At the Fields of Gladden
On the second day of Cerveth in the year three thousand four hundred forty-one of the New Age, Sauron the Enemy, Lord of Night, was cast out and driven from the circles of the world. Gil-galad, King of the Noldor, was burned and perished in the deed. Elendil Amandilson, High King of the Realms in Exile, died also at Sauron's hand. An age of the World ended that day. What had been called the New Age was now known as the Second Age. And there amidst the pain and blood of Gorgoroth was born the first day of the first year of the Third Age of the world. The Lord Isildur Elendilson of Gondor ascended with the Kings to that last fateful combat on the heights of Orodruin. When he came down the Mountain he was a king, bearing the rule of the two greatest nations of Men. But he bore with him also his own doom.
The Tale of Years
When the battle was won and the last of Sauron's dispirited legions slain or taken, the great Army of the Alliance stood aghast in the reeks of Mordor. All about lay the bodies of many thousands of their comrades, heaped among those of their foes. Orodruin roared and coughed, sending dark clouds of foul-smelling fumes drifting across the dismal scene. Only then, in the awful stillness that comes after a great battle, did they learn of the even greater drama and combat that had taken place high above them while they fought.
Rocks scrabbled on the slopes above and they whirled to face the shifting clouds of smoke, blood-drenched swords at the ready. A figure appeared, trudging slowly with downcast head and weary step. Just behind came two tall Elves, their bright eyes gone dim with a great sadness. Ohtar recognized his master, whom he had lost sight of when Sauron's Shadow fell upon them, and for whom he had been searching among the living and the dead.
Ohtar hurried forward to meet them and Isildur cast such a look upon him as he would never forget. There was a grief in his eyes to stifle the soul, but a strange light also glowed there, of grim determination, Ohtar thought at the time. It seemed to him that Isildur had never looked more royal, nor more alone. His voice rang out clear and strong across the plain, so that many thousands heard his first words.
"Sauron is overthrown. He is no more."
Though this had been their goal for so many long and weary years, there was no rejoicing at the news. They were too dazed and battle-weary to fully appreciate the import of his words. Then too, there was neither triumph nor joy in the face of he who spoke them. They knew that he bore ill news as well, and they waited in silence for his next words.
"He was slain by Gil-galad of Lindon, King of the Noldor, who will be seen no more this side of the Sundering Sea. With him perished Elendil, High King of the Realms in Exile."
For long moments no one moved or spoke. Then a man dropped to his knees in the dust, and others followed. One by one they all did the same. The mighty army that all of Sauron's hordes had been unable to bow, now knelt in wordless awe. Cirdan and Elrond too bowed under their emotion. Then, last of all, Isildur too bent his knee and his neck. And in all that vast and bloody field, every living person knelt in homage, in gratitude, and in mourning. Knights and squires, hostlers and healers, Elves and Men and Dwarves; all knew that they had both gained and lost much that day and that the world would be changed forever.
Isildur's first deeds as High King were no joyous ceremonies of coronation. The first task was to tend to the many thousands of warriors who lay wounded, many of them grievously. The healers and leeches worked feverishly and even Isildur, whose royal hands could heal many wounds, labored day and night in the hospital tents. But in spite of their efforts, many survived the battle only to succumb to their wounds in the days that followed. The fetid fumes and filthy conditions took their toll, and many died of wounds that had at first seemed minor.
At the same time, others were gathering up the fallen. Men and Elves and Dwarves were laid upon the huge pyres, shoulder-to-shoulder as they had fought. The remains of Gil-galad and Elendil were brought down from the mountain and many wept for them, the greatest kings of Middle-earth. It was not their custom to burn kings, but the twisted basalts of Gorgoroth denied them a howe, and they were laid on the biers alongside their subjects. Many a fair Elf and brave Man burned those terrible first days, far from their homes and families. The smokes of their burning shrouded the sun and even Orodruin seemed dimmed. Indeed the eruptions ceased after the battle and the almost constant trembling of the ground subsided.
