November 3, 3019

A chilling rain had fallen the night of November 2nd, but by morning, the clouds had been driven far to the east by a warming breeze from the west. Aragorn the Crownless King, as some had dubbed him, stands high on the topmost part of Orthnac and looked towards the south to Gondor.

"Orthnac," he thinks, "at least now belongs to Gondor, and indeed, if pressed to the task, shall prove a safe bulwark for the Fords of the Isen should the enemy be so bold as to unleash an attack upon the eve of winter."

He stands silent for a long while, then turns west and bows his head for a moment, then turns away and walks down the stairs leading to the tower's interior.

Reports had reached him at Orthnac the day before that there was a strange occurrence; one night the week before the report was dated, the enemy had silently and stealthfully retreated from the Firien Line and by dawn, the only traces left that they had ever been there were the smoldering of their campfires which had been left burning during the night as a ruse to make the border patrols think the enemy was there in numbers.

"The road to southern Gondor now lies open," Aragorn ponders as he walks to the room where he met with his officers. Moving over to the side of the room, he reaches out to an object that rests upon a table. Drawing aside the cloth that covers it, he lifts up the dark object lying there and holds it in his hands. For a brief moment, he feels an unmistakable force that seems to be seeking to draw his mind, but with a shake of his head and a scowl, he forces himself to ignore the force. He positions the orb so that it faced the Great West Road pointing east, but by the power of his mind, he forces the globe not to take him further eastward than the Anduin. "The road is bare," he says, "not so much as a scouting party is abroad upon the road this morning."

He turns south and looked across a sweeping panorama of landscape, finally he sees a dark mass of thousands and thousands of soldiers that seemed to stretch infinitely on the road halfway to Minas Tirith. "The Army of Mordor!" he exclaims. "They go south for the winter."

He angles the globe so that it points directly to Minas Tirith. His heart races as the Tower of the Citadel comes into view. "The White City, a symbol of all things that are good and pure, a work of the Numenorean kings in exile." A heavy leaden weight seems to come over his heart and he feels a pain to the depths of his soul. "O City of my fathers! O beacon white to the hopes of the West! How the dark, cruel hand presses you down and the foul darkness profanes the land." Again, he can feel a tug as an unseen force seeks to pull him to turn the palantir to Barad-dur, and Aragorn clenches the palantir in both hands as though he were trying to wrest control of it from some far greater force. "Curse you! I am not a lesser man to fall into so easy a trap, though you would lay one at every opportunity."

Now Aragorn turns and faces the palantir towards the far northwest. "The Shire," he thinks, and his grim features soften slightly. The peaceful meadows and slopes of that land were still drenched in green. Scattered about the far land were the signs of an ample harvest, haystacks in fields, shocks of corn tied and standing in the field, fat flocks and herds, and smoke rising from many fireplaces, their pale wisps giving evidence against a blue-gray sky that here yet remains peace and beauty in a darkened world.

He angles the palantir more so that now it faces to a place just north of the Shire and the site of a half-ruined city comes into view - Annúminas, once capitol of the Northern Kingdom. "The City of Elendil now languishes in despair, and little more than creatures of the wild now call it home. Are the cities of my ancestors ever to lie in waste and ruin, untended and unadorned while the Enemy wages constant war upon us? May the Valar bless our efforts and may Eru give us strength, and we shall rebuild, and then maybe we shall retake those lands of our ancestors and see the promises to the Faithful yet fulfilled."

"This stone," he thinks, "is now one of the only remaining stones of the original seven given to the Faithful in Numenor by the elves, and has come to me not by uncertain change, but by design. This one, the Elendil stone in Elostirion that only looks West, and the one that the Enemy holds in the Dark Tower are all that remain.... but perhaps there is yet another, and into whose hands it has fallen, no one may be certain - the Arnor stone, which was kept in the Tower of Ecthelion in Minas Tirith, and which, when the city fell, was lost."

He turns and walks back to the table that holds the palantir, and after placing it there, he looks at it with reverence before draping the cloth over its face. A knock at the door rouses him from his reverie. "Enter," he says, and a young soldier opens the door, walks in and salutes him.

"My lord, the morning's dispatches have arrived."

"Thank you," he says and smiles kindly to the young soldier. "I shall have time to read them before I meet in conference with my officers and those of Rohan. There," he motions to a nearby table, "are the dispatches you are to take with you." The young officer salutes and then opens the door and walks through it.

After the conference, Aragorn is to leave Orthnac and ride to Helm's Deep. He goes to the stables, where Roheryn awaits him saddled and ready. The clear skies and warm winds from the West blow gently about him as he rides towards Helm's Deep.

Towards late afternoon, the skies begin to darken, and a strong wind begins to blow from the north, stilling the warm western breezes. Little droplets of icy rain begin to pelt the backs of Aragorn and Roheryn as Aragorn pulls his hood low over his face.

The rain begins to freeze on the road, and were it not that Roheryn's hooves were sure and steady, the ice would have cast him down upon the hard surface. By late afternoon, the rain turns to a snow and the winds of the north begin to howl in fury, and soon, driven by the chill winds, a raging blizzard roars across the plains of Rohan.

The fell winter has begun.

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