It was common for the townsmen to gossip, and Baragund had always encouraged them to bring him news. Each person with any trivial encounter with the Elf brought him word, eager to tell him what they saw, what they heard, what they thought they knew. Now he hoarded his store: four different accounts of the sparring contest; and finally Rhadruin had come, shamefacedly, to give his own.

Rhadruin was unusually soft-spoken as he related the events, but bluster crept in by the end. "He appears scarcely more than a child; I was taken off-guard through my misestimation. Had he granted me the rematch I asked, the outcome might be different, but still, such skill from one so young!"

Baragund tried to be patient. "I doubt another match would change things. My father met Elves at the trading camp on the East Road; he said they all look like that - beautiful and ageless. They appear slender and delicate, but are deadly fighters if the tales be true."

"If this was a sample they are deadly fighters indeed! How can we trust any so different and deceptive? What if he returns with an army at his back?"

"I do not think that is their nature. They are not always comfortable neighbors, but there has never been strife between our peoples. If I were to fear war, it would be that the ill feeling we hear of would incite Elves into battle with each other, or more likely with the eastern Men."

"And why should fighting so distant trouble us?" Rhadruin asked, with a shade of his accustomed bravado. "If they are such fell warriors, so wise and ancient, surely none will ask our aid."

"Even if we are too far away to be drawn into such a conflict, think you this town will fare well if the Great Road grows perilous? Will any be interested in trade while a war rages?" The thought was chilling. He had no desire to see Arthrad Lumren sink to the poverty of the towns further to the east and south, towns where the folk scratched and bled to win their bread in these dark times.

"I had not considered that. All the more reason to be wary of Elves." At Baragund's slight grimace he added, "At least we should stay out of their quarrels."

"We change nothing yet." Baragund added reassuringly, "I do not think such a thing likely; the days of the great wars are past. But I worry that something is amiss." His face remained thoughtful as Rhadruin took his leave, and he resolved to delay no further in availing himself of the knowledge and insight others held.


***

"I hoped we might take counsel together. It may serve us all if each will put forth what he knows of this land and how it fares." Baragund's words were a polite request, but his quick, repeated glances at Dairuin and Glorfindel told of his insecurity. "I have heard of what passes in Eregion and Khazad-dum, but I wish to know more of the dangers we face."

Dairuin nodded - he had thought perhaps Baragund would not feel the fear or acknowledge it; he was not sorry to be wrong. He turned to Glorfindel. "Aye, everywhere in Eriador people look east and worry; no one knows what dwells there that fills hearts with fear, but there has long been a shadow on that land, and it grows. The Men who live there are become cruel and warlike, and were it not for the Men from the Sea, none of the Three Kindreds would venture much east of the Greyflood."

Baragund picked up the thread again, his voice ingratiating. "Lord Glorfindel, will you tell us now of the far west and if there is truly some threat to us in Eriador? For even as our trade grows, the rumors Dairuin speaks of cause those of us here much unease. I beg you will share your wisdom in this."

"Alas that I do not have better to share." Glorfindel's gaze was solemn, well aware that his words brought little comfort to these Men seeking to unweave a web of confusion. "I do not know where the heart of the shadow lies, but that the cold wind of its spirit comes from the east; some dark fear that is felt but cannot be named. We have heard whispers of it, in Aman, and do not know what to make of them: Morgoth it cannot be, for he was thrust through the Door of Night into the Void, and he will not return. But the seeds he left behind have taken root and may blossom yet with foul purpose. More to your point is that Eriador is not free of this taint. The shadow searches for harborage here as well."

Baragund protested, "Surely you don't sense a source of evil here?"

There was compassion in the Elf's voice as he replied, "It is with sadness that I must say that it is so. Something stirs the Wildmen, and even this town is not free from the echoes of shadow."

Baragund was clearly discomforted by this. "You speak of shadow, but the Elves themselves cannot agree on what haunts Middle-earth," he argued. "We hear from those of Lindon that some dark thing stirs, but whence it comes they say they know not. Their King is said to be most suspicious of others, or jealous of the newer realms and those who learn new skills. If the Elves cannot agree among themselves what passes, how can Men decide who they shall believe?"

"As all must, by looking in their own heart as part of the judging," came Glorfindel's calm tones. "But what is this suspicion and jealousy you speak of?"

Dairuin broke in, "In Lindon they say that something is amiss even in Hollin, which they call Eregion."

Baragund added, "The Elves of Hollin do not believe that the shadow will return, and speak of new promise and the power to preserve and heal. The craftsmen of Ost-in-Edhil say that Lindon is foolish and vain, clinging to old ways and unwilling to see new arts taught. And I have heard that the Great Lord who teaches this power will not go to Lindon."

Glorfindel's interest sharpened. "So now there is wariness between them, who are kin. Do they say more of this lord who has brought such benefits?"

Baragund shrugged. "There is good return in trade from Hollin, so I hear some talk from travellers. It is said that Lord Annatar is fair and powerful, and that his gifts infuse that which the craftsmen make, and that the bliss of the West shall be brought to Middle-earth thereby. It is worth a high price to say that a making was wrought with knowledge gained from Lord Annatar. He is much admired, and his followers have proclaimed that his teachings will bring better times to Eriador."

"What manner of being is he?" asked Glorfindel.

"Little is told of his origins," Baragund answered, "but that he says he comes from the West. The travellers say he is neither mortal nor Elf, but how could that be?"

"I know of none sent from the West before me since the War of Wrath," Glorfindel said, and his voice left no room for doubt. He turned to Dairuin. "Do you know aught else of him?"

"Some do not admire him so." Dairuin continued, "It is rumored that that the Elf-king himself forbade entry to this 'Lord of Gifts.'"

