Saturday, 22 July 2017

A History of Middle-earth Part 2: The Siege of Angband

Part 1 can be found here.

The First Age of the World began with the rise of the Sun and Moon for the first time, lighting up the skies over the lands of Aman and Middle-earth, making dark creatures fear the light and tremble at the wrath of the Valar. But that wrath was stayed: the Eldar had betrayed the order of the Valar and broken their oath, so for all that the Valar wished to drive Morgoth out of Arda they were bound to stand aside. The elves who had returned to Middle-earth to make war on Morgoth - the Exiles - were on their own.
These were the Elder Days of Middle-earth, when the Great War of the Jewels raged across the western-most part of Middle-earth, that lost land beyond the Blue Mountains known as Beleriand. The First Age is counted as lasting six hundred years from the rise of the Sun to the end of the wars of Beleriand, and in that time much of the scene was set for the following millennia.
A map of Beleriand, from Karen Wynn Fonstad's definitive Atlas of Middle-earth.

The Beginning of the War of the Jewels
After dimming the lights of the Trees, Morgoth and Ungoliant fled over Helcarax­ë, coming to the northern-most regions of Beleriand. There, whilst passing over the mist-shrouded land of Hithlum and drawing near to Angband, Ungoliant turned on Morgoth, demanding recompense for her efforts, but a host of balrogs arrived from Angband and drove her into hiding. Morgoth then entered Angband in triumph. He raised the Iron Mountains above Angband and created a terrible, triple-peaked volcano named Thangorodrim which belched fire high into the skies above the mountains. Thus the elves of Beleriand were alerted to Morgoth’s return.
In the long years since the Great Journey, the Teleri elves who had remained in Middle-earth had not been idle. Elwë, founder of the kingdom of Eglador, had been acclaimed as Lord Elú Thingol Greycloak of the elves of Beleriand, and the Maia Melian was his queen. The Falas became a fortified stretch of coast defended by Círdan from his strongholds of Brithombar and Eglarest, whilst Ossiriand in the east became ever more beautiful and home to increasing numbers of other elves late-come over the mountains from Eriador. The dwarves, meanwhile, had founded the mighty fortress-mine of Khazad-dûm in the Misty Mountains, many hundreds of miles to the east of the Blue Mountains, and some of their number came west, founding Belegost and Nogrod in the Blue Mountains and another, smaller hold under Mount Dolmed on the western face of the range, from where they traded with the elves. 
But the servants of Morgoth had also not been lazy. Sauron had bred orcs uncounted in the pits below Angband and gathered to him such strength of arms as had never been seen before in Middle-earth. When the light of the Trees failed, Sauron sensed that something had changed and that before long his master would return. So it proved. After Morgoth’s arrival he decided to quickly launch an assault against the elves of Beleriand. He knew that Fëanor could not let either the theft of the Silmarils or the murder of his father – the first death of one of the Eldar by violence – pass uncounted, and wished to destroy any potential allies the Noldor would find in Middle-earth.
He did not find the elves of Beleriand unprepared, for skirmishes with the numerous orc forces had already taken place in the foothills of Dorthonion – a raised highland area in the north of Beleriand, not far from Angband – and the mountains of mist-shrouded Hithlum. Thingol had already began gathering strength of arms and sent word to Círdan of the Falas and Denethor of Ossiriand to do the same. Morgoth’s armies then marched, dividing into two great hosts. One passed through the gap between Hithlum and Dorthonion formed by the passage of the mighty River Sirion, aiming itself at the Falas, whilst the eastern army marched on Ossiriand, whilst sending skirmishers to keep Thingol bottled up in Eglador. Morgoth had not expected boldness from Thingol, believing that he would only fight if his kingdom was directly threatened. Instead, Thingol waited until Morgoth’s host had passed and then attacked from the rear, whilst Denethor led a head-on assault from Ossiriand. The eastern host, caught between two armies, was destroyed for all its vast size, although Denethor of Ossiriand was slain in combat. The few survivors retreated northwards, but were intercepted by a dwarven force on the slopes of Mount Dolmed and destroyed almost to an orc.
In the west things went better for Morgoth. With Thingol and Denethor leading the fighting in the east, it fell to Círdan and the less-populous Falas cities to resist this force. A series of guerrilla strikes delayed the advance of the host, but eventually the Falathrim had to retreat to Eglarest and Brithombar and hold them against siege.
So ended the First Battle of the War of the Jewels. The armies of Morgoth had suffered a grievous defeat in the east and failed to win an overwhelming victory in the west. Then the fleet of the Noldor sailed into the Firth of Drengist under the shadow of the mountains of Hithlum, and Fëanor son of Finwë led his people onto the shores of Middle-earth.

Gothmog confronts Fëanor at the feet of Thangorodrim during the Battle-Under-Stars. Art by CK Goksoy.

