The vagaries of time, Elrohir mused, are a strange thing.
Years passed swiftly for the Eldar, decades came and went in swift succession, yet a single moment had the power to drag on with dauntless tenacity: Estel, who had been brought to them as a toddling child just yesterday (or so it seemed) had come to manhood in an eye blink, but the dinner arranged in his honor to present him to the Dúnedain had stretched on interminably. He had been profoundly relieved when his father had risen from his seat, offered apologies for not lingering, and excused himself from the table, providing the others an opportunity to do the same.
Yet while the older Rangers had retired to the Hall of Fire to invoke the memories of fallen men, pipe smoke wreathing their heads like the spirits of their long-dead companions, Elrohir had set off in search of their younger companion, who had absented himself with an alacrity bordering on rudeness.
The callow boy, Halbarad, had managed to evade him thus far, but he could hardly do so much longer; none knew Imladris so well as Elrohir and his brother, and there was no place he could hide if Elrohir set his mind to finding him. He had kept a close eye on the boy in his father's council chambers when Estel had been brought forth, freshly groomed and wearing the ring of Barahair with obvious pride. He had fixed his eyes upon the boy's face in search of the slightest hint of envy or resentment, of mistrust or disbelief, when Estel's lineage had been revealed. Of course, Halbarad had been the only man present who had not known the truth of Estel's birth; Tirdor and Hingarth had escorted Gilraen and her sobbing babe to Imladris shortly after Arathorn's fall, and Maelathron had been Arador's trusted companion. They had come to honor their new leader, the son of their hearts whose secret they had guarded even among their own kind, and to fetch him to the North with all the honor due him. Halbarad, however, was of an age with Estel, and had known him merely as a young companion to the sons of Elrond, with no inkling of his birthright. The older men trusted the house of Elrond to rear up a capable Ranger, but young men had not the length of memory nor the wisdom and patience which accompanied it. Would they accept a leader thrust without warning into their midst? Halbarad had been the first to bend his knee, but less gracious sentiments could be hidden behind grand gestures. Were they hidden in Halbarad?
Tirdor had spoken highly of the lad, had said he possessed a seriousness of purpose well beyond his years. Elrohir wondered if it was indeed a seriousness of purpose, or merely dourness. He struck Elrohir as a grim one, even for a Man of the North, and taciturn, as different from bold, bright Aragorn as the night was from the day. And yet, he considered, Halbarad's father had been a good man, and a dear friend to Arathorn-- he had fallen at Arathorn's side, no less--but the strengths of the father were not always passed to the son. Elrohir had seen enough of the nature of Men to know that.
Dinner had been meant as a celebratory affair, but his lord father had been a distracted host and it had fallen to Elladan to carry the conversation and rouse the terse Northmen to recount tales of Arathorn's valor for his son's appreciation. Elrohir played his part as well, to observe as his brother distracted. Halbarad had said little during the meal though was polite and spoke well enough when engaged, though for all that, he had the look of a restless young man who would have been happier on a horse, or sleeping under the stars. He had been quite aware, however, of Elrohir's attention, and had become flushed and awkward under the scrutiny. He'd fled the table as soon as he'd been given half a chance.
And so, Elrohir had little choice but to pursue him. Hardly and unpleasant task: the lad was fair of face and strong of build, though for Elrohir's tastes he was far too young, and far too mortal. That way, he told himself, lay great sorrow. As if to punctuate that very thought, the night breeze brought him a faint tune in a familiar voice: Aragorn was walking somewhere near, moving alone through the twilight, humming a part from the Lay of Luthien.
At least he now had a legitimate purpose in stalking the young Ranger. Word had come from the marchwardens that trolls had been harrying travelers on the Great East road between the Last Bridge and Bree. Elladan suggested that Aragorn should lead out a ranging, a fitting and timely start to his duties as Chieftain. But Elladan had followed his father out of the great hall and left Elrohir to carry the word from man to man.
His father's door had been shut tight when he passed, and he could hear his brother's voice low within. He considered knocking, but thought better of it. Elladan would see to it that he knew their father's mind. The events surrounding Aragorn's name day had been fraught, and made all the more so by the unlooked for arrival of Arwen, who had been overtaken by a sudden desire to cut short her long sojourn in Lorien-- a sojourn their father had engineered with the specific intention of keeping his daughter and foster-son apart. Elrond had said little enough about what visions had come to him of his daughter's future and his foster-son's fate, but Elrohir had long ago learned it was often best not to ask.
In search of Halbarad, Elrohir ventured down toward the river, and spied there two figures in silhouette, not quite touching, but in a proximity which spoke of great intimacy. They stood enraptured, so still that they might have been statues, except for the way the faint wind teased at the fabric of her skirts and ruffled his hair. He thought of his father and Elladan, cloistered within his father's chambers, wondered again what arcane knowledge his father had of things that might come to pass, and he briefly considered rushing toward them, shattering the peace of their communion, breaking whatever enchantment had taken hold of them-- but it would come to naught, and he knew it: time passed, as time always did; the moment had taken root, and destiny would have its way with them just as it would have its way with every man in the end.
Understanding this made him feel both old and strangely sad.
But fate has its own vicissitudes, does it not? Not always does foresight mean foregone conclusion... what we are betimes given to see is but a hint of a possible future, not an inviolable decree...
Leaving the couple to their ill-starred idyll, he turned back toward the great house, and passing beneath his father's windows, he hear his father's voice and Elladan's within:
"Father, she is a woman grown, and he a man. A king, by rights--"
"--By rights, but not by deed. He is not Isildur--"
"--And thank the stars for that!--"
He strained to listen, though he knew it was a grievous breach of etiquette.
