The Stars of Harad

Chapter 2

by Cassia and Siobhan

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And somewhere while you’re sleeping
Someone else is dreaming too,
And counting down the days until
They hold you close and say:
I love you...

--Steven Curtis Chapman

Elrond stood on the starlit balcony, lightly leaning against the cool railing as the stillness of nighttime in Rivendell surrounded him. Imladris was sleeping, but the elf lord was not. Nor was he likely to this night. His heart was heavy and troubled. In his hand he held a small silver circle. It was the ring of Barahir. Aragorn had left it on the nightstand by his bed and Elrond had found it there not long ago. Up to this point, the young man had worn it constantly since Elrond passed it on to him and the elf lord knew it had not been left behind by accident.

Elrond’s love for Estel had not changed because of the young man’s feelings for his daughter. It was pointless to worry over much about that yet, because Arwen was very clearly making no choices or promises at this time, whatever she felt for the Dùnadan, it could very well be that all this would come to naught... or then again it might not. But that was not what sat heavy on the elf lord’s mind tonight. No, right now the grief that pulled at him was for Estel. He knew his youngest son’s heart must be breaking and there was nothing he could do about it. That was the hardest thing for him to accept.

He wished he had stopped the young ranger before he left, wished he had tried to tell him... tell him what? Elrond sighed and leaned a little harder against the railing. He didn’t know what, but something. However Aragorn had not been ready to listen. He had all but physically pushed the elf lord away from him. He had been holding them all at arm’s length since Arwen left and that made the elf’s father’s heart ache.

"What have I done wrong Estel?" he whispered quietly to the silence of the night, slowly turning the ring hand over and over between his fingers. "What have I not done to prove that I love you? That you don’t believe me the many times I’ve told you that I would never, *could* never cast you aside? And if you haven’t heard it before, what could I have said now that would be any different?"

The steady hum of the crickets provided him no answer.

"Father?" the soft voice behind him made Elrond jerk slightly. It spoke volumes of his disturbed state of mind that he had not even heard his sons approach.

"Elladan, Elrohir, I thought you went to bed hours ago," Elrond turned to face the twins, his eyes traveling searchingly over their attire. They were not in their sleep clothes, nor even their evening attire. The two younger elves were in their traveling clothes with their cloaks already fastened about their shoulders.

"We couldn’t sleep," Elrohir said quietly. "Apparently you couldn’t either."

"No," Elrond looked out at the stars again, folding his arms and leaning forward against the railing with a sigh. The weariness of his many long millennia of life seemed to hang heavily upon the elf lord’s shoulders this evening. "There is no rest for me tonight."

There were several long moments of silence.

"You cannot go after him," Elrond quietly broke the silence without turning around.

"But..." Elladan started to protest, although he knew in his heart that his father was right.

"Elladan, he doesn’t *want* you with him," Elrond turned to face his children, sorrow in the depths of his eyes.

"He wishes to be alone or he would have taken you with him when he left." The elf lord held up his hand to ward off further argument. "And you cannot follow him in secret. He will know you are there, and I fear he will only resent it. Elladan, Elrohir... Estel is a man now. I have told you that before. As hard as it is, we need to respect him enough to give him however much time and space he needs... when he is ready, he will come back to us." Elrond closed his eyes for a moment because even as he said it he felt a strange, vague feeling of dread deep in the pit of his stomach, whispering to him that he was never going to see his youngest son again, but that was an impossible thought. Estel just needed some time alone to sort his thoughts out. He would be back in a few months at most... there was no reason for him to not be.

The twins did not look happy, but they heeded their father’s words. "We feared as much," Elladan sighed slightly. "But I do not like how he left... I fear for his safety in the state of mind he is in."

"Really we-we just wanted to talk to him... but we’ve tried that already. He’s not listening. It’s as if he doesn’t want to hear us," Elrohir admitted.

"What Estel is going through is not easy," Elrond touched his son’s arm gently. "Nothing in his life will ever be easy I fear. I do not think he intends to reject you my sons, but he is troubled and more than anything fears our rejection I think."

"Doesn’t he know how stupid that is?" Elladan shook his head. "How could we ever reject him? He’s part of our family! We *raised* him! Doesn’t he know we love him?"

