Prologue to the Quenta Roqueni

SOUTHERN KNIGHTS' JOURNEY

An Adventure in Middle-earth

By Vincent Roiron, Trevor Sanders, and Lowell R. Matthews

Copyright © 1999

Chapter I: An Unexpected Departure

The day had begun pleasantly enough that morning. It was the middle of spring, and the Dácilion estate in lush Ithilien was radiant, full of flowers and their perfumes. The young lord Carangil had come home to honour his mother, Heri Amaril, on her birthday. As always, Carangil's father, Hir Anrohir II of Dácilion, had organised a magnificent feast.

Carangil, and his slightly older brother Calrohir, had both come home at the beginning of winter from their fosterage at Dol Elenna, the mountain keep of a Noldo friend of the family. They had planned to begin the return journey after the birthday feast, but day's events had not turned out as expected. Over the years, both brothers had clashed with their eldest brother, Anrohir III, but nobody could have foreseen the afternoon's dramatic turn of events.

No, in hindsight, it was all too likely, Carangil reflected bleakly while packing. He was bitter, for he was not packing to return to the refuge of Dol Elenna, but to go into quasi-exile in the far reaches of Arthedain.

During the feast, Anrohir III had mocked Calrohir yet again, insinuating that Calrohir the scholar was a weakling, unable to use a sword, and alluding all too clearly to his supposedly effeminate habits. Carangil had had enough. He lost control for a few moments and defied his oldest brother. The incipient violence between the young Dúnedain had been quelled instantly by Hir Anrohir's glance falling upon them. The lord father had said nothing, but only signalled Carangil to leave the feast hall.

* * *

Early in the morning the next day, Hir Anrohir had summoned his fourth son. A young squire of the house, Kirdan, had also been present. Thus Hir Anrohir had spoken:

"Carangil, you insulted my heir, and you nearly drew steel in the middle of a feast. I know perfectly well that you thought you were defending Calrohir's honour, but for your own good, I will send you out of Anrohir's reach. I don't expect you to come back in the near future, so I'll give you a letter for the captain of the King's guard in Arthedain, who is a remote cousin of your mother. I hope he will find you an occupation for the coming years. Kirdan, who is the son of one of my late roquen, will be your squire. He is a brave and intelligent man, as was his late father, so don't waste him. Go now, I know your mother wants to kiss you one last time. Meneldil, our intendant, will see to your needs and give you the letter."

"You are correct, and wise as always, Father," Carangil had replied sadly. "I shall honour your wishes. I only ask leave to beg your forgiveness, so that I shall not go forth into exile in the shadow of your wrath."

"My wrath you shall keep for letting loose your temper. But I know that you are young and impulsive, and that there is little love between you and Anrohir. He caught you in his net with the skill of a good hunter." Carangil had nodded at that, silently conceding his defeat. "Our cousins in Arthedain should teach you patience. They are more interested in the philosophical and mystical topics than we are, and so I hope you will learn a little more diplomacy there. They live on the sword's edge, however, because a..." the noble Hir had suddenly paled visibly, and his hands had gripped strongly his curule seat. "You will come back, both of you, but not before a terrible thing happens; not before the realms of the Faithful are changed forever and part of their fate written in an appalling battle...."

Carangil had stood stunned. His father was a prophet? Kirdan also had held his breath, unmoving and shocked....

"I see that there are terrible things looming on your heads.... Go, both of you, with my blessing!" the Hir had continued breathlessly.

"If you will allow it, Father, I shall take Calrohir with me, and thereby remove him from Anrohir's reach as well. I can take him back to Dol Elenna on my way to Arthedain." And I would stop there in any case, Carangil had added to himself with a wistful sigh.

"Granted...." Carangil's lord and father had whispered while fighting against exhaustion.

The young lord and his new vassal had quickly left the room, both shaken by this sudden demonstration of the Foresight talent of the noble-born Dúnadan. This had never happened to Hir Anrohir before, but both knew that such things could happen among those of truly noble blood.

Terrible things indeed, but what? A war? Something so terrifying that the Realms of the Faithful will change? What a frightening prospect! So their thoughts went until Kirdan had quickly recovered his wits:

"My liege," Kirdan had said, bowing respectfully to Carangil. "I look forward to serving you. Is there any special arrangement in M'Lord's equipage that would need to be brought to my attention?"

"I wrote a list the last time I set out for Dol Elenna. I suppose I should find it, and double or triple the food. We should be able to get fresh food fairly often in Gondor and Arthedain, but there is a fairly long stretch of wild land between them."

Kirdan had nodded at his lord's instructions, "I shall see that it is done, Sire. You have but to provide me with this list or an estimate of the time it will require to reach Arthedain. If it pleases M'Lord, I should prepare your arms and armour for travel, best to have everything in good repair and well taken care of at the start of a journey." He had smiled, the practical wisdom of his father showing, while walking alongside his lord, listening carefully and noting his mannerisms.

* * *

Kirdan had carefully listened to his new liege's concerns. He was a good-sized youth, with a muscular build befitting his training with weapons, which made him a bit heavier though not so tall as Carangil, who stood one inch short of seven feet. Kirdan's raven hair was tied back with a simple and unadorned leather thong, but still hung well past his shoulders. It was slick and well kept, and shone in the lamplight. Carangil's hair was even darker, jet black, and in his case bound by a filigreed silver circlet, but fell to about the same place on his shoulders. Kirdan's deep green eyes flickered with a touch of melancholy and an uncanny alertness. Carangil's eyes were indigo, downcast at that moment but usually starry. Kirdan was clean-shaven, and his face was somewhat angular and boyish but altogether handsome. Carangil was handsome as well, with more hints of maturity and nobility gained by his training under Master Elennáro. Kirdan's skin was somewhat tanned, but unblemished except for a few battle scars and a burn mark on his left arm. Carangil's complexion was very close to his squire's, but he had managed to avoid visible scars. The inner ones, however, might well have been worse. Kirdan dressed in modest garb of a conservative cut, and wore no jewellery. A large sword rode on his back, its sheath of elaborately worked leather and its hilt beautifully crafted. Carangil's usual mode of dress was similar, but he preferred a smaller longsword worn at the side. But at the time he had been dressed for the party, perhaps fortunately wearing only a dagger and belt-knife.

