[You’ve got mail :)]

Dearest friend,

It has been so long since my last letter, I know.  I trust you are well and the spirit of Yule is upon you?  The time of Yule is a time of Hope, for so many, and in so many ways.  We have hope for peace in the new year, that the land will take her rest and be ready to burst into life once more with the new Spring, and that we might even sit down and visit sometime  rather than just over letters!  For now, though, this will have to do, but I promise a long one, to make up for lost time.  May your hopes and wishes be granted to you, and to us all, in the new year.

Have I written to you about Master Laval and Miss Riani?  Perhaps you may even know them, for they are wanderers over many lands, and few are the regions their footsteps have not fallen.  Every now and then, they host a gathering of friends, in whatever land they happen to be at the time.  They call them Campfire Revelries, for we gather together, sharing the warmth of the fire with the wonder of music and song.  Some tell tales, and some infuriating riddles!  But all share in the cup passed around the circle and precious bonds are formed.  Perhaps, one day, we will find ourselves at one together.  I will spend one of my wishes right now so that fortunate day will come soon!

One night, not long ago, they held such a gathering in the North Downs, in a secret place, a place of Hope.  Those who would set things to right labor endlessly there, and in lands far-distant as well.  I saw many old friends, those I have written of before, so I will not write their names here.  You know my mind, and of whom and where I speak.

It was a magical evening, with new friends made, song and tale woven around us like a blanket to keep us warm, and many cups of ale to find the spots where the cold had seeped into!  But Laval and Riani are very wise, and they often have reason for where and why they choose to hold their gatherings.

One of the tales woven that evening was of the fall of one of the Way-watchers, a man named Arndreth, and of the hobbit lass, Miss Celsia Gosling, who had witnessed his fall.  It was one of those tales that you are thankful to have friends with you during the telling, for comfort and strength, and the hope that the story you all would weave on the morrow would be a brighter one.

Not long after the gathering, both Gennyrose and I received a summons from Riani and Laval, asking us to return to the site of the gathering on a matter of importance.  I have written of The Rose of the Shire many, many times, so to keep this letter somewhat manageable, I will just say that she blooms bright as ever, as do the days I spend in her company.

We all met at the site, where Laval and Riani explained why they had summoned us.  When the hobbit lass had told her story to the Way-watchers, they went out in search of Arndreth’s body, to see him laid to rest, and to recover his blade.  They found his body and gave him a proper burial, but the blade was not found with him.  Nor was it seen for many months thereafter.

Then the two of them asked us to come with them and hear the story of another Way-watcher that stood nearby.  Genny and I exchanged looks of concern, but we followed.

He explained that, just one week before, he was the only one of his entire company that had escaped slaughter at the hand of a horde of orcs.  The horde was led by a large uruk bearing a distinguishing breastplate that marked him as a captain of Dol Dinen known as Thorgal.

“Even worse,” lamented the wounded Way-watcher, “this orc captain had wielded an unmistakable blade, which he used to slaughter my fellow rangers… my brothers..”

It was the sword of Arndreth.

Laval turned to us and said, “This affront cannot be borne, and I have called you here, to help both Riani and myself to recover the sword of Arndreth, to ensure than his memory is not tainted, and that his blade may rest with such a honored ranger.”

Hope comes in many forms.  We see hope in those around us, in the ideals we try to live by, and, sometimes, even in a symbol.  Sometimes, something has value far beyond material worth, and we are willing to pay in blood to see it returned to its rightful place.  That sword had a legacy too precious to allow it to dwell in darkness, wielded by those who desecrate it by simply taking it into hand.  A quest of Hope it would be, then.  And a worthy one.

Genny and I looked to each other and nodded, for we were of the same mind.  We always are.

But I did feel the need to offer her some advice on what to bring to ward off the orcs!

We made our way out of the safety of the secret encampment, Miss Riani leading us on horseback, until we made it safely to a hidden campsite she and Laval had chosen for us to stop and rest.

