Afternoon of March 11, 3020

Written by Wraith
Ceolwulf son of Elfwine, once a brave Rider of the Knights of Theoden, King of Rohan, had become embittered when, after the loss of the War of the Ring, he had been taken as a slave to Nurn and subjected to the humiliation of having his head shorn and beard shaved and his shoulder branded with the insignia of the Great Eye. The Ring that had been forced upon him against his will was almost a constant torment to him, reminding him of his own failures, his guilt in fleeing the field of Pelennor, and the loss of his love, Elfhild daughter of Eadbald of Rohan.

In his mind, the words of the Ring taunted him. "She has betrayed you; she never really loved you, for she loved another. Now she has betrayed him, too, and given her heart over to great darkness." The only way that Ceolwulf had found to silence the words of the Ring was to wield his Mordor-riven blade in the heat of battle. When the blade of the sword had glowed red as blood and the hilt burnt his hand as though wrought of fire, he would cleave the skulls of his enemies asunder.

After his friends Aldir and Vardamir helped him escape from the guards who were escorting him to the mines of Mordor, Ceolwulf had vowed that he would die before ever being taken back into slavery. He accepted the proposition to join the brigands of The Captain, a man by the name of Algund who had turned traitor to the West and joined the forces of Mordor, only to have the cruel Lord Vartang in turn betray him.

Soon, The Captain took Vardamir and Ceolwulf to the village of Alfirin to get their horses shod and to see if they could gain information that might be of use to the outlaws in planning their next venture, the kidnapping of Lord Ashtum's wife, daughter and son.

While in the village, they had met the lad Candon, who took them to meet his grandfather, Berenon the Cobbler, who offered to do the resoling of their boots for them if they would work in his garden and plant bed. While they were tending to the garden behind his small hut, Lord Ghazwan the Easterling Census Taker and Tax Collector of that section of Hyranugondor under the control of Lord Ashtum had paid an official call upon Berenon the Cobbler.

Questioning him about every possession both large and small that the elderly cobbler owned and having the figures taken down in three record books by Ghazwan the Easterling and his two servants, Ghazwan had arrived at a huge sum of taxes that Berenon owed. A poor man, old Berenon was unable to pay the taxes and was offered two options by Ghazwan: to loose everything and go homeless with his grandson, or to continue to live in his hut but be subject to performing services or giving goods to his vassal lord. Berenon had signed the papers, which made him a serf under control of Lord Ashtum. The old cobbler's heart was heavy at the choice, but he did not want to see his grandson become a wandering vagrant with no hope of a future.

Ghazwan the Easterling had not told all of the requirement that would be extracted, however, and when at last he told old Berenon that in two years, Candon would be taken to the keep of Ashtum and trained as a soldier in Ashtum's service, subject to duty with the Mordor Army, the old man's heart had quailed. After finishing his business with Berenon, Lord Ghazwan, his two clerks and the escort of soldiers with them left and went off to take the census of the next villager.

When they had finished their work in Berenon's garden, Vardamir and Ceolwulf, thirsty and sweaty, went into the hut to tell him of their labors and see if he had finished resoling their boots.

Vardamir portrayed by Eowyn
Berenon portrayed by Hobbitness
Narrator and Ceolwulf portrayed by Wraith

