bSometime Ever After/b
Summary: It is the Fourth Age, and the magic is fading, leaving everything a great deal more ambiguous – sometimes happily so.
Aragorn and a very old friend meet up one last time.
Sometimes foresight fails. Or mayhap 'tis unfair to say so: 'tis no longer a foresighted Age. Men look ahead to futures deep as the caverns beneath the waves that swallow light, whence it comes no more back in the image of a dream..
So the arrow was not foreseen, nor had any shadow of foreboding hung over the plains of Rhûn. He had looked one way in the chaos of battle, and so missed the moment, had learned of it only when the pain exploded up his spine and knocked him nearly senseless. Nearly. That would have been a mercy.
But life is not a mercy, and he had struggled 'til the searing white engulfed him, blinded him, blotted out all except that pain and Valar, merciful Valar, someone anyone Niennapleasesomethinginthisworld MUST. KNOW. MERCY, AI ERU—!
He wakes to find a face two years missed and thirty years younger, and all scowl save the eyes.
"Hal?" he croaks and stares at the dawn-white sky. "Am I dead?"
"Not for want of trying," Halbarad grouses. "Get your head on straight, will you? Mooning over Arwen." He shakes his head, disgusted. "As if that helps make a betrothal a marriage! That orc nearly had you! You're no Elf to dream while you walk!"
"Dreaming?" Am I dreaming? He blinks and the world wavers—
—"You must be!" says a familiar voice, and Aragorn opens his eyes to a campfire, and sleeping companions. Save one, who watches him over the flames, and grins imp-like. "You were muttering to yourself—about a maiden, I thought…?" Young Halbarad trails slyly off. And when Aragorn only stares dumbly at him, he chuckles, waves a forgiving hand.
"Never mind! I'll get it out of you later. Cold tonight, though," he says, tipping his head back to gaze at a winter's sky, at Menelvagor overhead. "Did you ever imagine it?"
IImagine what?/I he wonders, and is startled when the other answers:
"This. Being here. It's been a long two years."
It Ihas/I been a long two years, in another life, or another time. He can't quite decide which, for the wind blows chill. He ducks his head, shivers and the world seems to shiver with him—
—and dissolve into chaos. Smoke and darkness and white towers… Horror fills him, and the reek of battle whelms him through and over.
II know this time!/I
He has spent too many nights remembering, unable to forget—unable, sometimes, to do aught but wait out terror-anguish and listen to Arwen's soothing voice in the night. INot again!/I
He sees him then, as he always does and always will: there, in the midst of that charge, standard in hand, and he knows what is to come, knows there is naught to be done, but cannot help but cry out:
And this time, Ithis/I time, the other hears him, stares a moment, starts to turn to look, but—
IToo late, too late, ai Valar, too—/I
"You are too late, I fear."
Aragorn starts. He is standing on a green terrace. The sun beats warm against the back of his neck, and the shadows are short beneath the junipers. They sway in a gentle breeze. The sky is clear. The wind is clean. And it is silent, save for the echo of a child's laughter.
"She was here, but by now, she has no doubt found a fox's lair to hide in. Or maybe a bird's nest."
"Mm?" His friend turns to him, slowly, carefully, and 'tis a face he's never seen—an impossible face. There are lines of pain graven in that face, and such grey in once-dark hair, for all the flesh on the hand that grips the cane is firm. Halbarad cocks his head, frowning a bit.
"You look as though you've seen a ghost!" he chides. Then, before Aragorn can answer: "You'll have to go fetch her. I wager she's up the tree again."
"Your daughter. The one I am supposedly looking after, though I don't for a moment believe it."
"Aye, your daughter. Did you not know?"
And that right there is enough to pierce the spell.
"This is a dream," Aragorn murmurs.
"Perhaps. If you make it one. But that is your decision, and I cannot stay to debate it," Halbarad-not-Halbarad replies, and lays a brotherly arm upon Aragorn's shoulder, even as a girl's laughter rings forth once more. "She's a lovely thing, your Líriel," he says, and smiles. Then, gently: "Shouldn't you go to her? She is waiting."
"Right where she ought to be, I imagine." Halbarad gestures to the trees, and their shady passages, urging him: "Go on. We'll talk later."
And it can't end like this. It can't end like this, surely…
"Of course it can," the other replies, serenely.
"Later. I promise."
'Tis the final word, will suffer no contesting, and he knows it, feels it weigh urgent upon him now: ITime to go./I There's nothing to do then, but follow that laughter, out of the sun and into the cooling shade, and it's getting dark, it's getting dark, it's getting bdarker/b… He stops, turns back. "Halbarad!"
Far away, where the light still shines, the other stays himself, stands listening.
"I would have wanted you to meet her," he says, then halts. For 'tis silly thing to say—an unnecessary thing. That was understood, had always been understood. So many things were always understood, and known to be, between them. But some things should be said, always. So:
"Thank you. For all and everything."
No reply, but as the light fades, he thinks he sees the other smile…
It was the poison on the arrow, they tell him later. A cunning concoction, makes men hallucinate, wears them down so death slips in easy and dreamlike.
Perhaps it was poison. Or perhaps not, as three long and often painful months later, he and Gondor's army shake the dust of Rhûn from their shoes and make for home—for home, and the wives and children and family left behind, too often forever as fate would have it.
But not this time, for him and for Arwen—for Arwen, who draws him to her, heedless of the Road's grime, to press his hand over her swollen belly and whisper joyously, "We've been waiting."
bAuthor's Notes/b: The Appendices suggest that Rhûn was one of the major war-zones after the Ring War.
I am drawing a bit off of a href=" ?stid=6781"Resurrection/a for some of the imagery and for the opening line, but the one doesn't follow the other, obviously.
This story was written for fliewatuet's birthday request. Happy early birthday, fliewatuet! Here's to you on your upcoming birthday, and also to other life matters—I'm sure you'll know which. :D
You'll know which. :D/p