Halls of Healing, Eregion, spring T.A. 3012. Days and weeks go by as the Companions prepare for their long trek towards the bleak and unforgiving lands of Angmar. It is late one evening, after supper, and the House of Healing that serves as home for the Companions in Cillien, is still. Their departure for Angmar and their Quest draws near. Hunter sits outside in the clear light of the full moon smoking his pipe and feeling for tears in his gear by touch alone. Eldacar Half-Elven emerges from the hut he shares with his consort Mabs and approaches. “Feredir, I must needs have words with you. May we walk, perhaps, and share a pipe of Halfing weed?”
The two friends walk a few yards from the house. In silence Eldacar also lights his pipe, and casts his gaze on the star-filled sky. Hunter’s eye is on their long and pale shadows, ominous portents of shadowy work to be done. Maybe someone is manipulating the shadows, moving the Companions about like pieces on a game board? Surely, too many strange occurences have befallen them in the last score of months. Minutes pass before Eldacar finally speaks.
“I know I gave you my word that I would go with you on your Quest Feredir, and I will keep my oath if you hold me to it. It is not that I wish to abonden the Quest or all of you, but I must admit that things have changed. I am still not the Elf I was, my full strength has yet to return, if ever it will.” He pauses and closes his eyes for a moment or two. Feredir remains still. In truth he had come to be expecting this conversation, in a sense hoping it would finally come. For he has not been certain of his companion’s capabilities to face the dangerous tasks ahead of them. And now there was a child to be considered. Hunter had no wish in playing a part in orphaning an infant. “There is the situation with Mabs and the others… and of course the child…” He is struggling to find the words, Hunter realises. The Ranger lays a heavy hand on his friend’s shoulder.
“Speak no more, Eldacar of the Sinda. Your counsel is wise, and your words make sense to me. I have no doubt in my mind that you would keep your word and go with me on this Quest, even with all that has happened. But how can I ask of you such a thing now? Had I been able to forsee these events before this Quest was announced, I would never have accepted your offer. No, fear not that I will think less of you for this, nor will anyone else. I hereby release you from your oath.”
The two shake hands, and the elf gives him a small smile as a way of thanks. The two remain outside, quietly finishing their pipes while watching the stars.
The following day Beoraborn finally returns from his exploits at Ost-in-Edhil. Súlkano, he explains, has left for the Grey Havens, for ever leaving behind Middle-Earth, but before he made his leave, they finished their task. He unrolls a great skin, and reveals two mighty spears, intrically carved with Elvish designs, and other, more animalistic symbols. The spears seem to shimmer translucently, and writhe and swirl with patterns of branches, leaves and moss. They are in all fairness otherworldly, and the Companions marvel at the extraordinary craftsmanship.
Beoraborn is not finished, and unslings a great sack, and from this he pulls a leather armour, fashioned from the scales of the drake Turkulon. This he presents to Hunter as a gift, to help in his Quest. The armour has the same shimmering otherworldliness as the spears, and Hunter intuitively sense that they are not only of nature, but attuned to nature itself. He humbly thanks Beoraborn for the gift.
A few days later. The normal day to day activities of the house are being carried out, while the party is busy perparing themselves for departure. It will not be long now, and there is still much to be done.
Jack is busy looking after the little one, luring smiles from the child with his skylarking. Hunter smiles and shakes his head, returning his focus on his task; fletching arrows with goose-feathers. As he finish one arrow and puts it down, he notices Bragol staring off into the distance. “What is it you see Eldacar?” “Someones coming.” “Who?”, Feridir rises and walks towards the elf, his eyes fixing upon the same area as the elf. “I cannot tell. A cart drawn by a pony, its driver an old man in grey robes.”
Feredir frowns. “Grey robes?”
“It is so. And wearing a very tall, pointy hat.”
Feredir cleans his hands on a piece of cloth, and walks into the courtyard as the cart rolls in. The others are gathering too, and Hunter holds up his hand in salute.
“Greetings, traveler, and welcome to Cillien. I fear there is not much to be found here anymore, the place is mainly deserted.”
“Oh, I believe I have found exactly what I see, , Barhador, son of Tauron,” smiles the old man through his long beard.
All eyes are on Hunter, who stops short and knits his brows. “Forgive me, but you seem to have me at a disadvantage… You know me?”
“Indeed I do, and your Companions too, I wager. There is nimble Jack, fleet of foot and crafty with his fingers. Hither stalwarth Beoraborn, of Beorn’s kin, and therefore my friend by extension. Yonder with the fishy scowl is doubtfully Bragol Thriawath, the cunning vassal of Elrond himself. I believe we may have met? And this, of course is… Salabon, who I have had the pleasure of conversing with before.” He nods and smiles at Salabon, who grins broadly back, and considers Edmund, before moving on to the women. “I know not the ladies, but am charmed, I’m sure.” He bows deeply to Mabs, Jayele, Lominzli and Eadyth. Jayelle bows back, ever so slightly and gracefully. Lominzli giggles and blushes, and Mabs grunts and nudges her. Eadyth, who knows the Stormcrow from Edoras, makes no show of any kind.
“You are Gandalf!” Hunter exclaims, but collects himself. “I beg your pardon, Master Gandalf, I have sought after you.”
Gandalf chuckles. “Indeed you have, young Ranger. And now you have found me. Or rather, I have found you.”
