Saturday, 16 September 2017

A History of Middle-earth Part 9: Victories for the Light

In the Third Age of Middle-earth, the great kingdoms of men and elves faced mounting threats from all sides. In a time of defeats and danger, the forces of good cried out for victories against the mounting threat of the Shadow.

The Oathtaking of Cirion and Eorl, at the founding of Rohan, by Ted Nasmith.

The Founding of Rohan
In 2510 TA the Gondorian army under Ruling Steward Cirion marched north to meet

the barbarian attack. However, it was a trap. A host of orcs descended from the Misty Mountains and defeated the Gondorian forces, driving them in disarray towards the Field of Celebrant and the waiting Balchoth. All seemed lost.

In the northern Vale of Anduin a people known as the Éothéod had lived for some centuries, but their people had grown too numerous to remain in these lands. The Balchoth were among their foes. Their king, Eorl the Young, noted that departure of the Balchoth to the south and gathered a large army. Thus, when the Balchoth confronted the Gondorians at Celebrant, they were not expecting the massive assault on their rear by the Éothéod. The Balchoth were utterly destroyed and Gondor was saved. In gratitude Cirion gave to the Éothéod Calenardhon, the north-western Gondorian province stretching from the Gap between the Misty and White Mountains to the Anduin and the mouths of the River Entwash. The Éothéod, who had renamed themselves the Eorlingas in honour of their great king, accepted. Thus in 2510 the Riddermark was founded, the land known as Rohan, with its capital at the hill fortress of Edoras. Great friendship there was between Rohan and Gondor, and Rohan’s founding secured Gondor’s northern flank from attack. By 2698 Gondor felt secure enough to rebuild the White Tower even larger and grander than before.

However, Rohan itself would soon be plauged by great troubles. In 2754 King Helm Hammerhand slew Lord Freca, a troublesome lord whose lands lay along the River Adorn in the far west of Rohan. Freca’s son Wulf declared vengeance against Helm. He fled Rohan and made common cause and alliance with the Dunlendings, the semi-barbaric inhabitants of the hills of Enedwaith who for some years had also held the old Númenórean fortress of Angrenost, which all now called Isengard. Four years later, when Wulf learned of a massive assault on Gondor by both the Corsairs of Umbar and the Haradrim, he convinced the Dunlendings to attack Rohan, certain that Gondor would not be able to come to Rohan’s aid. The attack took the Rohirrim by surprise, but they were able to hold the Dunlendings at bay long enough to evacuate their forces in two groups. One, led by King Helm, took refuge in the ancient fortress of the Hornburg in the valley everafter known as Helm’s Deep. The other, led by King Helm’s nephew and heir Fréaláf, evacuated to Dunharrow south of Edoras. The Dunlendings besieged both fortresses and Wulf took up residence in Edoras.

However, this was the same year that the fell Long Winter afflicated all of western Middle-earth. Flash floods off the White Mountains inundated the Dunlendings and fever and sickness swept through their ranks. By the spring many had died and those who remained were unable to hold the Rohirrim at bay any longer. Fréaláf led a sortie from Dunharrow, aided by a loyal band of stalwart warriors. They broke through the Dunlending lines and put them to rout. They then retook Edoras and slew Wulf. Although victory was theirs, the news from Helm’s Deep was greivous, as King Helm had been slain. Fréaláf took the throne, beginning the Second Line of the Kings of the Mark. Gondor had likewise managed to survive the attacks of its enemies and by spring 2759 had restored its boundaries across the Anduin in Harondar and Ithilien.

With Edoras secure once more, King Fréaláf led a punitive sortie against the Dunlendings. He besieged and liberated the circle of Isengard and the tower of Orthanc that lay at its heart and pushed the Dunlendings all the way back into Enedwaith. Satisfied, the King returned to Edoras, but was surprised to meet the wizard Saruman who had come forth to speak to him. Saruman had long wandered in Middle-earth, but now desired permanant residence. Confident that Saruman’s wizardry would keep any enemy at bay, Fréaláf glady surrendered control of Isengard to Saruman the White.
An Unexpected Party, by John Howe.