* * *

While Carangil packed, Kirdan went to take care of his lord's mount and equipment as well as his own. He made sure that they would be well prepared for the journey, taking clothes and blankets for whatever weather lay ahead. He gathered enough provisions, going so far as to pack an extra week's worth of rations, and included fodder for the horses. Kirdan packed a coil of rope of at least fifty feet into his saddlebags, as well as the tools needed to repair his lord's armour and to maintain his weapons. He also tried to procure some bandages and other healing supplies, which he tucked into their own pouch. Finally, Kirdan made sure that both his gear and Carangil's was well stowed and balanced so as not to weigh down the horses. Soon he had them saddled and ready to go.

While checking the horses with Kirdan, Carangil brooded over the current situation. "Why, oh why did I let him get to me again, Kirdan?" Carangil's black train of thought refused to go away.

"I do not know, Sire," Kirdan answered politely, not knowing how to console his new lord. "But in Arthedain you shall have plenty of opportunity to prove him wrong. Take some comfort in that both your brother and yourself will be out of his reach, M'Lord."

"I will do that, Kirdan. Thank you. It is very sad that brothers can come to such grievous differences. Father is wise in that we need a longer time apart, but the sting of exile is not small."

"I do not doubt that you will do well, Sire," Kirdan assured Carangil, his uncanny eyes seeming to pierce into him. "The sting of exile will fade, with time. I know well the hostility that can breed between blood; I have seen its effects upon my own family if not upon myself. It is sad to see, but perhaps in your time apart your brother will come to his senses."

The young lord listened to his new-found squire, and then recalled his manners. He had spoken extensively, and had nearly missed the hint of sadness in Kirdan's voice. "What happened in your family, Kirdan?"

"Alas, after the loss of my parents, my sister was forced to take up residence with my uncle and his spoiled daughter, Sire," Kirdan related, a tear starting to form in his eye. "My sister receives no relief from the torments played upon her by her ill-mannered cousin. I seek to provide my dear sister with a better life, but for now she must endure." He sighed softly, wiping the nearly formed tears from his eyes.

"I am sad indeed for her circumstances. I shall do what I can to help you ameliorate them."

"My thanks, M'Lord", Kirdan said, his voice no longer sombre; a smile crept across his face. "There are few things in this world that matter much to me, Sire. She is one of them."

"I am sorely afraid that my brother will never change, and as for myself, mine own course is hopefully set for ever upon the path of honour. Very well, then. I shall say my farewell to Mother, and seek her forgiveness as well. Then we shall see to making ourselves ready for departure."

"Yes, M'Lord," Kirdan said. "I would think it best if I began preparations while you speak with your mother. There are a few items I would like to procure. That is, if you do not object, Sire."

"Why would I object? I shall trust your wisdom in this," answered the young lord.

"I felt that you would not, but I thought it best to inquire, M'Lord," Kirdan answered. "I shall tend to the preparations then, Sire." He bowed in a fashion befitting his lord's status and his own. "If you need me I shall be in the stables, Sire. I shall meet you there when you are ready to depart." Kirdan strode down the halls, his shape quickly diminishing before he turned around the corner and was lost from Carangil's view.

Carangil's mother saw him briefly, the adieux being sad. Heri Amaril approved of Carangil's planned route of travel, and gave him a short letter for her daughter, Amarilien. She was having a difficult time, and quickly dismissed her son, but not without giving him some money to ease his travel and settlement in the Northern Kingdom.

While Carangil gathered his personal possessions, Kirdan began to load weapons, armour, and a large supply of rations on the packhorses. They were also burdened with spare clothes, blankets, and even some plaids such as the Daen people wear in cold weather. Kirdan also made sure that his lord's destrier, his courser, and Kirdan's own riding horse were well shod and in good shape. A young groom entered the stable and helped him with the packs. The boy was hardly ten years old, and chatted a lot. He was the younger son of the stablemaster, and a promising rider. His father allowed him to ride as long as he gave a hand with the stable chores.

In the meantime, Carangil went to meet his brother Calrohir, who was happy to learn that they would travel together to Dol Elenna. He was sombre and cautious, however, since he had never trusted their eldest brother. At the last, Carangil asked Calrohir, "Would you like to come with me to Arthedain?"

"I cannot right now, brother. I must complete my studies. Perhaps next year...."

Chapter II: Westward to Dol Elenna

Though Ithilien was at its peak in the blooming spring, its air full of perfumes and its views delightful—there are few lands so rich in Gondor as Ithilien, the garden of the Southern Kingdom—the three travellers spoke seldom and wore the long faces of people leaving their home country for a long, uncertain trip. They travelled with a heavy burden, with four packhorses loaded with luggage and food, and they were obviously not on a leisure trip since two of the men were heavily armed. Mail shirts were packed for two, and one of the horses was obviously a war-horse. The party was easily noticed, and though the common folk did not exactly try to avoid it, they gave it a wide berth.

The party arrived in Osgiliath after a two-day ride, having slept in a nondescript inn near the bank of the Anduin. Though Osgiliath was only the shade of her former self, the magnificent bridges over the Anduin were still as proud as ever. The three travellers felt how mighty and wise their ancestors were to have been able to accomplish such an engineering feat.

