Tuesday, 12 September 2017

A History of Middle-earth Part 8: Arnor and Gondor - Realms in Peril

In the aftermath of the Downfall of Númenor, the survivors founded two realms-in-exile in Middle-earth: mighty Arnor in the north and Gondor, the great southern kingdom that lay about the White Mountains. Both endured for centuries into the Third Age, but both also faced mounting threats from the servants of evil.

The Battle of Carn Dûm, from The Battle for Middle-earth II: Rise of the Witch-King.

The Fall of the North-kingdom
After the Battle of the Gladden Fields and the death of Isildur, the rule of the North-kingdom fell to his only surviving son, Valandil, who had been left behind in Rivendell when the Army of the Last Alliance had set out to war. Valandil inherited the throne upon coming of age in 10 TA and his line ruled the North-kingdom of Arnor for a further 850 years. Arnor was never as populous as Gondor and only possessed one large city, the capital of Annúminas on Lake Evendim. A smaller fortress-city was established not far to the east at Fornost on the North Downs and a mighty fortress built on Amon Sûl, the hill also called Weathertop, to house one of the palantíri. These devices, the seeing-stones of Númenor, had been forged by Fëanor himself in the depths of time, according to some, and passed down through the various bloodlines to Eärendil, and from him to his son Elros, who was first king of Númenor. Elendil had taken the stones ere the Downfall and used them to facilitate communications between Arnor and Gondor.

In 861 TA King Eärendur died and his three sons disputed the succession between them. Eventually they divided the realm in three: Arthedain in the west, Cardolan in the south and Rhudaur in the east. Arthedain and Cardolan worked alongside one another, but Rhudaur was more estranged and its people less civilised, as they lived on the harsh Ettenmoors and the lands north to the northern-most part of the Misty Mountains. By 1356 TA Rhudaur was regularly feuding and raiding with the other kingdoms. Unbeknown to the western kingdoms, the leader of the Nazgûl, claiming the title Witch-King, had come north circa 1300 and seized control of the land of Angmar, which lay at the northern end of the mountains. He rapidly subverted and made alliance with Rhudaur, promising the king of that land the throne of all Arnor in return for his allegiance.

In 1409 TA the Witch-King tired of the deception. He amassed great strength of arms and assaulted Arthedain and Cardolan directly. The two realms’ capitals, Fornost and Tyrn Gorthad (the latter located on what are now the Barrow-downs), were defended against the attack and full-scale war erupted. The elves of Rivendell and Lindon lent what aid they could, although for some time both Círdan and Elrond believed the war was merely an internal human matter.

In 1636 the Great Plague swept across Gondor and then north through Eriador to Arnor. However, the Witch-King’s own forces were decimated by the plague and his attempts to use the situation to attack Arnor were foiled. Arthedain and Cardolan became much more closely allied as the threat of Rhudaur and Angmar remained, but over the next three centuries the lack of overt military action caused their guard to falter.

By 1940 Arnor had been reunified under the rule of King Arvedui, who in turn married Princess Firielm, daughter of King Ondoher of Gondor. When Ondoher was killed in the mighty two-front war against both the Wainriders of Khand and the Haradim, Arvedui claimed the throne of Gondor also. However, it fell to Prince Eärnil to save Gondor by crushing the Haradim and then defeating the Wainriders at the Battle of the Camps. In recognition of this, the Lords of Gondor gave Eärnil II the throne, enraging Arvedui to saw himself as the legal heir to the throne.

Arvedui had little time to ponder his rage, however, as Angmar became resurgent, launching a mighty assault against Arnor in 1974 TA that carried their armies all the way to Fornost, which they brutally sacked. Arvedui led a fighting retreat to the ruins of Annúminas, but the enemy hounded him remorselessly. He fled to the ice-shores along the great Bay of Forochel and there waited for rescue in the form of a ship sent from Lindon. However, the ship foundered in bad weather and Arvedui was slain.

Arvedui’s son, Aranarth, continued a guerrila war against the Witch-King of Angmar, but now nothing stood between the Witch-King and the total conquest of Eriador. With little choice, Círdan sent practically the entire armed might of Lindon to stand against the Witch-King in the Hills of Evendim. The ferocity of the elven attack drove the armies of Angmar back to Fornost, but the elves lacked the numbers for siege. What the Witch-King had not counted on, however, was Elrond leading an army north from Rivendell to attack his own capital city of Carn Dûm, which was easily destroyed, and then advancing on Fornost from the east. King Eärnur of Gondor landed troops both on the Gulf of Lhûn to reinforce Círdan and also on the Icebay of Forochel, so that Fornost was now assailed from all sides. In the mighty Battle of Fornost the armies of Angmar were destroyed utterly, although the Witch-King fled back to Mordor.

