Saturday, 26 August 2017

A History of Middle-earth Part 7: The Dawn of the Third Age

Isildur's Death by Anke Eißmann

Part 1 can be found here.

At the end of the Second Age of Middle-earth, the Dark Lord Sauron was defeated in the Last Battle of the Last Alliance. Sauron was vanquished and the free kingdoms of men - Gondor and Arnor - proved victorious alongside their elven allies. King Isildur was advised to destroy the One Ring, but instead he took it as a boon of his house, to the disquiet of the elves.

The Battle of the Gladden Fields and the Loss of the Ring
In the aftermath of the Last Alliance the victors returned home, Elrond to Rivendell, Círdan to Lindon and Isildur to Gondor. But Isildur dwelt only briefly in the South-kingdom before committing it to the care of Anárion’s son Meneldil, who became King of Gondor. Then Isildur journeyed north to Arnor to rule there as king.

Curiously, Isildur did not take the west road to the Gap of Calenardhon and the fast route to Annúminas, but instead rode north along the Great River Anduin towards the High Pass. It seems that Isildur desired to take counsel with Elrond and the road over the mountains in good weather was easier than the difficult journey along the Misty Mountains’ western flanks.

Isildur rode north with two hundred retainers and warriors, including his sons Elendur, Aratan and Ciryon. His youngest son, Valandil, had been left in Rivendell after the host of the Alliance set out for war, this now being almost nine years earlier. Isildur reckoned the journey would take forty days and, once out of the rugged lands north of the Emyn Muil, their pace quickened as they entered the Vale of Anduin (this entrance being held as the gap between Lórien and Amon Lanc, the tall, bald hill at the south-western end of Greenwood).

On the thirtieth day, the party was crossing the northern end of the Gladden Fields, perhaps nine days from Rivendell, when it was set upon by a large orc force out of the Greenwood. Almost 2,000 warriors rode in the orc-band, a massive raiding party sent to test the defences of Thranduil’s realm. Spying the human war band and summoned by some force they could not explain, the orcs attacked and did battle with Isildur’s host.

Seeing he was outnumbered at least ten-to-one, Isildur summoned his esquire Ohtar and gave to him the shards of Narsil, Elendil’s sword, and commanded him to carry it to safety in Rivendell. Then the Dúnedain turned and gave battle and shattered the first orc attack, leaving hundreds of orcs dead for less than a dozen of their own fallen. The orcs were dismayed and under different circumstances would have retreated, but the Ring now called to them and they attacked again and again, harrying the Dúnedain remorselessly.

Eventually the orcs surrounded Isildur’s men and slew them ruthlessly, though they lost three-quarters of their numbers in the process. Aratan perished in a mighty struggle with three orcs and his brother Ciryon died in a noble effort to save him. At the last, Elendur ordered his father to save himself by the power that had come to him, and Isildur slipped on the Ring and fled. Then Elendur rallied his men for one last attempt to break free. They failed, but when the dust settled most of the orcs lay dead also. The survivors did not enjoy their victory, for soon elves came out of Greenwood to destroy them, and the Woodmen of the Vale also came forth arrayed for battle. Only one man was pulled alive from the carnage of the battle, Estelmo, esquire to Elendur, and he told his rescuers and later the other Dúnedain of the last words of Isildur.

But what of Isildur himself? His fate can only be surmised but the tale is well-founded. After leaving the field of battle, Isildur passed north and strove to cross the Anduin. Having done that he would then have survived to reach Rivendell. He left his raiment and armour upon the east bank and crossed to the west, but in the shallow water, with salvation in sight, the Ring suddenly betrayed Isildur and slipped off his finger. A dozen orc archers, left on the west bank to cut off survivors from the battle, saw and shot the King of Arnor with many arrows, and thus he died, the One Ring slipping to the bottom of the Great River Anduin, where it was to remain many a long year.

Isildur’s armour and gear were found not long after and borne to Rivendell for his son Valandil, and Ohtar indeed evaded the orcs and brought the shards of Narsil to Imladris. But Isildur’s remains were not found, and neither was the Ring. Neither was found the Elendilmir, the symbol of the Lords of Andúnië, which had descended from Silmariën to Elendil to Isildur as the royal symbol of Arnor. Another Elendilmir was forged for Valandil to wear as the King of Arnor, but it was not the equal of the Elendilmir lost with Isildur.

The Coming of the Istari Out of the West
For a thousand years the North-kingdom of Arnor and the South-kingdom of Gondor prospered under their kings. Arnor warred often with the wild men of Dunland and Angmar, and the goblins of the north, whilst Gondor fought bitter border struggles with the peoples of the east and south, but both prospered and grew great. Arnor was divided into three realms in 861 TA when the three sons of the dying king warred for the crown, and these were Arthedain, Cardolan and Rhudaur, with the heirs of Elendil ruling through the throne of Arthedain.

By the 1,000th year of the Third Age, however, a shadow had fallen across Greenwood. A foreboding fortress appeared on Amon Lanc and was named Dol Guldur, and evil things multiplied in the forest until it was renamed Mirkwood. Pirate and savage attacks on both Arnor and Gondor increased.

