Two figures walked along a road. The road was wide, and stretched between the high passes of the Misty Mountains and the milder foot-hills that surround the crags of Numeriador. A long road it was, crossing many miles, though neither of the pair was to walk them all, not on this journey. Their intent was to cross the lands once called the Kingdom of Rhudaur between the cleft of Imladris and the banks of the river Greyflood, from Rivendell to the town of Cameth Brin. It was not a crossing undertaken with little care. In present days, the fields of Rhudaur had still their beauty and had not yet lost the pleasant greenery that turned to brown in later days. In despite of this fairness there was a blight on the eastern part of Eriador. Her masters were no longer the tall lords from ancient Westernesse, as they had been before the shadow came to Angmar in the north, though neither did Angmar's Witch-King wear the crown of Rhudaur. Rather it was that the lands were wild and untamed, in furious contest between the Orcs and Elves and Men.
Through these lands the road roamed, and along this road in these lands the travelers walked. One, a boy of proud blood, and the other, an elf of fading legacy. The boy had dark hair, sky-blue eyes, and a fair complexion. Over his rough clothing he had a cloak, short for a man and long for him, made of cloth that was dyed the green of nighted forest. The youth was caught in the joy of travel, and walked with wide eyes and a broad grin. The boy had just begun his tenth year, and had seen little of the world.
The Elf had hair as dark as the boy's, though it grew much longer, nearly to his back, and his eyes were grey. He wore a cloak of the same deep green, and under it a plain tunic of black unadorned by sign or sigil. There was strength in the arms of this Elf, and keen sight in his eyes. He had more in years, skill, and lore than did the boy who walked beside him, but Elves do not measure themselves by mere accumulation. By his peoples reckoning, the Elf was barely older than the boy. His tongue was too quick, they said, and he needed wisdom. The boy of course, knew nothing of the maturity of Elves or of wisdom.
Both had been abroad only a short time, having begun their journey only the day before. They strode, young Elf and young Man, through a misty spring morning, the boy enjoying the sights of the awakening world, and the Elf wary of its dangers. The glow of the early sun was beginning to sear away the dawn fog.
The boy looked back over his shoulder, trying for a glimpse of home. It was gone. Home had disappeared as Master Elrond shrouded it from sight. The boy thought about the Deep Dale of the Cleft and the last homely house, though it was not known to him by these names. To him, it was Rivendell, and it needed only that name. The boy had been raised there, as a peredhil, one of mixed Elven and Mannish parentage. His youth was far from spent, but in the years he had lived so far his life had been one of peace and calm. His father was one of the Dunedain of the north, sometimes called the Rangers, and his mother was an Elf-maiden from over the Misty Mountains. The boy could remember nothing of her aside from the sadness that clouded his father when ever he asked about her. Your mother was one of the most beautiful parts of an earlier age, his father had said, and the world of Men and the shadows of this age were too heavy for her heart. She loved us both dearly, but in the end that love and ours was not enough. The boy understood partly what his father meant by that, and he felt the sadness too, whenever he thought of her.
The sadness he felt, yes, but he was still too young understand what he meant by shadows and ages. All the boy saw was the goodness of the lands around him, and the adventure that lay before him. To this he turned his thoughts, and asked his companion a question.
"What shall we take as our traveling-names, do you think?" asked the boy.
The Elf looked down at the boy, and smiled. Youth for Elves lasts many years, and like the youth of men they are years of learning and joy, but they are never inquisitive years.
The Elf knew the boys family well. He knew his dour father, and his odd trio of aunts and great-uncles and cousins. These formed the the widest-ranging family in all of Middle-Earth, at least in the places where the mix of races was thought to be odd or to require a wide range. For his part, the Elfs family was only Elven, yet he smiled to think of the pride he took in it. His line was of the Teleri, and he was descended from the great Ship-Wrights of the Blessed Lands, to his mind the finest makers of things in all lands and ages. Some dwarves might quibble at this accolade, but the Elf was as sure of it as he was sure that Manwe moves the winds and the winds move the clouds.
"You think we will need traveling-names?"