The day after the battle a contingent of Elves under Gildor made their sad farewells and rode back to Minas Ithil to bear word of the battle to Galadriel and Celeborn. The Dwarf Flár led the few survivors of his band back to Khazad-dûm. Isildur yearned to return to his city and his people, but there was yet so much to be done in Mordor. The surviving prisoners had been gathered into a huge enclosure at the upper end of the valley. Thousands had fled in fear when the battle turned against them, and now they were being chased down and rooted out of their holes by the scouting parties that were scouring all the plains. The prisoners were put to work dragging off the bodies of their dead, though they showed more interest in robbing the corpses than showing them any care or respect. They built an immense bonfire as near as Isildur would permit and made a great show of bearing off their fallen comrades, but many of their honored dead ended up dumped in ditches and fissures on the way.
On the second day after the battle, messengers arrived from Minas Ithil. They reported that at dawn on the prior morning the Ring-wraiths had made a sudden concerted attack from the Citadel. As she had feared, Galadriel and Nenya were unable to withstand their Shadow and the Elves fell back before them. But the Ring-wraiths had no interest in fighting, save to reach the gates of the city. They and their few remaining subjects raced through the gate and fled into the wild high country south of the city. Searches had been mounted, but no trace had yet been found. Isildur cursed the delay that had kept him from returning to help the Galadrim, but he could see nothing that could be done now.
At last the field was cleared and the long trains of wagons bearing the wounded creaked slowly away toward the Morannon and home. But Isildur led the rest of the army not home, but east, back to the Barad-dûr. With Orodruin quiet at last and the reeks of the burnings dissipated, the noisome air of Mordor was gradually clearing. When the army marched again into their old despised camp, they found the sun shining brightly for the first time on Sauron's vast fortress.
The jet black stone gave back no glints, returning nothing for all the sun's glare. But the Tower liked not the light, for from its yawning gates a stream of fleeing orcs boiled like black blood. They were the former servants of Sauron but they served him ill now, for they bore with them all they could carry of his treasures and stores. They sent up a great wail at the return of the allies. Many dropped their burdens and dashed wildly away to the south or east. But Isildur was swift and resolute. He sent companies of the fastest riders sweeping around them and cut them off, trapping them between the unscalable walls of the Ered Lithui and the bottomless abyss that surrounded the Tower. They were gathered together and driven shrieking and cowering to where Isildur sat upon a hill, grim and stern. There they were joined by the prisoners they had brought from Orodruin and they all trembled as they waited to learn their fate.
They eyed the ring of bright lances hemming them in and the sheer chasm at their backs and looked upon Isildur in terror and despair. He glared cold-eyed over the host there assembled, and they quailed at his majesty.
"I am Isildur Elendilson," he cried, his voice booming out across the plain. The orcs' frightened jabbering ceased.
"By the strangest of dooms I am become lord of this land, and of yonder Tower, and of all of you. I do not mean to slay you as you deserve, but it is my will that you who served the Tower and its master should now serve to destroy it. Long ago I swore that the Barad-dûr should be pulled down stone by stone and thrown into the abyss. When all sign that it ever existed is erased from the land, then you too may go. This is the penance that I lay upon you. So it shall be done. Go now and begin, for you have much labor before you."
Jostling and muttering, the orcs were driven back across the bridge and their former fortress became their prison. The walls were now lined with hard-eyed archers, their longbows and crossbows always at the ready. Under their direction, the orcs mounted to the highest pinnacles of the Tower. There, with bars and picks and much hard labor, they broke the mortar and tipped the immense blocks over the edge. The stones plummeted down, glancing off walls and smashing parapets, until they disappeared into the chasm. It was slow and backbreaking work, but the orcs kept at it, driven by their new masters and by the knowledge that their long servitude would be ended when the task was done.
When the work was well under way, the Elves made ready to depart, for they had no wish to remain any longer in that sad land. On their last night, Cirdan came to the king in his tent. There, amid the splendor of tapestries and silver, Isildur brooded. Cirdan ducked his head beneath the curtain.
"The Noldor are nearly ready, Lord," he said. The king bade him sit and take mead with him.
"What are your plans, Shipwright?" asked Isildur. "Will you bide with us in Gondor a time? I hope to have this work completed before the days grow short again. I could show you the beauties of my land."
