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A story this complex and this large does not get written without a lot of help. More detailed thanks can be found in the Author Notes that will be posted the end of the story, but for now, thanks to meckinock, Amarok, Inzilbeth, Estelcontar, NiRi & Darth Fingon for translations, Estelcontar and all the kind folks on the Aragorn Angst group. Translations for the most part will be explained in the context of the story.
Now, onward to T.A. 3000...
"‘They will come on you in the wild, in some dark place where there is no help. Do you wish them to find you? They are terrible!’
The hobbits looked at him, and saw with surprise that his face was drawn as if with pain, and his hands clenched the arms of his chair. The room was very quiet and still, and the light seemed to have grown dim. For a while he sat with unseeing eyes, as if walking in distant memory or listening to sounds in the Night far away.
‘There!’ he cried after a moment, drawing his hand across his brow. ‘Perhaps I know more about these pursuers than you do....’"
The Fellowship of the Ring, J.R.R. Tolkien
"I feel as though I stand at hope’s edge, and any step from here will only lead me farther away from all that I once thought possible."
Late September, T.A. 3000
Aragorn, Chieftain of the Dúnedain, dipped his pen into the inkwell and continued his letter to his foster father, Elrond Halfelven, of Rivendell.
...and because of the summer’s losses from fever and battle, the number of able-bodied men in the Grey Company has fallen drastically, and our other companies to the north and west suffered similar losses. The east patrol is all but decimated and I had to further reduce the ranks of the Grey Company to replenish the man fallen to orcs coming down from the Misty Mountains. The Grey Company now numbers fewer than fifty. My heart is troubled as never before–it seems as though year by year I am watching the dying gasps of the remnants of the Faithful, and it tears at my heart. Time is weighing heavily on me, and hope seems a thing that is as shifting and impossible to hold onto as smoke from a fire. The shadow in the East grows, and it is hard, sometimes, to know how we will ever defeat it. I feel almost trapped, unsure what the future holds and helpless to do anything about it.
But at least the remaining number in the Grey Company are steadfast and hardy. Halbarad is as well as ever; I do not think the man is ever bothered by injury or illness or doubt. He sends his regards. My chosen men are still with me–Denlad, Galadh and Eledh, loyal all three and good friends. We have a young one with us right now. Mallor son of Malthen is his name; he is all of sixteen summers, and seems, as his name suggests, as good as gold, as his father was before him. He hails from a farm not far from the Hoarwell River, and an honest, openhearted boy he is. He is like a sponge, soaking up every bit of information I give him on everything from herbs to stories of our people’s past. He sits quietly by the fire every night, listening to the men and day by day seems to grow in stature as he watches and learns. He has become a bit of a pet to our small company, to be honest. I think we all wish for sons like him. I will be taking him on his first patrol into the wilds soon, for he is nearly ready for patrolling beyond the relatively easy assignment around The Shire. He has learned much of swordplay from Denlad, archery skills from Eledh, and stealth and speed and the value of silence from Galadh. I daily thank the Valar for such men as I have around me; they truly are chosen men, not just by me but by the Valar themselves, gifted by Ilúvatar with every skill we need to defend these lands, and the bravery with which to face all the challenges before us.
There is so much more I would wish to tell you of these men, but Halbarad is pacing outside my tent, waiting for me to go with him into Bree. He wants to buy a Mettarë gift for his wife and is all but hopping from one foot to the other, for we leave tomorrow to head north and east, following a report of possible orc attacks along the Hoarwell, and it is unlikely we will be near any sizeable settlements before the Winter Solstice arrives. Unless he wants to bring her back an orc pelt, there will be precious little opportunity to find a gift if he does not do it today. If it were not for him waiting, I would tell you more of the men: of Denlad, a kinder man I have never known, despite being fatherless and born of a cold, immoral woman who failed to give him much in the way of a name or of love; of Galadh, who measures and distributes his words as if they were mithril, and filled as they are with such wisdom and quiet humor, maybe they are indeed made of that precious metal; Eledh and his silly name thrust upon him by family tradition after being the last of none but brothers in his family. But Halbarad has thrice stuck his head through the tent flaps and even though as chieftain I could order him to wait until the eighth day of the week if I so choose, I really cannot treat him so callously.
So I bring this to a close, wishing you and Erestor and Glorfindel well. If my brothers have not yet set out to join us, please give them my regards, and tell them I think of them often and look forward to seeing them again. They were invaluable in helping me overcome the fever, and I will be forever in their debt. If they are not otherwise engaged in duty to you, tell them that if we do not cross paths on our way to the Hoarwell, they are to go down to the north of Chetwood, just within the trees (we are well hid, but their sharp eyes will see this tent that Halbarad insists I use–he lugged it all the way from our outpost at Fornost when we relocated to this temporary camp this summer). They are to speak with Bellech for placement around the Shire, and wait for our return. The men guarding the Shire will appreciate their help.
Aragorn put his pen down and carefully blew on the ink to dry it. Then he sat back and looked at the letter.
"‘...hope seems a thing that is as shifting and impossible to hold as smoke from a fire’," he whispered. Perhaps he should not have bared his soul to such an extent. Lord Elrond would be worried enough by the grim news of the state of the Dúnedain; he did not need to know just how low Aragorn’s spirits had fallen with the death of each man, woman and child. Orcs were one thing, but the fever... it had struck with such severity that it seemed almost as though it were a beast intent on devouring the Dúnedain. Aragorn himself had not escaped its touch, and while it had been a close run thing, he had survived. But fifteen men, eight women and thirteen children had not been so fortunate. It was a cruel blow atop the fifteen other warriors who had died in orc attacks as the summer months wore on. Thirty men. Four entire families wiped out. Fifty-one people, gone forever. The faithful of Númenor were dwindling day by day; Aragorn feared it might very well be his fate to live to see the last of the Men of the West pass from Middle-earth forever.
He rubbed his face tiredly. Of late it seemed that sorrows plagued him like a pack of curs nipping at his heels, but there was no sense in burdening Lord Elrond with what was his alone to bear. Elrond expected him to become king–as indeed Aragorn expected it for himself and hoped for it with all his heart–and a king was expected to be able to shoulder his own difficulties. Much as Aragorn would love to relinquish his cares, if only for a moment, he knew such a luxury was not meant for him. Ilúvatar had ordained he walk a lonely road, and walk it he would, even if lately it seemed that the road led only to dead ends.
He crushed the letter and threw it into the fire. Casting a guilty glance toward the tent flaps, beyond which he knew Halbarad paced with ever increasing impatience, he started again, writing as quickly as he could.
As fall approaches, I sit to write to you. It has been a hard summer, but hope has not deserted us...
Aragorn paused, then squeezed his eyes shut. "I am sorry, Ada, but I dare not tell you the truth." He picked up the pen and continued writing.
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