"My papa says that one should not wander about without taking a traveling-name, and he says that your true name is for your friends and your family and nobody else."
"You are right, my young Dunedan. I do not think we shall be able to get all the way from Elrond's house to Gondor without meeting anyone at all. So long as we cannot avoid chance meetings, we should be ready. It would be impolite to refuse all introductions, I think. It is wise that we should take names for ourselves. What name do you choose?"
"I choose Smoke! I want to be called Smoke!" cried the boy, and clapped with glee, as at a joke.
"That's a strange name. Not strange for an orc-name perhaps, but strange on you. Why should you be named Smoke?"
"Master Erestor said for you to be watchful for fires. Smoke helps you find fires, and I'm going to help you."
The Elf smiled. "You are a clever lad, clever indeed. But I do not think Master Erestor spoke of that sort of fire."
"What kind of fire, then? Is there a fire that gives no warning that it burns?"
"Not precisely. Do you remember when the Elves came to Rivendell from over the Hithaeglir, the Elves of Lorien?"
"Yes. They weren't nice. I didn't like them, and neither did Papa. I said we should hide from them in the trees and watch them. I thought maybe they would do something silly when they thought no one was looking and we could have a nice laugh. They didn't do anything silly, they just sat about talking." The boy diminished a bit as he finished his short tale, as though he'd hoped another telling might sweeten its ending, and was disappointed that it did not.
At this the Elf laughed. "I could learn from you it seems, Master Smoke. I did not have so quick a mind when I met the Noldor. They made unkind remarks about the workmanship of my teachers, my heart rose in my chest, and I spoke in anger. That was the fire Master Erestor warned me to be wary of, the fire of the spirit. I was taken by such a fire and it burned away my knowledge of courtesy. It is a friend in uncertain times, this flame, it gives the confidence of righteousness. But in times of peace, relative though it be, it can be the spark of unfavored war. And though it makes no smoke, there are many ways to watchful of its coming."
The boy though for a moment and said, "If you will tell me the ways I will help you watch."
"Your aid should not be promised so easily. What shall I give you in return?"
"Your hammer?" The boy stole a careful glance at the long-hafted hammer that rode on the Elf's pack, kept company by a wide shield of enameled steel.
The Elf smiled again. "Then it seems my part must be regret, Master Smoke. Though it be only a trifling sledge barely fit for the pounding of barrel-rings, it has a history that calms me to think of, and I love it greatly. I could not part with a thing so dear, even for the succor of a mighty Lord of Men, whom you are not yet. If that is to be the price, I must refuse your aid, though it pains me to refuse such a brave offer of assistance. Ah! I begin to feel the cold chill of failure in my breast if I must go on alone."
"Oh, it's alright, you can keep your hammer. My Papa's going to give me his sword when I'm old enough. I'll help you anyway, though."
"My thanks, Master Smoke."
"Does your hammer have a name? It seems like a very good hammer. It shines nicely."
"It does have a name. It was named Urumale in the older tongue when it was forged by the Authadain of Gondolin, though I choose to call it Naradring Fire-hammer. In the first age of the sun when your people were as new to the world as you are to me, they contended with a great evil whose name was called Morgoth the Dark Lord. Among his lieutenants were powerful demons of flame called Valarauko, the Balrogs. Naradring smote one of these beasts of shadowy fire, and the tales say the heat was so great it never left the metal, and can be called up by the hammer's master. It is not a natural fire, and burns very hot, though it will never harm the hammer that is its home. I will tell you the tale of how I gained it at a later hour, some night while we travel. It is a tale of excitement; the glow of a campfire and the shining of the stars and moon make better setting for adventure tales than green hills and tittering birds."
"I hope you tell me the tale soon. I like tales of adventure, but papa says Im not old enough to hear to many tales of that sort."
"Perhaps your papa has the right of it, and I should not tell you the tale."
The boy looked suddenly disappointed, though the Elf did not notice. They walked a while in silence. The birds of the fields flew by and overhead, and all about them the greenness of life was returning to the lands of Rhudaur. Blue-green grasses shook in the quick winds that whistled down from the Misty Mountains, and the sky was a strong, clear blue. A few hours after their midday meal the boy asked another question.
