“Three Rings for the Elven-kings under the sky, Seven for the Dwarf-lords in their halls of stone, Nine for Mortal Men doomed to die, One for the Dark Lord on his dark throne, In the land of Mordor where the shadows lie. One Ring to rule them all, One Ring to find them, One Ring to bring them all, and in the darkness bind them, In the land of Mordor where the shadows lie.”
“Those words recall the last time the Enemy declared himself openly leading to the downfall of Eregion, the conquest of Middle Earth outside of Lindon, and a Darkness that was only beaten back by the intervention of Numenor—and that people paid a heavy price for involving themselves with him. He was only defeated by the Last Alliance, and that battle consumed many of the heroes of old. Their like no longer walk this Middle Earth.
“And now… he has declared himself once again, sitting openly in his Dark Tower.
“What drives Sauron to act? For hundreds of years, he lurked in hiding as the Necromancer. One of the missing Istari, we thought him; or perhaps one of the Nine. It was only recently that we discovered his true nature, and our attack cast him out of his fortress. Yes, he retreated from us, but it was no rout. His plans had already been laid.
“I have the unsettled feeling that his pieces are moving on the board, and we have not yet seen the shape of the game. Sauron of old was ever a master of deception and subterfuge. What is he planning? What has changed?
“Rings were the trigger for the last war, but the rings are all accounted for. He has the Nine, and what remain of the Seven are also his. The Three are hidden. The One, says Saruman, lies in the depths of the great Sea. The rings can not be the reason. Does he think that the Seven and Nine are sufficient?
“No, he is wiser than that. There is still strength in Rivendell and Lorien to oppose him, and some in Lindon and in Thranduil’s halls. Durin’s folk are strong once again, as are their allies. Gondor yet stands, and with Rohan and Saruman at their back, Sauron can press them hard, but has no assurance of victory. Isildur’s Heir still walks free, and that is a threat he will not forget.
“And yet he moves.”
“We must begin again to build the old alliances. A good start has been made with Erebor—it will stand Durin’s folk well against what is coming. But what of Eriador? Here is where Isildur’s Heir has his home, but here is where Men are weakest. What if the Enemy raises the banner of Angmar once more? No, a start must be made here as well. And yet, the folk of this land dwell in isolated towns and petty lands. The Free People are mostly estranged.”
Gandalf pulled his booted feet off the hearth where he had propped them to warm, for it was a bitter spring, and a wet one too. Having resolved himself to action, the Grey Pilgrim knew he had to forsake comfort once again, and early to bed would help the early start he must make. But there was one thing he had to do before leaving Bree.
Time to light some sparks.
“Barliman,” he said, signaling the innkeeper’s son. “I have a task for you…”
From the ashes a fire shall be woken, a light from the shadows shall spring…
Smaug died in TA 2941, the majority of the Orcs of the North were slain, the King Under the Mountain was restored to Erebor, and the Necromancer was driven from Dol Guldor. These events promised to give the North of Middle Earth a period of peace and prosperity. Since that time, the Dwarves of Durin’s line have made good on that promise, and have greatly prospered in Erebor. Their holdings in the Blue Mountains are reduced, as much of the population left for Erebor, but the mines and halls there remain. In addition, they have founded colonies throughout the Misty Mountains, seeking to reopen mines and secure trade routes and passes. They have even sought to reclaim Moria.
Bard has rebuilt both Dale and Esgaroth, and his kingdom has expanded to encompass the surrounding area. Relations with the Dwarves of Erebor are cordial, as are relations with Thranduil’s people. The menace of Rhun in the East, however, is a constant worry.
The Northmen, distant kin of the Rohirrim, have likewise prospered, and a large group has decamped to settle, once more, in the Dimril Dale outside the east gate of Moria.
The Beorings have spread from the small holding of their founder, and have gathered much of the Woodsmen of the Anduin Vale under their rule. They maintain the road through Mirkwood, and help maintain passes through the mountains. Some of the Beorings are said to have inherited their founder’s ability to change shape.
Peace and prosperity reigned… for a while.
It wasn’t long after the Fall of Smaug, that darkness returned to Middle Earth. Sauron, who had long resided at Dol Guldor in his guise of the Necromancer, returned to Mordor, declared himself openly, and began the rebuilding of Barad-dur. While this was far away from Eriador, it nevertheless cast a pall over the hope that had shortly reigned. In time, dark things crept back into the woods and hills; the Orcs began to multiply once again in the mountains, and the East stirred beyond the borders of Erebor.
It is TA 2989, 48 years after the death of Smaug. It is a time of great opportunity, and yet a time of great danger as the Enemy begins to move.