Tuesday, 15 August 2017

A History of Middle-earth Part 5: Númenor and the Rings of Power

Part 1 can be found here.

To some, the Second Age of the Sun is a dark age from which few records have survived, at least of events in Middle-earth. This was the age of the domination of the Kingdom of Númenor, of the growing hubris of its kings and of the disastrous folly that ended its existence. The Second Age lasted 3,441 years from the end of the inundation of Beleriand to the desperate Last Battle of the Last Alliance on the slopes of the volcano Mount Doom, but although that battle ended a war, evil was allowed to endure into the Third Age.

"Annatar" and Celebrimbor seal their alliance during the Second Age. From the video game Shadows of Mordor.

The Dawn of a New Age

In the War of Wrath Beleriand was ruined utterly and slowly sank beneath the ocean. Only parts of Thargelion and Ossiriand survived above the waves and between these two regions the Ered Luin burst asunder, shattering the dwarven city of Nogrod, and the sea rushed into the lowlands beyond, forming the great Gulf of Lhûn.

Most of the elves now removed themselves to Valinor, but some remained. Celeborn of Doriath, who had not seen the Light of the Trees and had no reason to leave, remained, as did his kinsman Thranduil. Galadriel was torn between staying and leaving, but in the end elected to remain with Celeborn, whom she had wed in Beleriand, and she was told that evil had not yet totally departed Middle-earth and she would not be allowed to return to Valinor until it was finally vanquished.

Gil-galad also remained as High King of the Noldor, and Celebrimbor son of Curufin, who desired to stay in the mortal lands and make amends for the sins of his father. Then came Círdan, oldest of all the elves of Middle-earth, and claimed that he would not leave these shores until an end came to the elves in Middle-earth altogether.

But to Elrond and Elros, the sons of Eärendil, a different path was offered. They were half-elven, but could not remain so. They could become fully mortal and fully men, or they could become fully immortal and fully elven. Elrond chose to become a full elf, and was welcomed into the house of Gil-galad with honour, and Elrond became Gil-galad’s chief counsellor and his herald in times of war. But Elros was beloved by the surviving Edain, and chose to become mortal. He was then acclaimed Lord and King of the Edain.

The elves founded new kingdoms upon the newly-formed western coast of Middle-earth, most notably Lindon about the Gulf of Lhûn. Here Círdan founded the town of Mithlond, the Grey Havens, whilst Gil-galad established his capital at the northern haven of Forlond. Celeborn and Galadriel removed to the southern haven of Harlond. Celebrimbor also remained here a while, but Thranduil almost immediately travelled east. Beyond the great Misty Mountains he found a vast number of elves who had never seen the Light of the Trees and to whom the name of Morgoth was but a distant legend and remote fear. Travelling north and east Thranduil entered the great Greenwood the Great and selected for his kingdom the northern end of the forest, where in memory of lost Menegroth he built an underground hall, but it was a pale shadow of fallen Doriath.

For the Edain, who had proven their faithfulness to the elves in battle, the Valar created a great, star-shaped island in the midst of the Belegaer and named this Westernesse. Then the Edain travelled to the isle under their king Elros and became known as the Dúnedain, or Elf-friends of the West, and swore undying alliance and loyalty to the elves of Middle-earth, and upon Westernesse they built a great kingdom, and this kingdom grew mighty in legend and song. Númenor it was called, the Westland of the Dúnedain.

But evil had survived as well as good in Middle-earth. For in the War of Wrath it fell to Eonwë herald of Manwë to find and subdue Sauron, greatest servant of Morgoth. Sauron was defeated in combat and humbled, and Eonwë offered him pardon, but Sauron refused and fled, disappearing into the lands of the furthest east ere Eonwë could stop him. Several Dragons went with him as well, and a balrog, the last surviving one, but the balrog was injured and abandoned Sauron to seek solace in the deep places of the earth where it could heal. Thus, the last balrog fell out of story and song for almost six thousand years, until its long sleep was disturbed.

A map of Númenor, by Robert Altbauer.

The Founding of Númenor
As was related above, the Valar raised the island of Westernesse in the midst of the Belegaer, the Great Sea that lay between Middle-earth and Valinor. Elros led the Dúnedain to found the kingdom of Númenor early in the Age, but it was not until the 32nd year of the Second Age that Elros ascended to the throne in the City of Armenelos, capital of Númenor. He took the name Tar-Minyatur and began the tradition of handing down the Sceptre of the King as the symbol of kingship over Númenor. In the early years of his rule Elros sent ships to Middle-earth and regular communications were established with Lindon, but as the years passed Elros neglected these, for no threat seemed to be laid against the elves of Middle-earth, and Elros could enjoy his own land and his own people in peace. Still, although no more ships passed from Númenor to Middle-earth, occasionally a ship would come from Lindon, either on a special visit to Númenor or carrying elves bound for the Undying Lands, carrying news and tidings of greeting.