"What will be your traveling-name?"
"Hm. I have not chosen such a thing for myself before. Is there other advice your father gave you of traveling-names? How should they be chosen?"
"He said they must be true, you cannot choose the name of another, lest you be mistaken for him. He said they should be simple, because broad names do not fit the narrow backs of plain travelers. And he said they should suit you, as all names should suit their wearers."
"That all seems wise." The Elf thought for a long moment. "I choose Eredan, which is lonely-smith in the speech of men. It is a name of my own devising, so if it belongs to another already, I cannot be accused of knowing. It is simple, and it suits me. What do you say, Master Smoke? Shall I be Eredan or no?"
"I will call you Eredan. It is a good name, I think."
"Then we will be Master Smoke and his guardian Eredan." The Elf gazed west, and slowed his pace a bit, "I see the walls of Cameth Brin ahead. I will lift you, so that you can see as well." Eredan lifted young Smoke upon his shoulders and pointed to the city that lay in the distance. "That is the Man-town of Cameth Brin. Does it look large to you?"
"Yes, very large. It seems like all of Rivendell could be swallowed up in its walls and forgotten."
"Swallowed perhaps, but not forgotten. There is beauty in the house of Elrond that cannot be matched nor hidden from the view of fair eyes. But this is not so large a town as you might now deem it to be. Where we are bound, in the lands of the Steward, there are cities with a single house the size of this little burg. This will not be a journey you will soon forget, I think."
"What is that tower, there. The one that sits on the cliff and watches?"
"That is our first stop. Maybe there we will find your father, or an elf of Mirkwood, who will invite us for a visit, and exchange news with us."
"I hope we see my Father, rather than one of those silly elves of Mirkwood."
"And I hope we do not find them both, for to find two such as they together is to be between the crashing surf and unyielding shore. Mandos alone foresees what we will find; it is enough that we have some inkling of what lies ahead. Come, let us quicken our pace and arrive before dark."
They continued their walk west, and began to share the road with men of the region. Farmers with laden and empty wagons, and tired workers returning home, took to and left the road as they came closer to the outer parts of the last northern city. The sun had begun to set as they reached the foot of the cliff where the tower stood. The tower, an ancient turret built by forgotten lords, looked out from the cliff's highest brink. From there the master of the tower commanded a view from the edges of Arthedain nearly to Rivendell itself, though no unwelcome sight could pierce the veils that lay about the House of Elrond, from whatever heights their eyes might peer.
Forested with dark trunks and thick green leaves, the broad base of the hill stretched from their feet to reach over and about Cameth Brin and the Greyflood. The river had its source to the north, in orc-lands, but its flow was clear and bright, though unusually warm, even in winter. In ages past, when the world changed, this river cut the hill in two portions of unequal size, and the smaller part wore away to nothing. Its disappearance and the settling of the river's bed left a sheer cliff that dropped straight from the heights of the hill down into a wide lake that was both fed and emptied by the river. Cameth Brin, the city that lay still nearly a league away from them on the far side of the lake, had been a mere bywater when a host from the mountains, orcs all, had swept down from the icy peaks and dank caves of Angmar to raze it to the ground. The host had been in search of something, and they did not find it.
Unsatisfied, the cry of havoc was loosed among the orcs of Angmar, and they tore the city to pieces. The burghers and villagers that lived in the range of Cameth Brin were killed, and many quiet innocents died in the din of slaughter. The ill-formed houses of brick and wood that made the town were destroyed, and all that could not be splintered was set aflame.
After the orc army had passed south to meet its destruction at the battle of Tharbad, one of the denizens of Cameth Brin returned. He did not come to seek for loot missed by the orcs, as some did. He came not to sift through the ashes for sign of lost loved ones, feared taken by the orcs, as others did. He came to build, and not in his own name. He built in the name of the dead, and it was justice that he did so with money that was meant to kill. Soon Cameth Brin stood strong as a bastion against the shadow, re-constructed with high walls and a keep of unyielding stone. Through it all, the tower kept its watch.
