Dotty for Dúnedain
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Gathering of the Grey Company: 1. Gathering of the Grey Company
Why do thy kinsfolk wander afar?
Near is the hour when the Lost should come forth,
And the Grey Company ride from the North.
But dark is the path appointed for thee:
The Dead watch the road that leads to the Sea.
(The White Rider -- The Two Towers)
“Halbarad!” Bone-weary, he opened his eyes to see Elladan and Elrohir approach on horseback, barely more than dark shadows in the moonless night. “We bring urgent news.”
“Aragorn needs your help. We ride south to assist our brother; how many men can we take with us to aid him in his quest?” Elrohir picked up where his brother left off. Halbarad always found it a curiously amusing trait that one brother could finish the other’s thought.
“South? As in Gondor?” Halbarad asked, fighting the cobwebs of sleep as he pulled himself to a sitting position on his bedroll.
“Yes. Our father says that there is great peril, and he needs your aid. Can you spare any men? He will need battle-trained men with strong war horses, as many as can be spared,” Elrohir repeated.
Halbarad swiped a hand across his face as he considered the forces he had left after the massacre at Sarn Ford. “I have so few left to spare. I would not take those from the High Pass - the Orcs move through there as a river these days. Save for a few I put back at Sarn Ford and on the road to Tharbad, I have already pulled those guarding the borders of the Shire, leaving the little folk almost completely unguarded.” He did some quick calculations in his head then shook it slowly. “I shall send word through my people and to the various outposts but I doubt I could raise more than two dozen and leave our own people guarded.”
The Peredhil glanced at each other, wearing identical frowns. “Two dozen? That is but a single drop of rain upon a drought-stricken field.”
“I may be able to raise more, but it will take some time for me to reach the various posts.” Halbarad packed his bedroll before he turned back to the twins. “How long do we have before we must leave?”
The brothers shared another glance, and Elladan answering this time. “We must be in Rohan by the end of the month. His need is most urgent.”
“This month? My lords, my men are widely scattered. It will take me that long to get word to the posts and then we have to get the men back here. There is no way we can be in Rohan in that time,” Halbarad protested.
“Mithrandir has fallen and the fellowship have need of a guard. Our grandmother has seen Sauron’s forces massing to attack Gondor; we need to send help, my friend, if our brother is to defeat his forces and save the land,” Elrohir tersely informed Aragorn’s friend.
“Mithrandir! Of all those I thought they might have lost on their journey, he was the last I would have guessed.” Halbarad ran a hand through his hair as he considered how best to gather the men he needed. “Can you ride out to some of the posts for me and tell them? If we split up we can cover more ground and gather the forces we need more quickly.”
They both smiled grimly. “We shall send word with Gildor’s people as well – they journey back to the Havens and shall pass by a few posts. To what point should we send the men?”
“Rivendell would probably be best, and perhaps we may pick up extra men as we pass through the south. But we cannot get the numbers Aragorn needs by the end of the month, my friends; it is unrealistic to expect such haste. It will take that long for word to reach some of the patrols.” They discussed which posts each would notify and how many men could be spared from each one before Halbarad untied his horse and lifted himself into the saddle. “I will send word through the Dúnedain settlements in the Angle to see if there are any others on leave that can be spared.”
“We shall meet you in Imladris. And then we must make all haste in our ride south,” Elrohir called as the three spurred their horses across the wilds.
Halbarad galloped along the Great East Road through the dark of the night, his grey cloak flying behind him, the hood enveloping his head, with no sign of who rode given to the curious onlookers. The few that saw his passing muttered of the return of the wraiths of the previous fall, and hurried away, fearful for their safety. They flung their doors shut and barred them.
He rode hard, arriving at the closest post as the first hint of light tinged the eastern sky. Halbarad jumped off and strode to the patrol’s commander. “Derghil! Send one of your men to spread word through the villages in the Angle calling all worthy men back to service, preferably men with horse and helm. We need battle-hardy men to send to fight at Aragorn’s side in Rohan and Gondor – all speed is needed. And send a rider to the north – to the men patrolling north of Amon Sul and another to the Ettenmoors – they are to report to Rivendell along with the rest. I will meet you there.” With a nod, he urged his horse back onto the path and started to canter away, the miles quickly passing beneath the horse’s hooves.
“Angrim!” he called at the next post as an older Ranger, half asleep, hastily fastening his tunic, hurried towards him. “I need a new horse – can you spare me one?”
“Of course, Halbarad, my friend. What haste pushes you to lather your horse so late in the night?” Angrim grabbed the reins Halbarad threw him.
“I know you have few men left, Angrim, but I have come to take them from you. We must reorder our forces …” He repeated the instructions to the newest commander of Sarn Ford, who frowned at the news.
“Do we abandon the little folk so lightly after the battles we have fought here and the sacrifices our men made so recently? Do we give up?”
“The threat to the Shire has passed from its borders; the Hobbits will have to fend for themselves for the rest of this winter. We are needed to defend our people from the threat in the east and to help Aragorn in the south. Send one of your younger recruits to the posts you have scattered between Bree and Tharbad and pull the remainder of your men. None can be spared. Send your Rangers to Rivendell – their postings will be assigned there,” Halbarad wearily repeated. “Send them to Rivendell without delay, Angrim. We need them all.”
“Yes, sir. It shall be done though I have few left in my command.” Angrim shrugged on his overtunic and breeches and followed Halbarad down the steps, calling to a young recruit. “Doron! Get the commander a new horse – give him yours if you have to, boy, this poor beast is done for today.”
The gangly youth gave a small bow and hurried to a shelter where he saddled a horse and led it out. Halbarad grabbed the reins with a short word of thanks and heaved himself into the saddle. “Remember, Angrim, everyone -- we cannot spare a single man here any longer.”