The old Elf shook his grey head. "Nay, I thank you, Lord. But my people yearn for their ships and the sea. We shall sail for Mithlond within the month, before the equinoctial gales make the passage too difficult. We will leave enough ships at Pelargir to ensure the safety of the River until your fleet is rebuilt."
"I will miss you, my friend," said Isildur. "But I would not seek to stay you. My people too are eager to see their homes."
"For many of the Noldor, especially the elders," said Cirdan, "I think their stay in Mithlond will be short. There is much talk of Crossing the Sea. We Exiles returned to these shores to rid the world of Morgoth's evil. Now both he and his mightiest servant have been destroyed. Our mission here is finished, they say, and it is time to return Home. The New Age is over, and many feel the Third Age will be an age of Men, not Elves."
"If so," replied Isildur, "we will always treasure the wisdom and advice of the Firstborn. I would not relish a world that does not echo now and again to Elvish singing. It would be a sadder and lonelier place without your people in it. But what of yourself? Will you Cross, too?"
"Nay, not yet, I think. Many of my people will remain. We have lived long on these mortal shores, and before that in the wide East, but dimly remembered even in Quendi memory. This land is dear to us. It was ours before ever the first Men came out of the south, dressed in furs and bearing weapons of stone. Now many of us are loath to leave it, for we know there will be no returning again. Many ships are yet unbuilt. I will remain while my ships are needed and there are still Noldor on this side to sail in them."
Isildur smiled, something he rarely did in these latter days. "I am glad to hear it, my friend. Men need such friends as the noble Cirdan. But Gil-galad left no heir. Will you assume the crown of Lindon?"
"No. Gil-galad was King of the Noldor, but he was the last. Beleriand and Nargothrond were destroyed long ago, and Eregion is without a prince or a people. Our empire is no longer. We shall remain as we are, separate colonies with no lord over all. I shall be merely Shipmaster of Mithlond." He stared sadly at his hands. Then he looked up at Isildur. "But what of you, Lord? What are your plans when this work is finished?"
"I shall return to Gondor and set the kingdom in order once more. But Arnor is now without a king. Meneldil is my brother's heir, and he has ruled Gondor well since our father left. It is in my mind to leave Gondor in his care and remove with my family to Arnor. I shall remain High King of the Realms in Exile, but it shall be only a nominal title. Meneldil shall be King of Gondor and I of Arnor, and the two realms shall be sister states."
Cirdan nodded. "You will not return to Minas Ithil then?"
"No. To say the truth, whether it is truly clean or foul, the land of Ithilien is poisoned forever in the mind of my dear wife Vorondomë. The terrors of that night when we were driven from our home are always with her. Where once she was gay and full of laughter, now she is somber and fearful. I think she could never be happy again in Minas Ithil. Better to start a new life in a new place. And Annúminas is a beautiful city. You should see it when the sun is setting beyond the still lake. I hope she will be happy there, far from the reminders of our lost contentment.
"But before I leave I will purge both Osgiliath and Minas Ithil of the taint of Sauron. Both have been defiled and must be cleansed. That which was destroyed will be rebuilt, till Minas Ithil shines again as it did of old when the moonlight welled from its marble walls and towers."
"You have set yourself some massive tasks, my friend. You seek to undo the work Sauron with all his powers and slaves labored a thousand years to complete. It will not be easy."
Isildur strode to the opening of the tent and pulled back the flap. The full moon was rising, and silhouetted against it were the broken stubs of the once-lofty towers of the Barad-dûr. He pointed to the ruined fortress.
"Yonder Tower was a symbol of his might, and you see it is already coming down. I will destroy all traces of him and his works before I am through. I owe it to my father and my brother and all the rest of my people he has slain. And I am not without powers of my own, now." And smiling slyly, he drew forth the One Ring from where it hung about his neck.
Cirdan cast a dubious glance at the shining thing. "I like not your prize, Lord, and rue that we did not destroy it when we had the chance. It was forged by evil for evil intent. Its power is that of Sauron himself. I fear that no good can come of its use."
Isildur nodded, but his eyes remained fixed on the Ring as it swung idly from the chain. "Aye, Sauron wrought much terror and suffering with the help of this precious little bauble," he said. "But he is gone and will trouble us no more. His power is broken. Is it not meet that his own Ring should be used to redress the wrongs he committed with it? What could be more fitting? And as you say, we have great tasks ahead of us. Should we discard our best hope of rebuilding our lands? Let his handiwork undo his handiwork, I say."