"Who lives here?" asked the boy.
"Before the rebuilding of Cameth Brin, before the birth even of your father's father, this tower was made to watch for a stirring in the darkness of the lake, which was hoped against. It has been home to one pair of eyes or another since it's founding, and never has there been need to raise the alarm."
"What sort of stirring, are there orcs that live in water like fish? My papa told me about orcs and sorcerors and like that. Is it one of those?"
"I know of no breed of orc-fish, or even of a fish-orc, if that be the thing you mention. Though I should not doubt that the enemy has in his power to make such a creature if a host of water-claws is what his fell plans require. No, it is a thing forgotten by all but the firstborn that is watched for.
"In the days of Beleriand, when my people and yours strove in uncountable battles with the Black Enemy and his minions, many unnatural things were made or wakened. Some were undone, others made captive, and others slid away to havens deep beneath the earth, ever untouched by the sun. This is one of the final sort. I do not know its boundaries or its power, but it is a black thing, and a wake of terror and death will follow its rising. So a watch is kept against its coming.
"In answer to your first question, it is the keeper of the watch who lives here. Not so many years ago, shortly after your father and his famed companions met, four of their company came here and made a promise to the poor soul who kept the watch then. They promised the watch would be kept, and when events allow, one of them keeps the watch himself."
"Is he the elf of Mirkwood you spoke of?"
"Yes. He is Calenmir the twice-named. In his youth he came to Eriador from what was then called Greenwood the Great. In that land, now called Mirkwood, he was named Calenmir, Jewel of Green, by his mother and was much like the Silvan elves of that land, both in mind and in heart. He was quick to laugh and light of spirit, even in battle, and the aim of his darts was very true. His aim never wavered, though his heart has darkened since, and his spirit become burdened with doubt. When he crossed the Misty Mounts, he left behind a land that still holds his heart, and he does not know the way back. He is no exile, as I am, but his heart longs for a time before he saw the great wickedness of the world. He has a hunter's heart, and too many times have circumstance and the threads of fate combined to make him a diplomat or hero. The last stroke against his cheerfulness was the loss of one he loved very much. I should not speak of that, so I will leave it there, for it is his tale to tell if he chooses that it be told. But his heart is heavy in these days, and to Rivendell, where he is called Cuthalion Strong-Bow, he comes only rarely and never stays for long." Eredan finished and looked up to the tower.
"Yet I think he is good, and will come to a good end," said the boy. "He does what he must, though it pains him, and he keeps watch against a foe that does not threaten his people. Manwe cares and watches over those who give of themselves to others. My papa told me that those who are able must do what they can, always. He says the reward is not happiness or even security for yourself, but happiness and security for those you love."
Eredan looked at the boy. It seemed to the Elf that the foresight of the Dunedain had come upon his young companion. He had seen it only rarely before, and then in the eyes of Edain-lords much older than this one, much older. When the boy grew quiet again, Eredan spoke. "Strong-Bow likes the comfort of the woods, and this place has many good memories for him. Let us approach his house see if he is here to greet us."
Elf and boy crept through the underbrush. Their footsteps made no sound, and their forms were concealed by the subtle magics of the elven cloaks upon their backs. The trees rose around them, close and looming, making a canopy so thick that light shone through only in tiny places. A gentle breeze blew in off the lake, the cool air penetrated enough to sway the leaves gently. Here and there a creature of the woods would dart, and save for these, they seemed alone as they made their way to the edge of the forest. They walked deeper into the forest, and neither expected challenge until it came. Low at first, then building, came a whisper on the wind. Daro, it said. Then repeated, again and again, Daro daro, like an insistent echo. Though never loud, soon the whisper became almost maddening as the invisible voices that spoke the word of challenge seemed to swarm around the pair of intruders. Daro daro daro. It was as though a wind-devil had learned the knack of the elven tongue and been set to guard the trunks and brushes of the wood about the hills base. Daro daro daro daro, hissed the voice. Boy and elf froze as the voice reached its height, the boy clutching to his guardians hand tightly. Abruptly, the all sounds save the brushing of the leaves ceased. They had encountered the master of the wood, and he was not in the welcoming vein.