Then, one cold morning, a ship appeared out of the Uttermost West and landed at the Grey Havens. It bore five old men, stooped with age and eyes sparkling with knowledge, but Círdan the Shipwright knew these were no ordinary men and did them homage. Of these five men, their names have long survived in history and these are Saruman, Gandalf, Radagast, Alatar and Pallando. Alatar and Pallando the Blue dwelt only briefly in the West and soon vanished into the lands of the far east and south, out of the tales of Middle-earth. Radagast the Brown was a hermit-like wizard who loved living things and nature, and often wandered the lands between Lindon and Mirkwood. But Gandalf the Grey and Saruman the White were both great with knowledge and wisdom, and soon were regular counsellors of Elrond and the other great and wise. They divulged little of their mission, save that they had come to check the plans of evil. Saruman had made the study of the Rings of Power his principle concern and worried that, with the One Ring still intact, Sauron’s spirit could yet return and work evil. The allies committed many forces to searching that part of the Gladden Fields where Isildur was slain, but could not find any sign of the Ring’s passing. Saruman and Gandalf concluded that the shadow in the forest was probably the return of one or more of the Nazgûl, and their master would not be far behind.

A Part of the Shire, a map by Christopher Tolkien for The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (1954).

The Coming of the Periannath and the Founding of the Shire
History does not acknowledge the first appearance of the Periannath or “halflings” in the world. It is theorised that they appeared at the same time as men, to whom they may be related, but did not come west at the same time as the Edain. Eventually they followed, displaced by the growth of numbers of Easterlings in the lands beyond the Sea of Rhûn. It is theorised that they passed Greenwood by north or south (or both) and settled the Vale of Anduin. At this time, they came into contact with the Éothéod, a race of noble men who inhabited the northern part of the Vale near the headwaters of the Anduin. The Éothéod gave them a name in their own tongue, the holbytlan. From this they created their own name, hobbits.

Hobbits were a curious people, almost identical to men in all ways apart from that of size. Averaging between three and four feet in height, hobbits were almost half the size of men in all dimensions. Their size made many consider them akin of the dwarves, but their love of nature was more like that of the elves. However, they were more capricious than the elves and less serious than men.

Three distinct breeds of hobbit soon emerged: Harfoots, Stoors and Fallohides. Harfoots were friendly to dwarves and long preserved their traditions of settling underground. They crossed the Misty Mountains long before their comrades and journeyed across Eriador as far as Weathertop, most southerly of the Weather Hills and a great landmark in the Kingdom of Arnor. The Stoors were friendly to men and remained in the Vale of Anduin for a long time, many settling the Gladden Fields south of the Carrock. Indeed, Stoors still lived in this area as recently as 400 years ago before the growing terror of Mirkwood finally forced them over the mountains into Eriador. Long before then, however, the majority of Stoors had passed over the mountains via the Caradhas or Redhorn Pass and settled the lands between Tharbad and Dunland before journeying north and west. The Fallohides were friendly to elves and passed over the mountains via the High Pass near Rivendell. Although the Fallohides grew less numerous, they were the boldest of the hobbits and they were often to be found as leaders and chieftains.

By the 1,600th year of the Third Age hobbits had settled in great swathes across central Eriador. Their biggest settlement was at Bree and in the nearby Chetwood. The growing disquiet as war raged between Arnor and Angmar had forced the hobbits to gather in this area, and their numbers became great indeed. Eventually, the Fallohide brothers Marcho and Blanco set out from Bree and travelled to Fornost, which by that time had supplanted Annúminas as capital of Arnor. They were granted an audience with King Argeleb II who agreed to grant them a new homeland. He decreed that an area of land measuring 150 miles across be given to the control of the hobbits, stretching from the Far Downs to the Brandywine River. The hobbits gratefully accepted and moved across the river, settling in this lush, verdant land which had been long depopulated by men. The hobbits decreed the year 1601 Third Age would also be the year 1 of the Shire-reckoning.

The Shire endured many long years with little of interest occurring in it. There was the occasional disaster, such as the Great Plague of 1636 TA or the Long Winter of 2758 TA, but always the hobbits endured. Although not warlike, the hobbits were always aware that bandits and orcs dwelt in the wilderness who meant them harm, and when a large band of orcs was sighted heading south for the Shire in 2747 TA, they rapidly banded together under their foremost warrior, Brandaboras Took, and defeated them in the Battle of Greenfields.

Although the hobbits had little interest in the outside world, they did become notorious for their superb ales and pipe-weed. In particular, the wizard Gandalf had become a fan of their pipe-weed and in 2758 arrived in the Shire to investigate this curious folk. He aided them in the travails of the Long Winter and became a known friend of the hobbits. However, some disapproved of him for exciting the younger hobbits with tales of adventure and danger in the outside world. Gandalf maintained his contacts with the Shire, however, and in particular with the Baggins of Bag End, a most comfortable hobbit-hole located within the large Hill overlooking the town of Hobbiton-across-the-Water.

To Gandalf, however, these people were a delight and a distraction from the world. Even he, among the wisest of the wise, could not guess the role that they would play in the great events yet to come.

Parts 8-10 of the History of Middle-earth Series are available to read now on my Patreon feed as follows:

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