The travellers crossed the town, avoiding its expensive inns and dangerous back streets, and stayed for the night in a nice cottage whose mistress was all too happy to have paying guests. The hearty breakfast that brightened the next morning was well worth the few bronze pieces they gave her.

Travel along the White Mountains was beautiful but not so exciting, except for Kirdan, who did not know the area. The air grew cooler the higher the party climbed, but it also acquired a reviving, crystalline quality. Kirdan was somewhat stunned by the height at first, experiencing the common "mountain disease" that many people go through the first time they cross the 3,000-foot limit. The party decided to rest for one day, until Kirdan became aclimated.

* * *

The party of three wended its way mostly westward for as many more days, climbing ever higher up the little-used byway along the northern flanks of the White Mountains. Far below to the north they could see the grey ribbon of the King's Highway proper, which they would rejoin in due course. In this remote part of Anórien, the villages were small and scattered, but they became increasingly familiar to Carangil and Calrohir as they climbed higher. Carangil's spirits climbed with the road, and he shrugged off the black mood of his departure. One strange, new experience for Kirdan was that the party appeared to move backwards in time as they climbed, for winter lingered in the high elevations, and here it was at best early spring.

As the third day's sun lowered in the west, Carangil's heart soared, for he had found the landmark for which he had long been searching. "Kirdan, look there! Do you see it?"

Kirdan's penetrating gaze followed Carangil's outstretched arm upwards from the flank of the ridge upon which they rode to its peak, as the wind swirled his hair from its bonds. He drew in his breath in a gasp of wonder. "A tower, Sire, shining golden in the sunset."

"Aye, my good friend, a tower," Carangil laughed. He reached down to fetch his good shield-cover from a saddlebag and carefully mounted it on his shield, which now bore the Dácilion arms: Sable, a sword erect argent hilted Or, the point enfiled by a triumphal crown also Or, between two crescents of the second. Carangil's arms were differenced from his father's by upon a bordure engrailed argent, four estoiles in saltire gules. (The family arms descended through the generations from Isilmegil, who had been knighted and adopted as a son by Rómendacil I, hence the surname; Carangil's difference canted upon his name and position as fourth son.) "But I'll wager you've never seen its like before, nor would be likely to see its match in the near future. Come, gentlemen! An hour more will see us in the courtyard of Dol Elenna, jewel of the White Mountains!"

With that, Carangil took the lead and increased their pace, careful to hold his shield so its device was readily visible, and he asked Kirdan for the lance with his matching pennon. Lord Carangil must be expecting a challenge, Kirdan thought. I must be prepared....

As the sun sank towards the western horizon and the tower changed from golden to scarlet with its reflected glow, the travellers rounded a spur of the ridge, and reined in their horses. Before them rose the graceful and majestic outer wall of the villa of Dol Elenna, Stars' Peak, above which the white-stone tower soared on the very peak of the mountain. Breathing deeply of the cool, thin air, Carangil whispered to Calrohir, "We're home, brother, if you believe the old proverb."

Calrohir nodded and smiled. "'Home is where the heart is,'" he winked at Kirdan. "We have a welcoming committee, brother."

"Indeed," Carangil agreed. A sally port had opened in the wall. From it, three tall figures in glittering silvery mail, the outer two bearing great bows slanted across their chests, walked towards the travellers. "Hail Dol Elenna, fairest jewel of the White Mountains!" Carangil shouted in his best Sindarin as he dipped his lance in salute.

"Hail and well met, Carangil Anrohirion of House Dácilion!" the central figure replied while drawing, saluting with, and re-sheathing his sword in one fluid movement. He approached the trio and removed his helm, revealing ageless Elven features with the typical dark brown hair and eyes of the Noldorin Kindred. A thin white scar marred the perfection of his brow, which in an Elf spoke of a wound most likely mortal for a Man.

Carangil handed the lance to Kirdan, dismounted, removed his own helm, and moved to clasp the Noldo's forearm in the warrior's greeting. Calrohir followed Carangil closely. "Sword-Father, it's wonderful to see you again! You know Calrohir, of course; please allow me to present my vassal Kirdan Giraldion of House Dácilion. Kirdan, this is Master Númmacar, steward and arms-master of Dol Elenna, and my sword-father."

"I am honoured, master," Kirdan said somewhat breathlessly. A High-Elf in the flesh! I had not thought I would see such things in my life!

"Welcome to Dol Elenna," Númmacar nodded. "Let us see to your horses, and the Master will greet you in the great hall." With that, Númmacar turned and led the way to the main gate, and his escorts fell in beside the trio. Carangil thought he recognised the one nearest him, but with his face mostly hidden by his helm, he was not certain. As they passed the gate, Carangil felt a familiar thrill at the natural beauty of the villa. Many of its rooms were carved into the living rock of the mountain. Its alabaster tower, now lit a fiery crimson in the last light of the setting sun, stabbed the sky where the crescent moon rode three days past new. Down in the courtyard, silvery lamps banished the gathering shadows. The travellers saw to their horses while chatting briefly with stable-boys of both races, then followed a servant to the guest quarters for refreshment.

Shortly afterwards, the travellers, dressed in their festival finest, followed a servant to the great hall, where the evening meal would shortly commence for some forty guests and members of the household. After several days of travel fare, the trio found the sights and scents absolutely delightful. They were seated at the centre table above the salt and were served fine drinks. They listened to the minstrels practice as members of the household began to arrive. Many of the younger members knew Carangil and Calrohir by sight and greeted them warmly, then extended their greetings to Kirdan upon his introduction. Several of the Eldar to whom he was introduced smiled fondly (or perhaps indulgently) at the similarity of his name to the renowned Círdan the Shipwright of Mithlond, Lord of the Falathrim and Lindon, said by many to be the oldest Elf remaining in Middle-earth.