As I mentioned before, these two have wandered far and wide, and have made many friends of all kinds.  When Master Laval said he had asked for someone to keep watch over the region for the orc wearing the breastplate and the blade we sought, I was rather impressed, for I had seen no signs of any tracks during our journey, nor even any sign that our camp had been used recently.

Then, he gave a whistle, and a small lynx crept out from within the shadow of the rock nearby.  He conferred with his friend, whom he called Shadepaw, and told us the orc had been spotted on the outskirts of Dol Dinen, patrolling the rocky terrain to the south.

So, with hope in sight, we set out, with Shadepaw leading the way!

We traveled for some time, avoiding what we could, though we had to deal with some wargs and orc scouts along the way.  We nearly walked right into a warg den but, thankfully, we came upon them while they slept.

Then, not long after, we spotted the creep!  We hid as best we could in the brush and rock, while we decided on a plan.  The problem was that he kept to the rock islands, upon which the orcs had made their fortifications.  For us to get close, we would need to steal across a rope bridge in plain sight.  We waited for the best moment and made for it!

But the wooden planks on the bridge gave way, and Riani took quite a spill down the cliffside, so we all slid down the cliff to her aid.  Thankfully, she was not injured, and we had not alerted any of the orcs in the tumble.

From there, we searched for a path into the highlands, dreading the light that crept up the horizon.  We knew we would need to make our strike and soon.

And strike we did!

We gave the orcs in the camp their rightful due, including that nasty Thorgal.  But, sadly, the creep did not have the sword we sought with him, and turning over the camp did not reveal it either.

Looking through the possessions of the orcs, Master Laval found a journal of sorts, covered with filth.  We made our way back to our camp, being sure to cover our tracks and that our passage would not be discovered.

Once back at camp, Master Laval began trying to decipher the words in the nasty book.  We had a small meal and did our best to keep each others’ spirits high whilst he poured over the tome.  When I questioned whether orcs even had a written language, he said they do not, but some had been taught the black speech of the Angmarrim.  His labor was not an easy thing, and we wished for him the strength needed to persevere in his task.

Finally, he set down the journal and leaned back, his eyes closed and his countenance troubled.  “Well, I think I know with whom the blade might be,” he said at last, opening his eyes and looking around the fire to each of us.

It turned out that, before we could work Thorgal’s demise, the creep had given the sword to the warmaster of Dol Dinen, an uruk known as Zaukil, as a form of tribute.

And it occurred to me then just how important one’s motivations are.  For, in a way, we meant to do the very same, to gift the blade to another.  The action was the same, but the intent very different.  We meant to return the sword of a Way-watcher to his brothers as a tribute to his life and to restore the legacy of a fallen friend.  Thorgal, whether out of fear or coercion, gave up his blade as a tribute to the Ranger’s fall and, most certainly, as a means to win favor or keep what else he had.

It is said that actions speak louder than words, but louder still is the intent behind our actions and words.  At least that is what I tried to remind myself of when Master Laval spoke next:

“There is simply no way, we could ever hope to fight our way so deep into such a strong enemy camp with strength of arms.  So, we will have to employ trickery, and a little bit of acting, and possibly a tiny bit of foolishness, if we wish to continue with this mission.”

And he told us of his plan, a plan that he hoped would gain us not only safe passage through the whole of Dol Dinen, but an audience with the very creep we meant to wrest the sword from.

Afterwards, he looked to us for our reply.  The three of us looked to each other and nodded, and while I might have been the one to speak the words, they were in the voice of the hearts of the three of us.

“I think items and gestures have much more meaning than they might seem to on the surface. A returned sword and legacy would be a gift to the Way-watchers, perhaps more than any other service we could do for them.  And to honor one who fell doing his duty.  That deserves a better end that has been written thus far.”

“An’ no sense leavin’ an adventure unadventured.  Or somethin’ like that,” piped in Genny.

So we took our rest to prepare for the next day, with Shadepaw keeping a watchful eye over the camp.

The next day, before the sun had risen, we made for a small orc encampment we had spotted in our wanderings the day before. We crept along the embattlements, ducking below the openings for crossbows to shoot through, while stealing our way to a place from which we could make our strike!