Ceolwulf: *Ceolwulf and Vardamir walk towards the cobbler's hut*
Berenon: *Berenon peers out his door, watching the accursed man of Mordor leave. The cobbler waits until Ghazwan is out of sight, then asks Candon to stay inside and prepare dinner while he checks on the Gondorians outside. Berenon approaches Ceolwulf and Vardamir, dazed, wide-eyed, and trembling*
Castamir (Vardamir): *Sensing that something is wrong by the old man's distraught appearance, Vardamir asks* Is something amiss? You look like you have seen a wraith!
Ceolwulf: What is wrong, Berenon? *Ceolwulf asks, concern in his voice*
Berenon: I was wondering...that is...I was going...to ask you...*clears his throat*...if, if you plan on going to any free lands before you work for Lord Ashtum and if...you could take someone....*smiles awkwardly at them*
Ceolwulf: *Alerted by the tone in his voice, Ceolwulf becomes hesitant and suspects some trap, so his reply is cautious* Free lands, sir? There are none
Berenon: There must be! There must be some land that is not controlled by Mordor! *he cries angrily, then looks around nervously to see if anyone heard him*
Berenon: You see...I have just signed my lands, myself, and my grandson into Lord Ashtum's service! I cannot pay their taxes, so we were forced to become his serfs! But then, after I had signed the accursed paper, *then* they told me..*he pauses to control his heavy breathing* They will come in two years to take Candon!
Berenon: They will make him a soldier of Mordor! I cannot let that happen! If you could...if you were going somewhere...free...I could ask the boy what he...what he...*swallows hard and trails off*
Ceolwulf: *Ceolwulf whispers to Berenon to avoid anyone hearing them, for these holdings of the villagers are small* Let us go and look at our work in the garden. We can talk better there
Berenon: *His face red, Berenon nods and follows the men to the garden*
Ceolwulf: *When they are in the garden, Ceolwulf says loudly* I believe that we have planted every seedling and you will see that we have done an adequate job of it, I believe. *Then he whispers* Take the boy?
Castamir (Vardamir): *Vardamir feigns a great interest in the handiwork of both Ceolwulf and himself, but in truth, his keen ears are listening intently to Berenon and Ceolwulf.*
Berenon: *whispers back desperately* Yes!....*then loudly, but strained* It is more than adequate. A wonderful job
Ceolwulf: *He walks around, calling the attention of Berenon to a newly set cabbage plant* These grow quite well with adequate rain and the blessings of Arien *then whispers* There are yet free lands, but the journey is long
Berenon: Aye, it should be a good crop this year *whispers* I care not how long the journey is, only for Candon's safety, and his future
Berenon: *continues whispering* His father was a valiant soldier of Gondor who fell at Pelennor. The boy will not grow up to fight for evil, to become evil in his heart!... *whispers* Though I think it will kill me to lose him.
Ceolwulf: There will be danger *he whispers* and I cannot vouchsafe the lad's safety, but I can promise that we will try, for it would be a shame that another must grow up in bondage with the collar of slavery about his neck. Nay, let not that be for the boy!
Ceolwulf: But, sir *his whisper is even lower* our path now is a twisted one and does not always go straight, but follows the lay of the land
Ceolwulf: Tell me sir, there is something I must know. There is a tale, and I would wish to know the truth of it. There was a man who had been at Pelargir and was captured later on in the south. He had said that the true king of Gondor had gone by a torturous path once. This area lies near Erech, well nigh 60 leagues from here. Have stories come to you of another torturous path that he took?
Ceolwulf: I know another man whose paths have long been perilous and torturous. He said that the tale is true and he can show it to me *he pauses* after I do a certain service for him
Berenon: *This is all happening too fast. Berenon's eyes fill; part of him had hoped the men would refuse to take Candon with him, and given him two more years with his grandson. Now they want to take Candon by a "torturous path," after fulfilling some secret pact? Berenon does not like the sound of this.*
Berenon: *quietly and cautiously* Yes...I have heard rumors of the true king's journey, that he traveled the Paths of the Dead and fought with the ghosts at Pelargir.
Berenon: That is where you want to take my grandson?...and what is this "certain service" you must perform?
Ceolwulf: Sir, all men should be free. It was not the intent of the One that when He created Men that they should be in bondage to any other. I have been a slave myself, and I cannot stand to see another yoked to a life of slavery.
Ceolwulf: Slave have I been, but now I am free, and may death take me before I am ever a slave again! I will fall upon my sword before I am taken again! *he says and a wild look comes to his eyes*
Ceolwulf: If, as the prisoner said, the Paths of the Dead have been made clean, it will be a quick route to freedom in Rohan. Will you not chance that for your grandson? Freedom is worth dying for! *he says, emotion in his voice*
Ceolwulf: Only an errand must I preform; a little one, and one of no consequence *he knows he lies*
Berenon: *Freedom in Rohan...a quick route...worth dying for. Indeed, his own son had died for the freedom of Gondor. But can he trust these men with his grandson's welfare?*
Berenon: *He watches the intensity in Ceolwulf's eyes, notes the suppressed rage in his voice. Is this passion for his lost freedom, or is it madness? Will he be sending his grandson with a madman?*
Berenon: You are still vague about this errand you must perform. If I am to entrust my grandson to you, I must be able to trust you with his welfare. I want freedom for Candon; I want him to go, and I don't want him to go...I hope you are trustworthy folk.
Ceolwulf: *The three of them continue walking through the rows of freshly set seedlings as Ceolwulf and Vardamir discuss planting seasons, times, rainfall, until he halts and says*
Ceolwulf: Sir, let us go into your house now. My friend and I are thirsty and wish draughts of cool water *he says under his breath* The lad will not be on the errand. *he says quietly* We are not trustworthy in the least. We are learning to be highwaymen
Castamir (Vardamir): *Knowing that the knowledge that they are highwaymen, shifty sorts who are not good to associate with and definitely not good to entrust with the life of a young lad.. Vardamir says with a low, doll rueful chuckle* Dark and desperate times call for dark and desperate measures, as the saying goes. We did not take up this trade by choice, but were forced into the matter by situation and chance.
Ceolwulf: Sir, *Ceolwulf takes the old man by the shoulder and turns him back towards the hut* There is a price upon our heads. We are no friends of Mordor, and if you wish a full confession of it, many say that I am mad.
Berenon: *raises his eyebrows*
Ceolwulf: Or as my friend Castamir says, I am the Wild Man of Rohan. Bereft of all senses, possessed of a cursed Ring and sword. Perhaps I truly am mad. But all of Middle Earth has gone mad!
Berenon: Mad? Cursed? And I am to leave my grandson with you? Oh good gracious! I need to sit down! But what other...what other choice is there, then? None! *he pants, thinking out loud*
Ceolwulf: *Holds to his shoulder tighter* Sir, come with us to the house
Castamir (Vardamir): Aye, with the east and north wind there comes madness, like evil creeping plagues of death. We are both beset with bouts of it. *he chuckles*
Berenon: *Confusion and despair descending on his mind, and weakness draining his limbs, Berenon lets them lead him into his own house*
Ceolwulf: To prove it, sir, *he says as he walks, holding his shoulder* I shall sing for you. *He launches into the song of Rohan in a clear tenor voice*

