Saturday, 29 July 2017

A History of Middle-earth Part 3: Tears Unnumbered

Part 1 can be found here.

In the Elder Days of Middle-earth, the First Age of the World, the Dark Lord Morgoth stole the Silmarils, the greatest treasure of the Noldor elves. Morgoth took shelter in his fortress of Angband in the north of Beleriand, that long-vanished land west of the Blue Mountains, and there made war upon the elves and their allies, the dwarves and the late-arriving tribes of men.

The Noldor, defying the will of the Valar, arrived in Middle-earth and defeated Morgoth's forces, laying siege to Angband for over four centuries. In the Battle of Sudden Flame Morgoth breached the siege, but found the elven forces more resilient than expected, thanks to their new human allies, and was unable to destroy his enemies.

Glaurung and Turambar, by John Howe

The Tale of Beren and Lúthien and the Quest of the Silmaril
As told previously, during the Dagor Bragollach the mighty Finrod Felagund of Nargothrond would have been slain in battle in the Pass of Sirion had not Barahir and his warriors saved him from death. In debt, Finrod gave his ring as a token of faith to Barahir and bid him and his kin to come forth to Nargothrond and seek a boon of him should it prove necessary. But Barahir and his warriors instead chose to return to Dorthonion and fought a guerrilla war against Morgoth’s troops.
In 460 ED, five years after the Bragollach, Barahir’s refuge at Tarn Aeluin was destroyed and Barahir slain. The victorious Orcs took Barahir’s possessions as trophies and made their way back towards Angband, but were waylaid by Barahir’s son, Beren, who had survived the battle. Beren slew them by night at Rivil’s Well and took the ring of Finrod Felagund back from them. For four years Beren dwelt alone in Dorthonion, waging a one-man war against the Enemy, until he was wounded and driven from the highlands. Thence he passed south and came to the Forest of Neldoreth, which according to legend was enchanted and none could pass its borders. But the Girdle of Melian parted to allow Beren access to the guarded forests of Doriath, and there he recovered. He explored the woodlands and passing south drew near to the River Esgalduin which separated the Forest of Neldoreth from the Forest of Region, where the heart of Doriath lay at Menegroth, the Thousand Caves, and then in a summer glade first beheld Lúthien, daughter of Thingol the Greycloak and Melian, dancing. Beren’s heart was lost, and they long spoke together, and she came to love him also. 
Beren and Lúthien went before Thingol and begged his leave to wed, but Thingol was wrathful that a mere mortal should ask for the hand of the daughter of the Lord of Beleriand, but Melian stayed his anger out of love for their daughter. Then Thingol softened and declared that he would allow Beren to marry Lúthien, but on one condition: the recovery of a Silmaril from the Crown of Morgoth! Lúthien’s heart was filled with despair at this, but Beren merely accepted the challenge and resolved to complete it, hopeless as it seemed.
Beren knew that to win the Silmaril he would need valiant companions and, leaving Doriath, he passed above the Falls of Sirion to Nargothrond. There he presented the ring of Finrod and asked for Finrod’s aid as a way of repaying the debt to Beren’s father. Finrod agreed and, along with ten companions, he and Beren set out for Angband. However, in the Pass of Sirion they were waylaid by Orcs and taken captive to Tol-in-Guarloth, where they were imprisoned by Sauron, Morgoth’s chief lieutenant.
By various means Lúthien learned of Beren’s capture and resolved to aid him. She passed out of Doriath and crossed the Sirion before heading north, but was waylaid by Celegorm and Curufin. Distrusting Thingol and his heirs, the Sons of Fëanor imprisoned her in Nargothrond, but Huan, the Maia-hound of Celegorm, betrayed his master and aided her escape. They passed north to Sirion and there Huan did battle with Sauron in wolf form, defeating him and driving him from the island. Lúthien threw open the pits of Tol-in-Guarloth and found Beren alive, but Finrod had perished, and this was a bitter blow to all Beleriand, for he was among the most valiant of the Noldor. When these tidings returned to Nargothrond Orodreth took up his brother’s mantle as Lord of Nargothrond, but with a heavy heart.
Beren and Lúthien returned to Doriath to recover from their adventures. In the Forest of Brethil they were assailed by Celegorm and Curufin, but Huan drove his former master away. Back in Doriath they convalesced from battle, but the quest was not achieved, so Beren set forth once more, pursued by Lúthien and Huan. At length, they came before Angband and Lúthien enchanted all the guards, even the great wolf Carcharoth, so they might pass within unheeded. Then, far below the burning peaks of Thangorodrim, Lúthien stood before Morgoth on his throne of iron and enchanted him with a song of legendary beauty, so that the Dark Power himself eventually fell into a slumber. Then Beren cut a Silmaril from his crown, but after doing that grew greedy and tried to steal the others. At this Morgoth stirred and Beren and Lúthien were forced to flee. At the gate they were set upon by Carcharoth, who bit off Beren’s hand and the Silmaril held in it, but the purity of the Silmaril burned the wolf’s stomach and he fled, maddened by the jewel. Beren nearly died, but Thorondor, King of Eagles, arrived and rescued the heroes, returning them to Doriath. There Thingol, whose normal implacability had softened at Beren’s valour, ruled that although Beren had not recovered a Silmaril, he had denied it to Morgoth, and thus allowed him to marry Lúthien.
But then the wolf Carcharoth assaulted Doriath and the Girdle of Melian could not hold it at bay, for it was protected by the power of the Silmaril, and even Melian’s enchantment failed before the craft of Fëanor. Beren and Huan led a great hunt against the wolf, and at the end it was killed, but both Beren and Huan died in the battle ere the wolf’s great belly was slit open and the Silmaril recovered. Lúthien mourned greatly and in grief her spirit left her body and sought the way to Valinor. There she stood in the Halls of Mandos and bargained with the Vala Mandos himself, offering her immortality in return for Beren’s life. Mandos, for the first and only time in the history of the Earth, was moved by Lúthien’s words and returned both Lúthien and Beren to life. They lived as mortals and removed themselves to Tol Galen in the midst of the River Adurant in Ossiriand, where they bore a son, Dior. But the Silmaril passed to Thingol as promised by Beren, and the fate of those elves who would marry a mortal was set, for to live in peace the elves had to give up their immortality. Only twice more in history would this occur.
Beren and Lúthien, by Alan Lee.

