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Wars and Battles of Arda and Middle-earth – Lioness at Large

Wars and Battles of Arda and Middle-earth

Battlefields are blood-soaked places of unspeakable horror, replete with corpses, body parts, the roar, thunder and clash of arms, the cries and whimpers of the wounded and dying, shouts of rage, often the fumes of smoke and fire, and always the all-pervading stench of death.  And of course the legendarium’s universe far exceeds the various wars fought over the course of its internal history.  However, as in the history of any realm and society, the wars fought in and for it were an integral formative part of the development of Arda and Middle-earth: indeed, from the First-Age return of the Ñoldor to Middle-earth to the reestablishment of a unified realm of Arnor and Gondor after the War of the Ring, in many cases the foundation of new cities and realms, or the restoration of their former greatness, was the direct consequence of a war, battle, or similarly destructive event: talk about “Phoenix from the ashes”.  So, in tracing the history of Middle-earth, these conflicts can hardly be overlooked or ignored.  This is an exercise in nailing down the essentials of their course and outcome, in chronological order (even if that involves a change of location): these conflicts did not occur in isolation, but they must be seen as against the history of Arda and Middle-earth as a whole; and hardly any of them was of merely localized importance.

The weaponry used in most of these battles (with the exception of those involving only the Ainur) is discussed on a separate page: The Weaponry of Middle-earth.

As a general matter, the same spoiler warning applies as with regard to the People and Peoples of Arda and Middle-earth: This page mentions crucial plot points and events from Tolkien’s major works, so if you have not yet read these works — at the very least, The HobbitThe Lord of the Rings (including its Annexes) and The Silmarillion –, you’re proceeding at your own peril.

Finally, it should also be mentioned that this page is only intended to be concerned with external struggles: thus, two of Middle-earth’s most sustained and ravaging internal struggles — those of Gollum (at least initially) and, notably, Frodo with and against the powers of the One Ring — are only mentioned to the extent that they find an external expression; most significantly of course at the very climax of the War of the Ring, in the moments before the Ring’s destruction in the fires of Mount Doom.


The Deeps of Time

The Music of the Ainur

Melkor began to meddle and interfere with the creation devised by the (other) Valar before they had even finished their Great Song: He made a music of his own in discord to theirs and tried to supersede and disrupt their harmony.  It took Eru Ilúvatar’s intervention to prevent him from hindering even a harmonious concept for the world to be created; but this did not stop him for long:

Jacek Kopalski: The Creation of Arda
The First Battle

Duration: 1,500 Valian years (= ca. 14,000 solar years) from the moment the Valar had first entered Arda.

Melkor entered Arda before any of the (other) Valar, and the others had barely arrived when he already began to wage war on them in earnest: while the shaping of Arda was still in progress, and the world had not yet been populated by living creatures, he just kept unmantling and destroying everything they had made.  Only after Tulkas had come into the world, Melkor at last fled from him into the Void.

This gave the Valar the opportunity to repair the damage he had caused and restore what he had destroyed; although Arda’s plan had already been altered irrevocably.  At last the Valar settled on the island of Almaren, Aulë created the Two Lamps Illuin and Ormal for the illumination of Arda and raised them up with the help of Manwë and Varda; and with the growth of the vegetation created by Yavanna the Spring of Arda began.


William Thomy: Melkor destroying the Lamps of the Valar

Years of the Lamps

Destruction of the Two Lamps

1,550 Valian years (= ca. 14,854 solar years) before first rising of the Sun and the Moon

In the shadowy remote north of the world, even the bright light of Illuin only shone dimly.  So it was there that Melkor eventually returned from the Void, shrouded by the darkness of the northern mountains, as well as by the light of Illuin, which stood between the mountains and the home of the Valar on the island of Almaren.  In the mountains Melkor secretly created a great stronghold named Utumno, where he built up his forces, plotted his revenge, and finally launched an attack on Middle-earth in which he broke down the Two Lamps’ pillars, thus casting the world back into darkness.  In falling, the Lamps spilled fire on the lands beneath, perpetually marring their shape.  Where Illuin had once stood, now the great inland sea known as the Sea of Helcar had formed.

The Valar attempted to repair the destruction wrought by Melkor, but were unable to restore the world to what it had been before.  So ultimately they abandoned the now-formed Middle-earth to Melkor, leaving it in darkness for the next almost fifteen thousand (solar) years, and departed for their new home of Valinor (“the Land of the Valar”) in Aman (“the Undying” or “the Blessed Lands”) on the distant western edge of the world.

Karen Wynn Fonstad: The Spring of Arda and the aftermath of the destruction of the Two Lamps


Years of the Trees

Band Huang: Utumno
Battle of the Powers

Valian Years 1090 – 1099
(= over a century in solar years)

Oromë was the first of the Valar to discover the newly-awakened Elves near Cuiviénen, the Water of Awakening far to the east of Middle-earth on the shores of the Inland Sea of Helcar.  However, returning to Valinor, he reported to the other Valar that Melkor had to have already found the Elves as well; it was obvious from their response to Oromë that Melkor had already begun to influence them and make them afraid of the Valar.  So these held a council in the Ring of Doom (Máhanaxar), their court outside of Valmar, where Oromë convinced the Valar to assert themselves against Melkor once more in order to save the Elves from his evil influence.

The Valar thereupon returned to Middle-earth, and as a result of the ensuing cataclysmic battle between their forces and the hosts of Melkor’s Orcs and Balrogs, the shape of the northwest of Middle-earth was altered once more.  Melkor’s hordes fled back to his stronghold of Utumno, and the Valar set a protective guard about Cuiviénen and embarked on a long siege of Utumno that involved many hard-fought battles outside its gates.  After seven Valian years, they at last succeeded in breaking the gates of Melkor’s fortress and unroofing its halls, and Tulkas bound Melkor in chains wrought by Aulë and dragged him out of the deepest pit, where he had been hiding.  Brought into the Ring of Doom and before Manwë for his judgment, Melkor was sentenced to be cast into the Halls of Mandos for three ages, at the end of which he was to be judged again.

However, the Valar did not discover all of the deepest chambers under Utumno and the Iron Prison of Angband, created as an outlying fortress of Utumno; so Melkor’s lieutenant, the fallen Maia Sauron, as well as some of his Balrogs and a number of other evil creatures hid there and escaped capture.

Meanwhile, the shape of Middle-earth had irretrievably been altered yet again by the warfare; most notably, the Great Sea had been widened considerably, the Bay of Balar had been carved out, the mountains and highlands of Dorthonion and Hithlum had been raised, the river of Sirion and its Mouths had been formed; and in the far east, the Dark Land had broken off to form a separate continent beyond the East Sea.

Karen Wynn Fonstad: The Circles of the World / Arda after the Battle of the Powers

Karen Wynn Fonstad: Arda with Aman and Middle-earth in the First Age

The Elves, meanwhile, saw the destruction that the Battle of the Powers had wrought, and they were less than enthusiastic about following the Valar’s invitation to Aman.  So Oromë invited three ambassadors, one of each of the three original Kindred, to Valinor, and after the ambassadors had seen the glory of the Two Trees, they returned to their people and advised them to embark on the Great Journey across the Sundering Seas.

Darkening of Valinor / Theft of the Silmarils

Valian Year 1495
(ca. 48 solar years before the first rising of the Moon and Sun)

Fëanor, Melkor, and the Silmarils (art by Kapriss)

Two inextricably-connected events that, although not rating as “battles” in the sense of armed warfare as such, have to be listed here, because they are at the root of almost every major event — certainly every major battle — over the course of the entire First Age, beginning even before the first rising of the Sun and the Moon:

Melkor had never forgotten that the Valar had initiated the Battle of the Powers for the sake of the Elves, and during the three ages that he had been cast into the Halls of Mandos, he had enough time to brood over his hatred of them.  After he had obtained his pardon and release, he feigned good will for a while, but he soon began to put his plan of revenge into action.

He traveled to a shadowy, forgotten part of Aman named Avathar (which in turn possibly translates as “The Shadows”), where he sought out the monster Ungoliant, a spirit of pure and condensed Evil in the form of a giant spider; at least possibly an incarnation of darkness or emptiness itself.  Having allied themselves, the two conspirators returned to Valinor at a time of festival, where, as Melkor he had planned, they found the Two Trees unwatched while the people of Valinor celebrated on the slopes of Taniquetil.  They sped across the plain of Valinor to the base of the Trees, Melkor struck each of them with his spear; and Ungoliant, whose thirst for light was insatiable, sucked the glistening sap from the dying Trees and poisoned them.  Then she belched nauseous, impenetrably black vapors all over Valinor, thus causing the Darkening of Valinor.

After the destruction of the Two Trees, the last of their light was contained in the Silmarils, the three great jewels that the Ñoldorin lord Fëanor, the eldest son of Finwë (High-king of the Ñoldor and formerly their ambassador to Valinor), and the most gifted of Aulë’s students among all of the Ñoldor, had created by locking their light inside an unbreakable shell made of a crystalline matter known as silima (“shining substance made by craft”).  Yavanna would have been able to revive the Trees by using the light captured inside the Silmarils, but at the price of destroying the Silmarils, and therefore Fëanor was unwilling to give them up.

Yet, he was not to keep them anyway: Melkor and Ungoliant had made use of the Darkening of Valinor, and of his absence, to assault his fortress of Formenost, to the north of Valmar; and they had there killed Fëanor’s father Finwë (who alone had remained behind), ransacked the treasury, and stolen the Silmarils.  Then they had fled from Aman back to Middle-earth, where Melkor’s stronghold of Angband had survived the Battle of the Powers, even if Utumno had been destroyed.

Kinslaying at Alqualondë (First Kinlsaying)

Valian Year 1495
(ca. 48 solar years before the first rising of the Moon and Sun)

Ted Nasmith: The Kinslaying at Alqualondë

After Finwë had been killed, Fëanor claimed his father’s erstwhile kingship for himself and, along with his sons, swore vengeance, vowed to recover the Silmarils come who and what may, and cursed Melkor as Morgoth (“the Black Foe”) — the name by which Melkor was known ever after.

Many of the Ñoldor decided to follow Fëanor on his campaign of revenge.  They demanded the use of the ships that the Teleri (the final Elves to reach Aman) had built in order to travel from their first dwelling place off the Eastern shore of Aman — the former island ferry of Tol Eressëa, now anchored just outside the Bay of Eldamar — to Valinor; but the Teleri were unwilling to grant the Ñoldor’s request, as this would have meant going against the will of the Valar.  Instead of giving up their ships, they attempted to persuade the Ñoldor to reconsider. The Ñoldor, however, angered by the Teleri’s response, started taking their ships by force, and a bitter fight ensued that came to be known as the First Kinslaying and during which many of the Teleri were killed.  Having won the day, the Ñoldor then seized the Teleri’s ships and embarked towards the north, following the route on which Morgoth had escaped (and eschewing a direct crossing to Middle-earth).  Even the Doom of Mandos, delivered to them a short while later by Manwë’s herald Ëonwë, banning them from returning to Valinor and foretelling further strife and great grief in their future, only made few of them reconsider and decide to stay in Aman after all.

As a result of the Kinslaying at Alqualondë, relations between the Ñoldor and the Teleri soured, and the embittered Teleri would later refuse to join the host of Valinor that embarked on the War of Wrath at the end of the First Age.  It would take a long time for the Teleri to forgive the Ñoldor and for the two Kindreds to reestablish peaceful relations. 

Moreover, because of this Kinslaying and the two Kinslayings that would follow towards the end of the First Age — both likewise initiated by the Fëanorians — the Valar decreed that the House of Fëanor had foregone all and every claim to the Silmarils in perpetuity.


Ted Nasmith: The First Dawn of the Sun

First Age

For purposes of the measurement of time, Year 1 of the First Age (“FA 1”) is traditionally counted as having begun with the first rising of the Moon and the Sun: solar years (which had the same length as our solar years) measured only roughly one tenth of the length of Valian years (or Years of the Trees), the unit by which time had been measured before.  (Further details and explanation here.)  However, the great conflict brought on by Morgoth’s theft of the Silmarils and his return to Middle-earth, which would form the background of the entire length of time until the War of Wrath and the end of the First Age, began almost the moment that Morgoth had reached Middle-earth, some two Valian years after the theft of the Silmarils, the Darkening of Valinor, and the Kinslaying at Alqualondë.  Thus, even though from this moment a time period equaling another 29 solar years would go by until the first rising of the Moon and the Sun, for reasons of context the first two major battles of this age-long war are counted as battles of the First Age of Middle-earth.


The Wars / Battles of Beleriand (The War of the Jewels)

Janka Latečková: Bloody Storm

From the moment that Morgoth had stolen the Silmarils and returned to Middle-earth with them, the entire history of the First Age of Middle-earth was dominated by one major conflict, fought out in numerous battles and individual acts of bravery: the war for the dominion of Middle-earth and possession of the Silmarils.  As virtually all of these battles were fought in Beleriand, in the First Age the westernmost part of Middle-earth, taken in their entirety they came to be known as the Battles (or Wars) of Beleriand.  The alternative name of the overarching conflict — War of the Jewels — indicates that this was a conflict inspired by a desire not merely for territorial possession but also for possession of the most precious items then in existence, the light-giving jewels created by Fëanor and now as jealously guarded by Morgoth as they had been guarded by their maker.

The First Battle

Valian Year 1497
(ca. 29 solar years before the first rising of the Moon and Sun)


The first one of the Battles of Beleriand was fought immediately after Morgoth’s return to Middle-earth, plunging the land that heretofore had known many ages of peace, and where friendly relations had been established between the Sindar (led by Thingol), the Falathrim (led by Círdan the Shipwright) and the Nandor of Ossiriand (led by Denethor, the son of their original leader Lenwë) on the one hand and the Dwarves of Belegost and Nogrod on the other hand, into a blood-soaked battlefield with sudden and relentless brutality.

Until Morgoth’s return, the Orcs that had remained behind after the Battle of the Powers, and had since been multiplying in Angband, had only roamed Beleriand occasionally and in small bands; making themselves a nuisance rather than a real danger.  Now Morgoth assembled them into an army, organized in two hosts that suddenly broke from the gates of Thangorodrim (the great fortress Morgoth had built to watch over Angband):

Karen Wynn Fonstad: The First Battle

A first host made its way towards the Falas, the area inhabited by Círdan’s Falathrim in the west of Beleriand, reaching down to the two great Havens of Brithombar and Eglarest on the coast.  The second host aimed for eastern Beleriand, the realm of the Sindar and the Nandor of Ossiriand.

Morgoth’s western host overran the Falas and wreaked havoc wherever it appeared.  Unable to counter the attack of Morgoth’s Orcs in open battle, the Falathrim withdrew into their Havens, where however they found themselves under a prolongued siege, until Morgoth at last withdrew his western host from the Falas when the second Battle of Beleriand began and he needed his troops there. 

The eastern host was attacked on its eastern flank by the Nandor and on its western flank by the Sindar, but made short shrift of the much-lighter-armed Nandor and killed many of them, including their leader Denethor, on Amon Ereb (“Lonely Hill”), a broad, shallow-sided hill dominating the southern plains of East Beleriand.  Eventually, further help arrived from the Dwarves of the Blue Mountains — from a settlement under Mount Dolmed –, and with their support Thingol’s Sindar were finally able to rout Morgoth’s eastern host.  However, as a result of this conflict the Sindar and their Telerin kin of Ossiriand resolved never again to participate in wars: Thingol withdrew his Sindar into the woodlands of Region and Neldoreth, which together formed the main part of his realm and surrounded its Dwarf-built underground capital of Menegroth (“The Thousand Caves”); and Melian henceforth guarded the area with a protective spell hiding it from all outsiders (known as the Girdle of Melian; for this, Thingol’s realm was henceforth known as Doriath, the “Guarded Realm”).  Many of the surviving Nandor joined the Sindar in Doriath; others took up a secretive existence, camouflaging themselves in green, and thus came to be known as Laiquendi or Green-elves.

As a result of the Falathrim’s and the Sindar’s withdrawal into their fortified cities and realms of Brithombar, Eglarest, and Doriath (and the remaining Green-elves’ withdrawal into a secretive, camouflaged woodland life), the Orcs were free to roam Beleriand unhindered until the Ñoldor’s return to Middle-earth.

Dagor-Nuin-Giliath (Battle Beneath the Stars)

Valian Year 1497,
just prior to the rising of the Moon and the Sun

CK Goksoy: Gothmog confronts Fëanor at the feet of Thangorodrim during the Battle-Under-Stars

The first group of the Ñoldor that made it back to Middle-earth was the one led by Fëanor: Mistrustful of his half-brother Fingolfin, Finwë’s eldest son, together with his own sons and his closest confederates, had secretly departed with the ships forcibly taken from the Teleri at Alqualondë when the Ñoldor, in pursuit of Morgoth, had reached the north of Aman.  They had thus bypassed the fearsome polar desert of Helcaraxë connecting Middle-earth and Aman during the First Age, and had made their way to a shoreland region named Lammoth (“Great Echo”) in the far northwest of Beleriand, north of Drengist and west of the Ered Lómin (“Echoing Mountains”) walling off Hithlum on its western edge.  There, they burned the ships at the mouth of the Firth of Drengist, then followed the coastline of the firth into Hithlum, finally to make camp on the northern shore of Hithlum.

Karen Wynn Fonstad: The Second Battle (Battle Beneath the Stars)

Morgoth, who had observed the burning of the ships from his stronghold of Thangarodrim, sent his Orcs to attack Fëanor’s Ñoldor before they had even finished setting up their camp.  His strategy failed, however, because the Ñoldor were able to defeat the Orcs even though those outnumbered them, and the Elves then even went in pursuit of the retreating Orcs and followed them into the wide plain north of the highlands of Dorthonion and south of Angband (then still known as Ard-galen, “green region”; after its destruction in the fourth Battle of Beleriand as Anfauglith, “gasping dust”).

So Morgoth summoned the forces who had been besieging Brithombar and Eglarest ever since the first Battle of Beleriand and ordered them northward in support of the troops pursued by the Ñoldor; however, those in turn were ambushed by a force led by Fëanor’s son Celegorm near the source of the river Sirion and pushed into the Fen of Serech, the marshland at the confluence of the Sirion and its tributary, the Rivil, at the northeastern end of the Pass of Sirion between Dorthonion and the Ered Wethrin (the Mountains of Shadow at the eastern edge of Hithlum).  After a ten-day battle, all but a few Orcs were left standing; and even these were ruthlessly pursued by Fëanor.

But when pursued and pursuers had reached the limits of Morgoth’s realm of Dor Daedeloth (“Land of the Shadow of Horror” or “Land of Great Dread”) the Balrogs came to the aid of the Orcs, and Fëanor was killed in a duel with their leader Gothmog.  His smoldering spirit burned his body into ashes when passing out of it.

Subsequently, in feigned negotiations for a truce, Fëanor’s eldest son and heir Maedhros was captured and his company of Ñoldor were killed by Morgoth’s Orcs.  Morgoth chained Maedhros to the outer walls of Thangorodrim, from where he was later saved by his cousin Fingon and by Thorondor, King of the Eagles, after the rest of the Ñoldor (led by Fingolfin) had made their way across the treacherous Helcaraxë and had reached Middle-earth in turn.  Fingon was unable to free Maedhros’s right hand from its chains, however, so he had no alternative but to cut it off to rescue his cousin.

Meanwhile, Maedhros’s brothers — bound by their oath to recapture the Silmarils — had withdrawn once more into Hithlum to build a fortified camp, and had rejected Morgoth’s demand to leave Beleriand.  On Lake Mithrim they met Fingolfin and the Ñoldor who had crossed into Middle-earth under his leadership, and who had reached Lammoth just at the moment when the Moon had risen for the very first time.  They, too, had had to fend off an Orc attack when they had barely reached Middle-earth, during which Fingolfin’s youngest son Argon had been killed while cutting a direct line to the Orc captain and thus turning the tide of a battle that had already seemed almost lost.  Once the battle was won after all, Fingolfin’s host had reached Hithlum with the first rising of the Sun; and after having initially contemplated a march on Angband, Fingolfin thought better of it and he, too, decided to settle on Lake Mithrim.

In view of the uneasy feelings and hostilities that had existed between the Ñoldor led by Fëanor’s sons and those led by Fingolfin ever since Fëanor’s company had departed with the Teleri’s ships and had left their kinsmen to make their way into Middle-earth via the Helcaraxë, the Fëanorians decided to withdraw to the southern shores of Lake Mithrim, whereas Fingolfin and his followers settled on the northern shores.  However, Fingon’s rescue of Maedhros contributed greatly to both companies’ reconciliation, and Maedhros eventually resigned his claim to the kingship to Fingolfin, who thus became High-king of the Ñoldor in Middle-earth.  The House of Fëanor, by contrast, became known as the Dispossessed.

Elena Kukanova: Ard-galen (Aegnor and Angrod)
Dagor Aglareb (Glorious Battle)

FA 60

The Ñoldor spent the first sixty years after their return to Middle-earth making a home for themselves there; founding and fortifying their realms and communities, establishing relations with the Sindar, and casting roots.  Morgoth’s spies mistook this for a focus on homely affairs and domestic relations, and he made the fatal miscalculation that they were unprepared for war and easily overcome:

Karen Wynn Fonstad: The Third Battle (Glorious Battle)

Morgoth’s Orcs had barely crossed Ard-galen and reached the foothills of Dorthonion that they found themselves stuck right in the middle of two Elven armies counterattacking from the west (Fingolfin’s host) and from the east (Maedhros’s host).  Unable to withstand the pressure thus unexpectedly brought upon them, the survivors of the rout fled back to Angband, but were annihilated when they were already in sight of Thangorodrim. 

A similar fate was visited upon the smaller bands of Orcs that had broken off the main army and crossed into Beleriand on other ways, chiefly through the Pass of Sirion in the west (which they had alreay used in the second Battle of Beleriand, sixty years earlier), or in the east through an opening now known as Maglor’s Gap, as it was here that Fëanor’s second eldest son had chosen to settle; in the widest break in the northern mountains of Beleriand, an area consisting of scrublands, thickets and forests between the hill country of Himring east of Dorthonion on the one side and an extension of the Blue Mountains just north of Mount Rerir on the other side. — All Orcs that had crossed from Angband into Beleriand, regardless how and where, were now routed by the Ñoldor; and as a response to their breaking through Maglor’s Gap, the elevations to its west and east, Himring and the the Blue Mountains near Mount Rerir, were fortified by Maedhros and his and Maglor’s brother Caranthir, respectively.  This was part of the long watch that came to be known as the Siege of Angband — the Ñoldor’s answer to Morgoth’s repeated attempts to wage war on them and drive them out of Middle-earth:

The Siege of Angband

FA 60 – 455

John Howe: The Siege of Angband

If, during the 400-year period constituting most of the rest of the First Age, there was no further open warfare with Morgoth, that is by no means to say that “absence of war” equaled “unpreparedness for war”: rather, Morgoth had understood that with his Orcs alone, and even with the assistance of Balrogs, he would be unable to defeat the Elves; so he withdrew into Angband to work out new schemes and create new, heretofore unimaginably evil monsters.  The Ñoldor, meanwhile, kept a close watch on Angband, knowing that this was all that they in turn would be able to do, since they lacked the striking power necessary to overthrow Angband in a direct attack, and the Iron Mountains made it impossible for them to surround Morgoth’s stronghold and assault it from all sides simultaneously.

The watch on Angband was distributed between the Houses of the Ñoldor in such a way that the Houses of Fingolfin and those of the sons of his younger brother Finarfin (who himself, unlike his children, had stayed in Valinor) essentially guarded the western and central highlands and passes into Beleriand, while the sons of Fëanor kept watch over the lands towards the east:

The Realms of the Ñoldor and the Sindar during the Siege of Angband (map by Sirielle)

  • Fingolfin and his elder son Fingon guarded the pass into Hithlum from their mountain fortress Barad Eithel (“Tower of the Well”) at Eithel Sirion, the source of the river Sirion in the eastern foothills of the Ered Wethrin (the Mountains of Shadow at the eastern edge of Hithlum).
  • Finrod (the eldest son of Finarfin) and his nephew Orodreth — son of Finrod’s brother Angrod — guarded the pass of Sirion from the new island fortress of Minas Tirith (“Tower of the Guard”), built after the Dagor Aglareb for just this purpose on the island of on the island of Tol Sirion (“Isle in the Great River”), which lay on the upper reaches of the river Sirion in the middle of the Pass of Sirion, between the Ered Wethrin and Dorthonion.  The actual Warden of the fortress was Orodreth; Finrod himself mostly stayed in the Dwarf-built underground city of Nargothrond, founded roughly a decade before the Dagor Aglareb.
  • Finrod’s brothers Angrod and Aegnor controlled the northern slopes of Dorthonion all the way eastwards to the Pass of Aglon between Dorthonion and the hill country of Himring further to the east.
  • Fëanor’s third anf fifth sons, Celegorm and Curufin, held the Pass of Aglon, as well as Himlad, the plain just south of that Pass, between the rivers Aros and Celon.  (Thingol’s hidden realm of Doriath bordered on Himlad to the southwest, on the other side of the river Aros.)
  • Maedhros had fortified Himring and guarded the Marches to its north — and south of the wide and empty plain of Lothlann, to the east of Ard-galen –, now known as the March of Maedhros, as well as the plains between the rivers Celon and Gelion (the principal river of East Beleriand, which formed the border of Beleriand and Ossiriand).
  • Maedhros’s brother Maglor guarded the gap named for him, and the northern hills of the river Gelion.
  • Lastly, Fëanor’s fourth son Caranthir settled on the shores of Lake Helevorn at the foot of Mount Rerir, from where he ruled Thargelion, a flat wooded region between the river Gelion and the Blue Mountains north of the river Ascar, which separated it from Ossiriand.  Thargelion was subsequently named Dor Caranthir (“Caranthir’s Land”) for his sake.

Meanwhile, some ten years before the Dagor Aglareb, Ulmo had first guided Fingolfin’s second son Turgon from Vinyamar in Nevrast (where he had originally settled) to the hidden valley of Tumladen, surrounded by the Echoriad (“Encircling Mountains”) southwest of Dorthonion and east of the river Sirion.  Here, Turgon now had his people travel in secret  during the first decades of the Siege of Angband and build the hidden city of Gondolin.

At about the same time as Turgon had discovered Tumladen — and unbeknownst to both of them, inspired by the same dream experience brought on by Ulmo — his cousin Finrod had also begun a search for a site where to found a city protected from further attacks by Morgoth and his Orcs; and with the assistance of Thingol, king of Doriath, he found his own place in the Caverns of Narog on the western bank of the river Narog, beneath the forested hills of Taur-en-Faroth, where — again following Thingol’s example — he created the underground city of Nargothrond, which earned him the epithet Felagund (“Maker of Caves”).

Fëanor’s youngest sons, the twins Amrod and Amras, meanwhile, settled in the plains of Estolad, east of the River Celon and south of the forest of Nan Elmoth, where they would later welcome the first Edain (Men) arriving in Beleriand.  They did not greatly participate in the Siege of Angband, but would stand by their brothers and shelter them if needed.

Glaurung’s First Attack and the Long Peace

FA 260

Jenny Dolfen: “Then Fingon rode against him …”

While the Ñoldor were keeping watch on Angband and Beleriand greatly prospered in the relative quiet (bar the occasional easily-suppressed Orc attack) ensured by their siege on Morgoth’s stronghold, their enemy of old had been busy inside his mountain fortress.  Two hundred years after the Dagor Aglareb, a new monster created by Morgoth suddenly broke from the gates of Angband and managed to drive many of the the Ñoldor away from Ard-galen: Glaurung, the first of several fire-dragons (“Urulóki”) that would come to terrify Middle-earth over the course of the first Three Ages of its history, and from whose fiery breath many fled, terrified even in this, his very first outing.

Yet, it turned out that Glaurung’s first venture had been premature, as his scales were not yet hardened enough to withstand any injury: When Fingon led a company of archers on horseback against him, he had to retreat into Angband, in turn, in order to save himself from the Ñoldor’s arrows.

After Glaurung’s flight back into the safety of Angband, a period known as the Long Peace began; it was now, too, that the Three Houses of the Edain established themselves in Beleriand:

The Men of the First House (the House of Bëor) quickly established friendly relations with Finrod, who advised them to settle in the plains of Estolad, the land ruled by Fëanor’s youngest sons Amrod and Amras.  The Second House (the Haladin) first moved to Thargelion.  However, there was an Orc attack in FA 375, which they had to fend off alone, at considerable cost to their and their leaders’ lives, from their stockade between the rivers Gelion and Ascar south of Sarn Athrad (the stony ford of the river Gelion across which the Dwarf-road from the Blue Mountains entered East Beleriand), until Caranthir arrived at last with reinforcements and drove the Orcs away.  After this experience, they decided not to accept Caranthir’s offer of hospitality and not to stay in Thargelion.  Instead they, too, initially moved on to Estolad, until with the consent of Thingol (to whose realm the forest belonged) they finally settled in the Forest of Brethil between the rivers Taeglin and Sirion.  The Third House (later known as the House of Harad), finally, at first also moved into Estolad, but later became close allies with the House of Fingolfin in Hithlum; therefore they moved to the southern slopes of the Ered Wethrin (Mountains of Shadow), where they were granted permanent fief of Dor-lómin in FA 416.  Yet it was not the Third but the First House that first fought alongside the Ñoldor when, in FA 402, they assisted Maedhros and Maglor in throwing back a horde of Orcs that had broken through the Pass of Aglon, for which assistance they reeived the highland region of Ladros to the northeast of Dorthonion as a fiefdom.

Dagor Bragollach (Battle of the Sudden Flame)

FA 455 – 456

Alan Lee: Battle of the Sudden Flame

One of the reasons why the Ñoldor had contented themselves with the centuries-long Siege of Angband instead of trying to attack and overcome Morgoth had been the realization that, of their own and without being able to launch an assault on Angband from all sides — protected as it was by Thangorodrim and the Iron Mountains — any such attempt was doomed to failure.  Absent Morgoth’s defeat and destruction, however, the danger that he would launch a new attack of his own was ever-present (all the more now that the existence of Glaurung was known, and it was only a matter of time until his scales would be hard enough to make him invulnerable for all practical purposes); and the arrival of the Edain, in particular, and their alliance with the Houses of the Ñoldor, had changed the landscape and relationships within Beleriand in almost as significant a way as had the return of the Ñoldor themselves over fourhundred years earlier. 

So Fingolfin, in FA 422, suggested that they should take the initative, launch an attack on Angband, and try to take Morgoth out once and for all.  His nephews, Finrod’s brothers Angrod and Aegnor, whose realm on the northern slopes of Dorthonion directly faced Angband across the plain of Ard-galen, agreed with the King.  However, most of the other Ñoldor — significantly, all of the sons of Fëanor — were reluctant to face up to the cost in lives, limb, land, and currency that such an attack would have involved, and Fingolfin and his nephews were outvoted.  This delay in taking action would turn out a catastrophic strategical error.

Karen Wynn Fonstad: The Fourth Battle (Battle of the Sudden Flame)

As the appearance of Glaurung in FA 260 had shown, Morgoth had long begun to experiment with fire deep down in the depths of Angband; and of course, he had always had Gothmog and his Balrogs, serving him since time immemorial.  In the winter of FA 455, he was ready to put fire to use in a new and unprecedented way:

One night, whole rivers of flame suddenly erupted from the gates of Thangorodrim, consuming all of Ard-galen, killing every living creature that didn’t somehow, improbably, manage to save itself, and perpetually turning the plain into a wasteland that came to be known as Anfauglith (“gasping dust”).  Worse yet, the fire and smoke also confused and hindered the Ñoldor’s and their Edain allies’ hastily-assembled attempts at anything even resembling a first line of defense.

After the shock tactics of his initial assault had turned out entirely to his satisfaction, Morgoth unleashed his armies of Orcs, led by Glaurung and the Balrogs, who overran and slaughtered everyone in sight; heading straight for the highlands of Dorthonion, where Angrod and Aegnor, and many Elves of their houses, paid with their lives for having occupied the exposed position frontally facing Angband across the plains that would never again deserve the name of Ard-galen (“green region”).  The same fate was also visited on the leader of the House of Bëor, Bregolas, and many Men of his house.

Finrod rode out from Nargothrond as soon as the news of Morgoth’s attack had reached him, but his company was too small to make an impact, and he found himself surrounded by enemies at the Fen of Serech, the marshland at the confluence of the Sirion and the Rivil at the northeastern end of the Pass of Sirion.  Had it not been for the bravery of Bregolas’s brother Barahir and the Bëorians led by him, who cut across from the Pass of Sirion and covered Finrod’s retreat back towards Nargothrond, Finrod would doubtless have been captured or killed; and he was the first to acknowledge as much: in gratitude for his last-minute rescue he gave his ring to Barahir, promising him and his descendants assistance whenever they were to seek it, presenting his ring.  Known as the Ring of Barahir, his gift would come to be an heirloom passed down the generations all the way to Aragorn, two Ages and several millennia later; and Finrod would pay with his own life for his generous act of gratitutde only a few decades after making the gift — a very short time in the life span of an Elf — when Barahir’s son Beren would present the ring, requesting Finrod’s assistance in his own quest for a Silmaril.

Meanwhile, Fingolfin and Fingon also came to Finrod’s assistance, arriving from the Ered Wethrin (Mountains of Shadow) on the border of Hithlum, but they and their Edain allies of the Third House were driven back; and a fierce battle ensued between Men and Orcs in the mountain fortresses. Hador, the leader of the Third House for whom that house would subsequently come to be named, was killed, as were his younger son and many of his men, while defending Fingolfin’s rear guard.  Eventually Fingolfin and Fingon succeeded in driving the Orcs away from their fortress of Barad Eithel and keep Hithlum free and safe for them moment, and many of those who had escaped from Dorthonion fled there. 

However, a few Bëorians remained in Dorthonion, determined to defend it with teeth and claw, and they incurred Morgoth’s wrath to such an extent that in his relentless pursuit of the defenders he turned Dorthonion into a wasteland of such terrifying magnitude that not even Orcs would go there of their own free will; and the erstwhile Land of Pine Trees (“Dortohion”) came to be known as Taur-nu-Fuin (“Forest under Nightshade”).  Its last defenders were Barahir and his twelve companions (including his son Beren), the last survivors of the House of Bëor, whose camp was finally betrayed by one of their own, and who were routed, one and all, by Orcs; save only for Beren, who had been absent during the Orc attack and returned to the camp too late, but who pursued the Orcs, killed their leader, and reclaimed his father Barahir’s hand with the Ring of Barahir on it.

The sons of Fëanor and the inhabitants of northeastern Beleriand suffered defeats and destruction every bit as bad as those of Dorthonion:  Morgoth’s armies overran the March of Maedhros, took the Pass of Aglon — from where Celegorm and Curufin, having suffered catastrophic losses, barely escaped with their own lives further to the south towards Doriath –, seized Lothlann and Maglor’s Gap and, after Glaurung had burned the lands between the arms of the river Gelion, the Orcs moved further south, took Caranthir’s fortress, devastated Thargelion, and sullied the waters of Lake Helevorn.  Caranthir and his youngest brothers, the twins Amrod and Amras, fled south to Amon Ereb, the broad, shallow-sided hill dominating the southern plains of East Beleriand where Denethor’s Nandor had made their desperate last stand during the First Battle of Beleriand roughly half a millennium earlier, and which Caranthir now fortified to guard his and his brothers’ escape.  Only the hillsite fortress on Himring, jointly defended with gritted determination by Maedhros and Maglor, eventually proved unassailable to Morgoth’s forces.

After a year of fighting and facing what he believed to be nothing short of the complete and irreversible ruin of the Ñoldor, Fingolfin, angry and desperate, rode up to the gates of Angband and challenged Morgoth to single combat.   During their fight, Morgoth again and again tried but failed to smash the King of the Ñoldor with his terrifying mace Grond; but Fingolfin sidestepped each of his blows and in turn, repeatedly wounded Morgoth with his sword.  Only when the Elven King finally tired out did Morgoth crush him with his foot and his shield, but even then, Fingolfin pierced the arch-enemy’s foot with his sword a final time, thus causing him to walk with a limp ever after.  The body of the King of the Ñoldor was rescued from Morgoth and carried away by Thorondor, King of the Eagles, and later buried on a mountain-top by Turgon.

The upshot of the fourth Battle of Beleriand, which for Morgoth’s opening salvo came to be known as Dagor Bragollach (Battle of the Sudden Flame), was not merely that the Siege of Angband was broken once and for all: the landscape of Beleriand had changed dramatically; Ard-galen and Dorthonion were the wastelands now known as Anfauglith and Taur-nu-Fuin, the lands further to the east in the shadow of the Blue Mountains were likewise devastated, and the sons of Fëanor were scattered — only Maedhros and Maglor were esconced (for the time being) in their fortress on Himring, but Caranthir, Amrod and Amras had been driven south to to Amon Ereb, and Celegorm and Curufin would eventually take refuge with Finrod in Nargothrond.  Meanwhile, the Orcs were free once more to roam all over Beleriand.  Only Hithlum and Dor-lómin, far to the northwest, remained as a refuge to those driven away elsewhere; and the hidden realms of Doriath, Gondolin and Nargothrond, as well as the Havens in the Falas, had remained untouched.  Many of the Sindar and Nandor who had not yet joined their kin in the protected realms now did so, or joined the Green-elves hiding in the woods of Ossiriand.

Yet, an even worse catastrophe was still to come:

Nírnaeth Arnoediad (Battle of Unnumbered Tears)

FA 472

Justin Gerard: Glaurung fighting with Dwarves

A decade after the cataclysmic Dagor Bragollach, Beren and Lúthien achieved the seemingly impossible: they penetrated into the heart of Angband and escaped with a Silmaril from Morgoth’s iron crown (even if they then had to hunt down his hellhound guardian Carcharoth and retrieve the jewel from his stomach, together with Beren’s hand still holding it).  On the sons of Fëanor, and none more so than Maedhros, the eldest, this had an electrifying effect: it showed — or seemed to show — that Morgoth, and Angband, was not unassailable; not even after the catastrophe that had been the Dagor Bragollach.  And it awakened the call of the oath that they had sworn, together with their father, over half a millennium earlier, and in pursuance of which the Ñoldor had returned to Middle-earth in the first place.

So in FA 468, Maedhros called upon all the peoples of Middle-earth to unite against their common enemy, Morgoth.  Gone were the days when, only half a century earlier, it had been the sons of Fëanor who had caused Fingolfin’s proposition to launch an attack on Angband to be voted down: now Fëanor’s eldest son himself would be the leader of an alliance that would even be named for him, the Union of Maedhros.

Yet, while many heeded Maedhros’s call, two leaders whose forces might well have made a difference turned him down immediately: Thingol had vowed never again to participate in warfare with Morgoth after the losses his Sindar had sustained in the First Battle, before the Ñoldor had even returned to Middle-earth; and he wasn’t going to reverse that policy now, particularly not in light of the outcome of the Dagor Bragollach — and even less so in favor of a union led by any son of Fëanor, after the Fëanorians had lost no time to demand the surrender of the Silmaril once Thingol had obtained it (with Celegorm and Curufin, in particular, vowing bloody vengeance when he had swiftly communicated his refusal), and after, moreover, Caranthir had already been substantially less than polite and incurred Thingol’s personal ill-will during their initial visit to Doriath towards the middle of the first century of the First Age. — Similarly, Finrod’s nephew (Angrod’s son) Orodreth, since Finrod’s death ruler of Nargothrond and head of the House of Finarfin, blamed Celegorm and Curufin for their treachery towards Beren and Lúthien, which in its direct consequence had brought about Finrod’s death, as he, almost alone of all the Ñoldor of Nargothrond, had held himself bound by the promise of assistance embodied in Barahir’s Ring, and had perished in Sauron’s dungeon on Tol-in-Gaurhoth (“Isle of Werewolves”), the erstwhile Tol Sirion, which Sauron had captured in the year after the end of the Dagor Bragollach, driving Orodreth himself south towards Nargothrond.

Fingon, though, since his own father Fingolfin’s death High-king of the Ñoldor, stood by his cousin Maedhos; and the Union of Maedhos was thus led by the two cousins in close cooperation.  Their plan was to form two armies that would attack Morgoth from opposite directions and thus outflank him: 

  • An eastern army commanded by Maedhros, consisting of the Ñoldor of the House of Fëanor then still in East Beleriand (chiefly the surviving Ñoldor loyal to Maedhros himself and his brothers Maglor and Caranthir), as well as the Dwarves of Belegost, led by their King Azaghâl, and two Houses of the Easterlings then newly arrived in Beleriand, led by their chieftains Bór and Ulfang; and
  • A western army commanded by Fingon, consisting of Fingon’s own Ñoldor (living in Hithlum), as well as the Edain of the Second and Third Houses (living in Brethil and Dor-lómin, and led by Haldir and the brothers Húrin and Huor, respectively), as well as the small contingents of Sindar and Ñoldor of Nargothrond who had decided to join the Union of Maedhros in defiance of their rulers’ will: the formidable hunters Beleg and Mablung from Doriath, a small number of Falathrim, and a modest host from Nargothrond led by Gwindor, the betrothed of Orodreth’s daughter Finduilas.

Unbeknownst even to the leaders of the Union, King Turgon of Gondolin had also decided to join the fight against Morgoth and was secretly making his own preparations to come out in support of the western army commanded by his brother Fingon.

The Union’s basic strategy provided that Maedhros would lead his forces into Anfauglith and provoke Morgoth into sending his hosts out in response, while the western army under Fingon would wait in the wings until a great beacon would be fired in Dorthonion, at which point Fingon would lead the western army against Morgoth’s flanks, thus trapping his troops between the Union’s two armies and crushing them from both sides.

Thus, the Union’s strategy rested on three crucial elements:

  • Timing: By deceiving Morgoth into believing he was only facing an attack by Maedhros’s forces, it was hoped that his own forces would already be diminished and tired out when Fingon’s army would be attacking from the west.
  • Control of the battlefield’s flanks: The Union’s strategy would only work if they were the ones outflanking Morgoth.  If he were to send hosts of his own to outflank even one of the Union’s army, he would be able to crush that army between two or more hosts of his own in exactly the same way they were planning to bring to bear against him.
  • Permeability of Angband itself: While the plan did not explicitly provide for the taking of Morgoth’s stronghold, foreseeably any such thing would only be achievable if and when Morgoth’s forces were spent on the battlefield, and thus Angband was left without a substantial number of defenders.

However, also unbeknownst to anyone within the alliance, Ulfang, the leader of one of the hosts of Easterlings who were supposed to be part of Maedhros’s eastern army, was in league with Morgoth and had betrayed the Union’s battle plans to him.  Thus, Morgoth was able to make preparations of his own; and when Maedhros began readying his troops for his initial sally into Anfauglith on Midsummer morning in FA 472, Morgoth was ready, too:

Karen Wynn Fonstad: The Fifth Battle (Battle of Unnumbered Tears)

Morgoth’s first ploy consisted in forcing a reversal of the order in which the Union’s two armies would initiate the battle with him: By various machinations, Ulfang delayed the departure of the eastern army by several days, while at the same time Morgoth sent troops in dun-colored camouflage westward, where Fingon’s army was kept in readiness on the eastern flanks of the Ered Wethrin, waiting for the beacon to be lit in Dorthonion.

The first thing that Fingon’s troops heard that morning was the sound of the arrival of Turgon’s ten thousand Gondolindrim, unexpected by friend and foe alike, as Turgon’s preparations had been made entirely in secret.  This made Fingon’s captains want to leave the mountains immediately and meet Morgoth’s force in open battle, but Húrin warned of the wiles of their enemy and counseled them to wait, all the more since they had begun to wonder why they were not yet seeing the long-expected signal beacon in Dorthonion or, for that matter, the glint of the armor of Maedhros’s troops in the plain.

When they finally became aware of Morgoth’s camouflaged Orcs, those were almost under their noses.  The Orcs’ captain had been ordered to draw Fingon’s army out into battle by any means, which he eventually achieved by producing a Ñoldorin captive, none other than Gwindor’s brother, and hacking off his limbs and his head in front of his shocked kindred.  The wrath of the duly provoked Ñoldor was great enough to make short shrift of the host that Morgoth had sent into the west, and blaze their way straight to the gates of Angband and right into Morgoth’s stronghold — at a time, however, when the fortress was still well-garrisoned with its own troops, who cut off the charging Ñoldor from their allies outside the gates of Angband and slaughtered almost all of the trapped Elves, of whom Gwindor alone was left alive and taken prisoner (which he would remain for the next fourteen years; to emerge at last, broken in body and spirit, just in time to come across Beleg, who at that time was looking for his friend Túrin, who had been captured by Orcs, and to later guide Túrin to Nargothrond).

Even if by far not all of Fingon’s army had entered Angband, Morgoth’s tactics had succeeded in drawing them into open battle in Anfauglith, where they now learned that the host that Morgoth had sent westwards to draw them out had only consisted of a small part of his battle-ready troops.  The main host now issued from Angband, and at the end of the fourth day of battle Fingon’s army was not only driven away far from the gates of Angband and back in the direction of the Ered Wethrin; they had also sustained enormous losses, including Haldir and most of the Men of Brethil.  At the end of the following day, what was left of Fingon’s army was surrounded by Orcs on all sides; and it was clear that Morgoth had achieved precisely what his enemies had been meaning to do to him: wear out and diminish one major contingent of the opposing forces before the next stage of the battle had even begun.

Yet, the surviving members of Fingon’s army kept on fighting through the night, and in the morning they were at last relieved by Turgon’s Gondolindrim, who broke through the Orcs’ ranks and brought much-needed support and encouragement to their beleaguered kindred and allies.  In the morning of that same day (the sixth day of battle), too, Maedhros’s army finally arrived on the battlefield.  Since they, too, were relatively rested (but for the exertions of the march to Anfauglith), what with the unexpected Gondolindrim reinforcements, it would now still have been possible to put into place the Union’s basic strategy — to crush Morgoth’s forces between them –, even though he had in turn now let loose his last host and emptied Angband of every foul creature it held, from wargs and their riders to Balrogs and dragons, led by Glaurung.

However, now the final part of Morgoth’s plan was put into action, and once more it involved the treachery of Ulfang and his Easterlings, as these now openly broke ranks with Maedhros’s forces, went over to Morgoth, and attacked Maedhros from behind and, amplified by hidden reinforcements emerging from the eastern hill country, eventually surrounded his forces on three sides.  While the leaders of the conspiracy, Ulfang’s three sons, were killed by Maglor and by the leader of the faithful Easterlings, Bór, Maedhros’s troops were scattered, and he and his brothers escaped by the skin of their teeth towards Mount Dolmed in the Blue Mountains and, from there, later to Ossiriand.  Their rearguard was defended against Glaurung by the Dwarves of Belegost, who alone were able to withstand the dragon’s fires, and who surrounded him and hacked away at his scales with their axes until he killed their King, Azaghâl; who in turn, however, still injured Glauring’s belly with his knife badly enough to make the fire-dragon  withdraw from the battlefield in pain, followed by the other dragons.

Meanwhile, in the western battle Fingon and Turgon’s forces were outnumbered by a three-to-one ratio, and having been separated from his brother and from Húrin, Fingon at last fell in a duel with Gothmog, leader of the Balrogs, after another Balrog had caught him with his fire-whip.  At Húrin’s and Huor’s urging, Turgon then withdrew back towards Gondolin, while the two leaders of the House of Hador and their remaining Edain made their last stand at the Rivil, near the Fen of Serech, until all but one of them had been killed (Huor by a poisoned arrow that had pierced his eye); and Húrin, the last survivor, had been taken prisoner and brought before Morgoth, after having killed no less than seventy enemies.

For its catastrophic outcome, the fifth Battle of Beleriand came to be known as Nírnaeth Arnoediad (Battle of Unnumbered Tears), echoing the Doom of Mandos, which had foretold that the Ñoldor would be shedding “unnumbered tears” if they persisted in following Morgoth back to Middle-earth and trying to regain the Silmarils.

And in fact, almost all of Morgoth’s aims had now been achieved: He had near-total control of Beleriand; his Orcs could roam freely virtually everywhere; Hithlum became Morgoth’s gift to the Easterlings who had betrayed the Union of Maedhros, and who now swiftly set about enslaving and subduing the remaining population of their new fiefdom; Men had fought against Men; the Elves no longer trusted Men (except for the few remaining Edain); and the sons of Fëanor, bereft of their realms and their former glory, had been scattered and become homeless wanderers in Ossiriand.

Only the Havens of the Falas and the hidden realms of Nargothrond, Doriath, and Gondolin remained — and as it would turn out, their days were numbered as well.

Fall of the Havens and Secret Realms
Sack of the Falas

FA 473

Ted Nasmith: The End of the Age

The Havens of the Falas (source)

Círdan and the Falathrim had established the two great walled cities of Eglarest and Brithombar on the coast of West Beleriand in the days of the Great Journey, after having decided to remain in Middle-earth and not to go on to Valinor.  Known as the Havens of the Falas, the cities had been besieged during and after the First Battle of Beleriand, but had seen no more major warfare after Morgoth had withdrawn his Orcs at the onset of the second Battle of Beleriand, shortly after the Ñoldor’s return to Middle-earth.  Círdan had formed an alliance with Finrod Felagund, whose realm bordered on the Falas; with his assistance, the Havens’ walls had been fortified, and Finrod had also built the watchtower of Barad Nimras (“Tower of the White Horn”) on a headland west of Eglarest as an early-warning system against any attacks Morgoth might ever be launching from the sea. 

