake of all of the Free Peoples of Middle Earth.
Arwen’s face was also pale as she brought her palfrey near to him to lay the burden of the standard in his arms. “You are certain that you are full willing to bear this for the Dúnadan?” she asked before releasing it fully to his care.
He nodded solemnly. “I shall bear it proudly for him, my Lady,” he said with a respectful bow of his head. “For his sake and for yours, and for the sake of all who desire to see the power of Mordor brought low at the last.”
“Then take it, and know that the blessings of the Elves are upon you, and that prayers are uttered to the Powers for your sake.” She gently relinquished it, and laid her gentle hand upon his head, then raised it so she could look into his face. She gave him a soft smile. “Ever has Estel drawn to him the loyalty of those of worth,” she said quietly. “And certainly you are among the most worthy of those. Ride to the defeat of Sauron and all of his works, Halladan Halbalegion!”
“Nasië,” he answered her, feeling an unfamiliar sense of power and joy fill him. “I will remain by his side ever for as long as is given me, sweet Lady.”
Once the twin sons of Elrond had joined the company, Arwen gave her brothers a silent salute of farewell, and the two companies parted, the Elves returning with their Lord’s daughter to Elrond’s house once more, the Grey Company heading south, Halbarad fitting the staff for the standard into the fittings he’d had added to his saddle so that he could concentrate better on the road intended to bring them to Aragorn’s side.
The first time Halbarad was asked to unfurl the standard was within the confines of the citadel of the Hornburg, there within the tower chamber where Aragorn had withdrawn with him and the palantir, intent on challenging Sauron himself. Aragorn tied his dark hair back and covered his face with a sheer scarf borrowed from one of the Rohirrim that his features not be clearly seen, and had Halbarad stand with his own face in shadow. A single candle lit the room, drawing only intermittent sparkles from the metallic threads and many gems worked into the standard, just enough to hint at the devices worked into the black cloth. The one item that was not at least partially hidden from Sauron’s Eye was the Sword of Elendil, which glowed with its own innate challenge once the Dark Lord looked upon it and saw that the edge that had robbed him of his precious treasure an age ago was as keen now as it had been at the foot of Orodruin, if not even sharper. As for the hand that would wield that sword--it was well muscled and perfectly suited to the weapon, as if it and the sword had been in company for many ages of the Sun instead of only a matter of months!
The one to whom the sword was shown drew away at last, pondering on the hints given him of the person faced, the keen eye, the powerful hand, the as yet undeclared claim to the ancient dual realm of the Dúnedain hinted upon by the barely discerned banner….
Uncertainty gnawed at the Lord of Mordor as he contemplated what could be seen of his maimed hand.
The clouds churned out of Mordor to blacken the sky offered no light to glint off of the pattern worked into the standard borne in front of the one who had declared himself Isildur’s Heir, but the dead did not need light with which to make out the devices thereon. One of that dread host moved forward unheeding, drawn by sight of the depiction of blooming White Tree and the Seven Stars, and for the first time in over an Age of the Sun he remembered his name. Amerlik—his name had been Amerlik, and he had been among the first of those who fled behind his King, away from the wrath of Isildur, into the darkness of the cleft in which his kind had hidden since the day they were cursed.
He would do anything at this point to keep that awareness of who and what he had once been, and to know the peace of having fulfilled his vows to assist the Sea Kings’ people against Sauron’s power. Oh, yes, he would follow this yet living Man, and raise his sword against those indicated to be his enemies. He wished only to be free, to remember the past and to look once more to a future that was not overshadowed by broken words and vows that had been shunned. For he knew that it was not so much the anger of Isildur that had trapped them all within this world when they ought to have been free to roam and hunt amongst the stars, but the mistaken belief that Sauron had been sufficiently powerful to protect them that had imprisoned them within the Dwimmerholt.
When the one bearing the standard turned to bear his banner behind his Lord, he who had once been Amerlik was close behind, still finding himself by the vague glimmer of the symbols worked upon the sable fabric as the light escaping from shuttered windows and barred doors were reflected by the gems and threads worked into it by the hand of the daughter of one of the wisest Lords of the Eldar remaining within Middle Earth.
Sephardion stood in the gardens surrounding the Houses of Healing with several of the other boys who remained within the City and who now primarily ran errands for the Healers. They were able here to look down upon the lands before the White City, but now it was not the verdant fields and orchards of the Pelennor they saw but instead a swirling mass of chaos as the battle raged before them. Even here high up in the city they had heard the challenge of the horns of Rohan as the unseen Sun arose beyond the Mountains of Shadow, and they had watched as dark shadows with golden hightlights fell upon Mordor’s forces from behind and the companies of orcs and evil Men were overrun.