Glorfindel's surprise was evident. "He is barred from Lindon? Is there word of why this should be?"

"It is said that the King and his advisors feared that he was not what he claimed - beyond this I have not heard. It scarce seems worthy of such, yet there is much ill-will come of this. Lindon's messengers have gone to many lands, including my own, urging all to shun the one called Annatar. And now those from Hollin who have welcomed him now speak less kindly of their kin in Lindon."

"Has the king refused hospitality to other travellers?" Glorfindel asked, thoughtful.

"If he has, there has been no word of it come to my ears."

Baragund was still unsettled and spoke to his own concerns. "I do not like this talk. Understand me, we do well with the trade that comes from Hollin. Ever do they grow more skillful, and the same is true of the Dwarves in Khazad-Dûm. They make many beautiful and useful objects, and they need grain, wool, wine, flax and salt. Their trade is at the heart of our prosperity, and I wish no ill-feeling between us. But I want no part of an Elvish war."

"You may set your mind at rest; there will be no kinstrife; the Firstborn will not go down that path again," Glorfindel said gently. "But nonetheless, there is much to be discovered here, much that is unexplained."

"Then I wish you success of it. But we of Arthrad Lumren do not mean to take anyone's part in this, we wish to be on good terms with all Elves and Dwarves. We seek only peace and trade. That is all I am interested in."

Glorfindel's eyes held pity, but his words were not soft. "I fear for you then, if you close your eyes to what may come to pass." Baragund shifted in his seat as the Elf spoke. "There will be little trade if the shadow is victorious. Servants of Morgoth, like Morgoth himself, do not hire others - they take them as thralls to live in torment. They do not buy - they take what they desire, caring not for the cost to others. It would be a foolish Man who expects anything other than dominion and harsh measures from such a one. You can not trade with the shadow, you can not bargain with the shadow, the shadow will take what it wants from you, and taint whatever it leaves behind." Glorfindel's musical voice was more forceful now.

"Fear and foulness are its meat. Blood spilled in senseless slaughter is its drink. And to stir ill-feeling among those who would ally against darkness is the shadow's glee," said Glorfindel. It seemed to the two Men then, as they sat in the fire-warmed room, that a chill had crept in, as if a vision of horror hovered just beyond their sight.

Baragund stood restlessly and paced before the hearth. "You speak of dire matters, as if old legends had returned. How do you know these things?"

"I have seen the shadow at the gates of my city; such memories are slow to fade," Glorfindel said simply. "Those of this town have not seen orcs rend their young, nor did they hear the screams and moans of those dragged away as thralls to the shadow. I have. And women and children of your kin were among those tormented by the Easterlings after the brave Men of Dor-lómin fell; I would sorrow to see another generation of Men suffer that fate."

Baragund's face was troubled, but not entirely convinced.

***


It was a pensive Glorfindel who ventured out the next day, caring for Galvorn, preparing for their departure, fulfilling his promise to teach Gethron the tales he had sung.

Dairuin seemed disquieted also. He looked up from the load he was packing to ask, "The tension between Lindon and Hollin does not auger well for opposing the shadow, does it?

"No, and to hear of discordance between those who are kin is always troubling." He considered, and went on, "Why should they be unfriends over this? And who is seeing more clearly in this matter? Were I to choose, I would trust the eyes of Lindon over Eregion, of Gil-galad over Celebrimbor. But there is more: this 'Lord of Gifts' claims to be from the West, yet I know him not. So who or what is he? And will he sow doubt of others who have come from the west?"

"Do you fear his mistrust?"

"Gil-galad has forbidden Lindon to the mysterious stranger, but I do not think to be turned from that land. It is said that Gil-galad is wise, and has counsellors of great lore and knowledge - I hope they would know the truth of my words."

Dairuin said, "If they are as wise as the tales name them, they can not doubt you. And whatever task lies ahead, could any denial deter you?"

Glorfindel's laugh filled the stable, and for a moment his voice held its usual merriment. "Dairuin, I cannot judge how this will affect what I must do, because I do not know myself what it is. I know that Lindon and its peoples will need all aid, and that I will give whatever aid I may. Beyond that, I must seek my own answer." He smiled, and set aside Galvorn's tack to inspect his sword. But as he reached for the sharpening stone, there was again care in his face. "Many things can go awry of this; I hope that Men, whose memory of shadow is short, will not be beguiled."

"This 'Lord of Gifts,' you do not trust him, do you?"

Glorfindel looked up from the edge he was honing. "I would rest easier if I understood his purpose and origin. I do not like such mysteries."


The mystery of Annatar remained to perplex him, along with the question of his own purpose here - to be an emissary of the Valar was no comfortable task. Tuor had burned with it, only quenching his fire at the last in the call of the sea and the West. Eärendil had paid a higher price - home, wife, children.

What price would be asked of him? Perhaps I already paid it, in Gondolin.

Glorfindel remembered Turgon, and his uncertainty when he repeated that which Ulmo had told him: "Remember that the true hope of the Noldor lieth in the West and cometh from the Sea."

So it had been - Manwë had sent the armies of Valinor to Beleriand to defeat Morgoth. Did those words still hold true? Was he, too, part of the hope of the Noldor? And did those of Lindon look through eyes too darkened by the shadow to accept new hope?

As they prepared their departure from Arthrad Lumren his heart was heavier than when he had entered.

* * *


A/N:
I welcome any commentary or suggestions on this; it is still a work in progress and I may revise as the last few chapters are written. I anticipate 2 or 3 more chapters.

Ulmo's words to Turgon are from The Silmarillion, Chapter 15, Of the Noldor in Beleriand.