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Rhone led his men out of the North Downs and into the valley before him. They were heading South; the Orcs moving Northeast. Rhone timed it so that he descended into the valley behind his foes. However, it was later in the day, about dusk, when he saw that a smaller group of Orcs had broken off from the main group and started moving Southeast, up into the foothills of the Weathered Hills.. He could tell they were travelling at a slower pace…and were searching for something. The main group of orcs were only a couple miles to his left flank; they were not out of striking distance if alarmed

He now faced a critical decision in how to deploy his men; and how swiftly. Moving through the night would all but guarantee he and his men were fatigued by the time they caught the Orcs moving to the Weathered Hills. A dark thought descended on him…somewhere out here in the wild, his future chieftain, Aragorn, was travelling…and it was possible he was heading right into an Orc ambush.

After surveying the distance between him and his quarry, Rhone addresses the men following him. "The Orcs should be just 10-12 miles ahead of us. If they keep their backs to us, we should be able to close the distance by nightfall, and hopefully kill them while they rest. That is, if they stop for the night. It does not appear that they know they are being pursued, yet. I will strive to keep it so."

Rhone then turns back to his path and continues moving on.

Desmond drew Narsil, pondering if this was indeed the right moment to wield the blade.

He crept quietly away from his companions, in hopes of circling around the foul strangers for a surprise attack.

Search Checks:
Desmond: (6+2+5F= 13)
Orin: (2+2+4+8F= 16)
Mogren: (results not published)

Desmond counted at least 8, but was not sure if he doubled up on a couple of them.

Mogren whispered "I see 7 of them…I think. 7 vs. 3 is not great odds, but it could be worse. We must take them by surprise…."

Orin, crouched a little further away, and not wanting to risk being heard, held up both hands with 9 fingers extended but then quickly followed up the gesture with a shrug motion…

"And they mocked the benefits of literacy back in my village…" Desmond grumbled to himself, teeth clenched in a smug grin. "This is not going to be pretty, is it?"

Desmond made a quick count of the approaching contingent.

Desmond scribbled the note hastily, then moved off from his position, enough to pitch it to a tree he thought was in the strangers' walking path. He, Orin and Mogren then moved back towards higher ground, staying out of sight.

A few minutes passed; it was getting darker and thus more difficult to see, but Desmond noticed that one of the travellers found the note….not by sight, but rather by scent? He plucked the note from the tree, and began sniffing it…he then called out in a foul, almost bestial cry, and one of his companions came walking over towards him…the 2 looked it over…turning it upside down and sideways, trying to understand it much as a person might try to orient a map with characters they did not understand. They began communicating in a guttural, harsh tongue…an argument must have ensued because one took the opportunity to slap the other with a heavy, apparently armored hand…he then took the note and shoved the whole thing into his mouth and ate it, resumed his post and began walking their line again up the hill. This time, Desmond noticed they all began to ascend the hill with their noses up to the wind, and breathing heavily, as if they were a pack of scenthounds…and their senses seemed to have been tuned well…for they were…gradually, turning themselves straight into the area where Desmond, Mogren and Orin were hiding!

Desmond tried to get an idea of what path the strangers took. Taking a scrap of paper and quill from his cartographer kit, he wrote the following note, tacking it to a tree he assumed the group would pass. In Westron, it said:

"If strangers are friendly, with or with want for pipeweed, they will wave."

Desmond reasoned the following: Most of the bad souls he had encountered thus far in life were poor of wit or standing. And those poor of wit or standing often could not read. And those that could read… well, Desmond had never seen a soul of ill will who also partook in blowing smoke rings.

Stealth Check: 5+6+4F=15 (Great Success)
Insight Check: 5+1+2+2F=1= (Failure)

Desmond found a good rocky niche to remain out of sight from where he could observe the travellers. He counted that about 7 had moved off from the main group and were making their way up the Northwest slopes of the Weather Hills, spread out about 10-20 feet apart. They stopped every few moments to look and listen, however Desmond was too far away to really get a sense of what they were doing.