Well, Genny did not have to duck too much.  From befriending so many hobbits, I have come to know that height and stature are not the same.  Still, if you ever show her this letter…

Anyway, we stole into the camp and won it for ourselves without too much trouble.  That is when Genny asked, “So, which of us is going to be the prisoner?”

The three of us looked at each other for a moment.  Master Laval said lightly, “Well, orc armor is not usually found in hobbit-size…”

So, the three of us emerged from the camp, with prisoner in tow!

It took every last bit of my fortitude and strength not to falter, as we made our way past horrors unimaginable.  From the cries of the tortured, to the sight of beings of such evil regarding us as one of their own, my only desire was to turn and run.  But I watched Riani, walking before us, into a waking nightmare, and she did not falter.  And Laval, the kindly elf-lord, though he is far too modest to call himself such, matched her step for step.  And poor Genny, who had no disguise and had to bear the scorn and derision of every last creep who spied her as we made our way through the camp.  With every step forward she bravely took, my fondness for her grew.  And I drew strength from their example and kept pace.

It rent my heart, but to play the part well, I gently shoved Genny forward every now and then.

“No more hobnanigans!” I grouched.

“All right, all right!” she cried, kicking me not so gently in the shin.

Finally, we arrived at the approach to the Warmaster’s tent, with two large trolls in full battle dress guarding the entrance.  There was a line of creeps waiting to gain entry, so we walked off to the side, far enough away from any others to discuss the remainder of our plan.

We quickly discussed our options, while trying not to linger long enough to arouse suspicion.  First, we needed to determine if the creep was inside or not.  Then, if he was, whether he carried the blade of Arndreth with him.  Since I was apparently the lucky one who donned the armor of an orc of higher rank, it was decided that I should try to gain admittance to the tent and see what I could see.  Master Laval described the blade to me, so I would know it by sight.  He concluded with a comforting thought…

“Just be careful and, if anything goes wrong, make a sound like a dying barn owl, and we will charge in to rescue you!”

I shot him a look of daggers, then took a deep breath and strode toward the tent.

After a few grunts and gestures toward my hobbit prisoner and fellow orcs, the trolls lowered their man-sized clubs and let me pass.

I tried to walk about in an somewhat orcish fashion, while spying everything around me.  Toward the back of the tent, I saw a creep who had to be the warmaster, attended by a lieutenant on either side.  He wore something strapped over his shoulder, so I edged toward the side of the tent to make out what it was.  Then I sighed and made my way out of the tent back to the others.

“The creep warmaster has a blade like you described strapped over his shoulder,” I whispered to them all.

“Well, that is a relief, I think,” mused Master Laval.  “Let me guess, dozens of orcs inside?”

I counted on my fingers a moment and then replied, “Oh, not more than a dozen.  Only about thirty or so.”

The others gave me a funny look, but I figured it was just the stress of our ordeal come to the surface.

Master Laval quickly formulated a plan.  Riani and I were to lead our prisoner, Gennyrose, into the tent toward the warmaster, while Laval tried to keep the trolls’ attention diverted as best we could.  I would then break off and somehow weasel my way behind the creep, to try and free the sword from him while he and his fellow creeps’ attention was on our hobbit prisoner.  Then, Riani would remove her mask and challenge the warmaster.  During the confusion, we all would make our escape and meet at our campsite from the night before, hopefully all in one piece.  Master Laval and Master Tarnorili must conspire together on their battle strategies, I am convinced!

But there was nothing to do but set out about it.  So, we each acted our part with the best we had, and we earned our chance.

Riani and Genny did their part, keeping the creeps’ attention towards them, as I stole behind the warmaster and reached my hands toward the hilt of the blade.

As I drew it and backed away, Riani pulled off her mask and cried, “Behold!  It is I, Riani, of the Rangers!”

The warmaster, Zaukîl, rose from his seat of power, ”Fools! You have called the might of the Ongbúrz upon you!”