"Begone. I would have no company today." There was no body for the voice, or none visible.
"I am Eredan of Imladris, and this is my companion and charge, Smoke. We seek Calenmir Cuthalion." The elf brought the boy in front of himself, and placed his hands upon the lads shaking shoulders.
"You have found him, and he knows you, but desires not your presence. Leave." The voice spoke from a height, among the branches of the covering trees. The boy searched from left to right, and back again, but could spot no sign that might betray the location of the speaker.
"It would be better that you receive your own blood, Cuthalion, for however short a visit, than not receive it at all."
"Nevertheless. These woods are mine, and but two in Middle-Earth are welcome to visit them unbidden. You are not they, nor do you carry news or sign of them, for which I would be thankful and more hospitable to you. I will ask once more, and then grow angry. Leave this wood."
"Stay your anger, elf of Greenwood, for I do carry news of Nain Turmressa of the Cloven-shield, and also of the Lady Edalome, she that some call your daughter. I cannot be sure that they are two of which you speak, for I do not know the counsels of your heart, but I believe these to be names that would bring you cheer. Will you hear news of these, hidden master?"
Silence followed for a time, a quiet so utter that it made the boy shiver to think of breaking it. Then came a soft sound behind them, as though a mushroom cap had been dropped to the earth from the hand of a child. Eredan turned, and turned the boy as well, yet kept him close. Behind them stood an elf of silvan descent. He was clothed in murky greys and browning greens. His hair was fair, and his eyes bright green, like the emerald gems that were his namesake. His skin too, was fair, but not thin. His whole being seemed to ride in the sockets of his eyes, or so it seemed to the boy. When he smiled, it was a cold smile, and not altogether welcoming.
"I will hear your news, authadan. Come." He sprang off deeper into the wood, and his visitors struggled up the slope, failing to match his pace. As they followed, as quickly as they might, the younger of the companions regarded their host. The boy marveled at the sureness of his feet and at their speed. He had seen none that could match the native grace of this elf, not even among the elves of Rivendell. At his back he wore a plain quiver of elven-cloth and also a bow of ash. A short blade of whitish steel rode naked at his hip. His feet left no mark in the earth, and branches seemed to swing aside or lift themselves over his head where he passed. It seemed to the boy that their host was very strange, and unpleasant as well.
Soon they came to the edge of the wood, and here the wood-elf paused. The companions came to the end of the forest and looked beyond their host, up to the tower. Here the hill was very steep, and large rocks dotted the grassy slope. The tower itself was much wider than it was tall, some height having been sacrificed for ease of defense. It was built of gray stone, hewn in large blocks, and the towers mortar was failing, though it still stood strong. Once, a large door had stood in a mouth at the towers base, but it was long since splintered and decayed. Once his guests had caught up, the wood-elf dashed another short distance up the grade and leapt upon a rock. There he stood, his arms crossed, and leveled a calm stare at his guests. Eredan approached, and the boy came as well. They stood side by side, Eredan waited for prompting from the Wood-Elf, and the boy looked at Calenmir with a judging eye.
"What news of Nain Fains son? I would like to hear of him first, I think, for I have known him longer than any of the latter born."
"My news of both is good, and I will tell you of the Naugrim first. He has been named Dain Ironfoots war-master, and is chief among his counselors. Each season he leads many dwarves against the hosts of Mordor, which is again in arms, though that is neither pleasant news nor news pleasant for me to speak of. I promised to speak fair news of your friends, so I will not mention the affairs of the south again.
"At this moment, he is in Gondor, and the task that takes him there brings me to news of the lady Edalome of Gondor. She is the Countess of Huredon, the Heart-land of Lamedon, which lies between the river Ciril and the pass called Tarlangs Neck, on the border of Erech. I have a letter from her. It came with messengers from the havens of Dol Amroth, and they bade me give it to you if we should meet." Saying this, Eredan produced a scroll of soft material, capped with silver and sealed in yellow wax. He gave it to the wood-elf and waited as his host read. A broad smile broke out on the face of Calenmir, who read the letter with great joy. A sadness lifted from him as he read, and he took a seat on the rock.