Desmond did likewise, moving a few paces away to find a good spot to crouch low.

"Regardless, I believe they may have spotted us. Whoever they are."

Desmond surveyed the surrounding area, his first instinct to hide. He studied the contingent for a moment, determining how fast they were moving. With purpose? Malice? Desmond was uncertain, and he studied his two companions for a hint of expression that might convey deeper understanding.

Mogren looked out but from behind a rocky boulder that afforded him some cover.

"I cannot say, at this distance, what they are. If they were dwarves, I cannot think why they should not use the Great East-West road. Then again, if they are….Orcs…I don't know why they are even out during the day at all."

A strong wind then blew from the South, out of the hills and into the gap before Desmond and Mogren to the North/Northwest. They noticed some of the creatures stop, and then it seemed a contingent broke off and starting head their way, up into the Weather Hills….

Rhone was like a walking, breathing topographical map of Eriador. His men had seen him in action before; when his mind went to task, it was as if he was in spiritual communion with the earth. They knew better than to rouse him from that state. They'd watch and wait while he conducted his ritual, which was, in many ways, not unlike watching a scent hound. Nose to the wind, eyes shut, and then without word, a 90 degree course correction. Wind was coming from the North. At other times, he'd drop and hug the ground for minutes on end, come back to his feet and simply announce "EAST!" He watched the sun during the day, the stars at night, and counted his pace to determine distance travelled. He was a joy to watch in action.

Lore Check (general geography): 4+5+10F=19 (Success)
Hunting Check 3+6+6F=15 (Great Success)

Rhone led his men southeast out of the North Downs. From their elevation, they could see a pack of creatures of moving in the distance, losing them at times to other hills or ridgelines or trees. It was mid-afternoon, and the sun was well on their right shoulder at this point, but Rhone's keen eyes could just barely make out black specs moving swiftly from Southwest to Northeast along the gap between the North Downs and the Weather Hills…he gathered they were some 10 to 12 miles away.

Rhone looks straight into the eyes of the ranger who spoke and responds, "do not underestimate the orcs, whatever numbers we have. We can never afford to lose any of our number, and yet they have virtually limitless ability to assault us, regardless of how many of them we kill. If you brought me a hundred men, I would be just as cautious when confronting our enemy."

"Come, let us not waste any more time. Our pace must be swift; our Chieftain needs our help."

Without saying another word, Rhone turns east and takes off at a healthy jog. He goes through a mental checklist of the possible paths that Mogren and Aragorn would be taking and plans an intercept route. Once he has his course laid out in his head, he glances up at the sky to first check the time of day and location of the sun; and second, to see what direction the wind is blowing.

"If it's one thing my past travels have taught me, it's to be cautious… Provided I'm able to remember those past travels at the appropriate time. Hmm. Thankfully, that time is now. And for the moment, my wits have caught up with me."

Desmond reflected on his dealings with wraiths. He shuddered, knowing that The Dagger within his pack still beckoned palpable shadow. Yes… Those dealings seemed like years - no - ages ago. Another time… another place. Who was to say that wasn't a different Desmond, altogether? Just a Rat, perhaps?

Desmond's face flushed, and he studied the group of travelers closely, squinting and mimicking a dwarven-like brow.

"Are we certain these are dwarves? What of Hobbits? Or those… other things that often lurk below land… I don't mean dwarves, of course."

"Aye, Rhone-we will await you at the Eastern Water Duct!" responded one of the Rangers.

Rhone and Amroth wasted little time in assembling their gear. Both man and elf were accustomed to travelling light. When weapons and packs had been secured, Rhone led Amroth through yet another maze of tunnels. These tunnels were less homely and accommodating than the halls in which he had previously found himself. More than one seemed to descend or lead into cold darkness. His mind wondered at what things lurked down in depths under the ruins of Fornost. Had the Dunedain been able to secure every tunnel, or was there some hidden thing that waited to assassinate lone travellers that happened to stop by. He did not pause to ask Rhone such things.