At last, the head table began to fill as Hir Elennáro the Astrologer, Master of Dol Elenna, entered the room, filling it with his presence. Kirdan sat stunned as the Astrologer warmly welcomed the Dácilion brothers to his table once more, and felt pinned to his seat by the Astrologer's farseeing charcoal-grey eyes. His wonder grew as he was introduced first to Heri Mellónië, Mistress of Dol Elenna; then to their daughter, Náranna, whose auburn hair was a striking rarity among the Noldorin Kindred; and lastly to two young-looking Elven lords, Dol Elenna's honoured guests, Elladan and Elrohir Elrondion of Imladris.

Carangil's attention and wonder was also captured briefly by meeting the legendary sons of Elrond, descendants of Beren and Lúthien and distant cousins to the King himself. Nothing, however, could distract him long from the radiant vision who stood before him, greeting him warmly as a friend who has been missed. As she moved away, following her parents towards the head table, Carangil's determination returned full-force. On my honour, as the Valar shall witness, I shall be your Beren, my Lady Náranna, and you shall be my Lúthien Tinúviel! he swore to himself. Kirdan saw Carangil's intent look, but between Kirdan's weak Sindarin and the distance, caught only the last word: "Tinúviel!" Kirdan watched his lord's exchange, his lips turning slightly downward. His expression soon became one of mirth as he shifted his glance to the splendours of the castle and the Eldar who inhabited it.

Chapter III: Hir Elennáro

The dinner was one of the stranger experiences in Kirdan's life. His neighbour, a kind-looking Elf whose sad eyes and somewhat hesitant speech hinted at a tragic life, told him the origin of his name. Once he learned that his name was similar to that of one of the most famous shipwrights, Círdan of Mithlond, he understood why so many Elves he had met before the dinner had smiled that enigmatic smile.

Though the feast continued until late in the night, Hir Elennáro retired early, and some minutes later, one of the Elves whispered in Carangil's ear. The young lord stood up and motioned for Calrohir and Kirdan to follow him. They left the banquet hall through the same arched portal Hir Elennáro had used before them.

The three Dúnedain first ascended a winding stair that led them to a covered way on the battlement, and then entered a high tower, whose slim profile stood in contrast to the starry night. They climbed another narrow stair almost to the top of the tower, and stopped before a closed door. A muffled voice told them to enter, and they came into the Astrologer's workroom.

Star charts, sketches, and maps of all kinds covered the walls and tables, and Elennáro sat in thought behind an elaborately carved desk. Its inlaid top and slim legs were made of many warm woods in hazel to dark shades. Here and there, small silvery metal ornaments enhanced the priceless masterwork. Elennáro stood and motioned the young men to take seats. He stared the three of them into attention, and asked them why they were here so early. "We did not expect to see you for nearly another of your short Dúnadan months," he smiled briefly.

"Alas, good Master, I fear the tidings are not as they should be," Carangil answered, bravely swallowing his nervousness and shame. "In the middle of Mother's birthday feast, I lost my temper and quarrelled with the Third. I was wrong to do so, of course, in spite of his provocation. I insulted my Father's heir and barely stopped myself from drawing steel at a feast." Carangil shook his head in disbelief at his own behaviour. "And so Father has ordered me to seek service with the captain of the King's Guard in Arthedain (apparently he is Mother's distant cousin), and so Kirdan and I are bound for Fornost Erain. I asked Calrohir to come with us since we were coming here on our way. So far three good things have come of this exile: Calrohir and I are away from the Third's presence once more; Father gave me Kirdan as squire, and he has already proved his worth; and we are able to see you again before travelling onward."

Kirdan smiled at the praise from his lord, but remained respectfully silent. He waited attentively as Carangil attended to whatever matter was at hand, listening carefully to the exchange. His gaze drifted from his lord, to Calrohir, then to the Elda. To find myself in such a place and with such company, Kirdan thought.

Elennáro sighed when he heard Carangil's story, then turned to look Kirdan in the eyes for a short while. Kirdan had the distinct impression that he was being judged and assessed by the Noldo's piercing grey eyes. Soon his gaze returned to Carangil. "I understand that your elder brother trapped you, but you must learn self control, Carangil! Númmacar has told me so numerous times! If only you had the kind and patient nature of your brother Calrohir! But you are brave and hot-tempered, like a young stallion!" Or like so many Elven and Mannish heroes of old! thought the Noldo. "I hope that the wise men of the North will teach you some patience! Perhaps they will be more apt teachers than we have been."

Carangil bowed his head in shame and solemnly accepted this well-earned rebuke. But was that a compliment he thought he heard? Something about the heroes of old? No, it had to be his imagination. "Oh, my good Lord, Foster-Father, I have gained so much from your wisdom!" Carangil's voice nearly broke with passion. "I cannot even imagine the wretched person I would have been without you and Master Númmacar and the Mistresses. The fault lies in my own rashness, not in your teaching."

Elennáro took some time to think before he spoke again. "You are young, perhaps too young to travel alone in unknown countries, even with a strong and sensible companion like Kirdan. I will think about that. But there is one thing I must tell you now: The burden of having the responsibility for another person's life is very heavy! Do not take it lightly, for I see that Kirdan is your man to the soul!" Carangil could not prevent himself from shivering at this echo of his own father's words. I have dreamed of command, but now I discover that I have to understand the meaning of life and death first.... Mine, or another's.... I've never killed anybody, but I could be the cause of Kirdan's death if I don't make good decisions. This is not what I expected.... I thought it would be much easier.

