None connected the arrival of Saruman in the Mortal Lands with the destruction of the royal house of Cardolan save, perhaps, Iarwain. As the Eldest no longer freely mixed with the rest of the Wise, however, he was not likely to betray Curumo’s secrets. It was best, Curumo reasoned after the fact, that there be but one royal line in the north as it was best there be one in the south; and already had Endorgil foreseen his own demise before Saruman’s arrival. Therefore there was nothing to have been done to turn aside the fate of the young Man and his lineage, if it was already written in the stars....
As he rode into what had been Rhudaur he found a land in which the Dúnedain population had been much decreased, and yet remained stubbornly attached to its Númenórean heritage and the responsibilities it felt it owed to the lands and peoples of what had once been Elendil’s own kingdom of Arnor. There were yet some who had been closely related to the royal house of Rhudaur who considered taking the guidance and rule of their people into their own hands; but the lessons of the last few centuries had been learned at last, and they stopped short of fighting amongst themselves for dominance.
“Each time we have allowed ourselves to enter into battles with Cardolan,” one elderly Man said, “we have accomplished nothing of worth. The tower of Amon Sûl has been destroyed and its Palantír lost; our greatest warriors have been lost on both sides; the lineage of the heirs of Isildur in the houses of Cardolan and Rhudaur have now been destroyed. Only among the folk of Arthedain does the blood of Elendil and Isildur run true.”
“We could name you King, Venteri,” suggested one of his younger kinsmen. “You are, after all, the grandson of Thorongmar.”
“And who would follow me?” Venteri asked. “Anglorchel who was my wife has been dead twenty-nine years, slain by the fevers that swept all of Arnor at that time. Our son died while yet a child, cut down by the Dunlendings, and my daughter died in childbed, her son with her. Once I am gone this debate would need to be held yet again, and you know it.
“Nor have I inherited the gift of healing, and Lord Elrond never took me for training as has been done with those of the three lines. No, Maeleg, I fear it is too late to seek to make me King of Rhudaur. We must face the unpleasant truth--Rhudaur is no more, and our line of Kings has been broken.”
“Then what do you suggest, Venteri? Shall we give up our identity as descendants of Númenor, intermarry with lesser Men, and fade as do the Elves?”
“No,” Venteri answered him, “I think we should approach Celebrindor and his son Malvegil and ask to be allowed to join with their people, to give up our identity as Rhudauri and embrace being seen once more as the folk of Arnor.”
Saruman listened to this debate without comment, amazed at the wisdom Venteri showed, although his own inclinations were closer to those expressed by Maeleg and several other of the younger lords who wished to retain their independence as the people of Rhudaur. No decision was made that day, or for quite some time thereafter. Maeleg and his companions invited the Istar to join them during their more private discussions. There were a couple who would willingly have put themselves forward as King of Rhudaur; yet none would take that position while Venteri yet lived.
One of the younger Men remained quiet during the debates, Mirdunmar son of Velmaridor. Velmaridor was several years dead, for he’d been among the guard of Harthadrion, the last king of Rhudaur, when he’d died in an attack by a mixed party of warg-riding orcs and trolls out of the Ettenmoors, along with all his companions save one. Velmaridor had been twin brother to Venteri, and so, as Saruman saw it, the younger Man had as strong a claim to the Kingship as did his uncle--perhaps more, for he had apparently inherited a portion of the healing gift that ran in the blood of the Line of Kings. Yet, after some weeks of listening to the discussions that ran among the others, when he finally spoke, it was to very quietly and privately support his uncle’s suggestion.
“There is no one among us,” Saruman overheard him telling Maeleg quietly, “in whom the blood of the Kings runs true. My uncle and I are as close to that lineage as it is possible to be, yet it runs not true in either of us. Ever since Eärendur divided Arnor into three there has been nothing but strife and pettiness amongst us. Only the descendants of Amlaith have refused to take part in the quarrels between the descendants of Amlaith’s younger brothers, instead seeking ever to counsel us to cooperate instead of compete with one another, advising us ever to choose the path of peace, to share our resources instead of fighting over them. They have suggested ever we seek the advice of Elrond, allow Imladris to mediate in our disputes; and they have ever followed their own counsel.
“I say, with my uncle, that we should give over the striving for a separate identity. If we do not band together for strength with the rest of the Dúnedain I foresee that the enemies of the Free Peoples will in the end destroy us, one by one. Better to be seen once more as citizens of Arnor and the subjects of the Line of Isildur than to insist on being known as the Rhudaurim when Rhudaur no longer exists.”