Within a few minutes, they were gathered at the Eastern Waterway; an underground cistern that transported water into or out of the city. A massive iron grate once blocked the path and excluded trespassers from slipping into or out of the city. Not it was partially rusted out and allowed for easy entrance for those that knew of it; it's presence was hidden by thick overgrowth. A dozen or so Rangers were gathered about, and already making plans about what would happen next.

"This is what we could summon on short notice, Rhone. Other men are on patrols or have critical tasks to tend to. More than a match, I daresay, for a rabble of Orcs trespassing on our ancient hallowed soil! What for then now, Pathfinder?"

The blood seems to drain from Rhone's face when confronted with this new information and Rhone quickly starts giving orders. He replies to the ranger, "go tell the Elders what you have told me." To the other ranger he says, "gather whatever rangers of the Grey Company you can find and tell them to meet me at the eastern entrance with all speed. Tell them it is on my orders."

Rhone then turns to Amroth. "If you wish to exact vengeance on the slayers of Irime, then I will take you to your things. Regardless, it is my duty to find and deliver Aragorn from theses orcs."

And with that, Rhone hurries off in the direction of his and Amroth's belongings.

A couple other stern faced men walked over to Rhone and Amroth after the word had been dispersed.

"Pathfinder Rhone" one said. After you found the Elf at the scene of battle a week ago, we kenned that the Orcs whom had done that grisly work had fled toward the East, probably back to Angmar from which they came. Orcs will not use the great road, and instead will go over open ground during the night. If it's true that Aragorn is coming West…and the Orcs are travelling East… and neither is using the road…"

Amroth's mouth went ajar and he blurted out, "Then Aragorn and Mogren are heading straight into the same Orc patrol that felled Irime and almost killed me!"

All 3 pairs of eyes turned to Rhone.

"Estel's story is his own; it is not my place to speak for him. If you have business still in Middle-Earth, then I offer whatever assistance you desire. Since you seem to be more learned than you first appeared, you will know then that we Dunedain are quite effective against the Shadow…"

Rhone becomes distracted as he notices the commotion increasing in the hideout. Another ranger briefly stops in the doorway and says, "Rhone come, an assembly has been called," and just as quickly, walks off.

Rhone looks at Amroth and says, "Come, let us see what news has come. This may decide our course of action for us." Rhone gestures for Amroth to follow him.

Rhone walks swiftly through the tunnels, as one who knows intuitively where every twist and turn is, or who's senses are as keen as that of the Elves. Despite Amroth's own heightened senses, he almost gets lost here in the underground. However, Rhone makes sure that Amroth stays close behind him and eventually they end up in the domed cathedral.

Rhone's attention stays intently on the Elder as he reads the letter from Mogren. As the news is presented, both a look of happiness and of concern crosses his features. He turns to Amroth. "This is great news, but I fear why Elrond has released him to take his place now. It seems too early for him. Regardless, you should stay until he gets here. It is possible that his returning may affect you as well, and I'm sure it would be nice to see your companions again. In fact, I will talk to the Elders and we may join the greeting party, if you would rather reunite with them sooner. What say you?"

By the end of that day, the 3 companions; Desmond, Orin and Mogren had crested the hills and were moving down the western side of the Weather Hills. It was dusky and cool when Desmond spied a company of wanderers moving in the valley below.

Mogren looked out from behind a rocky outcropping where he took shelter. "They are not men, judging from their movement. Nor are they elves. If our luck is good, they are a band of Dwarves travelling to the Iron Hills; your country" he nods at Orin. "But if our luck is bad…then they are most likely something ill tempered and less mannered."

"And then I must think, if they are indeed Dwarves, taking from the Blue Mtns to the Lonely One…then why did they not use the road? Why take this rough country? Whatever their reasons, they are directly between us and our destination…and they are coming this way. How do you wish to proceed, Desmond?