But it appeared that Mordor’s captains had held certain surprises for just such chances, and a braying of brazen horns and a thunder of fell drums announced the arrival of a company of great mumakil, each bearing war towers and troops of archers and spearman who rained missiles from above and who drove the horses of the Rohirrim mad with terror. Then one of the Nazgûl, mounted upon one of the noisome great flying things, stooped upon what appeared to be the King of Rohan, and what was happening none could see clearly.
“Blasted wind!” cursed Garthil, brushing curls out of his eyes so he could see better.
“May it be cursed, for all that it has turned at least toward Mordor,” Lasgon said, his eyes filled with dismay. “Look! The black ships come! The Corsairs of Umbar are nearly here!”
The others followed his pointing finger, and far closer than any had imagined they saw black ships looming out of the gloom. The wind grew in power, and not only did it speed the ships toward the Harlond, but it tore also at the looming clouds overhead.
“At last! At least a glimpse of sky!” Sephardion breathed, feeling at least some relief at seeing the threatening clouds being dispersed. If they were to be indeed defeated and the White City should fall, at least it should not be under the darkness imposed upon them by the Nameless One, but they should have the Sun herself as witness!
The greatest of the biremes bearing down upon the havens along the river had a great roll of black set high upon its main mast, and at least two Men within the rigging were working to see it loosed. Sephardion wondered if he should be able to recognize the heraldry it would display. As one who had been amongst the Citadel’s pages, part of the lessons he’d received had been in recognizing the devices of Gondor’s major and minor lords as well as those of many of the realm’s allies—and enemies. He knew the banners of at least four lords of Umbar and five of Near Harad and two of Rhún. Would this be one of those he’d seen in his books?
“Sweet Valar!” whispered Garthil as half the banner fell open. “I don’t think any enemy of Gondor would display that!”
The boys crowded more closely upon the wall, one of the smaller boys crowding under Sephardion’s arm so as to see better, all craning for a view of the banner as it at last fell free to belly out in the wind. The relief at a glimpse of honest daylight was as nothing as to the shock and growing awe all felt now.
“Elendil!” Sephardion said, then shouted out, “Those are the emblems of Elendil himself!”
“Then does Elendil come to fight for us?” asked the smallest boy.
Lasgon gave a sound of disgust. “How? Do his remains not now lie in the Silent Street in the House of the Kings?” He looked out upon the wonder of Elendil’s banner streaming from the mast of what ought to have been an enemy’s ship. “No—someone else comes claiming his authority!”
Sephardion found himself nodding his head. “It must be the Heir to Elendil!”
But Garthil was shaking his own. “There are no heirs to Elendil and Anárion here in Gondor who might raise his banner!”
Sephardion and Lasgon shared a glance, and Sephardion hazarded, “There may be no heirs to Elendil and Anárion here in Gondor, but Gondor was not the only realm over which Elendil reined. Nor did he challenge the right of his sons to rule here in the south, for he had his own realm in the north, to which Isildur intended to return!”
Garthil searched their eyes uncertainly. “From the north? From Arnor, you mean?”
Lasgon nodded, adding, “And Arvedui, the last King of Arnor, was married to the daughter of Ondoher, King of Gondor. His descendants have at least a possible claim to the Winged Crown.”
The ships of the Corsairs of Umbar were pulling into the quays of the Harlond, and already Men were riding off of the flagship. The two Men up high in the rigging reached out and lifted the banner from its supports and dropped it down, and others caught it to fasten it to the staff of the standard bearer. It was lifted up to a tall mounted warrior, who quickly had it set into place in the supports for it on his saddle before spurring his horse down the gangplank to come even with his Lord, an even taller Man upon a powerful brown steed, a great gem like a star shimmering upon his forehead, another gem gleaming green upon his breast, a sword lifted in his hand that shone like a flame in the growing light as the clouds lost the battle for supremacy in the air.
There was a pause as the greater part of the mounted Men from the ship gathered about the Man with the shining sword and the banner his companion carried. With a cry that could not be heard by those upon the walls of the White City, the troop of tall, mounted Men, followed by a growing horde of armed Men on foot, rode from the river’s side to join the fray, sweeping all enemies before them!
“Elendil! Isildur!” Sephardion and his companions called. “Elendil for Gondor!”
And by following the shining of flowering White Tree upon a sable background they could tell where the tall Captain of their unexpected defenders fought upon the battlefield.
The riding of the Dúnedain brought them to the center of the battlefield almost before they were aware of it. The majority of the orcs and Uruks had fled away, and they faced mostly Southrons and Easterlings, some fighting under their own banners and others behind the sigils of Mordor and the Morgul Vale. No one saw precisely who managed to get past the sons of Elrond, Halladan, Hardorn, and Aragorn himself to thrust a spear into Halbarad’s chest, and no one could be certain as to which of those five brought him down. Aragorn himself caught the standard before it could fall, and Hardorn had it in hand almost before the rest of the Grey Company knew that their Chieftain’s lieutenant had fallen. But there was no Man or evil creature left behind alive when the northerners rode forward, and already those behind them who’d come up the river on the black ships were gathering up the bodies of those who had fallen attacking the enemies of the West. These offered the few among the Northerners whose bodies they found greatest honor as they brought the bodies together, and treated that of the Dúnedain’s standard bearer with grave respect.