Hwaer cwóm helm? Hwaer cwóm byrne?
Hwaer cwóm feax flówende?
Hwaer cwóm hand on hearpestrenge?
Hwaer cwóm scir fyr scinende?
Hwaer cwóm lencten and haerfest?
Hwaer cwóm héah corn weaxende?
Hwá gegaderath wuduréc of wealdholte byrnende?
Oththe gesiehth of gársecge thá géar gewendende?

Ceolwulf: *He stops singing and looks all around him. Then he puts his left hand upon the hilt of his sword and screams at the top of his voice* TO THE RIDDERMARK!
Ceolwulf: And I dare any man to gainsay me! *he says, his eyes gleaming wildly, his voice fell*
Castamir (Vardamir): *The song ends, and though Vardamir understood few of the words, it was a deeply moving song, filled with a great sense of melancholy of long years.*
Berenon: *Berenon does not understand Rohirric, but he knows this is no foul tongue of the Dark Lands. The passionate longing and sadness in Ceolwulf's voice bring tears to the old man's eyes. At first, Berenon doubted that Ceolwulf was of Rohan because of his dark hair, but now there is no doubt in his mind that this is a man of the Rohirrim who has gone mad with grief. Berenon still hesitates to send Candon with these men, but it is preferable to letting the army of Mordor take him away.*
Berenon: *Berenon smiles sadly to Ceolwulf, who stands panting from his exertion* Aye....*Berenon says softly*....to the Riddermark.
Narrator: *The strong young men each guide Berenon by the shoulder back to the door of his house. Vardamir opens the door for them as Ceolwulf helps the old man into the kitchen and to his chair.*
Ceolwulf: Sir, sit down and take your ease. Perhaps you wish to talk to your grandson before you make your decision?
Berenon: *Berenon falls into the chair with a sigh. He closes his eyes for a while, then opens them, only to see Candon cutting the bread for the evening meal. The old man's heart twists.*
Berenon: *He lowers his head to his hand, then nods to Ceolwulf* Yes...I must talk to him, sooner or later. He must have a part in the decision.
Ceolwulf: Sir, would you prefer that Castamir and I leave your hut whilst you talk to your grandson?
Berenon: Yes *he says gratefully* yes...but do not run off on us! *straightens suddenly* Wait...how soon would this...trip be?
Ceolwulf: Sir, our errand will be done sometime near the end of the month after the 25th of March. We are free of our obligation until near that time
Berenon: *His eyes sting and overflow... he looks at Candon, then back to the men. Then quietly* I will let the boy decide that.
Ceolwulf: *Ceolwulf turns to Vardamir* Castamir, perhaps we should go out and see how the new garden is faring. *Castamir nods and the two men walk out the door, closing it behind them*
Candon: *He looks up from the table where he had been working on preparing dinner as he sees the two men walk out. He wonders where they are going; probably back to the garden.*
Berenon: *Berenon does his best to compose himself. He wipes his hands over his face, takes a deep breath, then tries to make his voice cheerful* Come here, Candon. I must talk with you.
Candon: *Laying the knife aside and rubbing his hands together, he walks over to Berenon, and asks expectantly, but with a little confusion* Yes, grandfather?
Berenon: *Berenon finds that his mouth has suddenly gone dry, and he cannot form sentences in his mind. All arguments for sending Candon away dissipate....He stalls for time. He pats the bench next to him* Have a seat, my boy.
Candon: *Candon does as he is told, and sits upon the bench beside his grandfather, waiting patiently to hear what he must tell him.*
Berenon: *He puts his arm around Candon's shoulders* Candon...you see, Candon...*shifts and clears his throat* Remember the tax collector who came today? And remember how he told us the taxes were higher than we could pay? And because of that, I had to sign a paper, making us serfs of Lord Ashtum. Do you understand what that means?
Candon: Nay, grandfather.. what does it mean? *he asks, concern upon his face, for he senses that that day brought dire things to them beyond his comprehension.*
Berenon: Well, it means that everything we have now belongs to Lord Ashtum. Our lands, our money, our possessions, everything. He can do whatever he wants with them and we must give him part of our crops' yield every year.
Berenon: *Here he pauses long...he tries not to become emotional in front of his grandson.* It also means that we ourselves belong to him. Because we are serfs now...in two years, his men will come to take you to join the army of Mordor. I am truly sorry for this, Candon...I had to sign the paper, because the only other choice was for us to become beggars.
