A/N: This vignette was written in response to the Friday the 13th -- Superstition Onlist Challenge of the Henneth Annûn yahoo list. The people, places and events used in this work belong to Tolkien. No profit is made from this work.
When the Stars are Strange
A slight shiver ran down Aragorn's spine, and he suspected that the chilly wind of the autumn night was not its only cause. He glanced about him, not without apprehension, taking in what few details of his surroundings he could make out in the wet and cloudy night.
His eyes came to rest upon Halbarad who lay curled up beneath his cloak, sleeping soundly. His huddled form was barely visible beneath the thick tangle of thorny undergrowth where they had sought shelter form the pelting rain in the afternoon, abandoning their aim to reach the Ranger's camp near the ruins of Fornost ere nightfall.
Not for the first time he wondered at Halbarad's ability to sleep wherever he lay, for Aragorn oft found it difficult to do so in the Wild of Eriador, though he had slept soundly beneath the stars countless times before. But then he had been in the company of his brothers whom he trusted blindly.
With Halbarad, however, that was a different matter entirely. Though Halbarad had done naught to warrant his mistrust, and Aragorn himself was more than anxious to hide his discomfort lest he offend the other, he could not deny a certain feeling of unease, or apprehension, when travelling alone with him, especially at night. Other than that, he enjoyed Halbarad's company, despite the fact that they knew each other for barely a month and traveled in each other's company for but a fortnight, and Aragorn fought to overcome his lack of faith since they had left Bree, ten days ago. Mayhap 'tis his youth, Aragorn mused, for Halbarad was even younger than Aragorn himself, and barely more versed in the ways of the Wild.
Aragorn shook his head to clear his mind, but could not quite rid himself of the lingering anxiety. He had never been one to get easily scared and he desperately sought for an answer that would explain his sudden fear. Raising his eyes to the sky he sought comfort in the stars that had become visible through a tear in the thick layer of clouds, smiling slightly at that testimony to his elvish upbringing. But the sight that greeted him was none to comfort his frayed nerves.
Carnil and Borgil stood high in the southern sky, one above the other, too close for Aragorn's comfort. When Carnil and red Borgil meet, blood is about to be spilled. Aragorn had first witnessed their 'meeting' more than ten years ago. His brothers had provided the tale that went with that constellation, but whether they had meant to teach him the language of the stars or merely frighten a boy of nine summers he had never been able to tell. He had refused to believe that tale, of course, but a few month later he had been told that the day of Carnil's and Borgil's meeting had been the day of the Battle of the Five Armies.
Aragorn shivered again, and this time he knew that the wind was not to blame. Again, he raised his eyes to the stars in the hope that his eyes had deceived him. But there was no denying: the stars spoke of blood that was to be spilled.
Aragorn jerked as an eerie howl drifted through the forest. The howl was answered by a second howl that came from the opposite direction and Aragorn felt his heart beat faster. He shifted his position involuntarily until the thicker stems of the brushes poked in his back, for a prickling sensation between his shoulder blades had increased his fear that now bordered on the brink of full-fledged panic.
Aragorn sat up straight, his hand seeking the hilt of his sword. He managed to keep his panic in check for about five minutes longer while the howling grew louder with every frantic beat of his heart, eerily amplified by the wind that had picked up in strength.
Aragorn bit his lower lip and, losing his internal struggle of whether to make a fool of himself by waking Halbarad or not, reached out for his sleeping companion.
"Halbarad!" he whispered while shaking the other's shoulder none too gently.
Aragorn more felt than saw the other's inquisitive stare as Halbarad pushed himself up on his elbows. "'Tis not yet my time to take the watch," Halbarad yawned, leaving the obvious question as to the other's reason for ending his slumber lingering unspoken between them.
Aragorn swallowed hard for he felt like a child, yet feared that his panic might show in his voice. "There's something amiss in the forest," he answered in a whisper, "don't you hear those howls?"
Halbarad raised an eyebrow in surprise at both Aragorn's words and the urgency in the other's voice. "Were there no deer in Imladris?" he asked, slightly amused.
"Deer?" Aragorn queried, feeling his cheeks flush in embarrassment while silently hoping that Halbarad was still drowsy enough to forget the whole incident come morning.
"Yes deer," Halbarad said, "my dear. Those howls are nothing but the rutting calls of stags. I thought you were familiar with their ways."
"Of course I am familiar with their ways!"
"Then, my friend, pray tell what else scared you out of your wits that you mistake deer for minions of the Dark Lord and wake me from my well deserved rest?"
"Well ..." Aragorn sighed, not sure how to best relate his fears, fears that appeared the more irrational now that he was asked to name them. Taking a deep breath, he murmured, "It's the stars!"
"Aye, the stars," Aragorn confirmed. "Well, not only the stars, but ... the night, the wind ... "
"You don't seem to be one who is afraid in the dark."
"I am not afraid in the dark!" Aragorn shot back. "I just feel so ... vulnerable. I never felt like this when travelling with my brothers."
"I see," Halbarad said, then looked up to meet the other's eyes. "You do not trust me to watch your back."
Aragorn was startled that his companion read him so easily. But then, Halbarad's words had been but a statement and his voice had held no contempt. "No, I fear I do not," he admitted meekly.
"Then rest assured that I do not trust you either."
Aragorn's head shot up in surprise. "But you always seem to sleep so soundly, no matter where we are."
"I do, however, trust my instincts ... and my senses, and I had assumed you had learnt to do the same."
"I fear I have but learnt to trust my brothers."
"'Tis about time then, my friend, that you learn to trust yourself," Halbarad said and Aragorn felt immense relief that the other seemed not offended in the slightest by his lack of faith as well as the unnecessary interruption of his sleep.
"And what, pray tell, have the stars to do with this?" Halbarad continued his inquiry.
Aragorn sighed, then pointed to the sky where the clouds were receding. "You see those reddish stars?" he asked, then continued when Halbarad nodded in the dark. "The upper is Carnil, the other Borgil. They are in alignment tonight. When Carnil and red Borgil meet, blood is about to be spilled. That, at least, is the saying of the Elves." Aragorn paused, then added somewhat sheepishly, "or rather what my brothers told me."
"I would have never thought that you were prone to superstition," Halbarad laughed, but his mirth quickly vanished, and his tone became more serious. "I would, however, not belittle your fears. The rain has stopped, so we should leave this place ... unless you require rest as well."
Aragorn regarded Halbarad with mild surprise, then shook his head, "Nay, I would leave this place as well."
That said, they gathered their damp belongings and untangled themselves from the brushes, eager to be on their way.
The next morning found a pair of damp, muddied and exhausted rangers being hailed by one of the guards of the Fornost camp, one leaning heavily upon the other, favouring his right leg, a nasty gash upon his forehead.
"My lord, are you well?" the guard inquired as soon as he recognized the ragged figures.
"Aye, 'tis but a scratch and a sprained ankle," Aragorn replied tiredly, shooting Halbarad a quelling glare.
"When Carnil and red Borgil meet, blood is about to be spilled," the other recited, deliberately reaching for Aragorn's forehead where blood still oozed from the wound.
"Had I not roused you when I did, we would have never escaped from those Orcs."
"Though your tussle with that ditch almost gave us away. However, your premonitions are not to be dismissed," a grinning Halbarad replied while he steered his friend to the hidden path that lead to the relative safety of the Ranger's camp.