Elennáro smiled slightly upon perceiving this understanding take root and grow within his foster-son. "There is still some hope in you, Carangil! I see that you do not take things lightly! This is good, and though you still have much to learn, you will become a real lord in your time."

"Thank you, Master," Carangil replied, smiling broadly. "I will strive for ever to bring honour to my name and to yours."

Elennáro was about to dismiss the three young men when Carangil remembered another pressing matter. "Master Elennáro, I must consult your wisdom on another matter, concerning something my father told us. It might be some kind of prophecy."

"A prophecy?" asked the noble elf with some surprise. "Speak, Carangil!"

"It happened right after he told me that our northern cousins could teach me patience, but that 'they live on the sword's edge.' Right after that, it was almost as if he had suffered a seizure of some kind. His hands clamped his chair-arms in a death-grip and he said in the strangest voice, 'You will come back, both of you, but not before a terrible thing happens; not before the realms of the Faithful are changed forever and part of their fate written in an appalling battle....' If I may ask, have you heard of anything like this before, or perhaps seen any indications of it among the stars? As far as we know"—Calrohir nodded agreement—"nothing like this has ever happened to him before."

Hir Elennáro leaned back in his chair and took some time to think before he answered. "The death of Eärendur led to the splitting of Arnor into three sister-realms, as you certainly know. One thing you probably do not know is that Argeleb of Arthedain was on the verge of reunifying the kingdom when treacherous forces from Rhudaur overwhelmed him. I can tell you for certain that many a year will come to pass before the Northern Kingdom of the Dúnedain is whole again... and dark forces are at work right now. As for your father, true Númenórean blood flows in your veins, and I am not surprised to learn that your father showed the well-known foresight of your kind. But it also means that you will be taken into the midst of events that are far beyond your mastery. I will look for some hints in the stars and meditate about this tonight. Maybe I will be able to tell you more tomorrow."

"I thank you for that, Master, and we shall not keep you from your work much longer. No, we did not know that Arthedain and Rhudaur had come to blows. Is there then a threat of open war between the northern realms?"

"I think all of this began more than two centuries ago, when Forodacil, last Prince of Rhudaur from the line of Isildur, died without an heir. Late in the spring of 1176, the very year of his death, Rhugga, a Hillman usurper, took Cameth Brin, the capital, and seized the crown. Arthedain and Cardolan protested, but nothing was done before 1197, when Calemendil of Cardolan attempted to re-conquer Rhudaur with the aid of its barons and mercenaries. The war raged for years, and even Rhugga's death in 1231 could not stop it.

"Four years later, the Dúnadan army laid siege to Cameth Brin and the Prince celebrated too early ... during the feast, an Orcish army from Mount Gundabad surprised the besiegers. Though the professional soldiers were able to cut their way out of the trap, Calemendil and his heirs and barons were slaughtered. Thus ended the true line of Isildur in Cardolan. A civil war ensued, which lasted for thirteen years. A council of the former noble advisors of the king met in 1248 and chose to elect Tarcil among other claimants. His son Tarastor inherited the throne and launched a war with Arthedain over the claim of Amon Sûl, which marked the boundary between the three former sister-realms. (Amon Sûl had been a subject of dispute and war farther in the past as well, between Arthedain and Rhudaur, for the greatest of all Palantíri is there.) But due to Tarastor's ineptitude, his half-brother Minalcar was soon appointed regent. At his half-brother's death, Minalcar was crowned (in 1332) and accepted Argeleb I of Arthedain as High King of Arnor. In these troubled times, the sister-realms did not notice the rise of Angmar and of its Witch-king."

"Master, how could anyone fail to notice the likes of him?" Carangil shuddered. And why haven't we in Gondor heard more about all this? Why didn't we do something?

"Because he is no ordinary man, but a mighty sorcerer and a cunning lord of Men: he knows you Dúnedain well, because he is a former prince of yours...."

"A former prince of the Dúnedain?!" Carangil exclaimed. "How is that possible? He's some wretched, traitorous by-blow of the royal line of Rhudaur?"

"I am not sure about his lineage, but I know he was a lord of Men before the dawn of this Age.... The stars seem to point to the fact that he was born in Númenor."

The three Dúnedain sat staring in stunned wonder. That was almost two thousand years ago! All three had similar thoughts. How can a Man live so long?

Hir Elennáro continued, "From 1352 to 1356, Arthedain and Cardolan fought against Rhudaur in what is now called the War of the North." The three Dúnedain could only shake their heads in sadness at the ill fates of their northern kin. "In 1356, Argeleb was lured into a trap by some of the last Dúnedain and evil Hillmen, followers of the Witch-king. Though there were some noble families in Rhudaur, none were ancient and noble enough to claim the throne, and when Argeleb asked for a joint meeting to discuss the fate of the northern realms, they accepted. After some initial contacts by envoys, they met during the spring of 1356, near the border of the three realms. The meeting had, alas, not escaped the scrutiny of the fell ruler of Angmar, who sent an army to ambush the assembled nobles and princes. Argeleb, who considered himself responsible for his guests, died on the brink of the river, covering the retreat with his guards and the last faithful noblemen of Rhudaur, who loathed their traitorous brethren and the evil Dunnish hirelings of the Witch-king of Angmar.... It took the joined forces of Cardolan and of the Elves of Lindon and Imladris to fight them back...."

"Some of your own people joined in aiding them, did they not?" Carangil asked.

"Arthedain is far from here, and Argeleb seemed to have matters in hand. When news reached Gondor, it was already too late to do anything. And even the Elves of Lindon did not do much.... They look West now, as many of us do...." Carangil nodded his understanding.

