[identity profile] rhymer23.livejournal.com posting in [community profile] lotrchallenges
Author: Rhymer ([livejournal.com profile] rhymer23)
Title: In His Hands
Rating: PG
Theme: Show Don't Tell
Elements: "took his/her hand"
Summary: Sometimes the most important things of all can be conveyed without a word. A soldier of Gondor, serving under Captain Thorongil, is about to learn this lesson. He will never forget it, even as decades pass, and the world is changed.
Word Count: 2610



Dead branches clawed at the slate-grey sky. Fine snowflakes settled on the pale metal of Harnor's sword, and the birds were long gone, only dark crows remaining, hungry for carrion. All was silent. The flowers had withered, and night when it came would be without a star.

Harnor was crouching down low, his left hand held out for balance, fingertips spread in the shallow dusting of fallen snow. He crept forward one step, and then another. Beneath the snow, the ground was hard and dead, nothing but cold grey stone. He felt a pebble begin to grate against rock, and froze; shifted his position until he could place his foot without a sound.

He hazarded a glance to his right. It was hard to see his comrades at first. The twilight hid them, along with their own skill at passing unseen. Better still were the cloaks that their captain had bidden them wear: pale grey cloaks shot through with white, the colour of scattered snow on parched stone.

Light snow swirled into his face, cold against his skin. He edged forward a few more paces, knowing that his comrades were doing the same. He reached the tree that was his marker, and crouched between the arms of its exposed roots.

There were no spoken orders, not out here in the wilds, with a nest of orcs so close and alert for every sound. Captain Thorongil liked to hand-pick men who could act on their own initiative; who could judge what needed to be done, and could do it, however hard it was. The captain had scouted the land himself, and had described it to them vividly, sketching it with a stick in the snow. They knew what he needed them to do, and they would do it for him. Of course they would.

Harnor looked for the captain now, and found him. The captain was leading from the front, as he always did. Harnor knew that the captain could pass unseen as well as a veteran Ranger, but today he was keeping himself visible, to those who knew how to look.

Thorongil acknowledged Harnor with a nod. His hand came up, issuing orders. Harnor was to move forward; the two men beyond him were to move a little to the right. A little faster, those moving fingers said. The snowfall was thickening. Soon they would leave a trail on the mountainside for anyone to see. It had to be soon. It had to be now.

Harnor sucked in a slow breath, and carried out his captain's orders. Captain Thorongil hand-picked men who could act on their own initiative, true, but when you were led by Gondor's greatest captain, it always felt better to be acting according to his command. Harnor crept onwards, following the slope upwards when it started to rise more steeply. He kept his head down, letting the grey hood hide the vivid darkness of his hair.

A soft sound made him turn, but it was just a veil of old snow blowing down from a branch. The captain's hand flashed up in urgent command. Harnor froze. Pebbles grated beneath his hindmost foot. Even in the twilight, his captain's eyes were keen beneath his hood. Down, Thorongil's hand commanded. It seemed to take an age for Harnor to lower himself silently, to lie flat without making a sound.

As he did so, something screeched above them, high on the stony ridge. Inch by painful, silent inch, Harnor turned his head sideways until he could see his captain. Wait, said Thorongil's hand, the only part of him that was not hidden by the cloak. The screech came again, and Harnor shivered with the memory of shadow.

Then the captain was up again, his sword whispering quietly as he drew it from its soft sheath. Harnor tightened his grip on his own sword, and took a deep breath, and then another. It was time. With a look and a sign, his captain had given his commands, and Harnor would obey. Even if his death lay at the end of it, he would be obey. Thorongil was his captain; of course he would.

******

Harnor came lurching out of the red-streaked jangling darkness. He had no idea where he was. He had no idea what had happened. He had been… crouching in the snow…? And after that…?

He was upside-down, he thought. He was jolting, pain hammering through him with the rhythm of his thundering heart. There was shouting. Everywhere around him there was shouting.

He tried to shake his head; tried to tell the shouting to stop. Silent, he thought. No sound. Captain had ordered it. Quiet as a snowflake on the mountain. Quiet. He tried to speak a warning, but there was something in his mouth, something thick and wet that tasted of old iron. He tried to cough, but the jolting took him, seized him and carried him away into darkness…

On the other side of darkness there was pain.

Harnor moaned, a faint wisp of a sound. Something touched his mouth, and he blinked, struggling to focus. He saw two fingers pressed together, firm yet gentle on his lips. Harnor tried to speak, and the fingers pressed harder. Pain blazed at his very core. His hand flailed. His legs scrabbled. He tried to sit up, tried to scream, but a hand took hold of his, holding it tight, just holding.