Elrond turned away from his son’s searching eyes. He wished he had all the answers but he didn’t. "He has always been afraid of this Elladan. You remember what happened when he was a child and fell out of the tree. Running off in to the woods thinking we didn’t really want him..." the elf lord closed his eyes. Things had been so simple then. They could go searching and find Estel, wrap him up in their love and bring him home... but it was not so simple now, for Estel was no longer a child and had to make his own choices. "All we can do is offer my sons. It is up to him to realize it in his own heart and accept it. Give him some time. He will."

The twins nodded slowly. "Then we will not go after Estel, but there is no rest for us either," Elladan shook his head. "Elrohir and I have been meaning to ride over the mountains and settle up with the Beornings. We promised them some of the things that are hard to come by out where they live in exchange for their assistance the last time we were out there. We would not want them to think we have forgotten."

Elrond raised his eyebrows. "And for this you need to leave right now? In the middle of the night?"

Elladan shrugged. "It’s better than sitting around here not sleeping and worrying about Estel."

Elrond looked skeptically between his sons. Elrohir just shrugged. He’d go along with his brother, although he didn’t understand either. At length the elf lord sighed. "Very well then, go, but be careful my sons."

"We will father," they nodded.

"Before you go," Elrond held his hand out and dropped the ring of Barahir into Elrohir’s palm. "Please put this back on your brother’s dresser to wait for him."

The twins looked down at the ring, taking in the significance of its having been left behind. Elrohir closed his fingers over it tightly and they turned to leave.

"Elrohir, Elladan..." Elrond’s didn’t say anymore, he didn’t have to.

"Don’t worry father, we aren’t going to try to find Estel," Elrohir shook his head as they turned back in the doorway before going on once more. He shot his brother a covertly questioning glance as they left their father’s chambers. "We aren’t, are we?" he whispered.

"No," Elladan shook his head. "I think father’s right about that. But we’re not going to let Estel go off and get himself into whatever mess you know he’s going to get into all alone either. He isn’t thinking straight and I worry about him. If he doesn’t want us around, we’ll have to find someone else."

Elrohir’s eyes narrowed slightly as he understood what his brother intended to do. It was a good idea, and probably the best thing that the brothers could try to do for Aragorn since they were incapable of taking action themselves. "To Mirkwood then?"

"Exactly," Elladan nodded. "But we will stop by the Beornings on the way, as quickly as possible... what are you doing?"

Elrohir had paused to slide the ring of Barahir into the deep inner pocket of his tunic.

"You think we should take that with us?" Elladan raised his eyebrows.

Elrohir nodded slowly. "I think Estel is going to need it."


Elrond watched his sons ride off into the night from his place on the balcony. He would have wagered anything that visiting the Beornings was not their whole purpose and he had a sneaking suspicion what that purpose was and what other realms, besides that of the Beornings, lay on the other side of the Misty Mountains... but he was not going to stand in their way. Like Estel, they too were grown and he trusted their judgment, as well as their love for their brother.

"Oh, Estel, don’t let the hurt in your heart lead you into danger, come back to us safely. Come back to us," he whispered to the silent ears of the night.

Aragorn reined in his horse and dismounted. The sun had risen several hours ago and painted the world in its warm glow. To the untrained or casual eye, the glade he stopped in appeared to be completely deserted; however, the young Dùnadan knew better.

Cupping his hand against one side of his mouth to create the right echo, Aragorn imitated the call of a morning swallow. Three long notes and two short. It was the signal that all was clear, and a password of sorts.

Several moments later the cloaked and hooded forms of five or six men seemed to materialize out of the shadows of the trees around Aragorn. The rangers moved almost as quietly as elves, almost. Most of these men were older than Aragorn in varying degrees, except for one who was still in his teens.

"Hail and well met, Aragorn. We have been expecting you," one of the taller men said as he and the others pushed back their hoods. Halbarad was only Aragorn’s senior by a small score of years and the two had known one another a long time. In fact, Aragorn recognized all of those present save one elderly man who stood near to Halbarad.

The rangers were grim folk some said, but that was only because they tended to be guarded and serious with those they did not know. So it was no shock to any there when the man who had spoken cracked a large grin at the newly arrived young ranger. "But you must have ridden the wind because we did not imagine you would be able to come so soon."