"The war raged until 1359, at which date the combined armies defeated Rhudaur. With Argeleb died the last hope of a reunited Arnor in these days, I'm afraid, my dear Carangil. Arveleg was crowned king of Arthedain, Ostoher king of Cardolan after his father's death... and the words of your father lead me to believe that the suffering of the Northern realms has not yet come to its end. For yes, I am afraid that the shadow lurking in the north will spread its wings once more.... The realms are separated again and Cardolan has grown fat and lazy; they live off the commerce of their roads and harbours...."

"So it is war you foresee, but it is not between the sister-kingdoms. The Foe of the North will come again," Carangil shuddered at his own observation.

"The vision that seized your father certainly foretells a war, Carangil, and I hope Dúnadan will not spill Dúnadan blood once more ... of that I am not certain, but one thing I can tell for sure: the fate of Arthedain is the fate of the North!"

"Then Fate must be sending us to the right place, from a certain point of view," Carangil added hopefully.

"Fate is seldom what you hope. You should remember the tale of Maeglin."

"I will, Master. The times are troubled. I don't envy you your sky-readings; they must hold dreadful portents. Still, if I am to live on the edge of the sword, I can think of no greater honour than to fight against the Foe of the North."

"Do not look forward to battle, my young friend—there is more glory in legends than in real war. War is blood, mud, and tears, and more dead friends than you would like. As a future leader of men, you will learn to spare your men's lives or you will die young. But the men of Arthedain, who have faced enemies more numerous than they are, should teach you the bitter price of victory."

"I shall endeavour to learn all they can teach me, Master, and with Kirdan's help I shall rein in my eagerness, and my temper. Can you tell us what lies ahead on the road? I don't mean the usual hazards of travel, but rather the unusual ones."

"You should not meet anything; travel is quite safe to Tharbad, and except for raiders and bandits from Rhudaur, you should not encounter much. Aeglorias should be able to keep you out of trouble."

"Pardon me, Master? Aeglorias?"

"Aeglorias will accompany you in your travels north. He is an old acquaintance of mine and is quite interested in visiting the Northern Kingdom of the Dúnedain." With those last words, Hir Elennáro dismissed the three young Dúnedain to ponder their fates. For one, a return to study lay ahead; for the other two, Fate beckoned.

Chapter IV: Aeglorias

Carangil and Kirdan slept soundly in the best rest they had had for days. They were awakened with the first light by a young elf, who told them that "a lord" awaited them in the breakfast hall.

The pair quickly dressed and descended to the hall, where they discovered a new elf, slightly shorter than the Noldorin nobles of Dol Elenna. He had sand-coloured hair and a hearty complexion, and was clothed in a green and brown travel outfit. He also wore riding boots, and from the look of his clothes, he was in the habit of spending much more time roaming in the hills and woods than in mystical research, such as Hir Elennáro's calling.

The elf stood as the two men entered, and welcomed them with a warm smile. "Well met! My name is Aeglorias; I'm from Thranduil's court! I was on my way back to Rhovanion, but Hir Gilnor asked me to make sure you arrived safely in Fornost. Come! Sit and help yourself with breakfast, we'll chat once you are sated!"

Carangil smiled in surprise. "Hail and well met, Master Aeglorias of the Greenwood. 'The new dawn greets us as we greet one another.'" He was barely seated when servers appeared with fruits and drinks. "So you have volunteered to be our companion and escort? I thank you very much indeed, but Fornost Erain is very far from the Greenwood."

Kirdan echoed the greeting of his lord, focusing not on the elf, but on the food being served. He had always had a good appetite, and this morning was no exception. He took a long drink of sparkling water.

"I did not exactly volunteer; it was more a demand from your protector. Anyway, I'm always happy to travel with Dúnedain; things seem to happen every time there is one of you around!"

The two young Dúnedain and their new companion shared a rich laugh at that. "They do, indeed," Carangil agreed, recovering enough to quench his thirst with a delicate punch of fruit juices and sparkling water. "So what brought you so far south, Master Aeglorias? Did you winter in Gondor?"

"I actually went farther than that, farther than the Númenórean holdings south of Umbar.... It is a curious area I don't really want to speak about. I saw things there..." the elf shuddered, "better left far behind. I came to Dol Elenna because it was one of the nearest places where I could find one of our sage Noldorin cousins. I thought I would go back to Greenwood, but Hir Gilnor asked me to guide you to Fornost. Perhaps I'll stay there; perhaps I'll go visit Rivendell.... I don't know yet."

"Well, then, I will be very glad to have your company, Master Aeglorias," Carangil said. "I am saddened to hear that you cannot speak of your visit to the south; it sounds as if the news is bad from every direction. Hir Gilnor told us some very disquieting things about the north."

Aeglorias' talk of trouble to the south perked Kirdan's interest, as he made yet another plate disappear. He took a long drink of water as his lord replied to the elf.

"I am afraid you are better informed than I am. I've never been in Eriador before. I was born in the distant Greenwood, and I have spent most of my years there, in Southern Gondor and even further South. I have not seen Greenwood for a long, long time...."

"If I may ask, can you tell me how long you mean?" Carangil asked.

"More years than you have seen on Arda, I'm afraid.... I hoped to get back there, but it seems such is not my fate yet. Since I am going with you, you should tell me what happens in the north, don't you think?"