Panic trickled out of him like water. He closed his eyes. The pain remained, fierce and vast as ever, but he stopped fighting. The fingers on his lips pressed down once, then slowly withdrew, first one finger, and then the other. The hand that held his own hand remained.

Harnor opened his eyes. It was dark twilight, and above him arched a curve of broken stone. He saw a bundle of blood-stained cloth. Snow fell, but in the twilight it fell like specks of ash. Not far away, he heard the sound of fighting, and something was calling nearby in a wordless voice that had never been human.

His lips parted. The hand tightened on his, then relaxed when Harnor made no sound, merely moistened his lips. He tasted blood, and something else. The hand tightened again, not in warning this time, but in comfort. Harnor clung to it. His breathing hitched, and that caused the pain to blaze more fiercely than the sun. He curled around it, one hand clawing into the ground, and the other gripping the hand that held him.

Throughout it all, he made no sound.

And then… And then…

He faded, twilight deepening into darkness as quickly as dark ink dropped into water. He was walking along a cliff top, dragged towards the precipice by ferocious winds. He was a child in the market place, lost in a teeming crowd of legs and giant people. He was drowning in the mouth of the Anduin, swamped by storm-driven currents.

Something anchored him. Something pulled him back. He found a sturdy, ageless tree to cling to, which kept him from the brink. A tall man raised him from the crowds and held him weeping to his breast. A hand reached out to him, and in his last extremity of drowning, he was able to clutch at it.

A hand…

He woke to the sight of two clasped hands, his own and another's. He blinked, and was able to see more. It was still not fully dark. He remembering creeping over the lip of the ridge. The orcs had been taken by surprise, and the plan had worked perfectly. Harnor had struck down one and then another, and then…

He remembered falling. He remembered screaming. And then…

Swords. An arrow. Feet planted above him, a sword singing as it flashed in his defence. Struggling to sit up, hand slipping in the snow. A crow in the dead trees, waiting to feast on his flesh.

They must have carried him here, he realised; carried him out of the battle and into safety, while his comrades continued to fight. There was an arch of broken stone above him, the last surviving corner of some ancient tower. Someone had stayed here with him. I'm glad, he thought. I don't want to die alone.

He could feel the pounding of his heart, each pulse sending a flare of pain through his belly. Then the hand tightened on his, and he realised that not all the pounding came from his own heart. Somebody was approaching the ruin, somebody who did not know how to move silently. An orc? he thought. His head lashed from side to side. He tried to tug away, but the hand held him. The sound, when it came, was faint: the whisper of a sword moving through the air, a gasp, a moan, and a body falling into the snow.

Harnor looked at the hand that held him, then beyond it at the face of the man who was his anchor through the pain. It was his captain. Of course it was. In the twilight, Thorongil was a pair of keen eyes in a pale smudged face. His touch said it all. Be silent, his fingertips had commanded, and the grip of his hand said Do not be afraid.

His captain smiled in the darkness, just a slight tightening of his mouth. His other hand was busy, and soon Harnor could smell the sweet scent of the herbs his captain used for healing.

What was happening outside in the darkness? The others were still fighting, he thought, hunting down the orc stragglers. At least one other Ranger was outside the ruin, guarding the place where Thorongil had brought his injured man. Even in the midst of battle, Captain Thorongil had chosen to come here, with Harnor, to help him, to heal him, to hold him, to bring him home.

The scent of herbs welled up, filling the air with sweetness. Thorongil's left hand touched Harnor's brow, cool against the blazing heat of his pain. A command of comfort flowed through Harnor's veins. Through the steady grip of his right hand and the soft touch of his left, Harnor's captain called his name without a word.

With a wave of his hand, Harnor's captain had commanded him to kill, and Harnor had obeyed. With a flash of his sword, his captain had inspired Harnor to risk his life, to risk anything for him. With the simple touch of two fingers, his captain had willed him to stay silent, even as he was torn apart by pain.

And now, with an everlasting grip on his weakening hand, Harnor's captain commanded him to begin to heal. He commanded him to live.

And Harnor obeyed. Thorongil was his captain; of course he did.

******

Harnor sat hunched at the bedside, gripping his grandson's hand. Iorian's hand was cold and lifeless. His chest rose and fell with the faint rhythm of his breathing, but he had not moved in hours, not since they had dragged him from the wreckage of the Great Gate.

People were talking nearby: meaningless words. Some voices were high and desperate. Others were dull with despair and exhaustion. Somebody spoke to him, voice rising in a question. Harnor turned away. He ran his thumb endlessly across the grey skin of his grandson's hand. A grey pall lay upon everything in the city: shadow and dust.