Aragorn smiled back, albeit somewhat less brightly. "Hello Halbarad. I left as soon as your message came."

"Alone this time?" the elder ranger grinned a trifle teasingly, glancing over Aragorn’s shoulder to see if the young ranger’s adopted elven brothers had followed him again. The Dunèdain often joked that Elladan and Elrohir were attempting to become rangers themselves, because they worked together so often.

Aragorn didn’t smile this time and Halbarad immediately realized that for some unknown reason he had just brought up a painful subject.

"Yes, I am alone," Aragorn said with a quiet, clipped tone that seemed to make it mean more than just an answer to Halbarad’s question. "You said that you intercepted a suspicious letter?"

The elder ranger pressed Aragorn no further on that subject but got quickly down to business. "Yes Aragorn, we did. Laener?" Halbarad called on the other ranger to continue.

The man whom Aragorn did not recognize stepped forward slightly. Laener was older again than both Halbarad and Aragorn, his weathered face speaking of a long life in the wilds. He pulled a rolled parchment from an inner pocket of his tunic. "I am Laener, ranger of the south. Many weeks ago, another ranger, Nevon, and I were in Rohan. We intercepted and questioned a stranger in West Emnet, below the Wold. He had an ill look about him and was causing trouble and bloodshed. In his possessions was this, a letter. What manner of man wrote it, and who it was intended for we know not, but you can see for yourself why it causes concern."

Aragorn took the letter and scanned it quickly. Heavy parchment, meant to survive a long journey. The letters were written by a bold, but rough hand. In the lower corner a half-broken circle of wax held a curious signet whose design could not properly be seen since half of it was missing.

"You must be patient, my lord, these things take time. The beasts are hard to tame, let alone work with, and new armies are not created overnight. I assure you that we are on the cusp of success. The project has not failed by any means; it is merely taking more time than we might have wished. Harad is no small distance away, but I assure you, I will arrive soon for the rest of the supplies and we will be able talk more fully at that time. I prevail upon you to withhold all judgments on this issue until then.


"Do you know who this Seobryn is or what they might be referring to?" Aragorn queried as he re-rolled the troubling parchment. Talk about armies and some connection between the distant land of Harad and someone powerful, possibly in the area of Rohan, was highly disturbing.

"No," Laener shook his head. "But I can assure you the matter is serious. Nevon was killed when a group of orcs attacked us, their objective seemed to be the letter."

Aragorn whistled softly. If this wasn’t disturbing enough, just throw in the fact that orcs were involved into the mix. Something was gravely wrong.

"There are very few of us in the south now and most do not walk the plains of Rohan. The rangers of Gondor and Ithilien are wholly taken up with their own concerns at the moment and could not give us council or aide in this situation. So I came hither seeking help in this matter," Laener summarized the situation for Aragorn and the other rangers. Only Halbarad, to whom Laener had come first, had heard the story before.

"What say you Aragorn? Ought we assist our kinsmen of the south in this?" Halbarad turned questioning eyes on Aragorn. He knew very well what the answer would be, but for some time now he had been gently pulling back from the leadership role that had passed to his uncle and then to himself after the death of Arathorn and the disappearance of his only heir. Chieftain of the Dùnadan was Aragorn’s rightful title, and Halbarad was slowly helping the young ranger settle into that position.

Aragorn nodded once, knowing there was no doubt in anyone’s mind, but understanding that Halbarad wanted him to make the decision. "Of course, we must. Whatever this riddle, it needs unraveling."

"Good then, come," Halbarad bid them all. "We have much to discuss and plans to make." 


Evening fell, calling out the stars one by one. Aragorn slowly sharpened the edge of one of his daggers against a whetstone in his hand, a distant look on his face as he stared into the fire.

Talk and decision making had not taken long. It was clear what had to be done. The Dunèdain had dwindled in numbers over the years until there were very few now to shoulder the responsibilities that they took on. It had been decided that one of their number would return with Laener to the south and attempt to find this Seobryn person, who must certainly be coming to that area soon, as his letter indicated. The other rangers must stay to deal with the threats and duties of their own lands, but they would do their part on this end, using their many connections to attempt to narrow down a list of possible suspects who could have been the intended recipient of that letter. The usage of the term ‘my lord’ seemed to indicate someone of importance, and they intended to begin fishing around for suspicious activity by anyone with any kind of wealth or political pull.

