Continued from Leaving Thargelion
Sentries had been watching their progress for hours, neither hailing them nor making moves to hinder their progress. As the morning passed, riders had begun to circle them, always keeping a hundred strides away from the caravan. The afternoon sun was fading and the chill of evening was upon them. Cold air from the mountains of Ered Wethrin was rushing to greet the travellers; clean, hard, and without the familiar pine scent of their own home. It was familiar, yet strange, and reminded Estarfin of the distance they had travelled since setting out from Dor Caranthir. Finally, as if they crossed some invisible border, the riders finally moved to stay their march.
"Halt, and state your business." A tall rider with a blue-plumed helm rode within bowshot of the company. He was armoured and armed but his sword was sheathed, though his hand rested upon the handle.
Estarfin signalled for the riders to halt, then spoke. "Hail, Captain of High King Fingolfin. We are riders of Prince Caranthir, set out from Thargelion with tribute of armour to honour and renew the friendship between the houses of Finwë. Estarfin is my name. I command here, with my companion Forodhir. The others I will introduce in time. Will you let us pass?"
The Captain removed his helm, dark hair falling around his shoulders as he did so. He urged his grey steed forwards until he was in front of Estarfin and Forodhir. "Elen síla lúmenn' omentielvo, Captain Estarfin. You are most welcome, it has been too long since we have had such company. I am Captain Cendamo, it is my honour to serve the King. Come, ride with me and tell me your news. It will be an hour or more before we reach Barad Eithel, the fortress of the High King. Tell your company not to tarry upon the road, for we have had sightings of yrch reported nearby."
Forodhir nodded. "As you wish, Captain." He wheeled his mare around and rode back to instruct the others. Estarfin watched him for a moment, then encouraged his own mount forwards.
"We have had little enough news, Captain. Prince Caranthir rescued a group of the Edain who had settled in Thargelion, without his leave, from an yrch raid, and even offered them refuge within our lands, such is his generosity. Yet they refused him, and removed themselves to the Forest of Brethil." Estarfin shook his head. "A strange decision, for together we would have been stronger than both apart."
"They can be a strange folk, though they are brave enough. You will meet Hador Lórindol while you are with us. He is a mighty Lord of their kind, and a favourite of the King himself."
Estarfin nodded. "I look forward to that. Other news is mostly of little consequence. We maintain our watch and patrols, routing yrch whenever they are seen near our lands. Trade is still good with the Naugrim, though they are never keen to share aught but what we pay them for. The journey here has been without incident. And you?"
Cendamo shook his head. "Much the same as you, though we have had more luck with the Edain who have chosen to live in our lands it seems. They have great strength and stature, are ready in mind, bold and steadfast, quick to anger and to laughter. They have been a boon to our strength indeed."
“I am glad to hear of such worthy allies. How do their skills compare to ours? Are they as able with their hands in craft and art?”
Cendamo smiled at the question. “Indeed no. They have some skill of course, but they are as children still. We have tried to teach them, and they do improve, but slowly. One of the reasons that we are so glad of your visit in fact, is to instruct us in armour smithing; both Noldor and Edain. We shall have need of fine armour in the days to come.”
Estarfin looked at Cendamo. “You expect a battle, rather than continued skirmishes then? We have had no word that Morgoth and his slaves do aught in their cage but hide.”
“The King will tell you more, if he wishes. Come, night is swiftly arriving.” He pointed westwards. “There, you can see the lights of the tallest tower of Barad Eithel. It is always a welcome sight.”
Estarfin looked in wonder at the peak of the tall white citadel of Fingolfin, beautiful yet strong.
They had followed Cendamo and the riders of his company up the mountain pass. Hard basalt and granite has been cut and shaped into long smooth steps that the horses could traverse with ease. The sound of water followed them as they rode, for the River Sirion followed the curve of the path. Every few minutes that passed a group of sentries from hidden forts or bastions hailed the Captain and did not hinder their progress.
Cendamo spoke to Estarfin as they rode together. "Orodreth holds the road south of here, through the Pass of Sirion. He guards it from his tall tower of Minas Tirith upon Tol Sirion. To the East Angrod and Aegnor defend Dorthonion, and halt any raiding parties of orcs that would travel that way. We hold the only roads through the Ered Wethrin, this being the only wide road through the mountains. Other paths there are, but more treacherous and not unguarded. Such is the defence of the West of Beleriand. What road did you take here, and how are the defences of the East?"
Estarfin thought for a moment, then spoke. “We left from Thargelion, as you know. Prince Caranthir holds the East part of Beleriand, up to the Ered Luin. There are mostly scattered settlements, but our great strength is around Mount Rerir, to the north of the land. The Naugrim are strong, yet unlovely neighbours. Morgoth will find no easy routes through that land.
“Prince Maglor holds the lands around Himring and Ered Luin, the Gap of Maglor, and it is well defended. His lands are to the North of Dor Caranthir, and we passed through them first. We were greeted by many groups of riders upon our journey, but we passed no great fortress. Maglor prefers to keep his strength hidden, I think.”
Cendamo nodded. “It is wise. Morgoth must hide in his dark land, blind and wracked with doubt where our strength lies, and from where his doom will come.” He lowered his voice, ensuring that only Estarfin would be able to hear. “I said earlier that we shall have need of fine armour in the days to come. I believe that the King plans to soon march upon Angband and beat it to the ground.”
Estarfin nodded, glad of the news. “Those are glad tidings indeed. There is great strength in the East for such a venture. Prince Maedhros holds the great fortress upon Himring; we passed near to it on our journey. Surely it is the strongest fortress to the East, and perhaps in all of Beleriand?" Estarfin smiled slightly as he made the challenge to Cendamo.
"I am glad that the Prince holds a strong fortress against the Enemy, but you have not yet looked upon the high, smooth walls of Barad Eithel. Enemies would break upon it like water on a rock."
Estarfin nodded. "I am sure Captain. The Princes Celegorm and Curufin watch over Himlad to his South. We did not venture through their lands, rather we rode directly West across Ard-Galen. We saw no signs of the enemy, he is well-caged indeed.”
At that moment, they turned a corner on the wide road and Estarfin came to a halt, staring at the scene in front of him. A beautiful fortress, tall, white and chased with gold rose higher than the surrounding mountains. He could see spears without number standing watch and patrolling the high walls, and blue and white banners flapped in the cold wind. The sinking light of Anar lit the scene and his heart ached at the beauty. Wide green fields full of crops with houses dotted around surrounded Barad Eithel.
Cendamo spoke gently. “Every time I return here I am almost overwhelmed with the beauty of this place. I am envious of you for seeing it for the first time. Barad Eithel, the Tower of the Well. Come, the King is waiting.”