Cirdan watched Isildur's eyes as they followed the swaying Ring. The golden reflections glinted deep in his eyes. Cirdan shook his head.
"I fear it is too perilous. We know so little of the Great Rings. Even Celebrimbor who made them did not fully understand the source of their powers. He told me once that he believed they drew on the unimaginable forces that drive the wandering planets in their appointed paths. And none but Sauron knew how the One was made. Who knows what effect it might have on another? Before you took it, it had known no hand but Sauron's.
"Celebrimbor was a great smith and the Rings of Power were his greatest creation and his greatest pride. Yet even he urged great caution in their use. He came to me in the dark days of Sauron's rising, when we were only beginning to realize the enormity of his betrayal. Celebrimbor brought me Narya. He held it up and said, 'This is Narya Flameheart, the Ring of Fire. I made it to aid us in our labors, but now it may prove the means of our undoing. I fear I have brought a power into the world that is beyond my control. I give it into your hands, Shipwright. Guard it closely and keep it secret. Wield it, if at all, only in time of great need and with the utmost care and caution.' He hesitated then before handing it to me. 'It is strange,' he said. 'I have borne it but a few years, and yet I find it strangely difficult to surrender it to you. I both love and fear it. The Rings bestow great powers on their bearers, but they take something away as well. I feel that some part of myself has been absorbed into Narya, changing both it and me.' In the end of course, he did give it to me. I have now borne it many yén, and I know what he meant. Narya has become a part of me, and I a part of it. Is it not likely that the One has taken somewhat of its master's will and power? If anything of Sauron's malevolence survives, it is in that simple golden band. I should not willingly place it upon my hand."
Isildur looked up sharply at that, meeting the deep grey Elven eyes that had seen so many years. "No," he said. "No, I agree, it would be most unwise for you to put on the One. You are Narya's master, your power is associated with it. Who knows what might befall if you were to merge its powers with mine... with this Ring's? No, the One must remain where it is safest -- in my hands, where none will be tempted to use it for evil. I understand your concerns, Master Cirdan, but you may be assured that I will use it wisely and with the greatest care. I have seen the evil that Sauron did with it -- who more than I? But I believe the malice lay not in the Ring itself, but in the hand that bore it. If a man slays another with a knife, do we destroy the knife? No. As you have said yourself, the Rings are not weapons, but useful tools for those strong enough to wield them. With our lands despoiled would you have me destroy the one instrument that could cleanse them? No, let us use what we have wrested from Sauron. Eru knows the price was high enough."
Cirdan sighed. "I see you are not to be dissuaded. And you may be right. Perhaps after all it is only my own fears and not Sauron's power that casts such a shadow over it whenever I look upon it. Were it held by any other I would fear more. But I know you, Isildur, and I have known your fathers and their line for many generations. If I were to choose any Man in the world to guard the Ring and keep it safe, I would choose you. Let us then end this debate."
Isildur smiled again. "It is good. I would not have your mind uneasy about the path I have chosen, nor would I have any discord between us after all we have endured together. Ohtar! Bring more mead. I would ease Lord Cirdan's anxious mind."
They drank and talked together late into the night, but at last Cirdan took his leave to see to the striking of his tents and the loading of his horses. Isildur went to his bed and lay a long time fingering the Ring and pondering Cirdan's words. At last he fell asleep with his hand clasped tightly about the Ring on its golden chain.
The Elves departed the next day but the work at the Barad-dûr continued. Tower after tower was toppled or pulled down stone by stone, but the fortress was so massive that progress was terribly slow. Weeks passed, then months, and still the walls loomed into the sky. The men grew restless and clamored to be allowed to return to their homes. All were sick of the fetid plains where they had suffered for so long, but Isildur would not be swayed. Summer faded into autumn and the grumbling increased. At last Isildur relented and allowed the men of Arnor to return home before the onset of winter closed the high passes over the mountains. A few weeks later he sent the men of Ithilien to Minas Ithil so that the Galadrim might return to their Golden Wood. The others stayed on, many voluntarily pitching in beside the orcs to hurry the work along. Gradually, tier by tier, the walls came down.
