Eodred’s company was not there, he discovered that evening when the Rohirrim most made camp. The King had taken only two thousand Riders, those best with sword and bow, he was told, rather than the great spear-weilding Horsemasters who had become legend among the kingdoms of men.
He kept apart from them–most were riders from the Eastfold, and he didn’t know them well. He stayed instead with Eadil, and golden Anormene, and silent Avar. They had their own low fire on the plains; Avar had somehow managed to snare two rabbits while riding, and with some water and a few herbs from his wallet a delicious smell was rising. Eodred stared moodily at it, hardly even seeing. Anormene tended the fire silently, adding dry grass.
Eadil, shadowed as ever by Avar, materialized suddenly out of the shadows from the direction of the main encampment. She had a rough sack in her hand, apparently some dried vegetables, for she reached in and started tossing them one by one into the stew. “A gift from the Riders,” she said by way of explanation. Eodred didn’t respond. She tossed the empty sack aside on the grass. “Your company isn’t here.”
“I know.” He pulled out his sword, running his fingers along the edge, nicked from the orc blades. The oilstone was smooth in his palm as he slid it along, smoothing the edge of his sword. “Why are they here?”
Eadil seated herself by the pot, peering in. “The King’s behest. King Aragorn, of Gondor. It’s about the Elves.”
“What?” Eodred said, finally breaking out of his reverie. “They’re here to make war on Elves?“
Eadil laughed. “Why would Aragorn attack Elves? He was raised in Rivendell–why I still remember him. No, it’s on behalf of the Eldar that remain that they’re interceding. Few enough are left, it is true.” There was a taste of bitterness in ehr voice. “Few enough of us are left. Scattered in Fangorn, Lothlorien, Ithilien. Some too in Rivendell, though that number is dwindling. It’s a spring custom for them to make the journey east to Lorien, over the Misty Mountians.
“Of late the task has become more difficult. Orcs and goblins are taking refuge in the mountains, growing bolder for some reason, striking out. Just this year a party of seven was attacked, north of Dimrill Dale, on the eves of Lorien itself. The Elves sent to the King, of course; and wherever his banner flies Eomer promised that his would ride beside it… even beneath the earth.”
“Beneath…?” Eodred aksed, looking up suddenly. “Where do we go?” It seemed adventure had found him already, and he was not about to skip it.
“To Moria, to Khazad-dum,” Eadil intones, laughing a little as she handed him some stew. Eodred almost dropped the bowl, hissing as the hot broth ran over his fingers. “Don’t be all so worried,” Eadil continued, serving her brothers. “Apparently the two Kings are giong in themselves, with Knights of Gondor as well as your precious Riders. And the Dwarves won’t be left out–I’m hoping Gimli Gloin’s son comes, for Legolas is sure to lead the Elves. Two hundred Mirkwood archers, I hear, but they near had to beg for them. We don’t like it beneath the earth.” She shuddered, but Eodred wasn’t listening. Moria! And with King Eomer and King Aragorn both, and Dwarves as well. Perhaps he sould tag along after all. This was turning up to be more than he had bargained with, but the rewards seemed greater than the dangers. Moria!
As he curled up beneath his cloak on the fringes of the two thousand, his thoughts drifted to that dark place, dark but vast in the splendor of the Dwarves. Just as he fell asleep, a Voice laughed with malice in his mind.