The Battle of Unnumbered Tears
In 473 ED Maedhros, eldest son of Fëanor, summoned a council of war and spoke before the assembled leaders of men and elves and even the dwarves, who troubled themselves with the affairs of Beleriand only rarely. Maedhros had been inspired by the deeds of Beren and Lúthien, but was troubled by Thingol’s refusal to give up the Silmaril that had been won from the Crown of Morgoth. Thus, Maedhros decided that the elves must recover the other two jewels lest civil war erupt between the Noldor and their Sindarin cousins. Maedhros proposed a bold plan to drive the legions of the Enemy from Dorthonion, Tol-in-Guarloth, the slopes of Hithlum and the plains of Lothlann. This required the use of two armies, one in the east and one in the west, one to shatter the enemy’s forces and the other to catch any reinforcements by surprise. Maedhros’ plan was only possible because large numbers of men had crossed the Ered Luin in the eighteen years since the Bragollach and bolstered the armies of the elves. Neither the elves or the Edain wholly trusted these ‘Easterlings’, but had no choice but to use them.
The two armies took shape. In the east were the elves and men of Himring, under Maedhros; elves and men of Amon Ereb, under Caranthir and Uldor the Easterling; and the dwarves of Nogrod, Belegost and, some say, even some from distant Khazad-dûm, who gathered at Mount Dolmed on the edge of Ered Luin. In the west were elves and men of Hithlum, under Fingon, Húrin and Huor; elves of the Falas under Círdan and Gil-galad; men of Brethil; a small company of elves from Nargothrond, commanded by Gwindor; and a vast host from Gondolin, led by Turgon. The latter army of the west was many times larger than the east, at least twenty thousand strong, but since it was tasked with taking Angband, its vast size was necessary.
Unfortunately, Morgoth had already predicted the plan. Rather than challenge the smaller eastern host, he directly assaulted the western even as it drew up in the Ered Wethrin. Most of Fingon’s troops and some of Turgon’s broke ranks and pursued the enemy when it appeared they were defeated, but the enemy turned and surrounded them. This force, led by Gwindor, broke through to Angband, but was slain within the gates of the fortress (although Gwindor escaped back to the south). Then the rest of Morgoth’s host assaulted the western army, driving it in great disarray from Ang-fauglith (the choking wasteland where Ard-galen once lay). The men of Brethil fell holding the rear, but the rest of the army escaped thanks to reinforcements from Gondolin.
Upon hearing of the opening of hostilities Maedhros led his troops towards the enemy, but Uldor, commander of the Easterlings who made up part of the eastern host, proved false and attacked the main bulk of the army. Simultaneously, other Easterlings loyal to Morgoth attacked the host from the highlands of Dorthonion and the slopes of the Ered Luin, though most of these were in turn surprised and destroyed by the dwarves of Belegost. Maedhros extracted his army, slaughtering most of the traitors, but he had suffered heavy losses. When Glaurung and Gothmog led an army of balrogs and dragons on their position, Maedhros was forced to retreat past Himring into Thargelion. Even there the elves’ position was untenable and they were forced to retreat even further, back into Ossiriand.
Now the western host continued its slow retreat into West Beleriand. The host from Gondolin fell back to the Hidden City itself, whilst the few survivors from Nargothrond returned home as well, although Orodreth had wisely kept most of his strength back and thus had not endangered his fortress too much. But the remainder of the army had to fall back all the way to the Falas. The march was long, and along the way Gothmog descended with many balrogs. In pitched combat Fingon son of Fingolfin died and the High Kingship of the Noldor passed to his son Ereinion Gil-galad.
Thus ended the Nirnaeth Arnoediad, the Battle of Unnumbered Tears, in which the elves’ attempt to reverse the defeats of the preceding decades was lost and all of Dorthonion, Hithlum, Thargelion, Himring and Lothlann fell to the enemy. From here Morgoth’s troops could invade directly into West and East Beleriand. The position of all in Beleriand, it seemed, was hopeless.