With the master huntsman Feredir among their number, Beoraborn’s newly brewed ale, and with Salabon’s herbalism skills, it is indeed a true feast that they can prepare in Gandalf’s honour with but a moment’s notice. They cheer and carouse, and tell tall tales, none moreso than Gandalf himself, and it is not until the food has been cleared away, the remnants of Minas Brethil brandy has come out, and the men have lit their pipes, driving out the women and children. Lominzli has to drag Eadyth with her, but even she reluctantly leavs the menfolk to their pipes and devices. Salabon delivers an animated account of his visit with Saruman, and Gandalf seems to chew his pipe and beard, muttering under his breath, but smiling and nodding theathrically at Salabon in all the right places. He is more sober and acknowledging of Hunter’s account of sensing something wrong around Calenardhon. He confirms that it was Hunter’s discovery of Elendil’s grave that led to him receiving words of their Quest. It comes as no surprise to the Companions that Gandalf is a friend to the Great Eagles.
“Truth be told, I am no stranger to the tale of your commendable Quest,” admits Gandalf. “I have many friends about the lands of Eriador, not only in Bree or Rivendell.”
“Then pray tell why you waited so long to make contact with us?” asks Hunter.
Gandalf sucks his teeth. “I had to be certain.”
“Certain of what?”
“Certain of your dedication.” He holds up a hand to fend off protests. “Now, now, you must understand that a band of arrant vagabonds with questionable repute, performing deeds that seem unbelievable at best advocates caution. However,” he waves off more protests, “however, I have myself had the opportunity to investigate some of the claims that the folk of Eriador tell of your exploits, and though some of them still seem unbelievable, especially what they say in Bree” he regards an uncomfortable Eldacar from underneath great big bushy eyebrows, “it is without a doubt that your contributions to the Free Peoples are commendable.” The Companions stay silent. “I support your Quest to Angmar.”
Gandalf agrees with the Companions’ decision to bypass Rivendell, fearing Elrond will attempt to stop their Quest. “I have faith you can succeed,” says Gandalf. “Elrond will not be so magnanimous. He will consider letting loose the Wyrm too great a risk, and will not have faith in your ability to succeed. But heed this,” and here Gandalf seems to grow impossibly tall, and the room dim to but a gloom, “you must not fail.”
“Will you come with us, Gandalf, and aid us in our Quest?”
“Alas, I cannot. My presence is required elsewhere. I am only to follow you a ways, and encourage you. Such is the extent I can allow myself to interfere.”
Goodbyes had been said, good fortune wished and promises of reunion as soon as the Quest is fulfilled made. Bragol stands outside and watching as his friends slowly disappear into the horizon. Mabbs walks up to him, taking his hand. “They will return, do not worry. I feel it in my bones. They are as prepared as anyone can be, armed as well as can be and I have never met, nor heard of, anyone more resourceful.”
“I know, but still I worry. And now with Gandalf…”
“The old man? But he seem both friendly and wise? He approves of the quest and their plans, and if he deserves but half the respect and admiration you lot give him, then surely he knows best?”
“Not what I worry about. He is right in fearing what would happen, should the dragon side with the enemy. In the first age they were terrible foes that brought great destruction.”
Mabbs seem confused. “So you agree with your Lord’s sentiments?”
“No, I did not say that…”
“Then all the more reason to kill it, all the more reason for this Gandalf to help…”
“Yes, but that is not what bothers me, it is the timing of it all. As I understand it, at the time that Smaug was killed, Gandalf was part of a group that entered the old fortress of Dol Goldur in Mirkwood and exposed the necromancer there to be no other than the Enemy.”
“That old man? I suppose he must be very old, it has to be what, sixty years ago? But what has that got to do with anything?”
“According to the book the Huntsman read in the Shire, Gandalf was instrumental in arranging the Quest to retake the Lonely Mountain.”
Mabbs is quiet for a little while, before asking: “So what? So you think he ulterior motives for helping the Dwarves? That he used the attack on Smaug as a cover operation, a smoke screen? And that he is doing the same now?” There was anger and uncertainty in her voice.
“I do not know. That is what bothers me.”
“Well if that is the case, I’m glad you are not going. I was glad before, but even more glad I am now! Your place is here with our child, not being killed by some lizard, again. Do not think I have forgiven you for that!” She smiles and gives him an angry look. “No, best you stay here and attend to what is important.” Bragol is about to answer, but bites his tongue just in time. Instead he switches to Quenya and under his breath says: “Personal is not the same as important.”
“Did you say something my dear?” Mabbs ask.
He turns to her, smiles and says: “Just a little good luck wish for them, come let us go inside, there is work to be done.”
Hunter rejoices in feeling the road yet again beneath the hooves of his stout mount. He feels elated and excited, he has purpose and a clear goal. He notices a certain glumness in his Companions, however, only Gandalf seems cheerful, singing songs and smoking his pipe atop his little cart.
Slowly the Companions wind their way along the crumbling roads of Eregion, through the valleys below the Misty Mountains, northward bound.
Barely have they escaped the hollied valleys before disaster strikes. Making camp below a huge, great oak they are set upon by the very tree itself, a fiendish and evil Huorn! The Companions seem powerless against the mighty oak, and soon both Jack and Salabon are caught by its lashing branches, and hurled into the canopy. Gandalf stands back, alarmed and sword in hand, but he bides his time…