"Take her, Elladan. Escort her back to the Golden Wood. Escort her to the Havens. I will not have them meet."
It is too late, Father, he thought as he continued onward. Too late for them, and for you. The seeds now sown will not be easily ripped from the soil, but who is to say if the fruit they will yield will be bitter or sweet?
# # #
He found his quarry, at long last, in the gallery, standing half in shadow. His brown and grey clothing would have rendered him something of a shadow even by light of day: well-spun, but hard worn and dating to a vintage far older than its wearer. It spoke of faded grandeur and ancient pride. Fitting garb, Elrohir thought, for Halbarad Dúnedan.
The shards of Narsil lay arranged before him on a piece of silk. The sight of that broken steel never failed to rouse in Elrohir some feeling of awe and respect-- strange, that such a small thing as a sword could change the course of history. But sometimes that was all a man needed, wasn't it? A good sword and the will to wield it. Now it lay lifeless. Once, it had shone with the light of the sun and of the moon.
Halbarad stepped into a shaft of moonlight, unaware of Elrohir's presence, and approached the broken weapon with reverent steps. "Let him wield it well," the young man whispered. "Stars grant that he be the Hope we have so long waited for."
The quiet plea moved Elrohir to pity, and he could not let the man continue in earnest, believing himself alone and unwatched. He came out of the darkness and stood where Halbarad could see him. "He will wield it well, Halbarad Dúnedan. He has had no less than Lord Elrond, and the sons of Elrond, to school him. He has had Glorfindel of Gondolin to shape his strength, and Gildor of the house of Finrod to hone him. Aragorn is not only the Hope of the Dúnedain, but of us as well."
Halbarad had flinched at the unexpected sound behind him, but recovered himself quickly as Elrohir drew near-- though not so quickly that Elrohir missed the blush spreading across his face. "Of course. I did not mean to imply--"
He held up a placating hand. "You implied nothing. Forgive me for intruding on a private moment. I was merely passing by--" He was grateful when Halbarad interrupted his dissimulation.
"--I thought to take a walk down by the river, but--"
"--but you stumbled across another private moment."
Halbarad nodded. "The woman... that is your sister, yes? The Evenstar of whom your people sing?"
Elrohir felt a flash of great dismay as he thought of Aragorn's song, and of Luthien's end. "It is she." He did not wish to discuss the matter further-- not Arwen, not Aragorn, not whatever burgeoned now between them, nor the despair of his father when he learned that all his efforts had failed in the relentless face of fate. "It is good that I should find you here." He swiftly steered the conversation away from more troubling waters. "We have had word of Trolls causing havoc to the west. Aragorn wished to pursue them. Were I you, I would be prepared to ride out at first light."
Halbarad's expression brightened some at the mention of a campaign. "Then I will see first-hand how well Rivendell has prepared my Chieftain. If his prowess is anything at all like the stories I have heard of Glorfindel Golden-hair and Gildor the Wanderer, I will be most honored to fight at his side. I have long awaited the day that I might begin to discharge my duty to defend the Free Peoples."
Ah, youth, Elrohir silently sighed. It goes eagerly into battle. Would that I still had such fire in my veins. But then, I, too, once yearned for battle-- until I had seen too many friends fall to the sword. He will loose his taste for blood soon enough.
Halbarad had turned his attention back to the pieces of Narsil arrayed before him. "The Lord of the Dúnedain should carry a weapon befitting his station." He lifted the larger piece by the pommel, holding it not like a sword, but with the reverence as a man bearing a sacred object. "Only one man has the right to bear the sword of Elendil, and though it is broken, its edge is still deadly sharp." He extended his the broken sword toward Elrohir. "My lord, this is the greatest token of my ancestors. Aragorn should have it now."
The silence of the evening bore down upon Elrohir, yet a thousand winds roared in his ears as he stretched out a hand to take the blade from Halbarad. His fingers brushed the man's as they took up the steel. He looked down, and as he did, Halbarad's eyes, earnest and grey as the sea, flashed on the surface of the blade, glowed like twin sparks in the moonlight. Then the moonlight became torch-light, and the torch-light became a dull, green glow. Swimming in the air before him, Elrohir saw a looming mountain and a black gate beneath. Halbarad stood before him, looking toward the mountain. He was no longer a youth, but an older, grimmer man whose face had been wrought raw and fine by sorrow and strain. Yet his eyes, those keen grey eyes, still held moonlight and the memory of youth. "This is an evil door," he said, his eyes locking with Elrohir's, "and my death lies beyond it."
"What door?" Elrohir was gripped with a feeling of weightlessness, of displacement. "Where is this place? I do not understand." The ground was falling away from his feet.
"Are you well, Lord Elrohir?"
Elrohir blinked roughly. The roaring in his ears retreated, leaving only the night sounds of water and wind and cricket chirps. Halbarad was watching him with a mixture of curiosity and suspicion, his eyes still keen and grey, but now in a youthful face, a face which had not yet been sharpened by trial. "Yes, of course." He forced himself to smile. "Forgive me, what did you say just now?"
Halbarad shook his head, confused. "I asked if you would present Aragorn with the sword of Elendil." He looked as startled as Elrohir wagered he himself felt.
"Indeed, he should carry this. I shall ask my father to present it to him. Thank you, Halbarad."
The strained silence broke when Halbarad stepped backward, releasing his grasp on the sword, the warmth of his hand withdrawing and leaving Elrohir with a fistful of cold steel. "I would best be abed if we leave at first light," he said quietly. "We've a long ride ahead of us." He sketched a small, swift bow, and slipped off silently down the hall like the shadow he was.