Elros died in the 442nd year of the Second Age and was succeeded by his son Vardamir Nólimon. However, although still hale, Vardamir was 379 years old and had begun to fade. Not wishing to rule for a short period only, he waited one year and then handed the sceptre to his own son Tar-Amandil. Thus begun the tradition that the King of Númenor should surrender the sceptre to his heir before the onset of old age and weakness of the mind.

Tar-Amandil ruled from 443 to 590 SA and passed the sceptre to his son Tar-Elendil. Tar-Elendil had three children, only the youngest of whom was male, and for a time it looked like a daughter would follow him, but it is often said that it would have been better had this come to pass. His eldest daughter, Silmariën, was born in 521 SA and her eldest son was Valandil, who was made Lord of Andúnië. Of his line issued, nigh on three thousand years later, Amandil, Last Lord of Andúnië, and his son Elendil the Tall and his sons Isildur and Anárion, whose names stand great among the Dúnedain. But Tar-Elendil did indeed have a son, Tar-Meneldur, who became King of Númenor in 740 SA.

Now, in the first years of Tar-Elendil’s reign rumour came of disquiet in Middle-earth. Hostile men, akin of the reviled traitor Easterlings of the First Age, were said to be growing in power in the east of Middle-earth and the elves had not the power to fully contain them, for even their new kingdoms such as Eregion were far from the centres of power for these enemies. Thus Tar-Elendil resolved to renew communications with Middle-earth and despatched his Captain of the Ships, Vëantur, to Mithlond. Vëantur arrived at the Grey Havens in the 600th year of the Second Age and was welcomed with great honour, for Gil-galad and his lords had begun to wonder if any Númenórean would again sail out of the West. Relations were improved, and after this ships from the west came often to the harbours of the elves.

The greatest mariner in Númenor’s history is often held to be Aldarion, later Tar-Aldarion, son of Tar-Meneldur. Tar-Meneldur disliked the sea, but allowed his captains to continue their voyages to Middle-earth. But from an early age Aldarion loved the sea, and in his twenty-fifth year undertook his first voyage to Middle-earth. Sailing along the coasts he found a good harbourage at the mouth of what the elves called the River Gwathló, though the Númenóreans called it the Gwathir, the River of Shadows. There Aldarion established a port called Vinyalondë, which in later years was called Lond Daer, and he often visited both this port and Lindon. At length his father despaired, for Aldarion was gone for years at a time, and married late, and father and son were often estranged. Aldarion wed a noble lady of the island, Erendis, but she did not understand his love of the sea at all, and after a long voyage they were estranged as well, and would not speak again.

By this time the first signs of the Shadow had fallen upon Middle-earth and all the elves felt disquiet from the east, moving Gil-galad to send a letter to Tar-Meneldur asking for his aid against the darkness should it come again, but Tar-Meneldur was a man of Númenor and knew little of Middle-earth, and in the end decided to resign the sceptre long before his time in favour of Aldarion, who knew better how to deal with this threat. Thus, Aldarion became King of Númenor in 883 SA, but was often gone on journeys to Middle-earth. His port of Vinyalondë was destroyed by hostile men (ancestors of the Dunlendings) and had to be rebuilt often, and after a time he sailed further upriver and established a bridge and crossing town at Tharbad, where he once met Galadriel and discussed with her matters of import. At this time, the Númenóreans sent what help they could to the elves, and their mariners kept an eye on all sea-traffic along the coast of southern Middle-earth and far to the east where the elves did not go. But Tar-Aldarion resigned the sceptre in 1075 SA and his daughter Tar-Ancalimë, the first ruling Queen of Númenor, neglected his policies, enraged at his lengthy absences during her childhood.

After this the Númenóreans again concentrated on their own concerns and the number of their ships crossing the Sea to Middle-earth dwindled, although never again did these journeys entirely cease. Eventually, rumour came of a growing darkness in Middle-earth during the rule of Tar-Telperien, the second Ruling Queen, but she did not heed it. It fell to her nephew Minastir to build a great fleet of ships and, when the call for help came from Lindon, she agreed to let the fleet be sent. This fleet it was which landed in Lindon and at Vinyalondë in the year 1700 of the Second Age and carried forward a great army to the relief of the elves who, as related below, were sorely pressed at this time.

An illustration by Alan Lee created as background art in Rivendell for the Lord of the Rings movie trilogy. This piece is officially listed as a mural of Ost-in-Edhil, capital of Eregion.

The Rings of Power
In the West the power of Númenor grew mighty indeed, but the true danger was growing in the east, for Sauron the Deceiver had adopted a fair guise and gone amongst the rulers of far countries in eastern Middle-earth. He dwelt there a long time, becoming known as a friend of those peoples, and he often spoke of the power and riches of the elves who lived along the west coast of the continent, but he counselled those eastern kingdoms against war, at least just yet, for the elves’ power was still great.

