The forces of good in Middle-earth had won great victories through the founding of Rohan, the re-founding of the dwarven kingdom of Erebor and the slaying of the dragon Smaug. But in the years that followed it became clear these victories were transitory: Sauron the Dark Lord, lieutenant of the once-great Morgoth, had returned to achieve dominion over all the lands of Middle-earth.
The Black Rider, by John Howe.
By 2944 Sauron had returned to Mordor and began the reconstruction of Barad-dûr. The loathsome Gollum had left the mountains to search for "Bagginses", whom he was now convinced had stolen his magic ring. Over the next seven years Sauron built up new armies in Mordor, reinforcing Minas Morgul, rebuilding the Black Gate of the Morannon and sending new emissaries into the Harad and Rhûn to win the allegiance of those peoples.
In 2951 Mount Doom burst into flame once more. Sauron declared himself openly and sent three of the Nazgûl led by Khamûl to retake Dol Guldur. Less than two years later a new meeting of the White Council was called to meet this threat. Saruman declared that he now believed that the One Ring had been swept downriver and into the sea, much to Gandalf’s disbelief. Saruman now only believed that victory could be achieved by strength of arms, but with both Gondor and Rohan suffering from raids and war, Gandalf did not believe this to be a likely event. With Saruman’s unhelpful attitude now becoming clear, Gandalf recruited the aid of Aragorn, now a man grown and aware of his heritage. Aragorn agreed that they needed to cultivate allies among the Rohirrim and Gondorians and, posing as a warrior named Thorongil, aided both countries in their wars over the next twenty years.
A valiant effort to win another victory for good was made in 2989 when Balin, one of the heroes of the Quest of Erebor, led a large force into Moria. They drove out the orcs and found no trace of the balrog. However, in 2994 the balrog re-awoke and emerged to slay Balin and his followers.
In the 3,000th year of the Third Age, Saruman employed the palantír of Isengard to try to locate the Ring, but instead awoke the interest of Sauron, who had come into possession of the Ithil-stone of Minas Morgul a thousand years earlier. Sauron forced Saruman to kneel before him and swear allegiance. Saruman began amassing his own army at Isengard to keep Rohan out of the coming war, whilst Sauron was able to accelerate his own plans to amass large armies in Mordor to strike at Gondor directly.
By now Gandalf had come to suspect that Bilbo’s ring was the One Ring. In 3001, during his 111th birthday, Bilbo decided to leave the Shire and retire to Rivendell. With some difficulty, Gandalf persuaded Bilbo to leave the ring with his other possessions to his young cousin Frodo, whom Bilbo had raised after the deaths of Frodo’s parents. Bilbo agreed and departed the Shire.
Gandalf made it his goal to find the creature Gollum and discover where he had acquired the ring, but Sauron got there first, his servants finding Gollum by chance lurking in the pass of Cirith Ungol in 3015. They tortured Gollum for two years before the loathsome creature’s will broke. It was revealed that, roughly about the year 2463 TA (at the end of the Watchful Peace and the forming of the White Council), Gollum, or Sméagol as he was then known, had been a Stoor hobbit living in the Gladden Fields area of the Vale of Anduin. Sméagol was fishing with his kinsman Déagol, who fell in the river. He emerged, sodden and damp, clutching the One Ring in his hand. Sméagol promptly murdered Déagol and took the Ring for himself. His family guessed he had killed Déagol after noting his descent into madness and outcast him. Roughly seven years later he hid in the tunnels under the Misty Mountains and let the Ring consume him. During the torture he finally capitulated and mentioned “Shire” and “Bagginses”. Sauron summoned together all nine of the Nazgûl and told them it was their duty to find this “Baggins” and recover the One Ring at all costs. Simultaneously, Gandalf found in the records of the White Tower of Minas Tirith a scroll that revealed a test could be performed to ascertain the legitimacy of the One Ring. He returned to the Shire in a hurry, reaching it in April of the year 3018 Third Age, whilst the Nazgûl were still tarrying in Minas Morgul. At the same time, Aragorn located and captured Gollum, who had been thrown out of Mordor in disgust, Sauron too bored with the wretch even to kill him. Aragorn bore Gollum north to Thranduil’s realm and learned much of interest from him. He left Gollum in the care of Thranduil’s son, Prince Legolas, and headed west to confer with Gandalf.
