Aaand another year-old challenge fic.

Title: Crossing Paths
Author: [ profile] empy
Fandom: LotR FPS
Pairing/Characters: Haldir, Halbarad
Rating: G
Disclaimer: The characters belong to the Tolkien Estate. This was written for entertainment purposes, not profit.
Summary: The reckoning of our days is not theirs.
Notes: slightly more bookverse than movieverse, but only in regards to the fact that Haldir travelled outside the borders of Lorien before the WotR. Written for [ profile] eidolon_writes for the 2012 [ profile] sons_of_gondor Trick or Treat Halloween Exchange.

* * *

Advice is a dangerous gift, even from the wise to the wise. So his brothers tell him before they bestow their heavy words of warning, and he wonders if they realize the contradiction.

Naught good will come of this, Haldir. To guard the borders of the Golden Wood is one thing, to wander so far beyond them is quite another. We have our affairs and the Dunedain theirs. The reckoning of our days is not theirs.

They are right, of course. Had he sense, he would stay within the golden circle of Caras Galadhon. Had he sense, he would not stray out. You are young, they tell him, and the folly of your youth is the force that sets you in motion and spurs you on.

Ah, but his youth is the youth of Belthil viewed against the age of Galathilion when set against the poor span of a Dunedain's days. It is youth that is ancient when viewed wider.

I am the youngest of three brothers. Though by no measure am I young when compared to you.

His Ranger companion ducks his head, shakes it, though Haldir cannot tell if it is protest or amusement. Perhaps both, he thinks when a short burst of soft laughter breaks the momentary silence. The watch is somber out of necessity, silent to match the silence of the night around them, and each noise as spontaneous as that little laugh is a liability.

It is not the first time he has come across the Dunedain on his travels, not by far, but he cannot remember a time when one had intrigued him so. In looks he is not different from his weatherworn kin, being as dark of hair and eyes as all the others, and Haldir recalls ruefully the tales he has been told of how Men will swear blind that all Elves look alike.

They must have seen the same Elf all those times! his brothers laugh, and he has joined in that laughter. How foolish and inattentive must these Men be to think all the Eldar are cast in the same mould? And yet... has he not said to his brothers and his Silvan brethren that the Dunedain and Rohirrim he has seen have all seemed to blur into a mass, that the novelty surely has worn off so thoroughly that he now only notices the differences between men and women. And even that with some effort when watching the Horselords from afar, for they are a wild kin.

Halbarad is the name the man gives when prompted. He tells little of himself, but that is true of all the Rangers of the North, for whom subterfuge is key and habit. The less is known of them, the better.

They walk as shadows and shadows are their travelling companions. No paved roads for these travellers, only paths that are not paths, winding trails that are made and then unmade to hide all sign of their progress. In autumn, they welcome the longer-stretching nights and the steady greying of both sky and trees, for it affords them better shelter. It is such an autumn night now, with restless winds gusting over the plains, warmer than is the wont of the autumn weather. They have made camp by a sheltering copse of scraggly willows, Halbarad and a small troop of his men. They have made no fire, which might mean two things: they are expecting their rest to be merely a short pause or then there are agents of the Enemy afoot. From what Haldir has gathered, it must be the former. The night has been uncommonly silent.

He can move soundlessly when he wishes, so silently even the Rangers cannot hear him, but curiosity drives him to skirt closer to their makeshift camp when he first spots them at a distance and he finally makes his presence known. Halbarad is the first to notice him, the first to draw a weapon to keep low by his side but also the first to sheathe it and gesture for the others to stand down.

"Well met," he says, voice soft and low and with very little trace of the surprise his initial startlement revealed.

"Well met, Rangers," replies Haldir, choosing the Common Tongue out of courtesy.

"You speak Westron." It is a statement, not a question, and Haldir feels a smile tug at the corners of his mouth.

"It is a help rather than a hindrance when travelling. Think not that we shun all outside influence even though we are strict about our borders."

Halbarad's smile is fleeting but genuine, gone as quickly as it has come. There is the barest tilt of his head as he regards Haldir, a little hint of youthful inquisitiveness that has not yet waned. Haldir will not venture a guess as to Halbarad's age, save to say that he is not yet at the halfway-point of his life, for there has been neither cause nor opportunity for him to further contemplate the life-spans of Men. At any rate, he is very, very young indeed compared to Haldir.

"I am the youngest of three brothers," he hears himself say. "Though by no measure am I young compared to you."

If the smile was unexpected, the short huff of laughter is doubly so.

"Indeed not." Halbarad's expression quickly grows serious once more. "What draws you out into the wider world? What news from the East have spurred you to journey?"

The urgency of the question surprises him. "No tidings so ill they should be cause for great unrest, though certainly ones that suggest that vigilance is needed still."

When dawn begins to shiver along the horizon, the Rangers rouse out of their shallow slumber and regroup.

"Here we must part ways," says Haldir. "Our paths have crossed but they do not join."

"They may cross again," says Halbarad. "Until such a time, travel safely, Haldir of Lorien."

The years pass slow in the Golden Wood, if Haldir at all stops to consider them, but when he ventures out they confront him. Each new line, each furrow, in Halbarad's forehead is another unwelcome reminder of their disparity. They speak nothing of this passing of years the next time they meet, for that serves no purpose. Words cannot roll back the tide of the years.

We have our affairs and the Dunedain theirs. The reckoning of our days is not theirs. Ever do Rumil's words return to haunt him, worst when news from the outlying lands carry to them or when mention is made of the Rangers who tirelessly patrol the vast plains of Eriador. It would make sense, he thinks, for him to resolutely remain where he is, to keep his post as border-guard, so that he might forget his unease, but this lapse from sense is far from his only one.

He tells neither one of his brothers of the matter, and relays only what news he deems to be of import when he returns from his scouting. He does not know what drives him to both hide and nurture the memory of Halbarad's amusement. It had been a chance meeting, and the Dunedain had ever been on good terms with the Eldar, so the crux must lie elsewhere. Perhaps in the thought of how like and yet unalike they were. Both seek to put themselves between that which they have sworn to protect and the enemy. And, he muses, both roam as restless spirits, forever vigilant.

Spirits whose paths cross not once but twice. This time, Haldir is the first to offer a smile.

The third time he sees Halbarad is the last time. He does not know then that it is the last time. He does not know how many years have passed.

The reckoning of our days is not theirs.

Even their kin might find it difficult to tell the difference between the tall men passing as a massed troop, but he has no issue finding the one he seeks. The tread is sure still, the back straight and the cast of his face grim. Halbarad, the Tall Tower.

Dawn is breaking in washes of grey and the light is still dim enough to allow the Rangers to move toward the sheltering line of trees all but unseen. Unseen by mortal eyes. The further toward the West and toward the Shire they move, the better the woods will shield them. The Ranger holding up the rear of the company turns suddenly, casting his gaze in Haldir's direction, but Haldir knows he stands well hidden. Halbarad does not look back, and it is for the best, thinks Haldir later, that this last moment should be spared from the unwelcome reminder of how Men must face the wear and grind of the years so much more harshly.

The reckoning of our days is not theirs.

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