The Children of Húrin, by Alan Lee

The Tale of Túrin and Nienor and the Fall of Nargothrond
During the Nirnaeth Arnoediad it came to pass that Húrin was captured and brought before Morgoth, who desired to know the location of Gondolin. Húrin refused to disclose it and was tortured greatly, but Húrin remained defiant. In a fury Morgoth cursed Húrin and all his family, and soon the curse was to come true.
Now, Húrin’s wife Morwen lived in peace with their son Túrin, but she feared for Túrin’s safety in Dor-lómin after all of Hithlum was occupied by Easterling warriors loyal to Morgoth. Thus, Túrin departed and went south and east to Doriath, where he was given shelter by Thingol. Morwen gave birth to her and Húrin’s daughter Nienor shortly afterwards, and faced a hard struggle in the lands occupied by the Enemy.
In Doriath Túrin grew into a mighty warrior, but twelve years after his arrival he accidentally killed the jealous elven lord, Saeros. Fearing punishment, Túrin fled Doriath and established a band of warriors waging a guerrila war against Morgoth’s troops, first in the woods above the River Teiaglin, then around Amon Rûdh near the Forest of Brethil. In 487 ED the outlaw band was destroyed and Túrin captured, but he escaped and met Gwindor, who had also long been a prisoner of Morgoth since the Nirnaeth Arnoediad. Gwindor agreed to lead Túrin back to Nargothrond, and there Orodreth made Túrin a captain of his realm. Túrin led the army of Nargothrond forth and in a great campaign freed West Beleriand from the Enemy. Reinforcements were summoned from Hithlum to deal with this new threat to Morgoth’s power, and in the confusion Morwen and Nienor were able to escape to Doriath. Learning that Túrin had passed on from the forest, they pursued all rumour of him.
Meanwhile, Glaurung the Golden was tasked by Morgoth with the destruction of Nargothrond. Glaurung used many means to track down Túrin and through him learned of Nargothrond’s location, sacking and destroying it in 496 ED. Túrin escaped into the Forest of Brethil and there made alliance with the race of men known as the Haladim, becoming a great leader among them.
Morwen and Nienor were separated on the road and Nienor came alone to Amon Ethir, overlooking the smouldering remnants of Nargothrond. There she was bewitched and cursed with forgetfulness by Glaurung. Then she wandered in a daze, but was found by men of Brethil and taken to Ephel Brandir, where she took the name Níniel. Túrin met her and they fell in love and married, but then Glaurung came forth again to lay waste to the area. Túrin met the dragon in combat and gave it a mortal wound, but was injured himself. Níniel came upon the scene and Glaurung maliciously revealed the truth of their parentage. Despairing, Nienor cast herself into the River Teiglin and Túrin, awakening from his injuries, fell upon his own sword upon learning the truth.
Well pleased, Morgoth released Húrin from bondage. The aged warrior, making his way through Beleriand, tried to find Gondolin, but could not (though he unknowingly led the spies of Morgoth to the conclusion that the Hidden City lay in the south-west of Dorthonion), but in time came to the cliffside where Túrin and Nienor had perished. There he met his wife of old, Morwen, once more and they were together briefly before she died of grief. Húrin built a great cairn for her and in years ever after that hillside endured no matter the fate of the rest of Beleriand.

Parts 4-7 of the History of Middle-earth Series are available to read now on my Patreon feed as follows:

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1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Hi Adam. While I really appreciate your essays, articles, reviews, etc. you have summarized the tale of Turin to such an extent as to make it untrue (in places). Turin killed himself after having learned of his sister's death.
Sorry, I'm a fan of The Silmarillion and the tale of Turin and had to speak up. :)