The Companions of Feredir march on, staying low and avoiding encounters, and after some days they catch the spoor of the fleeing drake. Cresting a hill, the creeping Huntsman comes across a valley in which he spots the blackened remains of Colargon. He calls the others, and soon the Companions discover that Colargon has been slain and eaten by an even greater dragon. The Huntsman looks north, and there, no more than twenty miles distant, stands a terrible fortress. He knows it from legend; Carn Dûm.
Suddenly, an earthquake startles them, and they see a shape emerging from the distant ruin: A giant, black dragon, almost a hundred feet long! It swoops down on a herd of unassuming aurochs, but scents the group, and makes for the valley. The Rangers quickly secret themselves, and it is clear that the dragon fails to locate them, and seems confused by the strong scents of the carcass. It breathes a mighty rain of fire upon the valley, and it is sheer luck that makes it give up and return to the citadel with its prey.
Feredir suggest they mask their scents with the remains of Colargon, and urges his fellows to move on Carn Dûm: This monstrous, evil threat to all Eriador has to be stopped.
That night, Feredir obtains an innate sense of the lands. He does not like them, but he can feel them – understand them. This helps him locate a perfect hiding place for the night; a small cave carefully nestled behind fallen rocks, with a small stream running across, enough to hide any scents. He is also able to produce a small, smokeless fire, so the companions can enjoy a last meal – possibly the last meal ever. Talk turns to their two lost comrades, Bragol and Baran. Worries are voiced, and fears spoken. Only Jack remains silent, even more so than the brooding Huntsman.
The next day a careful survey of the terrain shows that it is quite obvious that the giant Beijibar Beoraborn will be unable to hide himself in case the dragon should appear.
Beoraborn looks immensely sad: it hurts him to leave his companions, but they all agree it is for the best. Beoraborn is best served as last defence, or, if the worst were to pass, a messenger to warn the Free Peoples of the impending doom. Feredir feels uncomfortable leaving his mightiest ally, but it is unlikely that any of them will return, so it stands to reason that someone should be left to survive. Honestly, at this point, he would rather go alone, and risk only his own life, but he knows proud Eadyth would never allow herself to miss the opportunity of regaining her family’s honour: Even if she should fall, her recognition is sure. Jack is hell-bent on his quest for redemption, and facing this foe – perhaps the most terrible in all of Middle-Earth – is the ultimate test. And Salabon is loyal to a fault. He would never leave his best friend. This, Feredir knows, and thus he grudgingly accepts that he is leading some of the best people he knows into certain death. If he will ever be able to live with the choice, if he lives after the ordeal, he is less certain of.
They make their teary-eyed farewells, with promises from Beoraborn to give messages to all who deserve them, and press on. Beoraborn lingers for a while, a great sadness ovewhelming him for a spell, before retiring to the cave to wait, and observe from a far. Waiting, he is familiar with, as a bear shifter. But observing without interfering, is a concept he struggles with.
The Companions finally reach the village at Carn Dûm. They see it has been inhabited up until recently, by scores of Orcs, and even some Trolls. These are all lying in the streets, littering the place with their corpses. They are all dead. Feredir tries to communicate with the vermin feasting on the dead, but the wretched things seem mad. He concludes that they have been driven wild by the dragon’s mere presence.
They have little time to consider them, however, as they soon sense the return of the dragon, having been out in flight, and they all make haste to secret themselves among the ruins.
The mighty beast glides deadly and silent above them. They see its glimmering scales, strong as obsidian, and the myriads of gems and coins infused between them like a second armour – just as Bilbo’s tale told Smaug was adorned and protected. The monster, larger than anything any of the Companions have ever witnessed, leaving them gaping and overwhelmed, before it awkwardly lands beyond the city walls. Soon it crawls onto the walls, and trumpets into the misty daylight.
“I smell the foul stench of the wretch Colargon!” it bellows. “I know not who you are, but your tricks cannot fool me!” It roars, and then the air turns electric for a split second as it takes a huge gulp of air, and throws a lance of fire across the square and the nearby buildings. The Companions hug their hidey holes, and bide their time. The dragons stands still, considering the display before him for quite a while, before it suddenly turns away and clambers down and into the fortress.
The Companions sit still, white-faced and in terrible awe. It is not fear that course through their veins, although that is surely strong enough an emotion to affect them. No, it is pure futility, hopelessness and despair that mar the Companions.
How in Fram’s memory can they ever hope to slay such a mighty and invincible beast?
To be concluded.