Summary: They say that imitation is the greatest reflection of a man's legacy. But when Will unwittingly imitates the legacy of his father, it costs him more than he has to lose, and Halt bears the survivor's guilt of two generations of martyrs.
A/N: An idea that popped into my head while listening to 'Into the West' from the LotR RotK soundtrack. Split up into micro chapters to keep things interesting. Enjoy!
It wasn't surprising that Picta had launched the attack onto Araluen's northern border. After all, the two nations had been clashing for over three hundred years, and showed no signs of letting go of their rivalry anytime soon. So when Araluen's northern border defenses were weakened in the dead of winter, the Scotti had taken their chance and sent all the kilt-clad, war-painted, sword-swinging berserkers that they could spare at Araluen's snow-coated north.
It wasn't all that surprising that the Araluen Ranger Corps had known about the impending attack weeks before it had happened, either. It was common knowledge that the rangers had eyes and ears everywhere in the country, with particular attention to their homeland's borders.
The real surprise of the whole event was the sheer intensity of the battle. It was, all things considered, an easy win for the Araluens. They had the homeland advantage, a strategic leg-up with the Rangers on their side, and a thorough knowledge of the enduring, unchanging tactics of the Scotti. However, a battle, all variables aside, was a battle nonetheless. As such, it was an ugly affair. Blood was shed, men were killed, lives were lost, and sacrifices were made.
But for all the truth in such a statement, there was one truth that had to prevail: such tragedy of war could never claim the life of a young man like him. Anyone, but not him. Not Will.
At least, that's what Halt tried to tell himself as he cradled Will's head in his lap. It shouldn't be like this; it couldn't. Something had gone terribly, horribly wrong. In a single instant, the life of one man and the world of another had been pushed to the edge of oblivion, where they now dangled precariously with little hope of rescue.
If anything, it should have been Halt lying there on the ground, blood-stained snow chilling his sides. It almost had been. Not ten minutes ago, Halt had been fighting for his life amongst a swarm of Scotti swordsman. Then, out of nowhere, a mounted crossbowman had come charging out of the brush, his sights aimed at Halt's heart. Halt hadn't stood a chance. Then, inexplicably, Will had come careening in on Tug, and before Halt could even recognize who it was, he had drawn and shot an arrow straight to its target. The crossbowman had fallen from his horse to the snow, lifeless.
But not before he'd landed a steel-tipped bolt deep into Will's gut.
Halt tried not to look at the wound now. He knew from a glance that it was more than serious. Very few survived such grievous wounds. Will was an amazingly strong young man, but he was only a man. Halt lowered his head, not attempting to hide the tears that flew freely down his cheeks.
"Will," He managed an authoritative tone towards his barely conscious former pupil, "don't you dare die on me. What will I ever tell your wife?"
Will looked blearily up at Halt and tried to smile. It was a pathetic attempt soiled by the grimace that forced itself onto his face. "I'll try." He said. "But Halt, if… If I don't… Tell Alyss I love her. And… And Daniel." He took a shaky breath. "Take care of him. I can't-" Whatever he was about to say was broken off as he coughed roughly, crimson trickling out of his mouth. He let out a pained scream, and fell harder against Halt. The older ranger could only hold him and pretend that he wasn't shaking with repressed sobs.
"Will, don't say that. Don't do this to me. I can't do this again – not again - I just can't." Halt's voice was uncharacteristically weak and transparent, all usual composure gone. Again. For a split second, Halt found himself back twenty-eight years in time, and it was not Will's face that he was knelt over, but rather the face of Daniel, Will's father. As soon as it came, the déjà vu left, and Halt was back in the present, with Will lying before him, his breathing drawn shallow and ragged by his injury. Both father and son had asked the same query of him – the last request of a dying man. Not again.
"I won't let you die, Will. I won't." Halt said.
"Sorry to disappoint you, Halt," Will mustered out, "Must… Must be a family thing." He tried to smile. All of a sudden, his breathing thinned out further, and he was taking so many quick, shallow breaths that he was close to hyperventilating. "Halt… I Don't… Time…"
"No." Halt found himself saying. "No!" Will was fading fast, he could tell. A renewed shot of adrenaline flew through his veins. Halt whipped his head around towards the cluster of tents not too far off. After the battle had ended, most knights and commanders had gathered there to regroup.
"Horace!" He yelled. No response. He gathered his breath, and with every ounce of panic and agony that he felt inside, managed a louder voice. "HORACE!"