After the Nírnaeth Arnoediad (Battle of Unnumbered Tears), the Havens of the Falas received many refugees from other parts of Beleriand, and they sent out ships to discourage any enemies that might be tempted to approach the Falas from the sea.  However, unlike in the first Battle of Beleriand, the Havens’ walls now no longer were a match for the huge force that Morgoth sent their way in the autumn of FA 473, laying a trail of destruction on their way through Hithlum and Nevrast, besetting Brithombar and Eglarest with their monstrous siege engines, and tearing down Barad Nimras.  In the battle for the Havens many Falathrim lost their lives, and Círdan only escaped with a small number of his people; including, however, the Ñoldorin prince Ereinion Gil-galad, the son of Orodreth, who after Finrod’s death had become the ruler of Nargothrond, and who had sent his wife and son to be sheltered by Círdan at the Havens after he himself had been driven out of the watchtower of Minas Tirith in the Pass of Sirion by Sauron in  FA 457, in the aftermath of the fourth Battle of Beleriand (the Dagor Bragollach).

Círdan and the remnant of his Falathrim settled at the Mouths of Sirion and on the Isle of Balar, where they founded new Havens and continued to take in refugees from the battles and conflicts that were yet to come.


FA 495

Jonathan Guzi: Nargothrond

Gwindor, the Ñoldorin lord from Nargothrond who during the Nírnaeth Arnoediad had led the charge into Angband and had alone survived it and been taken prisoner, succeeded in escaping from captivity after fourteen years.  Wandering in the wilds of Taur-nu-Fuin (the former Dorthonion), he came across Beleg Strongbow, the formidable hunter from Doriath, who was chasing after a band of Orcs that had captured his friend Túrin, son of the Edain leader Húrin (himself also taken before Morgoth as a prisoner after an impossibly brave stand during the Nírnaeth Arnoediad).  When Gwindor and Beleg caught up with the Orcs and freed Túrin, the confused Edain killed Beleg with his own sword, whereupon Gwindor took him back home to Nargothrond, where they arrived in FA 490.

Once Túrin had recovered his wits, he quickly gained the favor of Nargothrond’s ruler Orodreth; not least because, wielding his famed black sword Gurthang, he was keeping the area free of Orcs, particularly so, Talath Dirnen (the Guarded Plain), the forested but empty land between the rivers Narog and Teiglin in Beleriand, where Túrin and Beleg had already done much the same thing before Túrin’s capture, thus earning it the name of Dor-Cúarthol (“The Helm and The Bow”), for Beleg’s famous bow and Túrin equally famous dragon helm.  For his bravery, Túrin himself now became known in Nargothrond as Mormegil (“black sword”). — At Túrin’s urging, the Elves of Nargothrond also built a great bridge over the river Narog, on the banks of which was the entrance to the hidden city, in order to allow for faster passage.

Battle of Tumhalad

Ted Nasmith: Túrin bears Gwindor to Safety

The locations of Nargothrond and Tumhalad (source)

Five years after Túrin’s arrival in Nargothrond, the Vala Ulmo sent messengers there warning that Orcs were gathering en masse near Tol-in-Gaurhoth (“isle of werewolves”, the former Tol Sirion, where Sauron had captured Finrod’s and Orodreth’s watchtower Minas Tirith almost forty years earlier).  Túrin, now Captain of Nargothrond, rejected Ulmo’s advice to close all access to the city and destroy the recently-built bridge, and kept on fighting the Orcs as he had done in the past.

When, however, news came that Morgoth’s Orcs had defeated the Haladin of Brethil — who as a result had withdrawn further into the forest — and thus there was now a clear, unhindered path from the north to Nargothrond across Talath Dirnen, it soon became clear that something more would have to be done, as now the city itself was in danger.

In the autumn of the same year, Morgoth sent his Orcs south with the dragon Glaurung at their head.  As Glaurung burned Talath Dirnen, there was nothing secret about their arrival as such — it could be seen from far away.  On Túrin’s advice, Nargothrond sent a host of fighters to meet the Orcs in open battle, jointly led by Orodreth, Gwindor and Túrin.  However, Morgoth’s host was still larger than had been anticipated; and more importantly, none of the Elves could withstand Glaurung’s fires — only Túrin, wearing his dragon helm, was protected from them.  So the defenders of Nargothrond were pushed into the field of Tumhalad between the Narog and its tributary, the river Ginglith, where they were roundly defeated. 

When Gwindor was mortally wounded, Túrin lifted him onto his horse and rushed south towards Nargothrond with him, but Gwindor urged him to let him die alone and make his way towards Nargothrond unencumbered, as fast as he could, in order to protect the city and save Orodreth’s daughter Finduilas, whom both of them loved (though Gwindor knew that he had lost her heart to Túrin and that, altered as he was by his captivity in Angband, he would never have been able to win her back).  Giving in to Gwindor’s insistence, Túrin collected as many surviving Ñoldorin fighters as he could and hurried back to Nargothrond.

Sack of Nargothrond

Wouter Florusse: The Fall of Nargothrond

Back in Nargothrond, the bridge only recently built on Túrin’s advice now proved fatal, as it was impossible to destroy quickly enough to bar the access of Glaurung and Morgoth’s Orcs to the city, whose defenders were thus unable to stop the raiders from penetrating into Nargothrond’s innermost chambers, destroying and plundering everything in sight, capturing the city’s women so as to take them to Angband as slaves, and killing every Elf bearing arms.

When Túrin and the other survivors of the Battle of Tumhalad returned to Nargothrond, Glaurung lay across the bridge, greeting them derisively.  Seeing what had happened, the exhausted and demoralized Elves fled in horror (some to Doriath, others possibly to the Havens of Sirion), while Glaurung put a spell on Túrin that rendered him immobile, thus forcing him to watch helplessly how the women of Nargothrond, including Finduilas, were driven away as captives.  Only when it was too late for Túrin to do anything did Glaurung release him from his spell.

After Túrin had left in despair, Glaurung collected all of the city’s treasures in one place and lay down to sleep on them.  However, he had made an implacable enemy in Túrin — and even though he would drive Túrin into even more cataclysmic wrongs than those he had committed already, as a result of the curse laid upon his House by Morgoth, eventually that enmity would prove fatal to Glaurung himself.


Donato Giancola: Beren and Luthien in the Court of Thingol

Of the three hidden Elven cities, Menegroth (“the Thousand Caves”), the capital of Thingol’s realm of Doriath, had existed by the far the longest: At Melian’s insistence, Thingol had had it carved in a rocky hillside on the banks of the river Esgalduin by the Dwarves of Belegost in Valian Year 1300, at the beginning of the third age of Mellor’s captivity in the Halls of Mandos.  The city, and Thingol’s realm of Doriath as a whole, had needed no further protection before Morgoth’s return to Middle-earth, but after the shock of the First Battle of Beleriand, Melian had surrounded Doriath with her girdle-like protective spell, and Thingol had chosen not to participate in any of the Ñoldor’s wars with Morgoth, nor to even entertain close relations with them.  The sole exception was the House of Finarfin — and hence, Nargothrond –, as during their first visit to Menegroth after their own return to Middle-earth, Finarfin’s daughter (Finrod’s sister) Galadriel had fallen in love with and married Thingol’s grand-nephew (or according to some versions, nephew) Celeborn. 

This policy ensured long centuries of peace to the Sindar of Doriath; and it also made Doriath (like the almost equally well-hidden Gondolin) a haven where, after the end of the Siege of Angband and once Morgoth had begun to gain dominion over Middle-earth late in the fifth century of the First Age, not only other Elves but also the surviving scions of the Houses of the Edain found refuge: Beren and Túrin in Menegroth, whereas Túrin’s father and uncle, Hurin and Huor, had spent part of their youth in Gondolin. 

Yet, Thingol’s opinion of Men had initially been low, and he had thrown out the challenge to Beren to bring him a Silmaril from Morgoth’s iron crown as the price for his consent to Beren’s marriage with Thingol’s daughter Lúthien as a deterrent, never expecting Beren (together with Lúthien) to actually rise to that challenge.  The fact that Beren and Lúthien did so dramatically altered Thingol’s opinion; but because of the fatal lure of the Silmarils, he himself and his realm of Doriath would end up paying an even greater price for having issued the challenge in the first place, as in its final consequence it would bring about not only his own death, but also ring in the end of his protected realm in several successive blows.

It is at this point, too, that the heretofore separate tales of Húrin (and his children) and of Beren and Lúthien begin to intersect.

Steamey: The Death of Thingol

Battle of the Thousand Caves

FA 502

Morgoth’s curse on Húrin’s House having run its course, he released the Edain warrior from his captivity on the peaks of Thangorodrim in time for a final meeting with his grief-stricken wife Morwen near the burial mound of their children Túrin and Nienor, only to see her die there as well.  In his solitary wanderings after his release, Húrin came to Nargothrond, devastated and at last left behind by Glaurung, where he retrieved the Nauglamír; even before its later remaking one of First-Age Middle-earth’s most renowned pieces of jewelry: a necklace made for Finrod Felagund by the Dwarves of the Blue Mountains from gems that he had brought from Valinor.  This Húrin now took to Doriath and gave it to Thingol in bitter, sarcastic thanks for the care the Elven-king had taken of his son Túrin.

After the Silmaril that Beren and Lúthien had retrieved from Morgoth’s iron crown had in turn made it to Doriath, Thingol commissioned the Dwarves of Nogrod with reworking the Nauglamír so as to include the Silmaril, but a dispute arose over the possession of and payment for the reworked necklace, which culminated with the Dwarves’ murder of Thingol.  Although most of the Dwarves were killed by his Elves in quick retribution, and the Nauglamír was (for the moment) taken from them, two Dwarves escaped and returned to Nogrod, where they raised their people’s anger against the Sindar by claiming that they had been betrayed by Thingol. 

A great host of Dwarves soon was seen crossing Beleriand into Doriath, which lay unprotected, as after Thingol’s death his grieving wido Melian had returned to Valinor, and thus the protective girdle she had woven around their kingdom was now gone.  Though the inhabitants of Menegroth valiantly defended the city and both sides sustained heavy losses, the battle that would come to be named for the city itself (Battle of the Thousand Caves) ended with the plunder of Thingol’s treasury and the taking of the Nauglamír by the Dwarves.

Steamey: The Death of Naugladur

Battle of Sarn Athrad

FA 503

Word of the killing of Thingol, the Battle of the Thousand Caves, and the theft of the Nauglamir reached Beren and Lúthien in their home on Tol Galen, a green island in the river Adurant (the southern most of the Gelion’s seven tributaries of Ossiriand), by way of a messenger before the Dwarves had ever made it back to Nogrod.

Together with his and Lúthien’s son Dior, Beren assembled a host of the Green-elves of Ossiriand, and with them rode north to the river Ascar (the northernmost of Ossiriand’s seven rivers), along which the Dwarf-road into the Blue Mountains ran up to the stony ford of Sarn Athrad at the river Gelion.  There, Beren and his company ambushed the Dwarves; and Beren killed their leader (in earlier versions of the tale, a Dwarf named Naugladur), took the Nauglamír from him, and brought it to Lúthien, while the rest of Thingol’s looted treasury was thrown into the river.  The few Dwarves that had escaped the ambush fled towards Nogrod; however, when they had reached Mount Dolmed they were killed by Ents.

Lùthien wore the Nauglamír for the rest of her (mortal) life; and after her and Beren’s deaths it was taken to their son Dior, who in the interim had settled in Menegroth and begun to rebuilt Thingol’s realm.

Second Kinslaying

FA 506 / 509

Jenny Dolfen: The Oath Has Been Awakened

The sons of Fëanor had suffered the loss of their realms, princely glory, homes, and almost everything bar their own lives as a result of the Nírnaeth Arnoediad, and not much had been heard from them after they had withdrawn into Ossiriand.  They were aware that the Nauglamír was now at Tol Galen — i.e., also in Ossiriand — and there being worn by Lúthien, but as long as she was alive, none would venture to try and take the Silmaril from her. 

This changed, however, and their dormant oath instantly awoke and reared its head, when word reached them that Beren and Lúthien were dead, and that the Silmaril was back in Menegroth with Beren and Lúthien’s son Dior.  From him, they demanded the surrender of their father’s jewel forthwith — without even receiving so much as an answer.  So with their remaining followers they launched a surprise attack in the middle of winter (either in FA 506 or 509) that came to be known as the Second Kinslaying, and which ended the deaths of Celegorm, Curufin and Caranthir, but also those of Dior and his wife Nimloth, and the disappearance without trace — and probably the death — of Dior’s sons Eluréd and Elurín, who had been taken into the forest and there abandoned by Celegorm’s servants.  (Maedhros later tried to find and rescue the boys, but to no avail.)

However, all that killing of Elf by Elf went for naught, because in the midst of the slaughter Dior’s daughter Elwing escaped with a small company of her father’s people towards the Mouths of Sirion, and she took the Nauglamír along with her.

John Howe: The Fall of Gondolin
Fall of Gondolin

FA 510

After the fall of Nargothrond and Menegroth, only one of the hidden cities remained: Turgon’s Gondolin.  And Morgoth redoubled his efforts to find it, as he knew that his dominion over Middle-earth would not be secure as long as even one Elven realm — particularly: one realm of the warrior-like Ñoldor — remained in existence.

In fact, much as Ulmo had done for Nargothrond, the Vala also had taken care, in FA 495, to send a messenger to Gondolin to warn Turgon to abandon his city and to take his people southward along Sirion towards the sea.  The messenger in this instance was Tuor, whose father Huor and uncle Húrin had spent several years in Gondolin in their youth, at the end of which time Turgon had only allowed them to leave after they had vowed never to disclose to anyone the city’s location. — Yet, Turgon loved his city too well to be prepared to abandon it, so he just strenghened its guard and closed it off completely from the outside, but he did stay put and dismissed Ulmo’s warning as conveyed by Tuor.

Still and notwithstanding Turgon’s additional measures, Morgoth almost struck lucky when Húrin, newly-released from Thangorodrim (and closely-watched by Morgoth with just this thought in mind), had approached the Echoriad (“Encircling Mountains”) in the middle of which, he knew, Gondolin was to be found.  Now, however, the entrance to the secret path leading up to Gondolin through the mountains from the gully of a dry river that had once fed into Sirion was blocked; and after all of Húrin’s calls to the Gondolindrim and his appeals to remember the services he had rendered to Turgon in the Nírnaeth Arnoediad had gone unresponded-to (though Turgon was in fact aware of Húrin’s presence, but dared not respond, correctly suspecting that Morgoth was on the alert), he had eventually left again, disappointed, despairing, and alone. — But his failed attempt had at the very least told Morgoth in what part of Beleriand to look for Gondolin: all he needed to know now was its exact location, and where and how best to access the city.

Visualization of the Fall of Gondolin, as described (only) in the
 1916 account contained in The Book of Lost Tales, Part 2

(graphics by Narfil Palùrfalas; source HERE):

First distribution of the Twelve Houses of Gondolin

The northern gate falls and Tuor confronts M[a]eglin

The north part is lost and Tuor goes to help

Western walls are broken and
the House of the Fountain comes in aid

Sequel not shown in graphics:
Eventually all defending Houses are driven back into the
Square of the King (central square), where they make
their final stand.  Ecthelion kills Gothmog.  Turgon advises
his people to flee, led by Tuor.  The Tower of the King is 
brought down; Turgon dies in its ruins.

This final bit of information at last came to Morgoth from Turgon’s foster son Maeglin, the son of Turgon’s sister Aredhel and the Dark Elf Eöl.  Though raised by Turgon with full princely honors, Maeglin’s jealousy was quickly aroused; and ever since the arrival of Huor’s son (Húrin’s nephew) Tuor, he had envied the Edain the great favor the latter had earned with both Turgon and his daughter Idril, whom Maeglin wanted to marry himself, even though they were first cousins.  So when Maeglin was captured, by chance, by Morgoth’s Orcs and pleaded to be brought before their lord, Morgoth quickly realized that he had found his way through the city’s guard: He promised Maeglin rule of the city under his (Morgoth’s) vassalage and possession of Idril in return for information about the city’s location and access ways (while having of course no intention to actually keep that promise); and having obtained the knowledge he had sought for such a long time, he let Maeglin go again.

Although Maeglin, after his return to Gondolin, had of course not breathed a word about his captivity and encounter with Morgoth, Idril knew him well enough to mistrust him, and the friendlier he appeared the more suspicious she was.  So she talked Tuor, who in the interim had become her husband, and with whom she had a son named Eärendil, into creating a new secret way out of the city. — A year passed, and nothing happened.  The Gondolindrim prepared their sun festival, the Gates of Summer, one of the festive highlights of the year.

However, instead of seeing the sun rise in the east, they saw the light of a huge fire rising above the walls of the Echoriad in the north, produced by Morgoth’s dragons and Balrogs: Maeglin had told Morgoth that the access route to Gondolin from the dry gully near the banks of the river Sirion was an exceedingly long and narrow, in parts impossibly steep mountain path leading through a hidden ravine named Orfalch Echor (“High Cleft of the Outer Circle”), which moreover was secured by no less than seven gates, all manned by armed guards, whereas the mountains to its north were considered enough of a bar in and of itself and were — even now — not as heavily-guarded and inaccessible as the secret path leading to the city’s main gate in the southwest. 

So it was from the north that Morgoth’s forces attacked.  They quickly and without much resistance crossed the Vale of Tumladen, at the heart of which Gondolin lay, and while they had trouble scaling the smooth walls of the Amon Gwareth (“Hill of Watching”), the elevation on which Gondolin had been built, they besieged the city with dragons, Balrogs, wolves, and Orcs, and eventually gained access from the north and, some time later, from the west.  Once they had entered the city, it quickly turned into an inferno of fire, blood, and corpses, in which almost all of its defenders died; including Turgon himself, when at last the Tower of the King was brought down, as well as the Warden of the Great Gate of Gondolin, Ecthelion of the Fountain, in a duel to their mutual death with Gothmog, the leader of the Balrogs.

Maeglin attempted to exploit the chaos of the battle in order to abduct and rape Idril and kill her and Tuor’s son Eärendil; however, Tuor arrived in time to stand by his wife and son.

When it was clear that the city was lost, Tuor, Idril, Eärendil, and a small band of Ñoldor faithful to them left the city, crossing Tumladen hidden by the fume and mists of the city’s meltdown and ruin, and made their way to the secret escape route devised by Idril, along a narrow and dangerous path, flanked by near-vertical walls on one side and a yawning, sheer drop into an abyss on the other side, that led through the Cirith Thoronath (“Eagles’ Cleft”) pass through the northern part of the Echoriad: Idril’s calculation had been that the part of the Echoriad most directly facing in the direction of Angband would be the least-watched and therefore, despite its natural dangers, still the least risky.  In this assumption she would turn out correct insofar as the lower egress of the path through the Orfalch Echor was guarded and anyone trying to flee that way was mercilessly slaughtered.  But Tuor, Idril and their company suddenly found their way blocked as well; by a host of Orcs led by a Balrog, no less.  From this monster they were saved by Glorfindel, lord of one of Gondolin’s noble Houses and captain of the city, who took on the Balrog alone on a precipice, from which at last they both fell to their death.  Then the Great Eagles came to the refugees’ aid, attacked the Orcs and drove them away or into the abysss.  The escapees eventually made it down from the mountains into the Vale of Sirion, where the path along Cirith Thoronath ended.  Meanwhile, the Eagles bore Glorfindel’s body up from the abyss, and he was buried in a mound near the path (and later granted reincarnation by the Valar, to fulfill a mission similar to that of the Istari).

Following the course of the river Sirion, the survivors of the Fall of Gondolin found their way to the Havens of Sirion, where Eärendil would later meet Beren and Lúthien’s granddaughter Elwing.  However, Morgoth’s aim had been achieved: there was no Ñoldorin realm left in Middle-earth — and as it would soon turn out, the four remaining sons of Fëanor, in their blindly relentless quest to fulfill their father’s oath, would come very near to doing him the favor of exterminating the surviving Sindar, Falathrim, and Edain still remaining in Middle-earth (as well as almost bringing about the end of their own house in the process), almost without any need for Morgoth to take a direct hand in the events himself.

Third Kinslaying

FA 538

Catherine Karina Chmiel: “And Maglor took pity upon them …”

The Havens of Sirion (source)

Bay of Balar (source)

The delta of the river Sirion (also known as the Mouths of Sirion) was a marshy region with a forest of reeds in the northeastern corner of the Bay of Balar.  It was here, and to the Isle of Balar off the shores of Beleriand to the southwest of the Mouths of Sirion, that Círdan the Shipwright, his charge, the Ñoldorin prince Gil-galad — Orodreth’s son and after Turgon’s death, heir to the kingship of the  Ñoldor –, and the other refugees of the Sack of the Falas in FA 473 had fled.  Over time, refugees of other battles and massacres, such as the defeat of the Haladin of Brethil, the Second Kingslaying in Doriath, and of course the Fall of Gondolin, joined the community in these new Havens.

Among these refugees was Beren and Lúthien’s granddaughter Elwing, who had fled from Doriath after her parents had died in the Second Kinslaying instigated by the sons of Fëanor, which in turn had brought about the final ruin of her great-grandfather Thingol’s realm of Doriath within a few short years after Thingol himself had been killed for the possession of the one Silmaril taken from Morgoth’s crown by her grandparents, and after Thingol’s grieving widow, Elwing’s great-grandmother Melian, had subsequently returned to Valinor.

The years passed and grew into decades.  Middle-earth outside the Havens had grown inhospitable, what with Morgoth now holding near-total sway, but within the Havens people knew a modicum of peace.  Elwing met and married Eärendil, the son of Idril and Tuor, who had taken after his father as far as his love of the sea was concerned, had been tutored by Círdan, and had become a mariner.  Elwing and Eärendil had twin sons, Elrond and Elros.

But Elwing had also brought the Silmaril to the Havens of Sirion with her.

When Maedhros heard of this, he was initially reluctant to take action — both he and his brother Maglor, Fëanor’s second-oldest son, were growing weary of their oath.  But eventually they decided that there was nothing for it; an oath was an oath, and it had to be fulfilled.  So the sons of Fëanor once more demanded the surrender of the Silmaril.  Their demand was unanimously refused, by the people of the Havens as well as by Elwing herself. 

In FA 538, after the Havens of Sirion had seen over sixty years of peace and even the refugees from Middle-earth’s last cataclysmic event, the Fall of Gondolin that had brought Tuor, Idril and Eärendil to the Mouths of Sirion, had experienced almost thirty years of peace, the sons of Fëanor attacked the Havens.  The resulting sack of the community was a massacre that caused even some of the Fëanorinas’ own followers to turn against their former lords and stand by Elwing, only to be killed alongside her other defenders from the community.  Of the sons of Fëanor themselves, the two youngest and generally the least war-like — Amrod and Amras — also lost their lives in the event that, of all the three Kinslayings, was reckoned by far the worst; worse even than the first Kinslaying at Alqualondë, which had earned the Ñoldor the enmity of the Teleri of Tol Eressëa all those centuries earlier, at the onset of their pursuit of Morgoth.  Círdan and Gil-galad, belatedly hearing of the slaughter, set sail immediately but arrived too late to make much of a difference.  Maedhros and Maglor carried the day.

Yet again, the bloodshed was for naught, as Elwing threw herself into the sea with the Silmaril — from where Ulmo would bear her up again; and taking the form of a white bird, Elwing would seek out her husband, who had been absent when the sons of Fëanor had attacked, and join him on his ship; and together they would make their way to Valinor, where Eärendil would plead with the Valar to intercede on behalf of the Children of Ilúvatar (both Elves and Men).

Meanwhile, improbably, Maglor found Eärendil and Elwing’s young twin sons, took pity on them, adopted them, and raised them with genuine love and affection.  This would spare them the fates of Elwing’s brothers Eluréd and Elurín, who had vanished into the woods of Doriath with Celegorm’s servants, never to be seen again, and it also would ensure that, when their moment came, they would be able to make the choice gifted to them and their parents by the Valar: whether to spend the rest of their lives as one of the Elves or Men.

It would not, however, remove the Doom of Mandos, which was now close at hand, for Middle-earth itself as much as for Morgoth and for the two remaining sons of Fëanor.

War of Wrath

FA 545 – 587


For over five centuries since the Ñoldor’s return to Middle-earth, no ship embarking for Valinor had actually reached the Undying Lands: Even though Ulmo stood by the Eldar in Middle-earth itself, he and Ossë had fiercely guarded the Valar’s prohibition against their return to Aman.  So the mere arrival of Eärendil’s ship Vingilt in the Bay of Eldamar was a miracle in and of itself, heralding the importance of his visit.  Still, even though the Valar listened to his plea and, having taken counsel, agreed to come to the aid of the Children of Ilúvatar, they also decreed that now that they had found their way to Valinor, neither Eärendil nor Elwing, who had accompanied her husband, having resolved that they should never again be parted, would be permitted to Middle-earth to live there.  (For Eärendil, this did however not preclude his temporary return to participate in the upcoming battle.)

The Valar called on all of Valinor to join the host to be led against Morgoth — and all of Valinor responded; or almost all, as the Teleri, who still hadn’t forgiven the exiled Ñoldor for the First Kinslaying, only agreed that their ships be used, but they themselves would not be joining the effort.  However, even the otherwise not war-like Vanyar were part of the host led by the Valar, as were the Ñoldor, Manwë’s herald Eönwë, many of the other Maiar, and, once the host had reached Middle-earth, the remaining members of the Houses of the Edain and the Elves.

Karen Wynn Fonstad: The Great Battle (War of Wrath)

The war, which came to be known as the War of Wrath or the Great Battle, began with a frontal assault by the Host of Valinor against Angband and, all told, it was to last over four decades.  In the process, the face of Middle-earth would be irreversibly reshaped once more: the violence brought to bear by the opposing forces was so great that as a result of the war, virtually all of Beleriand was submerged.

Even the very first clash with Morgoth’s vast armies set the whole north of Beleriand aflame, and what followed was a relentless carnage, year-in, year-out, in which no side would spare even a moment on the thought of giving or asking for quarter.  Morgoth’s Balrogs, except for the very few that eventually fled and hid in the depth of the earth, were destroyed, as were his Orcs, which were mowed down like so much hay. 

When after decades of battle Morgoth at last faced defeat, he unleashed the miracle weapon he had held back until this very moment: winged fire dragons, led by the monstrous Anacalagon the Black, whose very appearance was heralded by torrents of thunder and lightning and by a huge firestorm.  Their arrival succeeded in terrifying and driving back the host of the Valar, but now at last came Eärendil’s hour: the Silmaril on his brow and accompanied by the Great Eagles under Thorondor, he attacked in his ship, which the Valar had set into the sky and filled with a white flame; and at the end of a battle that lasted a day and a night, he eventually managed to kill Ancalagon and throw his body onto the peaks of Thangorodrim, which broke apart as a result of the tremor thus caused.  This turned the tide of the battle at last, and the Valar overcame the remnant of Morgoth’s forces and eventually Morgoth himself, even though he had hidden in the deepest dungeons of Angband.  They hewed off his feet, bound him once more in Aulë’s chains, and having taken the two remaining Silmarils from his iron crown, finally cast him through the Doors of the Night into the Timeless Void.

The countless slaves at last released from the pits of Angband looked on a world they did not recognize; not only was Beleriand devastated and turned into a wasteland by the decades-long warfare, but the earthquakes caused by the war had already begun to create huge chasms spitting fire or filling with water, whereas old riverbeds (including even that of Sirion, the Great River of Beleriand) had vanished.  The Dwarven cities in the Blue Mountains were destroyed when the mountains broke apart, and the surviving Dwarves fled eastwards to join their Kindred in the Misty Mountains and elsewhere.

Eönwë summoned the Elves of all Kindred then in Middle-earth to join him on his return to Valinor; and many of them (Ñoldor and Sindar alike) agreed to do so.  Some, however, including Gil-galad, Galadriel and her husband Celeborn, Círdan, and Fëanor’s grandson (Curufin’s son) Celebrimbor, decided to stay in Middle-earth; as did the Silvan Elves, who had never crossed the Blue Mountains in the first place and who had kept themselves to themselves for much of the First Age.  So, too, did Elrond, who like his parents Eärendil and Elwing had chosen to be counted among the Elves henceforth.

The Men who had fought on the side of the Valar were given the island of Númenor as a new home in recognition of their valor and loyalty.  Not all the Men of Middle-earth followed their call, however; mostly, the ships later setting out for Númenor were filled with the surviving members of the Three Houses of the Edain, as well as a number of woodmen from the clans that had lived in the Forest of Brethil.  They were led by Elrond’s twin brother Elros, who had chosen to accept the Valar’s gift to Men — mortality — and who would rule Númenor as its first King under the name Tar-Minyatur.

Meanwhile Maedhros and Maglor, who both had survived the War of Wrath, once more were reminded of their old oath, and although Eönwë declared to them that as a result of the Kinslayings they had forsaken any right to the possession of the Silmarils, they nevertheless contrived to steal them from his guard — only to find his words confirmed, however, as the jewels now burned their hands, causing them so much pain that Maedhros at last threw himself into a chasm of fire and Maglor threw his Silmaril into the sea.  Thus the Silmarils at last found their way into the three realms of Arda: the high heavens (with the Silmaril the Valar had set on Eärendil’s brow), the earth, and the deep waters.

Morgoth’s chief lieutenant Sauron promised to abjure evil and sued for Eönwë’s pardon, but was told that this was something only Manwë himself would be able to grant, and that therefore he would have to return to Valinor, whereupon he changed his mind and fled, to hide in Middle-earth instead. — Eastward, too, fled the surviving Men who (to the Elves’ eternal scorn) had fought on Morgoth’s side, as did the surviving Orcs.

Middle-earth before and after the War of Wrath (source)

Eventually, the destruction wrought onto Beleriand in the War of Wrath caused this entire part of Middle-earth to sink below the waves of the Sundering Seas and drown.  The Blue Mountains had split apart as a result of the earthquakes caused by the war; in their middle now formed the Gulf of Lune, where Círdan would come to build the Grey Havens, from where, henceforth, the Elves would depart for Valinor when their time had come.  Only a small part of Ossiriand remained east of the reshaped Blue Mountains; this piece of land came to be known as Lindon (“Land of Music”), composed of Forlindon north of the Gulf of Lune and Harlindon to the south. 

Other than those remnants of the erstwhile westernmost lands of Middle-earth (Lindon and the remains of the Blue Mountains), now Eriador — the land between the Blue Mountains and the Misty Mountains –, as well as the region south of the White Mountains, which would become the core part of the realm much later known as Gondor, formed the new westernmost parts of the geography of Middle-earth. 

The defeat of Morgoth had brought with it the hope that peace had been restored to Arda once and for all.  Yet, while Middle-earth and the newly-founded island kingdom of Númenor would know peace and prosperity for a period of time over three times of the length of that which Middle-earth had seen in the First Age since the rising of the Moon and the Sun, war would return there after all at last; and when it did, it came as a legacy of Morgoth, whose mantle of the Dark Lord had now been taken on by his erstwhile lieutenant Sauron.


Second Age

Karen Wynn Fonstad: The Second Age of Arda (excerpt)

The changes wrought in Arda as a result of the War of Wrath went far beyond the reshaping of Middle-earth and the raising of Númenor:  Most importantly, Middle-earth now no longer disposed of a land bridge to Aman (however hostile): Helcaraxë was no more; the lands of Aman ended north of the new tower that the Valar had erected for Elwing, and from where she communicated with birds and eventually learned to fly. The Sundering Seas deserved their name once and for all: Valinor was no longer accessible by land; nor, to Men, by sea, as the Men remaining in Middle-earth did not have the skill to build vessels seaworthy enough for this sort of voyage, and the Valar had expressly banned the Númenóreans (whose new island home was actually closer to Aman than to Middle-earth) from traveling west, hoping thus to shield them from any jealousy over the lives lived there by the Elves.

For the first several centuries, none of this greatly mattered: The Númenóreans were busy settling into their new island home, establishing their society and way of life, and refining the new skills they were being taught by the Eldar who came to visit them.  Initially they did not even venture back to Middle-earth, and when at last they did, beginning in SA 600 under Númenor’s fourth King Tar-Elendil, they contented themselves with establishing friendly relationships with the Elves and Men still living there.  It would be another six hundred years until they would even begin to establish permanent havens as trading posts in Middle-earth.  In that time, however, the power of Númenor continued to grow; as did the Númenóreans’ skill as mariners and their knowledge of Arda, thanks in large part to several lengthy voyages of exploration undertaken by their sixth King Tar-Aldarion while still King’s Heir (crown prince) and by the Guild of Venturers founded by him.

The Elves, meanwhile, founded new realms in Middle-earth, the two most important ones of which were both established by the remaining Ñoldor: Lindon, west of the Blue Mountains, was ruled by Gil-galad, now High-king of the Ñoldor; while Galadriel and Celeborn — either in SA 700 or in SA 750 — founded Eregion in the eastern part of Eriador, near the mithril vein in the Misty Mountains that had, long ago, also drawn Durin’s Folk to Khazad-dûm.  The Silvan Elven realms in Greenwood the Great (later known as Mirkwood) and in Lórinand (aka L(othl)órien) also continued to exist, and in fact some of the Sindar that had not left Middle-earth for Valinor after the War of Wrath eventually settled with them.  As such, Galadriel left for Lothlórien some time after SA 1350, from which time onwards Eregion was ruled by Fëanor’s grandson (Curufin’s son) Celebrimbor, who had inherited his grandfather’s gift as a jewel-smith, and who was chief among Eregion’s brotherhood of master craftsmen, the People of the Jewel-smiths (Gwaith-i-Mírdain).  Meanwhile, Oropher, one of the Sindar from Doriath, traveled to Greenwood the Great and, in SA 750, became King of the Woodland Realm that would later be ruled by his son Thranduil.

Sauron, meanwhile, decided to lie low for the foreseeable future, wanting to make sure that the Valar had well and truly forgotten about him and about Middle-earth.  He waited for half a millennium; then he began to reassert himself, first among the Men who had already been under Morgoth’s sway, particularly among the tribes of the Easterlings.  Sensing a shadow of evil arising in the east, Gil-galad at this time sent a warning to Númenor and asked for Númenor’s assistance if danger ever arose from this newly-formed shadow in the east.  Sauron for his part, had been watching the growing power and naval skills of the Númenóreans with increasing misgivings.  Around SA 1000 he decided to create a stronghold for himself in Mordor, which he fortified in the northwest by sealing off Cirith Gorgor, the Haunted Pass at the intersection of the Ered Lithui (Ash Mountains) and the Ephel Dúath (Mountains of Shadow) at the entrance to Mordor with the mighty Black Gate (Morannon).  Within Mordor and not far from Mount Doom, at the same time he also began with the construction of Barad-dûr (the Dark Tower), which he completed in SA 1600.  Even while the construction of Barad-dûr was still under way, he started to gather around himself all of Morgoth’s evil creatures and servants, multiplying the Orcs and ruling with force and fear; establishing himself as the Dark Lord and becoming known as the Enemy to those who were watching with worry how his power was spreading until he ruled much of Middle-earth, from the East all the way into increasingly large parts of Eriador.


War of the Elves and Sauron

SA 1693 – 1701


Nothwithstanding Sauron’s success in gradually extending his power and influence, and notwithstanding that from his point of view corrupting Men such as the Easterlings to his purposes was an important achievement (while Orcs and Trolls were just so many battlefield expendables), the real prize in Middle-earth, in the Second Age as much as in the First Age, were the Elves with their unequaled skills, power, and knowledge.  So this was the chief target that Sauron set for himself, once he had established his power base in Mordor. 

There was no joy for him to be had in Lindon: Even without divining his true identity, Gil-galad still sensed his intentions, categorically rejected his advances, and roundly barred him from his territory. 

But in Eregion Sauron was more successful.  Taking the seemingly benevolent guise of Annatar, the Lord of Gifts — allegedly an emissary from the Valar (with a name echoing that which Morgoth had first used to corrupt Men, “Giver of Gifts”) –, he had no difficulty in securing a welcome with open arms from Celebrimbor and his People of the Jewel-smiths (Gwaith-i-Mírdain), who eagerly accepted his teachings in art, magic, and knowledge.  Under “Annatar”‘s tutelage, the Ñoldor of Eregion achieved a level of skill unrivaled by anyone save Celebrimbor’s grandfather Fëanor himself. 

And Sauron seemed to have almost reached his goal when over a 90-year period from SA 1500 to SA 1590, Celebrimbor and the Gwaith-i-Mírdain, guided by “Annatar”, forged the first sixteen Rings of Power, nine of which Sauron would later give to the Kings of Men, while the remaining seven went to the Dwarven Kings.  (Originally, the Rings did not yet have any specific designation; the first of the Seven Rings, later known as Durin’s Ring, was a personal gift from Celebrimbor to Durin III, Father of the Longbeards at the time, however.)  After the alleged “Lord of Gifts” had left Eregion in SA 1590, they added Three Rings for the Elves, which, however, having been made without Sauron’s direct involvement, were not tainted by his dark arts; and whose powers were therefore powers of creation, understanding, and healing, rather than powers of domination and corruption.

But when Sauron forged his One Ring of Power, Celebrimbor and the wearers of the three Elven Rings overheard him, and they realized that they had been deceived.  They took off their Rings, and Celebrimbor secretly sent them away for safety: one (Nenya, the Ring of Water, made from mithril and set with a white stone of diamond-like adamant) to Galadriel, who by that time had taken up residence in Lothlórien; and the other two (Vilya and Narya) to Lindon — either first both to Gil-galad, who then passed Narya (the Ring of Fire, set with a flaming-red ruby) on to Círdan, or Celebrimbor himself sent Narya to Círdan and Vilya (the Ring of Air, set with a sapphire; the mightiest of the Three Elven Rings) to Gil-galad, High-king of the Ñoldor.

Karen Wynn Fonstad: Coming of the Dark Years

Realizing that he had, after all, failed to win the Elves of Eregion over by deceit, Sauron now turned to brute force.  His efforts in building an army had been somewhat less successful in the East than he might have hoped for; possibly — according to the legendarium’s Last Writings — due in part to the activities of two Wizards named Morinehtar and Rómestámo (“Darkness-slayer” and “East-helper”), who would then seem to have returned to Middle-earth in the Third Age as the two Blue Wizards that were members of the Order of the Istari, and whose task in the Second Age was to hinder Sauron’s activities and prevent the Men of the East from outgrowing those living in the West in strength of numbers.  Nevertheless, the force of Orcs and Men that Sauron managed to build up in the century after the forging of the One Ring was nothing short of massive; and in SA 1693 he was ready: He launched his armies into Eregion and Eriador and over the course of the next years, mercilessly overran Eregion in particular, bringing death and destruction to the land of the People of the Jewel-smiths. 

Gil-galad sent a force of Ñoldor from Lindon, led by Elrond, and also called upon Númenor for assistance.  Meanwhile Celeborn, who had remained in Eregion after Galadriel’s departure, led a sortie northwards from its capital Ost-in-Edhil that made contact with Elrond’s host.  However, greatly outnumbered by Sauron’s Orcs, Elrond had to retreat and was thereafter prevented from returning into Eregion.

Fall of Ost-in-Edhil

SA 1697

Approximate location of Ost-in-Edhil (source)
Note: Approximation based on the available information: The city lay west
of Khazad-dûm, with which Ost-in-Edhil was connected by a road, which in
turn most likely ran along the river Sirannon.  There, Ost-in-Edhil was down-
stream from the West-gate of Moria, either on the Sirannon itself or on the
Glanduin, into which the Sirannon flowed, or at the
two rivers’ confluence.

In SA 1697, Sauron’s troops marched on the capital of Eregion, Ost-in-Edhil.  Although  the Dwarves of Khazad-dûm came to the aid of the Ñoldor, acting on the friendship existing between both peoples (equally avid silversmiths) at the time, they could not prevent the city’s fall.  Celebrimbor, having led his people’s last stand on the steps of the House of the Mírdain — their guildhouse, which contained their smithies and treasuries –, was taken captive, tortured until he had revealed the location of the first sixteen Rings of Power (not, however, that of the Three Elven Rings), and then killed: according to one account (Unfinished Tales:  The History of Galadriel and Celeborn), his body was then used as a banner by Sauron’s troops when they turned their attention back onto Elrond’s troops.

Yet, while the Dwarves had not been able to prevent the sack of Ost-in-Edhil, their attack on the rear of Sauron’s forces, together with the Elves of Lórinand (led by their last King, Amroth), allowed Elrond and Celeborn to escape to the north; there, having come across a secret passage in the Misty Mountains, they eventually found Imladris (Rivendell).  Sauron meanwhile turned his attention onto the Dwarves, whom he was able to drive back into Khazad-dûm, albeit without being able to take the Dwarven stronghold itself as well.  Thus, the Dwarves were able to grant shelter and safe passage to Lórinand to some of the survivors of Sauron’s path of destruction throughout Eregion.  Other Ñoldor from Eregion joined Elrond and Celeborn’s new mountain shelter at Rivendell, either immediately or after having spent some time scattered in the wilds of Rhovanion.

As, however, at the same time, Sauron’s forces also invaded Gundabad and the Grey Mountains, all communication between Khazad-dûm and the Longbeards’ colonies in the Iron Hills, established in the First Age, was cut off.  The Dwarves were driven out of their holy mountain (Gundabad), the birthplace of Durin the Deathless, which thereafter would remain Orc-infested for several millennia, until it was routed by the Dwarves under Thráin II in the late-Third-Age War between the Dwarves and the Orcs. 

Also due to Sauron’s attack on Mound Gudabad and the Grey Mountains, the alliance then existing between the Dwarves and the Northmen of Rhovanion came to an end at this point. 

Lastly, to prevent further attacks from his rear, Sauron’s hosts once more beset Elrond’s forces.  Having gathered as many of the Rings of Power whose location Celebrimbor had revealed under torture as he could lay his hands on, Sauron laid waste to Eregion once and for all, then turned westward, making Lindon — and the Ring(s) of Power in Gil-galad’s possession — his next target.  He also laid siege to Rivendell, without, however, being able to ever capture it.

Ciryatur of Númenor (source)

Location of Tharbad and the Gwathló (Greyflood) on the Second-Age
North-South-Road and in relation to Eregion, Lond Daer and the
Baranduin / Sarn Ford (excerpt; source of complete map here
(Note: Dunland may not yet have existed at this time.)

The Battle of the Gwathló:
(1) Defeated by the Númenóreans at Sarn Ford on Baranduin, Sauron
and his forces withdraw southwards.  
(2) His army is joined by reserves stationed at Tharbad on the Gwathló. 
(3) A second Númenórean force passes up the river Gwathló and
drives into the rear of Sauron’s force.
(4) Sauron’s army is routed. Sauron himself flees toward Calenardhon,
there to face further defeat before finally retreating to Mordor.

Battle of the Gwathló

Late SA 1700 or early SA 1701

By SA 1700, Gil-galad’s beleaguered Ñoldor, together with the Númenorians who at this point had already settled in Lindon, were barely holding a line of defense running along the river Lhûn (Lune) in northwestern Eriador.

However, now finally the long-delayed fleet sent to Middle-earth’s assistance by King’s Heir (crown prince) Minastir of Númenor finally arrived in the Gulf of Lune, causing Sauron to suffer a first defeat that forced him back towards Sarn Ford, the crossing of the river Baranduin (Brandywine River), which in the Third Age would become the boundary of the Shire. 

Defeated again at Sarn Ford, Sauron retreated further towards Tharbad on the southern edge of Eriador, a river crossing fortified high up on the originally densely-forested banks of the Gwathló (Greyflood), which was formed at this point by the confluence of the rivers Mitheithel and Glanduin. The Gwathló was a river with which the Númenorians had been familiar since they had started cutting lumber for their ships there almost 1000 years earlier under Aldarion (later Tar-Aldarion), the great explorer and founder of the Guild of Venturers, and where they had founded a settlement originally known as Vinyalondë (“New Haven”) and later as Lond Daer or Lond Daer Enedh (“Great Middle Haven”) a short way upstream from the river’s mouth in a bay of the Sea of Belegaer.  Subsequently they had fortified Tharbad, further upstream, in order to protect their lumber and ship-building yards from the local population, who had begun to treat them as enemies.

With the reinforcements he had summoned to Tharbad, Sauron meant to take the initative and go on the attack once more; but he had not expected that Ciryatur, the admiral commanding the Númenórean fleet, had divided his forces, using only part of them to attack Sauron on the Lune, while sending others up the Gwathló towards Tharbad.  Thus Sauron now found himself trapped between the two parts of the Númenórean fleet; and his forces suffered a crushing defeat from which even he himself barely escaped.  He fled southeast towards the plains of Calenardhon (later known as Rohan or the Riddermark), where he was pursued by the Númenóreans and defeated once more, finally to withdraw into Mordor and begin plotting revenge on Númenor for a humiliation he would never forget, even if it would take him another 1600 years to accomplish his goal.

Ted Nasmith: The White Tree
Schism in Númenor

Ultimately it was the Númenórians themselves who would come to play into Sauron’s hands.

For the first almost two millennia of Númenor’s existence, the island’s rulers and their people were happily enjoying the bounty of their new island home, eagerly absorbing the teachings of the Eldar who came to visit them from Tol Eressëa — the erstwhile island ferry now anchored in the Far West in the Bay of Eldamar, off the shores of Aman –, worshipping in the Hallow of Eru, an unroofed shrine dedicated to Eru Ilúvatar on top of Meneltarma (“Pillar of the Heavens”), the mountain in the center of the island, establishing friendly relations with the Elves and the Men who had remained in Middle-earth, and scrupulously abiding by the Ban of the Valar; the prohibition the Valar had instituted against any voyages undertaken by the Númenóreans towards Aman.

As a token of friendship and allegiance, Númenor’s first King Elros Tar-Minyatur had received from the Eldar of Tol Eressëa seedlings of their White Tree Celeborn, itself grown from seeds of Galathion, the White Tree of Tirion, which Yavanna had created in the image of Telperion.  Elros had planted these seeds in his Court in Armenelos, and from them had grown another White Tree called Nimloth (“White Blossom”), a fruit of which, in turn, would later bring forth the White Trees of Gondor. 

However, as Númenor grew in power and wealth, the Númenóreans began to turn away from the Eldar and the Valar and increasingly oppose the Ban of the Valar, which they had begun to believe had been imposed to deprive them of immortality.  The twelfth King of Númenor, Tar-Ciryatan — who ruled from SA 1869 to SA 2029, and who was  the son of Tar-Minastir who, while still King’s Heir, had sent the Númenórean fleet against Sauron in support of the Elves –, tacitly began to mutter against the Ban of the Valar.  Taking their opposition a decisive step further, his son and grandson, Tar-Atanamir and Tar-Ancalimon, were the first Kings to openly question that Ban.  During the reign of these two Kings, too, emerged a new party which, as from Tar-Ancalimon’s reign (SA 2251 – SA 2386) at the latest, referred to itself as the “King’s Men”, and which comprised the majority of the Númenóreans; supporting these two Kings’ “Númenor first” policies, and prioritizing the pride and wealth of Númenor in open defiance of the Valar and the Eldar.

The Faithful, by contrast — the Númenórians seeking to abide by the Ban of the Valar and to remain on good terms with the Valar and the Eldar — were increasingly marginalized and suppressed.  Their leaders were the Lords of Andúnië, a line of succession going back to Silmariën, the eldest daughter of Númenor’s fourth King Tar-Elendil (who ruled from SA 590 to SA 740); established in compensation of the fact that according to the law of succession of the time — which was later changed — Silmariën had been ineligible to succeed her father on the throne despite being his eldest child.  From the moment of the creation of their title onwards, the Lords of Andúnië had been the leading aristocratic family of Númenor; their leadership of the Faithful placed them in an increasing antagonism to their cousins, the Kings, and provided the Kings with more and more excuses to harrass and oppress them.  With the reigns of Tar-Atanamir and Tar-Ancalimon, the rift between the majority party of the King’s Men on the one hand and the minority of the Faithful became entrenched and all but insurmountable.

While after the reign of Tar-Ancalimon, the Elven languages of Sindarin and Quenya nevertheless remained the dominant languages both in daily use and at Court for roughly another several centuries, in line with the Númenóreans’ growing ill will towards the Valar and the Eldar, Adûnaic (the common language originating from that spoken by the House of Hador in the First Age) was increasingly used at Court as well.  Númenor’s eighteenth King (SA 2737 – SA 2825), who had taken the Sceptre under the Quenya name Tar-Calmacil and continued to use that name for official purposes, inofficially made known his preference for the Adûnaic form of his name, Ar-Belzagar.  His grandson Ar-Adûnakhôr (reigned SA 2899 – SA 2962) officially rejected the use of Quenya for his official royal name, took the sceptre under his Adûnaic name alone, and even banned the use of Elvish languages in all of Númenor.  (His name was inscribed in the Scroll of Kings in its Quenya form Tar-Herunúmen, but that form was used nowhere else.)  From his reign onwards, the Eldar ceased to visit Nùmenor openly and restricted themselves to clandestine visits to the west of Númenor, where many of the Faithful lived.

