With Hope
by Melina

March 15, 3019 T.A.

The smoke was thick and gray, and breathing was difficult. So was sight, and sight was critical, because without it he could not watch Aragorn, and Halbarad tried to keep his chieftain within his field of vision at all times. With the standard in one hand and his sword in the other, they fought beside each other for hours, attempting to stem the seemingly endless tide of Orcs, Southrons, Easterlings.

He grew weary; he knew Aragorn must be too, and resolved to watch him even more closely as he struggled to push the fatigue aside, to find his last reserves of energy. Finding a moment's respite against the wall of a ruined shed, Halbarad handed Aragorn a waterskin, and watched him drink gratefully.

Aragorn was about to say something when he suddenly shoved Halbarad aside, his sword parrying a blow from an Easterling who had crept behind him, around the side of the building. Halbarad was on his feet again seconds later, drawing his dagger and stabbing it into the man's back. But there was another, and this time it was Halbarad who pushed Aragorn to the ground, away from the second Easterling, who appeared from the shadows just behind him. The man was lithe and fierce, and Halbarad did not have time to lift his weapon before the Easterling's dagger slid between two of his ribs. Pain ripped through his body as the man twisted the dagger before pulling it out.

The standard Halbarad had carried all day slipped from his hand and fell to the ground. He sank to his knees, disbelieving, even as he saw and felt warm red blood dripping onto his fingers. Aragorn had the man in his grip before Halbarad fell, viciously cutting the Easterling's throat with his Elven dagger before shoving the dying body aside.

Halbarad was growing lightheaded, and he fell prone as Aragorn knelt beside him. "Halbarad," Aragorn whispered, pressing his own hands over Halbarad's, covering the wound. "Halbarad."

"Aragorn," he murmured. "Get out of here. There could be others." He could feel blood flowing freely from the wound in his chest.

"I am not leaving you." Aragorn pressed against the wound, trying to staunch the bleeding.

Aragorn was too stubborn to give up, but he was stubborn himself when it came to Aragorn's safety. He whispered, "Please, go. It is too late for me."

"It is not!" Aragorn almost shouted this, but quickly lowered his voice. "You are not going to die."

He was wrong, Halbarad thought, but Aragorn must not die here, hoping against hope that he might be saved. "You are not a chieftain anymore, you are a king!" he said, with force that surprised himself. "You cannot tarry here to care for one fallen man."

"Indeed, but I can," he said, his tone permitting no further argument.

Yet Halbarad could see in Aragorn's eyes that he knew the truth now and was beginning to accept it, for he ceased the pressure on the wound, and he lifted sad eyes to Halbarad's face. Bloodstained fingers touched him gently on the cheek. "You saved my life, my friend."

He tried to smile. "We have saved each other many times," he said. The blood was not pouring from his chest quite so quickly now, but he was growing cold, the edges of his vision blurring. For a moment, sadness threatened to break his spirit, and he grieved for all that he would not live to see. The Enemy destroyed, Aragorn taking his rightful place as king, his own homeland in the North safe and fair, his people restored to dignity and honor.

"Aragorn, you must live," he said, his voice a whisper. "All that we have fought for must come to pass."

Aragorn took his hand, and Halbarad felt the pressure, though his own fingers could not return it. "If it is within me to accomplish, I swear I will."

His strength was ebbing now with each moment, but Halbarad was determined to speak these words. "It is within you, Aragorn. It always has been. You must believe." His eyes had gone black now, and he could no longer see his friend, but he still felt the hands holding his own. "Tell me you believe," he whispered. Tell me, he thought, and I will die with hope.

The reply was a whisper, but he heard it. "I believe."

Halbarad felt his friend's hands on his face, his forehead, and he wished he could say farewell, but the words would not form on his lips. He heard, "Rest now, Halbarad. May the Valar bring you peace."

Halbarad felt the kiss upon his forehead, then he slipped away, hope safe in his heart.

~ End ~

Author's Notes:

Feedback is welcome! Leave a review or e-mail me. I appreciate your thoughts.

This was originally written for a challenge, which was:

"March 15 is certainly an important day in Middle-earth history. The entry from the Tale of Years for March 15, 3019 reads:

In the early hours the Witch-king breaks the Gates of the City. Denethor burns himself on a pyre. The horn of the Rohirrim are heard at cockcrow. Battle of the Pelennor. Theoden is slain. Aragorn raises the standard of Arwen. Frodo and Samwise escape [from Cirith Ungol] and begin their journey north along the Morgai. Battle under the trees in Mirkwood. Thranduil repels the forces of Dol Guldur. Second assault on Lothlorien.

"So pick any one of these events, or any other that happened on March 15, and write a story about it. The only catch is, your story cannot be told from the POV of any of the following characters: Any member of the Fellowship, Denethor, Faramir, Theoden, Eomer, Eowyn....

"A thousand words or less."