Aranarth might have taken the throne of Arnor, but he now saw that Arnor could not be held. It was too large, its population too small and scattered across a vast stretch of territory. He refused the throne, stating that the Kingdom of Arnor would live again only when the one who had destroyed it, the Witch-King, lay dead and all of Middle-earth was freed from the threat of the Shadow of Mordor. Instead, Aranarth created the Rangers of the North, consisting of himself and his kin and remaining followers, the Dúnedain of the North. In alliance with the elves, they would ensure that the Shadow would not fall again on the north.

The Realm of Gondor, map by Zikuul at Caramail.com 

The Trials of the South-kingdom
Whilst Arnor endured hardship in the North, Gondor rose to greatness. It was much more heavily populated than Arnor, with the lands south of the White Mountains teeming with game and life. Gondor not only maintained the populous capital city of Osgiliath, but also the large cities of Pelargir, Dol Amroth and Edhellond. The fortresses of Minas Anor and Minas Ithil were also well-populated and Minas Anor in fact became a city as well as fortress, taverns and shops sprouting up within its seven encircling walls. By 420 TA Minas Anor had been refortified and enlarged to cope for the burgeoning populace.

It was not long before war threatened. The Easterlings – the peoples who lived east of the Sea of Rhûn – long hated Gondor’s wealth and power. In 490 they attacked Gondor in strength. They established settlements south of Greenwood and for ten long years troubled Gondor until King Romendacil I led a great army in destroying the Easterling settlements. Gondor was free again of trouble for come centuries. In 830 King Falastur set about establishing Gondor as a mighty sea power and his descendent King Eärnil I proved the worth of this by taking the city of Umbar by force in 933, making it into a fortress and city of Gondor. However, the cruel Haradrim of the south became enraged by the Gondorian presence and mad war upon Umbar in the hopes of recapturing it. In 1015 they laid siege to the city and killed King Ciryandil when he came south with a relief force. However, they failed to take the city and fell back. Divided by internal strife, they were easy pickings when King Hyarmendacil led a mighty invasion of the Near Harad starting in 1050. This war smashed the Haradim armies and pushed Gondor’s armies far to the south of Umbar.

Gondor’s time of greatness came to an abrupt end in 1432 when King Valacar died. Valacar’s father, Romendacil II, had won a great war against the Easterlings with the aid of Rhovanion, a kingdom south-east of Mirkwood (the name ‘Rhovanion’ has become synonymous with “Wilderland”, the lands east of the Misty Mountains, but it was originally used to identify this one specific kingdom). Valacar married a princess of this kingdom and their son Eldacar became heir to the throne. However, many in Gondor questioned this as, for the first time since Elendil founded their kingdom, a Dúnedain had married one of ‘inferior’ race. When Eldacar made to take the throne, King Valacar’s cousin Castamir, Captain of the Fleets, declared Eldacar unworthy to take the throne. Castamir was supported by the people and nobles of Pelargir and the coastal provinces, who overran the rest of Gondor, taking the twin fortresses of Minas Anor and Ithil and laying siege to Osgiliath. This process took seven years, the bloodiest stage of the Civil War of the Kin-strife. Eldacar fled to Rhovanion, but his son Ornendil was murdered in the process.

Eldacar dwelt in exile for ten long years, but word came to him that Castamir’s rule was arbitrary and cruel. Winning the allegiance of his mother’s people, he led an army from Rhovanion south into Gondor at the start of 1447. Minas Ithil and Osgiliath both declared for Eldacar whilst Castamir was in the south and Eldacar took both without battle. Negotiations saw Minas Anor declare for Eldacar as well. Castamir rushed north with his armies from Pelargir, but Eldacar took the city behind him by landing troops from the river. Castamir’s army, trapped between two hosts, was forced to meet Eldacar’s on ill-chosen ground near the Crossings of Erui. In that battle Castamir died and Eldacar took the throne of Gondor. However, Castamir’s sons survived to take ship for Umbar. There they declared themselves Kings of Umbar, forever at strife with Gondor. Their descendants killed King Aldamir, Eldacar’s second son, in 1540 when he tried to take Umbar and complete the victory started by his father. Eleven years later Hyarmendacil II came south and tried to attack Umbar by land, but a large force of Haradrim met him in combat before he could reach the city. He defeated the Haradrim, but his exhausted forces were unable to besiege Umbar and withdrew back to the north. In 1634 the Umbarians launched a risky attack on Gondor which succeeded in sacking Pelargir and killing King Minardil, but failed to topple Gondor altogether.