Númenor’s twenty-third King, Ar-Gimilzôr (reigned SA 3102 – SA 3177), openly took to persecuting the Faithful, ordered them to all move to the eastern port city of Rómenna, so as to be more easily controllable by the King’s Men, and formalized his abjuration of allegiance to Valinor by banning the Eldar from visiting Númenor, neglecting the care of Nimloth the White Tree, and stopping to worship at the Hallow of Eru.

Ar-Gimilzôr’s son Tar-Palantir (reigned SA 3177 – SA 3255), who had secretly been raised in the tradition and beliefs of the Faithful, tried to remedy the errors of his forefathers (symbolized by his taking a royal name in Quenya once more), and resumed worship at the Hallow of Eru and the care of the White Tree, but this brought him in opposition to the majority of his people, who openly rebelled against him.  Nevertheless, his policies might well have been continued if his daughter Míriel had succeeded him on the throne — which was  now possible: Míriel would have been Nùmenor’s fourth ruling Queen –; however, things came to a head when her first cousin Pharazôn (the son of Tar-Palantir’s younger brother Gimilkhâd and leader of the opposition against Tar-Palantir) forced her to marry him and flat-out proceeded to usurp her throne.

Ar-Pharazôn the Golden
(art by Skullbastard / Nemanja Bubalo)
Ar-Pharazôn’s Campaigns and the Fall of Númenor

In his youth, Pharazôn had been a close friend of Amandil, who would come to be the island’s last Lord of Andúnië and leader of the Faithful.  Still a young man by Númenórean standards, he left Númenor and sailed to Middle-earth, to earn his military spurs in the campaigns Númenor had felt compelled to continue waging against Sauron in order to protect its own ports and the Men of Middle-earth even after Sauron’s defeat in SA 1701; and after Pharazôn’s return to Númenor, he was generous with the riches he had gained during those campaigns.

This, however, did not stop him from grasping the Sceptre once he perceived that it was within his reach, proclaiming himself King in SA 3255, and, for the splendor of his Court, earning as an epithet what was the literal meaning of his name already: “the Golden”.  Under Ar-Pharazôn’s rule, Númenor’s military power grew to heretofore unseen heights, even more so after he had learned that Sauron wanted to destroy Númenor and declare himself King of Men: a title that, in Ar-Pharazôn’s view, should rightly be his own.

Campaign Against Mordor

SA 3262

Niwa Jongkind: Ar-Pharazôn’s Fleet Arriving at Umbar

Karen Wynn Fonstad: The Second Age of Arda —
excerpt showing Umbar and Mordor

After a five-year preparation, during which he had ammassed a fleet dwarving everything that Arda had seen until then in military might, Ar-Pharazôn was ready to wage war on Sauron in earnest and attack him in Mordor itself.  He sailed to Umbar, from where he marched north straight towards Sauron’s mountain-encased stronghold — and Sauron’s forces, faced with the unhappy alternative of either incurring their lord’s wrath by defecting or of being annihilated by the terrifying host that Ar-Pharazôn was launching against them, chose defection and the Dark Lord’s wrath as the smaller of the two evils.  So, Ar-Pharazôn never actually seemed to have to use all that military might: Sauron assumed his fair form, humbled himself before the King of Númenor, and agreed to accompany him back to his island as a hostage.

What Ar-Pharazôn in his hubris had not been able to imagine was that by dragging Sauron to Númenor he was playing right into his far more devious and lethal enemy’s hands, and was accelerating the end of Númenor that Sauron had been plotting ever since his defeat in SA 1701.

Great Armament Against Valinor and Fall of Númenor

SA 3319


Once arrived in Númenor, Sauron lost no time putting his plans into practice.  Slowly but inexorably he corrupted the minds of the Númenóreans, beginning with the King himself; using his powers to help Ar-Pharazôn to gain everything he sought.  Within three years, Sauron had become the King’s chief advisor and had become known as Zigûr (“the Wizard”).  Eventually almost all Númenor, save only for Amandil and his handful of Faithful, was worshipping Melkor as the Lord of All and Giver of Freedom, believed that Ilúvatar was merely an invention of the Valar, and the King’s Men were persecuting the Faithful worse than ever before; including sacrificing them in the temple of Melkor that Sauron had had Ar-Pharazôn build in Armenelos, hoping that — as Sauron had promised — such human sacrifices to Melkor would grant them everlasting life.  With the construction of the temple of Melkor, Sauron had also urged Ar-Pharazôn to destroy Nimloth, the White Tree: at first the King had been hesitant to take this last step, as he believed in his predecessor Tar-Palantir’s prophecy that the death of the White Tree would bring the line of the Kings of Númenor itself to an end.  However, after an intruder — Amandil’s grandson Isildur, the elder son of Amandil’s son Elendil — had stolen into the Court and cut off a fruit of the long-untended and unloved White Tree, Ar-Pharazôn had at last given in to Sauron’s insistence and had had the Tree cut down and burned.  The temple of Melkor was erected right over the spot where Nimloth had stood for almst 3000 years.

Ultimately, a mixture of growing fear and growing hubris caused Ar-Pharazôn to make the most fatal decision he could possibly have made: to take on the Valar themselves in order to compel them to grant him the long-sought immortality.  One the one hand, for all Sauron’s promises of immortality and for all the sacrifices, people were still dying; and Ar-Pharazôn (born in SA 3118) himself was growing older and nearing his 200th year.  On the other hand, as a result of all that Sauron had helped him attain, the King had long lost all sense of perspective and of the limits of his power; so when Sauron told him that there was nothing that to him — Ar-Pharazôn — was not up for grabs if he truly desired it, not even a defeat of the Valar, he let himself be persuaded to march on Valinor itself.

Beginning in SA 3310, Ar-Pharazôn once more put all his efforts into amassing an armada, which this time would even come to be known as the Great Armament.  As the build-up proceeded, ominous signs started to appear in the west of Númenor: Manwë’s Great Eagles appeared as a great cloud darkening the sky and striking the island with bolts of lightning that killed Men and struck the dome of Sauron’s temple of Melkor in Armenelos; earthquakes shook the island, and smoke began to pour from the summit of the mountain of Meneltarma at the island’s center, near which Armenelos lay.  None of these signs, however, could dissuade Ar-Pharazôn from his doings; rather, they only made him press on ever more urgently.

The King’s erstwhile friend Amandil, meanwhile, now Lord of Andúnië and leader of the Faithful, saw the King’s activities with dismay and, having learned of the Great Armament’s purpose, resolved on desperate measures to try and prevent what he feared would be Nùmenor’s inevitable ruin: While he himself would sail towards the West to try and plead with the Valar, his son and grandsons Elendil, Isildur and Anárion were to man a small fleet of (in the end, nine) ships and secretly make their escape from Nùmenor while there was still time. — Amandil himself, once having set out for Valinor, was never heard from again.  Elendil and his sons, however, would eventually reach Middle-earth and there found the Realms in Exile, Arnor and Gondor.

Left: Karen Wynn Fonstad: The Second Age of Arda — excerpt showing Númenor, the Enchanted Isles, and the Coast of Aman;
right: Aman / Valinor: Calacirya, the Pelóri, Tirion, Valmar, Alqualondë, and the Bay of Eldamar (source)

In SA 3319, Ar-Pharazôn’s Great Armament was complete; and he himself took command of his fleet when it set out for Valinor.  Approaching the coast of Aman thirty-nine days later, the Númenórean armada was so huge that it surrounded all of Tol Eressëa.  Nevertheless, in sight of Taniquetil Ar-Pharazôn’s courage almost left him, and he was almost ready to order a retreat, until his pride got the better of him and he ordered his forces to disembark and make camp at the bottom of the hill of Tuna, on which lay the white Elven city of Tirion.  This, however, was as far as they would get: On Manwë’s request, Ilúvatar himself demonstrated that far from being a mere invention of the Valar, he really was Eru (“the One”) and that he, not Melkor was Lord of All: he caused a great chasm to open, rending the sea between Aman and Númenor, in the process of which:

  • The Númenórean armada was swallowed in the abyss,
  • The Númenórean King himself and his mighty host were trapped  in mounds of dirt inside the Caves of the Forgotten, which formed when the hills of the Calacirya, the narrow “Pass of Light” leading through the Pelóri mountains north of Taniquetil, collapsed on top of the invaders;
  • The shape of Arda was bent from a a disc into a ball, and Valinor and Tol Eressëa were removed from the earth, as a result of which they could henceforth only be reached by those able to travel there on the Straight Way (or Road), for all practical purposes only the Elves; and last but not least
  • Númenor itself was drowned under a giant wave that killed all of its inhabitants; after which, it was referred to in Quenya as Atalantë (“the Downfallen”). 

Karen Wynn Fonstad: Voyages of the Númenóreans

Source: Wikimedia

The Last Alliance of Elves and Men

SA 3430 – 3441

Swept onto the shores of Middle-earth by the storm arising out of the Drowning of Númenor, Elendil and his sons Isildur and Anárion reached the coasts of Lindon and the Bay of Belfalas near the Mouths of Anduin, respectively, within a year after their escape from Númenor, and there established the Realms in Exile, Arnor (in Eriador) and Gondor (south of the White Mountains and along the river Anduin, and gradually extending from there). 

Within the same period of time, Sauron, who had likewise survived the Fall of Númenor, was back in Mordor; albeit, as from now on, unable to assume a fair form.  Henceforth, therefore, his only resort was to violence and terror.  Still an implacable enemy of Elendil and his sons, the last thing Sauron was willing to tolerate was a Númenórean Realm in Exile right on his own doorsteps — i.e., Gondor.  In SA 3429, a little over a century after the establishment of the two new (ex-)Númenórean kingdoms in Middle-earth, he was ready to go on the offensive.  As the exiled Númenóreans — now known as Dúnedain — had until then been unware of Sauron’s survival and return to Mordor, his attack took them completely by surprise.  He was therefore able to quickly capture Minas Ithil, where he proceeded to burn the first White Tree planted there by Isildur (which would later be replaced by a seedling taken from it in time).   

While Isildur fled northward with his immediate family to leave his wife and youngest son in the care of Elrond at Rivendell and procure the assistance of Elendil, his brother Anárion remained in Gondor to defend the kingdom’s capital Osgiliath and Minas Anor (which under the name Minas Tirith would in turn become the capital of Gondor after Osgiliath’s destruction many centuries later).  Anárion eventually succeeded in driving Sauron’s hordes back to the mountains; however, he had to keep the city in a constant state of defense and battle-readiness, as it soon became clear that Sauron was assembling additional forces that could have launched another attack at any moment.  This state of vigilance would last for several years, until Elendil’s return with the forces he had assembled in the interim:

In SA 3430, Elendil and Gil-galad formed the Last Alliance of Elves and Men against Sauron.  A year later their forces — Gil-galad’s reinforced by a contingent of Sindar led by Círdan — united near the hill of Amon Sûl (Weathertop) and marched east towards Rivendell, there to call on the support of Elrond, who in the impending war would act as Gil-galad’s second-in-command.  Having spent three years at Rivendell forging arms, laying plans and generally making ready, the armies from Lindon, Arnor and Rivendell eventually crossed the Misty Mountains and proceeded south through the Vales of Anduin, where they were joined by hosts of Silvan Elves from the Woodland Realm in Greenwood the Great, led by their King Orodreth, and from Lórien, led by the later King Amroth’s father (whose name was, depending on the source, probably either Amdir or Malgalad), as well as by a Dwarven host from Khazad-dûm.

Karen Wynn Fonstad: The Last Alliance

Battle of Dagorlad

SA 3434


Dagorlad (source)

In SA 3434, the hosts of Elves and Men that had united in the Vales of Anduin entered the vast, treeless open plain later known as Dagorlad (“Battle Plain”) that was situated between the reeking wetlands to the northwest that would come to be known as the Dead Marshes, as many of the dead of the impending battle would find their watery graves there, and Cirith Gorgor to the southeast: the Haunted Pass at the intersection of the Ered Lithui (Ash Mountains) and the Ephel Dúath (Mountains of Shadow) that formed the entrance to Mordor and that was sealed off by the Black Gate (Morannon), guarded on either side by the two enormous Towers of the Teeth, Carchost and Narchost.  Once arrived on the plain of Dagorlad, the forces of Elves, Men and Dwarves assembling there were joined by Anárion’s army from Gondor, and faced off against Sauron’s hordes, now consisting of the groups that would continue to make up Sauron’s armies and allies throughout much of the Third Age; Orcs, Easterlings, Southrons (Haradrim), and a first contingent of Black Númenóreans, former King’s Men (or their descendants) from the island kingdom’s erstwhile settlements in Middle-earth, who would not conform to the rule in the new Realms in Exile and were thus elated to bind themselves to the Dark Lord.

Yet, for all the impressive forces standing allied in principle against Sauron, the battle could hardly have started any more inauspiciously than it did: Unwilling to bow to the overall command of the Ñoldorin King Gil-galad, the Silvan Elves from the Woodland Realm and from Lórien charged against Sauron’s black legions without waiting for Gil-galad’s command; an act of rashness for which, less well-armed and equipped for battle than the Ñoldor, the Sindar or the Dúnedain, they would come to pay dearly: the Elves from the Woodland Realm suffered heavy casualties in their very first charge already, including King Oropher himself; and the Galadhrim were cut off from the main battle and pushed back into the Dead Marshes, where they (again, including their King) likewise were mowed down like thatch.

After Sauron’s initial successes, however, and over the course of a battle lasting many days and nights on end, the joint armies of the Ñoldor and Dúnedain were eventually able to push back Sauron’s forces, first towards and then through the Black Gate and into Mordor itself, breaking through the Pass of Cirith Gorgor.  There, they made camp on the Plateau of Gorogoroth, a high desolate plain in north-western Mordor enclosed on the west by the Ephel Dúath and the Morgai (“Black Fence”, a mountain ridge running parallel to the northern Ephel Dúath) and on the north by the Ered Lithui.  On that bleak, austere plain, the next phase of the war began, and it would last no less than seven years:


Anárion (source)
Siege of Barad-dûr

SA 3434 – 3441

Having suffered heavy losses, but by far not yet beaten, Sauron withdrew into the stronghold he had completed almost two millennia earlier, and which now saw its first real test of strength (after Sauron had been roundly defeated by the Númenóreans outside of Mordor early in SA 1701, and he had preferred not to do battle against Ar-Pharazôn at all): Barad-dûr, the Dark Tower, built drawing upon the powers of the One Ring.  There, he replenished his forces and, particularly, his ammunition.  Meanwhile, the Elves and Men allied against him were only able to lay siege against the tower, not to breach its gates. To guard against any sortie from Barad-dûr or elsewhere in Mordor breaking through to Minas Ithil or achieving an escape by Sauron himself, Isildur dispatched his second and third sons, Aratan and Ciryon, to Minas Ithil to guard the pass then known as Cirith Dúath (“Pass of Shadow” — after Shelob was known to have established her lair there, it would be renamed Cirith Ungol, “Pass of the Spider”).

During the seven years of siege, Sauron’s forces again and again undertook sorties from Barad-dûr, each time causing their opponents heavy casualties; and they also disposed of sheer-inexhaustible supplies of rocks, arrows, and other projectiles, which they launched at the besiegers in quantities and with a frequency large enough to make any of those wary of making themselves targets for these missiles, and thus easily keeping them at bay.  In SA 3440, in one such incident, the helmet of none other than Anárion, ruler of Gondor together with his elder brother Isildur and one of the commanders of the army of the Dúnedain, was crushed by a rock, and Anárion was killed.  

The Plateau of Gorgoroth with Barad-dûr and Orodruin (Mount Doom) (source)

Battle on the Slopes of Mount Doom

SA 3441


After seven years of siege, Sauron felt the time was right for decisive action; and now he himself led a sortie from Barad-dúr, breaking the leaguer and advancing to the slopes of Mount Doom, where his enemies’ forces were arrayed in battle against him.  On the battlefield, Sauron sought out the two opposing commanders, Gil-galad and Elendil, facing off against and vanquishing both of them in turn: Gil-galad’s face was terminally scorched by the heat of Sauron’s hand; and Elendil was struck down in a mighty blow, breaking his sword Narsil under his body as he fell.

Yet, that blow against Elendil would turn out near-fatal for Sauron himself, too, as Isildur — now titular King and heir to the throne of both Arnor and Gondor — grabbed the hilt of his father’s sword, attacked Sauron with the maimed weapon, and with the shard of steel still attached to the hilt cut off Sauron’s finger with the Ring of Power on it; thus defeating both Sauron himself and his vast remaining host in one single blow: Sauron’s hordes were in instant disarray, and were routed almost to the last Man and Orc by the armies of the Alliance.  After the battle, Sauron’s enemies also levelled to Barad-dûr; however, as it had been built drawing on the powers of the One Ring, they were unable to demolish its foundations.

Understanding that no defeat of Sauron’s was final as long as his Ring of Power was still in existence, Elrond and Círdan urged Isildur to destroy the One Ring, but Isildur declared that he would keep it as weregild for his father’s and brother’s death — wrongly believing that he had actualy killed Sauron — and in a scroll setting down his record of the events some time later said that it was “precious” to him, thus showing that the Ring was already beginning to corrupt him.  For this, the One Ring would later acquire the epithet “Isildur’s Bane”.

After the Last Alliance, Elves and Men would not fight side by side again for another almost two millennia (until the TA 1975 Battle of Fornost), even if the Elves of Lindon and Rivendell would keep standing by Elendil’s heirs when Arnor was attacked by Angmar about halfway through the Third Age.  As a general matter, though, their relationships had been soured by the deaths of Elendil and Gil-galad (the latter having left the Ñoldor without a King, as Gil-galad did not have an heir), as well as Isildur’s refusal to destroy the One Ring and his insistence to take it for himself.  Elrond and Círdan led the remaining Sindar and Ñoldor back to Rivendell and Lindon; many of those journeying to Lindon did so in order to board a ship for the Undying Lands, now reachable only to them on the Straight Way.  The Silvan Elves, for their part, withdrew into their realms; Thranduil led the few remaining Silvan Elves of his people back to their Woodland Realm, from where henceforth they would only emerge to trade with the nearby communities of Men of Dale and Lake-men, but not to do battle.  So, too, the Galadhrim withdrew into L(othl)órien.   

As for the two Realms of the Dúnedain, while Gondor would come to prosper over the course of the next several centuries, Arnor never wholly recovered from the losses of manpower / population and military might that it had sustained in addition to the loss of its founder-King Elendil.  Elendil himself was buried in a hidden tomb on the summit of a hill called Amon Anwar (“Hill of Awe”) that stood out alone from Firien Wood on the borders of Rohan and Gondor, separated from the White Mountains by a deep cleft.  The presence of Elendil’s tomb would come to hallow the entire hill; and as part of the so-called “Tradition of Isildur”, in later years (from the fifth century of the Third Age onwards), each King of Gondor would visit Amon Anwar together with his son upon the son’s coming of age — as would in the final millennium of the Third Age the Stewards of Gondor with their heirs –; thus echoing Isildur’s visit to Elendil’s secret tomb with Anárion’s only surviving son Meneldil, to whom Isildur had handed over the rule of Gondor prior to his departure for Arnor. — Amon Anwar would also become one of the beacon hills included in Gondor’s early warning system of seven beacons on the mountaintops of the White Mountains overlooking Anorien; and it would be here, too, that the mutual oath of allegiance between Gondor and Rohan would be solemnified two and a half millennia after the War of the Last Alliance and the beginning of the Third Age.

Meanwhile, Sauron was not wholly destroyed; and, after having vanished for a whole millennium, he reasserted himself more and more over the course of the new age, the Third Age of the history of Middle-earth; and it would take more than another several millennia for him to be defeated once and for all.


Third Age

Karen Wynn Fonstad: Middle-earth in the early Third Age

Though shorter than the Second Age by a little more than a century, the Third Age would see more conflict and strife in Middle-earth than the preceding Age, simply because Middle-earth was now the only remaining ground within Arda on which such conflicts could take place.  That, by extension, automatically also meant that, whoever were the parties standing in opposition to each other, conflicts in Middle-earth would now once more be about preeminence in Middle-earth itself, just as they had been in the First Age: with the difference, however, that the Valar would no longer take a direct hand — although they would eventually provide for a modicum of a balance of power by sending five Maiar (the Istar) to the support of Elves and Men against the forces led by the Maia Sauron, even if the Istar were forbidden to take control and employ their full power as Maiar in combatting the self-styled Dark Lord.  The fight was to remain chiefly that of Elves and Men.


Massacre of the Gladden Fields

Oct. 4, TA 2

The first major passage at arms of the Third Age could very well be viewed as a blood-soaked afterthought of the conflict which brought to an end Second Age, were it not for the fact that its outcome materially altered the background against which nearly every conflict of the Third Age was set, and that it delayed the final conflict of the Third Age for that age’s entire duration of over three millennia:

Returning from Mordor to Arnor and Lindon,  Círdan’s Elves and  most of the Dúnedain had taken the North-South Road built by the Númenoréans in the Second Age, which now connected the two Realms in Exile: through the gap between the Misty Mountains and the White Mountains that would much later be called the Gap of Rohan, past the Fords of Isen and on to Tharbad, Bree, and finally to Fornost.  Isildur, however, was planning to pick up his wife and youngest son at Rivendell before going on to Arnor, so accompanied by his three eldest sons and a retinue of some twohundred men, his path took him up the Vales of Anduin, from where he would have taken the East Road to Cirith Forn en Andrath, the High Pass over the Misty Mountains, on the western end of which he would have reached Imladris (Rivendell).

The North-South Road (source)
(Note: Ignore Rohan and Dol Guldur, neither of which existed in TA 2
— both are included for future geographical reference only.  The hill on
which Sauron later built Dol Guldur was called Amon Lanc (“Naked
Hill”); Rohan was originally known as the plain of Calenardhon.)

Karen Wynn Fonstad: The Misty Mountains; excerpt showing the
location of the Gladden Fields (again, think “Amon Lanc” in lieu of
“Dol Guldur” in the context of events in TA 2).

It was late in the year for a journey along a mighty river such as the Anduin, which was swollen with the heavy rains of the season.  After a month of travel, Isildur’s party reached the northern end of the marshland known as the Gladden Fields, amidst which the Gladden River flowed into the Anduin.  Late in the afternoon they were suddenly ambushed by a host of Orcs from the Misty Mountains who had been hiding in the woods bordering on the high rides of the road along the river.  Even in the dim afternoon light, it was obvious to Isildur that they were heavily outnumbered, possibly as much as ten to one; and it was equally clear that they were on their own, having long passed Moria and Lothlórien while still having easily another four days to go until they would reach Thranduil’s realm. 

Isildur weighed his options and quickly concluded that the terrain and the strategic situation, where the Orcs were attacking from the top of the slope at the side of the road, did not favor the formation of a Dírnaith (“man-spearhead”: a Númenórean wedge formation designed for rapid attack over a short distance against an enemy massing but not yet fully arrayed for battle).  Instead, therefore, he ordered the formation of a Thangail (“shield-fence”: a defensive formation consisting of two closely-pressed ranks presenting a barrier of shields that was solid enough to withstand the onslaught of their enemies, but also able to bend at one or both of its ends to adapt to enemy tactics, even to the point of curling round to meet itself and so form an unbroken circle of shields), hoping to eventually be able to hew a way for his men through the enemy ranks and scatter them.  He also ordered his squire to take the shards of Narsil and bring those to Rivendell.

The shield wall held firm against the Orcs’ hail of arrows, and also against the onslaught of the Orc warriors themselves that followed on the arrows’ heels.  When the Orcs withdrew after having taken heavy casualties in their initial attack, the Dúnedain believed themselves victorious; and Isildur ordered them to resume their march northwards immediately. 

He soon found that this assessment had been premature, however: Barely a mile later the Orcs attacked again; this time on a wide front bent first into a crescent, but quickly closing into an unbroken circle about Isildur’s men.  As the Orcs were at this point keeping a great distance from the Dúnedain, it would have required archers to effectively break their circle, but there were few archers among Isildur’s men, and not even the Númenorean steel-bows could reach far enough to do much damage.  Once having surrounded the Dúnedain, the Orcs closed in on all the sides, recklessly flinging themselves on their opponents; sometimes two taller Orcs at a time bearing down a Man with their combined weight for yet another Orc to kill him: a style of attack that set the lives of the smaller and lighter attackers as much at naught as those of their much taller, heavier, and more battle-hardened opponents, which however paid off regardless, given the high ratio by which the Orcs outnumbered the Dúnedain and the ferocious hatred which they bore them since their defeat in Mordor.

After two of Isildur’s sons (Ciryon and Aratan) had been killed and it was clear that his party was going to be defeated, his eldest and at this point only surviving son Elendur finally convinced his father, who had been loath to abandon his men, to put on the Ring of Power and make his escape.  When Isildur at last gave in to his son’s persuasions, the sudden flashing of the Elendilmir — the diamond-star diadem of the Lords of Andúnië and the Kings of Arnor, symbol of their regency and impossible to dim even by the powers of the One Ring — terrified the Orcs into giving way long enough for Isildur to make his escape.  After he had fled far away and reached the Anduin, he tried to cross the river by swimming across, but the current was too strong for him and swept him back down towards the Gladden Fields, where the Ring betrayed him and slipped off his finger.  Despondent, Isildur was almost ready to let himself get drowned, but after a while he took heart from the release of the burden that the Ring had started to become to him.  Yet, climbing from the river onto the banks of an islet near the western bank, he was seen by a band of prowling Orcs, who, fearing his obvious height and strength and the bright light of the Elendilmir, killed him in a barrage of arrows.  Isildur’s body was never found; it was believed to have been swept away by the river’s current: a belief that Saruman would exploit much later in order to allay Gandalf’s uneasiness about the ring that Bilbo Baggins had found in Gollum’s cave, in the Misty Mountains west of Rivendell near Goblintown below the High Pass road, which Gandalf had begun to suspect — and which Saruman knew — to be the One Ring.

In both its course and its net outcome, the passage at arms at the Gladden Fields was a massacre more than a battle: the Orcs killed everyone of Isildur’s men in sight, missing only three: Isildur’s squire and his companion, who had escaped early enough to still find a loophole out of the ambush and make their way to Rivendell; and Elendur’s squire Estelmo, who had been buried alive, clubbed and stunned but not killed, under Elendur’s body.  The three survivors told the tale of the massacre and of the last exchange between Isildur and his eldest son, and thus ensured that at least a record of the event existed.

Yet, with Isildur’s death, the course of the entire Third Age was manifestly affected: 

Firstly, before setting out for Arnor, Isildur had handed over the government of Gondor to Anárion’s only surviving son Meneldil.  While there was no dispute over the fact that as from Isildur’s death on, Meneldil was certainly King in his own right (by Isildur’s vestment as much as in his capacity as Anárion’s only living son and Isildur’s only living nephew), the question whether Isildur had originally merely vested the day-to-day administration of the kingdom in his nephew or had fully ceded the throne of Gondor to him from the start would come to dog the rule of Gondor, and relationship between Gondor and Arnor — or its successor kingdom Arthedain — on more than one occasion in the future.

Secondly, with Isildur’s loss of the One Ring in the waves of the Anduin, the Ring of Power was not only lost to Sauron but lost, period; at least for the next almost two and a half millennia — and arguably even longer, as Gollum kept it hidden for another five hundred years, until Bilbo found it in his cave and bought it back out into the open.  Had Isildur kept the Ring, given that he had already shown signs of being affected by it — such as his unwillingness to destroy it when given the chance, his designation of it as “precious” to him, and also the relief about having lost the burden it had begun to be — it seems clear that he would gradually have been corrupted by the Ring, and this would inevitably have drawn Sauron’s attention and, quite likely, brought Gondor and Arnor (and in consequence, eventually much of Middle-earth) under Sauron’s rule.

Thus, above and beyond the compassion invoked by the butchering of Isildur’s men in the Gladden Fields massacre, and the death of Isildur himself, from a historic point of view Isildur’s end in the waves of the Anduin was both a blessing and a curse: a blessing in that it unwittingly kept the Ring of Power out of Sauron’s grasp for almost the entire Third Age; but a curse in that it left issues concerning the rule of Gondor unresolved that might never have arisen had Isildur lived even a little longer and set the record straight in writing as to his intent (as many Kings were wont to do at some point during their reign), thus obviating the further bloodshed that would come to pass over these issues in the future.

As it was, in any event, for the next several centuries “blessing” would definitely remain the watchword, as Sauron was smarting and remaining hidden, rebuilding his strength and not venturing anywhere else in Middle-earth.  Yet, his defeat had done nothing to keep the Easterlings at bay, who began harrassing Gondor half a millennium into the Third Age and would remain, together with the Haradrim, the kingdom’s major scourge throughout much of its existence; particularly in the later centuries of the Third Age, once again chiefly on Sauron’s instigation.  Meanwhile, it would take almost 900 years after the foundation of Elendil’s kingdom of Arnor for that Realm in Exile to be beset with woes; but while the inital blow was chiefly due to ordinary human greed and lust for power, Sauron and his minions, the Nazgûl, would eventually capitalize on those developments in turn — with fatal consequences.

Gondor: First Invasions of the Easterlings

TA 490 – 541(?)

Sauron’s defeat in the War of the Last Alliance released the Easterlings from their thraldom to him, but it did not do much to remove their territorial disputes with each other.  Restlessly continuing to do battle among thermselves, some Easterling tribes were driven or migrated far enough westwards to repeatedly cross the borders of Gondor.

The first such invasion occurred under Gondor’s seventh King, Ostoher, who had rebuilt and enlarged Minas Anor after the damages it had sustained in Sauron’s surprise attack over four centuries earlier, and had made it his summer residence; a tradition that would continue until the fall of Osgiliath in the Kin-strife, nine hundred years later.

Karen Wynn Fonstad: Middle-earth in the early Third Age (excerpt) 

By TA 490, when the Easterlings invaded Gondor, coming from the plains between the Sea of Rhûn and the Ash Mountains and (probably) entering Ithilien, the region west of the Ephel Dúath (Mountains of Shadow), Ostoher (born in TA 222) was way beyond the age in which he could personally have taken command of an armed campaign. Therefore, his son Tarostar led the charge against the invaders.  He eventually succeeded in defeating them and driving them from the kingdom; although it would take him until TA 500, eight years after he himself had succeeded his now-deceased father on the throne.  For the decisive victory he achieved at that time, he took the epithet Rómendacil (“East-victor”).

After having vanquisehd the Easterlings, Tarostar Rómendacil I had a record made of the “Tradition of Isildur”, which he ordered to be set down in a scroll that was to be delivered by the Steward of Gondor to the King’s heir before his coronation.

His reign would know peace for forty years after his victory against the Easterlings early in his reign, but in TA 541 they were back in Ithilien and, this time, they killed the King of Gondor in a renewed battle.  Tarostar Rómendacil I was avenged, however, by his son Turambar, who not only roundly defeated the invaders but even pursued them into their own lands and conquered part of their territory in Rhûn, thus winning new lands for Gondor, which the kingdom would be able to hold on to for several hundred years, until its power began to wane after the death of the last and greatest of its four “Ship-kings,” Hyarmendacil I, in TA 1149.

Because Turambar had ascended the throne at a very young age, his rule lasted longer than a century; in fact, it would come to be the longest reign of Gondor since that of his ancestor, Anárion’s son Meneldil. 

After Turambar’s defeat of the Easterlings, they did not resume their attempts to invade Gondor; they did, however continue to harass the Northmen in Rhovanion, occupying Greenwood and, traversing it, entering the Vales of Anduin.  These moves coincided with the coming of the Shadow of Dol Guldur, as Sauron settled there in the guise of the Necromancer, and they were the causes that drove the Hobbits to the west around TA 1000.

As for Sauron’s thralls and allies, the Easterlings were not the only ones to discvoer that Gondor was a bad choice to pick a bone with.

Matěj Čadil: The Ship-kings of Gondor
 The Ship-kings of Gondor

(T.A. 830 – 1149)

The Ship-kings were the four great Kings that ruled Gondor during its three-centuries-long Golden Age: Tarannon Falastur, Eärnil I, Ciryandil, and Ciryaher Hyarmendacil I.

Between them, the Ship-kings greatly expanded Gondor’s naval and military might, and hence its control over the southern lands of Middle-earth, including the lands west of the Mouths of Anduin and as far south as Umbar and the Harad.  At the end of the reign of the fourth and most powerful of the Ship-kings, Hyarmendacil I, Gondor had reached a peak of strength and power that it would never again surpass. Instead, the period of the Ship-kings’ rule was followed by a time of stagnation, disasters, wars, and overall decline.

Tarannon Falastur

(Ruled TA 830 – 913)

The palace of Tarannon Falastur as shown in Minecraft Middle-earth (source)

Tarannon was the twelfth King of Gondor.  Prior to his ascent to the throne, he had been Captain of the Hosts (a title probably indicating the supreme military position of Gondor and held by the King’s Heir or another member of the House of Anárion); already in that position, he had extended the realm far along the shores west and south of the Mouths of Anduin.

To commemorate his victories, Tarannon assumed the name “Falastur” (“Lord of the Coasts”) when he took the crown.

Wishing to always be near the Sea, which he loved, Tarannon had built a palace in the Mouths of the Anduin downstream from Pelargir, which rested upon arches sunk into the waters of river.  His supremely unpopular wife, Queen Berúthiel, however — a Black Númenorian whom he had married solely for political reasons, and whose cats were believed to be spying on the Court on her behalf –, hated the Sea, and refused to live anywhere near it, staying instead in the King’s House in Osgiliath.  Realizing at last that his attempt at diplomacy by marriage had failed, Tarannon eventually sent her away on a ship that was last seen sailing into the Southern Seas.

Due to his loveless, failed marriage, he was the first King of Gondor to die without a child of his own as his heir; and he was succeeded by his nephew, the second of the Ship-kings, Eärnil I.

Matěj Čadil: Eärnil I
 Eärnil I

(Ruled TA 913 – 936)

Eärnil I was the son of King Tarannon Falastur’s younger brother Tarciryan.  He carried his uncle’s expansionist maritime policy further forward, restoring the haven of Pelargir to the importance it had had to the Númenorian settlers from among the Faithful who had founded it in the Second Age  and building a great fleet.

Eärnil besieged the important Black Númenórean maritime stronghold of Umbar, located south of Gondor in a natural haven on the coast of the Bay of Belfalas, by land and by sea; conquering the city in TA 933 and driving out its former rulers.  This was a victory of enormous strategic and political significance: Umbar had been one of the first ports built by the Númenóreans after they had started voyaging to Middle-earth in the Second Age, possibly as early as during a voyage of Aldarion (later Tar-Aldarion) between SA 829 and SA 843, and had initially been one of Númenor’s posts of trade and cultural exchange with the people of Middle-earth; but from approximately SA 1900 onwards it had been firmly in the hands of the party later known as the King’s Men (and in the Third Age, the Black Númenóreans) and, as such, one of the key, heavily-fortified centres from which these levied taxes and tributes from the increasingly oppressed Men of Middle-earth.  Its political and economic importance was such that, after the Downfall of Númenor, Umbar became the Black Númenóreans’ realm in exile in everything but name.  Thus, Umbar was only taken at great cost, because its Black Núnmenorean inhabitants had inherited their ancestors’, the King’s Men’s, hatred of Gondor as a realm of the followers of Elendil and the Faithful; and it is hard to imagine that they would not have defended Umbar to their last drop of blood.

As a result of the capture of Umbar by Gondor, the Black Númenorean lords of Umbar were driven from Umbar and under Eärnil I, Umbar now became a great haven and fortress of Gondor, rivaled (if at all) only by Pelargir.

However, only twenty-three years into his reign, Eärnil died together with many men in a great storm off Umbar, in which many ships sank.  He was succeeded by his son Ciryandil.

Ciryandil (source)

(Ruled TA 936 – 1015)

Ciryandil was the fourteenth King of Gondor and the third of the Ship-kings.  He continued his father Eärnil’s policy of building ships and expanding the naval striking power of Gondor, although he is not recorded to have made any significant territorial gains.

In fact, it was during his reign that the Haradrim (Southrons) from the lands surrounding Umbar, led by the Black Númenórean lords that had been driven from the haven under Eärnil I, laid siege to the city.  The siege remained unresolved under Ciryandil, as due to Gondor’s naval power and its ability to resupply the fortress, Umbar could not be taken easily; but in TA 1015 Ciryandil himself was killed in a battle in Haradwaith connected with the siege.

He was succeeded by his son Ciryaher, later known as Hyarmendacil I, who not only put paid to the Haradrim’s and the Black Númenórean’s attempts to recapture Umbar, but also expanded the territory of Gondor beyond its existing borders in all directions.

Hyarmendacil I (source)
Ciryaher Hyarmendacil I

(Ruled TA 1015 – 1149)

Ciryaher Hyarmendacil I was the fifteenth King of Gondor and the fourth and most important one of its Ship-kings.

Having inherited the unresolved siege of Umbar from his father, Ciryaher began his reign by taking time to further enlarge Gondor’s army and navy.  In TA 1050 and equipped with a massive striking force, he then descended on Umbar both by sea and by land, crossing the river Harnen south of Gondor, which flowed south-west from the southern slopes of the Ephel Dúath (Mountains of Shadow) that encased Mordor in the west and south, and then westwards to the Belegaer, which it entered in a wide delta by the Bay of Belfalas about halfway between the Mouths of Anduin and Umbar.  Thus catching the enemy’s forces between the two branches of Gondor’s military, he utterly defeated the Haradrim and compelled them to acknowledge the overlordship of Gondor, taking their leaders’ sons back to Gondor as hostages and guarantors of the cessation of hostilities promised by their fathers.

After this victory, Ciryaher took the name Hyarmendacil (“South-victor”); marking the fact that the realm of Gondor now extended south to the river Harnen and from there, all along the coast to the peninsula and haven of Umbar.

Gondor at the height of its powers, during the rule of Hyarmendacil I (source)

Yet, far from stopping there, during this fourth Ship-king’s reign Gondor in fact atteigned the greatest territorial extent and power of its entire history; reaching north to the Field of Celebrant and to the southern end of Mirkwood, west to the river Gwathló (Greyflood), east to the inland Sea of Rhûn (ever since the successful campaign by Tarostar Rómendacil I’s son Turambar), and finally south to the river Harnen and along the coast to the peninsula and haven of Umbar.  The Haradrim of Near Harad paid tribute to Gondor, and similarly, the Men of the Vales of Anduin acknowledged its authority.  For the rest of Ciryaher Hyarmendacil I’s reign Gondor was at peace, because no enemies dared to attack it.  Meanwhile, the watch on Mordor was maintained through great fortresses that guaraded the passes to the Black Land.

Hyarmendacil I reigned for one hundred and thirty-four years, which was nigh-on the longest reign of all the Kings of Gondor of the line of Anárion, second only to the 162-year- rule of Tarondor (TA 1636 to 1798), the King who would steer Gondor through the difficult plague year of 1636 and, four years later, permanently relocate the King’s House to Minas Anor (Minas-Tirith-to-be).

Ciryaher Hyarmendacil I was the last of the Ship-kings and, given his extraordinary achievements, a hard act to follow — impossible to follow for his son Atanatar II Alcarin, as it would turn out, whose indolence would make life all the harder for his own son and successors.

New Easterling Attack / Minalcar Romendacil II

TA 1248

Atanatar II Alcarin (“the Glorious”), the sixteenth King of Gondor, preferred a life in ease and splendour to the discipline practiced by his father; to the point that, as a new witticism had it, “precious stones are pebbles in Gondor for children to play with.”   It was during this luxury-loving King’s reign, too, that the original crown of Gondor (a plain Númenórean war-helm) was replaced by a tall, jewelled and winged white helm, fronted by a circlet into which seven gems of adamant were wrought and with wings resembling those of a sea-bird wrought of pearl and silver.

Nothing, however, was done to maintain the realm’s military power, built up over the course of the past several centuries during the reigns of the four Ship-kings, including and in particular Atanatar’s own father Ciryaher Hyarmendacil I, nor was any attention given to maintaining the watch upon Mordor.

Things continued in a similar fashion under Atanatar’s son Narmacil I, who in fact couldn’t even be bothered to personally govern at all: in TA 1240 he declared Minalcar, the vigorous son of his younger brother Calmacil, to be the Regent of Gondor; and during the remainder of Narmacil’s reign Minalcar ruled in his name.  The same arrangement would later be kept up under Minalcar’s father Calmacil, who succeeded his childless elder brother Narmacil when he himself was already an old man. 

The Easterlings, meanwhile, didn’t have to be asked twice to test the strength of this arrangement of convenience: and if Minalcar’s understanding of statecraft and military strategy and leadership had been any less acute than it was, they might easily have carried the day and instantly returned to the path to being a scourge of Gondor that they had already started to tread several centuries earlier, before their crushing defeat at the hands of Tarostar Rómendacil I’s son Turambar. 

Karen Wynn Fonstad: Middle-earth in the early Third Age (excerpt) 

As it was, Minalcar had a keen eye on the state of the North even as a regent, long before ascending the throne in his own right.  He was aware that the Northmen in the wide lands beyond the Anduin, recipients of favors granted by previous Kings of Gondor, had multiplied — and when the Easterlings resumed their attacks in TA 1248, it turned out that not all Northmen still stood by Gondor.  To secure the region before any worse damage could be caused, Minalcar marched east from Gondor forthwith (King Narmacil of course staying behind) and defeated the large army of Easterlings, fortified by a host of misguided Northmen, that was, in turn, moving westwards in the lands between Rhovanion and the Sea of Rhûn.  Then, for good measure, he proceeded to destroy the Easterlings’ camps and settlements east of the Inland Sea.  Ironically, Northmen ended up fighting on both sides of the battle, as Minalcar’s forces, too, included reinforcements of Northmen from Rhovanion that had remained loyal to Gondor.

To mark his achievement, and following in the tradition of Gondor’s military leaders established by his ancestors Tarostar Rómendacil I and Ciryaher Hyarmendacil I, Minalcar then likewise took the name Rómendacil (“East-victor”); when at his father’s death in 1304 he finally ascended the throne to rule as King of Gondor in his own right (and as the nineteenth King of his realm), he did so as Rómendacil II.

After his victory, Rómendacil fortified the western shore of the Anduin up to the River Limlight, and he had the Pillars of the Argonath (Isildur’s and Anárion’s statues) erected above the lake of Nen Hithoel.  Moreover, seeking to increase Gondor’s military manpower, he brought many Northmen into its service.

The Easterlings, for their part, would not show up again this far west for another six hundred years after their defeat at the hands of Minalcar Rómendacil II.

However, it was a well-meant diplomatic move of Rómendacil II himself that, two centuries after his victory over the Easterlings, would plunge Gondor into one of the (if not the) most destructive phase(s) of its history: For having understood that the loyalty of the Northmen could not be taken for granted, in order to secure their allegiance, in TA 1250 (only two years after this victory over the Easterlings), Rómendacil sent his son, Valacar, as Gondor’s ambassador to live with the leader of one group of Northmen, a man named Vidugavia, who called himself the King of Rhovanion.  Thus, the King himself sowed the seeds of the destructive Kin-strife of the mid-1440s of the Third Age.

Meanwhile, trouble had also begun brewing in the other Realm in Exile, Elendil’s kingdom of Arnor; and there it would be almost all over (bar the shouting and a double death blow delayed by some five centuries) before Gondor had even come up with the word “Kin-strife”, let alone spilled the first of its many precious drops of blood over it.

Arnor: Partition and First Phase of War with Angmar

TA 861 – 1409

Battle trolls of Angmar on the war path (source)

After Isildur’s death, the regency of Arnor was taken up by his fourth son; and during his reign and those of his successors over the next almost nine centuries, the kingdom knew a fairly uneventful period of peace and prosperity.  However, when trouble came at last, as is so often the case, it did not come singlefold but — literally as well as proverbially — in batallions, and ultimately in devastating dimensions; even if again several centuries would pass between the various blows that would bring the kingdom and its successors to their knees.

Partition of Arnor

TA 861

The partition of Arnor (source)

Following the death of Arnor’s tenth King, Eärendur, towards the end of the ninth century of the Third Age, his eldest son Amlaith claimed the throne, but his two brothers contested his claim.  Civil war ensued and was eventually settled by the partition of Arnor into its three major regions, Arthedain (ruled by Amlaith), Rudaur and Cardolan, which henceforth existed as three separate kingdoms, uneasily coming together at Weathertop (Amon Sûl) as their joint and frequently-embattled border point:

  • The territory of  Arthedain covered the core of the north-kingdom bordering the Lune;
  • The territory of Cardolan covered the lands south of the East Road and east of the Brandywine River (Baranduin); and
  • The territory of Rhudaur comprised the region between the Weather Hills and the Misty Mountains.

Yet, in the three petty kingdoms’ border disputes, more than territorial strife was at stake: What with the two other Palantíri of Arnor firmly ensconced in the territory of Arthedain (one in Annúminas, the other one in the White Tower of Elostirion in the Tower Hills), the one lodged in the tower of Amon Sûl became the only Palantír at least theoretically within reach of all three successor kingdoms of Arnor, and hence, an an unavoidable bone of contention. 

Eventually, in both Cardolan and Rhudaur the line of Elendil and Isildur failed, thus leaving Arthedain as the only successor kingdom of Arnor still ruled by heirs of the Númenórean Lords of Andúnië.  This played straight into the hands of the Dúnedain’s sworn enemy:

Karen Wynn Fonstad: Middle-earth in the early
Third Age — excerpt showing the location of
Angmar and its capital Carn Dûm
(Note: “Sûza” is Westron for “Shire”; Hobbits
began settling there in TA 1601.  Before that time,
the area was Arthedain’s royal hunting grounds.)

About thirteen centuries after the beginning of the Third Age (and a little over four centuries after the partition of Arnor), the kingdom of Angmar rose in the north, ruled by a Witch-king who, it would later turn out, was none other than the leader of Sauron’s Nazgûl, the nine Kings of Men who had come in thrall to the Dark Lord and turned into ring-wraiths through the agency of their nine Rings of Power.  Sauron had taken a full millennium until he had emerged from hiding once more, but around TA 1050 he was back, this time in the guise of a shadowy Necromancer inhabiting a newly-built stronghold named Dol Guldur (“hill of sorcery”) in southern Greenwood.  The White Council originally thought Dol Guldur was held by the lord of the Nazgûl, whom, however, Sauron dispatched to Angmar in TA 1300 for the purpose of destroying all of what had formerly been Arnor. 

Burning village in Rhudaur, as shown in The Lord of the Rings: The Battle for Middle Earth II (source)

Thus, the newly-styled Witch-king of Angmar soon began to play on the three petty kingdoms’ rivalry.  His main initial focus was on corrupting Rhudaur, where a lord of the Hill-men then living in the area (descendants of the tribes that had originally populated the White Mountains, and which had descended into the area later known as Rhudaur after having settled in the Misty Mountains for a while), in secret alliance with Angmar, seized power in TA 1349.  Thereafter, Rhudaur was firmly set against the other two successor kingdoms of Arnor, Arthedain and Cardolan, and the Witch-king began to use it as its base for attacking them, while driving the remaining Dúnedain out of Rhudaur or having them killed.

Attack by the Hill-men of Rhudaur

TA 1356

Argeleb’s death on the battlefield, as shown in The Battle for Middle-earth II: The Rise of the Witch King (source)

In TA 1349, the same year as the Angmar-fostered rise of the Hill-men in Rhudaur, the seventh King of Arthedain, Argeleb I, as the only direct heir of Elendil and Isildur remaining in Arnor, formally refounded the kingdom of Arnor and  claimed overlordship over all of its territory.  While Rhudaur resisted, Cardolan accepted Arthedain’s claim and placed itself under its protection. 

As tensions with Rhudaur and Angmar increased, Argeleb fortified his eastern and southern borders with a great bastion on Weathertop and fortifications along the East Road and the lower Hoarwell river in Cardolan.  However, in TA 1356, the Hill-men of Rhudaur attacked the Weather Hills, and while they did not manage to conquer Weathertop or lay their hands on the Palantír lodged in it, Argeleb I was killed in the battle defending the Weather Hills.  He was succeeded by his son Arveleg I, who with the help of the Dúnedain of Cardolan and the Elves of Lindon succeeded in driving the enemies out of the Weather Hills.

All told, the fortifications created by Argeleb I held for about half a century, chiefly because during that time Angmar was otherwise engaged:

(Second) Siege of Rivendell

TA 1356 – 1409


While his allies in Rhudaur tried and failed to seize Weathertop and the Palantír lodged there, also in TA 1356 the Witch-king of Angmar for his part began to lay siege to Rivendell.  His own siege to the Elven mountain refuge lasted considerably longer than the first siege laid by his master Sauron in the Second Age, after the fall of Ost-in-Edhil during Sauron’s war with the Elves (over fifty years for the second siege laid by the forces of the Witch-king of Anmar, compared to only three years for Sauron’s siege); yet, even without the powerful Númenórean fleet that had set Sauron’s territorial gains at naught in the Second Age, the outcome of this second siege was the same as that of the first one: Eventually Elrond succeeded in bringing in reinforcements from Lothlórien and, with their assistance, managed to break the leaguer.

