My Favorite Aragorn Stories
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Roots: 14. Epilogue
It was some months later that Aragorn stood surveying the ruins of Tharbad at dusk, contemplating the news that the Ranger commander at that post had given him. Ill rumor in Rohan, of a king who seemed unable to muster the will to resist the Dark Lord. "Some say even that he may bend to him, and cooperate in the end," Gelthir had confided worriedly. "I have men in Rohan now, seeking the truth of such rumors, but it may be long ere we hear from them, for Edoras is no evening's walk away." Troubling tidings indeedGondor was slowly being isolated, and one by one, the free kingdoms and towns would fall, if things continued as they did. The more did he cling, therefore, to the good news of last month, that Gandalf had given him at Sarn Ford.
"We have It," the wizard had said. "Thankfully, It is well-bestowed, and Frodo shall follow my advice. Only guard well the Shire for a time, and I shall soon return to guide him north. Look for me in the evenings at Bree, for I shall pass through there first, and then wait for us by the dike. You know well whereof I speak, no? Good," the wizard had sighed when Aragorn had nodded his assurance. "Good. By the twenty-second of September, we shall set out, Frodo and I. Be careful in the mean time." An unnecessary reminder, for Aragorn and his men had been far too busy of late, and it seemed likely that the situation would only worsen as Fall drew on.
Now, he wondered whether it might not be worth it to go himself into the Riddermark, even if only to speak with the herders who wandered the broad fields, and with whom he and his people kept contact. If he were swift, and took one of Tharbad's horses....
"Captain!" Aragorn turned, alerted as much by the sentry's hail as by the sound of hooves. A Ranger, newly arrived from the north appeared, and with him, a second rider, whose lack of bridle made him an Elf. Raising a brow, Aragorn abandoned his place to go and hear the tale. Several of the Tharbad Rangers had already gathered, curious, but they asked no questions, only saw to the horses, or stood some little ways off, watching. Gelthir was speaking with the Ranger, but the Elf remained silent, his hood up, until Aragorn approached. Then did their unexpected guest laugh softly.
"Greetings, Dúnadan," said a familiar voice, and the hood was pushed back to reveal Nindarth.
"Prince of Mirkwood," Aragorn replied, giving the other a bow. "I confess myself surprised to see you here in Tharbad."
"I thought you might be, and I fear I may have surprised others of your people as well, for you do wander far afield, and it is not always an easy task to find your present location," the elven prince replied. "However, your lad, Cirallan, has been most accommodating and assiduous in his duties as messenger and escort. Well worth the price of his service, if I may say it without insult."
"I expect no less of him," Aragorn replied, and gave Cirallan an approving smile. The lad flushed slightly at that, but drew himself up. He was, indeed, young, in only his second year of service, and Aragorn might not have been pleased to learn that he had been all the escort Halbarad had spared for one of the King of Mirkwood's sons, but that in truth, Halbarad could not have sent others. The orcs were pressing far too close of late, and the home guard was doubled, as all prepared for flight in the worst case. "What brings you to us, Nindarth?"
"A matter I would rather speak of elsewhere, if you will."
"Come then," and Aragorn led him away from the others, leaving Gelthir to see to the messenger and matters monetary. When they were far enough that none would overhear, he stopped. "How is Legolas?"
"It is partly on his behalf that I have come, for he wished me to give you this, when I went," Nindarth reached into his purse and drew out a letter, which he handed to the Ranger. Then he folded his hands behind his back, and waited, while Aragorn broke the seal and read swiftly through the contents. After but a little while, he folded the paper and sighed softly.
"I cannot but say that I am relieved, and pray your pardon if that offends you," Aragorn said after a moment.
"Nay, for there are worse things," Nindarth replied with his sad smile, "and that is the greater part of what has brought me hither. Mithlond awaits, and perhaps across the seas I may find some joy in the rain once more."
"Then I wish you a fair voyage," Aragorn replied. "But for tonight, what hospitality we may offer is yours."
"My thanks," Nindarth replied, and turned as if to make for the camp again, but Aragorn reached out and touched his shoulder, staying him a moment. "What is it, Aragorn?"
"A question, if you will. This letter is dated not long after Gandalf and I departeda few days, at best. Was there aught amiss that Legolas does not speak of in this missive?"
Nindarth was silent for a time, but at length he replied, "No. Nothing at all." And that was the end of it, as the prince gave him another of those slight smiles, and then glided away, leaving Aragorn to stand in silence, wondering. After a few moments, the Ranger shook his head over the incident, and sighed. And so that is an end of it, I supposethe final chapter of the tale of the Valley of Shadow in Mirkwood. Amid all the troubles of Middle-earth, I wonder, should I account this good news, or ill?
In the end, he was not certain, and he had much else to occupy him besides this one tale, which might seem odd only to him. He placed the message carefully into his purse, and then followed Nindarth back to the camp. Mayhap he would be able to send Legolas a message when next one of the Rangers went east to Dale, but that might not be soon. He could not even spare Cirallan, for he had in mind to send the boy west and south, for he had proved himself a very reliable messenger indeed, and done very well for one so young. Things move, Legolas... who knows, but that you may leave Mirkwood soon in any event on some errand? It may be some time ere we are able to speak again. At least Aradhil may know some peace now. Whatever else I may think of him, I am glad of that!
"Anything amiss, captain?" Gelthir asked in an undertone, as he joined the Tharbad commander at the edges of the campfire.
"No," Aragorn replied, and then smiled slightly, gazing meditatively at the horizon, where the stars were just beginning to appear. "Nothing at all."
I hope you will forgive the delay, but some news ought to be delivered by family, or by friends, and not by strangers, and Nindarth told me soon after your departure that he planned to take the western road ere the summer was out.
If fortune is kind, then this letter shall find you well, and perhaps I may ease your mind somewhat to say that the guest you remanded to our care remains with us, and prospers after his fashion. At the least, he seems somewhat fatter to me.
However, I fear I must tell you that the times are darker for me, and for all of us who dared the valley together. 'Tis a sad duty, that my first task as messenger should be to send ill tidings.
For despite our care, Aradhil is dead. The world turns swiftly indeed, and we cannot hold it back.
Yours in sorrow,
Legolas of Mirkwood
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