“Istilmir! Istilmir of Pelargir! You have come!”
Istilmir turned from where he and his followers were fabricating makeshift litters from abandoned spears and cloaks to peer up at the mounted Gondorian who’d addressed him. “Lord Húrin? That is you? Aye, we came after all! But considering how unexpectedly we were succored, how could we do otherwise? Who would believe that just as we thought ourselves conquered by the Corsairs the Heir of Isildur would arrive to our aid, and with such a force as the Army of the Dead? Ah, but the Umbarians fled, gibbering with terror! And when the Heir of Isildur bade us accompany him to the defense of Minas Tirith, we obeyed!”
“He is the Heir of Isildur, then?”
“So we have been told.”
“And who is this?” Húrin asked indicating the body of the tall warrior who lay, respectfully covered with his own grey cloak.
“We were told his name was Halbarad son of Halbaleg, and that he was the Steward of what remains of the Dúnedain of Arnor, second only to the Chieftain of their people. He served his Lord as standard bearer in the battle, until he died in the assault against those Easterlings who gathered here. There,” he indicated the sword lying along the fallen Man’s breastbone, “lies his sword. It appears that he slew his share of the enemy ere he fell.”
The sword was indeed red with blood, and not his own. “A mighty warrior indeed to slay many foes while bearing his Lord’s banner,” Húrin noted. He looked down thoughtfully, and reached to remove a brooch he wore at the throat of his shirt. “Here—let this stand in place of the banner that has passed into another’s hand,” he said, dropping it into Istilmir’s hand. With a nod of understanding, Húrin turned and called out, “Stretcher bearers needed here!” He bowed his head respectfully toward the fallen and rode off, looking for the next place where the services he’d been organizing might be needed.
Istilmir watched the Warden of the Keys ride away, then knelt to fasten the brooch, which bore the pattern of White Tree and Seven Stars, to the throat of the standard bearer’s shirt as it had been worn by its previous owner. “Sleep well,” he murmured. “Your Lord has been served well by you, and even now leads those who defend the city under the standard you bore. It has not touched the ground nor known any dishonor, and others gladly follow it to the defeat of the foe you came so far to fight.” As the stretcher bearers summoned by Lord Húrin arrived, he advised them, “This one was well loved by the one who leads those who fight under the Banner of Elendil. Treat his body with all honor.”
They nodded, and gently lifted Halbarad’s body onto the litter and bore him away to the place set aside for those who had fallen in battle.
The Sun had set in glory ere Aragorn and his Men could come to the tents to which the bodies of the dead had been brought. Hardorn still bore Arwen’s banner, and at a sign from his Chieftain he planted it in the dirt over which the tent had been raised, there at the head of the hastily erected bier on which Halbarad’s body lay. His face and arms had been cleansed as well as could be done, and his hands had been folded over the pommel of his sword, whose blade was also cleansed. His lips were slightly parted as if in surprise, but there was no distress or fear to be seen in his expression. Aragorn, Halladan, and Hardorn leaned over Halbarad, their own faces tired, Aragorn’s filled with tender grief as the three mourned their joint loss. “He always treated me as if I were as much his brother as the two of you,” he said softly.
“Indeed,” Halladan admitted. “He must rejoice at the great victory that we have won.”
Hardorn looked down at his fallen brother, and said, “Look, Halbarad, for here is the standard you bore so proudly. I have brought it back to you, that it might remain by you at least for the night. The battle is won, even as you foresaw, and I have made certain that it remained by our Lord’s side. Know peace, and assure our adar that we will continue on until Sauron and his works are thrown down utterly.”
Halladan reached down and touched the unfamiliar brooch that now fastened his brother’s shirt. “Someone sought to honor him as your standard bearer, Aragorn,” he commented.
“So it would seem,” Aragorn answered, and smiled through his grief and exhaustion. “He will never give over bearing my standard, then. That is fitting.”
But then the three of them turned, for someone was anxiously calling Aragorn’s name. “No rest for those who have borne the worst of the battle, apparently,” Hardorn said. “It would appear that the Grey Pilgrim requires your presence.”
Reluctantly, the three Dúnedain left the tent, going out to learn what further need there was at this time for their Chieftain’s presence. But in the light of the single lamp that lit the interior of the tent the White Tree bloomed and the Seven Stars glittered, blessing the one who had first carried it to indicate the presence of the Heir of Elendil and Isildur.