They were unable, however, to stop Angmar from turning its attention back to its original objective; and this time, with vastly more devastating results:

Angmar’s Attack on Arthedain, Cardolan and Amon Sûl

TA 1409

The Fall of Amon Sûl as shown in The Lord of the Rings: The Battle for Middle-earth II (source)

By TA 1409, Angmar had built up an army of truly terrifying power, and together with his allies in Rhudaur the Witch-king crossed the river Hoarwell, circling around the Dúnedain defences to invade Cardolan from the south.  Causing huge destruction, the host of Angmar marched north and launched a massive attack on Weathertop.  In the ensuing campaign, both Arveleg I of Arthedain and the last Prince of Cardolan died, while on Weathertop the tower of Amon Sûl was destroyed, never to be rebuilt.  However, the Witch-king of Angmar still failed to achieve at least one of his strategic aims, in that the defenders of Arthedain managed to secure the Palantír of Weathertop and carry it away to safety in Fornost.  There, although he had come to the throne at the age of only eighteen years, the new King of Arthedain, Arveleg’s son Araphor, defended Fornost and pushed the army of Angmar out of the North Downs with the assistance of Círdan, who had become the ruler of Lindon after Gil-galad’s death.

The Prince of Cardolan and his men were buried in the Barrow-downs south of the Great East Road (the northernmost part of Cardolan); over a millennium and a half later, Frodo Baggins and his fellow Hobbits would (likely) come to be temporarily imprisoned in his tomb by a Barrow-wight.  Meanwhile, Rhudaur was now openly occupied by Angmar and Cardolan was ravaged.  Both regions — but especially so, Cardolan — were largely depopulated, with Rhudaur now being inhabited solely by the Hill-men and their Angmar confederates, while what little remained of the population of Cardolan, including a small band of Dúnedain, held out in the Barrow-downs and in the Old Forest, as well as scattered across other parts of Minhiriath (the region between the rivers Baranduin and Gwathló).

Even though Arnor had thus been hugely weakened, the Witch-king was still unable to capitalize on the blows he had caused its successor kingdoms, as now the Elves unleashed their remaining strength upon Angmar.  Having broken the siege of Rivendell with the help of the force of Galadhrim that King Amroth on Lórien had sent over the High Pass to Imladris, Elrond, the Galadhrim, and the Elves from Lindon now dealt such a blow to Angmar that it was subdued for centuries, granting Arnor’s successor kingdoms and their people a final (albeit temporary) reprieve.

Arnor, however, was unable to recover its former strength.  Already scourged by civil war, partition and warfare with Angmar, the remaining kingdom of Arthedain — as well as what remained of Cardolan and Rhudaur — was then further devastated by a plague that struck most of Middle-earth some two centuries later.  Most of Cardolan’s remaining population, including all of the Dúnedain, were lost to the plague.  As a final blow the Witch-king sent evil beings (the Barrow-wights) to infest the Barrow-downs in the wake of the plague. Therafter, Cardolan was left a desolate and deserted land. 

Arthedain fared a bit better; and it was here that over the course of the middle of the Third Age the Hobbits — who had begun to migrate westwards around TA 1000 — moved from parts of Eriador even more heavily affected by the constant warfare and destruction of the past several centuries.  Having first settled in the area of Bree, in TA 1601 they had obtained permission to establish themselves in Arthedain’s former royal hunting grounds of the Shire; welcomed by King Argeleb II, who was happy to see the thinned-out population of his kingdom replenished (somewhat) by a friendly people.  Once settled in the Shire, the Hobbits mostly kept to themselves, although nominally considering themselves subjects of the King of Arthedain as long as Arnor’s final successor kingdom existed.  Their numbers, too, dwindled during the plague, but recovered thereafter. — The Stoors, meanwhile, who had settled in Rhudaur and Dunland for a while, moved either back across the Misty Mountains, there to settle on the shores of the Gladden river and form a matriarchal community, or westward in the direction of the Shire, where they principally settled in the East and South Farthing.

Yet, there was no denying that the kingdom founded by Elendil had dwindled further and further away; even its only surviving successor realm, Arthedain, had lost much of whatever little remained of Arnor’s waning importance shortly after the Third Age had barely reached the mid-point of its history.

Karen Wynn Fonstad: wars in the 14th and 15th century of the Third Age

The Hand of Castamir
(art by Thaldir, for Fantasy Flight Games)
The Kin-strife in Gondor

TA 1432 – 1448

After Arnor and Arthedain had largely been reduced to insignificance, it was almost as if Gondor had wanted to show that they, too, were perfectly capable of gambling away a position of great power and influence — and unlike in Arnor’s case, without any hostile interference from outside whatsoever; moreover, following on from a diplomatic move that had been intended to further the understanding of Gondor and its neighbors in Rhovanion and bring the Northmen living there firmly back into alignment with Gondor.

When King Rómendacil II, based on the lessons learned from some Northmen’s allegiance with the Easterlings in their TA 1248 march on Gondor, had sent his son and heir Valacar to Rhovanion as an ambassador, he had hoped for the reestablishment of amicable diplomatic relationships; charging his son to learn the language, social customs and order, habits, and policies of the Northmen.  But he had either not expected the formation of more than amicable relationships between Valacar and princess Vidumavi, the daughter of his host Vidugavia, soi-dit King of Rhovanion, the mightiest of the Northmen’s chiefs and ruler of the area between Mirkwood and the River Running (the long river flowing from the Lonely Mountain through the Long Lake and down through Rhovanion to the inland Sea of Rhûn); or Rómendacil had vastly underestimated the reactions that such a match would cause in Gondor.

The people of Gondor took great pride in the fact that their kingdom was one of two Realms in Exile founded by the Númenoréan Faithful, that its rulers were heirs, in a direct and uninterrupted line, of Elros Tar-Minyatur and the Lords of Andúnië (through which lineage, in turn, they could trace their heritage all the way back to the Half-elven of the First Age and through them, further back to the royal lines of the Ñoldor and the Sindar, as well as all Three Houses of the Edain), and that with this came the outwardly visible signs of the special blessings bestowed, by the Valar themselves, on the line of Elros Tar-Minyatur and generally on the Númenóreans and their heirs, the Dúnedain: a life span greatly exceeding that of the other Men of Middle-earth, as well as great personal powers, wisdom, and overall superiority to their fellow Men.  Over the course of the centuries and through the intermingling with the local population — as well as rulers such as Rómendacil II’s indolent great-uncle and uncle, Atanatar II and Narmacil I, both of whom had shown themselves unworthy of the crown of Gondor — some of this superiority might have dwindled away in the interim; but that only meant that it was now being prized all the more highly, and guarded all the more jealously.

Valacar and Vidumavi (art by Aylatha)

So when Valacar, having taken his father’s mandate to heart, and having indeed fallen in love with both the country and the daughter of its ruler, upon returning to Gondor in TA 1260 brought home a wife belonging to a tribe of “Middle-men” — the term used by the “High men” of Gondor and Arnor for people in allegiance with the Dúnedain and their Realms in Exile, without, however, possessing the same extraordinary powers — and a son born by that wife, people in Gondor were incensed; many feared that the royal line had been “tainted” and rendered insignificant in a mixed-blood heir.

As it was, Vidumavi lived to a great age by the standards of her people  (90 years or more: the exact year of her birth is not known, but her son was born in TA 1255, she herself died in TA 1332, and it seems unlikely that she would have reached puberty earlier than at age 12 or 13).  Nevertheless, she still died a full thirty-four years before her husband ascended the throne; for all her undisputed personal beauty and nobility thus proving in the view of those opposed to the match the very risks to which, they thought, Valacar had exposed the royal line.  And while the fact that she was no longer at her husband’s side when he did succeed his father in TA 1366 might have removed the constant reminder of his perceived “folly” in the eyes of his people (although the absence of a queen would arguably have been such a constant reminder just as much as her presence; not to mention the constant presence of Valacar’s and Vidumavi’s son), the older Valacar himself became, the more people started to grumble, until rebellion broke out in the southern provinces — the old Númenórean stronghold of Umbar and its neighboring areas.

The genealogy of Eldacar and Castamir (source)

Matěj Čadil: Eldacar

When Valacar’s and Vidumavi’s son Eldacar (“Elf-helm”; originally baptized Vinit-harya — “Rómendacil” or “East-victor” in the language of the Northmen) succeeded his father in TA 1432 to become Gondor’s twenty-first King, the unrest already festering in the south quickly spread throughout the entire kingdom and  grew into an open and general rebellion, as many Gondorians saw Eldacar as a half-breed who had no right to rule — indeed, in their view it was unheard-of for an heir to the throne of Gondor to come, even partly, from one of an alien and perceived “lesser” people, and to thus diminish the majesty of the Kings.

The rebels were led by the King’s second cousin Castamir, the grandson of Calimehtar, younger son of Calmacil (the eighteenth King of Gondor) and brother of King Rómendacil II.  While not in the direct line of succession, Castamir was closely related to the royal line; a noble of the realm who, at the time when rebellion broke out, was Gondor’s Captain of Ships (high commander of the navy) and could count of a great and loyal base of support in Umbar, Pelargir and other coastal regions.  Castamir claimed that, himself likewise a direct descendant of Eldacar’s great-grandfather, King Calmacil and his forbears — and hence, a direct descendant of Anárion — and unlike Eldacar a pure-blooded Gondorian, he had a better claim to the throne than the “half-breed” Eldacar (who in fact, according to Castamir, had no claim at all).  Many Gondorians agreed with him and were willing to take to arms to remove Eldacar from the throne and install Castamir there instead.

Thus, Gondor soon found itself in the midst of a civil war, which for the fact that the two opposing contenders for the crown were second cousins, came to be known as the Kin-strife.

Sack of Osgiliath

TA 1437


In TA 1437, Castamir led a large armed rebel force against Eldacar, besieging him in Osgiliath. During the siege Osgiliath was ruthlessly sacked and left in flames, its people were slaughtered; and its Dome of Stars was destroyed, as was the Palantír lodged there, the Osgiliath-stone.

While the siege was successful in winning Castamir the throne, he proved himself a cruel and ungenerous ruler; quickly ordering the execution of Eldacar’s elder son and heir Ornendil after he had seized power.  His brutality and haughtiness, and his preference of ships and fleets over the land which he ruled, quickly lost him the support of the people of Gondor; and an (abandoned) attempt to move the seat of the throne to Pelargir gained him much added antipathy in Ithilien and Minas Anor especially.

Battle of the Crossings of Erui

TA 1447

The Crossings of Erui (source)

After having been driven out of Osgiliath, Eldacar fled into exile with his mother’s kin in Rhovanion and spent the next ten years there building up an armed force, which included his kinsfolk and other Northmen in service to Gondor, but also an increasing number of Dúnedain of Gondor’s northern provinces, who had come to greatly respect him, while at the same time increasingly growing disaffected with and even downright hating Castamir.

Having carefully laid his plans, in TA 1447 Eldacar returned from Rhovanion with a great army, the ranks of which were further swelled by fighters from Calenardhon, Anorien, and Ithilien, all flocking to Eldacar’s banner in support of his campaign to unseat the by now much-loathed usurper.

(1) Eldacar’s forces (white) descend from Minas Tirith in the north 
to meet Castamir at the Crossings of Erui.  Eldacar is victorious;
Castamir is killed.  (2) Castamir’s surviving supporters (black)
flee to Pelargir.  (3) Having gathered their strength, they flee
down Anduin and further south to Umbar, where Eldacar, not
having any ships, cannot follow them.  (Source)

Castamir marched his forces to meet Eldacar’s army in open battle at the Crossings of Erui, the fords where the main road from Minas Tirith to Pelargir crossed the swift-flowing tributary of Anduin which of old had been part of the border between Anórien and Lebennin; flowing south from the White Mountains near Mindolluin through the province of Lossarnach, where it met the Anduin south of Minas Tirith.  In a battle that demanded a heavy price among Gondor’s elite on both sides but was at last won by Eldacar’s forces, Eldacar himself faced off against Castamir and killed him, thus making the usurper pay for the death of his (Eldacar’s) son Ornendil and reclaimig the kingship of Gondor.

However, Castamir’s own sons and their surviving supporters managed to escape and retreat to Pelargir.  There, Eldacar besieged them by land; but after having recuperated and regathered their forces, a year later they escaped by sea to the haven of Umbar, where Eldacar, not possessing any ships of his own, was not able to follow them. 

After having resolutely dealt with any remaining opposition to his rule within Gondor, Eldacar showed no sign of aging any more rapidly than any Dúnadan not of mixed heritage.  He lived for 235 years, thus removing any lingering doubts as to any impairing effect that his mother’s lineage might have had on the lifespan and powers of the Kings of Gondor; at his death, he was succeeded by his younger son Aldamir.

Center image: source; bottom image by Adam Paquette
Corsairs of Umbar

TA 1448 – 1810

Following the Kin-strife and the flight of Castamir’s sons and supporters to Umbar, the haven once more became a refuge for the enemies of Gondor; even close relatives of the kings of Gondor who were suspected of treason or of conspiring against the Kings fled there.  Having thus regained its independence, Umbar would remain at war with Gondor for generations: a constant threat to its coastlines and sea traffic, and home to the much-feared Corsairs. 

Moreover, the region of Harondor (South Gondor) — situated between the rivers Poros and Harnen, both of which flowed westwards from the Ephel Dúath (Mountains of Shadow) on the western border of Mordor; the Poros eventually meeting the Anduin at that river’s delta, the Harnen flowing into the Beleager in a delta of its own — became a debatable land between the kings of Gondor and the Corsairs of Umbar.  As a result of the loss of Umbar, Gondor’s hold upon the Men of the Harad was also loosened.

Several Kings of Gondor died in armed clashes with the Corsairs and their allies, the Haradrim: Eldacar’s son and heir Aldamir was killed in TA 1540 and was avenged by his own son Vinyarion, who after having roundly defeated the Haradrim and Umbar in a battle in TA 1551 took the name Hyarmendacil (“South-victor”) II.  Vinyarion Hyarmendacil II’s son Minardil was killed in a TA 1634 battle in Pelargir, when the Corsairs, led by Castamir the Usurper’s grandsons Angamaitë and Sangahyando, embarked on a raid up the river Anduin, surprised the unsuspecting Minardil (who had believed himself safe due to his father’s crushing victory over Umbar), ravaged Pelargir and the coasts, and escaped with great booty.

Umbar ca. TA 1650 (source)

After the plague had claimed the next several Kings of Gondor, the kingdom’s capital had permanently been moved from the razed and deserted Osgiliath to Minas Anor.  Meanwhile, the royal line was continued in the heirs of Minardil’s younger son Minastan. 

After Gondor had begun to recover from the plague, Minastan’s grandson Telumehtar once more saw the need to turn his attention to Umbar, as the Corsairs, exploiting Gondor’s weakness, had taken to raiding the coasts of Gondor as far west as the Anfalas, the coastal region south of the Pinnath Gelin (the Green Hills) between the rivers Lefnui and Morthond.  Telumehtar now decided that enough was enough and built up a large force, which he took south in TA 1810, taking Umbar by storm and driving out the Corsairs.  In the battle, the last descendants of Castamir and most Men of Dúnedain heritage were killed; and Gondor once more held Umbar for the remainder of his reign.  To mark his achievement, Telumehtar added the epithet Umbardacil to his name.

Invasion of the Wainriders

TA 1851 – 1944


Having barely — at least for the time being — settled its score with one of its perpetual scourges (the Corsairs and the Haradrim), Gondor had to face off against the kingdom’s other main enemy once more: the Easterlings; and a fiercer, better-armed and better-trained confederacy of these than had ever before been seen in the west of Middle-earth: the Wainriders.

These tribes’ collective name derived from the fact that they journeyed in great wagons, camped in fortified camps of those wagons, and their chieftains rode chariots in battle.  Their young women were as well-trained in arms as their men; and they, along with old men and youths, stayed behind in order to defend their homes from attackers if needed.

Yet, when in TA 1851 (one year after Telumehtar Umbardacil’s son Narmacil II had ascended the throne of Gondor as its twenty-ninth King), they suddenly showed up in, and quickly overran, Rhovanion, they did not come out of the blue: in fact, they had been instigated by agents dispatched by none other than Sauron.  The Dark Lord, who had begun to stir again a few centuries earlier — first by building a new stronghold, Dol Guldur, in southern Mirkwood, and then by sending the lord of the Nazgûl to Angmar in order to beset Arnor and its three successor states — did not want to let Gondor ever regain the strength that it had had under the Ship-kings, particularly under Hyarmendacil I.  He had not liked to see that, while still recovering from the devastations wrought by the plague and although vastly more fragile than it had been at earlier times during its history, Gondor had nevertheless succeeded in decisively routing the Corsairs of Umbar in TA 1850; and it seemed more than probable that, if left alone, the kingdom would build on that success in shaping its future policies.  Moreover, Sauron had set his sights on returning to Mordor; knowing well that Gondor’s watch on the Black Land had been abandoned during the plague years.  So he encouraged the Wainriders to move westwards; both in order to keep Gondor embattled and unable to focus its attention on building another massive and battle-ready army (and navy), and also in order to distract its attention from his own moves.

And from Sauron’s perspective, the Wainriders’ attacks on Gondor would turn out a rousing success: the Easterlings would remain a dire threat to both Gondor and the Northmen of Rhovation for almost a century, during which time neither of the two peoples had any spare thought for Sauron’s activities; notwithstanding the fact that two of the battles of the Wainriders War would be fought outside the very Gate of Mordor, and similarly, the final confrontation between Gondor’s armies and the Wainriders would take place in Ithilien, again as close to Mordor as it could possibly be within the territory of Gondor.   Thus, while Gondor and the Northmen were busy fighting the Wainriders, Sauron’s Ring-wraiths were able to re-enter Mordor — and Gondor would only come to realize it when it was way too late.

Stefano Baldo: Wainriders

Karen Wynn Fonstad: The Battle of the Plains

Battle of the Plains

TA 1856

The Northmen of Rhovanion had taken longer than the people of Gondor to recover from the plague, and even after two centuries they were still so weakened that they had little strength to draw on to oppose the Wainriders.  Realizing that it would therefore be chiefly incumbent on Gondor to deal with the invaders, in TA 1856 King Narmacil II took a great army northward to the plains south of Mirkwood, gathering together all that he could of the scattered remnants of the Northmen, who for their part were led by a nobleman named Marhari: a distant descendant of Vidugavia, the self-proclaimed King of Rhovanion, whose daughter Vidumavi had married Valacar, the son of Rómendacil II of Gondor, some four centuries earlier.

Stronger and better armed than prior generations of Easterlings, the Wainriders descended on the combined forces of Gondor and the Northmen from the north and the east, led into battle by their chariot-riding chieftains.  The outcome of the fiercely-fought battle was an unmitigated disaster for Gondor and, even more so, for the Northmen: Not only were their forces defeated; both Narmacil II and Marhari were killed, the King of Gondor north-east of the Morannon and the leader of the Northmen while fighting in the rearguard.  The remnant of Gondor’s army retreated over Dagorlad into Ithilien; while the lands east of the river Anduin — with the sole exception of Ithilien — were abandoned and lost for the next several decades, thus now making the river Anduin itself the kingdom’s eastern border along a large part of its course.  Still, the forces of Gondor inflicted just about enough damage to the Wainriders to at least prevent any deeper incursion into Gondor, where Narmacil’s son Calimehtar was left to pick up the pieces from his father’s failed attempt to send the Wainriders back into the east only a few years after they had first shown up. 

The invaders, meanwhile, completed their conquest of Rhovanion, raiding its lands and enslaving its people; reducing most of the Northmen, particularly in southern and eastern Rhovanion, to servitude and appropriating their former lands.  Some of the Northmen fled over the river Celduin and merged with their kin, the People of Dale; others took refuge in Gondor, and yet others were gathereed under the leadership of Marhari’s son Marhwini, who led his people north through the untamed land between the eastern bank of the River Anduin and the western edge of Mirkwood Forest, eventually settling east of the Great River in the Vales of Anduin between the Carrock and the Gladden Fields.  There, they were joined by many fugitives who came through Mirkwood.  Subsequently this moment in history would come to be understood as the birth of the Éothéod, the ancestors of the Riders of Rohan, who in later centuries would be Gondor’s staunchest allies in the same way as their forbears had been in the early days of the Third Age; and who, as descendants of Vidugavia and his people, would consider themselves remote kin of the people of Gondor.  For the moment, however, news of this new community of Northmen did not even reach Gondor for many a year: for all practical and strategic purposes, Rhovanion and the Northmen were in enemy hands.

Calimehtar (source)

Karen Wynn Fonstad: The Battle of Dagorlad (TA 1899)

The Vales of Anduin (source)
(Note: Rohan did not yet exist in TA 1899-1944; at that
time, the area was known as the plain of Calenardhon.
— Minas Morgul and Minas Tirith were still known as
Minas Ithil and Minas Anor, respectively.)
(Second) Battle of Dagorlad

TA 1899

Gondor’s thirtieth King Calimehtar was determined to avenge his father’s death and Gondor’s defeat; and he knew that as long as his kingdom did not manage to rid itself of the enemy ensconced immediately to its north-east, it would only be a matter of time until the Wainriders would make another attempt to invade Gondor as well.  However, he took his time building up his army and laying his plans, making sure he had assembled a more viable force than that led into battle by his father in 1356, and waiting for the right moment to attack.

In 1899, messengers came to him from Marhwini, the leader of the band Northmen that had settled in the northern Vales of Anduin, informing him of two things: (1) The Northmen that had been enslaved by the Wainriders after the Battle of the Plains were determined to revolt as soon as the Wainriders would go to war again; and (2) the Wainriders were, indeed, planning to raid the plain of Calenardhon.  For this purpose, they were making ready to cross the Undeeps, the two westward bends of the river Anduin located between The Wold and the Brown Lands.  The upper part of the North Undeep bordered on the Field of Celebrant (the grassy plain south of Lórien, between the rivers Celebrant / aka Silverlode and Limlaith / aka Limlight): there, after passing by the eaves of Lórien, the waters of the Great River flowed into a wide, flat land, so that for many miles the river was shallow and filled with wide shoals and eyots which afforded an easy crossing for an army.

Having received Marhwini’s messengers, Calimehtar quickly led an army north from Ithilien, making sure that the enemy knew of his movements.  As he and Marhwini had hoped, the Wainriders came down from Rhovanion to meet his forces with all the strength they could muster.  Now feigning a retreat, Calimehtar drew them further away from their home ground, then gave battle on the plain of Dagorlad between the Dead Marshes and the Gate of Mordor.  At the peak of the battle, the cavalry of Gondor — having followed the Wainriders over the Undeeps which they had left unguarded, and joined by a great éored of Northmen led by Marhwini — attacked the Wainriders in the flank and rear.  (Note: In those early days and in that particular battle, the éored in question would almost certainly have comprised more riders than the later standard size of this cavalry unit of the Éothéod and the Rohirrim, which was 120 men.  It almost seems as if the expression were being used in this instance as a reference to Marhwini’s entire cavalry, even though — at least in later days — the term for the full muster of the Éothéod or the Rohirrim would be éoherë.)

Calimehtar’s and Marhwini’s strategy worked to perfection and their victory was overwhelming: fully one third of the Wainriders died, the rest were driven east- and northward by Marhwini’s riders, Calihemtar reclaimed some of the lands lost in the Battle of the Plains, and Gondor enjoyed a respite from war for almost half a century. 

In the early decades of the 20th century of the Third Age, forts along the Anduin north of the Sarn Gebir (the rapids north of Argonas) were manned to prevent any further incursion by the Wainriders across the Undeeps.

Battles of Ithilien
(Southern and Northern Armies of Gondor)

July 9-13, TA 1944

After their defeat in TA 1899, the Wainriders in turn planned a crushing revenge; and they came very close to achieving it 45 years later.

In TA 1936, Calimehtar had been succeeded on the throne of Gondor by his son Ondoher.  During his reign, and that of Araphant of Arthedain, the long-estranged kingdoms of the Dúnedain took counsel again for the first time in almost two millennia, realizing that some single will and power was coordinating the multiple assaults upon their kingdoms.  To mark their renewed relationship, in TA 1940 Ondoher’s daughter Fíriel married Prince Arvedui of Arthedain.  However, it would turn out that their renewed alliance was too little too late; and while Gondor was — for the moment — still able to deal with its enemies largely on its own (albeit not thanks to the strategic insights of its then-reigning King but that of one of its leading generals), Arthedain’s last moments were close at hand and Gondor’s assistance would not come in time to save the kingdom, even if not too late to take revenge on its enemies.

Eight years after having ascended to the throne, in TA 1944,  King Ondoher was warned by Marhwini’s son Forthwini, now the leader of the Éothéod, that according to his spies, the Wainriders of Rhovanion were becoming strong again and planned an attack upon Gondor.  The King was also warned that his enemies to the South were preparing for war and that his realm thus faced a double threat, as the Wainriders had allied themselves with the Haradrim of Near Harad and the Variags of Khand, orchestrating a simultaneous assault on Gondor from the north and the south.

Karen Wynn Fonstad: Battles of Ithilien (July, TA 1944)

In response, Ondoher split Gondor’s army in two and assigned the smaller southern force to a general named Eärnil, who was related to the royal line through his great-grandfather Arciryas, the younger son of King Telumehtar Umbardacil and younger brother of King Narmacil II. 

Meanwhile, Ondoher himself took command of the larger Northern Army together with his elder son Artamir; thus leaving behind in the capital Ondoher’s younger son, Faramir, as his second undisputed heir to the throne.  The Captain of the Right Wing of the northern army was Ondoher’s nephew, his sister’s son Minohtar; Minohtar’s section of the army followed the main force that included the King’s Guards as they approached the area in front of the Morannon (the Black Gate of Mordor).  Captain of the Left Wing was Adrahil of Dol Amroth, the descendant of a noble Númenórean family that settled in Belfalas in the Second Age and ancestor of the line of the Princes of Dol Amroth.  Ondoher’s army was also reinforced by a contingent of the Éothéod, joining his forces from the north.

The Crossings of Poros (source)

South Ithilien: Victory for Gondor

Eärnil made his base at Pelargir; and it was in the south that the enemy attacked first. 

On the ninth day of Cermië (July 9) in TA 1944, Eärnil received word that the southern enemies were on the move.  He crossed the Anduin with half of his force and encamped forty miles north of the Fords of the Poros, the river forming the northern border of Harondor (South Gondor) and the southern border of Ithilien, which was crossed by the Harad Road and which, at this point in Gondor’s history, effectively constituted the realm’s southern border.  When the Haradrim crossed the Poros into Ithilien, Eärnil made short shrift of them, roundly defeating and destroying their army.

His King and the Northern Army led by him, however, was decidedly less fortunate:

Ithilien and Dagorlad
(excerpt; source of complete map here)

Ondoher (art by Aylatha)

North Ithilien: Disaster of the Morannon

Ondoher and Artamir led their forces into Ithilien, intending to deploy their full army upon the Dagorlad to meet the enemy, expecting the Wainriders to come from the north or north-east.  However, their enterprise came to a devastating end: they were surprised by the Wainriders and their forces were overwhelmed, as the enemy not only came quicker than expected, but also, against all expectatins, directly from the east along the outskirts of the Ered Lithui (Ash Mountains) on the northern border of Mordor.  The Wainriders sent forth a swift vanguard of horsemen and charioteers that struck the head of the moving army of Gondor while it was still strung out and before any defensive dispositions had been made.  Ondoher had just enough time to send a message to Minohtar to cover his left flank before the centre of the forces led by him and his son, with most of the King’s Guard, were annihilated, and Ondoher himself and Artamir were killed. 

Minohtar then took command of the army, rallying the remaining men of the Centre and deploying his own command.  He sent word to Adrahil of Dol Amroth — whose forces had been shielded from the attack and had survived it — to withdraw, along with both his own command of the Left Wing and those at the rear of the Right Wing who had not yet been engaged, to a defensive position between the island of Cair Andros in the Anduin river and the Ephel Dúath (Mountains of Shadow) on the western border of Mordor; so as to cover the approaches of Minas Anor (Minas Tirith) and allow Minohtar to use Adrahil’s forces as a rearguard and attempt to stem the advance of the Wainriders, whose main host was now approaching.  Minohtar also had Adrahil send a message to Eärnil, in order to inform him of the disaster of the Morannon and of the position of the retreating Northern Army.

Minohtar managed to checked the onslaught of the enemy for a while. Then the leader of the Éothéod arrived with the dead body of the younger son of King Ondoher, Faramir, who had disobeyed the order to stay behind in Minas Anor and had been killed, riding disguised with the Northmen, when his party had been caught near the Dead Marshes.  Minohtar had been in the process of sending a message to Faramir when this crushing news arrived. 

Soon, the Wainriders broke through Minohtar’s position and poured into northern Ithilien, crushing Gondor’s northern army. Late on the thirteenth day of Cermië (July 13), Minohtar was overwhelmed and killed by an arrow. His body was carried away with the rearguard as they fled to find Adrahil.  

Adrahil’s fate, meanwhile, is uncertain; it is neither known whether the Wainriders, having broken through Minohtar’s more northerly defence, also penetrated to Adrahil’s position and attacked his few remaining effective forces, nor whether he himself survived the battle and if so, what became of him.  Similarly, there is no record of Forthwini’s fate.

There can be little doubt, however, that in the minds of the Wainriders, their victory was complete.  Ondoher’s forces were routed, the few survivors were fleeing south; and Gondor lay defenseless before them, seemingly just waiting to be destroyed once and for all.

Battle of the Camp

TA 1944 (July)

Wainrider camp (source)

Left: Ithilien (source)
Right: Karen Wynn Fonstad: Battle of the Camp

Yet, ultimately it would be precisely the speed of the Wainriders’ victory which prove their undoing:

Before they had learned of the defeat of the Haradrim at Eärnil’s hands, Eärnil himself had  received word of the disaster in the north from Adrahil of Dol Amroth. Hastening north, he added what he could of the retreating northern army (the remnants of which he met during their flight southward) to his own army as reinforcements and stormed the main camp of the Wainriders, who had paused in North Ithilien to celebrate their conquest — after winning what they thought was an easy and complete victory, they were feasting and revelling; and the last thing they expected was a reversal of fortune in the form of another attack.  Thus, Eärnil was able to take his unprepared enemies completely by surprise.  He torched their wains and drove them out of Ithilien.  Fleeing from the Battle of the Camp, most of the Wainriders perished in the Dead Marshes; their few survivors were sent  reeling back into the East. 

After this defeat, the Easterlings, for so long a dreaded enemy of Gondor, did not march against Gondor for hundreds of years afterwards, even if they held on to Rhovanion.  For its setting, Eärnil’s attack on the prematurely-celebrating Wainriders would come to be known as the Battle of the Camp.

However, as not only Ondoher and both of his sons, but also his nephew Minohtar had been killed, the existing line of the Kings of Gondor going back to Ondoher’s grandfather Narmacil II was extinct.

Eärnil II (source)

For this reason, Arvedui, crown prince of Arthedain and husband of Ondoher’s daughter Fíriel, put forth a claim to the crown of Gondor, arguing that  he was the direct descendant of Isildur, who — Arvedui claimed — had never relinquished his royalty in Gondor but merely entrusted that realm’s government to Anárion’s son Meneldil; and further, that his wife Fíriel was King Ondoher’s daughter and by the ancient Númenórean law, the sceptre should have been hers.  However, in TA 1945 Steward Pelendur and the Council of Gondor rejected his claim, declaring that according to Gondor’s law of succession, only an heir of Anárion in direct and unbroken lineage could become King of Gondor.  This condition was met by the victorious general Eärnil, who took the crown as King Eärnil II.

Meanwhile, regardless of the outcome for the Wainriders (who after all had only been tools that Sauron had been using to achieve a greater aim), Sauron himself had seen all his strategic aims achieved: While Gondor had been busy doing battle against the Easterlings and its control of the lands east of the Anduin had been lost, the borders of Mordor had been wide open; and during this time the Nazgûl had taken advantage of Gondor’s narrowly-avoided calamity to re-enter the land of their master.

Last Stand Against Angmar

TA 1851 – 1975

The din host of Angmar gathered at Carn Dûm, as shown in The Lord of the Rings: War in the North (source)

Although Angmar had not launched any further attacks on Arthedain after having roundly been defeated by Arthedain’s Elven allies in the 15th century of the Third Age, its prior campaigns — particularly the expulsion of the Dúnedain from Rhudaur and the TA 1409 assault on Amon Sûl and Cardolan –, as well as the TA 1636 plague and the subsequent infestation of the Barrow-downs with the Barrow-wights, had brought Arnor and its sole remaining partial successor kingdom to its knees to such an extent that it was hard to imagine if and how it would ever be able to regain even a fraction of its former strength.  In fact, even two centuries after the plague, Arthedain was still struggling and clearly unable to stop Angmar’s power from spreading further throughout the north of Middle-earth — but although its days would soon be numbered, it wasn’t over and done just yet.

Arthedain’s Last Victory

TA 1851

Invasion of the Barrow-downs (source)

By the time that Araval ascended the throne of Arthedain as its thirteenth King in TA 1813, the Witch-king of Angmar had clearly decided that Arthedain had had peace long enough and the time had come to escalate the pressure once more: possibly anticipating, too, that soon the Wainriders would be invading Rhovanion and Gondor, so even if either of the two Realms in Exile had wanted to call on the other for assistance despite their centuries-long factual estrangement, neither would actually have been able to respond to such an appeal, being fully engaged in defending its own territory and interests. 

Accordingly, the Witch-king’s forces renewed their attacks on Arthedain.  But he had underestimated the vigilance and resolve of the new King, as well as the Elves’ loyalty to Arthedain: In TA 1851, just when the Wainriders were actually showing up in in Rhovanion, Araval went to battle against the forces of Angmar in Cardolan, supported by Arnor’s allies of old, the Elves of Lindon and Rivendell.  The coalition held and celebrated a victory — their last one until Angmar’s defeat, over a century later.

However, Araval’s attempts to resettle Cardolan failed, as the Barrow-wights terrified anyone trying to make their home anywhere near the Barrow-downs.  Thus, Cardolan remained a deserted and practically uninhabited land.

Moreover, it would soon turn out that Araval’s campaign had only brought Arthedain a brief final reprieve: By the time that his son Araphant succeeded him in TA 1891, Angmar had recovered from the losses sustained during the battle in Cardolan and renewed its attacks, which Araphant struggled to hold off.  Even in Arthedain, the Dúnedain were greatly in decline at this point, and the kingdom was failing.  Its single final decisive victory in TA 1851 had done nothing to reverse that trend.

It was Araphant, however, who took counsel with King Ondoher of Gondor, concluding that the attacks on the two Realms in Exile were being directed by one single will and power, agreeing to stand by each other in opposition to that will, and sealing their renewed bond by the marriage of their children Arvedui and Fíriel.  Even if this renewed alliance would not, in the end, prevent the fall of Arthedain, nor gain Arvedui the throne of Gondor after Oropher’s line had failed in the TA 1944 Disaster of the Morannon, it would pay off greatly (albeit belatedly) in the final defeat of Angmar — although that defeat of the Witch-king’s realm would in turn come to be the root cause of the end of the House of Anárion in Gondor as well.

Fall of Fornost

TA 1974 (winter)


When Arvedui was born in TA 1864, Malbeth (“golden-word / -voice”) the Seer, counsellor to Arvedui’s father Araphant, told the King to name his new-born son Arvedui (“last king” in Sindarin), as he would be the last ruler of Arthedain:

“Arvedui you shall call him, for he will be the last in Arthedain. Though a choice will come to the Dúnedain, and if they take the one that seems less hopeful, then your son will change his name and become king of a great realm. If not, then much sorrow and many lives of men shall pass, until the Dúnedain arise and are united again.”

The prophecy would come true in both respects: Arvedui would be the last King of Arthedain; and when the Dúnedain of Gondor had the choice whether to make Arvedui (“the one that seems less hopeful”) or Eärnil the next King of Gondor, they opted for Eärnil.  So Arvedui never became “king of a great realm” and never changed his name; and it would take more than another millennium, the fall of Arthedain, the rise of Sauron, the life spans of many men, and many more wars and disasters causing “much sorrow”, until the Realms in Exile would finally be reunited under Aragorn II Elessar at the end of the War of the Ring.

Indeed, when Arvedui became King in TA 1964, Arthedain’s death knell had already begun to ring, as the kingdom was struggling increasingly despearely to fend off Angmar’s attacks and hold the Witch-king’s forces at bay, while King Eärnil II of Gondor, needing his own forces closer to home, was not immediately able to come to his aid.

But in TA 1973, nine years after having ascended to the throne, Arvedui learned that the Witch-king was preparing what would likely be his final deadly assault on Arthedain.  Accordingly, Arvedui sent a message of distress and a plea for assistance to Gondor; and having received the message, Eärnil indeed mustered a great army under the command of his son, Prince Eärnur, including many horsemen from the Vales of Anduin and comprising so many ships that their massive fleet would, when at last arriving in Lindon, fill all of Mithlond, Harlond and Forlond.  But although the Gondorian forces embarked immediately and moved northward with all diligent speed, they did not reach the shores of Lindon in time before Angmar launched its attack (in fact, they would not land there until TA 1975, two years after having put to sea); and so the inevitable happened:

Karen Wynn Fonstad: The Fall of Fornost

During the harsh winter of TA 1974, the Witch-king’s massive assembled forces descended from the north and made straight for Arthedain’s capital of Fornost.  Unable to withstand a siege, the city fell; and the remaining forces of the Dúnedain were driven west over the river Lune into Lindon, while the Witch-king laid Arthedain to waste, as he had already done with Cardolan centuries earlier.

Arvedui and a small number of followers, meanwhile, rescued several heirlooms of Arnor, such as the Ring of Barahir and the Palantíri of Amon Sûl and Annúminas.  They held out for a short time in the North Downs, until they were forced to flee to the abandoned Dwarven mines of the northern Blue Mountains.

Arvedui and his shipwreck, as shown in The Lord of the Rings Online (sources here and here)

When their food began to run out and they were increasingly facing hunger and despair, they sought refuge with the Lossoth (“Snowmen”) of Forochel, the survivors of the Forodwaith, the ancient hardy people who had inhabited the far northern lands of Middle-earth around the Cape and Icebay of Forochel probably since the Elder Days, and whose name had endured as the name of the region.

The Dúnedain offered the Lossoth jewelry in payment for food and assistance; this did not, however, greatly impress the tough northerners, who did not have much use for such glitter.  But they were moved by the refugees’ gaunt faces and obvious lack of nourishment, as well as afraid of their weaponry; and this combination of fear and pity made them offer food and shelter to Arvedui and his compaions.  As the Dúnedain’s horses had perished during their flight, they had to wait out the long and harsh winter of TA 1974-75 — a much longer and harsher winter than was usual, even in that northernmost part of Middle-earth –, keeping a fire constantly alight, until the hoped-for help would arrive in the spring.

Círdan, meanwhile, having learned of Arvedui’s plight from his son Aranarth, after Aranarth had himself reached the Grey Havens, had indeed sent a rescue ship to the Icebay of Forochel.  When that ship arrived there at last in March of the year TA 1975, the Lossoch were afraid of it; partly because no ship had been seen in their waters in living memory and partly out of fear of the Witch-king, whom they had learned to fear as a terrifying neighbor, and who, they thought, might intend to use the ship for his evil purposes. 

But Arvedui rejected the warning by the chief of the Lossoch to merely have the provisions carried by the ship brought ashore and stay in Forochel until summer, when it might be less dangerous for him and his companions to move southward again on land.  So he merely gave the chieftain his ring (the Ring of Barahir) as a token of his thanks, and the Dúnedain boarded and departed on the ship.  However, after the ship had set sail again, a storm arose in the north and chased the ship; eventually crushing it on the ice of the Bay of Forochel and drowning all of its mariners and passengers, as well as the two Palantíri it carried.

Thus, the last King of Arthedain died, fulfilling the prophecy of Malbeth the Seer, without ever learning that less than a year after the Fall of Fornost, the Witch-king would be made to pay a high price for annihilation of Arthedain.

Battle of Fornost

TA 1975

The Battle of Fornost (Source)

When the fleet sent northward by Eärnil II of Gondor and commanded by his son Eärnur as Captain of Gondor finally reached the shores of Lindon in TA 1975, they were truly a sight to see for sore eyes; particularly those of the survivors of the Fall of Fornost.  Eärnur’s massive fleet filled all of Mithlond, Harlond and Forlond; and while by Gondor’s standards it was not even extraordinarily large — in fact, it only comprised a modest part of Gondor’s forces –, it was a more impressive show of military strength than had been seen in Arnor for a very long time.

Combining his forces with the remnants of the army of Arthedain, as well as the Elves of Lindon, led by Círdan, Eärnur marched the Host of the West — the most powerful army of Elves and Men seen in Middle-earth since the War of the Last Alliance, two millennia earlier — across the Lune and straight on Fornost, which was now occupied by the Witch-king of Angmar in his perceived final triumph.  Along the way, they cleansed the lands of Orcs and other servants of Angmar, who all fled in terror or were killed.  Notably, the army of Elves and Dúnedain also included the cavalry from Rhovanion, which had wisely been included in the Gondorian muster, and which would come to prove particularly useful on the wide lands of the north.  Moreover, they would later be met and further reinforced by a host of Elves from Rivendell under the command of Glorfindel; and on the way to the battlefield they would also be joined by a company of Hobbit archers from the Shire.

Karen Wynn Fonstad: Battle of Fornost

The Witch-king, hearing of the approaching army but overconfident after his recent victories and sure he would be able to drive them back across the Lune, did not even so much as contemplate a siege.  Rather, he sent his army out to face off against the Host of the West, which came down from Hills of Evendim and engaged the forces of Angmar in a great battle in the plains between Lake Nenuial and Fornost.  The passage at arms was already turning in favor of the army of Elves and Men, and the forces of Angmar were beginning to retreat to Fornost, when suddenly, out of the north, came the main body of the cavalry of Gondor, which had passed around the Hills and outflanked the enemy.  Eärnur’s magnificent horsemen now fell upon the forces of Angmar and scattered them in a great rout.

The Witch-king gathered what troops he could and tried to lead them back to his stronghold of Carn Dûm, the capital of Angmar on the northernmost peak of the Misty Mountains; but he was overtaken by the cavalry of Gondor, led by Prince Eärnur; who, together with the force of Elves from Rivendell led by Glorfindel, pursued and annihilated all that remained of the Angmar forces.


When all appeared lost for Angmar, the lord of the Nazgûl himself advanced on Eärnur with a terrible cry and challenged him to a duel, aiming to administer a swift lethal strike.  Robed and masked in black and riding a black horse, he terrified Men and horses alike by his appearance alone; making horses scatter and flee by the dozen and Men grow weak in their knees.  Yet, Eärnur would have steeled himself to the duel, had not his own horse, too, broken away in terror instead of charging and run far before he was finally able to master it.  The Witch-king laughed at this apparent retreat and mocked Eärnur, but then the Elves of Rivendell approached, and when Glorfindel rode up to the Witch-king on his white horse, the Nazgûl abruptly turned in mid-laugh and fled into the darkness of the night. 

Finally returned to his host, Eärnur wanted to pursue his enemy; but Glorfindel told him not to, as the Witch-king would not be coming back to Arnor; and when he would be killed (though his death was still far off in the future), it would not be by the hand of Man.  Nevertheless, Eärnur continued to bear a grudge against the Nazgûl for having disgraced him, and they both would carry an unabated mutual hate away from the battlefield.  Meanwhile, none who had heard the horrible sound of the Witch-king’s laughter would ever be able to forget it.

At last, Angmar was utterly defeated and purged of Men and Orcs; not a single Man or Orc of that realm remained west of the Misty Mountains.  Yet, the Witch-king himself had not been destroyed; and where he had fled, nobody knew.

Worse, the once proud kingdoms of Arnor and Arthedain were no more.  In fact, Arvedui’s son and heir Aranarth found that that his people had become too few to reestablish the realm; and he took the title of Chieftain rather than King.  The surviving Dúnedain of Arnor became a scattered and wandering people, some creating new homes in the Angle south of Rivendell, and the bravest of them joining Aranarth as Rangers, setting out to hunt evildoers and keep the peace in the ravaged land on an individual, case-by-case basis.  Other Men of Arnor survived in Bree and an assortment of villages, while the Hobbits kept themselves to themselves in the Shire (and some in Bree); in the Shire, four years after the Battle of Fornost, they chose a Thain from among themselves to replace the fallen King.  The Shire remained a minor but independent political unit throughout the rest of the Third Age.

Yet, the line of kings endured all the way down to Aragorn Elessar, as Rivendell became the secret shelter of the Chieftains of the Dúnedain, where they were raised to manhood, received an education in the lore, arts and languages of Elves and Men (including but by far not limited to the arts of warfare and fighting), and were prepared for the moment when one of them would at last be in a position to reclaim their ancestors’ throne.  And when Aragorn, many generations later, claimed the throne of Gondor, he did so as both the heir of Isildur and Anárion due to the fact he was descended from Fíriel — a claim none of the heirs of Arvedui would ever forget.

Meanwhile Forthwhini’s (likely) grandson Frumgar, the fourth lord of the Éothéod — having learned about the outcome of the war with Angmar from the returning riders who had joined Eärnur’s cavalry –, led the Éothéod into the northern Vales of Anduin, north of Mirkwood between the Misty Mountains and the Forest River.  There they drove away what remained of the people of Angmar on the east side of the Mountains while putting some much-needed space between themselves and Dol Guldur, whose shadow was lengthening and had brought with it increasing ravages of Sauron’s minions and allies of old, the Easterlings and Orcs.  The new land of the Éothéod came to be named for them and extended southward to the confluence of the rivers Greylin and Langwell, the sources of the Great River Anduin, near where the Ered Mithrin met the Misty Mountains.  Thus, the war against Angmar ended not only with the destruction of the Witch-king’s realm — and the demise of Arnor and Arthedain — but also on a hopeful note, as the Éothéod would continue to prosper and would eventually come to great prominence in later centuries.

Fall of Minas Ithil

TA 2002

Middle-earth would not have to wait long to find out where the Witch-king of Angmar had vanished:

The plague of TA 1636 had struck no part of Middle-earth worse than Gondor (worse even than Cardolan); and among the cities that were left completely bereft of their population was Minas Ithil — of old, the key stronghold keeping an eye on Mordor.  Even centuries later, the fortresses that guarded the passes to Mordor were unmanned; and the watch on the borders of of the Black Land had been abandoned: besides recovering from the ravages of the plague, Gondor had been too busy fighting the Corsairs of Umbar and the Wainriders to spare much of a thought about what might be going on east of the Ephel Dúath, the Mountains of Shadow encasing Mordor on the west and separating it from Ithilien.

Now King Eärnil II of Gondor learned that while his brilliant victories against the Wainriders a few decades earlier had availed Gondor freedom from the Easterlings, he and his predecessors still had done only half their job by not reestablishing the watch on Mordor: while they had been busy elsewhere, the Nazgûl and other evil creatures had entered Mordor; including, from TA 1980 (five years after the Battle of Fornost and the destruction of Angmar) onwards, the Ring-wraiths’ leader, the Witch-king himself.

The Nazgûl immediately set out to prepare Mordor for Sauron’s return.  As part of this, in TA 2000, they led men, who had once been dominated by Sauron and had wandered homeless and masterless after his fall, out of Mordor by night over the Pass of Cirith Ungol — and conceivably also over the main pass in the ravine at the end of the valley in which Minas Ithil was located — and began to besiege Minas Ithil, which was (probably) still not fully-garrisoned at this point.  (This is conjecture, but if there had been no defenders at all, it is hard to see why the siege should even have been necessary at all, let alone taken two years; on the other hand, there is no record saying that a large number of civilians, or for that matter, even a significant army unit was lost in the siege.)

Also conceivably, the Tower of Cirith Ungol itself was captured by the Nazgûl during the initial night of the siege, because it was an eastern outpost of the defences of Minas Ithil, where vigilance had failed particularly, and which treachery had yielded it up to the Witch-king. 

Two years later, in TA 2002, their forces had captured  the city and, with it, the Palantír lodged there, which in later years Sauron would use to deceive and influence Saruman and Denethor, the last ruling Steward of Gondor.

After the capture of Minas Ithil by the Nazgûl, the city became a foul, evil place, occupied by fell creatures and dreadful to look upon, and the people of Gondor renamed it Minas Morgul, the Tower of Sorcery; while Minas Anor was renamed Minas Tirith, the Tower of the Guard.  Formerly twinned, the two towers and their cities now became bitter enemies.  At the same time, many Gondorians fled from Ithilien.

Eärnur as portrayed in The Lord of the Rings: The Battle
for Middle-earth II: The Rise of the Witch-king
End of the Line of Kings of Gondor

TA 2050

The Witch-king of Angmar still had unfinished business to settle with Eärnur, heir to the throne of Gondor, whom he chiefly blamed for the loss of Angmar; and who for his part also still held the Witch-king in a special degree of  hatred due to his humiliation at the Battle of Fornost.

Once firmly installed in Minas Morgul, the Witch-king waited until his enemy of old had ascended the throne of Gondor as the kingdom’s thirty-third King, succeeding his father Eärnil II in TA 2043 — then he struck.  In the very year of Eärnur’s coronation, the Witch-king sent him a first taunting challenge to single combat, reminding him of his disgrace in the North.  This challenge went unresponded, as the wiser head of Mardil, the Steward of Gondor (who would later earn the honorary name Voronwë, “the Steadfast”) prevailed and the Steward succeeded in restraining Eärnur from rash action. 