The Battle-Under-Stars
Fëanor’s troops arrayed themselves in Hithlum and prepared for battle, but Morgoth, fearing that his enemy’s strength of arms was becoming overwhelming, immediately sent his reserves into battle, attacking Fëanor’s army with what forces he had left in Angband. Fëanor shattered the attack and led his forces towards Angband. The western host besieging the Falas cities immediately turned north and hastened to crush Fëanor’s army from behind, but Celegorm, third son of Fëanor, had kept a reserve behind in Hithlum. This force descended from the mountains and destroyed the orcs as they attempted to pass through the valley of Sirion between Dorthonion and Hithlum.
Fëanor’s forces drew nigh to Angband, but, his wrath unrestrained, Fëanor outraced his troops and raced to the gates of Angband. There he was attacked by a host of balrogs led by Gothmog and, despite a valiant stand, was slain. The balrogs would have despoiled his corpse, but the forces of his sons arrived and drove them away. The gates of Angband were sealed against them and they lacked the strength for an assault, so withdrew to Hithlum to plan anew.
So ended the Dagor-nuin-Giliath, the Battle-under-Stars, the Second Battle of the War of the Jewels. Fëanor was slain, but Maedhros, his eldest son, refused to claim the High Kingship of the Noldor, ashamed of his father’s betrayal of Fingolfin. When Fingolfin’s host stepped foot on the shores of Middle-earth after the devastating crossing of Helcaraxë, Maedhros surrendered the High Kingship to his uncle and repented the betrayal of his father. Fingolfin accepted the apology and added his strength to his nephews’, thus strengthening the Noldor’s forces further, and then went forth to meet the elves of Beleriand in parley.

 The Siege of Angband, by John Howe.

The Siege of Angband
King Thingol Greycloak did not welcome the Noldor with open arms, but saw their strength as a way of containing the renewed threat of Morgoth. After forcing them to accept him as overlord of Beleriand, Thingol surrendered control of Hithlum, Dorthonion and the northern foothills of the Blue Mountains to the Noldor, placing them on the front lines whilst keeping his own strength in reserve. To protect his homeland from attack, Thingol and Melian together weaved a magical field around the forests of Neldoreth and Region, known as the Girdle of Melian. Thus Eglador became Doriath, ‘The Land of the Fence’.
Fingolfin chose to take Hithlum as his base of operations, sending his elder son Fingon to fortify Dor-lómin in the south-west and his younger son Turgon to assume control of Nevrast, the stretch of cost south-west of Dor-lómin. Turgon here based himself at the fortress of Vinyamar in the shadow of Mount Taras.
The sons of Finarfin were given control of the weakest point in the forces besieging Angband, namely the Pass of Sirion between the mountains of Hithlum and the highlands of Dorthonion. Orodreth and Finrod fortified the Pass, building the fortress of Tol Sirion (noted for its tower of Minas Tirith, a name later used in history for another great fortress) upon the island of the same name. Angrod and Aegnor fortified the north-western and northern slopes of Dorthonion, from where the fires of Thangorodrim could be seen in the distant north.
The seven sons of Fëanor held the east. Maedhros built a mighty fortress atop the tall hill of Himring, whilst Maglor’s base lay atop Mount Rerir. Caranthir assumed control of Thargelion, the land north of Ossiriand, whilst Amrod and Amras, after gaining the permission of Thingol, fortified Amon Ereb and assembled their hosts in East Beleriand behind their brothers’ forces.
The Sindar held the centre of Beleriand at Doriath, whilst the Falathrim continued to hold the coasts under Círdan’s rule. The dwarves of Belegost and Nogrod agreed to come forward to aid the elves, but kept their strength in their fortresses, keeping only a small force on Mount Dolmed to respond rapidly to an enemy attack.
Morgoth chose to remain in Angband, but in the 54th year of the siege his forces emerged and launched a direct assault on Dorthonion. In the so-called Glorious Battle the elves shattered his forces and sent them reeling back in defeat.
After some additional years both Finrod and Turgon received dreams (actually visitations from Ulmo) telling them to leave their holdfasts and build hidden refuges. Thus Turgon abandoned Vinyamar, though leaving his armour and weapons in the fortress at the dream’s direction, and led his people to a vast collapsed volcano in south-western Dorthonion known as the Echoriath, and there built the immense city of Gondolin, greatest of all cities of the Noldor upon Middle-earth. Meanwhile, Finrod descended into western Beleriand and there built the subterranean fortress of Nargothrond. He won the respect of the dwarves for his hewing of the caverns of Nargothrond and was awarded the title "Felagund", "Hewer of Stone". By the 103rd year of the First Age, both realms were complete and the siege thus strengthened.