Berenon: But there is a way for you to avoid having to join the army of Mordor. It will be very difficult for you, but you can escape to a free land. Would you like to do that, my boy?
Candon: They attacked our land and stole from us, and now they steal even more when we have naught to give! *tears begin to spring into his eyes* I do not want to fight for the evil men, grandfather! Never! They killed Father - never would I join their wicked band! *his young voice cries desperately* How can we escape from them?
Berenon: *He looks at his grandson with pride and great sadness as he smooths a dark lock of hair from the boy's forehead* That's my boy. That is your father's spirit lingering on in you. I always knew you would make me proud.
Berenon: *He pauses again, then cannot keep his voice from trembling when he speaks* But here is the difficult part...you can escape from them, but I must stay here. You will go with Cearl and Castamir on their travels. They are going to Rohan. I am too old to go with you. I would only slow you down and give your hiding place away.
Berenon: I probably would not survive the trip to Rohan, anyway. *He tries to make the trip look inviting...* But you! You can go to Rohan, become a Rider, have your own household! You can grow up and own your own land, marry a maiden of Rohan, have many children and watch them grow up in happiness and freedom.
Candon: *The knowledge that his grandfather would not be accompanying him on this journey wrenches at the boy's heart, but the pure adventure of traveling is quite appealing... what adventures he could have! And what things he could see on the way! And he could be a Rider someday.... but perhaps not get married to some maiden, for who needs them when there are far more interesting things in the world.*
Candon: *His thoughts are torn, and new tears spring into his eyes and fall down his face* Oh grandfather! I would love to go on a journey - go traveling - on an adventure... but, but... you would not be with me!
Berenon: *Unable to speak for some time, Berenon just hugs the crying boy close to him and concentrates on enduring the rush of grief. Then he gathers his strength and speaks again*
Berenon: Well...it *would* be a grand adventure. And you will find new friends along the way. Cearl and Castamir are good men *he hopes this is true* and Cearl is himself of Rohan. They will look after you.
Berenon: I will miss you very much...but it will be better for you than falling into the hands of Mordor.
Candon: *Candon takes comfort in the closeness of his grandfather... his mind in a quandary upon what to do. Adventure calls him, and he does not want to serve Mordor, but it would mean leaving his grandfather and all that he had known.*
Candon: *he looks up to Berenon and states gravely in a quavery, yet determined, voice* I never want to fight for the Dark Land, to assist them in their devilry. I want no part of the evil that killed Father! But when must I leave? *he asks worriedly*
Berenon: *Berenon nods gravely in response to Candon's decision. The old man squeezes his grandson's shoulder.* You could leave with them tonight...or we can have them come back for you later. Cearl and Castamir will return after March 25, and if you want, I can ask them if they can wait even longer...after all, we have two whole years *smiles grimly*
Candon: I want to stay with you, grandfather, as long as I can! *he says, feeling a slight bit of disappointment that he must wait to go on any adventures - but feels guilty for this*
Narrator: *After caring for their horses, Vardamir and Ceolwulf return to Berenon's hut. Ceolwulf knocks at Berenon's back door before entering the humble dwelling*
Berenon: *Berenon gets up with an effort, then turns to Candon* Do you want to tell them your decision, or do you want me to tell them?
Candon: Grandfather, I am suddenly afraid. *he whispers hesitantly* I do not know if I want to go. *Impulsively, he jumps off the seat and hugs his grandfather around the neck*
Narrator: *Ceolwulf knocks again, louder this time, on the door*
Berenon: *He hugs Candon again and pats his back* Don't worry. You have two whole weeks to decide. That's what we'll tell them, to wait until they return. All right?
Candon: All right *he sniffles*
Narrator: *The knocking on the door grows louder*
Berenon: *Taking Candon by the hand, he goes to open the door and smiles grimly to the men* How went the garden work?
Ceolwulf: *The two men walk into the room. Vardamir closes the door behind them.* The garden is off to a good beginning, we feel, and should grow well if the rain is propitious