“Yes, sir,” the Ranger repeated, watching as his commander wheeled the horse away and spurred him into a canter until he rode out of sight.
“Saddle another horse, lad, and ride south until you find Haldon and Gethron – tell them they must report to Rivendell and tell them to pick up Tarkil on the way.” He saw Doron’s confused look and barked, “Now boy! You heard the commander!”
The youth ran back and grabbed another stallion and soon rode in the opposite direction as Angrim sighed and led Halbarad’s weary horse to the shelter. “Eighteen years they have strengthened this border, and now we leave it unguarded when there is more threat than there has ever been to these quiet people.”
The scene repeated itself as the orders threaded their way through the scattered posts as riders were sent in all haste to bear news to the farther patrols in Fornost and far away in the Ettenmoors, and shadowy Evendim.
“Is this all that can be spared?” Elrohir looked at the Rangers gathered by the stables when they met Halbarad once again in Rivendell several weeks later. Fifteen Dúnedain sat silently upon their steeds; their dark grey cloaks pulled close against the chill dawn air, blending into the long shadows save for the occasional glint as a lantern reflected off the rayed star pinned to their shoulder, the badge of their oath to protect their land and their people.
“There are more coming, my lord Elrohir. From the reports I have had, thirty is the most that shall accompany us. I have sent some men to pick up stronger horses; we shall meet them and a few others on the way south. I doubt the message has reached the rangers guarding Evendim yet nor have we heard from the messengers sent to the Ettenmoors. I would not leave our own people totally unprotected – I fear our borders are left too sparsely guarded as it is. Will no elves accompany us?”
The twins shared a glance, pausing before Elladan finally admitted, “My father wishes to keep the elves here to guard Rivendell. Lothlorien expects to be attacked by Dol Goldur, so they can spare no one either.”
Halbarad sighed, “So we fight alone.” The Alliance of Men and Elves is truly over, he sadly thought.
As if they read his thoughts, the twins nodded. Elladan turned to scan the men preparing to leave Rivendell. “Most of these men I know. These others though -- are they all battle-trained and ready for the forces we shall meet in Gondor?”
Halbarad drew himself up and stared at the half-elf. “Aragorn is like a brother to me; I would not send him untrained youths. These men all volunteered to go to their death in defence of Lord Aragorn. They have years of experience from battles defending the land including the High Pass. They are my most fierce veterans. There is no need to question their skill.”
“Do not take any offence by his question, my friend. He simply wishes to ensure the best men go to help our brother,” Elrohir said. “We do not impugn the Rangers’ abilities, Halbarad. We have fought beside many of them.”
“Yes, my lord.” Halbarad nodded. He paused when he saw a graceful elven woman approach, a black-furled staff held lovingly in her arms. He bowed deeply and murmured, “Lady Arwen.”
“I understand you go to help lord Aragorn in the south, Halbarad. There is something I wish for you to take with you.” She handed him her bundle. “Long have I worked on this in secret but always in the hopes that one day I would see the King’s standard fly above his head.”
“My lady, I will carry it with honour.” He took the staff from her and carefully attached it to his pack.
“You must also give him my words, Halbarad. I would have you memorize them. Will you do this for me?” Arwen placed a hand on his arm.
“Of course, my lady Arwen.” She told him her words several times, making him repeat them back until she was satisfied that he had them memorized. “Elfstone, my lady?”
“You shall see when you meet him.” She smiled at him but would say no more. “I entrust this to you, mellon, let it not fall into the wrong hands. I would that it burned before Sauron’s minions captured it.”
“Of course, my lady. I shall guard it with my life, as I shall your betrothed.” He bowed again. “I shall deliver it into his hands personally.”
“Farewell, Halbarad.” She walked to where her brothers finished checking the tack on their horses.
Halbarad turned away as she greeted them, sensing a sadness in all three. He spoke quietly to an attendant of the stables, who called to a horse that stood patiently waiting. “Here is the Lord Aragorn’s horse, my lord; may he serve him well in the battles he faces,” the elf handed the reins to Halbarad who murmured quietly to the stallion as he scratched his neck. “You shall soon see your master, Roheryn old friend.” He checked the tack on the horse then led it to his own, and mounted his horse, leading the stallion to join the rest of his men.
As they waited, Elrond himself came to bid his sons good-bye. He urgently whispered something to them, but his voice carried enough of the message that Halbarad’s blood ran chill – “…remember the Paths of the Dead." He looked around at the men waiting patiently around him, stern men all, proven in battle. How many would return? He would not turn back, nor would any of the men were they given the choice, all sworn to defend their land and return the King to his rightful throne. How many of his forefathers had similar thoughts when heading out to battle? Would he finally see a crown placed upon Aragorn’s head? Or would he return defeated once and for all. There is no place for such thoughts. I shall see him crowned or I shall die trying.
Elrond finished bidding farewell to his sons, and then blessed them all. They turned their horses and headed down the path through the deep valley, the elven voices serenading them faded as they released their horses into a canter, putting the serenity and safety of Rivendell behind, the uncertainty of war ahead.
The miles passed beneath them, and at various points their numbers swelled as other rangers joined their group until finally Halbarad looked around and saw the thirty who had promised to join him ready to meet their destiny, ready to fight for their kinsman and the return of their King.
* * *
mellon = friend
the Angle = an area bordered by the Mitheithel and the Bruinen where it is speculated that some of the Dúnedain of the North have settled.
Special thanks to those special people of SoA: Branwyn, Jay of Lasgalen and Sulriel for making suggestions and beta’ing this story for me. They gave me the nudges I needed!
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