They had wanted Harnor to leave before the siege had tightened his grip. He was an old soldier, long past his days of usefulness. But his son was staying, and his grandson, fighting to defend the city that Harnor had bled for in years gone by. Harnor had stayed alongside them, and had struck a few blows with his still-keen sword, and struck them true.

But this, he thought, this was what he had stayed for. He was too old to be useful, or so people thought, and so he had been given no task in this desperate attempt to secure their miraculously reprieved city. While others fought and rebuilt, Harnor could sit still. While others held off the baying darkness, Harnor could provide the strong, sure anchor that might, just might hold his grandson to life.

Harnor looked at their clasped hands, the old one and the young. His vision blurred, and he saw instead another pair of clasped hands from so many years before. It was only afterwards, when he had seen the scars, that he had realised quite how close to death he had come. His captain had kept him anchored to life, not with words, because it had been too dangerous to make a sound, but with the strength and constancy of his grip. Harnor had clung to that memory for years. He saw it in dreams. When wounded and alone, or when mired in despair, he remembered it. When lost, he shaped the image of those clasped hands in his mind, and let his captain call him home.

His head sagged forward. Perhaps he slept a little, or almost did so. Throughout it all, he never lost his grip on his grandson's hand. The light was different when he opened his eyes again, the candle guttering as it burned down. The shadows had shifted on Iorian's face, but his grandson had not moved.

But someone new was in the room, someone who touched Harnor briefly on the shoulder, then moved around to take up his place at the far side of Iorian's bed. Harnor saw a fall of dark hair, a pale hand, a grey cloak. He looked away. Only the clasped hands were real. Only the clasped hands mattered. They were an anchor for the both of them. As long as Harnor kept on holding him, he could not give Iorian up as dead.

He lowered his head, pressing his brow against the clasped hands. The newcomer was doing something on Iorian's far side. Harnor heard the sound of water being poured into a bowl, and then the air filled with the sweet smell of herbs.

The years fell away, stolen by that scent. Harnor was a young man again, desperately wounded in battle, lying in a ruin as snow fell from the winter sky. His captain was holding him. His captain was healing him, and the smell, the smell of herbs...

Iorian's hand stirred in his.

Harnor's head snapped up. Iorian's eyes were open. His hand fought briefly against Harnor's grip, then settled into it, squeezing tight. His lips moved faintly, but no sound came out. Then Iorian smiled, a faint fluttering smile.

The other man stood up, and Harnor dragged his gaze from the miracle of his grandson's smile. He saw a grey cloak and a shining sword hilt and a green jewel. He saw the face that he had never forgotten, and the strong right hand that he had never stopped dreaming about. He remembered the words that he had heard spoken out in the streets, words that until now had been nothing but meaningless sound.

And he understood.

Harnor tried to struggle to his feet. He tried to kneel. He tried to reach for his captain's hand, to kiss it, to swear fealty with a touch.

But his captain shook his head, and his smile was the same, although an impossible expanse of years had passed. His eyes were the same, and so was his ability to command without a word.

As his captain moved towards the door, Harnor turned his back on him. Instead, he looked down at his grandson, and he smiled, and he held his hand. He obeyed his captain. He obeyed his king.

Of course he did.

Date: 2014-03-24 12:58 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] shirebound.livejournal.com
The years fell away, stolen by that scent. Harnor was a young man again, desperately wounded in battle, lying in a ruin as snow fell from the winter sky. His captain was holding him. His captain was healing him

This is a wonderful story. I love how the heart of this man stays true and his eyes and heart always recognized and honored his captain and King.

Date: 2014-03-24 02:15 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] wheelrider.livejournal.com
Another great "outsider" look at Aragorn! Wonderfully evocative. I always get drawn right in to your stories. And so true to life -- good nurses know the value of touch.

Date: 2014-03-24 04:58 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] blslarner.livejournal.com
Oh, so very perfect! Yes, of course he obeyed his beloved captain, now his King! Well, well done!

Date: 2014-03-24 08:03 pm (UTC)
dreamflower: gandalf at bag end (Default)
From: [personal profile] dreamflower
This was such a moving story, and as a reader I could appreciate Harnor as a character and his response to being taken care of by his Captain Thorongil. That could have stood on its own and been a really strong story.

But continuing it to Thorongil's reappearance as Elessar in the War of the Ring, and showing Harnor's reaction to seeing him raised it up to a really brilliant story!

Date: 2014-03-29 04:31 pm (UTC)
hhimring: (Default)
From: [personal profile] hhimring
I think that's an amazing fill of the prompt.
And I'm so glad that you did include that final scene.

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