After remaining among the Rhudaurim for two seasons and seeing the resolve of Maeleg and his fellows finally begin to waver, Saruman left the land to continue his journey through Middle Earth. He knew that Venteri and Mirdunmar advised wisely; yet he could not bear to remain to see the likes of Maeleg bow the knee to another, no matter how strongly the blood of Elros Tar-Minyatur ran through his veins.
A second small boat entered the Firth of Lhûn not from the southlands but from the West, again carrying but a single passenger, one this time clad in rusty brown, carrying a staff apparently carved of ash, wearing a tall brown hat and a cape of leather. He was greeted with honor by Círdan and his people. They called him Radagast in honor of his brown garb.
Radagast did not linger in Mithlond long, for he felt the call to the wild places. Yet he went with the blessings of the Elves, and as he traveled throughout Eriador those of the wandering companies welcomed him, learning from him gladly, sending him on his way when he chose to leave them with even more blessings and gifts of food, seedlings, cuttings, tools.
In time he came to the land of Cardolan and found it reverting back to wilderness. He could see the remains of homes and farms, fields and woodlots, gardens and orchards. The few of the race of Men who dwelt there listened to his counsel, and they withdrew northward to join their kindred among the folk of Arthedain. When they were gone he encouraged creepers to grow over stonework and pull it down, roots to cover ancient floors with a mat to hold dirt and allow other vegetation to sprout over flagged surfaces, trees to grow in former fields.
He was startled at first by the sheer number of earthen tombs that stood in lines across the Barrowdowns; yet he recognized that somehow this situation was right for the environment in which it was found. The grass that covered the downs was green and healthy; and beyond the downs stood the trees of the Old Forest and, he realized with surprise, the home of Iarwain.
The Eldest dwelt here, of all places within Middle Earth?
Smiling, Radagast turned off the Road to head toward the house of Iarwain, delighting in the personal attention given him by the trees once he reached them. He found signs that a more ancient people than the Dúnedain had dwelt here in the past, leaving many standing stones and at least one great stone circle that had served as observatory, calendar, place of contemplation and worship, and ritual center, apparently in the Dark Years when first Morgoth and later Sauron had held sway in these lands. He sensed antipathy toward most with the shapes of Men, although once he allowed his nature to be sensed the trees drew their roots back away from the paths he trod out of respect for him. Radagast’s smile broadened. To meet trees that were limb-lithe was a most interesting situation. And to come to know the Eldest made it even more so.
The Elves of Mithlond were somewhat startled when the next craft from the West held not one but two Wizards. Both were treated with gravest respect, and their desire for horses to travel to their intended destination was granted almost immediately. Círdan watched after them with some regret. He was certain he would come to know more of the first of the Istari than was perhaps desirable--Saruman’s intelligence was obvious, as was the pride of the creature. He looked forward to knowing Radagast, for it was a delight to find that the second Istar shared the land-sense of an Elf, and his humility was refreshing after the near-hubris of the first. But he foresaw no further commerce with the pair that arrived in the third small boat, and he realized he’d have no further chance to explore their natures.
But then one day there was a brilliant flash to the West such as had preceded the arrival of Radagast, and the Shipwright realized some most unusual event was in motion; and he set some of his sailors to watch the waters approaching the entrance to the Firth.
Ah, Olórin, so you are the fifth?
The fifth Istar raised his head to smile over the side of his small craft into the eyes of Ossë. “Yes, apparently I am. It has been a time since I saw you last, brother. And how have you fared recently?”
Well enough, I must suppose. And did I indeed see the Vingilot touch the waters briefly for the second time in recent memory? What has led to this unprecedented event?
“Eärendil sought only to offer me the memories of his own time as a lord among the peoples of Middle Earth, in the days before those in which he came to his current state. He set the skiff down a day past, and me in it, before he returned to his more normal duties.”
And how many more of your sort intend to sail the waters?
“I’m not truly certain, but I suspect none--unless another of our brothers offers himself or Lord Manwë comes to question whether any of us is up to the task set us.”
Odd how neither Curumo nor the two immediately before you came so far with the Mariner’s assistance.
