Tales of the North
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Bitter Harvest: 1. Bitter Harvest
Third Age 2049, autumn – near Archet
"Off my land!" Farmer Rushlight clutched his scythe for reassurance as he shouted at the three strangers who were crossing the field nearest his farm. Two of them were half-carrying, half-dragging the third, which was all he could see in the half-dark.
At the sound of his voice the three stopped, and one of them shouted something he couldn't make out.
"OFF MY LAND!" he yelled again, this time even raising the scythe over his head in anger. Now they moved off rapidly, and he watched until they had disappeared out of sight, satisfied at having driven off this threat.
A few weeks later, in the Prancing Pony.
The Pony was quiet for the night before market day, and Willard Rushlight sighed heavily as he sat down in his usual place. A quiet market meant slow trade, and lower prices. Not that he hadn't done well the month before, with farms further up the North Road suffering attacks and losing their crops.
"Penny for your thoughts, Will," someone said suddenly, and he looked up to see Dale Crackwillow and Rowlie Thistlewool carrying three pints of beer.
"I bet he's already counting tomorrow's profits in his head," Rowlie said slyly, and Dale laughed.
"May I remind you that I won't have anything else to sell until spring," Will muttered, not nearly as offended by his friends as he sounded.
"Never mind," Dale said. "I'm more interested in what you two make of the troubles along the North Road."
"It's an ill business, that's for sure," Rowlie said. "Used to be the north was safer, but nowadays Norbury's as haunted as the Barrowdowns, or so I hear; anyways," he glanced around him conspiratorially as he took a swig of his beer, "I suspect it's all tied in together. Goblins and wolves popping up and bothering honest farmers, and suddenly all kinds of ruffians to plague us as well; why, will you look at them over there, those... Rangers" – he nearly spat out the name in disgust as he cast a glance at a corner of the common room – "I've rarely seen a more villainous lot, not that they come into Bree often."
"I hear some of them helped out at the harvest over near Staddle," Dale interjected. "It's not as if we can't use the extra hands at harvest-time."
"Perhaps, but that's new to me, and I've yet to see any of them doing an honest day's work. I'm sure the King would never have put up with it," Rowlie went on.
"The King! Those days are long gone," Will interrupted him, "And about those Rangers, I'm not having any of them near my farm. Just a few weeks ago, I caught a bunch of them trampling all over my crops, and I chased them off my land. I don't know what they would have done if I hadn't had my scythe and the dogs."
In the corner that Rowlie Thistlewood had indicated two Rangers sat glumly over their own beer.
The younger of them laughed softly, bitterly, as Will Rushlight regaled the common room with his tale of bravery. "As I recall it, we were cutting across a bare field, not damaging his crops, nor is three men a bunch. I would have gone the long way around if it hadn't been for Elemmir's wounds." It was nearly night when they had crossed over the stretch of farmland and he thought it safe enough. It had been sheer bad luck that they'd been seen, but the half day they cut off their journey time had almost certainly saved young Elemmir's life. "And as for "villainous Rangers... The King would never have put up with any of that..." He mimicked the farmer's tone of voice perfectly, then shook his head wearily. "It's only been seventy-five years, and already they have forgotten."
"To them it's two generations, almost three, and best be glad for that forgetfulness," his companion replied. "It's all that stands between us and the Enemy."
"Are things that dire, then?" the younger man asked.
"Not yet," the other said, "But that Orcs and wargs are raiding openly means that the Enemy has recovered fully from the loss of Angmar. We on the other hand are nowhere near ready for an attack. Now, I don't think the Enemy is about to strike in strength – or we would have had warning from the Elves, but I do not doubt that he wants to know for certain whether any of the Dúnedain remain for him to crush." He paused, considering. They had repelled the raiders, and chased them back into the Weatherhills to be hunted down further, but nine men had died, and a further twelve had been badly wounded. "Still, it's a grim duty that we have to the people of Eriador, and the harvest we reap on their behalf is a bitter one."
He paused and moved his mug over to the other Ranger. "Speaking of bitter, I can do with another beer."
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