"Of course I will tell you what I know, but it isn't all that much." He lowered his voice conspiratorially. "My father was taken by a prophecy before we left: 'You will come back, both of you, but not before a terrible thing happens; not before the realms of the Faithful are changed forever and part of their fate written in an appalling battle....' Of course, I asked Hir Gilnor about it. We talked for a while about the division of Arnor into three kingdoms, and then how they fought over Amon Sûl, and how Rhudaur fell under the domination of the..." his voice fell to a whisper, "Witch-king of Angmar. He even said that the Witch-king was a Númenórean, as impossible as that sounds." Carangil's voice rose to the conspiratorial tone once more. "In short, he sees a war, and fears the Foe of the North is about to come again. He also said that 'the fate of Arthedain is the fate of the North,' so we're going to the right place, from a certain point of view."

"Many things are possible when the forces of evil are concerned, but seldom are they what they appear to be."

"You mentioned Rivendell," Carangil changed the subject. "Hir Gilnor and Master Fëanol, my brother Calrohir's mentor, have spoken of Imladris often, and the sons of Elrond are guests here too. Did you see them last night?"

"I didn't actually attend the feast. I had other things in mind when I arrived. Hir Gilnor was with me minutes before he saw you. He asked me to go north as much for my own protection as for giving you an escort. Perhaps I'll try to help the Dúnedain of the North, in memory of those lost friends...." Aeglorias seemed lost in thought for a minute, and then his eyes became clear once more and he turned toward Kirdan.

"And who are you, my friend? I know that your name is Kirdan and that you are Carangil's squire, but that is little indeed to know about a travelling companion."

"Kirdan is one of the most modest people I've ever met," Carangil smiled.

Kirdan seemed somewhat nervous about Aeglorias' attention. "Yes, Master, I am known as Kirdan Giraldion. I have recently been given to Carangil as a squire, and I hope to serve him well in that manner. You must excuse me for my quiet nature, but I have never been in the company of the Eldar before. I find myself most humbled by it. I do not know what about myself could interest you, master." He traced the crescent scar on his hand as he spoke.

"Well, I suppose we will be able to talk further during the trip. For now, I think our hostess is waiting for us. We should not have her wait. Follow me!"

Chapter V: The Ladies' Court

Aeglorias stood and crossed the House to one of the drawing rooms, where Heri Mellónië was entertaining some Elven ladies with music and singing. The three men waited for the recital to finish, then Heri Mellónië beckoned for them to approach. As the other Elven ladies save one withdrew, Carangil glanced briefly at the Lady, but his eyes quickly moved to where the incomparably beautiful Náranna sat beside her mother, her complexion soft as a rose, her eyes brighter than stars. Where the beauty of Heri Mellónië was that of a crystal-clear moonless mountain midnight, Náranna was all the glorious sunsets of the world rolled into one.

"My dear Carangil, Lord Aeglorias, Kirdan, please come!" The Noldo Lady of Dol Elenna smiled warmly while they saluted her in reply. "Hir Elennáro told me about your misadventure, my dear Carangil, but I am sure you will learn and grow wiser with your stay in Arthedain. I liked the countryside when we lived in Ost-en-Edhil, and have liked the people there since the arrival of the Faithful. Though I have heard that since they split the kingdom into three sister-realms, things have changed, and not for the best. Some friends from Lindon have told us there is a shadow in the North now... they felt it during the war. You must promise me you will not launch yourself in some bold but foolish move like so many of your kind, Carangil!"

"I have sworn to leave rashness behind, my Lady," Carangil replied, bowing. "And I shall repeat that oath to you, and to the Lady Náranna." Carangil's mind whirled at the Lady's casual mentions of Ost-en-Edhil, lost nearly three thousand years ago, and the arrival of the Faithful under Elendil the Tall, now nearly two thousand years in the past. Just when you get used to Elves again, they remind you how young you really are, he thought with an expression of wonder on his face.

* * *

Heri Mellónië also spoke with Kirdan, who was much more at ease with her than with the other Eldar of the House; he managed to talk with her for a long time. (Such was her gift; her warmth melted even the most stubborn shyness or reticence.)

Aeglorias' turn began with him exchanging some news about several travelling companions who had left for Lórien, or Belfalas, while travelling north from that far place, somewhere further than Far Harad, that they had left in a hurry some months ago. Then Aeglorias steeled his courage and said to the Lady, "Three of us perished in that dreadful place, Heri Mellónië. Two were brave men." He knelt on one knee, took the Lady's hand, and bowed his head in sorrow. "The third was Silmelen Ringónion of the Noldor of Harlond."

Heri Mellónië's face blanched a sickly white and her hand gripped Aeglorias' with surprising strength as she nearly whispered, "My Silmelen?"

"Alas, yes, my Lady," Aeglorias confirmed.

"Leave us!" Heri Mellónië gasped and closed her eyes, while Carangil, Kirdan, and Náranna exchanged shocked glances.

Náranna laid a comforting arm around her mother as Aeglorias rose again, turned, and gestured to the Dúnedain. "As you wish, my Lady. But first you should know that Silmelen died the way he had lived, brightly and heroically. His death purchased our lives."

* * *

Once they had withdrawn from the ladies' presence, the surprised Carangil could not help but ask about this Silmelen. Aeglorias told them that perhaps Carangil might have known him by the name Celebil, but in either case, he had been Heri Mellónië's half-brother. "He was our leader, and a brave man. I shall miss him in the years to come, as will I miss the other two who died, Nimruzîr and Nolarauca, our two Mannish friends who died far from their homes.... I had known Nolarauca's great-grandfather...." Aeglorias voice became a whisper, as the Elf put on a thoughtful face. The two young Dúnedain abruptly once more faced the fact that all Eldar live much longer lives than they, and left for their own rooms.