However, given Eärnur’s combative temper, fierce pride, and skill at arms, it was only a matter of time until such a challenge would find its way straight into the center of Eärnur’s pride and set caution at nought: in fact, enamoured with anything relating to arms and armed combat, he retained his prowess and skill more than was usual, even for a man of Gondor; often seeming more like a champion than a king, and winning against any- and everyone in Gondor in any tournament that he entered — not because his opponents let him win, seeing that he was the King, but because he really was superior to every other fighter in the realm.  Thus, it was unthinkable for him to let any challenge to a duel go unanswered in perpetuity.

Seven years later, the Witch-king’s moment had come; and Eärnur, disregarding Glorfindel’s warning that the lord of the Nazgûl would not be killed by a Man, would finally see himself opposed by an enemy who, drawing on supernatural powers would turn out insuperable even to him.  When the Witch-king repeated his challenge in TA 2050, Eärnur rode into Minas Morgul with a small escort or knights — and not one member of  that party was ever seen again. 

Henceforth, Gondor was no longer ruled by a King in Gondor: no new king was elected and the rule of Gondor passed to the Ruling Stewards, beginning with Mardil Voronwë (“the Steadfast”).  The Stewards’ oath — sworn by Mardil and all of his successors upon taking office — said that they ruled “until the King returns”, because nobody knew for sure whether Eärnur had been killed or what else had become of him; moreover, seeing that Eärnur had left no heir, it was uncertain who (if anybody) had the best claim to the crown now that he was gone.  Royal descendants had become few and far between, and while many in Gondor could advance a claim to the kingship on some basis or other, virtually all of those claims were tainted by varying degrees of doubt, whereas no claimant for the throne could be found of pure Númenórean blood, or whose claim all would have accepted.  As no one wanted to risk another civil war like the Kin-strife, the realm’s rule by the Stewards was the logical compromise; temporary at first, though increasingly institutionalized as the centuries went by and the Stewards assumed greater and greater, almost King-like powers.

Before leaving for Minas Morgul, Eärnur had left his crown on the lap of his father in the Houses of the Dead, the burial place of the Kings of Gondor in Minas Tirith.  There it would be picked up by Faramir, the last Ruling Steward, for the coronation of Aragorn II Elessar almost a millennium later, when at last a claimant to the crown had arrived whom all of Gondor could accept (and gladly, too).

John Howe: Watchful Peace

Karen Wynn Fonstad:
Before and After the Watchful Peace

The Watchful Peace

TA 2063 – 2460

When Sauron’s minions claimed Minas Ithil (now Minas Morgul) in TA 2002, he might have thought that his activities had so far remained undiscovered in Valinor, which now, after all, was beyond the bent world of Arda and seemed remoter than ever from the goings-on in Middle-earth.  In fact, however, the Valar had already sent assistance to Middle-earth a millenium earlier, right around the time when Sauron had started building the fortress of Dol Guldur on the hill of Amon Lanc in southern Mirkwood (formerly Greenwood the Great); and probably even before Thranduil had led the Wood-elves over the Forest River to a new realm in TA 1050, seeking to evade the shadow that had fallen onto their land.

Before the first millennium of the Third Age was over, Manwë had called a council of the Valar, which had resolved to select emissaries from among the Maiar to Middle-earth, to advise and assist its peoples against Sauron as he summoned his forces and resumed his attempts to acquire dominion over all of Middle-earth during the Third Age.  Gathered in the Order of Wizards (Heren Istarion), ultimately five Maiar were selected, two of whom in particular would take a great hand in the events in Middle-earth; although the Istari were prohibited from assuming positions of worldly power themselves or match Sauron on a Maiar-against-Maiar level, employing their full powers as Ainur. 

Círdan the Shipwright witnessed the arrival of the Order in Middle-earth around the year TA 1000 and, on that occasion, secretly handed over Narya (the Elven Ring of Fire, set with a ruby) to the Istar Olórin, soon known in Middle-earth as Gandalf (“Wand-elf”) or Mithrandir (“Grey Pilgrim”), as Círdan realized that Olórin was the wisest of the five Istari and he foresaw that the Wizard — wielder of the forces of fire himself — would be able to draw great power from Narya’s fire in centuries to come.

The two Istari known in Middle-earth as the Blue Wizards, Alatar and Pallando, just might have first visited Middle-earth in the Second Age and there have been active among its Eastern and Southern peoples under the names Morinehtar and Rómestámo (“Darkness-slayer” and “East-helper”).  While they, however, traveled eastwards and there passed out of the annals of Middle-earth, and while Aiwendil (in Middle-earth known as Radagast the Brown) mostly used his powers for healing and herb-lore, as well as forming great friendships with Middle-earth’s birds, the reimaining two — Curumo (Saruman, aka Curunír) and Olórin — became active among the peoples of western Middle-earth. 

Together with the eldest and wisest of the Elves, Círdan, Elrond, and Galadriel, they formed the White Council with the purpose to unite and direct the forces of the West, in resistance to Sauron’s reemerging shadow.  The three Elven leaders, too, were the only ones in Middle-earth who were aware of the Wizards’ true nature as Maiar. 

When, towards the end of the second millennium of the Third Age, Kings Araphant or Arthedain and Ondoher of Gondor reestablished relations and resolved to work together to combat the single evil force co-ordinating the attacks on both of their kingdoms, there might have been a suspicion that those hostilities were directed by the ruler of Angmar, who after all had begun working on the destruction of Arnor centuries earlier — and who would have been a distinctly more probable candidate than any leader of the Easterlings, Haradrim, or Corsairs of Umbar, all of whom were Men, and who were not easy to see as overlords to whom either the Orcs or the Trolls would have submitted; not to mention that there seemed to be a more permanent and altogether more “alien” nature to the evil facing them.

Yet, there came a point when the White Council, at any rate, began to suspect otherwise.  Almost all of the evils that had befallen Middle-earth in its recent history had involved the Nazgûl: the Witch-king of Angmar had turned out to be the lord of the Ring-wraiths; the Nazgûl had reentered Mordor while Gondor’s attention was turned elsewhere; they had besieged and conquered Minas Ithil (now Minas Morgul); and the lord of the Nazgûl, too, had been the one to bring about the (apparent) end of the rule of Anárion’s heirs as Kings of Gondor.  Moreover, the shadow that had begun to emerge and spread from Dol Guldur at the beginning of the second millennium of the Third Age, right around the time of Istari’s own arrival in Middle-earth, had all the makings of the shadow that had fallen on Middle-earth during the Dark Years of Sauron’s rule in the Second Age; what with Orcs infesting the land (at present, chiefly the Misty Mountains), a Balrog having awoken below Khazad-dûm and driven away the Longbeards, dragons attacking the Dwarves of the Grey Mountains, and attacks by the Easterlings and the Southrons that clearly served more than their own purposes.  But “Nazgûl”, “Mordor” and “shadow”, taken together, spelled “Sauron” — all the more since that shadow seemed to emerge from a stronghold inhabited by a figure just emanating pure Evil, whom nobody ever seemed to have seen, and who had come to be known only as “the Necromancer”; while it seemed equally clear that Sauron had, at that time, not yet returned to Mordor, which the Nazgûl had set about preparing for his return.

By TA 2060, the shadow emanating from Dol Guldur had grown so much that the members of the White Council were virtually certain that “the Necromancer” had to be Sauron, in the process of regaining the powers he had lost after the War of the Last Alliance.  In TA 2063, Gandalf therefore undertook a reconnaissance mission and entered Dol Guldur.  Sauron, not yet having regained his full strength, fled from his stronghold so as not to be identified, and once more hid in the east.

The four century-long period following Sauron’s flight from Dol Guldur came to be known as the Watchful Peace; yet, much like during the First-Age Siege of Angband (FA 60 – 455), “peace” or “absence of war” during this period did not equal “unpreparedness for war”: During Sauron’s absence, the Nazgûl continued their work in Mordor; and again much as had been the case with Morgoth’s secret work inside Angband during the First Age, what would emerge from Mordor after Sauron’s return in TA 2460 was a new breed of terrifying monsters that would remain a scourge to Middle-earth until the end of the Age.

For the next four hundred years, however, the shadow on Mirkwood lessened; the Nazgûl ostensibly remained quiet inside Minas Morgul and Mordor, and since once more nobody knew where Sauron was hiding, there was no saying what he was up to, either (though that, too, would become clear not long after his return).

Meanwhile Gondor strengthened its borders, keeping a watchful eye on the east, as the kingdom’s rulers had learned to their cost that Minas Morgul was still a threat — in fact, now more so than ever –, and whatever else was happening inside Mordor, the Black Land was at the very least still replete with Orcs. But no major escalations occurred on any of Gondor’s borders — in the south, too, there were only minor skirmishes with the Haven of Umbar –, and by and large the first Ruling Stewards were able to govern in relative calm and do much to renew Gondor’s strength.  Yet, they decided to forgo regarrisoning the forts of Calenardhon (depopulated since the plague), where local chieftains of mixed-blood tribes, including the Dunlendings that had moved in from the Enedwaith, the wide lands west and southwest of the Misty Mountains between Arnor in the north and Gondor in the south, increasingly gained control; and this would be a choice that they would come to regret within decades of Sauron’s return.

In the Shire, the Hobbits prospered and even expanded during the four centuries of the Watchful Peace; and they appointed a Thain to take the role of the King, an office first held by a Took under Isumbras I.  Buckland was first occupied by Oldbucks at approximately the same time time.

Elsewhere in Eriador, however, wolves and Orcs began invading the land again even before the Watchful Peace was over; and life became gradually more dangerous for the Rangers of the North and their Chieftains, the heirs of the House of Elendil.

The Longbeards, having left Moria under King Thráin I, first moved both to the Lonely Mountain and to the Grey Mountains, until Thráin’s son Thorin I decided to take the community from Erebor to join those of his folk who had made their home in the Grey Mountains, where they remained for the next several centuries, until dragons began to make life too uncorfortable for them to remain.

Approximately three decades into the twenty-fifth century of the Third Age, in the Riverfolk (Stoors) community in the Vales of Anduin near the Gladden Fields a boy named Sméagol was born, who one day in TA 2460 (which he would later claim had been his birthday) went fishing with his cousin Déagol — and although it would take another five hundred years for the events of that day to come to fruition, when at last they did, Middle-earth would never be the same again and the lives of many of its people and peoples would be altered forever.

Not coincidentally, TA 2460 was also the year in which Sauron returned to the west and the Watchful Peace came to its end.  Three years later, Galadriel summoned the White Council, which resumed its watch on Mordor and Dol Guldur.

Florian Devos: Uruk-hai archer
First Uruk-hai Occupation of Ithilien

TA 2475 – 2477

During the four-century-long Siege of Angband in the First Age, Morgoth had employed his time breeding dragons, first and foremost the terrifying Glaurung.  During the four hundred years of the Watchful Peace two Ages later, the Nazgûl, on Sauron’s behalf, had also bred a new kind of monsters — the Uruk-hai. 

More upright, of taller and sturdier bodies as well as squarer faces than other Orcs, these “black Orcs of great strength” were fiercer, faster and more enduring runners and, again unlike other Orcs, they could travel during the day without being adversely affected by the sun.  They might not quite be the one-stop-shop weapons of mass destruction that a dragon was; but then, Sauron was not facing a single line of enemies, either, whose realms and strongholds were all lined up next to each other opposite his own, like most of the Ñoldor’s territories facing Angband across the plain of Ard-galen.  Sauron needed to be able to move fast, efficiently, and strike in several places at a time.  For his purposes, the Uruks were the perfect arms of offense — and Sauron and the Nazgûl lost no time trying them out by unleashing them on Gondor’s most vulnerable spots.

Already largely depopulated by the successive catastrophes that had been the Kin-strife, the plague, the attacks of the Wainriders, and the capture of Minas Ithil / Minas Morgul by the Nazgûl, by the end of the twenty-fifth century of the Third Age nothing was left in Ithilien and Osgiliath of the splendid, joyful places they had been of old — they were desolate, empty spots, ravaged by war, destruction and fires; and few people other than the soldiers garrisoned or patrolling these areas cared to actually live there anymore.  This, and their proximity to Mordor (particularly to Cirith Ungol and Minas Morgul, now Mordor’s joint western gateways) made them ideal targets.  Already in SA 3429, Sauron had chosen Osgiliath — then the shining capital of the new kingdom of Gondor — as the first place of his surprise first attack.  Two-and-a-half millennia later his return to the west of Middle-earth might not have gone as completely unnoticed, but that did not mean attacking Ithilien and Osgiliath was not still a good idea; especially as Denethor I, the tenth Ruling Steward of Gondor, was at the end of his reign and almost on his deathbed at the time.

So in TA 2475, Mordor’s first-ever hosts of Uruk-hai attacked and overran Ithilien and Osgiliath, laying Gondor’s former capital (or what was still standing of it) to ruins and destroying its great stone bridge over the Anduin.  It would take Denethor’s son and successor, Boromir, two years and several extensive campaigns until he had regained Ithilien in TA 2477, the same year in which he succeeded his father as Ruling Steward of Gondor; and he did so at great personal cost: Originally as strong in body and will as he was noble and fair of face, and during his prime a great captain whom even the Witch-king feared, in the course of that war he was injured by a Morgul-blade — a wound from which he never recovered, and which left him shrunken with pain and curtailed the period of his rule to a mere twelve years; even after the (perveived) end of the House of Anárion an extraordinarily short time.  At his  death in TA 2489, he was followed by his son Cirion.

Although Boromir had recaptured the territories occupied by the Uruk-hai, from this time onwards Osgiliath was, and remained, ruined once and for all; and nobody cared to rebuild it and live there or in Ithilien ever again.  Gondor would not know peace again until after the defeat of Sauron, over half a millennium later.

Similarly, further north, at about the same time (around TA 2480) Orcs began to spread again in the Misty Mountains, moving to block all passes into Eriador and occupying the Dwarves’ once-glorious legendary realm of Khazad-dûm.

And the next attack from further east would not be long in coming, either — but although once again much blood would be shed on a battlefield, it would also manifest and renew an old alliance which, five hundred years later, would be a crucial part of Sauron’s undoing.

Invasion of the Balchoth and Foundation of Rohan

TA 2510 – 2545

Balchoth riders (source)

When he succeeded his father Boromir as Steward of Gondor in TA 2489, Cirion inherited a shrunken kingdom: Ithilien was deserted, the Corsairs of Umbar were again raiding the coasts, and the population of Calenardhon, which had never really recovered from the ravages of the plague to begin with, was diminishing further; while local chieftains of mixed-blood tribes, including the Dunlendings, were increasingly gaining control. All Cirion could do was directing all his power to defend his borders.

One of Cirion’s main concerns was the threat of an invasion from the north, where the forts along the Anduin had long been abandoned and Gondor had no allies left east of the river.  He stationed a few men there and sent scouts into the area between Mirkwood and Dagorlad; and indeed, it would not be long until Cirion’s spies would discover that new enemies, the Balchoth — a fierce tribe of Easterlings probably related to the Wainriders –, were steadily migrating in from the East, beyond the Sea of Rhûn, and had already overrun most of Rhovanion’s Wilderland, thus putting acute pressure on the border line on the Anduin. 

After the winter of 2509, reports came to Cirion that a great movement against Gondor was being prepared, with hosts of men mustering along the southern edge of Mirkwood, planning to invade.  Desperate, Cirion dispatched several messengers to the Éothéod asking for help in driving out the would-be invaders; selecting six volunteer riders, sent out in pairs with a day’s interval between them, to attempt the thousand-mile journey through Calenardhon, over the Undeeps, and past the shadow of Dol Guldur, he was hoping against hope that at least one of them would get through to Framsburg, the capital of the Éothéod, and would be able to convey Cirion’s request for assistance.

And indeed, it was only one rider who did make it all the way to the north alive: Borondir, a Gondorian soldier with some Northern blood; the scion of a family that claimed descent from a captain of the Northmen in the service of the rulers of Gondor of  days gone by, and a great rider, whose horsemanship had earned hip the epithet Udalraph (“the Stirrupless”).  Borondir and his companion were ambushed as they were passing near Dol Guldur, and his companion was killed by arrows, but Borondir escaped the ambush as much by fortune as by his skilled horsemanship and the speed of his horse.  The ambushers pursued Borondir as far north as the Gladden Fields, and on his ride he was often waylaid by men of the Forest, who forced him to make great detours.  After fifteen days, the last two of which he had gone without any food, he at last reached the Éothéod; so spent that he could barely deliver Cirion’s message to Eorl the Young, King of the Éothéod, and the two tokens coming with it, the Red Arrow  — which would, forever after, become Gondor’s distress signal to the Éothéod and their descendants, the Rohirrim — and the Seal of the Stewards.

Eorl — a descendant of Marhwini and Forthwini, who had been Gondor’s allies in the days of the campaigns against the Wainriders and the Witch-king of Angmar — summoned his council of Elders, and began to prepare for the great riding.  This, however, took many a day, as the Éothéod had to be gathered and mustered, and provisions made for the rule of the people remaining behind (chiefly women, children, and the old) and the defense of the land.  At last the whole éoherë — the full muster of the riders of the Éothéod — had been gathered and set out; truly a sight to see.  (Note: In later days, the standard size of the éoherë was given as one hundred éored — units of one hundred and twenty rained riders each — i.e., twelve thousand riders; although the muster that Théoden would lead onto the Pelennor battlefield in the War of the Ring would only be roughly half that size, and was still considered the largest riding of the Rohirrim in the history of Rohan.)  

Borondir rode at Eorl’s right hand, to serve as a guide through the lands which he had crossed on his way north; and he was able to explain to Eorl that the thick mist enveloping them on their way between Lothlórien and Dol Guldur was not a sign of Sauron’s shadow, but rather, a protective shield sent by Galadriel in order to allow them to continue on their way unharmed.

The Field of Celebrant,
as shown in The Lord of the Rings Online (source)

Karen Wynn Fonstad: Battle of Celebrant

Battle of the Field of Celebrant

April 15, TA 2510

Knowing that there was little chance that his message would get through to Eorl at all, and unsure whether the Éothéod would respond (and arrive in time), Cirion gathered as great a force as he could and prepared to lead it himself against the enemy, while leaving his son Hallas in Minas Tirith to rule in his stead.

However, while Cirion was leading his forces north on April 15th of TA 2510, the Balchoth crossed the fords of the Anduin on rafts from the deserted Brown Lands south of Mirkwood to the Wold; the hilly, wild and uncultivated land constituting the northernmost and least populated part of Calenardhon between Fangorn Forest and the River Anduin, to the north of which across the river Limlight lay the Field of Celebrant.  Meeting little resistance, by the time the northern army of Gondor appeared, the bulk of the Balchoth army had crossed the Anduin, overrun Calenardhon, and overpowered the defenders.  Cirion’s northern army was cut off from its later-arriving reinforcements and driven over the Limlight into the the Field of Celebrant.  Then came a sudden attack by a horde of Orcs descending from the Misty Mountains in the west; and by the time Gondor’s southern army arrived, its northern army had been pressed towards the Anduin; with the result that it was now trapped between the forces of the Balchoth, the Orcs, and the Great River.

Hope was failing and Cirion’s forces were facing annihilation, when suddenly the horns of Eorl’s riders were heard, the Éothéod arrived unexpected by friend and foe alike, and the fortunes of war on the Field of Celebrant were reversed.  Eorl the Young and his riders crossed the Anduin at the Undeeps and burst upon the enemy’s rearguard, sweeping them back south across the Limlight, pursuing them across the Wold and the fields of Calenardhon and continuing their foray into northern Gondor, until all the Balchoth in Calenardhon had been scattered and destroyed.

When the battle was over, the Balchoth were completely defeated and the Gondorian armies were saved.  However, not among the survivors of the battle was Borondir, to the great grief of both Gondor and the Éothéod, the rider who had alerted the Northmen and guided them to the Field of Celebrant.  He had been the first to cross the river Limlight and hew a path to the aid of Cirion; and he had fallen defending his lord.  His name would come to be as that of  the Rider of Last Hope, and he would be given a tomb in the Hallows of Minas Tirith.

Tapestry showing the Oath of Cirion and Eorl (source)
Oath of Cirion / Eorl and Foudation of Rohan

July, TA 2510

Parting from each other after the victory, Cirion asked Eorl to meet him again three months later on the banks of the Mering Stream, the river forming the border between Anórien and Calenardhon.  By the time of that later meeting, Cirion had had the overgrown path up the hallowed hill of Amon Anwar cleared, and the two men with their parties ascended the hill.

Prior to reaching the top, Cirion revealed his resolution to offer to Eorl the depopulated but fertile land of Calenardhon for him and his people to settle in and watch over, in perpetual alliance with Gondor.  Eorl accepted, acknowledging Cirion’s friendship and foresight.  The group then continued to climb and, at the summit, Cirion revealed the tomb of Elendil.  With Cirion’s son Hallas, as well as the Prince of Dol Amroth and two other Councilors of Gondor as witnesses, Cirion and Eorl pledged their countries’ mutual bond and oath of alliance; and Eorl became the first King of Rohan.  The oath sworn near Elendil’s grave on Amon Anwar would later come to be known alternatively as the Oath of Cirion or the Oath of Eorl.

Messengers were sent north, calling upon the Éothéod to remove to the plains of Calenardhon, where they drove out the Dunlendings who had settled there without Gondor’s consent.  Eorl also built the first city of Rohan, Aldburg; and he ruled from a green hill under the White Mountains.  The Éothéod renamed themselves Eorlingas or “followers of Eorl”, but in the language of Gondor they became known as the Rohirrim (“Horse-lords”), and their country became known as Rohan, the Riddermark.

After Rohan had been founded, Cirion decided that the “Tradition of Isildur” had been voided: The hallow was no longer at the midpoint of Gondor, and the kingdom had changed greatly since Isildur’s days. Cirion therefore had the casket that Isildur had set in the mound removed from Amon Anwar and sent to the Hallows of Minas Tirith

Battle of the Wold

TA 2545

The Wold (source)

In TA 2545 some Easterlings renewed their attacks and entered the newly-founded kingdom of Rohan; and  Eorl fell fighting them in the Wold. 

After the Easterlings had once more been driven out, Eorl was buried in the first royal mound of Rohan’s capital Edoras, having retained his famed head of yellow hair until the last.  Buried with him was his horse Felaróf, the first and one of the most famous of the Mearas, whom Eorl had tamed in his young days, and who would become the sire of all future Mearas ridden by the Kings of the Mark.

R. Ward Shipman: Long Winter
Orcs in the Shire and the Long Winter

TA 2747 – 2760

Middle-earth was not immune to extremes of nature: already during the First Age, the Fell Winter of FA 495/496 had been extraordinarily long and bitter, with ice and snow from November to March.  Coming immediately after the Fall of Nargothrond, it had made Túrin’s return to Dor-lómin and Tuor and Voronwë’s journey to Gondolin severely disheartening struggles against the elements.

In the Third Age, after the plague year of 1636, the thirteen years from TA 2747 to 2760 were another such period of hardship, in which war and enemy attacks combined with extreme winter weather and subsequent death and hunger to take a toll on life in almost all parts of western Middle-earth.  At the peak of this almost decade and a half-long interval was the severe, cold, Long Winter from  November TA 2758 to March 2759) in Eriador, Dunland and Rohan with icy temperatures and heavy snowfall coming in from the north and the east; lasting almost half a year and bringing misery and death to Eriador and Rohan, as well as war with the Dunlendings and the Corsairs of Umbar to Rohan and Gondor, and followed by a period of famine in the Shire known as the Days of Dearth.

Karen Wynn Fonstad: Days of Dearth

Battle of Greenfields

TA 2747

Victory in Greenfields (Source)

Life in the Shire had been generally untroubled by any harm during the first 1140 years of its history; however, around TA 2740 — during the rule of Arassuil, the eleventh Chieftain of the Dúnedain — the Orcs from the Misty Mountains had become more bold, invading several parts of Eriador and forcing the Rangers of the North and the sons of Elrond into numerous battles in order to keep them at bay.

In TA 2747, a band of Orcs of Mount Gram (either a mountain in the Ettenmoors or the Misty Mountains), led by a king named Golfimbul, entered the Northfarthing.  There they were opposed by a company of Hobbits led by Bandobras “the Bullroarer” Took, the younger son of Thain Isumbras Took III; a member of the North Tooks living in Long Cleeve, who was distinguished by his (for a Hobbit) extraordinarily great height of four foot five, which enabled him to ride a horse.  With Bandobras at their head, the Hobbits crossed the river Norbourn to engage the Orcs in the region known as Greenfields, between the Norbourn and the Brandywine; there Bandobras charged the helm of the Orc-band and knocked Golfimbul’s head off with his club.  The head landed in a rabbit-hole a hundred yards away, which was enough to dismay the Orcs and make them flee.

Thereafter, the Orc attempts to attack and invade Eriador came to an end again; and the Shire, and Eriador as a whole, would not suffer from any more invasions until the War of the Ring; and the Battle of Greenfields would be one of only two battles fought on Shire territory in the history of the Third Age (the other one being the Battle of Bywater, the final passage at arms of the War of the Ring).  Bandobras became a hero of Hobbit legend for his feat of arms, and he was regarded in the Shire as one of the greatest Hobbits in history.  However, possibly because Bandobras was a “younger son” and did not succeed his father as Thain (that office instead went to his elder brother Ferumbras), nothing else is known about his family, other than the fact that he had “many descendants”, some of whom were the North Tooks of Long Cleeve.

Legend has it that to commemorate Golfimbul’s head landing in the rabbit-hole, the hobbits invented the game of golf.

Eleven years after the Battle of Greenfields, in TA 2758, the Long Winter arrived, during which many thousands of Hobbits died; and while Gandalf and the Rangers helped the Hobbits of the Shire survive, the Long Winter was followed by the famine of the Days of Dearth, wich lasted until  TA 2760 and brought further suffering to the Shire.

Speaking to Pippin, Gandalf is recorded as remembering in Unfinished Tales: The Quest of Erebor:

“And then there was the Shire-folk. I began to have a warm place in my heart for them in the Long Winter, which none of you can remember.  They were very hard put to it then: one of the worst pinches they have been in, dying of cold, and starving in the dreadful dearth that followed.  But that was the time to see their courage, and their pity one for another. It was by their pity as much as their tough uncomplaining courage th at they survived.  I wanted them to survive.”

Explaining that the particular qualities of the Hobbits that he had first come to appreciate during the Long Winter and the Days of Dearth later made him think of them again in connection with the final events of the Third Age, beginning with the Quest of Erebor, Gandalf added: 

“And anyway you must begin at some point, with some on person.  I dare say he was ‘chosen’ and I was only chosen to choose him; but I picked out Bilbo.”

War between Rohan and the Dunlendings

TA 2758 – 2759

Cristi Balanescu: Attack of the Dunlendings

Given the depopulation of Calenardhon after the plague year of TA 1636, and their preoccupation with the invasions of the Wainriders and the raids of the Corsairs of Umbar, as well as the fall of Minas Ithil (Minas Morgul) to the Nazgûl, the rulers of Gondor had had to turn their attention elsewhere for centuries.  In the nearby fortress of Isengard in the southern foothills of the Misty Mountains and north of the Gap of Rohan, the tower of Orthanc had been closed and its keys sent to Minas Tirith, and the fortress had remained manned only by a small garrison.  For the longest time, that garrison — which had grown progressively secretive — had been led by a hereditary Gondorian chieftain, who had become known as the “Lord of Isengard”.  Eventually the Stewards of Gondor had stopped sending emissaries to Isengard; thus they had been unaware that the line of Gondorian chieftains had failed, and that the local population had intermingled and become friendly with the Dunlendings, who had been allowed to move in from the Enedwaith through the Gap of Rohan and settle in and around Isengard.

Consequently, both Gondor and — after its foundation — Roham had also missed that the Dunlendings had seized control of Isengard and had killed those of its Gondorian guards who were unwilling to merge with them.  This only became apparent when, during the reign of Déor (the seventh King of Rohan, who ruled from TA 2644 to 2718) the peace of Rohan came to an end, the Dunlendings became openly hostile to the Rohirrim and took to raiding the herds and studs of the Rohirrim over the River Isen.  During a TA 2710 expedition to Isengard, Déor found and defeated a host of Dunlendings, but found that he was unable to dislodge the hostile fighters sitting secure inside the fortress.  As Egalmoth, Steward of Gondor at that time, was unable to send help to Rohan, as he was, at the same time, dealing with a series of Orc attacks, Deór had to content himself with keeping a strong force of riders in the north of the Westfold.  The occupation of Isengard by the Dunlendings lasted through the rest of Déor’s reign and also the reign of his son Gram; and it involved repeated armed skirmishes, which thus also introduced Gram’s son and heir Helm to warfare with the Dunlendings long before he himself became the ninth King of Rohan at his father’s death in TA 2741.

Karen Wynn Fonstad: Map of Gondor and Rohan (excerpt)

By the 2750s of the Third Age, the triangle of land between the rivers Isen and Adorn — which formed the western border of the Kingdom of Rohan — and the northern reaches of the White Mountains was a contested area between the Dunlendings and Rohan, where it was known as the West-march.  Land on both sides of the river Adorn was held by a Rohirric lord named Freca, who claimed descent from the fifth King of Rohan, Fréawine (TA 2594 – 2680), but also from the Dunlendings.  Freca constructed a stronghold at the source of the Adorn, obtaining wealth and power while paying little heed to the king or to his duty to attend the King’s councils when called to do so.

In TA 2754, Freca came to a council with a retinue of many men and, during the meeting, made the bare-faced demand that Helm’s daughter be wed to his son Wulf.  Helm rebuffed him and called him fat, whereupon Freca raged and reviled the king; after the council, Helm called Freca to task and struck him with his fist in response to his effrontery.  Helm’s one blow at Freca was so powerful that it killed the nobleman, which earned Helm the epithet “Hammerhand”.

After Helm had declared Wulf and all of Freca’s near kin his enemies, Wulf and Freca’s followers fled across the borders into Dunland, where, to all appearances, they were warmly received, and where Wulf spent the next several years extending his power, building up an army, and creating an alliance with Rohan’s and Gondor’s enemies, both the Easterlings and the Corsairs of Umbar.

Battle of the Crossings of Isen and Siege of the Hornburg

TA 2758 (winter)

Wulf took four years to make his preparations; in TA 2758 he was ready to strike.  While the Easterlings drew Rohan’s forces eastwards and three great fleets of Corsairs and Haradrim began to assail the coasts of Gondor, thus preventing Gondor to come to the assistance of its ally in the Riddermark — as well as sending a fleet in support of the Dunlendings up the rivers Isen and Lefnui from the Belegaer –, Wulf’s Dunlendings and mixed Rohirric-Dunlending followers attacked from the north-west and from Isengard, crossing the Isen and setting out to overrun Rohan.

Isengard, the Fords of Isen, and Helm’s Deep / the Hornburg (source)

Helm fought Wulf’s host at the Crossings of Isen, but after his own forces were devastated, he had to withdraw into the Suthburg (later known as the Hornburg, for Helm’s ar horn), the Rohirric fortress at the ravine later called Helm’s Deep (also named for Helm Hammerhand) on the southern edge of the Gap of Rohan, set against a cliffside of the White Mountains and facing, though at a great distance, Isengard on the northern side of the Gap of Rohan (near the southern foothills of the Misty Mountains).  There, Helm and his forces endured a lengthy siege, holding the fortress during the Long Winter of TA 2758-59, during which Rohan was under snow for five months and both the Rohirrim and their enemies suffered grievously not only cold but also hunger and famine.  At Yule a council was held and, against the King’s advice, his younger son Háma went out in a sortie to find food, but he and his men got lost in a snow storm and never returned.

Even grown gaunt because of grief and famine, however, Helm still seemed near-invincible, to the despair of his enemies and the great support of his own men.  A horn blown from the tower of the fortress would echo and reverberate loudly throughout all of its walls, chambers and corridors, not merely those set against the outside of the cliff edge but also the many caverns inside the rock, originally delved by the Númenóreans when they had first fortified the site; and so during the siege Helm repeatedly blew his great war-horn, encouraging his men and discouraging the enemy.  Moreover, even while the fortress was under siege, he frequently broke through the Dunlendings’ ranks, clad in white, stalking men like a snow-troll an killing them with his bare hands.  Thus even when he was found frozen to death by his own men, standing erect in Helm’s Dike, the enemy soldiers still did not dare approach him.  Ever after, his horn was believed to be heard inside the fortress and his spirit was believed to walk among Rohan’s enemies whenever the fortress was under siege. 

Meanwhile, Helm’s elder son Haleth tried to defend Edoras, but he was killed at the doors of the Golden Hall of Meduseld, the palace of the Kings of Rohan, the last of its defenders.  Wulf captured Edoras, usurped the throne,  and claimed the kingship of Rohan.

After the winter the melted snow caused great floods, turning the Entwash into a vast fen.  Rohan only recovered very slowly from the winter’s deprivations.

Raid on Edoras

March, TA 2759

Guillaume Tholly: The Charge of the Rohirrim

Rohan (source)

Helm was succeeded by his nephew Fréaláf Hildeson, whose host had survived a siege by the Dunlendings at Dunharrow while Helm and his men had been besieged at the Hornburg.

In March, TA 2759, after the Long Winter had finally ended, Fréaláf led a small party into Edoras, catching Wulf’s followers unaware and killing their would-be king.  With help from Gondor, which in the interim had overcome the Corsairs, Fréaláf then drove the Dunlendings and Easterlings out of Rohan and Isengard, succeeding his uncle Helm to become its tenth (and rightful) King later that same year.  However, Rohan would struggle noticeably more than Gondor to come back to its feet.

When, also in TA 2759, the Wizard Saruman came to the area and requested from Steward Beren of Gondor the keys of Orthanc, offering to make Isengard his home and to assist with the defences of the west, he was welcomed by King Fréaláf and Steward Beren alike.  The valley in which Isengard lay soon became known as “Nan Curunír”, (“Valley of Saruman” or the “Wizard’s Vale”).  

Meanwhile, the Dunlendings did not forget the killing of  Freca; and in the War of the Ring, over two hundred and fifty years later, many of them would sided with Saruman, who himself had likewise turned against the west.

Corsair Fleets

TA 2758 – 2759

John Howe: Corsairs

Once the last descendants of Castamir and most Men of Dúnedain heritage had been killed in Telumehtar Umbardacil’s raid of Umbar in TA 1810, beyond the odd localized skirmish Gondor had not had suffered grave damages and losses in maritime passages at arms with Umbar in the following nine centuries.  However, during that time the city had gradually been built up as a stronghold of the Haradrim, who in time had also picked up the Corsair business.  In TA 2746, they had killed the Prince of Dol Amroth in an attack on that city — and in TA 2758, they demonstrated that they were ready for an even bigger fight.

In coordination with the Easterlings’ and Dunlendings’ charges into Rohan, three massive, long-prepared fleets of Corsairs and Haradrim began to attack the coasts of Gondor as far north as the River Isen, while despatching part of their fleet up to Isen and Lefnui into Rohan in support of the Dunlendings.  While they did not make any territorial gains, they kept Gondor’s forces busy throughout the whole Long Winter of TA 2758-59; thus keeping the kingdom from being able to come to Rohan’s assistance, either at the battle of the Crossings of Isen or during the siege of the Hornburg.  Yet towards the end of the winter, even before Fréaláf had broken the Dunlendings’ siege at Dunharrow, Steward Beren’s son Beregond — who would become Gondor’s greatest captain since Boromir, the Steward who had driven the Uruk-hai out of Osgiliath and Ithilien three hundred years earlier — had defeated the Corsairs; thus at last enabling Gondor to send help to the Rohirrim.

By the time Beregond succeeded his father Beren in TA 2763 as the twentieth Ruling Steward of Gondor, the kingdom, less affected by the ravages of the Long Winter than either Roham or Eriador, had already started recovering its strength.  Nevertheless, the arrival of a presumably powerful ally and neighbor such as Saruman was gladly welcomed not only by Beren, but also by all of his first several successors.

John Howe: Uruk Pikemen
War of the Dwarves and Orcs; Renewed Attacks on Ithilien

TA 2793 – 2901

The 28th century of the Third Age was not even over yet before troubles flared up anew in the mountains and plains on the eastern edges of Eriador, Gondor and Rhovanion.  Sauron still had not openly declared himself, but to anyone who might have continued to harbor doubts even in the face of the Nazgûl’s seizure of Minas Ithil / Minas Morgul, it became increasingly hard to deny that there was a single, evil gravitational force behind the evil besetting Middle-earth, and it was a power located in the East. 

By the mid-29th century, Gandalf had at last confirmed that the “Necromancer”, who had returned to Dol Guldur four hundred years earlier, was indeed Sauron.  Even though for the moment Saruman still convinced the White Council to hold its hand, it was becoming ever clearer that Middle-earth was edging towards its final reckoning with its Ages-old enemy.

And while the Longbeards mostly had kept themselves to themselves for the better part of the Third Age, first in Moria, then under the Lonely Mountain and in the Grey Mountains and the Iron Hills, at the dawn of the Age’s 29th century it fell to them to ring in the penultimate chapters of the war between the forces of Good and Evil for dominion of Middle-earth.

Karen Wynn Fonstad: Events between 2793 and 2912

War of the Dwarves and Orcs

TA 2793 – 2799

In TA 2770, Smaug, the greatest fire-breathing dragon of the Third Age and, indeed, one of  the greatest of all the urulóki (“fire-dragons”) in Middle-eath’s entire history, attacked the Lonely Mountain and the town of Dale.  Possibly originating from the Grey Mountains, he killed the Dwarves he found inside the mountain at the time of his attack, claimed its treasure for himself, and forced Thrór, King under the Mountain, and his surviving people — including his son Thráin and his grandson Thorin — into exile; turning them into homeless wanderers scraping by a meager living until at last they decided to settle in Dunland.

However, the loss of their home in Erebor, as well as the years of wandering and the unaccustomed poverty — possibly exacerbated by the effect of Durin’s Ring — quickly began to tell on Thrór, and in TA 2790 he decided to to seek out the Longbeards’ legedary ancestral halls of Khazad-dûm and investigate whether they might not be resettled after all.  Leaving behind with his son Thráin his Ring of Power, as well as the map and the key to the side entrance of the Lonely Mountain, and accompanied only by his friend Nár, he crossed the Redhorn Pass; when they had reached the East-gate of Moria, Thrór insisted on entering alone, despite the warnings of his friend, who to his great worry was compelled to stay behind in the dale. 

Inside Moria, Thrór was killed by Azog, the chieftain of the Orcs that had settled in Moria in the interim; possibly one of the Orcs sent to Moria by Sauron in about TA 2480, when the Orcs had first started to secretly create strongholds in the Misty Mountains, less than two decades after Sauron had returned to Dol Guldur.  Azog tossed Thrór’s corpse out of the gate, flinging his head — branded with Azog’s own name to denote the new lord of the mines, who had asserted his alleged claim by killing the “intruder” — at Nár together with a money purse containing few coins of little worth, telling Thrór’s friend that he was being left alive in order to convey Azog’s claim of possession and lordship of their old home to Durin’s Folk, combined with his warning to them to stay away.

Thrór’s murder sent a shockwave through the Dwarven peoples near and far; his son Thráin, having succeeded his father and learned of the manner of his death, was so stunned that he went without eating or sleeping for a full seven days, at last standing up and declaring: “This cannot be borne!”  Thráin called together all Seven Houses, and in the three years from TA 2790 to TA 2793 a great massive army gathered and set out to avenge the murdered King of the Longbeards, including the exiles of the Lonely Mountain, Thráin’s kin from the Iron Hills under his uncle Grór, as well as Dwarves not of Durin’s folk, possibly from as far north-east as the Red Mountains (Orocarni), where, near a great waterfall of a river flowing into the Inland Sea of Helcar, lay the bay of Cuiviénen, where the first Elves had awoken, and which the Houses of the Ironfists, Stiffbeards, Blacklocks, and Stonefoots had made their home.

Sack of Gundabad

TA 2793

The first Orc-hold that the Dwarves (probably) attacked was Mount Gundabad, which was not only the northernmost target — sitting as it did between the Grey Mountains and the Misty Mountains — but one with at least as much significance as Moria, as it was the place where Durin the Deathless, eldest of the Fathers of the Dwarves, had awoken shortly after the Awakening of the Elves, and which was therefore a hallowed place to the Dwarves.  Thus, even if the Dwarves themselves had never settled there, it was a longstanding sore point to them that by way of retribution for the Dwarves’ support for Eregion in SA 1697, at the height of his War with the Elves, Sauron had had the Orcs occupy Gundabad, after first having tried and failed to take Moria — and the Orcs had held Gundabad ever since, even while the mountain had belonged to the territory of Angmar; indeed, they had even made it their capital.

Now the mountain was assailed and sacked by the host of King Thráin II in 2793 and only left after it had been totally cleared of Orcs.  During the following six years the Dwarves made their way southward to the next Orc-hold in the Misty Mountains and further south from there, sacking Orc-hold after Orc-hold, place by place, until they had reached the Gladden River.  Most of these battles were fought beneath the mountains, which favored the Dwarves; it matched their underground lifestyle and allowed them to move in an environment they were very familiar with.  Yet, as the Dwarves moved from place to place and left each Orc-hold behind once they considered it cleared of Orcs, by TA 2799 the Orcs had returned to Gundabad and reestablished it as their capital and key stronghold.

Battle of Azanulbizar

TA 2799 (winter)

After six years of fighting, in the winter of TA 2799, the Dwarves at last came to Moria, where the notoriously bloody, climactic final battle of the war was fought; known for its site beneath the East-gate of Moria — the Dimrill Dale or, in Khuzdul, the valley of Azanulbizar — as the Battle of Azanulbizar or, for the valley’s Sindarin name, the Battle of Nanduhirion.  Here, the Dwarves not only encountered Azog and his host from Moria, but also the survivors of the Dwarves’ other Orc-hold routs during the past six yars, who had flocked to Azog.

(1) The first assault of the Dwarves fails; the defending Orcs force them aside towards Kheled-zâram (Mirrormere).  (2) The Dwarves of the Iron Hills arrive, fighting their way through the ranks of the Orcs to the steps of the East-gate.  (3) Dáin Ironfoot kills Azog at the East-gate, bringing victory for the Dwarves.  (4) The surviving Orcs flee the field; many of them escape into the south, seeking refuge in the White Mountains.  (Source)

The battle began on a dark, sunless winter day, on which the Dwarves marched into the Dimrill Dale, drawing the Orcs to the East-gate of Moria by loud battle noises; but they soon found that on the western slopes above thousands of Orcs had gathered, while more still came pouring out of the gate, outnumbering the Darves and placing them at a disadvantage in the position they were occupying at the lower end of a sloping hill.  The first vanguard led by King Thráin, assaulted the slopes, but was driven back with casualties.  In a wood near the Dwarves’ sacred lake of Mirrormere many Dwarves were killed, including Thráin’s youngest son Frerin and Balin’s father Fundin.  Thraín himself was blinded in one eye and suffered a leg wound; and his eldest son Thorin was also wounded.  Thorin’s shield was broken during the fight; thus forcing him to resort to using an oak branch cut off a tree to defend himself, for which he would subsequently come to be named Thorin Oakenshield.

Elsewhere the battle swayed back and forth, and the Dwarves continued to suffer heavy losses, until Náin from the Iron Hills arrived — belatedly, but to pivotal effect — with his people’s reinforcements.  Well-equipped and not yet battle-weary, Náin and his Dwarves cut through the Orc lines with their mattocks, shouting Azog’s name, until they had reached the steps of the gate, at which Naín, exhausted and half blind with rage and thus not in any sort of shape to engage a powerful, agile opponent like Azog in single combat, called Azog to come out and fight him in a duel.  When Azog emerged from the inner gate with his guards to accept the challenge, Náin swung his mattock as hard as he could, but Azog evaded his blow and in missing his target, Náin splintering his mattock on the ground.  Azog kicked him in the leg and attempted to exploit Náin’s resulting stumble to cut off his head; and while this was prevented by the stong mail that Náin was wearing, Azog’s blow neverheless broke Náin’s neck, causing his instant death.

During their leaders’ duel, however, the Dwarves’ forces had thoroughly routed the Orcs, driving the survivors to flee southwards, and killing all of Azog’s guard.  Azog attempted to flee back to the East-gate of Moria, but he was pursued by Náin’s son Dáin (Dáin II Ironfoot-to-be), then just thirty-two years of age and thus very young for a Dwarf, who followed hard on his heels and decapitated Azog right in front of the gate with his red battle-axe, thus bringing the battle to its end and sealing the Dwarves’ victory.  Azog’s head was impaled on a pike, and the bag of coins that he had contemptuously tossed at Nàr together with Thrór’s head nine years earlier was stuffed in his mouth. — Dáin, for his part, was hailed for the magnificent feat he had accomplished at so young an age; and he would become renowned as a warrior across Middle-earth, long before he had inherited the title of King Under the Mountain from his cousin Thorin II Oakenshield after the TA 2941 Battle of the Five Armies.

The Dwarves’ victory had come at a high price, as half their forces were dead or mortally wounded.  They stripped their dead so the Orcs could not plunder them, and they cut down all the trees in the valley, which was to remain bare ever after; then they erected many pyres on which to burn their dead, who were too numerous to all be buried in tombs of stone, as would have been the Dwarves’ custom.  Those that had died in Dimrill Dale were henceforth proudly known as Burned Dwarves.

The Orcs, however, a full ten thousand of whom had been killed during the battle, had suffered even worse casualties, as a result of which the Orcs of the Misty Mountains virtually disappeared as a threat to Eriador and Wilderland.  Many survivors of the Battle of Azanulbizar fled south, seeking refuge in the White Mountains, where they would proceed to trouble the Rohirrim for two generations.  In TA 2851, King Walda of Rohan would be killed with all his companions by Orcs near Dunharrow, prompting his son Folca “the Hunter” to hunt down and eliminate the last Orc-hold in the White Mountains. — Azog’s underground dominions, meanwhile, greatly reduced as they were, had come to his son Bolg, who would hold and to some extent succeed in repopulating them during the century and a half until the Battle of Five Armies in TA 2941, in which he would try to avenge his father — with the result, however, not only of his own death but also that of three fourth of his people and the permanent depletion of the number of the Orcs of the north to near-insignificantly low numbers.

In the aftermath of the Battle of Azanulbizar, King Thráin wanted to reclaim Khazad-dûm, but having suffered substantial losses, the Dwarves not of Durin’s Folk refused, pointing out that it was not their home and that the Longbeards should be satisfied by the fact that they had honored Thrór’s memory by fighting.  Dáin, who alone had taken a look inside the East-gate, also warned that the Balrog known as Durin’s Bane was still haunting the mines of Moria.

At last the Houses parted ways, returning to their homes to the North, East, and West.  Dáin and his people made their way back to the Halls of his grandfather Grór in the Iron Hills; and, given that his father Náin hat been killed in the Battle of Azanulbizar, he succeeded his grandfather as Lord of the Iron Hills at the latter’s death in TA 2805.  His people would come to be acknowledged the strongest in Wilderland and reckoned the only ones likely to be able to resist Sauron, if he should ever dare to come north and retake the realm of Angmar and the northern passes of the Misty Mountains.

Thráin and Thorin, meanwhile, led the exiles of the Lonely Mountain west, first to Dunland once more, from where however they again took to wandering in Eriador, eventually settling in the southern Blue Mountains in TA 2802.  There, they they prospered in their own fashion, forging iron objects, and slowly repopulating; albeit, due to the scarceness of Dwarf-women, very slowly, and additionaly increasing their numbers by wandering Longbeards who had heard of the Dwarven community in the Blue Mountains.  Over the next forty years — like in his father Thrór’s case, possibly exacerbated by the effect of wearing Durin’s Ring — Thráin would grow increasingly consumed with the lost riches of Erebor; and setting out in TA 2841 on a mission to see whether they could not, after all, retake and resettle in their lost home, he would be captured near the eaves of Mirkwood, imprisoned and tortured in Dol Guldur’s dungeons, and Durin’s Ring would be taken from him.  Almost dead and having lost his memory, he would be found by Gandalf, who in TA 2850 had embarked on another reconaissance mission to Dol Guldur in light of the growing Shadow emanating from there.

The outcome of that mission of Gandalf’s to Dol Guldur would essentially be twofold: Firstly, just before his death, Thráin would entrust the map and side entrance key to the Lonely Mountain to Gandalf and extract the promise that the Wizard would hand them over to Thráin’s son (even though Thráin at that point neither would remember his son’s nor his own name).  Secondly, Gandalf would confirm that the “Necromancer” really was Sauron, would alert the White Council, and at their meeting in TA 2851, would urge an attack on Dol Guldur.  During a meeting in which the fractious relationship between Saruan and Gandalf would be apparent to all with eyes to see, Saruman — having begun to covet the One Ring for himself and suspecting it would resurface in the near(ish) future — would succeed in convincing the Council once more to abstain from any decisive action; however, after Bilbo’s find in Gollum’s cave a century later, he would at last consent to the attack on Dol Guldur once more urged by Gandalf.