Berenon: Thank you. We truly appreciate your help. I am almost finished with your boots...an unexpected visitor kept me from completing the job. I should have them finished shortly after dinner.
Berenon: *The conversation is tense as they avoid the pressing issue of Candon's escape*
Ceolwulf: *They walk over to Berenon and Candon.* Sir, have you reached your decision? Will the lad be going with us in a few weeks?
Candon: *Candon looks up to the two men, feeling both remorse at leaving, but also the promise of adventure, and escape from an uncertain fate and service in the army of Mordor.*
Berenon: *Berenon opens his mouth to say yes, but then he remembers Candon's hesitation. He looks down questioningly at his grandson, praying to the Valar that the boy will have the courage to escape fighting for Mordor.*
Ceolwulf: *He wonders to himself if they will even be alive in a few weeks, but betrays no look that reflects these concerns. He waits patiently for the old man to reply*
Berenon: *Sensing that Candon is nervous about replying, Berenon turns to the men* Yes, Candon has agreed to go with you at the end of the month. We both thank you for your generosity in freeing him from this plight.
Candon: *Candon nods, affirming his grandfather's words.*
Ceolwulf: *Ceolwulf questions himself for ever agreeing to take this lad. The responsibility is great, but he knows the boy's overwhelming wishes for freedom and he will not abandon him to slavery in the south*
Ceolwulf: Then, sir, we shall return near the end of the month for the lad. Can he ride a horse?
Candon: *He fidgets slightly, for he does not know how to ride. He looks up to his grandfather questioningly.* Yes, sir, if you taught me, I know I could do it!
Ceolwulf: The lad can ride with Vardamir, for he is lighter in weight than I am. Perhaps, though, if there were time, I could teach him to ride. Tis a simple matter indeed to pull up the stirrup leathers so the boy can have a firm seat in the saddle. Then I could lead his horse by a tether rope
Ceolwulf: But we can come back for him no earlier than the end of March.... *he hesitates* would you want him to leave with us sooner, perhaps on the morrow? *he looks at Candon and Berenon* Perhaps, twould be better if he left tonight. That way, no one would see and no one would know
Berenon: *Involuntarily his grip tightens on Candon's hand. Berenon cannot help feeling furious. He hates the idea of these strangers teaching Candon instead of him, he hates the idea of them taking Candon at all... and most of all, he hates their impatience to leave. He struggles to remain polite* Sirs, we really would prefer...I really would prefer to keep him a little longer!! He is my grandson, after all! He's all I have left!
Ceolwulf: Then, sir, we will honor your wishes. *He and Vardamir move and sit at the table* We will abide with you tonight and leave in the morning. By then, you should have our boots resoled.
Narrator: *Soon, a simple supper is set upon the table. None have much to say, all having his own thoughts. At last, when the meal is completed, Ceolwulf excuses himself and Vardamir and ask where they will sleep. Berenon points them to the ladder leading to the loft.*
Candon: *He looks at his grandfather hesitantly* I will show them to the loft, Grandfather. *Getting a small lantern and putting after lighting the candle inside, he walks over to the ladder and agilely climbs up. When Ceolwulf and Vardamir follow him and are settled in, he leaves them to their beds of straw and climbs back down the ladder*
Candon: *Walking over to his grandfather, he hugs him tightly, his eyes misty from tears he tries not to shed.* I love you, grandfather *he whispers.*
Candon: I want to stay with you, grandfather, as long as I can! *he says, feeling a slight bit of disappointment that he must wait to go on any adventures - but feels guilty for this*
Berenon: *Part of Berenon is devastated that Candon has agreed so readily to leaving, but he does not give in to this feeling. He knows that his grandson will miss him as much as he will miss the lad.
Berenon: Berenon's most important concern now must be his grandson's welfare. But oh, he is glad that the boy is granting him a few last days to spend with him!*
Berenon: *Berenon hugs Candon again, and says in a reassuring tone* We will wait until the end of the month then. And then you will begin your adventure. *smiles at Candon with tears in his eyes*

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