“Apparently we were all given the same choice. Alatar and Pallando indicated they wished more time to consider what they would do and how they would look to deal with their commission, and so chose to sail the entire way on their own. As I had no company for the voyage I thought only to learn what Eärendil would share with me, and then spend some time digesting it before I came to Lhûn. That I would possibly have you and Uinen as company for part of the time I’d not considered earlier, although I am grateful for whatever wisdom you may be moved to share, not to mention just your presence. It is likely to be some time before I am gifted with the awareness of another of our kind save for the other Istari.”
A higher wave allowed Ossë to look down into the interior of the boat. And what is that? he asked, indicating a item of light blue fixed under the overhang of the small storage locker.
“Do you like it? It’s meant to be a hat. I probably ought to be wearing it now, for I’ll undoubtedly end up with my skin burned by the Sun as it is. I am certain I will find it useful once I arrive in Middle Earth, in fact. But for now I have it stowed so as not to lose it. It was a gift from an elleth on Tol Eressëa, actually. Perhaps a bit large and ostentatious, but I find it suits my fancy well enough. As with the scarf, it should evoke humor and perhaps a bit of confusion from those I must meet with as I travel through Middle Earth.”
A hat? So, that is what those are meant to be, Uinen commented as she joined her consort. Curumo didn’t keep his, casting it into the Sea once he reached this side of the Straight Path.
“Alas, I must grieve its loss. Perhaps he ought to simply have entrusted it to you to be passed on to one of those following, as perhaps we might have appreciated having a spare.” He was gratified when both Uinen and her husband laughed. His lips twitched and his eyes crinkled. He was beginning to think that perhaps his stay on Middle Earth wouldn’t always be either deadly serious or stunningly boring--he had the idea he’d face too much of both situations in the time stretching before him; and as now he moved in the timestream known by mortals, without some amusement and humor he feared he would soon lose himself. Plus, it was no mean feat to provoke Ossë to laughter. Well pleased, he set himself to continuing the situation; and if the Sea about the small craft rocked with humor, those watching from beyond could only shake their heads and smile with the wonder of it.
An hour before daybreak the following morning Olórin sat upright watching the storm Ossë had raised around the small boat, clinging to his staff, his face alight with interest and pleasure. He looked at Uinen with delight. “I can certainly understand why he loves tempests, as it is similar to dancing in the Breath and the Light, with the addition of water.”
Uinen smiled. There you have it, brother Olórin. He finds a sense of freedom, beauty, and oneness with the Creator and His Creation in it that is invigorating and releasing.
The Maia of the Sea let go the wind and waves, and he returned to the skiff happy and replete if somewhat wild. As he saw Olórin’s approval he smiled with pleasure. It can be fulfilling, you see.
“I do indeed. And I thank you for letting me take part, if only from a distance. But I sense that the last of my freedom is coming to an end, and I must reach shore soon. But I am grateful for the company, the sharing, and the entertainment.”
Ossë laughed as he and Uinen saw the small craft blown through the entrance into the Firth of Lhûn and toward the quays of Mithlond.
Círdan was taken somewhat by surprise by the arrival of the final skiff with the dawning. None had noted its entrance into the long bay; indeed after the storming seen during the night the Shipwright had become convinced the one who approached his harbor wouldn’t arrive for another day at best. Yet the new arrival didn’t appear the least concerned, even considering the wetness of his garb.
Grey as the sea itself he appeared in the growing dawn; but as the Sun rose to shine down on him her light was answered by his own; and Círdan recognized him, putting his presence here together with his own visions of foresight, and he bowed deeply. “Welcome, Lord, for I have awaited you for quite some time.” He looked at his hand, and smiled as he carefully removed that which he’d carried there since it had been entrusted to him by Gil-galad. “Take this, Lord,” he said as he presented it to the guest from beyond the Sundering Sea, “for I foresee you will have need of it to complete your task of kindling hearts. I have not needed its power since it was entrusted to me; but you will benefit from its presence as you pass through the lands of Middle Earth.”
The Istar, surprised, examined the Ring offered now to his care, and after searching the Elf’s eyes at last accepted it and slipped it onto his finger. “You should perhaps have entrusted it to Curumo,” he murmured, “as he is first among us....”
But Círdan was shaking his head. “No, not that one, for he loves knowledge and not the peoples he is intended to succor. Oh, he will oppose the Enemy’s agents and power as he can; but not out of compassion but out of pride. He may spark intellects, but we have need of those who will spark our hearts and deeds. Will you share a dawn meal with me, Lord?”
And so it was that Gandalf was greeted to Middle Earth, taking his first counsel from among its inhabitants from the guardian of the Elven haven of Mithlond.