"This letter tells me that my friend Nain is building a holdfast for her in the Ered Nimrais. She has asked him for a house to summer in, and he is making her a fortress where a thousand orcs would crash like a wave on Cair Andros!
"The letter also says she has become lonely in these years since her husband joined the Navy of Gondor. It surprises me that she did not join him on the seas. Though I am sure her heart is with him.
"I have a task here, yet I could never refuse her anything, so I will go."
"Go where?" Asked the boy.
"To Gondor, to visit with the Lady of Huredon. She has asked me to come."
"Will you be more pleasant on the trip, if we let you come with us?"
"Let, little Annonir? You say let?" Calenmir raised an eyebrow in sudden mirth. Eredan suppressed a smirk, and put a restraining hand on the boys shoulder.
"I have given you no leave to use my name, elf of Mirkwood." The boy drew himself up, and set his face with an approximation of the stony countenance hed seen his father take. "Since I have been introduced only by my traveling-name, I will name myself. I will give you my true name, since I have little to fear from you, not the hiding-name I would use with enemies. Make no mistake, elf, I give you this name not for your use, but so that you might gain an understanding of my line, and treat with me duly. I am Annonir, son of Belegar Denegars son. I know you by reputation, Elf, and I was ready to give you my respect, ere I met you. Now, I give you a warning. Neither I nor my companion are messengers, though we bring you news. We are neither of us beggars, though we asked your hospitality. We are neither of us lowly, though we travel plainly and on foot. I am young, but heir of a line as great as any. My warning is this: I have the foresight and long memory of my race, and it is folly to try to make yourself my better. If you wish to join our company, let you ask in a proper manner, lest we think you belittle us."
Calenmir looked at Eredan, then back to the boy. "You make speeches like your father, but you are hastier than he, and sharper of tongue. I have not insulted you, little one. I received you when I was not in the mind, and I thank you for the news you have brought of my friends." Calenmir removed himself from his rock and walked slowly towards the edge of the woods. "As for joining you, I said nothing of joining. I will make my own way south. I bid you luck for your journey, and I will see you after." With that he vanished into the wood.
"I think," said Eredan, "it would be best if you let me be the spokesman of our little company. It would be best in the future if we treated our friends like friends and saved our pointed barbs and heavy hammers for orcs and other servants of the shadow."
"Do you think I spoke wrongly? He was very rude."
"It is the way of his people to be insular. We came unbidden and unannounced, he was in the right."
"But we are all friends. Why should he order us away?"
"For whatever reason suits him, as this is his domain. When stray shepherds and other wandering folk come near Rivendell, does Elrond give reason when he pulls close the veils that hide his house from their eyes?"
"We are not stray shepherds or nameless wanderers."
"To him we are."
"Then at least he is no Elrond. He neither so wise as Elrond nor as gentle."
"There we agree. Nonetheless, in his own house, even the poorest of peasants should be treated as a lord. Come, we should go to the city and find passage to Gondor."
They camped that night at the foot of the Tower Hill. The boy slept little, and Eredan kept the watch. Neither said anything to the other, though the boy said many things in his heart. He remembered promising to help Eredan avoid speaking hastily, for fear of using foolish words, but he had made the mistake himself. I am young, he thought, and I have very much to learn. Papa says I must learn quickly, because the shadow is growing long again, and soon I will have to take up his watch against it. I hope it is not soon, the boy wished, for I have more to learn than I can foresee. The road to readiness is long, and I cannot make out its end. As fatigue overtook him and he finally drifted into sleep, the boy entered into a dream. In the dream he was standing in the center of a group of mourning warriors: a dark-haired lady, an elf in armor, an elf in green, and a sour-faced dwarf. They looked at him with pity, and he felt their sadness for him. He wondered why they were all so sad.
Morning came chill and a dank mist lay on the land between them and the city. They broke the camp and crossed the meadows to Cameth Brin in silence. The boy thought long about the dream, but said nothing.
Coming: Chapter 2, "City in Shadow"