The Quest of Erebor
By the end of the Second Millennium of the Third Age, the elves and men of Middle-earth had suffered greivous defeats in their war with the various evil forces of the world, but the dwarves had remained relatively immune to the ravages of war. In their holdfasts in the Blue Mountains and Iron Hills they continued to delve deep into the earth and forge great riches, unconcerned with the affairs of the outside world. Khazad-dûm, their greatest and most ancient hold in the Misty Mountains, grew rich and powerful indeed.

Then, in 1980 TA, the dwarves of Khazad-dûm delved too deep, exposing a great crack that led to the bowels of the earth. From this fissure emerged a terrible demon of fire and death: a balrog of Morgoth, the last survivor of its kind. The balrog slew King Durin VI and put the dwarves to rout. King Dáin led a stand against the balrog and was slain also. By 1981 the dwarves had abandoned Khazad-dûm in its entirety and it became known to all as Moria, ‘The Black Pit’, as the elves had already long called it.

A thousand years later, many dwarves hoped to reclaim Moria, believing the balrog to have died or left in the meantime. However, the defeats of the dwarves continued. In 2770 the dragon Smaug descended from the Withered Heath and assailed Erebor, the Lonely Mountain south-east of the Grey Mountains. The dragon captured the mountain and made it his lair, displacing King Thrór and his kin. Thrór knew he could not defeat the dragon but hoped that perhaps Moria could be reclaimed instead. In 2790 he entered Moria but was slain by orcs. Enraged, his kin gathered for war and three years later launched a massive assault against the orcs of the Misty Mountains. They avoided Moira, but struck at Goblin-town in the High Pass of the Misty Mountains, the large orc city of Gundabad and other locations throughout both the Misty Mountains and Grey Mountains. The War of Dwarves and the Orcs lasted for seven years and concluded with the Battle of Nanduhirion before the East-gate of Moria, in the Dimrill Dale. The dwarves emerged victorious, having reduced orc numbers by so much that for nearly a century they did not trouble the mountains again. King Dáin Ironfoot returned to the Iron Hills in victory, but the dwarves themselves had suffered greivous losses for their success.

In 2802 Thráin II, heir to Erebor, settled in the southern Blue Moutains near the ruins of Belegost with his son Thorin Oakenshield. Pondering long the fate of his homeland, Thráin departed for Erebor to see if Smaug remained in residence. However, servants of Sauron had identified Thráin as the holder of the last of the Seven Rings. In 2845, after hounding him for four years the length and breadth of northern Middle-earth, they finally imprisoned him in Dol Guldur and seized the ring.

Five years later the wizard Gandalf, tiring of the speculation about who might be in control of Dol Guldur following the end of the Long Peace, stole into Dol Guldur by secret. He learned that Sauron had indeed returned. He also came across Thráin, who surrendered the key of Erebor and a map of the mountain to the wizard before dying. Gandalf also learned that Sauron’s minions were searching for the One Ring, and were also looking for word of Isildur’s Heir.

The White Council was convened in 2851 and Gandalf urged an assault on Dol Guldur, but Saruman thought the venture too risky, although by now Saruman wanted the One Ring for himself, believing he could use it to destroy Sauron and secure liberty for all of Middle-earth.

Frustrated, Gandalf could only watch as over the next ninety years Sauron’s servants grew stronger. Ithilien became dangerous to travel as orcs multiplied in the Mountains of Shadow, and in 2885 the Haradrim captured the crossings over the River Poros. An alliance of Gondorian and Rohirrim troops drove them back, but it was clear that, in the long term, the forces of evil were slowly beginning to win the upper hand. With the ruining of Tharbad in the Fell Winter of 2911, the main trade routes from Lindon and the north to Rohan and Gondor were no longer secure, and contact between the two regions began to fade and become more doubtful.