On 20 June 3018 the armies of Minas Morgul assailed the crossings of Osgiliath, held by Faramir, younger son of the Ruling Steward Denethor II. They took Osgiliath, but then retreated when Faramir’s brother Boromir brought up reinforcements from Minas Tirith. Under the cover of the attack, the Nine had crossed the river and headed north for the Shire. This battle marked the official beginning of the great War of the Ring, last conflict of the Third Age of Middle-earth.
The Dark Tower, by John Howe.
Gandalf rode to Bag End, arriving there on 12 April 3018, more than two months before the Nazgûl forced a crossing of Anduin. He tested the Ring and confirmed that it was the One. For once, Gandalf miscalculated, believing that Sauron would stay his hand until the following spring at least, as he had not completed the assembly of forces from the Harad and Rhûn in Mordor. He allowed Frodo time to prepare to leave the Shire, acting out the pretence he was moving to Crickhollow on the eastern edge of the Shire to be nearer his closest remaining family members, the Brandybucks of Buckland. Gandalf decided the best course was to consult with Saruman and departed the Shire immediately, leaving a message for Aragorn to meet him in Bree and aid him in getting Frodo to Rivendell, where an additional course of action could be decided, although Gandalf had privately decided that only the destruction of the Ring in the flames of Mount Doom could halt Sauron’s forces in their tracks. He sent word to Elrond to host a great gathering of the wise in Rivendell so the matter could be decided.
The attack on Osgiliath came and went and Denethor, previously doubtful about the value of his elvish allies, agreed to send his eldest son Boromir to the council. However, Gandalf discovered that they had been betrayed. Saruman had been seduced to Sauron’s cause, transformed Isengard into a mighty fortress and was breeding an army of orcs to attack the Kingdom of Rohan. After some weeks in captivity, the Windlord Gwaihir rescued Gandalf and bore him to Rohan. After subduing the great horse Shadowfax, Gandalf rode at speed for the Shire, only to find Frodo gone. Frodo, accompanied by his gardener Samwise Gamgee and cousins Meriadoc Brandybuck (“Merry”) and Peregrin Took (“Pippin”), had fled the Shire with the first appearance of several of the Nazgûl. They made it to Bree and met up with Aragorn, who bore them to Weathertop. They were attacked by the Nazgûl and Frodo was injured. Only after an arduous further journey did they make it to Rivendell, just in time for Elrond to heal Frodo. Elrond and Gandalf aroused the wrath of the River Bruinen and the Nazgûl were washed downriver in a tremendous flood.
The Council of Elrond was held and Frodo agreed to bear the Ring south and east to Mordor. Pippin, Merry, Sam, Gandalf and Aragorn elected to join the quest and they were joined by Boromir of Gondor, Gimli son of Glóin who had been one of Thorin’s thirteen of the earlier quest, and Legolas, son of King Thranduil. Legolas bore dire news: Gollum had escaped, last seen heading south and west towards the Misty Mountains. The nine companions became known as the Fellowship of the Ring and departed Rivendell on 25 December 3018, heading south.
The Fellowship attempted to cross the Pass of Caradhras, but was forced back by severe weather and a wolf attack. Against Gandalf’s better judgement, they decided to brave the mines of Moria. Balin, another of Thorin’s companions from the Quest of Erebor, had entered Moria some years earlier to establish a new dwarven outpost and the last report was that he had been successful. However, it was confirmed that Balin and his companions had all been slain by orcs. The Fellowship made it to the far side of Moria before coming under sustained attack by orcs. However, the balrog which had lain dormant in Moria for many years had been awoken by the commotion and came forth to confront the Fellowship at the Bridge of Khazad-dûm at the eastern end of the mines. Gandalf stood against the balrog and slew it, but was himself apparently slain in the process. The remaining members of the Fellowship escaped to Dimrill Dale and thence to Lothlórien, where they were given shelter by Celeborn and Galadriel. They proceeded by boat down Anduin to Parth Galen, a pleasant wooded land beside the great lake Nen Hithoel, there to decide their route. However, Boromir had become consumed by a lust for the Ring and tried to take it from Frodo by force. Aware that the remaining members of the Fellowship would also be consumed by the Ring if he remained, Frodo took a boat and crossed the lake. At the last moment, he was joined by Sam.