As Rhone and Amroth discussed their matters, an excited buzz started overtaking the other men dwelling and conversing and training in the ruins beneath Fornost.

Soon, the Elders of the 12 clans of Rangers were calling out to their men "General Assembly in the Great Hall immediately; there is news to discuss"

In the next few minutes, several hundred Rangers pour into a massive, underground domed cathedral room. What manner of chamber this had been in it's glory, one could only guess. But it was vast and hallowed, with high stone arches and pillars still in tact. It's high stained glass windows were now partially buried on the outside with earth and rubble, but the let in a little sun and the beams of light illuminated the chamber now as the men assembled.

They came from all walks of life; some fresh out of the field with mud and soil caked on their boots, others had been underground for some time. There were cooks and writers and farmers among them; some of high birth and some of humble means, for the days of the noble system were gone and these men now had to fend for themselves. But they were all, regardless of their background accomplished fighters and walkers of Middle-earth.

There were 12 Tribes in all: From the East there was the Lost Battalion of Rhudaur, and from the South, 3 distinguished groups: The Sentinels of Cardolan, The Poor Knights of the Children's Square of Tharbad, and the Legionaire's Battalion of Southern Mithrond. Arthedain had remained most true to it's former military organization, and their groups were formed into Companies: The Running Wolves (Wolf Company), The Company of Eagles, The Company of Stags, the Company of Bears. And then there were the four colored Companies: Blue, Green, Brown, and smallest but perhaps the most potent and fierce of all, the legendary Grey Company.

"Greetings, Men of the West!" cried one of the Clan Elders, and his salutation was met with the traditional hand over heart and Elven "Namarie" by all the Men in the Chamber.

"We have just received a Raven, and with him comes…great news, I shall read aloud to you"
With that, he unfurled a small note and began:

"Greetings, my brothers, I bare tidings and news from the East. I am Mogren, of the Sentinels of Cardolan, and I have been positioned on the border of Angmar for some time to keep an eye on the comings and goings on for some time. As you may know, I take council with Lord Elrond from time to time. And because of that, I tell you now that the Lord of Imladris has given leave for the Heir of Isildur to join us. Aragorn II, son of Arathorn has been turned over to me; his training and education is complete, and he has declared his intent to take his place at the seat of our brotherhood; the Chieftain of the Dunedain has returned to us!

"I write to tell you of our coming; for by the time you receive this, we will have been a week into our journey west across Eridador to be re-united with you and to welcome our Chieftain. He bears the shard of Narsil and green jeweled Ring of Barahir and together we take the overland route and eschew the road. I estimate it will take a month to reach you. Prepare yourselves for our coming and rejoice that our King has returned! Look for us in the gap between the Weather Hills and the North Downs. My heart swells at the thought of the day of our grand reunion!"


Rhone noticed that Amroth contemplated Rhone's words for a moment "In fact his name was Estel…how did you know that? And why indeed…" he echoed aloud "…would Elrond have young Master Estel roaming off to dangerous missions?"

Amroth stood up for a moment and walked towards Rhone with his head cocked, as if a curious revelation was unfolding.

"You say you are the remnants of the Dunedain…the Rangers of the North. In the Halls of Thranduil, the tale is known that Elrond sheltered the heir of Isildur in his house for all these long years. Is it possible that this Estel was the latest heir? If so he would be heir apparent to all claims of Numenorean rulership…and that would include Arnor….he would be…your liege-Lord."

A more urgent and a more…personal look grew over Amroth's face.

"Perhaps..he is preparing Estel to take his place…amongst your people…as the Chieftain of the Rangers. No, then, I will not continue on to the White Ship. I have many reasons now to stay behind. Some are noble, and some less so. I would see vengance brought upon Irime's killers. And I must find out what this business is with Estel..and how it interacts with my former companions."

Amroth walks over to you. "I must depart and head back where I came; away East to Rivendell."

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