Two years later the Great Plague swept through Gondor, severely depopulating the nation and killing the White Tree of Minas Anor. The plague was bad everywhere it struck, but it struck hardest in Osgiliath, killing 90% of the population. King Tarondor was forced to abandon Osgiliath altogether and declared Minas Anor the new capital of Gondor.

Gondor’s perceived weakness lasted for less than two centuries. The Umbarians had grown fat and indolent and were taken by surprise when King Telumhetar Umbardacil took the city by land and sea in a massive assault in 1810. However, this victory was only possible by stripping the eastern garrisons in Ithilien. The need for a large occupation force in unquiet Umbar meant that this became a permanent state of affairs. When a new threat, the Wainriders, an Easterling people, arose, Gondor was unable to meet them in battle. King Narmacil was slain in 1856 and Gondor’s territories north and south of Mordor were lost. In 1899 King Calimhetar was able to trick the Wainriders into bringing the bulk of their army north of Mordor to meet an imagined attack from that direction, but instead he hit them from the south on Dagorlad, destroying them and forcing them to rereat. In celebration of his victory, he commissioned the White Tower, a new seat for the Kings of Gondor, in Minas Anor.

In 1944 Gondor was suddenly best by enemies on two sides. The Wainriders struck again in the north whilst the Haradrim advanced from the south, crossing into South Ithilian. King Ondoher was slain and his son Eärnil II achieved a mighty victory by attacking the Haradrim and shattering them in the shadow of Emyn Arnen before marching north and taking the Wainriders by night as they slept in the legendary Battle of the Camps, driving the survivors into the Dead Marshes. Eärnil was acclaimed King of Gondor, although Arvedui of Arnor had a claim on the throne as well. When Arnor was destroyed, King Eärnur son of Eärnil took a gamble and rushed reinforcements to Arnor to aid the elves in destroying Angmar. They succeeded, but Gondor lacked the men to repopulate Arnor, which ceased to exist.

The Witch-King, having destroyed Arnor, returned to Mordor and raised a new host, eager to now strike against Gondor as well. In 2000 TA the Nazgûl led an army through the Cirith Ungol pass and attacked Minas Ithil, taking it after a two-year siege. They renamed the city-fortress as Minas Morgul, the Tower of Sorcery, and the Nazgûl made it their lair.

In 2043 TA Eärnur became King of Gondor and the Witch-King challenged him to single combat. Eärnur wisely ignored the sally, but some called him craven behind his back. Eventually, in 2050, he was forced to accept. Unsurprisingly, he was slain. Childless, the line of kings came to an end and it fell to Mardil, his steward, to assume the rule of Gondor. Mardil announced the founding of the Line of the Ruling Stewards who would hold the throne of Gondor in trust until Isildur’s Heir emerged, namely one of the Dúnedain Chieftains of the North. However, their oath not to rule again until the Witch-King lay dead also prevented them from taking the throne of Gondor. Thus Gondor endured without a king. Minas Anor, Tower of the Sun, became Minas Tirith, Tower of the Guard, and Gondor prepared for a long struggle against the Shadow as it raided against them out of Minas Morgul.

However, in 2063 the wizard Gandalf entered the fortress of Dol Guldur, a dark tower that had appeared in Mirkwood. The Nazgûl, who were believed to be based there as well as in Mordor, apparently fled (though it seems that Sauron himself was now present, at least in a spiritual form). Gandalf forged an alliance with the Ruling Stewards of Gondor and with other notables to form the Watchful Peace, which kept a careful eye on enemy movements along the borders of Mordor. The Peace meant that the enemy could not gather in strength outside of Mordor’s walls and was successful in keeping the enemy bottled up in Mordor for some 400 years. In 2460 the Peace ended when suddenly evil creatures started issuing forth from Dol Guldur in some strength. In 2463 Gandalf and Saruman convened the White Council, consisting of the Istari, the elven high lords and representatives from Gondor. The White Council was designed to stand against the threat of Mordor, but after some decades the rulers of Gondor disregarded it as being little more than a talking shop whilst Gondorian troops died defending all the free lands of Middle-earth. This was made clear in 2475 when a large orc force attacked Gondor, making it as far as Osgiliath before being checked. In a mighty battle Osgiliath’s bridges were destroyed and the last habitable part of the city was sacked.

In 2510 the Gondorians received word of an enormous army of a barbarous people known as the Balchoth was advancing from the north. So huge was this army that Gondor seemed to have no chance of victory. Nevertheless, Ruling Steward Cirion led his army forth to do battle.

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