Chapter VI: Interlude for Kirdan

The following morning, Kirdan saw Carangil go out of the House with a peculiar expression on his face. He followed him with his eyes and was surprised to see him begin to collect flowers, and then re-enter Dol Elenna. During the meal, Carangil was perhaps a little more sombre than usual, but Kirdan did not dare ask him what was happening. Two more days passed, during which Kirdan passed most of his time with the House's wardens, practising the sword and the bow. He was unsettled to notice that though the Eldar were obviously good fighters, there were limits to their adaptability. Their sword-work, though impressive, proved sometimes archaic, as if ritualised. Kirdan began to wonder if some of the wardens did not lack real fighting practice. Such was not the case for Númmacar and his two aides, who did not seem to suffer such failings.

On the morning of the third day, Carangil went to see his squire, and told him that they were to depart on the next morning. Kirdan asked his lord if there were any special preparations to make, but apart from making sure that the horses were well tended, Carangil had nothing to suggest. In fact, he spoke very little, and seemed withdrawn and lost in his own thoughts.

So Kirdan went to the stable where two elves were grooming the horses. One was a blacksmith, the other an ostler. Kirdan found them easygoing, even if they were somewhat strange, and it was stranger still to be working at such menial tasks with immortal Eldar. The Elves had changed some horseshoes, made sure all saddles and harnesses were in good shape, and had ridden all of the horses at least once a day. All was well, and Kirdan enjoyed a good day, working with them as if they were his common companions of Dácilion.

The next morning, the two young Dúnedain ate their breakfasts with Aeglorias, and then loaded their horses with his help. The elf had a black courser, a beautiful but powerful Elven mount, and they saw that he travelled lightly. Hir Elennáro came to bid them farewell in the courtyard, with Calrohir following. The Noldo lord once more advised Carangil not to waste lives, his own or those of his followers. Heri Mellónië came with their daughter Náranna, who was the object of all of Carangil's attention. Kirdan frowned but said nothing, afraid of guessing the truth. Should that be what I think, I hope this will not be the source of some tragedy, thought the young squire.

Chapter VII: Westward and Northward

They departed under a light rain, the air even cooler because of a light breeze. Carangil and Calrohir had both looked quite depressed to leave the other, but they could not help the turns of Fate. Kirdan had not heard their parting words after a final brotherly embrace. The road was long till the evening camp, but Aeglorias entertained them with stories about Greenwood of old, before the coming of a shadow in the south of the wood. Orcs were more and more frequently sighted now, and the sad name of Mirkwood had begun to be commonly used among men. They soon came to share stories during the night camp when they were outside, for when they stayed in inns or farms, Aeglorias went to his room early, or went for a stroll under the stars, seldom seen by the human beings. Though he was obviously quite happy to live among men, he knew all too well that his kind had became rare enough to be seen as unsettling by many people. He enjoyed the trip through the verdant valleys of Calenardhon, so different from his home or from the harsh wastes he had crossed during his travels in the South.

Two weeks passed, and in due time they arrived at the borderlands estate of Amarilien's husband Rochanmír, provincial lord of Minas Rochandil. Rochanmír was very honoured to have an Elda as a guest. He asked for much news about the east, and singularly about Minas Anor, where he had lived in his youth. Carangil gave his mother's letter to Amarilien, and enjoyed the break from the trip. The three travellers spent as many days at the quiet estate, with Aeglorias etching unforgettable memories in the children of the House, whether with his marvellous stories or simply because of what he was. Carangil was quite happy to amuse the maids of the estate with tales of prowess and the journey through the mighty cities and to the Elven refuge. Kirdan learned that this far from Dácilion, he was treated as nearly a minor lord. Surprised but happy about this new status, he did not lose his head; he enjoyed the mundane work and chores he had to share with the common folk of the estate. He was becoming more at ease with Aeglorias, and accepted an offer to flee the estate for one day and come with him on a hunt. The skill of the elf with a bow was a real wonder, and Kirdan enjoyed his day.

* * *

The travellers crossed the Ford of Isen a few days later, and then rode north to Tharbad, staying at inns during most nights on the road. One month after their departure from Dol Elenna, they saw the grey ramparts of the capital of Cardolan looming above the Gwathló. Commerce was obviously thriving here. The city, though much smaller than the biggest cities of Gondor, was more cosmopolitan, for Dwarves were obviously not an unusual sight. Aeglorias was the subject of some curious stares, but some few other elves were visible in the crowd. These were mainly sailors from their garb and attitude, but some were travellers on their way north. Carangil observed the prince's palace with some awe: Ostoher was obviously rich, and that wealth was also visible in the number of mercenaries wearing the royal badge. Remembering Hir Elennáro's story, both young Dúnedain frowned, wondering what would happen should a war erupt. The town had a somewhat sinister feel during the rain, however, and the young men soon went back to their inn, where they slept soundly after a good meal.

The next day they woke up early and departed for Dinach, a small village on the way north. The weather seemed much colder with each passing mile than it had been in the south. Two days later, on a cloudy day in Gwirith, they arrived in Metraith, a double town. A Dúnadan town had grown up around the Thalion, the somewhat decrepit former summer palace of the prince. A Dunnish town loomed above and to the north of the palace; it rested on the top of a knoll whose natural defences had been reinforced by an earthen wall and a tower.

* * *

The only inn with available rooms was The Fattened Ewe, a dirty place with a strong greasy odour. The travellers did not stay long in the crowded common room, and went to sleep early. The next morning, Carangil and Kirdan were having breakfast and wondering after Aeglorias when they saw a young, obviously angry Dúnadan speaking with the innkeeper.

"Sir, I and my companions chose to stay in your establishment thinking it safe. Obviously this is not the case. I think it outrageous that thieves can enter an honest man's room and leave with his money under the shadow of the palace of Thalion...."

And so one Roquen from the North met two from the South. So began adventures to live in songs like those of the Heroes of old....

Editor's Note

Post your comments on this story on the Fiction Discussion Board.