The Standard-Bearer

The air is troubled here, muddied and fey. Unease mingles with anticipation and wariness; our horses sense it, though not to any greater degree than the fine steeds of these horselords with whom we tarry. There is an immediate release from these muddled realms, however; all I need do is look up to the black sky. Despite our path leading ever nearer to Mordor and the evil in the South, the stars shine here as bright and clear as in the Angle. Would that their familiar patterns could somehow illuminate my role in this journey, for I remain willing, but unenlightened.

Tonight Aragorn asked me to accompany him to this upper lookout. I accepted, of course; I could deny him anything as soon as will myself to cease breathing altogether. He shines with knowledge, his purpose blazing as the sun's light— but perhaps only others whose blood pulses with the faded blood of NĪmenor are privileged enough to perceive that quality in him.

He remains as dear to me as my own kin, though the years he served as mentor to me are long since passed. Regardless of how much I have learned while guarding borders that others do not even realize are being watched, it pales to nothing in comparison to what I have seen in my teacher and friend. His recent summons came in my dreams: needy, and urgent. It is with regret that I have noticed we grow few, those who receive and understand such messages in sleep.

The dull pain of a stone edging into my thigh prompts me to shift while I engage in my silent watch, and I pull my cloak closer around my shins. A piece of parchment crinkles in my chest pocket, a map of sorts guiding us to find our comrade who called to us in language beyond words. In the austere moonlight, I pull out the paper. It is odd, holding such a small representation of what is a vast land. I am no cartographer, able to scale down mountain ranges and swaths of forest, transforming turbulent rivers to mere squiggles of ink. The terrain of my own country is as familiar and dear as the skin of my palm, but until now I had never ventured this far from my lands. Aragorn's situation must be dire indeed for him to have summoned me without known intent. Foreboding has crept uninvited into my thoughts, and I wonder if I shall ever again see the rugged landscape of my people.

Dirt under my fingernails catches my attention. I examine the dry, cracked flesh of my fingers, currently gloveless. Aragorn did not ask for my company to act as a bodyguard, but rather to stave off what I sense is a profound loneliness. He is of the Dúnedain, of that there is no doubt, yet he has experienced and seen so much that he now appears to carry some of each race within himself. The price paid for that wealth is that he now belongs utterly to none of us.

A pale jagged scar on the back of my wrist captures the silvery light and my thoughts return to myself. These hands felt the skin of the Elven-king's daughter as she handed me the standard whose weight I still bear, her flesh as soft and unblemished as a rose petal. The chapped fingers now holding a worn parchment, years ago once stroked the slick red skin of my newborn son, Lorabar, clutched to me as my wife passed on away from this world. Leather, steel, fur, flesh, rock, water— their tactile shadows reside in the creases of my palm, caught in the circular memory of whorled fingerprints.

I wonder at the meaning of the banner I have carried. Like our distant kin in Gondor, we have no king; chieftans have sufficed admirably through centuries of self-rule. Only a star marks our heraldry; I find it a fitting symbol, as we of the North are as far-flung and scattered across the rough-hewn lands as the pebbled lights above. When I was younger and insatiable, I asked all of the learned folk about our past, our heritage. How could an entire land be swallowed by the sea? Why had our line of kings faded into the mist of time? We had once been a strong, powerful people, but all that remains of our former glory are broken stone structures. Now we grow as weathered as the mountains; we are honorable, unsung guardians of others.

Until Aragorn. Wholly man, and yet his years with the Elves lie on him like the graceful drape of a fine cloak. Unlike myself and the other Rangers, he has roamed far into the distant wilds of this world. Now again I am by his side and bearing a portent of great hope, yet my spirit wrestles with our daunting tasks ahead. As I look over at my kinsman, troubled and struggling with thoughts that certainly would consume a lesser man, I sense that we ride ever-nearer to disaster. But Aragorn called to me, and I heeded his summons. If I am to be slain, may it be fighting at his side, so that he may tell Lorabar what I have done was not in vain. For surely Arathorn's son will survive.


At long last, a fine film of grey seeps over the horizon, drawing my gaze to it. Perhaps it is my age, or the dread darkness to which I know we journey, but the nights seem ever longer.


"Yes, Aragorn."

I place my map back in my tunic and get to my feet as he approaches. His footfalls are deliberate and sure on this stony fortress. He looks at me, seeming to have aged half a lifetime while traversing the maze of his thoughts. Would that I could share some of his burden.

"You are well?" he asks.

I pause, seeing a flicker of determination in his tired eyes, the irises the color of the ramparts on which we stand.

"I am with you, and would be nowhere else."

He does not smile, but his features soften; one furrow, at least, is smoothed on his brow.

"You have my eternal gratitude. Come, I need to speak with the others."

With parallel strides, we walk down the rock causeway as dawn resolutely reclaims the sky.

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Author's Notes

For Jen, who asked for an "introspective Halbarad ficlet" - Merry Christmas, 2005!!

This scene was inspired by these lines from "The Passing of the Grey Company":
Further inspiration comes from the song "Half Acre" by Hem.

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