Genny gave the creep a swift kick in the shin, and in the confusion, we all rushed out the tent!

It was madness, but when one’s hopes and intent are noble, things have a way of working out, I have found.  Somehow, dear friend, we all made it back to the campsite safe and sound!

“We won!” cried Genny.

I held out the sword for all to see, and the burdens we bore from our journey were lessened, for we had succeeded in our quest.  Each one of us had played our part, and with determination, a little skill, and, perhaps, the smallest bit of fortune, the hope of finding Andreth’s blade had been fulfilled.  No longer would the blade of their brother draw blood from its own.  The legacy of a great man would be made whole once again.  And, for me, to have paid back the smallest of portions of the debt I owe these noble Way-watchers was worth every last moment I had endured and more besides.

We clasped hands with each other, with great relief and happiness that we all made it through our journey.

“We should probably get out of here now, and celebrate back in safety,” Master Laval said.

“‘Indeed!  The life of an orc is far too glamorous for me,” I replied with a smile.

While the others laughed, Genny asked, “Odorous, ya mean?”

“Odorous, yes!”

After a brief rest, we mounted our ponies and made to put as much distance as we could from that wretched place.

Late in the day, we finally made it back to where our adventure had first begun.  Poor Genny.  She had braved so much, and she needed to see to her rest before we had the chance to deliver the sword.  We bid her the fondest of farewells, with the promise that we would all gather together very soon to celebrate our success!

The three of us remaining saw to the end of our task.  We approached Miss Celsia, Riani with the sword slung over her shoulder.

“Greetings, my friend!” Master Laval said, “We bring with us a gift from an old friend of yours.”

Riani unsheathed the greatsword from her back and held it out toward Celsia, “We have retrieved Arndreth’s sword and now give it to you, that you may lay the sword with him.”

“‘It was an honor to bring this back for you, and for all who hold the Rangers dear,” I added.

Riani carefully placed the sword in the hobbit’s trembling hands.  Miss Celsia, tears streaming, offered us her heartfelt thanks and then went to bring the sword to the Way-watchers.

As we watched her depart, I turned to the others and said, “I know I will sleep easy tonight.”  For in that moment, our small, unlikely hopes became real, and we saw the hopes of another fulfilled.  There can be no greater way to celebrate Yule-tide, can there, my friend?

As always, so many things pull at us, and all too soon we had to part company.  I offered my dear friends and gracious hosts one last compliment for their hospitality.

Then, as I lay down to rest, before sleep took its hold over me, I thought over our deeds and their meaning.

So many things drive us forward.  Duty, responsibility to others, responsibility to ourselves.  Honor, kindness, and many more I could never hope to think of in this moment, but they are there.

But it is in our hopes that those things take root, is it not?  The hope that we will see our wishes fulfilled.  The hope that we may see a better day, that we may, with our small gestures, be a small part in making a better whole.  Hope is the motivation we all feel, and it is only with hope that we achieve.

Then I thought of the Ranger’s sword and how both our party and the uruk, Thorgal,  enacted the very same ritual with it, that being a gift to another.  And it occurred to me just how important one’s intent is with their actions.

When one’s hope is fulfilled by another willingly, must not their intention be true?  I think, maybe, that one’s hopes are best fulfilled by others.  That, somehow, we have a way to make true for others some things they cannot make true for themselves.  I have come to realize that we are all connected, and in so many ways.  Perhaps this is just another way in which we are as one.

Yule-tide is the season of Hope and hopes fulfilled.  In what ways might we all act in the hopes of one another, that we may see all hopes fulfilled, I wonder?  Will we have peace in this new year, will the earth see her rest and burst forth with the promise of Springtime?

We have hope for so many things, and some of those hopes will be difficult to fulfill.  But maybe we can look to the gift of this season as an example to follow.

For now, I promise to try and fulfill the hope that we might sit down together and visit sometime rather than just over letters!  But letters are nice to receive just the same, and I hope you find this one worth the long wait.

May your hopes and wishes be granted to you, and to us all, in the new year, dearest friend!

With Light,