Then, after nigh on five centuries had passed since the downfall of Thangorodrim, Sauron journeyed south and west and came to a desolate land which had once been filled by the Great Inland Sea of Helcar, of which only a small remnant survived as the Sea of Rhûn in the north. He found a deserted plain cradled between three great mountain ranges and, standing alone in the north-west of this plain, a single towering volcano, quiet for now but still active. He named this land Mordor (Black Land) in a fell tongue of the east and established his stronghold here, far enough from Lindon to avoid detection, but near enough to launch his own attack if necessary. At the feet of the Ered Lithui, the Ash Mountains, he began construction of a forbidding fortress. When completed it stood well over three thousand feet in height and was known as Barad-dûr, the Dark Tower, and in its construction Sauron employed evil men of the East and orcs, who he began breeding in preparation for war.

In Lindon, no tidings of this darkness came, only a faint feeling of foreboding. But around the seven hundredth year of the Second Age Celebrimbor led the bulk of the Noldor still living in Middle-earth eastwards to the foothills of the Misty Mountains. Here they found the West-gate of Khazad-dûm, greatest of the dwarven mines, bolstered by the exodus of the dwarvish kin from Nogrod, which had been destroyed in the War of Wrath, and Belegost, which had been abandoned. The elves disliked Khazad-dûm and called it privately Moria, the Black Pit, but at length they softened when they saw the wonders the dwarves had performed, such as the Great Hall of Dwarrowdwelf, the greatest feat of engineering the elves had ever seen, and the mining of mithril. Celebrimbor built a new city along the banks of the River Glanduin, which he called Ost-in-Edhil, and this became the centre of a new elven kingdom, Eregion, which men called Hollin, for it was a verdant land of holly trees. Ost-in-Edhil was completed in 750 SA.

Galadriel and Celeborn left Lindon and after a time came to Eregion, where they were welcomed as kin by Celebrimbor, but it is not known how long they remained there. Galadriel in particular was uncomfortable in Eregion for Celebrimbor harboured a deep affection for her, and after a time she learned from the Dwarves of Khazad-dûm of an elven realm on the other side of the Misty Mountains. She passed through the mines and emerged into the fair Dimrill Dale, and descending the Dimrill Stair came to the realm of Lórinand. This land had been settled by the Dark-elves who had long ago forsaken the Great Journey to Middle-earth and never passed beyond the Misty Mountains. Here Galadriel found an almost spiritual land far closer to the “heart” of Elvishness and far removed from the political strife of other lands. She dwelt here many long years, and in her heart named it Lórien, for the beauty and wonder of this realm was akin to the land of Lórien in Valinor itself.

Meanwhile, Sauron had grown disquieted at the moving of large numbers of elves into the lands east of the Misty Mountains, first in northern Greenwood the Great (where Thranduil still dwelt), then Lórinand. But it was Eregion, home to many battle-hardened Noldor of Beleriand, which attracted his attention most. Adopting his fairest guise, that of an elven prince named Annatar, he went to Eregion and there spoke long with Celebrimbor and the elven-smiths. Galadriel mistrusted him when she met him, and Celeborn also perceived something not right, but Celebrimbor was gladdened by this stranger, for he brought with great knowledge of craft and artifice far beyond that even of the Noldor in their alliance with the Dwarves of Khazad-dûm. many great works they embarked upon together, but the greatest was the Rings of Power.

Now Galadriel removed herself and her daughter Celebrían to Lórinand entirely, but Celeborn would not pass through the mines of Khazad-dûm, remembering too well the destruction wreaked upon Doriath by the Dwarves. Thus he remained, and watched with growing dismay the growing influence of Annatar upon the elven-smiths, and his awakening in them of desire to craft items of power.

Sauron and Celebrimbor together crafted the Nine Rings, which they decided would be given to the noblest Kings of men. The Nine had the ability to make their wearers invisible, but Sauron also adjusted their powers so that those who wore them would fall into a wraith-like existence which would make them servants of Sauron. Next, they crafted the Seven Rings of the Dwarves, but the properties of these rings was never made clear. Sauron left Eregion and returned to Mordor, but in secret Celebrimbor forged the Three Rings of the elves. He gave one to Galadriel, but sent the other two to Gil-galad, strongest of the elves of Middle-earth.

But, in secret, Sauron went into the fires of Mount Doom, and there forged the One Ruling Ring, the most powerful of the Rings of Power, which would have dominion over all the others. But when Sauron put on the Ring for the first time, in the year 1601 SA, Celebrimbor perceived his purpose through the Three Rings, and Sauron’s true identity and ambition was made clear.

Parts 6-9 of the History of Middle-earth Series are available to read now on my Patreon feed as follows:

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1 comment:

Unknown said...

The Rings of Power were never meant for Men or Dwarves. They were originally for the Elves alone, as the Rings of Power project was to ultimately preserve Elven civilization in the mortal world by recreating the bliss and timelessness of Valinor. For the Elves as immortal beings in a mortal world of death, decay and change suffered the "world weariness"...similar to when a mortal was forced to live on like an immortal but gaining no new life, just reversed. In other words, Rings of Power were meant to be a renewable spiritual resource for the Elves. Which is why Sauron saw hacking the Rings as the perfect trap to finally defeat his ancient enemies.