Halbarad sat down next to Aragorn, shaking him out of his thoughts. "You’re far away Aragorn, where are you?"

Rangers were not infrequent guests in Lord Elrond’s house, for even before Aragorn’s birth, Elladan and Elrohir had often ridden with their distant human kinsman. Especially after what had happened to the twins’ mother, when they had started hunting all orcs in deadly earnest. Because of this, Aragorn had known Halbarad since before either of them knew who Aragorn really was.

Aragorn shrugged unconvincingly. "Just thinking about the journey and what we’ll do when we get there... there’s a lot to plan."

Halbarad nodded slowly, although he’d bet that that was not the whole of what his younger friend and leader had been thinking about. It was clear that a shadow hung over Aragorn that he had not seen before.

"Do you want me to send word to Lord Elrond that you-" Halbarad started, but was cut off by a quick shake of the other’s head.

"No," Aragorn said quickly, a little too quickly. "Thank you, but that’s not necessary."

Halbarad wasn’t sure what to make of that. He knew how close Aragorn was with his adopted family, and how protective the twins could be of the one they claimed as their younger brother. "You’ll be gone a long time Aragorn. If they have no word, they’ll worry about you," he said softly.

"No, they won’t." There was a tone of despondent finality hidden beneath his words. "Trust me."

"Aragorn..." the other ranger hesitated. "Are you sure it’s a good idea, your going south with Laener? You don’t have to take it on yourself, any of the others would be just as willing to go, myself included."

Aragorn looked up sharply. "You mean you do not think I can handle it? That someone else would be better suited?" Feelings of his own inadequacy in so many realms made his voice harsher than he intended.

"That’s not what I said," Halbarad countered. "I don’t doubt your abilities Aragorn, but I am unsure of your motives for leaving." He sighed. "We’ve known each other a long time, Aragorn, these are my people too. If there is trouble that might affect the mission, I think I deserve to know. What are you running from?"

Aragorn clenched the whetstone tightly in his hand. He couldn’t believe he was letting himself be that easy to read and he did not want to share the messy details of his personal problems with anyone else; even his best human friend. "The mission is safe, you needn’t worry. My life is my problem. I made my decision, I’m going." He was tired of being questioned by his own thoughts, and now by Halbarad... he wanted the other ranger to leave him alone.

Halbarad’s brows furrowed, the young Dùnadan was not acting like himself. "Aragorn, I’m not sure this is the best thing..."

"What?" Aragorn snapped slightly, the strain in his heart spilling into the current situation although it had nothing to do with the other rangers. "You prod me to make the choices, you want me to lead, and when I do you resent it?"

Halbarad flinched slightly, he hadn’t meant to sound like he was questioning Aragorn’s leadership, but he was worried about the young man’s state of mind.

Aragorn stopped himself. He wasn’t angry at Halbarad. He was still angry at himself and it was coming out in undesired ways. The young ranger let his head drop into his hand as he sighed. He was not dealing with his feelings well at all and he knew it.

There was a long silence.

"Aragorn, I-"

Aragorn raised his hand and cut the other man off. "No, Halbarad... I’m sorry. I didn’t mean what I said just now; I had no call to be tense with you. Please forget it."

The other man nodded slowly. "I just want to help."

"I know," Aragorn smiled for Halbarad’s sake. "And I appreciate it. But... the best thing you can do for me is understand that I just need to do what I need to do." Aragorn knew that no matter how the other ranger wanted to, no one could help him. Nothing could fix what had happened or put the shattered pieces of his life back together. He wanted to go with Laener; he wanted to go as far away from here as he possibly could. Most of all he wanted to be busy, to have a purpose, a job to do.

"All right Aragorn," Halbarad touched the younger man’s shoulder gently as he rose. "I trust you. Laener said he’d be ready to leave by sunrise tomorrow. May you find this Seobryn character and get to the bottom of the mystery. We will do our best to find who the letter was intended for and what land they call home. I will pray the Valar watch over you both on your journey... be careful Aragorn, something in my heart misgives me about this whole situation, I fear there is deeper evil afoot here than we yet realize."

Aragorn smiled and clasped Halbarad’s hand against his shoulder for a moment. "Thank you, Halbarad. I will be careful and will return as soon as I may."

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