Meanwhile, a raiding party of uruk-hai (powerful orcs in the employ of Saruman) attacked the remaining members of the Fellowship. In a mighty struggle Boromir was slain, having atoned for his actions by saving Merry and Pippin from death. The two hobbits were taken captive and borne westward to Isengard. After much debate, Aragorn decided against pursuing Frodo and Sam. With Legolas and Gimli, he chased after the orcs into the countryside of Rohan. However, the orcs were intercepted and slain by a part of Rohirrim commanded by Éomer son of Éomund, Marshal of the Mark of Rohan and nephew of King Théoden. Pippin and Merry escaped into nearby Fangorn Forest, a dark forbidding place. Aragorn and his companions were surprised to be confronted by Gandalf when they attempted to enter Fangorn! Gandalf revealed that his mortal body had been slain in the battle with the balrog, but had been sent back (from Valinor) to complete the struggle against Sauron. Gandalf took the companions to Edoras, capital of Rohan, and drove out Gríma Wormtongue, a spy of Saruman’s who had corrupted the king with foul draughts. Gandalf restored King Théoden to his full health and won Rohan to the cause of defying Sauron. Aware that Saruman meant to destroy Rohan, Théoden and Aragorn agreed to make a stand at the great northern fortress of Helm’s Deep and set out. Gandalf headed out to round up those Rohirrim who had broken away from Théoden’s rule as he sunk further under Wormtongue’s influence.
Meanwhile, Merry and Pippin met Treebeard, oldest and wisest of the Ents, the great tree-herders of the forest. After much debate they convinced Treebeard and the other Ents that Saruman would not rest until he had destroyed all potential enemies, including the Ents. The Ents readied for war. Saruman’s army of orcs and uruk-hai launched a massive assault upon Helm’s Deep but a stalwart defence directed by Aragorn, Théoden and Éomer managed to keep the fortress long enough for reinforcements under Gandalf and Elfhelm to arrive and turn the tide of battle. The oldest and most ferocious Ents – the Huorns – made a forced march by night to intercept and destroy the remainder of Saruman’s armies as they retreated from Helm’s Deep. At the same time Treebeard led a main force of Ents in attacking Isengard, slaying the orcs present and imprisoning Saruman and Wormtongue in the tower of Orthanc. During a parley between Gandalf and Saruman, Wormtongue cast down the palantír of Isengard in the hope of smiting Gandalf, but he missed and Gandalf recovered the item. Pippin stared into the device and Sauron became aware of him. Believing him to be the Ring-bearer, Sauron saw that he was far from Mordor, where he would be a threat. Gandalf grabbed hold of Pippin and rode for Minas Tirith, capital of Gondor.
Frodo and Sam made their way south through the tangled rocks of the Emyn Muil. They were pursued by Gollum, who made an attempt to grab the Ring. Overpowered, he reluctantly agreed to serve them as a guide. He took them through the forbidding Dead Marshes to the Black Gate of Mordor, the Morannon, but they found it guarded by hundreds of orcs with thousands of Haradrim and Easterling troops arriving. Gollum told them of another route and guided them south through the once-fair country of Ithilien. Here they were intercepted by Faramir, brother of Boromir, and his Ithilien Rangers. Faramir proved less susceptible to the power of the Ring and guided them to the entrance of the Morgul Vale, the eastern way into Mordor. However, Frodo and Sam were betrayed by Gollum, who led them to the cave of Shelob, a great spider-demon. In the ensuing melee Shelob was killed, but Frodo was taken prisoner by orcs and dragged to the Tower of Cirith Ungol. Sam pursued and rescued Frodo and they began the hazardous descent down the far side of the pass into Mordor itself.