Alan Lee: Henneth Annûn
Attacks on Ithilien

TA 2885 – 2901

By the time that Túrin II succeeded his father as the twenty-third Ruling Steward of Gondor in TA 2882, the once-florishing province of Ithilien was infested by Mordor-orcs and more people fled west over the Anduin; only the hardiest people remained.  Túrin built secret refuges for his soldiers (and later, the Rangers) in Ithilien, of which Henneth Annûn (created in TA 2901) was the longest guarded and manned.  He also fortified the isle of Cair Andros to defend Anórien.

While his minions and allies, the Orcs, Uruk-hai and Haradrim made preparations for renewed attacks on Gondor,  Sauron — having learned about Isildur’s death in the Disaster of the Gladden Fields — sent emissaries to look for the One Ring around Anduin near the location of the battle almost three millennia earlier, not knowing that the Ring had fallen into the hands of a Stoor several centuries earlier, and had been in his possession all along.

The Lord of the Rings Online tapestry:
Folcred and Fastred perish while fighting Haradrim
and Oliphaunts at the Crossings of Poros (source)
Battle of the Crossings of Poros

TA 2885

The Crossings of Poros marked the point where the Harad Road passed over the river Poros from the disputed lands of Harondor (South Gondor) — claimed by both Umbar and Gondor since about the middle of the Third Age — to South Ithilien.  They had been the scene of an important battle once before in Gondor’s history, when during the Wainrider War Eärnil — commander of the southern army of Gondor and penultimate King-to-be — defeated the Wainriders’ Haradrim allies on the ninth day of Cermië (July 9), TA 1944.  Given their stratigically important location, it was not surprising that the crossings would once more be the location of a battle against the same enemies roughly a millennium later.

Indeed, although Gondor had (after suffering grievous losses) eventually defeated the Wainriders in TA 1944, had Ithilien remained a target of attacks by both the Haradrim and the Mordor-orcs and newly-bred Uruk-hai during the subsequent centuries.

The Crossings of Poros (source)

Stirred by emissaries of Sauron and supported by Umbar, the Haradrim once more occupied South Gondor and  attempted  to invade Ithilien in TA 2885, crossing the river Poros with a powerful host. 

Steward Túrin II of Gondor was aided in his defense of Gondor’s territory by Folcwine, the fourteenth King of Rohan; the son of Folca “the Hunter”, who had cleared Rohan of Orcs a generation earlier, and great-grandfather(-to-be) of Théoden, who would be Rohan’s King during the War of the Ring.  Some time earlier, Folcwine had, with Gondor’s aid, driven out Dunlendings from the West-march, the area between Adorn and Isen, and recovered the area for Rohan.  Now he returned the assistance received, following the Oath of Eorl (and Cirion), which at this time had provided for reliable assistance between the two kingdoms for four hundred years.

The combined armies of Gondor and Rohan forced the Haradrim back across the fords and had the victory; however, Folcwine’s twin sons Folcred and Fastred, who had joined his campaign, were both killed in the battle.  After their custom, the Rohirrim buried the twins in a great mound high upon the shore of the river Poros, the Haudh in Gwanûr, which would come to guard Gondor’s southern boundaries for long years thereafter, as reportedly the kingdom’s enemies were afraid to pass the tomb. — Folcwine, at his death in TA 2903, was succeeded by his youngest son, Fengel.

John Howe: Uruk-hai
New Uruk-hai Raid of Ithilien

TA 2901

Meanwhile, even though the Haradrim had been defeated, Sauron’s minions kept harassing and infesting Ithilien.  From the Haradrim the baton passed back to the Uruk-hai and the Mordor-orcs, who embarked on a new raid in TA 2901, further deserting the province and causing most of what little population had remained there to flee across the Anduin; thus leaving the Stewards’ scouts as almost the only Gondorians left there, other than a very scant, few and excessively hardy of the province’s inhabitants, as well as the newly-formed Rangers of Ithilien, selected from the descendants of the people who had lived there before it had been deserted and (at least later) led by a ranking member of the Ruling Steward’s family.

The Rangers’ main task was to harry Sauron’s forces whenever they entered Ithilien; dressed in camouflaging green and brown, they crossed the Anduin in secret and operated out of hidden outposts, the most important, and longest guarded and maintained of which was Henneth Annûn, the “Window of the Sunset” or “Window on the West”, consisting of a cave behind a west-facing waterfall (the Window-curtain) and overlooking an oval pool. The cave had been excavated by the stream feeding the waterfall, which originally fell from the hole in the cliff constituting the window in the name, but that stream had since been diverted and the tunnel sealed, save for a concealed entrance.

Largely due to the Rangers’ operations, as well as Gondor’s and Rohan’s joint show of force on the occasion of the Haradrim’s attack in TA 2885, even after having managed to desert Ithilien of its population, Sauron’s minions were never able to pass beyond Anduin and further into Gondor.

Indirectly, the Rangers’ activities — as well as the Dwarves’ crashing defeat of the Orcs in the Battle of Azanulbizar — would also come to curtail Sauron’s activities in Eriador when, a decade later, the northern part of Middle-earth had to survive another severe winter in TA 2911 (later known as the Fell Winter).  Once more causing severe food shortages and compelling Gandalf and the Rangers of the North to provide food for the Hobbits to prevent them from dying of hunger, the winter was cold enough to allow white wolves (wargs) native to the frozen lands in the north of Middle-earth to travel south from their usual habitation in the Forodwaith and cross the Brandywine River (Baranduin) into the East Farthing of the Shire.  In March TA 2912, when the winter had finally ended, great floods of meltwater rushed down Greyflood, devastating the city of Tharbad and breaking its bridge, as well as flooding the lands of the Enedwaith.  Had Sauron’s minions — the Orcs and Uruks as much asd the Haradrim — not suffered defeats at the hands of the Dwarves, the Rangers of Ithilien, and the armies of Gondor and Rohan shortly before, Sauron would doubtlessly not have failed to actively exploit Eriador’s misery; as it was, he was reduced to (unrecorded, but doubtlessly-occurring) bouts of Schadenfreude — even if he did not yet know anything about the Shire, nor what existential danger to him would emanate from the Shire in the not-too-remote future.

Karen Wynn Fonstad: Middle-earth in the Third Age — 
Rhovanion with Dol Guldur, Mirkwood, the Lonely Mountain
(Erebor), Dale, Lake-town (Esgaroth), and the Iron Hills

Campaign Against Erebor and Sauron

TA 2941

From the middle of the 30th century of the Third Age on, Gandalf increasingly began taking an active hand in directing matters (beyond establishing ties with the people and peoples of Middle-earth, helping the Hobbits back to their feet after the hard winters they had had to suffer, and beyond his activities as a member of the White Council).

Having confirmed that the “Necromancer” of Dol Guldur in the southern part of Mirkwood was, in fact, none other than Sauron; seeing that another key strategic location east of the Misty Mountains — Erebor, the Lonely Mountain, just outside the northern part of Mirkwood — was now occupied by a fire dragon, one of the evil creatures first bred by Sauron’s erstwhile master Morgoth and quite possibly a descendant of Glaurung; knowing moreover that Minas Ithil / Minas Morgul (and hence, Mordor) was in the hands of the Nazgûl since TA 2002; and having observed the repeated assaults of Ithilien by Sauron’s minions, the Haradrim and the Uruk-hai and Mordor-orcs, Gandalf concluded that even without having regained possession of the One Ring, a large-scale attack by Sauron was fairly imminent.  Worse, he also saw the proximate risk of an alliance between Sauron and Smaug, the two greatest representatives of the powers of Evil about in Middle-earth at the time (both hearkening back to Morgoth himself); certainly an alliance that would have a devastating effect on Middle-earth. 

So Gandalf began to think about a way of taking not just one but both of them out at the same time.  A chance meeting with Thorin Oakenshield, who had succeeded his father Thráin as King of the Longbeards — then still eking out a living in the Blue Mountains — would give him the decisive pointer: Like his father before him, Thorin wanted to recapture the Lonely Mountain.  So if Gandalf were to find a way to support the Dwarves in their venture, that would leave the White Council’s hands free to hit Dol Guldur.  All it would take was to make sure that the two strikes were coordinated so as to occur simultaneously, to prevent Sauron and Smaug to come to each other’s assistance.

Attack on Dol Guldur

October, TA 2941

Independently of Gandalf’s activities and considerations, Saruman — who had secretely embarked on a search of the One Ring, which he wanted for himself — learned in TA 2939 that Sauron, too, was searching for the Ring; and he was worried that Sauron would find the Ring sooner than Saruman himself.

So when during a White Council meeting in TA 2941 Gandalf once more urged an attack on Dol Guldur, arguing that the the mere existence of the One Ring allowed Sauron to live, and that Sauron moreover was now in possession of the Nine Rings once given to the Kings of Men and three of the Seven Rings of the Dwarves, Saruman this time consented; not because he suddenly agreed with Gandalf (on anything), but because he calculated that expelling Sauron from Dol Guldur would allow him to freely continue his own search for the One Ring.

After the White Council meeting, Gandalf advised and planned with Thorin the Dwarves’ campaign for Erebor; and he saw them on their way across the Misty Mountains.  Then he joined the other members of the White Council, whose hit on Dol Guldur coincided with the Dwarves’ arrival at Erebor.

Sauron, meanwhile, had however not been idle and had made preparations of his own: when the White Council attacked, he fled — nowhere else but to Mordor, which had long been readied for his return by the Nazgûl; and where he would at last openly declare his presence a decade later, in TA 2951, while sending Khamûl, the Naugûl’s second-in-command, and two other Ring-wraiths back to Dol Guldur.  Thus, although Sauron’s grasp on the north had indeed been weakened, it was not yet eliminated, as Gandalf had been hoping. 

After Sauron’s return to Mordor, the very few last remaining people of Ithilien fled over the Anduin, to the safety of the more westerly parts of Gondor.  The Rammas Echor — the great wall that surrounded the Pelennor Fields — was constructed, probably during the days of Steward Ecthelion II, as part of the necessary defenses of Gondor, now that Ithilien had fallen under the shadow of the Enemy.

Sauron himself, once back in Mordor, started rebuilding the Dark Tower, the completion of which was signaled by an eruption of Mount Doom, and from where he would henceforth direct his war on the west of Middle-earth.

The White Council met again in TA 2953, following Sauron’s open declaration in 2951, to discuss the Rings of Power and Bilbo Baggins’s find on the way to Erebor.  During the meeting Saruman repeated his claim that the One Ring had been washed down the Anduin and into the Sea, quieting Gandalf’s worries about Bilbo’s Ring. 

Afterwards, Saruman took Isengard for his own as Lord of Isengard and fortified it, isolating himself from the other members of the White Council.  Having spied on Gandalf, he had learned of the Grey Wizard’s interest in the Shire, and he now started sending his agents there under the pretense of pipe-weed affairs.  In TA 3000, Saruman would be ensnared by Sauron .

Quest for Erebor and Battle of the Five Armies

October, TA 2941

Thorin II Oakenshield succeeded his father Thráin II as King of the Longbeards after Thráin’s disappearance in Mirkwood (and his death in the dungeons of Dol Guldur, of which, however, Thorin and his people would only learn much later).  While the Dwarves — discouraged by Balin’s reports about Thráin’s sudden disappearance — decided to remain in the Blue Mountains, thoughts of their old home under Erebor never left them, and particularly so, Thorin himself.

When Thorin and Gandalf met by chance earlier in TA 2941, they quickly started to discuss the seizure of the Dwarves’ former realm by Smaug and Gandalf’s own interest in seeing the dragon removed from there.  Gandalf, who had long come to appreciate the Hobbits’ particular qualities, convinced the very reluctant Thorin — on this occasion and again during the subsequent visit of Thorin’s party to the Shire — to take along Bilbo Baggins as a “burglar” to explore Smaug’s cave inside the Misty Mountain and retrieve the Dwarves’ treasured Arkenstone, the most singular and precious of the many gems stole by the dragon; telling Thorin flat-out that their mission was bound to fail without Bilbo.

Setting out across the Misty Mountains, the party discovered a treasure trove of First-Age weapons from Gondolin in a troll cave, after Gandalf had saved the Dwarves from being roasted and eaten by the trolls, and Gandalf, Thorin and Bilbo each take from it the swords they would carry for the rest of their journey, Glamdring, Orcrist, and an Elven dagger that Bilbo would eventually name Sting.  After a stop in Rivendell, during which Elrond deciphered for them the moon-letters on Thrór’s map of the Lonely Mountain containing the instructions how to pass the side door, the party continued on their way, only to be captured by Goblins (Orcs), however, after having unwittingly camped on the “front porch” of Goblintown.  The Dwarves were once more saved by Gandalf, but during their flight from Goblintown they were separated from Bilbo — who ended up in the cave that a creature born centuries earlier as a Stoor named Sméagol, but, having laid his hands on a Ring he soon came to think of only as his “Precious”, had become that Ring’s slave and had become known to others only as Gollum, for the sounds he made while swallowing.  To Gollum’s shock, Bilbo found his Ring; in fact, he had found it already before he involved the creature in a game of riddles for his own life (set against Gollum’s promise to show him the way out); in the event, Bilbo discovered one of the Ring’s properties — the fact that it makes its wearer invisible — and was able to save himself on his own, by following Gollum through the cave system’s underground tunnels.

Gandalf was worried by Bilbo’s find and knew he would have to investigate it, but also knew those investigations would have to wait until the Dwaves’ and the White Council’s dual business in the north was done.  So he saw the company safely out of the Misty Mountains (not without the help of the Great Eagles, however, who arrived just in time to save them from an attack by a pack of wargs) and to the home of a skin-changer of Northmen descent named Beorn, who could shape-shift into a giant bear; and who — though disliking Dwarves, but hating Orcs decidedly more — equipped the company with ponies and showed them a (relatively) safe way through Mirkwood.  Then Gandalf departed on “business of his own” connected with a certain “Necromancer”; i.e., the White Council’s attack on Dol Guldur.

Before they finally arrived at Erebor, the Dwarves and Bilbo had encounters with the giant spiders of Mirkwood (possibly descendants of the First-Age monster Ungoliant), as well as Thranduil’s Wood-elves, followed by an uncomfortable barrel ride into the Long Lake, where they were welcomed and provisioned by the people of Lake-town.

At the last light of Durin’s Day (that evening’s moonlight), following the instructions on Thrór’s map they at last entered the Lonely Mountain.  Bilbo went exploring Smaug’s cave and stole a golden cup almost literally from under the sleeping dragon’s nose; then, wearing the One Ring, tricked the dragon into revealing the vulnerable spot on his belly and puzzled him by his ambiguous answers to Smaug’s questions, which eventually led the dragon to the erroneous conclusion that what was afoot was a scheme by the people of Lake-town.  Determined to show the town’s Men (who, or so Smaug must have concluded, seemed to have forgotten the sack of Dale on the occasion of his seizure of Erebor two centuries earlier) who was “the true King under the Mountain”, the enraged dragon departed to the Long Lake and burned Lake-town down to the ground.  However, in one sweep over the town he was killed by Bard, a resident of the town and descendant of the Lords of Dale, who had learned about Smaug’s vulnerable spot from a thrush (which in turn had overheard Bilbo’s report to the Dwarves), and who used his fail-safe Black Arrow to shoot the dragon.  Thereafter, the Lonely Mountain was free to be reclaimed by Thorin and his company, who instantly did so and fortified its main entrance with a massive stone wall; while Thorin took the title of King Under the Mountain.

However, once the Dwarves had taken the mountain, a bitter fight broke out over the treasure contained in in, of which not only the Dwarves but also Bard and the Elven-king Thranduil claimed a share.  In the mistaken belief that this would contribute to a peaceful resolution, Bilbo revealed to Bard, Thranduil and Gandalf, who had returned just in time — but not to Thorin — that he had indeed found the Arkenstone; erroneously thinking that Bard and Thranduil might be able to use the Dwarves’ high-prized gem as a bargaining piece.  The exact opposite was the case: Thorin felt betrayed by Bilbo and withdrew into the mountain, barring the doors to everybody else.

As a result, Thorin and Company were trapped in a bloodless siege; not, however, without having sent requests of support to his cousin Dáin Ironfoot in the Iron Hills through the ravens of nearby Ravenhill and their talking leader Röac, who were old friends of the Dwarves.  Dáin responded immediately, marching to Erebor with 500 heavily armed Dwarves of the Iron Hills; most of them skilled veterans of the War of the Dwarves and Orcs. 

Karen Wynn Fonstad: Battle of the Five Armies

When Dain’s forces arrived, battle was almost joined, but at the last moment Gandalf intervened, alerting Dáin, Thranduil and Bard to the fact that while they had been bickering about the Lonely Mountain’s treasures, the Goblins and Orcs of the Misty Mountains, Grey Mountains and Mount Gundabad, led by Azog’s son Bolg, had marched through the night to meet them in battle, supported by the pack of wargs that had already hunted Thorin’s and Bilbo’s company on their way out of the Misty Mountains.  They had at first been incited by Gandalf’s earlier killing of the Great Goblin (the chieftain of Goblintown) during his rescue of the Dwarves, but had thereafter mobilized for a full-scale attack after hearing news of the death of the dragon; unaware of Dáin’s arrival, and therefore believing the treasure to not to be heavily guarded and fairly easy to collect once the Elves and Men of Lake-town had been defeated and the Orcs’ supremacy in the north had been secured.

The commanders of the armies of Elves, Dwarves, and Men agreed that the Goblins / Orcs and wargs were their common enemies and grievances between their parties were to be put on hold.  They arranged their forces on the two spurs of the Mountain that lined the valley leading to the now-sealed off great gate of Erebor; the only entrance to the mountain that remained unblocked after the others had been destroyed by Smaug (most of them when he had first seized the mountain two hundred years earlier).  The five hundred Dwarves and roughly two hundred Lake-men formed up on one spur and over a thousand Elves on the other, while a light rearguard lined across the mouth of the valley to lure the Orcs between the two spurs of the mountain, and thus destroy them.  Bilbo Baggins tried to sit out the battle on Ravenhill, which was held by the Elves and where also Gandalf had also withdrawn.

When the Goblins / Orcs and wargs arrived, initially the allies’ battle plan worked: the enemies were lured into the trap and took heavy losses.  However, the sheer numbers of the Orcs and wargs eventually deprived the Dwarves and their allies of their strategic advantage, especially after the second wave of enemies had scaled the mountain from the opposite side, and began to attack the allied forces from above and behind, as their main attack line pressed forward.

As the battle raged across the mountain, suddenly with a great crash a section of the massive stone wall that Thorin and his companions had erected across the mouth of the gates blew open, killing many enemies and making way for Thorin and his twelve companions, who came flying out, decked out with the finest that Erebor had to offer in terms of arms and armor, and charged down into the valley to Thorin’s cry “Rally to me my kinsfolk!”  Thorin advanced through the Orcs’ ranks all the way to Borg’s gigantic bodyguard, but could not get past them: his battle-line was too short, its flanks unprotected and thus his attack soon crumbled, Thorin and many others were cut off and hard beset by Bolg’s bodyguard.  The battle degenerated into a fierce but chaotic close quarters melee.

Yet, just when the allies were on the point of losing, the Great Eagles arrived from the Misty Mountains, led by Gwaihir, the Wind Lord, and hailed by first Bilbo’s, then by everybody’s shouts, “the Eagles are coming!”  Unfortunately for Bilbo, the Eagles’ arrival was the last thing he saw, as he was knocked out by a large stone thrown by an Orc from above.  Thus, he only learned afterwards that with the support of the Giant Eagles, the Orcs that had scaled Erebor were driven off, and that the tide had turned once and for all when Beorn arrived in his shape as a giant bear, driving through the enemy lines and pausing just long enough to carry a wounded Thorin from the battlefield, then returning with even greater fury and smashing first Bolg’s bodyguard, then Bolg himself.  This caused the Orcs to panic and scatter, only to be hunted down by the victors nevertheless.

Thorin had been mortally wounded on the field, as had his nephews Fíli and Kíli, who had died defending him with shield and body as he lay on the ground.  Thorin died soon after the battle, having met Bilbo one last time and finally made his peace with him.  He was buried next to his ancestors within the Lonely Mountain, with the Arkenstone on his chest and his sword Orcrist on his tomb.  His cousin Dáin Ironfoot succeeded him as King under the Mountain and King of Durin’s Folk, ruling as Dáin II.

Having defeated their common enemies, the victors divided the treasure of the Lonely Mountain.   In return for the Arkenstone, Bard received the fourteenth share of the gold and silver that the Dwarves had originally promised to Bilbo; he shared his reward with the Master of Lake-town and gave the Elvenking Thranduil the emeralds of Girion, the necklace made of five hundred emeralds that his ancestor Girion, last Lord of Dale at the time of Smaug’s capture of the Lonely Mountain, had given to the Dwarves in exchange for a mail coat made (probably) of mithril for Girion’s elder son.  Bilbo himself, despite having forfeited his share, was offered a rich reward by Dáin Ironfoot but refused to take more than two small chests of gold and silver, as well as the mithril-shirt that Thorin had given him prior to the battle and his sword, Sting, which he had found in the troll hole.

Under Dáin’s reign, the Dwarves of the Lonely Mountain would become very prosperous.  The town of Dale would be rebuilt with Bard’s share of the treasure; and Bard would become its Lord, as his ancestors had been before him.  Close ties of friendship and trade would be established between the Men of Dale and Lake-town, the Elves of Mirkwood, and the Dwarves of Erebor, who — exceeding all of their ancestors in the arts of masonry, mining, and smith-craft — created many things of great beauty for their friends and neighbors in Dale.

The Orcs, meanwhile, had lost three quarters of their fighters in the north in the battle; as a result, the Misty Mountains would remain free of them for many years to come.  Gandalf’s aims had been achieved to the extent that Smaug had been killed (not merely chased from Erebor) and Sauron was no longer in Dol Guldur; however, it would become clear within a decade that the latter result had come at the price of Sauron’s return to Mordor — hardly an outcome that could be qualified as a reduction of his power.

Aragorn’s Strike against Umbar for Gondor

TA 2980

In the decades before the beginning of the War of the Ring, another one of the leaders of the war against Sauron made his first appearance on the scene and earned his first spurs as a leader in battle: Aragorn.

Fostered in Rivendell and half-orphaned at three years of age without ever having seen his father, Aragorn had only learned his true name and identity upon coming of age, when Elrond had presented him with two of the heirlooms of the House of Elendil — the shards of Narsil and the Ring of Barahir — while at the same time telling him that he would have to earn the sceptre of Annúminas (and the Elendilmir).  Thereafter, he had left Rivendell and spent the next several years wandering in the Wild; the untamed regions in Rhovanion and elsewhere east of the Misty Mountains.  In TA 2956 he had first met and formed a friendship with Gandalf, who had advised him to interest himself in the Shire, as a result of which Aragorn had become known as Strider in the adjoining parts of Eriador, such as Bree.

After having spent some time serving King Thengel of Rohan (the father of Théoden, who would lead the Rohirrim into the War of the Ring), he offered his services to Steward Ecthelion II of Gondor, who gratefully accepted: a wise leader who had come into office in TA 2953, only two years after Sauron had openly declared his return to Mordor, Ecthelion was using all his power to strengthen Gondor against the new threat; encouraging capable men of all origins to enter Gondor’s services and help guarding the realm.  In Gondor — as before in Rohan — Aragorn kept his true identity secret; for the silver star he wore on his cloak and his swiftness and keen eyesight the Gondorians called him Thorongil (“Eagle of the Star”).  Soon proving his leadership qualities, however, he quickly gained the trust and favor of Ecthelion — and the jealousy of his son Denethor, who may have known or guessed his real identity and suspected Gandalf of planning to supplant him (Denethor) with the heir of Isildur and Elendil; a suspicion fostered by Aragorn’s advice to Ecthelion to place his trust in Gandalf rather than in Saruman.

Having taken office so soon after Sauron’s declaration of his return to Mordor, Ecthelion was increasingly anticipating hostilities from that quarter; and Aragorn warned him that in such an event the southern provinces (fiefs) of Gondor would also be vulnerable to attacks by the Corsairs of Umbar.  After Ecthelion had already strengthened and refortified Pelargir and Cair Andros, in TA 2980 Aragorn requested, and Ecthelion gave permission to him to take a small fleet to Umbar and launch a preventive strike against the Corsairs’ capital, where in a surprise night-time attack his forces burned a great part of the enemy’s ships, and Aragorn himself killed the Captain of the Haven (the leader of the Corsairs) in single combat. 

However, after having completed his mission, Aragorn did not return to Minas Tirith, foregoing the honors awaiting him there; rather, from Pelargir he sent a farewell message to Ecthelion, pointing to other tasks that were calling him elsewhere and expressing doubt that he would be returning to Gondor soon.  He then crossed the Anduin and was last seen facing the Ephel Dúath (Mountains of Shadow) on the borders of Mordor.  Later it was learned that he had spent time traveling in the east and south of Middle-earth; and the knowledge that he had acquired there would subsequently come to be very useful in the War of the Ring. 

In Gondor, meanwhile, Ecthelion was succeeded by his son Denethor in TA 2984, four years after Aragorn’s preventive strike against Umbar.

The Chamber of Mazarbul (source)
The Battles of Balin’s Company for Khazad-dûm

Nov. 10-15, TA 2994

The final passages at arms prior to the War of the Ring were once more fought for possession of the Longbeards’ legendary home of Moria (Khazad-dûm), and their tragic effects would still be felt by the Fellowship when they crossed Moria on their way south almost exactly twenty-four years later.

While the Longbeards had regained their prosperity under King Dáin II Ironfoot after having resettled in the Lonely Mountain, the pull of their ancestral home of Khazad-dûm was still strong in some of them, despite the knowledge that the Balrog Durin’s Bane was still hiding deep inside the mines below the Dwarven halls, and that moreover, in recent centuries Moria had been settled by Orcs, a fact that had already brought about the War of the Dwarves and the Orcs towards the end of the twenty-eighth century of the Third Age.  Thus, when Bilbo Baggins’s and Thorin Oakenshield’s old companion Balin requested King Dáin’s permission to embark on a mission to resettle Moria with a small number of companions in TA 2989, the King was loath to grant it and warned Balin against his proposed undertaking.  At last, however, seeing that Balin’s heart was set on the venture, he grudgingly consented.

In addition to regaining the treasures of Moria and reopening its famed mithril mines, Balin’s hope had been to find Thrór’s (Durin’s) Ring, the oldest and most powerful of the seven Dwarven Rings of Power; not knowing that Thrór had passed on the Ring to his son Thráin prior to his own fateful venture into Moria a century earlier, and that the Ring had then been taken from Thráin by Sauron when Thráin had fallen into his hands in his attempt to pass through Mirkwood towards the Lonely Mountain.

When the Dwarves reached Moria, they found it in the hands of Orcs (as had been feared) and a battle for possession of the mines ensued near Mirrormere, but after one of their number, Flói, had killed the Orc chieftain, they were able to drive the enemy host away from Moria; albeit at the price of Flói’s life, who was killed by an Orc arrow, and whom the Dwarves buried under the grass near Mirrormere outside of the mines.  Having retaken their ancestral halls, the Dwarves set out to explore them; and for five years their colony prospered, mining for mithril and recovering ancient treasures and heirlooms such as Durin’s famed battle axe, a helm (possibly also owned by Durin), as well as gold.  They also sent messengers to the Lonely Mountain to let their kinsfolk there know about their doings and progress; and Balin was styled Lord of Moria.

Not all of the members of Balin’s company besides Balin himself and Flói are known by name; it is known, however, that it included two of the other surviving members of Thorin Oakenshield’s company that had set out for the Lonely Mountain almost fifty years earlier, Glóin’s elder brother (and Gimli’s uncle) Óin, as well as Thorin’s kinsman Ori and three Dwarves named Náli, Frár and Lóni who would later stand out for their bravery in holding the Second Hall against the Orcs while the rest of their company retreated.  All in all, the company may not have numbered many more than ten Dwarves (and almost certainly not more than fifty).

Battle of the Second Hall 

Nov. 10, TA 2994

Five years after Balin and his company had settled in Moria, the Orcs were back: On November 10, TA 2994 they suddenly attacked in the Dimrill Dale below the East-gate to the mines, killing Balin with an arrow as he was looking ito Mirrormere; and while the Dwarves in killed the Orc archer, many more Orcs immediately came up the Celebrant (Silverlode) river and engaged the Dwarves.  After a short battle, the surviving Dwarves retreated back into the First Hall and barred the East-gate, taking Balin’s body into the mines with them.  Nevertheless, the Orcs soon managed to penetrate into Moria and greatly outnumbering the Dwarves, once they were past the gate, it was not long until they had also taken the First Hall.

Thereafter, the Orcs only had to cross the Bridge of Khazad-dûm to access the interior of Moria: a structure designed for enemies to have to march single file and totally exposed to the mines’ defenders.  Yet, although the Dwarves would seem to have mounted a well-organized defense, and even assuming that the Orcs suffered a considerable number of casualties on the bridge, the Orcs’ sheer numbers ensured that they would eventually master the bridge and be in a position once more to attack the Dwarves.  Little is known about the course of the ensuing battle; at some point, at any rate, only Lóni, Náli, and Frár were left to defend the Second Hall, while the rest of the company (now ledd by Óin) escaped deeper into Moria towards the Seventh Level — and for all the three remaining defenders’ bravery, the sheer numbers dictated the inevitable outcome: the Orcs killed all three of them and took the Second Hall, thus initiating the beginning of the end of Balin’s colony.

Last Stand in the Chamber of Mazarbul

Nov. 15, TA 2994

After the battle of the Second Hall, the remaining Longbeards were forced all the way back into the Twenty-first Hall.  From there, Óin was sent with four (or more) of the other survivors to see if any of them could escape out of the Doors of Durin.  There, however, they found the water up to the doors; and Óin was killed by the Watcher in the Water, a mysterious and horrific beast with long, sinuous, pale green, luminous, and multi-fingered tentacles lurking in a lake beneath the western walls of Moria which had been created by the damming of the Sirannon river. 

Five days later, four of Óin’s companions returned and, after losing the Twenty-first Hall, the surviving colonists retreated into the large, square, and dimly lit Chamber of Mazarbul, the old chamber of records of Khazad-dûm; located to the right of a pathway branching off the north end of the Twenty-first hall and accessed either by the stone door-barred entrance from that pathway or through another stone door barring the chamber from a system of stair tunnels that the Fellowship would later use to flee from the Balrog. Many deep recesses were cut into the chamber rock containing chests that had been looted by the Orcs inhabiting Moria; and it was here that Balin’s Tomb was laid and where the colonists, having barred the doors, now made their desperate last stand.  Here, too, Ori wrote the last pages in the Book of Mazarbul, knowing that there was no hope of an escape and hoping that someone would find the book and would thus learn what had happened to the colony.  To the members of the Fellowship passing through Moria twenty-four years later, the Longbeards’ .remains that were left desecrated at both doors of the Chamber of Mazarbul testified to a hopelessly brave final stand against the onslaught of an enemy many times their number (and possibly even reinforced by Trolls), who moreover had plundered their treasures after having killed the Dwarves down to the last one standing.

Worried because no news had come from the colony in a long time, King Dáin Ironfoot eventually sent Óin’s brother Glóin and the latter’s son Gimli to Rivendell to inquire about any potential news, as well as to communicate the news they themselves had to share about the visit of Sauron’s messenger and his questions about Bilbo Baggins and the “trifle” that Sauron required of him.  At the Council of Elrond, Gimli would become one of the Fellowship of the Ring, and it would be left to him to discover the truth and carry the news of the colony’s violent end back to Erebor after the end of the War of the Ring.

John Howe: Sauron’s Eye and the Ring of Power
The War of the Ring

TA 3018 – 3019

After over three millennia of duration, the Third Age of Middle-earth reached its cataclysmic conclusion in the War of the Ring, the final settling of accounts with Sauron and his minions.  For Sauron himself, it was primarily a matter of regaining possession of the One Ring and of overthrowing Gondor, despite its decline over the course of the centuries still his most powerful enemy.  For his enemies, it was about the survival of a free Middle-earth — and the small odds of two lonesome Hobbits making it across Mordor to Mount Doom to destroy the Ring, and thus the foundation of Sauron’s power, once and for all.

By TA 3018, Gondor was governed by Aragorn’s rival of old for the trust and affection of then-Steward Ecthelion II, that ruler’s eldest son Denethor II, who had succeeded his father at the latter’s death in TA 2984.  Noble, proud, valiant, tall, wise, far-sighted, and powerful, more kingly than any of his predecessors going back centuries, and indeed rivalling in lordliness even Gandalf himself, Denethor had made a name for himself as a masterful lord and a great ruler, seeing equally well to all things large and small under his command; holding and listening to council and to the voices of the lords of Gondor’s fiefs and Captains of the Forces, especially in important matters that were subject to debate, but saying little and following his own mind, holding all matters in his own hand.

However, Denethor’s happiness was permanently marred by the death of his beloved wife Finduilas, the daughter of Prince Adrahil II of Dol Amroth and mother of Denethor’s sons Boromir (the elder and his father’s great favorite) and Faramir.  Wrecked by sorrow over his loss and growing worry for Gondor, which he knew was under constant threat, Denethor dared do what no Ruling Steward had dared since Minas Ithil had fallen to the Nazgûl and become Minas Morgul a millennium earlier: he looked into the Anor-stone, in the misguided belief that he had studied the lore of the Palantíri well enough, and was of strong enough a character, in order to be able to withstand even Sauron’s machinations.  The Palantír showed him much of what he wanted to see, and his knowledge grew exceedingly, to the great wonder of his people.  However, inevitably Sauron, looking into the captured Ithil-stone, discovered that Denethor was using the Anor-stone.  The ensuing battle of wills with Sauron took an enormous toll on Denethor’s constitution and caused him to age prematurely, as well as driving him into even greater despair, mistrust of even his own allies (or those that were not subject to his own rule), and into a conviction of Sauron’s invincibility, while increasingly blinding him to any matters, disputes and struggles except for that between himself and Sauron.  As a guard against the onset of softness in his old age, he took to wearking armor under his robes.

Meanwhile, inside Mordor the Dark Tower had been rebuilt and Sauron’s Shadow was spreading from it far and wide; with Orcs multiplying again and being bred into immense armies, and trolls abroad with a new cunning, armed with dreadful weapons, and now able to withstand the light of the sun and, thus, capable of being used in daytime warfare.  Murmurs of even more dreadful, unnamed creatures abounded.  While still looking for the One Ring, Sauron began reassembling his forces for the final blow against the hated remnants of Númenor and the Eldar.  Armies of Easterlings from Khand and beyond the Sea of Rhûn marched to and reinforced Mordor, joined by men from South Harad; and at the turn of the millennium, Sauron succeeded in ensnaring even Saruman through the latter’s use of the Orthanc-stone.  As his symbol, Sauron adopted the image of a lidless eye, indicating his constant vigilance for his enemies’ activieties — and his search for the Ring.

In TA 3009, Sauron’s agents captured Gollum, who had been looking for the One Ring ever since losing it to Bilbo Baggins in TA 2941, and who now, under torture, dropped the words “Shire” and “Baggins”.  After years of torture, in TA 3017 Sauron at last decided to let Gollum go free again and have him followed by his own agents, thinking the creature might lead him to the Ring; but Gollum was captured once more by Aragorn near the Dead Marshes, who — together with Gandalf — had likewise been looking for Gollum in order to interrogate him about the One Ring, after Gandalf had independently confirmed from Isildur’s Scroll and other records kept in Gondor that Bilbo’s find had to be Sauron’s Ring of Power.  Having extracted what little information Gollum could be made to reveal, Aragorn and Gandalf placed him into the care of Thranduil’s Elves, from where however he was able to escape, probably with the assistance of Sauron’s agents, even though in the end he managed to slip from their eyes as much as from those of the Elves.

Sauron used the information he had gained from Gollum to send a messenger to the Lonely Mountain to ask about Bilbo Baggins and a certain “trifle” that Sauron required of him, but that messenger’s mission failed in the face of King Dáin II Ironfoot’s playing for time (while secretly dispatching Glóin and Gimli to Rivendell with great haste).  Eventually — and several months after he had already initiated the War of the Ring with an attack on Osgiliath — it would be neither from the Dwarves, nor from Gollum, nor from Saruman (who was in effect trying to double cross Sauron), but from Gríma Wormtongue, the treacherous counselor of Théoden, King of Rohan, where “the Shire” and hence, “Baggins”, the possessor of the One Ring was to be found.

Karen Wynn Fonstad: The War of the Rings – The Stage Is Set

Attack on Osgiliath

June 20, 3018

Over three millennia after its foundation, nothing but ruins remained of Gondor’s proud capital of old.  Sacked during the Kin-strife in TA 1437, further devastated by the plague of TA 1636, and abandoned as the kingdom’s capital in favor of Minas Anor (Minas Tirith) in TA 1640, the city had been depopulated for centuries and was widely believed to be haunted even before its last remaining population was driven out by the Uruk-hai raid of TA 2475.  Thereafter, the western part of the city was still garrisoned at times as a means of defending the crossing of the Anduin, but its eastern part was within Ithilien and, thus, part of the territory disputed between Gondor and Mordor.

Gollum’s capture on the edge of the Dead Marshes brought Osgiliath to Sauron’s attention once more and, just as he had initiated his first campaign against the Dunedain’s Realms in Exile in Osgiliath and Minas Ithil in SA 3429 (at the beginning of what would become the War of the Last Alliance of Elves and Men), and had sent his Uruk-hai to raid the city in TA 2475, shortly after the end of the Watchful Peace, in TA 3018 he again decided to have his forces attack the city. 

His attack, this time, fulfilled the dual purpose of testing Denthor’s strength and serving as a pretense for the Nazgûl’s presence in the city: while they would appear as the leaders of his forces, their concealed true purpose was actually the ongoing search for the One Ring.

On the evening of June 19, 3018, both of Denethor’s sons had similar prophetic dreams — Faramir had in fact had the same dream twice before, but had not spoken about it — involving Imladris (Rivendell) and Isildur’s Bane.

On the next day, Sauron’s forces — composed of Orcs, Uruk-hai, and Haradrim — attacked Osgiliath.  Boromir, with Faramir by his side, commanded the company defending the city; driving back Sauron’s hordes with much more of a show of force than Sauron had been hoping and holding the last bridge over the Anduin.  When Sauron’s forces had nevertheless at last taken the eastern half of the city and only the two brothers and two companions were left alive, the four last defenders retreated by swimming across the river, having destroyed the bridge and thus prevented the Orcs from following them by crossing the bridge to the western side of the city in turn.  However, the attack on Osgiliath had served its purpose nevertheless: the Nazgûl had crossed the Anduin and were on their way, searching for the Shire.

Since even Denethor himself could not decipher his sons’ dreams (other than identifying Imladris as the Elven name of Rivendell, the home of Lord Elrond), after his sons’ return to Minas Tirith, Denethor determined to send one of them to Rivendell to seek enlightenment; at Boromir’s request, he changed his mind and tasked his elder rather his younger son with the mission, and Boromir departed immediately.  Faramir, meanwhile, led several Ranger attacks deep into Mordor-occupied Ithilien over the course of the following months, ambushing enemy armies moving to the Black Gate.

Sauron, having learned that his enemies’ forces were stronger and more vigorous than he had hoped, put ever greater emphasis onto amassing a striking force the size and power of which had not been seen in Middle-earth in a very long time.

The attack of Sauron’s forces on Osgiliath would later come to be regarded as the beginning of the War of the Ring.

Nazgûl Attack at Sarn Ford

Sept. 22, 3018

Sarn Ford as shown in Lord of the Rings: War in the North (source)

The Brandywine River (Baranduin), The Shire, and Sarn Ford

From Osgiliath, a party of the Nazgûl under the leadership of Khamûl, their second-in-command, had moved up the Vales of Anduin in their search for the One Ring and the Shire, but had been unable to find either.  The Witch-king himself had embarked on a search to the north and west of Gondor. 

Alerted by Radagast about the Ring-wraiths’ doings in the summer of TA 3018, Gandalf had made plans with Bilbo Baggins’s nephew Frodo — who had now possessed the Ring for almost twenty years — for a flight from the Shire, while he himself would visit Saruman for purposes of consultation: only to find himself imprisoned atop Orthanc.  By the time that the Witch-king and his black-robed and -horsed search party had come to Isengard on September 18, he had just been liberated by Gwaihir, the Wind Lord, which fact Saruman had concealed from the Witch-king — ultimately to no avail, however, as the Witch-king had at last learned almost all that he needed to know about the location of the Shire — as well as about Saruman’s treachery to Sauron — from Gríma Wormtongue.

The Nazgûl were now divided into four pairs, and the Witch-King, together with the swiftest pair, departed for Minhiriath, the part of Eriador east of the Shire, between the rivers Baranduin (Brandywine) and Gwathló (Greyflood).  Along the way they captured several spies of Saruman and found charts and maps of the Shire.  They sent the spies to Bree, warning them that they were now servants of Mordor, not of Isengard.

On September 22, the Ring-wraiths reached Sarn Ford, the stony ford across the Brandywine River (Baranduin) forming the border of the Shire, where a road crossed the river that connected the Great East Road with the central part of the Greenway the remaining part of the North-South-Road formerly connecting Fornost and Osgiliath that had not been destroyed by the wars, plague, and natural disasters of the Third Age.  Aragorn had set a guard of his Rangers at Sarn Ford; but he himself was not at the ford when the Nazgûl arrived, and the Black Riders took the ford, killing many Rangers in the process.

The Witch-king now sent Khamûl and three other Nazgûl into the Shire, while he himself went east with the others and then returned to watch the Greenway.  However, the Black Rider who came to Hobbiton at nightfall failed to capture Frodo, who had departed that same day.  The Ring-wraiths’ hunt continued to Buckland and Bree, aided by Sauron’s spies, but for the moment the Ring escaped them.

Nazgûl Attacks on Weathertop

Oct. 3 & 6, 3018

The closest that the Nazgûl came to retrieving the One Ring was on Weathertop (Amon Sûl), the bare-topped southernmost elevation of the Weather Hills, which, in the early centuries of the Third Age, had formed the much-embattled border point of the three successor kingdoms of Arnor, and which had housed a fortified watchtower and, within it, the Palantír for whose possession the three kingdoms — spurred on by the Witch-king as ruler of Angmar and de-facto ruler of Rhudaur — had fought several vicious battles, in the last one of which (in TA 1409) the watchtower had finally been burned to the ground.  After the fortress’s destruction, the loss of the Palantír, and indeed the ruin of all of Rhudaur and Cardolan (and eventually, also Arthedain) by constant warfare, the plague, and natural disasters, the hill and its ruined watchtower had faded into obscurity; but the War of the Ring, the Third Age’s greatest and final conflict, would bring it back into the foreground once more. 

Khamûl had missed Frodo and his Hobbit companions in the Shire, but a spy the Nazgûl had installed in Bree had told him about Frodo’s accidental vanishing act at the Prancing Pony; and while their subsequent attack on the inn had again failed, as Aragorn had arranged for a change of room on the part of the Hobbits, the Witch-king correctly guessed that Frodo would head east.  So he sent four Ring-wraiths to Weathertop, while he himself went south along the Greenway, where, however, he discovered nothing.

Gandalf followed the Nazgûl on Shadowfax, but the Witch-king, aware of his presence, let him slip ahead and, with at least six (and possibly all) of the Nine attacked him on Weathertop on October 3.  The Wizard was able to fend off the Nazgûl in a violent fight that, once more, burnt the hilltop; Frodo and Aragorn saw the lights of that battle from their camp at the Midgewater Marshes further to the west.  At last Gandalf escaped at dawn, and the Witch-king again divided his company and sent four of the Black Riders after the Wizard, while he himself, Khamûl, and three other Nazgûl remained watching Weathertop for two days thereafter, waiting for the Ring Bearer to come.

Meanwhile, when the four Hobbits and Aragorn had set out from Bree, Aragorn — who had no doubt about the authors and purpose of the destruction of the Hobbits’ original room at the Prancing Pony and the theft of their horses — had deliberately led his party along a detour far north of the Great East Road through the Wilds, by way of the Hobbits’ pre-Shire settlement area in Chetwood, the broad woodland to the north and east of the Bree-hill some forty miles east of the Shire, past the now predominantly Man-inhabited village of Archet among the trees near the woodland’s edge; as well as the Midgewater Marshes, a fly-infested region of marshland between the Chetwood to the west and the Weather Hills to the east.  On October 2, 3018 — their third day out from Bree — Aragorn led the Hobbits into the marshes; and after they had spent two days and nights there it was evident why there were no inhabitants: the land was boggy and dangerous, lacking any permanent path, replete with pools, reeds, and rushes, and home only to birds, flies, tiny biting midges, and loud cricket-like insects which Sam Gamgee referred to as Neekerbreekers.

Karen Wynn Fonstad: Weathertop

Having come up to Weathertop from the Midgwater Marshes and ascended the hill on October 6, the party discovered a cairn with a message from Gandalf near the place where once the watchtower had stood, and they also saw Black Riders in the distance when looking back down towards the road.  

Aragorn counselled the Hobbits to remain in the camp which they had made in a dell below the summit of the hill while he himself went to reconnoitre and collect firewood. Yet, shortly after he had left, the Black Riders came; and the Witch-king advanced on Frodo, causing the terrified Hobbit to put on the Ring, which allowed him to see the Nazgûl as they truly were.  When Frodo however resisted their pull, and invoked the name of Elbereth (the Elven name given to Varda Elentari), the Witch-king stabbed Frodo in the shoulder with his Morgul blade.  The blade’s tip broke off and sent poison through the Hobbit’s veins. 

At last Aragorn drove the Nazgûl away with flaming brands, having returned in time to save Frodo’s life (for the moment), but not to prevent him from being dangerously injured.  Worse yet, the fragment of the blade that had remained within the wound started to work its way toward Frodo’s heart and threatened to turn Frodo into a wraith, too.  It would take Elrond’s skill as a healer to remove the shard and heal the wound, but eve so, each year on the anniversary of his stabbing, Frodo would become seriously ill.

Karen Wynn Fonstad: Bag End to Rivendell

Rob Alexander: The Wizard’s River Horses
Nazgûl Attack at the Ford of Bruinen

Oct. 20, 3018

After the attack on Weathertop, Frodo’s companions hurried him towards Rivendell, but it still took them almost two weeks until they reached the path leading to the Ford of Bruinen and, beyond the Ford, up the concealed way towards Elrond’s mountain stronghold.  After twelve days they were met by Glorfindel, one of the lords of the Elven community of Rivendell and (probably) second-in-command to Elrond, whom Elrond had sent out in search of them; having learned about their company from another Elven party led by Gildor Inglorion, one of the few Ñoldor (of the House of Finrod) still in Middle-earth in the late Third Age, whom the Hobbits had met earlier in their journey.

Glorfindel safely conducted the Hobbits to the Ford of Bruinen (also known as the Ford of Rivendell), the crossing of the Bruinen River on the Great East Road leading to the path to Rivendell, whose waters were under the power of Elrond, and which they reached on October 20, two weeks after the attack on Weathertop; Frodo — who was beginning to fade — being borne by Glorfindel’s white horse Asfaloth.  Suddenly the Nazgûl came upon them and Glorfindel ordered his horse to flee across the river.  Hearkening to his master’s commands, Asfaloth galloped ahead and outran the black horses that tried to cut off the escape, making it across the river while Frodo was hanging on to the horse’s back with his last remaining strength.  However, the Black Riders kept calling Frodo, and he tried to defy them after Asfaloth had taken him to the other bank.  Taunting him, the Nazgûl then entered the ford to capture him, but a sudden flash flood appeared and swept them away, just as Frodo’s friends had lit flaming brands and rushed at the Riders, maddening their horses and causing them to plunge into the raging waters.  While the waters rose in obeisance to Elrond’s command to rise, Gandalf added a signature contribution of his own by giving them horse shaped-crests.

Having all crossed the river, the company then bore Frodo as quickly as possible to Rivendell, where Elrond removed the shard of the Morgul blade from his body.  However, when once more crossing the Ford of Bruinen exactly a year after having received the injury with Gandalf and and his Hobbit friends, Frodo felt a return of the pain from his stab-wound, and thereafter he would feel his injury again every year on the anniversary of the Nazgûl attack.

The Nine, meanwhile, were compelled to regroup once again and had to return to Mordor, still with empty hands and all but one without their horses; that of Witch-king alone having survived and allowed him to return to Mordor in December of TA 3018, after which the lord of the Nazgûl sent aid to the other eight Ring-wraiths so as to allow them to return in secret.

Thus Sauron, to his dismay, learned that the Ring was in the possession of his enemies.  He miscalculated, however, in concluding that the Ring would be taken to Gondor to be used against him: While this had indeed been urged by Boromir during the Council of Elrond that took place after Frodo had been healed and brought back to his feet, the Council decided that the Ring was to be destroyed in the fires of Mount Doom, the place where it had been forged — and that Frodo was to be the Ring-bearer taking the Ring to Mordor, helped along the way by a Fellowship of nine companions representing all the peoples of Middle-earth — Men, Elves, Dwarves, and Hobbits — and guided by Gandalf.

Battle of the Chamber of Mazarbul

Jan. 15, 3019

Karen Wynn Fonstad: The Fellowship’s path through Moria

The Fellowship spent a long time in Rivendell, recuperating, catching up with Bilbo (whom his fellow Hobbits hadn’t seen in seventeen years), and laying their plans.  When they finally set out for the south three month after Aragorn’s and the Hobbits’ arrival at Elrond’s mountain stronghold, it was winter — and the first challenge awaiting them was where and how to cross the Misty Mountains. 