In 2933 Arathorn II, Chieftain of the Dúnedain Rangers of the North, was slain in battle. His wife Gilraen took their son Aragorn, then only two years old, to Rivendell and Elrond agreed to raise Aragorn as his ward. Gandalf took an interest in the boy, “Isildur’s Heir” as his father was before him, but by now had determined that a victory was needed to rally the forces of good against Mordor.

In 2941 an unexpected opportunity presented itself. Gandalf was in the lands west of the Shire, having gone to confer with Círdan of Lindon. He met Thorin Oakenshield on the road and they conferred for a time. He gave Thorin the key and map of Erebor and Thorin immediately saw this as a sign that the time had come to retake Erebor. Gandalf also believed the time was ripe to slay Smaug and deny Sauron a new ally in the coming war. They raised a force of twelve battle-hardened dwarves from the Blue Mountains and headed east. Whilst traversing the Shire Gandalf suggested employing a nimble-fingered hobbit to steal his way into Erebor as a scout. Thorin was at first doubtful, but in time Gandalf convinced him. They changed their course for Hobbiton and Gandalf recruited Bilbo Baggins to the quest. Bilbo was doubtful about going off on a big adventure, but eventually agreed.

The Questors passed eastwards to Rivendell, avoiding being attacked by trolls along the way, and from there crossed the High Pass over the Misty Mountains. However, the party became divided during an orc attack and Bilbo was left alone. Wandering the mountain tunnels, he chanced upon a ring left on the ground and picked it up. He was soon confronted by a loathsome, strange creature named Gollum who tried to murder him. By chance, Bilbo discovered that the ring made him invisible when worn and employed this to escape.

Reunited, the party headed east, but Gandalf left them to head south. The elves of Lórien, waylaid several times by orcs passing out of Mirkwood, had resolved to attack Dol Guldur and Gandalf and a strangely reluctant Saruman had agreed to lend their aid to this attack. However, Sauron withdrew before them and fled back to Mordor. Meanwhile, the Questors were imprisoned by King Thranduil, lord of the North Mirkwood elves, for failing to ask his permission to cross his lands. Bilbo employed the ring to rescue the others and they came at last to Erebor. Bilbo, again using the ring, spoke with Smaug, who could not kill him without seeing him. At last, enraged and frustrated, the dragon rashly attacked the nearby settlement of Esgaroth (“Laketown”) and was promptly shot down by the legendary archer Bard.

Now King Thorin took up his seat in Erebor and sent to King Dáin of the Iron Hills for reinforcements. However, both Thranduil of the elves and the men of Esgaroth led armies forth to reclaim riches stolen from them by Smaug. Thorin was unimpressed by their forces and sealed the doors to the fortress. It seemed that violence might erupt with the arrival of the dwarven reinforcements, but at this moment the goblins and wargwolves of the Grey Mountains launched their own attack. A mighty battle, the Battle of Five Armies, erupted. The elves, men and dwarves emerged victorious, aided by Gandalf and the Great Eagles of the Misty Mountains, led by Gwaihir the Windlord, who came late to the battle. Thorin was slain and Dáin became King-under-the-Mountain. In the spirit of their victory, Dáin returned to the elves and men their stolen riches and a new three-way treaty of alliance was concluded between Thranduil’s kingdom, Esgaroth and Erebor. Well pleased, Gandalf departed and Bilbo left for home.

Part 10 of the History of Middle-earth Series are available to read now on my Patreon feed as follows:

Thank you for reading The Wertzone. To help me provide better content, please consider contributing to my Patreon page and other funding methods, which will also get you exclusive content weeks before it goes live on my blogs. The Cities of Fantasy and History of Middle-earth series are debuting on my Patreon feed and you can read them there one month before being published on the Wertzone.

1 comment:

The Writer said...

Part 9, a.k.a. This is Where You Come in, Casual Fans!