The Coming of Men
When three centuries and more had passed since the leaguer about Angband had been set, Finrod Felagund, Lord of Nargothrond, travelled eastwards into the lands of Thargelion and Ossiriand and journeyed awhile among the green-elves. Then he met a strange people, a host of beings like and unlike elves who had descended into East Beleriand from over the Ered Luin. These were the first of the race of men to reach the north-west of Middle-earth, followers of the great chieftain Bëor the Old. Although filled with despair when he learned of their short lifespans upon Arda before they must answer the call of Mandos, Finrod nevertheless saw in them a proud and valiant people, and taught them much of war and craft. The men were amazed, for the dark-elves they had met before in the wilds of Rhovanion and Eriador were unlike this fearless warrior, blessed as one who had seen the Light of the Trees, and grew to love and respect him and his kin. In the years that followed more and more men passed over the Blue Mountains from Eriador and settled in the lands of East Beleriand, and although some such as Curufin and Celegorm mistrusted them, others like Finrod and Turgon and Maedhros saw in them a new ally in the war against the Dark Power of the North. Unbeknown to all, men were the Second Children of Ilúvatar, the second chosen race of Eru.
Bëor’s people became the First House of the Edain (Elf-friends), for they came first to Beleriand and remained true to the cause against the Enemy. They settled in Estolad, the Encampment, between the rivers Celon and Gelion, and there grew numerous and prosperous. Bëor in time passed away in the service of Finrod and his son Bregor arose to leadership of the First House, and after him came his sons Barahir and Bregolas, and of Barahir and his son Beren more is told later.
The Second House of the Edain was the race known as the Haladin, led by Marach. These people came to Beleriand soon after Bëor, and dwelt for a time in Thargelion before removing themselves over Gelion to the wide, rolling countryside south of Estolad, and there was much peace and friendship between the First and Second Houses.
The elven lords took counsel, and the Noldor agreed to take into their services all who would swear loyalty to them. Thus many of the Edain removed to Hithlum and Mithrim to serve Fingolfin himself, whilst others went to Dorthonion to serve Angrod, Aegnor and Orodreth, but Turgon, although recognising the valour of the men, did not allow any to come to Gondolin, and kept the Hidden City secret even from them. But, Finrod aside, none of the Exiles sought counsel with Thingol, whose lands the Edain passed through, and Thingol angrily rejected those Edain who would serve him, and held the Exiles responsible for the Edain’s behaviour in Beleriand.
The Haladin in time migrated west after a great battle against an orc-raid sent from the north, and after many years adopted the Forest of Brethil as their new home. Thingol was again angered, since the Forest of Brethil lay nigh on the borders of Doriath, although it was not included in the Girdle of Melian, but Finrod came forth and after much discussion obtained the grace of Thingol for the Haladin to settle there.
In time there arose a great captain of men, Hador Lórindol, a stalwart warrior and a keen slayer of Orcs. Fingolfin himself embraced him as a brother, and gave to Hador a land to dwell in within Hithlum, the great plain of Dor-lómin. There Hador raised a great host to enforce the Siege, and elves and men mingled greatly, becoming friends and allies against the darkness. In time Hador passed on and the lordship fell to his oldest son Galdor, and Galdor’s sons were Húrin and Huor, of whom more is told later in this history.
Thus the race of men joined the Siege of Angband, and the Noldor recognised them as valiant allies, but the Sindar were less convinced and Thingol and the green-elves of Ossiriand long mistrusted them.

Fingolfin confronts Morgoth during the Battle of Sudden Flame.