Gandalf and Pippin arrived at Minas Tirith to find the city unprepared for war. Denethor had sent out a call to arms for the armies of Gondor to defend their capital, but few had responded. The southern coastal provinces were wide open to attack from the sea, for the Corsairs of Umbar had called their banners and were marshalling for an attack on Gondor, so the provincial lords had kept their armies at home to defend their own lands. Only Prince Imrahil of Dol Amroth had managed to muster his levies from the province of Belfalas and marched to the relief of Minas Tirith. However, this still only left 5,000 defenders for the city against Sauron’s countless legions. The Red Arrow – a symbol of emergency and aid – was delivered by a rider of Gondor to King Théoden of Rohan, but many Rohirrim were still unsure of the King after his recent influencing by Sauron. When assembled at Dunharrow, the Rohirrim army numbered only just over 6,000 riders, less than half of Rohan’s potential strength. Aragorn was surprised to be joined by Elladan and Elrohir, the sons of Elrond, and a host of Rangers of the North. Together with Legolas and Gimli they formed the Grey Company and battled their way through the hostile White Mountains and the Paths of the Dead under the mountain known as the Dwimborberg. The spirits of oath-breakers of Gondor arose around them and followed Aragorn to the Stone of Erech, where he pledged to release them from their oaths if they fought for him. They agreed and descended in a fury on the city of Pelargir, which had been captured by the Umbarians. The pirates were slaughtered by the vengeful spirits and Aragorn was able to gather the armies of the southern fiefs onto the ships.
By now a vast host of arms had crossed the Anduin, destroying the garrison at Osgiliath (and wounding Faramir in the process). Led by the Witch-King of Angmar, chief of the Nazgûl, the vast host began battering at the gates of Minas Tirith with a huge ram named Grond. The defenders of the city inflicted terrible losses on the enemy through the use of archers and catapults, but it was not enough. The gates were breached and enemy troops poured into the city’s lower level. Sauron’s forces were completely taken by surprise when 6,000 Rohirrim heavy cavalry smashed into them from the north whilst Prince Imrahil led a sally from inside the city, turning back those forces within the walls and pushing them back onto the great Pelennor Field they surrounded the city on three sides. A devastating battle erupted, but the tide swung back in the favour of Sauron when he deployed the mûmakil, giant war-oliphants of Harad, and when the Witch-King slew Théoden of Rohan. Unexpectedly, Éowyn, niece of the King, emerged and, taking up her uncle’s sword, slew the Witch-King with the aid of Merry. The Battle of the Pelennor Fields was finally won when Aragorn’s forces disembarked their ships at Minas Tirith’s harbour, turning the southern flank of Sauron’s army and forcing it to withdraw back to Mordor. The battle was over but many thousands of defenders, including Denethor himself, had been slain.
Aragorn and Gandalf assembled the remaining strength of the armies of Gondor and Rohan and led a force of some 6,000 to the Black Gate, where they issued a challenge to Sauron of Mordor. As they had hoped, this drew Sauron’s gaze from Mount Doom at the precise moment Frodo and Sam were making the perilous ascent of the volcano. At the last moment Frodo was consumed by the power of the Ring and Sauron hurled his army of tens of thousands against the armies of Gondor and Rohan in the Battle of the Morannon, but it fell to Gollum to (inadvertently) rescue the situation. He seized the Ring of Frodo and, whilst celebrating his good fortune, tumbled into the flames of the volcano, taking the Ring with him. Sauron promptly died, the Barad-dûr crumbled to dust and Sauron’s terrified forces were either killed in a torrential eruption of Mount Doom or a simultaneous earthquake that cracked all the lands around. The Great Eagles had arrived during the battle to lend support and Gandalf employed them to fly to Mount Doom and rescue the stranded Frodo and Samwise from the mountainside. By now other armies Sauron had sent against Lothlórien (from Dol Guldur) and against Erebor, Esgaroth and Thranduil’s realm had also been defeated, though not without considerable cost.
All now seemed well. Aragorn was proclaimed King Aragorn Elessar Telcontar of Gondor and Arwen, daughter of Elrond, was wed to him. Éomer became King of Rohan and his sister Éowyn came to love Faramir, Steward of Gondor and Aragorn’s right-hand man in the rule of the new kingdom. The Fellowship was regretfully broken and the companions travelled back home, but along the way stopped at Isengard and learned that Saruman and Wormtongue had escaped. The four hobbits at length returned to the Shire to discover, much to their horror, that Saruman had conquered it and turned it into his own private fiefdom! The hobbits roused their fellows and met Saruman’s ill-trained ruffians in the Battle of Bywater. The hobbits won a great victory. Enraged and demented, Wormtongue stabbed Saruman to death before himself being shot by hobbit archers. Thus ended the War of the Ring on 3 November 3019 Third Age.