Then in early spring, when the last sections of wall were being dismantled, the toiling orcs uncovered a foundation of hard black rock, without joints of any kind. No tool would bite on it. Soon it became clear that the entire fortress was built on a monolithic stone as hard as diamond. How Sauron had caused it to be worked and shaped none could discover. Isildur's engineers studied it and dulled their tools upon it. Miners drove shafts down its side but could find no bottom. Eventually the entire site was cleared and the last massive blocks were dragged with immense labor to the edge and toppled over into the abyss. The Barad-dûr, the mightiest fortress ever built, for millennia a symbol of Sauron's invincible might, was reduced in the end to a single gleaming platform of featureless stone. At last even Isildur realized that no more could be done. He had all the prisoners assembled and addressed them one last time.
"The Barad-dûr has followed its master into oblivion," he said. "You who once followed him are absolved and pardoned by this deed. Your task here is finished. You are free to go. But know you this, and let it never be forgotten: the Dúnedain again guard the mountain passes. We hold Cirith Ungol and the Morannon and the Rath Romen. The mountains and all the lands to the north and west are forbidden to all who served Sauron. We are watchful and alert, and our blades well remember the taste of orc flesh. Go now in peace and leave the lands of Men and Elves forever."
Then the black host turned and fled with many a backward glance and curse. Isildur watched them go, then turned to address his men. Looking out over them, he saw weariness in every face.
"Good Men of the West," he cried. "For eight years we have labored in this place. Your deeds will be remembered while our race endures. Now our work here is done. Let yonder slab stand forever as a monument to those who died here, and as a reminder to all the world of what happened here. Let it never be forgotten that evil so nearly triumphed here, so that our guard shall never weaken and never again shall we be taken by surprise in the night.
"But our labors are not finished. Ithilien and Minas Ithil must be cleansed of Sauron's poisons, and Osgiliath rebuilt even fairer than before. And the kingdoms of Gondor and Arnor shall grow in power and beauty until they rival even bright Númenor that went before. But our first task is a joyous one: let us go home!" Then every throat cried out and the plains of Gorgoroth rang with joy for the first time.
The King's Army returned in triumph to Osgiliath in high summer of the year one of the Third Age. The streets were lined with cheering throngs. Isildur found to his pleasure that the rebuilding of the city had already begun. The eastern half of the city had been cleaned and repaired and the buildings were freshly scrubbed and whitewashed so they gleamed in the sun. Many of the residents had returned to their homes, but other houses still stood dark and empty. The army crossed the Great Bridge and rode through the high arch of the Arannon. Already the massive wooden doors had been removed and it was again a triumphal arch.
Isildur led his men into the great square and took his place on the steps of his palace as the men formed up in their companies. The grateful residents of the city cheered them. The crowds surged as the citizens of each province tried to get close to their warriors. The men stood proudly at attention, but here and there a man dared a wave to a friend in the crowd. Isildur gave a brief speech of thanks and farewell, but knew better than to draw out the ceremony. When the men were dismissed they looked on one another with emotions that could not be spoken. Then each turned and went to his own home. Those from Osgiliath returned to the houses from which they had fled the night of that first terrifying attack and found their families living there again. It was almost as if the intervening years had not occurred, save that children too young to go to war were now grown and hard at work building new houses or tilling again the green fields of Ithilien.
When he entered the palace, Isildur was overjoyed to see two tall young men coming forth to greet him, their faces wreathed in smiles. "Aratan! Ciryon!" he shouted. "I did not know you were here!" He rushed forward and embraced his sons, while Elendur happily waited his turn.
"Ari!" Elendur said with mock severity. "Have you left your post unguarded?"
"No, elder brother. Annúminas is in safe hands. But when word at last reached us of your victory, I turned its rule over to Thinros and rode here as quickly as I could. I have been here over a month."
"Thinros is guardian of Annúminas?" asked Isildur in surprise. "But he is only a boy."
Aratan laughed. "It is long since you left, father. He is a man of thirty, a seasoned warrior and a father of three. Long was he in command of the southern marches of the realm and he drove back several orc raiding parties."