The Battle of Sudden Flame
The Siege of Angband endured long over four centuries and the hosts of Morgoth were ever kept at bay by the vigilance of the elves, now greatly bolstered by the arrival of the Edain. Thus reinforced, Fingolfin summoned a great counsel of men, dwarves and elves and suggested that a new assault be launched upon Angband, since now they had the numbers needed to pull down Morgoth from his iron throne and take back the Silmarils he had stolen from the Noldor, and thus vengeance could be claimed for all of those that Morgoth and his servants had slain, man and elf and dwarf alike. But the other captains did not see the need for such an attack, and indeed many had grown used to the peacefulness of the Siege and saw not the necessity for blood to be spilled whilst it endured. Indeed, only the sons and grandsons of Hador, who were closest in alliance to Fingolfin, and Angrod and Aegnor, whose lands lay within sight of blighted Thangorodrim, supported Fingolfin’s proposal, not enough to ensure victory, and the meeting came to naught.
This Morgoth studied from afar, through spies and beasts in his service, and knew then that his foes were divided, softened by the long years of peace. In the mines below Thangorodrim he had forged weapons of war and in the surrounding lands he had bred Orcs innumerable, and the great Dragons and dark Balrogs stilled heeded Morgoth’s call. Now Morgoth knew that the time had come to breach the Siege. Some suggested that if he but waited for a few more years, until his hosts were larger still, then he could have destroyed all of his enemies at one swoop, but once Morgoth had decided upon something, it could not be undone.
In the 455th year of the First Age, Morgoth unleashed his forces at the besieging armies. Channels had been cut underneath Ard-galen, the green plain which encircled Thangorodrim, and these were now filled with fire. At one fell swoop almost all of the troops on Ard-galen were incinerated. Then the Gates of Angband opened and Glaurung, Gothmog and Sauron led forth the armies of Morgoth to battle. Rather than divide their forces as before, the dark host instead marched straight into Dorthonion, catching Angrod and Aegnor’s forces before they could rally. In a week of fire and slaughter the north slope of Dorthonion was put to the flame and the fortresses there cast down and destroyed. Thus perished Angrod and Aegnor and their allies. Then the hosts of Morgoth turned east, besieged Himring where Maedhros had his fortress and destroyed Maglor’s host on the plain of Lothlann, although Maglor survived to seek shelter in Himring. Then the Orcs passed on to the slopes of Mount Rerir and shores of Lake Helevorn, scattering all before them. The Pass of Aglon was taken and Celegorm and Curufin fled to Nargothrond, and Caranthir abandoned Thargelion and fell back on Amon Ereb, where he built new defences with Amrod and Amras.
The slaughter in the north was great, but Turgon refused to risk Gondolin by leading a host forwards. However, Finrod led a great army forwards from Nargothrond and, after being joined by Celegorm and Curufin, reinforced Orodreth’s fortress at Tol Sirion to hold the Pass of Sirion against the Enemy. The battle was won, but Finrod himself was encircled and would have been slain had not Barahir grandson of Bëor come with a great host of men and relieved him. Thus Finrod was indebted to the house of Barahir.
Morgoth’s forces also attacked Hithlum, but these attacks were designed purely to contain Fingolfin’s troops and prevent him from riding to the aid of the Sons of Fëanor, and in this they succeeded, but Fingolfin himself was filled with wrath for the fall of so many of the Noldor. Enraged, he passed alone through all the armies of Morgoth and came to the Gates of Angband itself. There he challenged Morgoth to single combat even as his brother had done, but this time Morgoth accepted the call, bolstered by the victory of his forces. In his confidence Morgoth nearly perished, for Fingolfin was mighty among the Noldor and his cunning blade wounded the Dark Lord in both body and spirit, and Morgoth was horrified for this showed his powers as a Vala were fading as a result of the disfavour of Eru. But still Morgoth had many times the strength of an Elf and in the end crushed Fingolfin under his weapon Grond, the Hammer of the Underworld. Thus fell the Lord of the Noldor, but his body was not taken by the Enemy, for Thorondor Lord of Eagles came hither and seized the body in his great claws and bore him south to Gondolin, where Turgon made a great cairn for his father.
Now Fingon, eldest son of Fingolfin, became Lord of the Noldor and hard-pressed was he to re-organise the forces of the Exiles, for they had been scattered and were barely holding the line against the enemy. To safeguard his bloodline, Fingon sent his son Ereinion to join Círdan at the Havens on the south-western coast of Beleriand, though Ereinion bitterly complained. Thus it was that Ereinion met and befriended Círdan, and after many years Ereinion gained the name of Gil-galad ("Spark of Brightlight"), a name famed in legend and in song.
But the ruin of the Siege was not yet complete. Two years after the Dagor Bragollach (Battle of Sudden Flame) Sauron’s forces put Tol Sirion to siege and then stormed it, driving Orodreth and his kin back to Nargothrond, and Sauron made Tol Sirion into Tol-in-Gaurhoth (Isle of Werewolves), his own stronghold to replace Angband which he had given up to his master. Five years after this the host of Morgoth assailed Hithlum and would have taken it, but Círdan sailed up the coast to the Firth of Drengist and put ashore great strength of arms, and thus halted the onslaught and turned it back. Fingon had held Hithlum, but at great cost.
Other matters of import came to pass also in the years after the Siege. Húrin and Huor were journeying with a great party near the upper Sirion when they were assailed and almost overcome by Orcs, save that a mist arose from Sirion and covered their retreat. Then Thorondor the Eagle and his servants gathered up the party and bore them to Gondolin to recover from their wounds. Under the King’s Law none who set foot on the Hidden Way to Gondolin could leave again, but Húrin and Huor pointed out that they had come by air and knew not where Gondolin was in relation to the rest of Dorthonion. Thus they were allowed to leave again and return to their own people, but their exploits soon became legendary and even the servants of Morgoth came to hear of it. Then Morgoth bent his efforts to locating the Secret City so he could plan against it.

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1 comment:

Mark Andrew Edwards said...

This is fun to read, thanks.