Both Gandalf and Aragorn rejected Boromir’s suggestion to cross at the Gap of Rohan: after Théoden had fallen under the sway of Gríma Wormtongue and, through him, Saruman, the company could neither be sure of their welcome — and the friendly intentions towards them — in Rohan; nor, now that Saruman had turned traitor, in Isengard.  That left two alternatives, on neither of which Gandalf and Aragorn looked with favor: the Redhorn Pass or the mines of Moria.  Along the way through Hollin — the former lands of Eregion west of the mountains — they were followed by crebain (Dunland crows), which the company’s two leaders suspected of being spies, though for whom was anybody’s guess.  Their suspicion turned to certainty when they tried to ascend Caradhras (Redhorn), which proved hostile way above and beyond even the winter conditions the party expected to encounter; with snowfall, blizzards, fog, low clouds and whiteouts, and last but not least a vicious warg attack.  Abandoning their attempt to cross via the Redhorn Pass and turning back from the mountain, they knew they were left with but a single option: Khazad-dûm.

However, if Gimli had originally been the one member of the company to be filled with genuine enthusiasm about the choice of a path across the Longbeards’ ancient home, recently recolonized by his father’s old friend Balin, his feelings were due to undergo a drastic change not long after they had made it past Moria’s West-gate and the Watcher in the Water lurking there.

At the end of their third day in Moria, the Fellowship camped in the Chamber of Mazarbul, the site of Balin’s Tomb, where they came across the remains of the Dwarves killed when making their final stand there; and Gandalf found the Book of Mazarbul, the Dwarves’ book of records, from which the company learned of the failure and dramatic end of Balin’s colony some twenty-four years earlier.  They had barely come to terms with the shock and sorrow brought on by this discovery, when they heard the sounds of deep war drums and horn blasts, announcing that a band of Orcs, including several black Uruks of Mordor, and at least one Cave-troll were approaching one of the chamber’s two doors; making the chamber’s walls shake with the sound of the Orcs’ drums and rushing feet.  Shining a light outside the door, Gandalf briefly glimpsed them in the corridor and only narrowly avoided a volley of arrows, which quickly led him to conclude that it would be impossible for the Fellowship to escape via the western passage.

Their only escape route was thus the east door, which seemed clear of enemies; however, since the Chamber’s other door — leading towards the Twenty-first Hall — opened inwards and could not be locked or barred, they were forced to hold their ground until they could put off the Orcs’ pursuit.  Boromir attempted to wedge the door with broken swords before the orcs arrived; but a large Cave-troll was still able to break through with its foot.  Boromir swung with all his might at the troll’s arm, but his sword rang and glanced off, clattering to the ground with a notch in the blade.  Frodo managed to force the troll to withdraw temporarily by stabbing its foot with Sting, the Elven blade that Bilbo had given him in Rivendell, but the Orcs were able to breach what remained of the doors and flooded in.

In the ensuing melee, Gimli and Sam Gamgee killed one Orc each, Legolas killed two with his bow, while the number of the many enemies killed by Aragorn and Boromir remained uncounted.  In all, thirteen Orcs lost their lives, while Sam suffered a cut to his scalp.  Though the Orcs’ attack was vicious and the fighting fierce, the Orcs had not been prepared for such determined defence; and when they briefly retreated, Gandalf determined this was the moment for the Fellowship to make their escape.  However, before they could reach the door, a huge Orc chieftain, nearly man-high and clad in black mail, leapt into the chamber alone, bashed Boromir aside and threw him to the ground, swept past Aragorn with the speed of a snake, and stabbed at Frodo with a great spear, pinning him to the wall.  Sam cut the shaft of the spear; and as the chieftain drew a scimitar, Aragorn struck him from behind and cleaved his skull, killing him and routing the rest of the orcs.

As Aragorn picked up Frodo’s body to carry him away, Gandalf stayed behind to hold the door while the rest of the Fellowship fled down a dark and narrow stairway.  As they reached its foot, they saw a bright white light from the doorway and Gandalf swiftly descended the stairs to join them, urging the company forward: the roof of the Chamber had collapsed and Gandalf knew that he had met his match: he would originally not say more than this, though he later elaborated, and the Fellowship soon understood his meaning either way..

While they were running, Frodo, to the astonishment of his companions, was discovered to be alive: Aragorn had thought him to be dead, but as they would learn later on, his mithril shirt had saved him from serious injury, leaving him only with a number of bruises.  After a brief rest, they continued their retreat towards the Bridge of Khazad-dûm, along the way being occasionally fired upon by Orc archers.

Upon reaching the bridge, the Fellowship turned to see the pursuing Orcs behind them being blocked by a flaming fissure in the floor, whereas the Fellowship had entered the hall leading to the bridge through another opening.  Trolls brought large slabs of stone to cross the flames, but before the Orcs could advance, Durin’s Bane, the Balrog, emerged and the Orcs drew back, afraid of it themselves.  The Balrog leapt over the fissure and the Orcs poured across the makeshift gangways created by the Trolls.  As the Balrog closed in on the Fellowship, even Legolas, Gimli and Gandalf were unable to take his appearance with perfect equanimity, while Boromir blew his horn in challenge, echoing so loudly in the cavern that it made the Orcs quail and the Balrog halt.  However, as soon as the echoes died, the Orcs advanced again.  Gandalf regained his composure and told the rest of the Fellowship to cross the bridge while he held the rear.

In order to secure the Fellowship’s retreat, Gandalf confronted the Balrog, breaking its flaming sword with his own Elven sword Glamdring.  Aragorn and Boromir ran back onto the bridge to come to his aid, but Gandalf shouted his defiance at the Balrog and struck the bridge with his staff; sending up a sheet of white flame, making the staff break and fall from his hand, and making the stone in front of him crack, sending the Balrog falling into the chasm beneath.  However, in falling the Balrog’s fire whip caught Gandalf’s legs and made him fall into the chasm with the Balrog, causing his companions to believe that he had been killed.  Sad and depressed, they made their way out of Moria, Aragorn naturally now having become their sole leader.  Following them to Lothlórien, a band of Orcs crossed the Nimrodel, but they were destroyed by a regiment of the Galadhrim.

Battle of the Peak

Jan. 23-25, 3019

Unbeknownst to the other members of the Fellowship, Gandalf’s fall into the chasm under the Bridge of Khazad-dûm was not the end of his existence in Middle-earth: rather, it was the beginning of a fight to terminal destruction with an immortal being hearkening back to the earliest days of Arda and Middle-earth; one of the primordial spirits of fire possessed of supernatural powers that had originated as Maiar, which Melkor / Morgoth had gathered around himself as early as in the Years of the Lamps, and which had henceforth been among his most feared servants throughout the First Age.  Middle-earth had not seen the likes of them, at least not out in the open, since the War of Wrath; Gandalf — the Maia Olórin –, however, knew exactly what he was dealing with when now confronting Durin’s Bane, the last of the breed.

Their duel began with a pursuit through the many caverns and tunnels of Khazad-dûm, from its deepest dungeons up the whole Endless Stair, the winding stairway, long (and erroneously) believed lost or destroyed, leading from the deepest halls of Khazad-dûm all the way up to Durin’s Tower, the ancient tower carved out of the living rock and standing on a high eyrie on the peak of Silvertine (Celebdil, also known as Silvertine and Zirakzigil); the southernmost of the three mountains towering over the halls of Moria (besides Caradhras (Redhorn) and Fanuidhol (Cloudyhead) further to the north).

On the peak of Silvertine, Gandalf and Durin’s Bane fought until Gandalf had at last defeated the Balrog three days and two nights later.  During their battle, Durin’s Tower — which like the Endless Stair had already been believed destroyed before — now really did fall down; and the entrance to the stairway was blocked.  Observers looking up from afar thought that the mountain was crowned with storm; rolling and aflash with thunder and lightning, which leaped back broken into tongues of fire.  In the end, the Balrog was cast down and it broke the mountainside as it fell.  

Olórin’s incarnation in Middle-earth as Gandaf the Grey was likewise spent as a result of the ordeal of the battle; however, he was sent back as his task was not yet completed — arguably, its most important part had only really begun — and his companions would next meet him as Gandalf the White, with greatly enhanced powers (including that of breaking Saruman’s staff and replacing him as leader of the Order of the Istari).

For its location, Gandalf later called his fight with the Balrog the Battle of the Peak.

Breaking of the Fellowship and Aftermath

Feb. 26-29, 3019

From the East-gate of Moria, Aragorn led the Fellowship to Lothlórien, where they spent four weeks resting and regaining their bearings, while Frodo and Sam learned what the Mirror of Galadriel had to reveal to them — and Galadriel passed the test of rejecting the One Ring when freely offered its possession.  Upon departing, Galadriel and Celeborn equipped the Fellowship with boats for their journey down the Anduin river, hooded Elven cloaks made by Galadriel herself that were fastened with green leaf-shaped brooches, veined with silver (the Leaves of Lórien), and packages of Lembas bread, as well as individual parting gifts, which included one of the Galadhrim’s superior bows for Legolas, a phial capturing the Light of Eärendil for Frodo, a box of mallorn seeds for Sam, and the Elf-stone for Aragorn, the Elven word for which (Elessar) he would later take as his royal name.

Setting out down the Anduin, Boromir shared a boat with Merry and Pippin.  As they travelled down the river, Boromir became increasingly consumed with thoughts of the Ring; muttering to himself, biting his nails, and sometimes paddling closer to Frodo’s boat.  His behaviour made Merry and Pippin uneasy, and Pippin noticed a strange glint in Boromir’s eye as he looked at Frodo.  Moreover, as soon as they left Lothlórien, the Fellowship’s route was tracked by pursuers once more: Gollum — who had caught up with them at Moria, but had been frightened away by the Elves in Lothlórien — followed them floating down the river behind their boats, holding onto a log; one of the fell beasts that had become the Nazgûl’s rides after the loss of their black horses at the Ford of Bruinen followed them from the air and was shot down by Legolas, using the bow of the Galadhrim — and a band of Orcs followed them on foot on the banks of the river. 

Ultimately, what would prove to make them most vulnerable to their pursuers was their own lack of unity; chiefly, Boromir’s growing vulnerability to the powers of the One Ring and the pressure exerted by him on Aragorn for the Fellowship to join him on his return to Minas Tirith; and Aragorn’s reluctance to choose between his desire to give in to Boromir’s urgings and his own sense of duty, telling him to go wherever Frodo, the Ring-bearer determined to go.

Parth Galen, Nen Hithoel, Amon Hen and Rauros (source)

After having passed Argonath, the two immense statues of Isildur and Anárion, the first two kings of Gondor, marking the northern boundary of Gondor at the entrance of Nen Hithoel, the Fellowship crossed the lake and made camp at its southern end near the Falls of Rauros, where the river fell from Emyn Muil (the range of hills around the lake, south of the Brown Lands) to the wetland of Nindalf (Wetwang), a wide region of swampy fenland on the eastern side of the Anduin near the foot of the Rauros Falls and the mouths of the Entwash, where the river divided into many channels and formed marshlands in the east of its main channel; while opposite of the Nindalf, on the western side of the Anduin, the Entwash flowed into the Anduin by many mouths forming a great inland delta.  The Dead Marshes lay further east and may have been an extension of the Nidalf.

The Fellowship’s camp site was at Parth Galen, the green lawn — watered by a small spring — on the western shore of Nen Hithoel above the Falls of Rauros at the feet of Amon Hen (the Hill of Sight, or Hill of the Eye), the westernmost of the three peaks at the southern end of Nen Hithoel; the others being Tol Brandir (“Isle of the Great Steeples”), in the middle of the river’s exit from Nen Hithoel at the top of Rauros, and Amon Lhaw (the Hill of Hearing, or of Ears), opposite Amon Hen on the eastern shore of Nen Hithoel.   Above Parth Galen, Amon Hen rose in gentle slopes to its flattened summit.  Just to the south of the hill was the North Stair bypassing the Falls of Rauros.  The western face of the hill was steeper than on the east.

Having reached this point, the Fellowship knew that decision time had come: Celeborn had recommended that those heading to Minas Tirith should leave the river above the Falls of Rauros and cross the Entwash before it separated into many mouths in the marshes.  The alternative would have been to pass the Falls of Rauros using the North Stair built by the Kings of Gondor in centuries past as a portage-way to carry boats between the lake and the foot of the waterfall and then continue down the Anduin, but this would have put them between the marshy delta of the Entwash and the marshland of the Nidalf for almost the entire remaining stretch of the way towards Minas Tirith, and it would also have brought them close to the Orc-infested lands of Ithilien; whereas following Celeborn’s recommendation they would have reached Minas Tirith traveling through the southeastern part of Rohan and through Anórien, the part of Gondor bordering on the White Mountains in the west and Rohan in the north: even in these dangerous times, still relatively certain to ensure a safe passage.

Parth Galen

Feb. 26, 3019

Yet, Aragorn was still undecided even when the Fellowship at last made camp at Parth Galen.  Unsure himself about his path, seeing Aragorn’s dilemma and feeling increasingly overwhelmed, Frodo asked for an hour to be alone to make his decision and left Parth Galen to wander in the woods.  However, he soon found himself having to flee from Boromir, who (unnoticed by the others) had also left the group, had followed Frodo, and — lured by the Ring, envisioning himself as a mighty king who would overthrow Sauron, rescue his people beyond hope, and lead Gondor to victory and glory — had attempted to convince Frodo to come with him to Minas Tirith and, increasingly enraged by Frodo’s refusal, had ultimately tried to take the Ring from him.  Ultimately, Frodo only managed to evade Boromir by putting on the Ring.

When Frodo had gone, Boromir was overwhelmed by the realisation of what he had done. Weeing, he called for Frodo to return, but to no avail.

Karen Wynn Fonstad: Parth Galen, Amon Hen, Tol Brandir and Rauros at the southern end of Nen Hithoel

Escaping from Boromir, Frodo (still wearing the Ring) fled upwards on the remains of an ancient road, by this time dwindled to little more than a path, winding its way to the summit of Amon Hen through rowan trees and up stairs that had once been hewn where the hill grew steep, but had over time become cracked, worn, and split by tree roots.  At the summit of the hill, there was a wide flat circular court paved with large stones and surrounded a ruined battlement, in the centre of which sat the ancient, now also ruined Seat of Seeing, made a millennium or more earlier in the days of the great kings, before the time of the Stewards (possibly, like Argonath, as far back as the days of Minalcar Romendacil II, in the 13th or 14th century of the Third Age; or even further back in the days of Isildur and Anárion); resting on four carven pillars, and reached by a many-stepped stair.

Coming to the summit of Amon Hen and still wearing the Ring, Frodo sat in the high seat.  At first he saw little other than mist and shadows, but soon he began to have visions, soundless but filled with bright living images, and stretching far beyond the normal range of sight all the way to the Mouths of Anduin, over three hundred miles away behind the White Mountains; and everywhere he looked he saw signs of war.  Seeing Minas Tirith filled him with hope, which however was swiftly crushed when he looked at Barad-dûr.

Frodo then became aware of the gaze of Sauron’s eye, which felt like a finger trying to nail him down. He jumped out of the chair and cowered with his hood covering his head.  At that moment from some other point of power came another thought: “Take it off! Take it off! Fool, take it off! Take off the Ring!” — later revealed as the voice of Olórin, who, returned to Middle-earth as Gandalf the White, who would subsequently come to describe the moment to Aragorn, Gimli and Legolas with the simple words: “I sat in a high place, and I strove with the Dark Tower; and the Shadow passed.”  Thus balanced between Eye and Voice, Frodo regained his ability to choose and removed the Ring an instant before he was discovered.  Having realized that for himself there was only one way forward, which was to go to Mordor alone, Frodo left the Seat of Seeing and climbed down the hill, once more putting on the Ring in order to be able to make his getaway unnoticed by the others.

Back in the camp, the other members of the Fellowship had discovered in the interim that Boromir was no longer among them, and that the time had long passed for Frodo to return.  When Boromir returned to them at last, he would say little, except that he had spoken angrily to Frodo, and that Frodo had put the Ring on and disappeared.  This caused a sense of panic to fall upon the company, with Merry and Pippin running off in one direction to look for their friend, Legolas and Gimli in another direction, and Sam in a third direction.  Aragorn ordered Boromir to follow and guard Merry and Pippin, while he, Aragorn, himself pursued Sam, overtook him and told the Hobbit to follow him, but the tall, long-legged Ranger soon outdistanced Sam, running all the way to the summit of Amon Hen, where he sat on the chair.  Yet, unlike Frodo and even though he was the heir of Isildur, he did not have any visions.

Boromir for his part did as Aragorn had ordered.  When he found the Hobbits, they were surrounded by dozens of Orcs.  Boromir killed many of these and the rest fled.  He began to lead the Hobbits back to the campsite, but they were attacked again by an even greater number of Orcs.  Boromir sounded the Horn of Gondor and fought valiantly to prevent the Orcs from seizing Merry and Pippin.  He was pierced by arrow after arrow, yet it was not until many more arrows were shot that he fell at last, and the Hobbits were captured by the Orcs and carried away.

When Aragorn, still searching for Frodo, heard the sounds of a clash and the horn of Boromir from where he stood upon Amon Hen, he rushed down from the hill, following the sounds, and at last came upon Boromir, barely still alive, but pierced by many arrows and with at least twenty Orcs and Uruk-hai lying dead nearby.  Boromir still held his sword, though the blade had been broken off at the hilt, and the Great Horn had been cloven in two.  In his final moments, Boromir confessed to Aragorn that he had tried to take the Ring from Frodo, that the Orcs had carried off Merry and Pippin, and that he, Boromir, had fallen defending the Hobbits, but been unable to save them from being captured.  He asked and received Aragorn’s forgiveness and died.

Sam had meanwhile stopped to think and had realized that Frodo had decided to head East by himself.  Reasoning that Frodo would need gear, Sam anticipated that he would return to Parth Galen for supplies; so he raced to the lawn and saw a boat launching itself.  Charging into the water, Sam, who was not able to swim, had to be saved by Frodo, who drew him into his boat, at last reluctantly agreed that Sam could accompany him, and allowed him to retrieve his own gear.  They then left Parth Galen, paddling their boat from the western bank of the river to the east just above the Falls of Rauros, needing all their strength to avoid being swept over the Falls by the current, and once arrived on the eastern bank, they headed for the Emyn Muil.

Back on the shore, Legolas and Gimli eventually came upon Aragorn and Boromir’s dead body.  Together they placed Boromir in a boat with his shattered horn and sword across his lap and the weapons of his killed enemies at his feet. Aragorn and Legolas sang a lament for Boromir, while they set his funeral boat adrift on the Anduin and sent it over the Falls of Rauros.  They then took off in search of Merry and Pippin.

Three nights later, Faramir was sitting by the banks of the Anduin in Osgiliath when he thought he saw a boat floating past him on the river.  Faramir had heard the Great Horn sounding in the distance when Boromir was in need, and now he saw his brother’s body laid out in the boat, but the Great Horn was missing.  The two halves of the horn were later washed ashore and they were returned to Denethor. It was said that the boat bearing Boromir’s body was borne down the Anduin and out into the Sundering Seas.

Orc Hunt

Feb. 26-29, 3019

Karen Wynn Fonstad: Rauros to Dunharrow

The band of Orcs and Uruk-hai that had captured Merry and Pippin and killed Boromir had been sent by Saruman, who had learned of Frodo’s possession of the Ring from his spies, the crebain who had followed the Fellowship on their way through Hollin before they had entered the mines of Moria, that Bilbo’s nephew was a member of the Fellowship and was now in possession of the One Ring.  Determined to lay his hands on the Ring, Saruman had ordered Uglúk, the leader of this particular band, to track the Fellowship, capture “the halflings”, and convey them back to Isengard unharmed.  Since neither Frodo nor Sam were near the campsite at Parth Galen when Saruman’s horde attacked, Merry and Pippin were the only “halflings” in sight and thus looked like the target that Uglúk and his horde had been sent to capture and carry off. 

While the Uruks were driving their captives across the Eastemnet of Rohan, Pippin briefly succeeded in separating himself from their captors and running towards the right.  Although he was quickly caught, he managed to drop the Elven brooch fastening the hooded cloak he had received from Galadriel, in the faint hope that it might be found and recognized as a sign by whoever might be tracking them.

Aragorn, Gimli and Legolas — later referred to by Aragorn as the Three Hunters — had indeed set out immediately in pursuit of the Hobbits’ abductors, even though the latter, being mostly Uruk-hai, needed less rest and were quickly able to extend the head start which they had on their pursuers.  With Aragorn’s tracking skill they followed the Uruks’ trail through the night across the Emyn Muil, where they found five Orcs who had been killed by their own company.  At dawn they reached the East Wall of Rohan and descended into the Eastemnet.  There, Pippin’s moment of inspired daring paid off when Aragorn found his Elven brooch, stating “Not idly do the leaves of Lórien fall.”  The Hunters were encouraged by this find, although they hoped that Pippin had not paid too dearly for his boldness.

The companions continued swiftly across the plains of Rohan till nightfall, when they faced the dilemma of losing the trail in the dark or losing time by waiting for morning.  Although doubting himself, Aragorn chose to rest for the night.  When they rose, they found that the Uruks had gained much distance on them.  Nevertheless, and though growing more and more weary by the hour, they tirelessly pursued their quarry north-westward for the rest of that day.  They slept another night and marched another day, growing even wearier and losing hope.

After another night’s rest, they encountered an éored of Rohan led by Éomer, nephew (and eventually, successor) of Théoden, King of Rohan; the son of Théoden’s sister Théodwyn and Éomund, Chief Marshal of the Riddermark, whom Théoden had adopted, as well as his sister Éowyn, as his own children when they had been orphaned.  At the moment of his encounter with Aragorn and his companions, Éomer — strong and tall and renowned as a valiant and skilled warrior and rider — was Third Marshal of the Riddermark.  He had heard of the descent of the Orc-band and, defying Théoden’s orders (given upon the whisperings of Gríma Wormtongue, who of course wanted Saruman’s minions to cross Rohan unhindered; something that Éomer correctly suspected), he had set out from Eastfold at midnight of the day after Rohan’s forces had suffered a crashing defeat in a battle of their own against Saruman’s forces (the First Battle of the Fords of Isen, below).  At the end of the next day, they had caught sight of the Orcs just outside of Fangorn Forest, surrounded them, remaining watchful throughout the night, and weakened them with several small attacks until another Orc-band had arrived.  This second band the Rohirrim had defeated, to then surround the first band even closer.  With the first light of the new day the Rohirrim had finally launched their attack, killing all the Orcs and Uruks.  Éomer himself had killed their leader Uglúk.  After the skirmish, the Rohirrim had buried the fifteen Men and twelve horses of their éored that had not survived the passage at arms in a mound encircled with fifteen spears.

The Hobbits, meanwhile, unwittingly set free by the Rohirrim’s attack on their captors, had been able to flee into Fangorn Forest, where they had encountered Treebeard and been taken under his protection — a fact, however, that their friends would not learn for some time to come.

When the Three Hunters encountered Éomer and his éored, the latter were on their way back to Edoras after having routed Saruman’s Orcs.  Suspicious of the travellers, Éomer sternly questioned them and almost came to blows with Gimli and Legolas, but Aragorn intervened, telling Éomer his name, showing him his sword, Andúril, and giving him an account of themselves and their journey.  Éomer marvelled to find that the companions had travelled such a large distance over difficult terrain in only three days, for which achievement he called Aragorn Wingfoot.  Éomer told them about Rohan’s troubles and about his éored’s rout of the Orc-band that had abducted the two Hobbits, and he requested their aid, but Aragorn told him he would not desert Merry and Pippin while hope of finding them remained.  Acting against Rohan’s law by letting strangers wander the land without the King’s consent, Éomer decided to trust Aragorn and his companions and lent them two horses, Hasufel and Arod, asking the Three Hunters them to prove themselves worthy of his trust by returning the horses to Edoras when their search was over.

With their horses, Aragorn, Gimli and Legolas reached the eaves of Fangorn at evening.  Finding no trace of the Hobbits before dark, they camped there to wait for daylight.  During the night they encountered a vanishing old man and found their horses missing.  The next morning, they found signs of the Hobbits that led them into Fangorn, where they met Olórin, returned to Middle-earth as Gandalf the White, who shared news and insight with them; including but not limited to the fact that he (Gandalf) had visited Lothlórien after them, following his resurrection; and that it had been him who had warned Frodo to take off the Ring on Amon Hen and prevented Sauron from discovering him.  The Three Hunters also discovered that Hasufel and Arod had met Gandalf’s horse Shadowfax in the night, and they rode with Gandalf to the aid of Rohan at Edoras.

Battles of the Fords of Isen

Feb. 25 & March 2, 3019

The Fords of Isen (source)

By the time that Éomer encountered Aragorn and his companions on the plains of Rohan, his own kingdom had had its own first encounter with the enemy already — with Saruman’s, not with Sauron’s hosts –; and it had been a devastating one, almost the worst possible start of any war imaginable.  Saruman, on the other hand, had achieved one of his main objectives in a single day:

The chief obstacles to an easy conquest of Rohan by Saruman were Théodred, the only son of King Théoden and Second Marshal of the Riddermark (the First Marshal being the King himself), and his cousin Éomer, Third Marshal of the Riddermark and, after Théodred, next in the line of succession.  Théodred and Éomer were devoted to the King, high in his affections, and they did all they could to thwart the influence that Gríma had gained when the King’s health had begun to fail.  Gríma had initially attempted to bring his chief opponents into discredit with Théoden, but the steadfast loyalty of Théodred and Éomer to their King even in his apparent dotage made it very difficult to achieve this.  Therefore Gríma had shifted tactics, playing them one against the other in Théoden’s mind, and representing Éomer as eager to increase his authority beyond his due.  This ploy had met with a limited success, and it prevented Éomer to stand by his cousin, the Crown Prince, when Saruman launched a surprise attack from Isengard.

First Battle

Feb. 25, 3019


The First Battle of the Fords of Isen was the first of two conflicts at the Fords of Isen, and marked the beginning of Isengard’s and Rohan’s military engagements in the War of the Ring.  On February 25, T.A. 3019, Saruman attacked the Rohirrim army under Théodred (then based at Helm’s Deep), Grimbold and Elfhelm.  Saruman’s main objective in launching this attack was Théodred’s death, and his forces had explicit orders to pursue this aim above all else. 

The two sides were joined in battle at the Fords of Isen, the only place where the river Isen could safely be crossed, as it descended rapidly from its sources above Isengard and, once having reached the flat land of the Gap of Rohan, became too deep and even faster to make a crossing a safe option.  At the Fords Saruman had a strategic advantage, as he could send his troops down either side of the Isen and attack the Fords, if held against him, from both sides.  Théodred, on the other hand, would have to send his troops across the Fords in order to engage Saruman’s troops or to defend the western bridge-head; but if they did not carry the victory, they would have no retreat except back over the Fords, with the enemy at their heels and possibly also awaiting them on the eastern banks.

Saruman’s attack was not unforeseen, but it came sooner than was expected.  Théodred had been warned by his scouts of a mustering of troops at the Gate of Isengard, mainly on the western side of the Isen.  He therefore reinforced the approaches to the Fords, both east and west, with sturdy men from the Westfold; and he also left three companies of riders, along with horse-herds and spare mounts, on the east bank.  Théodred himself passed over with the main strength of his cavalry — eight companies and a company of archers –, intending to ride north and overthrow Saruman’s army before it was fully prepared. 

Some twenty miles north of the Fords Théodred encountered the enemy’s vanguard and succeeded in scattering it, but he soon found that Saruman had not revealed his true intentions, nor the full strength of his forces.   When the Rohirrim attacked their enemy’s main host, they found that Saruman’s host was well-prepared for their assault, secure behind trenches manned by pikemen.  Théodred in the leading éored was brought to a halt, almost surrounded, and extricated in the nick of time by the onset of the companies coming up behind him.  Worse however, looking eastward, he saw to his dismay that east of the river more enemy forces were rushing south towards the Fords.   Théodred at once ordered a retreat, which was executed with some delay; while it fell to the rearguard of the Rohirrim under Grimbold to turn and drive back their pursuers and, once back at the Fords, take command of the garrison on the western bank of the river, reinforced once more with fifty dismounted riders.  The rest of the riders and all the horses Théodred sent across the river to engage the enemy on the eastern side.

Théodred himself, meanwhile, along with his company, attempted to man the eyot in the middle of the river in order to cover the retreat of Grimbold in the event the latter should be driven back.  They had barely taken their position, when Saruman’s eastern forces came down with unexpected speed. These eastern forces were much smaller than those confronting the Rohirrim on the western side of the river, but they were more dangerous; bringing in their van a number of Dunlending horsemen and a pack of wolf-riders, followed by two battalions of Uruk-hai, heavily armed and trained to move at great speed.  The garrison of the east bank was swept away by their sudden attack, and the Rohirrim who had just crossed the river were caught in disarray.  Although they fought desperately, they were driven from the Fords with the Uruks in pursuit.

As soon as the enemy had gained control of the eastern end of the fords, a company of Men and Orcs appeared, mail-clad and armed with axes, and attacking the eyot from both sides; and the fiercest of Saruman’s warriors and Orc-men abandoned the rest of the battle and directed their full might around the Prince and his guard in reckless assault, disregarding other events in the battle, which might otherwise have resulted in a much more damaging defeat for the Rohirrim.

Grimbold, while attacked by Saruman’s forces on the west bank, looked eastward and saw to his shock that enemy axe-men were driving Théodred’s men from the shores of the eyot towards the low knoll at its centre.  Taking a few men that stood near him, he at once ran back to the eyot; and, with a fierce onset, they were able to cleave their way through the rear of the attackers.  With two others Grimbold reached Théodred, who at this point was standing alone on the knoll.  But he was too late.  As he came to his side Théodred fell, hewn down by a great Orc. Grimbold killed the attacker and stood over the body of Théodred, thinking him dead; and he was then himself saved by the skin of his teeth by the arrival of Elfhelm, who for the past seven years had been marshal of the garrison of Edoras (and would be named Marshal of the East-mark by Éomer after the end of the War of the Ring).

Elfhelm had been hurrying northwest from Edoras with four companies in answer to Théodred’s summons.  When he reached the junction of the horse-road and the road down from the Deeping, his outriders reported that two wolf-riders had been seen abroad on the fields.  Sensing that something was amiss, he did not turn aside to Helm’s Deep for the night as he had intended but rode with all speed towards the Fords; and though his men and horses were weary, as he came in sight of the east banks he ordered his companies to charge.  Now it was the turn of the Isengarders to be surprised: few of them stood their ground, while most fled northwards, pursued by two of Elfhelm’s companies.  The others he dismounted to guard the east bank of the river, while he himself, with the men of his own company, rushed to the eyot.  The axe-men were now caught between the surviving defenders and the onslaught of Elfhelm, with both banks still held by the Rohirrim.  They fought on, but before long were slain to a man.  Elfhelm himself, however ran up to the knoll, where he found Grimbold fighting two great axe-men for the possession of Théodred’s body.  One of these axe-men was instantly killed by Elfhelm, the other by Grimbold.

When they stooped to lift the body, they found that Théodred still breathed; but he lived only long enough to speak his last words.  Then a harsh horn sounded and all was silent.  The attack on the west bank ceased and the enemy faded away into the dark, leaving behind a great number of their own dead on the battlefield.

The Rohirrim now held the Fords of Isen; but their losses were heavy, the King’s son was dead, they were leaderless, and did not know what was going to happen next.  When the grey light of dawn returned, there was no sign of the Isengarders.  Bit by bit, the many Rohirrim who had been scattered by the sudden assault returned, some still mounted, others leading recaptured horses.  Later in the morning most of Théodred’s Riders who had been driven south down the river also came back, battle-worn but without any serious injuries, and reporting a very similar experience to that made by the defenders of the Fords: They had come to a stop on a low hill and prepared to defend it; but in the night air the sound of a horn had been heard, and they had soon discovered that the enemy had gone.  Thus they had cautiously begun to move north again, to find the Rohirrim in command of the Fords upon their return.

The First Battle of the Fords of Isen:
(1) Leaving the eastern approach to the Fords defended, Théodred (white) rides north to meet an oncoming army from Isengard (black).  (2) Saruman sends a second force down the eastern side of the river; seeing this, Théodred disengages and rides south again to defend the Fords.  (3) The defenders of the Fords are assaulted from both west and east; Théodred himself takes a position on the central eyot.  (4) The defenders on the west bank of Isen are swept southward along the river.  (5) His defence all but gone, Théodred is driven to the peak of the eyot and mortally wounded.  (6) A force of Rohirrim under Elfhelm, having encountered outriders of the eastern Isengarders, charges the Fords from the east.  (7) Elfhelm drives off the eastern Isengarders and relieves the defenders, but Théodred dies soon afterward.  (8) Returning to their position, the western defenders find that their pursuers have withdrawn, leaving the Fords temporarily in the hands of the Rohirrim.  (Source)


Second Battle

March 2, 3019

The news of Théodred’s death caused Erkenbrand, the powerful Lord of Deeping-coomb (the deep, well-defended valley in the northern White Mountains that held Helm’s Deep and the Hornburg) and of much other land in the Westfold and, as such, chief lord in the West-mark, to assume command of the West-mark and of Rohan’s western armies.  From his garrison at the Hornburg, he sent errand-riders to Edoras to inform King Théoden about the death of Théodred and to request Éomer and all forces that could be spared as reinforcements.  Gríma delayed the necessary actions, but was at last defeated by Gandalf; however not in time to prevent a second fateful passage at arms at the Fords of Isen.

Erkenbrand had provisionally given the command in the field to Grimbold, until he himself would be able to come to the battlefield after having gathering all those able to bear arms and stores of food to defend the Hornburg — a process that would take a full three days.

Elfhelm, of the garrison at Edoras, remained independent, but coordinated his efforts with Grimbold; both leaders agreeing that another attack by the enemy’s forces was likely to be imminent.  However, as Elfhelm considered the Fords a trap, he set his companies to the east of the river to hold up the enemy’s advance, while Grimbold put foot-soldiers on both sides of the Fords, with Théodred’s remaining cavalry stationed on the eastern bank.  All in all, Grimbold and Erkenbrand disposed of  a force of about 2000 men.

On March 2, TA 3019, less than a week after the First Battle of the Fords of Isen, Saruman’s forces heavily engaged the western forts and put troops of Uruk-hai across the Fords.  Severely outnumbered, Grimbold and his Rohirrim were forced to pull back and retreat to the eastern bank of the Isen; and the shield wall they had made was broken in the process.  At midnight Saruman’s forces, reinforced once more, attacked again.  Grimbold looked for aid from Elfhelm, but none came, as the greater part of Saruman’s host had now come between Grimbold and Elfhelm and driven the latter eastwards, while Grimbold and his company were scattered, even though most of his men survived.  Yet, Saruman was victorious once again.

The Rider Ceorl was sent to report the defeat and the Rohirrim’s considerable losses to Éomer.  On his way, Ceorl met Théoden’s company, who were already on their way to support the defenders of the Fords, only to now be told about their defeat instead.  Ceorl’s report made Théoden decide to retreat to Helm’s Deep.

Later, the survivors of the Second Battle of the Fords of Isen, having regrouped and still led by Grimbold and Elfhelm, were retreating from the Fords, when they came across Gandalf, who told them that in the interim Théoden had sought the refuge of the Hornburg.  Gandalf sent Elfhelm to protect Edoras and Grimbold to join Erkenbrand, who was making his way to the Hornburg in an attempt to lift the siege that had been brought by Saruman’s forces against the Rohirrim there.

Sack of Isengard

March 2, 3019

Yet, Saruman’s victory at the Fords of Isen was of short duration; if anything, indirectly it even hurried his own demise, and that of his stronghold Isengard.  For not only had Gandalf, on the very day of Saruman’s apparent triumph at the Fords of Isen, freed Théoden of Gríma’s evil influence, and Gríma had been kicked out of Edoras; in fact, forces were assembling against Isengard itself, and they were coming from a direction that Saruman had entirely neglected.

In the days after their flight from their Orc abductors, Merry and Pippin had formed a friendship with Treebeard (Fangorn), oldest and de-facto leader of the Ents of Fangorn forest.  From them (and possibly from Gandalf) he had learned about the Fellowship and its mission, as well as Saruman’s treason, and had put together their reports with what he himself had observed of Saruman’s changed attitude.  This, in turn, had made him to call for an Entmoot; a meeting of the Ents of Fangorn Forest traditionally held in a dell in the known as Derndingle, a rare occasion in the later days of the Third Age.  As each word in Entish included the history of the thing the word described, it took a long time to say anything in Entish (and Ents generally only bothered to speak about things worthy of taking so much time to say); consequently, the Entmoot took several days of long, deliberate discussion.  At its end stood the Ents’ decision to attack Isengard and avenge the damage that Saruman’s Orcs had done to their trees while building up Isengard’s war machinery; Saruman clearly having left all tolerable bounds of neighborly behavior far behind him.

In what would later be called the Last March of the Ents, Fangorn’s tree-hearders, followed by Huorns (semi-wild creatures of part-Entish, part-treeish nature), emerged from Fangorn Forest and surrounded  the Ring of Isengard, then proceeded to invade it, destroy its gates, crumble its walls and break its dam, flooding Saruman’s stronghold and the pits that he had been using to create his war machinery and, eventually, drowning the entire valley.  The Ents’ attack came at a (for them) propitious moment, as Isengard was substantially bereft of defenders at this point, what with most of Saruman’s forces off to besiege and attack the Hornburg on the opposite side of the Gap of Rohan.  The remaining defenders (chiefly Orcs and Men) managed to scorch and burn several of the Ents, but they were ultimately unable to prevent their own annihilation, as well as the utter demolition of Saruman’s war machinery and Saruman’s defeat; even if the tower of Orthanc itself remained standing and Saruman (now with Gríma by his side) remained holed up inside it.

Orthanc would remain Saruman’s de-facto prison for the next several months, long after the end of the War of the Ring, kept under guard by Treebeard, who would only let him go after having concluded (wrongly, as it would turn out) that Saruman was now at last no longer a danger to anybody. — Gandalf had offered him his release during a visit to Isengard shortly after the Battle of the Hornburg (during which the Fellowship had also, at last, reunited with Merry and Pippin), but of course on condition that he abjure his evil ways and return to the side of those allied against Sauron, which Saruman had refused — not before having tried instead, and failed, to coax Théoden into breaking ranks with the Fellowship and Gondor, and having seen his staff broken and himself been evicted from the Order of the Istari and from the White Council for his pains.

After the end of the War of the Ring, the Ents would turn Isengard into one of the most beautiful gardens in all of Middle-earth.

Battle of the Hornburg

March 3-4, 3019

Having achieved his primary goal — the death of Théodred — in the First Battle of the Fords of Isen, Saruman’s goal in the Second Battle of the Fords had been to clear his armies’ passage into the plains of Rohan and towards the Hornburg, Rohan’s mighty stronghold built against a cliff edge of the White Mountains and facing Isengard from afar on the southern edge of the Gap of Rohan.

In the interim, in Edoras Gandalf had freed Théoden from Gríma Wormtongue’s influence, and Théoden himself had then freed Rohan of Gríma’s presence and Éomer, now heir to his throne, from the shackles (both physically and metaphorically) that had been placed on him on Gríma’s orders after his return to Edoras and the rout of Merry and Pippin’s Uruk-hai abductors.  Théoden, now cognizant of the situation and having reassumed command of the Rohirrim, decided to lead his riders into battle against Saruman instantly.  Seeking, however, to take the fight away from his people, Théoden departed for the Fords of Isen with around a thousand Riders of the Mark — as well as accompanied by Gandalf, Aragorn, Gimli, Legolas, and Éomer –, intending to support the troops of Rohan tasked by Erkenbrand with defending the Fords under the leadership of Grimbold and Elfhelm. 

The following day they met the scout Ceorl, who had been sent out by Erkenbrand to warn Éomer.  He brought news that Saruman had let loose his forces and that the Rohirrim had been forced to retreat across the Isen with great losses.  This caused Théoden to reconsider and, after consulting with Gandalf, he decided to redirect his forces to Helm’s Deep, while the wizard left them, promising however to return and meet them at the Hornburg.  Arriving at Helm’s Deep, which in Erkenbrand’s absence was commanded by his lieutenant Gamling (at this point, like Théoden, already an old man, but still a commanding presence), on the night of March 3 Théoden’s forces joined with Rohan’s garrison of around another thousand men stationed at the Hornburg; and Aragorn and his new-found brother in spirit, Éomer, oversaw the preparations for the great battle.

Karen Wynn Fonstad: Battle of the Hornburg (Helm’s Deep)

Saruman’s forces — probably as many as ten thousand Orcs and the wizard’s own breed of Uruk-hai, reinforced by a substantially smaller number of Dunlendings — arrived in the valley of Helm’s Deep in the middle of the night.  Having quickly scaled over the Hornburg’s first defence, Helm’s Dike, they attempted to break down the fortress’s gate with a battering ram; but Aragorn, Éomer, and some of the Rohirrim attacked them, emerging from a postern gate on the side of the Hornburg, scattering the forces threatening the doors.  In the course of this, Gimli saved Éomer’s life by killing two Orcs who had ambushed Éomer.

The Orcs and Dunlendings then raised hundreds of ladders to scale the Hornburg’s outer wall.  Aragorn and Éomer had to repeatedly move the defenders, who were getting weary, in order to repel the Orcs coming up the ladders and crossing the wall.  However, some Orcs had crept in though a culvert which let a stream out of Helm’s Deep, and while the defenders were busy fending off the assault on the wall, the secret intruders suddenly attacked, having made it past the wall.  Gamling was the first to realize that Orcs had penetrated the Deep through its culvert, and he led the counter-attack himself, driving back the Orcs, after which the culvert was blocked up once more under supervision of Gimli.

Nevertheless, the enemies succeeded in reentering the culvert.  Causing an explosion by a device of Saruman’s later known as “Fire of Orthanc”, they opened a hole in the wall wide enough to let in so many of Saruman’s forces as to make it impossible for the defenders still to stop the masses of attackers from decisively breaching the wall.  Led by Éomer and Gimli, some of the defenders retreated into the Glittering Caves (Aglarond) behind the Hornburg, for which the place had originally been named, while others, led by Aragorn and Legolas, kept defending the Hornburg itself.  Soon thereafter, Saruman’s forces used the Fire of Orthanc to gain entrance to the keep as such.  At this moment, however, the horn of Helm’s Deep was sounded, and after a moment a sortie led by Théoden and Aragorn rode out, followed by men on foot from the keep and the defenders of the caves, who made a break-out attempt and drove the enemy out of the deep.  Théoden and Aragorn cut through the Orcs and Dunlendings and arrived at Helm’s Dike.  Gamling, Éomer, Gimli and others meanwhile remained in the caves.

In the interim, Huorns sent to the Hornburg by the Ents of Fangorn had crept to the entrance of the valley in the course of the night and had moved to block a possible escape route for the Orcs, who thus were caught between the moving forest of Huorns and the charging riders from the Hornburg.

At the break of the next day, at the point when the battle seemed well and truly lost, Gandalf, Erkenbrand, and the thousand men on foot from the Westfold rallied by Gandalf after the Second Battle of the Fords of Isen and led by Erkenbrand arrived.  Bearing his red shield, Erkenbrand rode up to the brink of the valley and blew a loud blast from his black horn, to answering jubilant cries of his name by the Rohirrim.  Then he led his host to charge the enemy, and together with the Hornburg’s defenders they drove the enemies out of the deep and into the forest of Huorns that had arrived during the night.  Terrified, both Dunlendings and Orcs abandoned the fight and turned to flight instead, but the Orcs, running into the forest of Huorns, were destroyed to the last one by the latter.

Against the odds and although greatly outnumbered, Rohan had won the battle.

Afterwards, those Dunlendings who surrendered were given amnesty by King Théoden and allowed to return to home.  (Gamling, who spoke their language, possibly because he had been brought up in the West-fold of Rohan, where Dunlandish was still spoken, probably served as an interpreter here.)  The Rohirrim required that all hostilities cease, and that the Dunlendings retreat behind the Isen river again.  The killed Dunlendings were buried in a mound of their own apart from the Orc and Uruk-hai carcasses, which the Huorns had laid in a large mound known afterwards as the Death Down.  The next night those carcasses had disappeared and the Huorns had left the valley.

Théoden, Éomer and the Three Hunters then accompanied Gandalf to Isengard, where they reunited with Merry and Pippin (made to serve as “door wardens” by Treebeard and sent to greet the new arrivals); and, after having given Saruman a last chance of redemption, Gandalf broke his staff and stripped him of his power and of membership in the Order of the Istari and the White Council.

During their altercation, Gríma (unaware of what he was doing) hurled the Orthanc-stone at Gandalf and his company, meaning to kill or injure them but actually handing over to them one of the few Palantíri still remaining in Middle-earth at the time.  During the night, Pippin foolishly tried to look into it, thus instantly attracting Sauron’s attention and causing Gandalf to decide to take him to Minas Tirith forthwith for his own safety; however not before having presented the Palantír to Aragorn, who hinted that he would eventually use it for his own purposes.

After having interrogated Pippin about his experience, Gandalf concluded that Sauron now believed the Ring-bearer to have been caught by Saruman’s Orcs.  This was correct: Sauron, having forced Pippin to look at him, had nevertheless failed to understand the true circumstances of their encounter; and rather than interrogate the Hobbit immediately, he had just chosen to torment him and order him to tell Saruman that he would send for “it” (Pippin) immediately.  Gandalf saw this as an excellent opportunity to make use of the delay caused by Sauron’s misunderstanding.

Aragorn, meanwhile, had several fish of his own to fry.  Using the Orthanc-stone himself two days after the Fellowship and Rohan’s victory at Helm’s Deep, on March 6, TA 3019, he confronted Sauron and, with great effort, wrested control of the stone’s power from Sauron and subdued it to his own will.  In doing so, Aragorn deliberately alerted Sauron to his existence as Isildur’s heir and wielder of Andúril, the blade reforged.  Gimli feared that his revelation would make Sauron release his forces sooner, but this was precisely what Aragorn had intended, calculating that such a hasty move would weaken the enemy’s attack.  And indeed, Sauron would proceed to order the Witch-king to launch his long-planned assault on Gondor immediately, rather than wait for all preparations to be made.  Moreover, though, Aragorn — having once wrested control of the Palantír from Sauron — was able to use the stone to monitor the activities of the enemy himself; and he would come to use what he learned to optimal effect.

Battle at Pelargir

March 12-13, 3019

Aragorn, Gimli and Legolas went with the Rohirrim as far as Dunharrow, where they were met by Aragorn’s fellow Rangers from the Grey Company, led by Elrond’s sons Elladan and Elrohir and by a Ranger named Halbarad, who brought with them Aragorn’s own horse Roheryn, as well as various gifts from Rivendell, including one from Arwen: the standard of Elendil, made by her own hand.  Yet, if Théoden, Éomer and (notably) Éowyn had been hoping that Aragorn and his companions would stay with the Rohirrim and accompany them all the way to Minas Tirith, they were mistaken — to a point that made them doubt either Aragorn’s sanity or his will to live (or both), after he had told them which path, based on what he had seen in the Orthanc-stone, as well as following a message from Elrond conveyed by his sons, he was planning to take.  (Éomer made no secret of his fear of never seeing Aragorn again, but Aragorn predicted that they would “meet again, though all the hosts of Mordor should stand between“.)  For Aragorn had seen in the Palantír that a fleet of Corsair ships from Umbar (the enemy that he had first successfully taken on, on Gondor’s behalf, some four centuries earlier) was on its way up the Anduin; and Elladan and Elrohir had conveyed a message from their father reminding Aragorn of the Paths of the Dead, the entrance to which (known as the Dark Door) was near Dunharrow — and from which no mortal man had ever been known to emerge alive.

Karen Wynn Fonstad: Dunharrow to the Morannon

The Paths of the Dead led to the Dwimorberg, where the shades of the Oathbreakers were condemned to linger: the Dead Men of Dunharrow; pre-Númenórean Men of the White Mountains related to the Dunledings and the folk of Haleth who had worshipped Sauron in the Dark Years of the Second Age, but had sworn allegiance to Isildur at the Stone of Erech (a black stone believed by many to have fallen from heaven, though in fact brought by Isildur) on the Hill of Erech in the Blackroot Vale (aka Morthond Vale) south of the White Mountains after the foundation of Gondor.  Yet, when Sauron had returned and grown in power, and when Isildur had commanded the Men of the Mountains to fulfil their oath and fight beside him in the War of the Last Alliance, they had broken their oath and refused to join his army; for which Isildur had cursed them and condemned them to remain without rest until their oath was fulfilled, prophesying that the war against Sauron would last for years uncounted and that they would be summoned again before the end.  The Men of the Mountains had fled from Isildur’s wrath and hidden in secret places in the mountains; no longer having any contact with other Men, they had slowly dwindled to wraiths of Sleepless Dead, spreading terror around the Hill of Erech and all places that they had once inhabited when they had still been alive.