Gandalf the Grey, by John Howe.
Although the Great War of the Ring marked the end of the Third Age, it was held that the Fourth Age did not begin until 29 September 3021. On this day Frodo, Bilbo, Elrond, Gandalf and Galadriel departed Middle-earth in a ship sailing from the Grey Havens, bound for Valinor. Sam, Merry and Pippin returned to the Shire, whilst Celeborn assumed lordship of Lothlórien. He extended Lórien’s borders into Greenwood, as it was again called, whilst Thranduil extended his rule much further south. For a time, the two elven realms enjoyed a time of peace and plenty, but now was the waning of the Eldar upon Middle-earth, and before too many years had passed Thranduil and Celeborn and all their peoples eventually sought the Grey Havens and the passage to Valinor.
Legolas, meanwhile, had established an elven outpost in fair Ithilien, and often journeyed to Minas Tirith to speak with Aragorn. His friend Gimli rode to Aglarond, the Glittering Caverns behind Helm’s Deep, and there established a dwarven fortress which was ever-after in alliance with Rohan and Gondor.
This was the age when men grew mighty indeed. In the year 14 Fourth Age King Aragorn came north and restored the great city of Annúminas on the shores of Lake Evendim, and proclaimed the re-founding of the North-kingdom of Arnor. He made the Mayor, Thane and Master of the Shire into offices of the North-kingdom and exempted the Shire from taxation as a reward for the hobbits’ stalwart support in the War of the Ring. Many years later he also extended the Shire west to the Tower Hills, increasing its size considerably. Bree was also incorporated into the new kingdom and the old city of Fornost was also rebuilt, but both Rivendell and Lindon were held apart from it.
Gondor and Arnor were proclaimed the Reunited Kingdom of the Dúnedain upon Middle-earth and their power grew mighty, dominating the north-west of Middle-earth for many centuries. King Aragorn’s rule was just and wise. In his time the lost heirlooms of Gondor returned to their rightful place, save only the palantír of Minas Ithil, lost in the downfall of Barad-dûr. The Elendilmir, great treasure of Númenor lost in the Battle of the Gladden Fields and the death of Isildur, was found in a treasure chest in Isengard, having evidently been found and kept by Saruman many centuries earlier, and Aragorn took possession of it.
In the south Rohan and Gondor’s friendship grew mighty and their peoples numerous. King Aragorn Elessar and King Éomer Éadig led many expeditions into the south and after at time won peace with Umbar and destroyed many of the hostile tribes of the Harad, though his realm was never entirely free of the threat of the defeated forces of east and south.
In 61 Fourth Age Mistress Rose Gamgee, wife of Samwise, died and Samwise rode to the Grey Havens. For his support of Frodo in the great Quest, he was given a place on an elven ship departing Middle-earth for Valinor. Two years later King Éomer of Rohan died, but not before Merry and Pippin journeyed to Edoras to see him one last time. They then went to Minas Tirith and passed their last few years in the company of King Aragorn and Queen Arwen. When they too passed, they were laid to rest in Rath Dínen, the Tomb of Kings.
Finally, on 1 March 120 Fourth Age, King Aragorn died of advanced age. He was 210 years old. With news of his passing, Legolas built a fair ship in Ithilien and sailed down Anduin and passed over sea. With him, it is said, went Gimli the dwarf. Thus a final end came to the Fellowship of the Ring in Middle-earth.
The years passed and Gondor and Arnor grew great and powerful under the rule of Aragorn’s son and heir Eldarion and his heirs after him. But the numbers of elves grew fewer and fewer, until the last of their kind departed Middle-earth forever, led by Círdan the Shipwright. After that time, the Straight Path to Valinor could no longer be found.
The fate of men and dwarves and hobbits remains unknown; the dwarves delved deep into the bowels of the earth and some say after a time they were simply not seen again. Hobbits endured much longer, and some say they endure still, but in secret, remote places of good earth and fine living, far from the troubles of the world. And men inherited the Earth, building greater and vaster kingdoms, falling into terrible wars but always rising again afterwards to rebuild. Their story continues, but it is not in the scope of this history to tell more.
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