Only Aragorn as Isildur’s heir (and those accompanying him and under his protection) could venture to tread the Paths of the Dead and emerge alive.  This Aragorn now did, accompanied by Legolas, Gimli, and the Rangers of the Grey Company; and at the Stone of Erech he summoned the Oathbreakers to fulfill their oath, follow him to Pelargir, and fight for him against Sauron’s agents; in return for which he promised to release them from Isildur’s curse.  The Dead drew their swords and blew their horns in answer; and Aragorn took them south down the Morthond Vale, past Tarlang’s Neck (a gap between the main range of the White Mountains and a lengthy spur of that chain to its south name Tarlang, forming a pass from Erech to Lamedon, the region on the southern side of the White Mountains) to Lamedon’s main town of Calembel on the fords of the river Ciril (a tributary of the Ringló), which they reached on March 9, TA 3019, and where they made camp, despite finding that the town had been deserted by its inhabitants; the men having left to fight in the war against Sauron and his allies and the remaining population having fled into the hills after having heard rumours about the coming of the King of the Dead.

Pelargir (and Linhir) (source)

Two days later they arrived at the town of Linhir at the fords of the river Gilrain and its confluence with the river Serni, north of the Mouths of Anduin.  Here they found the men of Lamedon, led by their lord Angbor (later known as the Fearless), defending the fords against an attack by invaders from Umbar and Harad who had sailed up the river Gilrain; part of a fleet of Corsairs raiding the coastal region of Lebennin prior to their planned joining of the attack on Gondor which Sauron and the Witch-king of Anmar had at this point already begun to launch from Mordor.  Aragorn’s arrival at the battle at Linhir with the Grey Company and the army of the Dead brought the battle to an instant stand-still, both defenders and attackers fleeing eastwards in the direction of Pelargir in fear of the Dead; with the sole exception of Angbor, who alone was brave enough to stay.  Having thus driven away the attackers by the mere appearance of the Oathbreakers’ shades, Aragorn requested Angbor to gather his troops and to follow them to Pelargir.  While Aragorn, the Grey Company, Gimli, Legolas, and the army of the Dead, pressed on to Pelargir, Angbor mustered as many horsemen as he could, helped by the fast-spreading rumor of the return of the Heir of Isildur. 

While some of the invading Corsairs had sailed up the Gilrain to Linhir, the main body of their fleet — fifty great ships and countless smaller vessels — had progressed up the Anduin towards Pelargir.  On March 12, TA 3019 they were lying in dock near the port city and ready to sail to Harlond (the port of Minas Tirith), when the sight of the Dead Men of Dunharrow, led by Aragorn, drove their crews (Corsairs as much as and rowing slaves, many of these captured men of Gondor) into a wild panic.  They fled to Pelargir proper; and the next day Aragorn and his company followed them there.  The Dead swept down on the Corsairs, causing them to scatter and flee or dive into the river.  Some ships also put off, trying to escape down the river or to reach the far shore; and many of the smaller craft were set to burn.  However, Aragorn was able to capture the remaining ships of the Corsairs’ fleet and man the Black Ships with his own troops; chiefly men from Lebennin, the Mouths of Anduin and Lamedon, led by the Rangers of the Black Company.  In keeping with the promise he had given them at the Stone of Erech, Aragorn then told the Dead that he held their oath fulfilled; and he released them from Isildur’s curse, commanded them to never again trouble the valleys, to depart and to be at rest. 

Then Aragorn and the Black Company took the Corsairs’ Black Ships north up the Anduin to Minas Tirith, outside whose gates the Battle of the Pelennor Fields was already well under way at this point; while Angbor, having arrived at Pelargir after the Shadow Host had cleared the ships, went north by land, leading four thousand horsemen and coming to garrison of Minas Tirith after the hosts departed for the Black Gate and the ensuing Battle of the Morannon.

After the War of the Ring, King Aragorn II Elessar made peace with the peoples of Harad and subdued Umbar in a war on the far fields of the South with the aid of king Éomer and the cavalry of the Mark.

Siege of Gondor / Minas Tirith

March 12-15, 3019

As Aragorn had hoped and predicted, seeing him in the Orthanc-stone on March 6, TA 3019 had caused Sauron to hasten his attack on Gondor, throwing into turmoil the heretofore deliberate pace of his preparations.  In response to his encounter with the heir of Elendil and Isildur, Sauron ordered all of his ready forces to immediately prepare to take the capital city of Gondor; and their assault — in fact a series of battles and passages at arms, combined with a siege of Minas Tirith, later summarily known as the Siege of Gondor (or of Minas Tirith) — was already well under way while Aragorn and his company, followed by the army of the Dead, were busy capturing the Corsairs’ Black Ships at Pelargir.

When the seven warning beacons were lit on Amon Anwar and the other beacon hills among the mountaintops of the White Mountains overlooking Anorien on March 7, TA 3019, people in Gondor knew that danger was ahead; though not all of them immediately understood the full import of that danger.  Beregond, a guard of the Citadel of Gondor, for example, thought that the beacons were ignited because of the news from Lebennin that a great fleet of the Corsairs of Umbar was approaching the mouths of the river Anduin.  Yet, when virtually all of the civilians of Minas Tirith were evacuated and sent to safety south and west far away from the city — except those skilled in the arts of healing and boys who refused to leave –, it became clear that something far worse than the Corsairs alone was on the move towards Gondor’s capital.

Gandalf reached Minas Tirith with Pippin on March 9,  TA 3019; two weeks after Boromir’s death.  In paying their respects to Denethor, Gandalf’s initial intention had been to keep all matters associated with the Fellowship and its purpose, and first and foremost Boromir’s death, as low-key as possible; but this turned out an impossibility when it became clear that Denethor not only knew of his son’s death (and was in possession of his cloven horn), but that he possessed at least some knowledge of events outside Gondor’s ordinary reach — as Gandalf feared, obtained by using the Palantír housed at Minas Tirith (formerly Minas Anor), which hadn’t been used in over a millennium, no longer being considered safe, as it was twinned with the Ithil-stone that was feared to have fallen into Sauron’s hands.  Denethor closely interrogated Pippin on his background and experience with the Fellowship for an hour, but having examined and recognized his barrow-blade for what it was, he graciously accepted Pippin’s offer of service in payment for Boromir’s death.  Gandalf then told Denethor about Saruman’s treason and the fall of Isengard.

The same day, 3,000 men from Belfalas, Dol Amroth, Lamedon and other places arrived to assist the garrison (in fact, the handful of hillmen from Lamedon even arrived without a captain): less than a tenth of what was needed, as many men from Lebennin and Belfalas in particular were still occupied with holding off the Black Fleet of Umbar.  As evening drew on, black fumes and darkness began flowing out of Mordor, veiling the sun in an attempt by Sauron to disparage and misguide his enemies, and blacking out most of Gondor and Rohan.

On March 10, TA 3019, soon to be known as the Dawnless Day, as the sun was still blacked out by the dark fumes from Mordor — two days after having let Frodo Baggins, Sam Gamgee and Gollum depart from Henneth Annûn without insisting that they accompany him to Minas Tirith (and thus going against his father’s wishes and Gondorian law) –, Faramir barely made it back to Minas Tirith from Osgiliath, where he had overseen the Gondorian’s brave but futile defensive attempts:  Approaching the Great Gate of Minas Tirith, he was pursued by the Nazgȗl on their fell beasts and saved by Gandalf by the skin of his teeth.  Denethor, hearing his son’s report on his doings in Ithilien, and on his decision to allow the Ring-bearer to depart freely, severely reprimanded him for his choices, accusing his son of condemning his people to certain death by letting the One Ring escape their grasp.  He also did not share his son’s opinion that Osgiliath was a liability.  Gandalf, for his part, was seriously worried when Faramir mentioned that Frodo, Sam and Gollum had left Henneth Annûn with the intention of entering Mordor via Cirith Ungol.

Early in the morning of the next day, Denethor ordered his son back to Osgiliath, hoping to make the enemy pay for the crossing of the river.  Despite Faramir’s warnings that Sauron could easily afford to lose ten times Gondor’s losses, and that any defenders so far afield must necessarily find their retreat perilous, Denethor insisted that Faramir defend the ruined city, arguing that no army could cross the river north of Cair Andros or southwards towards Lebennin.  Chastened by his father, Faramir accepted the dangerous, in fact suicidal, charge of intercepting the Morgul-host, stemming their advance, and defending Gondor’s ruined capital and the Rammas Echor (the outer wall encasing Minas Tirith and the Pelennor Fields outside the city); and after the meeting of the Council he departed once more for Osgiliath, taking with him what little strength he could muster.

Meanwhile an army of Orcs had issued from the Morannon (the Black Gate of Mordor), had taken the island of Cair Andros in the Anduin river between Anórien and Ithilien, heretofore one of the last remaining lines of defence against Mordor, and had entered Anórien.  In the evening, another host, fortified by regiments of Haradrim, issued from Minas Morgul and headed towards Osgiliath; Frodo Baggins, Sam Gamgee and Gollum witnessed it from the crossroads on their own way into Mordor, while barely escaping the notice of the lord of the Nazgûl, who himself was leading the host.

Karen Wynn Fonstad: Siege of Minas Tirith

On the morning of March 12, TA 3019, the Witch-king of Angmar led the assault upon the western side of Osgiliath.  Many boats had been built in secret that allowed the attackers to quickly and easily overwhelm the defenders, who despite valiantly giving battle could only inflict comparatively minor casualties on their enemies’ forces.  While Faramir had initially managed to recover lost ground all the way to the Anduin, he now faced fresh troops from Minas Morgul and Harad; and having killed a third of Faramir’s men, Sauron’s army pushed their scratch forces westwards out of Osgiliath back towards the Rammas Echor of Minas Tirith.  When retreating from the terminally embattled Causeway Forts of Osgiliath (fortified twin towers placed to the left and to the right of the gate guarding the Causeway road from Osgiliath running through the Rammas Echor into the Pelennor Fields and to Minas Tirith), Faramir was wounded almost to the death by a (probably poisoned) southern arrow while fighting with an Easterling champion.

Against the invaders’ massive onslaught, the Rammas Echor did not hold long, either; the wall was soon breached in multiple places.  Gandalf, upon learning the lord of the Nazgûl was on the field, left Minas Tirith in order to assist the beleaguered defenders.

On March 13, TA 3019, the survivors of Faramir’s company returned to Minas Tirith, bearing Faramir with them; but once more they were pursued and, approaching the Great Gate, Faramir could only be saved by a charge by Prince Imrahil and the Knights of Dol Amroth.  As the defenders retreated towards the city and the Pelennor Fields were overrun by the attackers, a sortie of cavalry sent out by Denethor scattered the pursuit and allowed the men to safely reenter the city. 

After seeing his son wounded and unconscious, however, Denethor lost his will to fight and abandoned all hope of being able to defend his city.  Looking into the Palantír, he feared Frodo to have been captured in Mordor and the One Ring already in Sauron’s hands, and Rohan cut off and unable to come to Gondor’s aid.  He abandoned leadership of the city entirely to Gandalf and Imrahil, staying by his son’s side in the White Tower and mourning the end of Gondor and the end of his hopes and (prematurely) that of his bloodline.

On the next day, the defenders of Minas Tirith watched all day long as the hosts of Mordor dug pits, and as the Mûmakil of Harad were brought in to set war towers and siege engines into place beyond their range so as to test the city’s defenses; all the while Mordor’s hosts continued to set fire to the plains and farms outside of the city and to hew apart anyone they found, living or dead.  Morale seriously dropped when the Nazgûl took to swooping over the city on their gruesome winged rides, uttering fearsome cries.  Then the Mordor host used their siege engines to launch stones into the city, as high as its first level, many of which missiles burst into flame as they came crashing down; as well as the heads of all those that had been killed in the futile attempt to defend Osgiliath.  The whole first level of Minas Tirith was soon engulfed in flames.

Concluding that the defenders’ will was already broken, near midnight of March 14, TA 3019 the Witch-king launched his main assault on the city.  Yet, even though the defenders fled to the higher levels in droves, enough of them initially stayed at their posts to kill a substantial part of the attackers trying to reach the walls and to destroy most of the siege towers advancing against the city’s walls.  However, these defenders were overrun at last and either fled or were mercilessly slaughtered.  The attackers set explosives on the wall, and to the sight of continuous flashes of fire and a deep rumbling sound roaring in the night, the host of Mordor began blasting down the city wall.  The Witch-king moved in to lead the conquest of the first level himself, ordering the hardest thrust to be brought to bear against the Great Gate, where the lord of the Nazgûl rode beside the fearsome battering ram that had been named Grond in an allusion to the mace once wielded by the arch-fiend Morgoth; calling out spells that reinforced the battering ram and weakened the gate, and thus causing the gate to shatter in a flash of fire after only three strikes.  All fled but Gandalf, who confronted him mounted on Shadowfax, defying the lord of the Nazgûl in the face of his mockeries and of his drawn sword, with flames coursing down the blade.

And it was precisely at this moment that the winds changed and began to blow away the clouds Sauron had gathered over Gondor, a cock crowed, and horns blown in the north heralded the coming of the Rohirrim.  The Battle of Pelennor Fields had begun, and the Witch-king had to leave the Great Gate of Minas Tirith in order to confront the Riders of Rohan.

Battle of the Pelennor Fields

March 15, 3019

The Rohirrim had received Gondor’s messenger Hirgon, conveying the Red Arrow and thus requesting Rohan’s assistance, while mustering their forces at Dunharrow, and had set out with all due haste down narrow mountain paths; until on March 13, TA 3019 they had reached Drúadan Forest, where Ghân-buri-Ghân, the chief of the Drúedain, had agreed to lead them by a secret road past the Orc hosts set to intercept their path.

Théoden had forbidden both Éowyn and Merry to ride with them; entrusting Éowyn with the rule of his people in Rohan while he was away and telling Merry that none of their horses would be able to carry him, nor would any of his men be able to look after him in the ensuing battle.  However, shortly before their departure, a young warrior named Dernhelm, riding in the éored commanded by Elfhelm (the first éored of the muster of the East-mark), had secretly shown pity towards Merry and carried him along on his horse.  The men of Elfhelm’s command ignored Merry, but Elfhelm himself spoke to Merry one night after having tripped over him in the dark; and he told him that the drums they were hearing just at that moment were those of the Woses of Druadan Forest. 

After the ride through those woods Elfhelm described to the King and to Éomer the lay of the land just before Minas Tirith, which he knew from having visited the city in days of peace.

Karen Wynn Fonstad: To the Battle

When the six thousand Riders of the Mark arrived on the battleground of the Pelennor Fields at dawn on 15 March, their strength substantially redressed the numbers on the side of Gondor’s defenders, but even counting the Rohirrim, Sauron’s forces still outnumbered their opponents several times: Mordor’s troops consisted of some eighteen thousand Haradrim, a substantial number of them manning oliphaunts (mûmakil), plus a sizeable number of Easterlings from regions beyond the Sea of Rhûn, and probably tens of thousands of Orcs: the largest army that had been fielded in over three millennia; in fact, an army of such a size had never come from Mordor since the days of Isildur, and none so wild and strong in arms had ever been brought against the fords of Anduin.  Against this overwhelmingly mighty force, Gondor had originally mustered the (probably) three companies of its Guards of the Citadel — several hundred men in total –; reinforced by the somewhat less than three thousand men from southern Gondor who had arrived before the siege had begun, including two hundred well-armed men from Forlong, seven hundred men-at-arms plus a company of knights from Dol Amroth (led by Prince Imrahil), three hundred foot soldiers from Ringlo Vale, five hundred bowmen from Duinhir, three hundred men from Pinnath Gelin, a number of grim hillmen without a captain from Lamedon, a line of  scantily-equipped hunters, herdsmen and men of little villages from Anfalas, and a hundred fishermen from Ethin.

On March 15, TA 3019, these opposing forces were joined in the greatest battle of the War of the Ring, and the largest passage at arms of the entire Third Age.

Karen Wynn Fonstad: Battle of the Pelennor Fields

Upon the Rohirrim’s arrival on the morning of 15 March T.A. 3019, Sauron’s forces moved straight onto the Pelennor Fields, while the darkness from Mordor kept blotting out the sun: Mordor’s strategy for keeping Rohan out of the battle had failed twice, first in Saruman’s defeat at Helm’s Deep and subsequently in the Rohirrim’s circumvention of the Orc-hosts waylaying them on their way to Minas Tirith.  Thus, the Witch-king had no choice but to confront the Rohirrim head-on, instead of fighting Gandalf and destroying the city, as he had been hoping to do at that moment.

King Théoden’s charge drove Mordor’s forces from the northern half of the field, charging the Haradrim cavalry; Éomer leading the first éored following the king’s banner in the centre, Elfhelm and his command on the King’s right, and Grimbold on the left.  The Rohirrim were strong and attacked fervently, killing many of their enemies and seeming to assume control of the battlefield.  After the initial charge, the right wing of the Rohirrim was closest to the walls of Minas Tirith and Elfhelm’s riders tore into the Orcs about the siege-engines and drove their enemies into the fire-pits that they themselves had made, while the main body of the cavalry of Rohan charged straight ahead and Théoden himself killed the chieftain of the Haradrim and also cut down the standardbearer holding his standard showing a Black Serpent on a red field.

However, led by the terrifying Witch-king himself, Mordor’s forces then counterattacked; and when the Witch-king’s fell beast acvanced on Théoden, the King’s horse Snowmane panicked and fell, hit by a black dart, and landed on top of his rider, mortally wounding him and burying Théoden under his (Snowmane’s) body, surrounded by the bodies of his killed Rohirrim, while those still alive fled from the Witch-king’s terrifying appearance. 

The fell beast raked its claws on Snowmane’s neck and was just setting to devour Théoden when the young warrior going by the name of Dernhelm stood to defend the King’s dying body; and when the Witch-king mocked him, telling him that no living man would be able to kill him, the fighter revealed herself as Éowyn, “no man at all“; something the Witch-king had never reckoned with at all after Glorfindel’s prophecy at the end of the Battle of Fornost over a millennium earlier.  Yet, after barely a minimal hesitation he viciously attacked Éowyn, who nevertheless succeeded in decapitating his gruesome mount, after which the lord of the Nazgûl, jumping off the fell beast’s back, smashed her shield with his black mace, splintering it and shattering her arm.  But just as Éowyn fell to her knees, and the Witch-king towered over her, raising his mace to kill her, Merry — also “no Man” (but a Hobbit) –, whom the Witch-king had entirely overlooked, wounded him with his barrow-blade; a weapon that, just like Glorfindel’s prophecy, hearkened all the way back through the millennia to the Angmar wars.  Éowyn, with her last strength, drove her sword into the Witch-king’s crown.  Though her sword was destroyed in the process, the Witch-king was destroyed, and his spirit faded into a shrill voice on the wind; however not before the Nazgûl’s Black Breath had caused both Merry and Éowyn to become gravely ill, not to mention that Éowyn’s ruined arm would have rendered her incapable of continuing to fight even if she had wanted to.

Command of the Rohirrim passed to Théoden’s nephew and heir Éomer, whom Théoden with his last words hailed as the new King of the Mark, before dying bewept by those of his Riders who had witnessed the scene.  Éomer, grim already due the death of Théoden, was shocked by the  unexpected sight of his beloved sister Éowyn, apparently lying dead next to their uncle.  He found his anger fanned to fury; and he charged his cavalry headlong into the larger enemy forces, killing every enemy in his path and calling on his men to do likewise and “ride to ruin and the world’s ending“.  Though outnumbered, the Rohirrim followed him and with a fury matching his own broke through the forces of Mordor, hammering deep wedges into the Mordor legions’ front lines.

Command of the enemy’s forces, meanwhile, had passed to Gothmog, Lieutenant of Minas Morgul, who likewise managed to keep his forces together despite the loss of their leader and in the face of the Rohirrim’s furious charge; and who in fact succeeded in turning the battle against the Rohirrim.  At his order, the Haradrim charged with their mûmakil; and wherever they went, horses panicked or were trampled underfoot, while forces of Mordor rallied around the great beasts like around islands of defense that the Rohirrim cavalry could not overcome.  In retaliation against Éomer’s advance, Gothmog sent more Haradrim, including Men from Far Harad, fierce Variags (elite Haradrim warriors) and monstrous Trolls against the Riders of the Mark, demoralizing them and cutting off their cavalry from the rest of their allies.  Éomer and his forces retreated to the docks near Harlond, the port of Minas Tirith south of the city, where he rounded up his men on a hill and prepared for a desperate fight to the death. Not even the assistance of the horsemen of Gondor, among them the forces of Hirluin, lord of the Green Hills, and of Imrahil, Prince of Dol Amroth, brought much relief when it arrived, as the masses of enemies coming from Osgiliath seemed to be without end.

Meanwhile, Denethor’s mind — already greatly disturbed, not least by the sight of Faramir, whom he believed lost — had snapped once and for all when he had heard that the first level of Minas Tirith was engulfed in flames and an all-out battle was raging outside the city.  Denethor ordered funeral pyres to be built for himself and Faramir, and once again Gandalf — alerted by Pippin — had to step in at the very last moment to remove Faramir (who in fact was not dead) from his pyre.  But Denethor himself was not to be deterred from committing suicide; unable to cope with the turn that events had taken and foreseeing only doom and gloom, he broke the Stewards’ white rod of office on his knee, then cast it into the flames to indicate the end not only of his own stewardship but the end of the rule of the Stewards as such, and lay down on his pyre with the Palantír on his breast.  After his suicide, the Palantír was retrieved, but unless used by someone with extraordinarily strong willpower, all it would ever show was a pair of scorched, black hands.

And just as Éomer and his Rohirrim, surrounded by enemies on allsides, were preparing for their last stand, suddenly one of the visions that had particularly terrified Denethor indeed seemed to come true: a fleet of Corsair ships with black sails arrived at the landings of Harlond, having come up the Anduin river while the battle raged all around Minas Tirith.  Éomer, seeing them, sang a dirge and prepared to die defiantly as Rohan’s final leader; rallying the Rohirrim for their last fight: now the battle seemed lost once and for all.

But their enemies’ cheers were cut off when they saw emerging from the ships not their allies, the Corsairs, but Aragorn and the Rangers of the North, as well as Gimli, Legolas, Elladan, Elrohir and the reinforcements that they had brought from southern parts of Gondor; and when moreover they saw Aragorn unfurling Arwen’s gift to him, the standard of Elendil itself.  As the darkness emanating from Mordor was driven away by a south-westerly wind and Aragorn’s army of Dúnedain and their allies swept down upon their enemies, driving northwards from the port, a great part of Mordor’s forces were pinned between Aragorn and Éomer’s cavalry like between a hammer and an anvil; and without the Witch-king’s leadership, and in view of the vast numbers of enemies now suddenly encroaching them, many of Mordor’s troops panicked and began to flee.   Aragorn’s army then linked with Éomer’s, and with their aid the tide of battle was finally turned and Gothmog’s army received its final blow — and as Aragorn had predicted, he and Éomer met again in the midst of battle.  Yet, unlike the cowardly and disorganized Orcs, many Easterlings and Haradrim held their ground and fought proudly to the death, delaying the forces of Gondor and Rohan and allowing others of their own side to rout; so even after Aragorn’s arrival, it still took some time until the vicinity of the Rammas Echor was empty of Sauron’s forces and the battle was over for good.

A grey rain fell over the city and the plains following the battle’s end, putting out many fires much to the relief of its inhabitants, though most of the lower level was still a smouldering ruin.  Despite their losses, the arrival of reinforcements from the south allowed Gondor to maintain a larger garrison in the city after the siege than it had at the outset.

The death toll for the Battle of Pelennor Fields, was never set down with finality; it was too large to even begin to be reckoned, and the sight of so many dead warriors brought the weary Merry to tears.  What can be said is that of the six thousand Rohirrim who had left the Mark with Théoden, at least two thousend (including Théoden himself, as well as Grimbold) were killed.  However, there is no figure by which to assess how many of the six or seven thousand Gondorian defenders of Minas Tirith and of the large relief force of Gondor’s southern provinces led by Aragorn were killed; nor even how many men Aragorn had led to Minas Tirith from the south to begin with: they may have been anywhere from one to five thousand. — Meanwhile, the combined army of Orcs, Haradrim and Easterlings, while greatly outnumbering the defenders of Gondor, had nevertheless lost almost a third of their forces in the battle.

After the Battle of the Pelennor Fields had ended, Aragorn chose not to enter the city; rather, he furled his banner and appointed Imrahil the temporary lord of the city, as the law demanded.  Aragorn did, however, visit the Houses of Healing, where he tended and restored Merry, Éowyn, and Faramir, all lying there gravely ill; thus, even though not making known his claim for the throne, still proving the truth of the prophecy according to which the hands of the king are the hands of a healer.  Working late into the night, Aragorn then also tended to many other fighters whose friends and relatives had asked him to look after their loved ones; finally leaving the city hooded and cloaked long after darkness had fallen.  When in the morning the people saw the banner of Dol Amroth, they wondered if the return of the King had been merely a dream; but Aragorn knew the time for him to advance his claim had not yet come.

Meanwhile, Éomer made Merry a knight of the Riddermark in return for his aid to Éowyn and Théoden and his services to the Mark; and he sent three thousand riders, led by Elfhelm, up towards the Drúadan Forest in order to destroy the last enemies left of Mordor’s forces that had crossed the Anduin and had been assigned to block the northward road towards Rohan.  As it turned out, these Orcs and Easterlings actually were leaving Anórien by the time Elfhelm’s riders caught up with them; and they fled to Cair Andros, from where they would be driven out some ten days later when Aragorn led Gondor’s defenders to the battle of the Black Gate.

Faramir, for his part, would remain out of action for the rest of the War of the Ring, recovering from his injury in the Houses of Healing, where he met Éowyn; and where the two fell in love.  They would be married after the war.

Battles East of the Misty Mountains

March 11 – 28, 3019

Sauron had not only been aiming at Gondor: his aim had been to bring all of Western Middle-earth under his control.  Therefore, simultaneously with his attacks on Osgiliath and Minas Tirith, he had also initiated campaigns to conquer Wilderland, activating his armies stationed in Dol Guldur and eastern allies. 

Consequently, the Battle on the Pelennor Fields was only one of three battles taking plance on March 15, TA 3019: Simultaneously with the attack on Minas Tirith, Sauron’s forces also launched three attacks east of the Misty Mountains; one on the Woodland Realm, one on Dale and the Lonely Mountain, and one on Lothlórien — the first and third of these, launched from Dol Guldur and probably overseen by the Nazgûl’s second-in-command, Khamûl, who was in control of Dol Guldur at the time (in the case of Lothlórien, the assault of March 15 was already the second of a series of three attacks on the realm of the Galadhrim), whereas the attack on Dale and Erebor was launched by Easterlings from beyond the Sea of Rhûn and after a temporary victory for Sauron’s allies inited a ten-days-long siege, which was broken only by the news of Sauron’s fall and the defeat of his armies in the south.

Karen Wynn Fonstad: Battles in the North

Assaults on Lothlórien

March 11, 15 & 22, 3019

Assault on Lothlórien, as shown in The Battle for Middle-earth II (source)

Already during the visit of the Fellowship of the Ring, recently escaped from Moria, earlier in TA 3019 the Galadhrim had had to fend off a band of a hundred Orcs (probably dwellers of the Misty Mountains) in pursuit of Frodo and his companions, who had crossed the Nimrodel and entered Lothlórien.  On that occasion, the wardens of the Golden Wood had used feigned voices and led the Orcs into a trap, where a regiment of the Galadhrim had destroyed them.

Lothlórien got its first inkling of the fact that Sauron had bigger fish to fry in the context of the War of the Ring on March 11, TA 3019, when Orcs from Dol Guldur swarmed into the Golden Wood in a full-scale assault, but were held back by the power of the Galadhrim and by Galadriel’s Ring of Power, Nenya (the Ring of Water, made of mithril and set with a white stone of diamond-like adamant) and decisively repelled a day later by the  Ents, who had come to the Galadhrim’s assistance.

A second attack was launched on March 15, at the same time as the invasion of Mirkwood and the attacks on Dale and Erebor in the north, and Gondor in the South.  Again, the enemies were forced out of Lothlórien.

The third and final attack was made a week later, on March 22, and, while causing much destruction on the wood’s borders once more the Galadhrim fought valiantly and carried the victory, this time to their enemies’ utter defeat.  Thereafter, Lothlórien remained safe until the passing of Sauron and beyond.

Battle Under the Trees

March 15, 3019

Soon after the Battle of the Pelennor Fields in Gondor and simultaneously with the Orcs sent against Lothlórien on March 15, Orcs were also sent from Dol Guldur to the Woodland Realm, which they invaded in great force.  A long battle took place under the trees of Mirkwood, and much damage was caused by fire; however at last Thranduil and his Wood-elves were victorious and Sauron’s Orcs were routed and driven away.

Battle of Dale

March 15-17, 3019

Meanwhile, on March 14, TA 3019, at Sauron’s behest, a large contingent of Easterlings — who had threatened the borders of the Kingdom of Dale for a long time already, as the Dwarves of Erebor and the Bardings of Dale and Lake-town refused to acknowledge the overlordship and alliance of Sauron — had crossed the Carnen (Redwater), the river flowing southward from the Iron Hills east of the Lonely Mountain towards the Celduin about 250 miles to the south and forming part of the boundary region between the northwestern region of Middle-earth and Rhûn. 

King Brand, the descendant of Bard the Bowman, had managed to hold Sauron’s allies at the river for a while, but had not succeeded in defeating them and preventing them from invading the Kingdom of Dale.  Pushed back to his capital city of Dale, Brand gathered his forces in that city and joined forces the Dwarves of Erebor, led by their King Dáin II Ironfoot; and together they engaged in the Battle of Dale against Sauron’s forces at the feet of the Lonely Mountain.  After three days of heavy close-quarters fighting, on March 17, TA 3019, both Kings fell before the gates of Erebor — first Brand, then Dáin, standing over his fallen ally’s body and defending it, wielding his great battle axe — and the Easterlings were temporarily victorious. 

Dwarves and Men were forced to retreat towards the Lonely Mountain, where they took refuge and where the defenders, led by Crown Princes / Kings-to-be Bard II and Thorin III Stonehelm, were able to withstand the siege laid by their enemies, and keep them from taking the gates. 

At last, however, news from the defeats at the Pelennor Fields and the Morannon, indeed of the fall of Sauron himself, reached the Easterlings, and they increasingly lost heart.  Seeing their enemies’ morale flag, on March 27, TA 3019, the new leaders of the Dwarves and the Bardings, Bard II and Thorin III Stonehelm, launched a sortie from the Lonely Mountain, succedding in lifting the siege, routing their enemies and driving them away. 

The strategic importance of this victory cannot be overrated: Had Sauron’s Easterling armies beaten the Dwarves and Men of Dale prior to March 25 (the date of the battle of the Morannon), they would have been able to join up with Sauron’s forces from Dol Guldur in their attacks on the Woodland Realm of Mirkwood and Lothlórien, tipping the scales in favor of Mordor east of the Misty Mountains, and enabling them to flank the forces of Gondor and Rohan from the north and rear.  Gandalf commented that had the Battle of Dale been lost in this way, the forces allied against Sauron would have been defeated even after the victory at the Battle of the Pelennor Fields.

After the defeat of the Easterlings, Bard II became King of Dale and Thorin III Stonehelm became King under the Mountain.  They sent their ambassadors to the coronation of King Aragorn II Elessar; and their realms remained in perpetual friendship with, and under the protection of, the reunited kingdom of Arnor and Gondor.  The Easterlings, for their part, are not recorded to ever have troubled the kingdom of Dale again.

Battle of the Morannon (Black Gate of Mordor)

March 25, 3019

Meanwhile in Gondor, the leaders of the victorious allies (including Aragorn, Gandalf, Éomer, and Prince Imrahil) held council on March 16, TA 3019, the day after the Battle of the Pelennor Fields; knowing well that their task was only halfway done.

Gandalf pointed that while they had won a brief respite, militarily Sauron would still be able to defeat them: They had managed to destroy an army outnumbering them several times, but had lost nearly half of their own forces in the process, including some of their greatest lords.  Sauron had suffered a defeat, and a notable setback in the death of the Witch-king, but he still had other legions; and the force that had attacked Minas Tirith, while substantial, constituted only a fraction of his total strength.  Rohan and Gondor had been able to secure their flanks, eliminating the threat of Isengard and the Corsairs on the southern coasts, but even with all of their forces concentrated in the main front near Minas Tirith, such a confrontation would simply result in a war of attrition — either defensively or offensively, Minas Tirith would not manage to withstand forever and Sauron’s might would prevail in the end.

For these reasons, Gandalf argued that that their hope lay with Frodo Baggins and Sam Gamgee, and with their mission to destroy the One Ring in the fires of Mount Doom.  Gandalf urged, and Aragorn agreed, that while it was impossible to achieve a conventional military victory against Sauron, they could and indeed should risk all on a last throw of the dice, a diversionary feint gambling on Sauron’s belief, fostered by their encounter in the Palantír, that Aragorn now had the Ring: a feint by which Aragorn would lead an attack on the Black Gate in order to force Sauron to empty his land, while drawing his attention away from Frodo’s passage in Mordor and thus allowing the real Ring-bearer to reach Mount Doom and complete his mission to destroy the Ring.

While Éomer agreed with Gandalf and Aragorn — even though pointing out that many Rohirrim horses had been killed or wounded, and that he could only contribute less than two thousand Riders, over half his remaining mounted force, to the effort — Prince Imrahil expressed concern for the defense of Gondor.  Aragorn assured him, however, that new strength was on the way, stating that Angbor, Lord of Lamedon and named the Fearless by Aragorn, was marching with four thousand men through Lossarnach, expected to be nearing Minas Tirith as Aragorn departed, thus leaving the city with a better defense than when the assault by Sauron’s forces had began.  In the end, all leaders agreed with Gandalf’s and Aragorn’s plan.

Karen Wynn Fonstad: Battle of the Morannon

On March 18, TA 3019, the Host of the West set out towards the Black Gate, led by Gandalf, Aragorn and Éomer, and including Legolas, Gimli, and Pippin among their ranks.  In all, the army they led to the attack on the Black Gate consisted of seven thousand men, of whom two thousand were Rohirrim and five thousand Gondorians.  Of these, a substantial number were stationed at various places along the way: a strong guard of archers at the Cross-roads in Ithilien (where the north-south Harad Road was crossed by the east-west road from Osgiliath to Minas Morgul), in case enemy troops came from the Morgul Pass or from the South; in addition, Aragorn dismissed the faint of heart who would not go to the Dagorlad, ordering them to liberate Cair Andros on the river Anduin instead.  All in all, this resulted in the departure of a thousand men, reducing the force reaching the Black Gate to a strength of less than six thousand. 

Upon arrival at the Black Gate on March 25, TA 3019, Aragorn defensively arrayed his forces in a circular formation on two slag-hills in front of the Morannon, with a mire of mud and stinking pools between his army and the Gate; positioning the best soldiers in the front where the assault would be at its fiercest.

Before the battle began, Sauron sent one of his minions, the Black Númenórean called the Mouth of Sauron, under a pretense of parlay.  He tried to trick Gandalf into believing Sauron held Frodo captive, displaying as evidence items that had belonged to Frodo and Sam (Sam’s sword, an Elven cloak, and Frodo’s mithril coat), and threatened that Frodo would be tortured if the Gondor and its allies did not agree to Sauron’s terms of surrender; to wit: the disbanding of their armies, an oath to never take up arms, the rebuilding of Isengard, and the turning over of all their lands  to Sauron.  The Mouth’s words indicated that while Sauron knew there was one Hobbit in Mordor, he obivously did not know there were two; nor did he know the true purpose of their mission. — Gandalf, refusing to be swayed, took the items from the Mouth of Sauron and sent him away.

Even before the Mouth of Sauron had reached the Black Gate on his return into Mordor, the forces of Sauron marched out; and more of Sauron’s forces that had been hidden in the hills around the Black Gate emerged, thus surrounding and once more outnumbering Gondorians and Rohirrim multiple times: Orcs, Trolls, Easterlings and Haradrim.  While their exact count is not given, the battle is recorded as not have been quite as large as that of the Pelennor Fields.  Either way, Sauron had taken the proffered bait in proverbial jaws of steel, and his opponents were trapped.  

The slag pools near the hills proved a hindrance for many of Sauron’s forces, but Trolls easily passed through the pools and crashed into Aragorn’s army, bashing through them like smiths hewing hot iron.  Many of the Orcs and Men were unable to climb up to face the army of Gondor and Rohan, and instead shot arrows and projectiles at them; but eventually the main host of Mordor was able to reach that of Aragorn’s army, which began to dwindle.  When Pippin’s friend, Beregond of the Guard of Minas Tirith, was wounded by a Troll-chief, Pippin drove his barrow-blade into the Troll, but was buried below the creature thereafter and feared his last moment had come.

All the while, the eight remaining Nazgûl attacked the Host of the West from the air and spread terror and despair, until they were in turn attacked by the Great Eagles, led by Gwaihir the Windlord.

When all seemed lost, Gandalf’s and Aragorn’s desperate gambit at last paid off; and it did so under circumstances prophecied by both Gandalf and Frodo in turn, at various points of their journey: When Frodo had first become aware of Gollum and had expressed frustration over Bilbo’s choice to let the creature live, Gandalf had warned Frodo that Gollum would likely have a part to play before the end — and Frodo himself had later warned Gollum that the betrayal of his oath, sworn by his “Precious”, not to harm Frodo and Sam, would ultimately be his undoing. 

Guided only by his greed for the Ring and not heeding Frodo’s warning, Gollum had led the Hobbits to Shelob’s lair; but the Hobbits had survived and, against all odds, had now reached Mount Doom.  Gollum had followed them all the way, but had seen his chance to surprise them and take the Ring only when they had almost reached their destination.  Beaten back by Sam (and, against Sam’s inclination, not killed) on the slopes of the volcano, he had a better chance only a short time later, when Frodo was standing on the edge of the Crack of Doom; the forge of Sauron tunneled deep into Mount Doom near the volcano’s top and open to its central fire, where Sauron had forged the One Ring, and the only place where it could be destroyed.  Yet, Frodo, after having carried the Ring during many months of increasing torment, starved and exhausted, had at last lost his fight against the Ring’s evil power, which had now reached its maximum force.  No longer able to will himself to destroy it, he claimed the Ring for himself and put it on.  At that very moment, Gollum attacked again, undeterred by Frodo’s sudden invisibility.  The two fought, and Gollum bit off Frodo’s finger with the Ring on it, seized his “Precious” once and for all; however then toppled in his exuberance and fell into the volcano with it, thus destroying the Ring and becoming the ultimate instrument of the overthrow of Sauron’s power.

When Frodo had put on the Ring, Sauron had at last realized that the Hobbit was in possession of the Ring, that he had reached the Crack of Doom, and that his enemies meant to destroy his Ring.  He immediately called the Nazgûl away from the battlefield at the Morannon, sending them swerving towards Mount Doom in a last attempt to intercept Frodo, thus leaving the hosts of Mordor suddenly without direction and throwing them into utter confusion; which in turn returned the heart to the fighters of Gondor and Rohan, who began to charge and repel the attackers.  Gandalf, however, ordered them to halt, sensing that the hour of doom had come — which indeed it had.

The destruction of the One Ring caused Mount Doom to erupt, destroying the Nazgûl, who were flying over the volcano at just that moment, in the resulting firestorm.  Barad-dûr, the Black Gate, and the Towers of the Teeth, the mighty guard towers to both sides of the Black Gate, collapsed into ruin.  The Orcs and Sauron’s other creatures were left directionless and were easily decimated, fleeing mindlessly; some falling into pits, others outright killing themselves, and the others rushing away heedlessly and helter-skelter.  Many Easterlings and Haradrim fled as well or threw down their weapons and surrendered; although, like on the Pelennor Fields, others banded together and continued to fight, and the Haradrim again held out the long and were among the last of Sauron’s forces to be defeated.

Ultimately, however, Gandalf’s and Aragorn’s hope against hope had won out, even as Frodo had ultimately succumbed to the Ring.  It was destroyed forever, and Sauron was disembodied permanently, his shadow fading away from Barad-dûr; maimed and having become a spirit of malice unable to grow, take shape or effect his will upon the world ever again and condemned to follow his old master, Morgoth, into the Void.  Many surviving Orcs and Men retreated to the mountains or northward, where fighting against Sauron’s remaining forces would continue for some time, notably at Dol Guldur in Mirkwood and at Erebor, but the power of the Dark Lord of Mordor was no more.  The soldiers of Gondor and Rohan, weary and many injured, rested and healed before the army marched back to Minas Tirith.

After the War of the Ring, King Aragorn II Elessar made peace with the Men of Harad and completely subdued Umbar.  Embassies travelled from Harad to his court, and although his reign was largely one of peace, it was occasionally necessary for him and Éomer, King of Rohan, to travel to the southlands to maintain peace with Harad.

Fall of Dol Guldur

March 28, 3019

Galadriel throws down the walls of Dol Guldur, as shown in The Battle for Middle-earth II (source)

After the destruction of the One Ring and, with it, the power of Sauron as such, the Dark Lord’s shadow was lifted from all the lands that had been under his sway — yet the one place that, unlike Barad-dûr, had not instantly crumbled was his stronghold of old in Mirkwood, Dol Guldur.  It would be up to the Elves to put the finishing touches on the enterprise of cleansing Middle-earth of Sauron and all his evil works.

On 28 March 28, TA 3019 — three days after the destruction of the One Ring and the Battle of the Morannon –, Celeborn, Lord of Lórien, led the  Galadhrim across the Anduin on many boats and stormed Dol Guldur. Then Galadriel (possibly through Nenya’s power) threw down the walls of the fortress, laid bare its pits, and purified the forest, while Thranduil, King of the Woodland Realm, and his Silvan Elves cleared the Orcs and other foul beings that had not yet fled or been killed from Mirkwood.

Thranduil and Celeborn met on the Elven New Year (Yestarë or “First-Day”, the first day of spring and the renewal of nature, falling outside the months; equivalent to April 6 in the Shire Calendar); and they agreed to rename the forest Eryn Lasgalen (Wood of Greenleaves), and to partition it three ways:

  • Thranduil took for the Woodland Realm the area from the northern eaves of the forest south to the Emyn Duir (the Mountains of Mirkwood, literally “Dark Mountains”, the roughly one hundred mile-long range running in a west-easterly direction in the central part of the wood and rising from a jumble of fir-covered, low-lying hills in the west to greater heights further east);
  • The Bëornings now living in the Vales of Anduin were to be granted the area between the Emyn Duir and the Narrows, the part of southern Mirkwood reduced to width of less than a hundred miles by the East Bight, a treeless, almost square, fifty-mile-wide indentation in the eastern edge of southern Mirkwood resulting from generations of forestry by the Northmen who had historically occupied these lands — the ancestors of the Éothéod and the Rohirrim — and who had used the wood of the cut trees in building their houses; and
  • The part of Mirkwood south of the Narrows all the way to the forest’s southern eaves would be called East Lórien and become a province of Lothlórien.

After the fall of Dol Guldur, the Silvan Elves lived in peace in the Greenwood, although it is not known how long they remained there.  Celeborn, only a few years after the creation of East Lórien, retired to Rivendell to stay with his grandsons, Elrond’s son Elladan and Elrohir.

Battle of Bywater

Nov. 3, 3019

Ted Nasmith: Storming the Bank

Although Sauron and all of his works had been destroyed and Aragorn II Elessar had been crowned King, embarking on a reign of the reunited realms of Arnor and Gondor that would be long, prosperous and peaceful, the finishing point of the War of the Ring would only come many months later, at the Hobbits’ return to the Shire, well over a year after they had first set out on their journey; in a passage at arms that would be the second and last known battle to have been fought in the Shire.

Passing by Isengard on their way back north, they had learned from Treebeard that he had set free Saruman and Gríma Wormtongue, believing that they could no longer do any harm — a belief that Gandalf did not share.  They had, indeed, encountered the pair while continuing their way towards Rivendell, and had found them as spiteful as ever.

After a two-week sojourn at Rivendell, during which they were once more (albeit temporarily) reunited with Bilbo,  they embarked on the final stretch of their journey home; however not without learning, at the Inn of the Prancing Pony in Bree, that all did not seem well in the Shire — nor in fact in Bree, either.  At the Buckland Gate, Gandalf left them to go and have a talk with Tom Bombadil, while the Hobbits proceeded towards Frogmorton a village in the Eastfarthing of the Shire on the East Road between the Three-Farthing Stone (fourteen miles to the west) and the Brandywine Bridge.  There, to their puzzled amusement, a newly-formed unit of shirriffs set to “arrest” them on such charges as gate-breaking, tearing up of rules, assaulting gatekeepers, tresspassing, sleeping in Shire-buildings without leave, and bribing guards with food.  The four Hobbits soon managed to effectively talk themselves out of custody and continue their way towards Bywater, which they reached the next day.

It emerged that the Shire had fallen into the hand of  a band of ruffians who had been pouring into the Shire since late 3018 and, for all that could be ascertained, were under the command of “the Chief”, or “Sharkey”, who had outlawed everything that the Hobbits held dear; food and inns most notably.

Once in Bywater, the four companions quicky rallied their fellow Hobbits to overthrow the Chief, whoever he might be.  Initially only a small group of Men were encountered, to whom Pippin declared the Return of the King and conveyed the message that emissaries were on their way.  When he was scoffed, he said that he himself was that very emissary.  The group of ruffians, underestimating the Hobbits’ resolve, were easily routed, but managed to get a message out and call upon the support of a bigger contingent from their barracks in Waymeet, a town further along the East Road in the Westfarthing on the way to Michel Delving, the de-facto capital of the Shire.

Karen Wynn Fonstad: The Skirmish and the Battle of Bywater

Then twenty Men from Hobbiton marched towards Bywater; however, in the interim no fewer than two hundred Bucklanders had answered the call of Merry’s horn (the silver-clad Horn of the Mark, which Éowyn had given him as a keepsake and in recognition of his services to Rohan).  In Bywater, barricades were set up at Merry’s command of Merry, and the Cottons, the family of Sam Gamgee’s lady love, Rosie Cotton, also joined the effort.

Still grievously underestmating the Hobbits whom they had dominated at will for well-nigh a year, the last thing the ruffians expected was a trap.  So they boastfully walked up Bywater Road to a point where Farmer Cotton was standing and threatened him — only to instantly find themselves heavily outnumbered and, as the Hobbits swiftly closed the barricades behind them, also surrounded.  Their leader fell by arrows as he tried to strike Merry, and the rest surrendered.

The larger group of ruffians from Waymeet arrived the following day.  In the interim, Pippin had organized a rebellion in Tookland, and returned with one hundred Tooks.  Merry set up a defensive pocket on a heavily banked part of the Bywater Road, into which the ruffians walked straight upon their arrival.  Some immediately surrendered, some escaped, and about twenty ruffians broke out, while six Men and two Hobbits were killed.  The other ruffians now became desperate and, no longer seeking to escape, tried to storm the banks in order to kill the Hobbits.  However, the banks proved too steep to climb, and many of the ruffians also fell before Hobbit axes. Merry and Pippin charged from the eastern bank, and Merry killed the ruffians’ leader.

In the end, nearly seventy ruffians were killed and twelve were taken prisoner, while nineteen Hobbits died and about thirty of them were wounded.  The dead ruffians were buried in a nearby sand-pit that came to be called the Battle Pit; while the Hobbits were buried separately, a stone was placed on their graves with a garden around it, and a Roll was made of the names of all the Hobbits who had fought in the Battle of Bywater, with Captains Meriadoc Brandybuck and Peregrin Took listed at the top.

After the victory at Bywater, the Hobbits marched on to Bag End, where they found that “Sharkey” was not Frodo’s cousin Lotho Sackville-Baggins, as they had suspected, but rather Saruman.  Frodo decided to let him live and ordered the former white wizard out of his house, even after Saruman had tried to stab him with a knife and had revealed that Gríma had killed (and possibly even eaten) Lotho.  In the course of the increasingly heated altercation, Gríma cut Saruman’s throat in a rage and by way of retribution for all the oppression and abuse he had suffered; but he was himself shot by Hobbit archers in turn.  As the spirit of Saruman rose from its bodily form, it was blown away by a wind from the West: Manwë (Lord of the Winds, i.e. the breath of Arda) did not want the unfaithful Maia back in Valinor.

The following spring, preparations were made to restore the damage done by Saruman.  Sam spread the soil from the box of Galadriel and planted the mallorn-seed where once the The Party Tree had stood; and the year 1420 by Shire Reckoning (FoA 1, the first year of the Fourth Age) became one of the best harvest years ever.


The Battle of Bywater was the last military engagement of the War of the Ring, and the second and last known battle to have been fought in the Shire.



Images not specifically attributed or sourced otherwise on this and the associated sub-pages of this blog’s Middle-earth Project originate from the three-part movie adaptation of The Lord of the Rings (The Fellowship of the Ring, The Two Towers, and The Return of the King; Peter Jackson / New Line Cinema, 2001-2003) and the three-part adaptation of The Hobbit (An Unexpected Journey, The Desolation of Smaug, and The Battle of the Five Armies; Peter Jackson / New Line Cinema / Warner Bros. Pictures / MGM, 2012-2014).  Please see the blog’s Copyright and Privacy Policy page for reference to the use of third-party images under the doctrines of fair use and fair dealing.

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