"I see all has not been quiet at home," said Isildur gravely.
"Oh, there has been no trouble at all for nearly a year. I think the orcs lost all their will to fight when they learned of Sauron's fall. The last time we saw any was when one of our patrols spotted a party trying to get over the high pass of the mountains. And they were going east, trying to escape from Arnor. I think they will not trouble us again."
"And Ciri!" said Isildur, turning to his third son. "How you have grown. When I left you were but a boy still in kilts. And look at you now. Why, you have a beard!"
"That's not a beard," laughed Aratan, punching his brother's shoulder. "He forgot to wash his face this morning." Ciryon looked grieved, but then laughed. "It is a better growth than that line of fuzz on Valandil's lip."
"By Eru!" exclaimed Isildur. "I still think of him as a babe of two, bouncing and laughing on my knee."
"Vali is twelve now, father, and his sling is a terror to all the squirrels and rabbits in Rivendell."
They laughed and stood looking at each other in wonder. Finally Ciryon said quietly, "It is good to see you again, father."
"How I wish your grandfather were here to see how you have grown," said Isildur, standing back and looking at his sons together. Their smiles faded.
"It was a terrible price to pay for the victory," said Aratan. "The news of Sauron's fall and grandfather's came together, and we knew not whether to cheer or weep."
"We should cheer," said Isildur. "He died bravely, in battle against his greatest enemy. If he knew that Sauron was destroyed as well, he would have gone to his long sleep with joy. Nevertheless, I miss him terribly. He had reigned so long that somehow I thought he would always be there. I find kingship more of a burden than I had expected, especially since the Elves departed. I could always look to them for wise advice.
"But now tell me, how is your mother? Is she here as well?"
Aratan's face fell. "No. She remained at Rivendell with Valandil. She said she was not up to the journey. She has never been well, you know, since the flight north. It seems she is always sitting silently in some quiet corner, thinking."
Isildur nodded. "She is mourning for her home in Minas Ithil. She loved it so. It nearly killed her to think of orcs living in our palace, destroying her lovely gardens. But now they are gone. I mean to restore it all just as it was."
"Do you think to bring her and Vali back, then?" asked Ciryon.
Isildur shook his head. "I think not. I have given it a great deal of thought these last few months. With your uncle Anárion gone, Meneldil has ruled here in Osgiliath. He has ruled well and he is loved by the people here. He has fought long and well for Gondor, and it is meet that he should be its king. I have it in mind that when our work here is done, we shall go to Annúminas. Now that the roads are safe again, we shall go to Rivendell and fetch your mother and Vali. We shall live in father's palace there on the shores of Nenuial. She will be mistress of her own house with her family about her, and I hope she will then shake off her melancholy and become herself again."
"But we forget our duties as your hosts," said Aratan. "We did not expect you this week, and cousin Meneldil is away in Minas Anor. Come in, and let us drink mead and hear your tales."
And so Isildur and his sons worked all that autumn and winter in Osgiliath, overseeing the repairs and the planting of crops in the fields that had lain fallow for so long. In those first weeks it seemed he was always saying farewell to old friends as one by one the companies of warriors departed for their homes. He was especially sorry to wave goodbye to Ingold and his men, but they were eager to return to Calembel.
Isildur spent many hours closeted with Meneldil, instructing him in the ways of kingship and teaching him the ancient lore of their line. He also spent many days alone in the archives of Gondor, reading the ancient scrolls there, many of them brought from Númenor. Now and again they were visited by friends: Duitirith, Lord of Pelargir, was a frequent visitor, and sometimes he was accompanied by his mother Heleth, though now grief had slashed a wide streak of grey in her lovely red hair.
Early in the year two a procession arrived from the north and Amroth the Elf stopped with them. He was on his way to visit the shores of Belfalas which he had come to love. That summer he and his party started building a small settlement they called Dol Amroth on a lovely uninhabited promontory that reached out into the bay. When it was finished, he hoped to persuade his beloved Nimrodel to forsake the Golden Wood and abide with him there. Amroth and Duitirith became close friends and often sailed together from the quays where they had first met. The sight of Elves walking in the cities of Gondor no longer elicited stares of surprise.
When the spring came Isildur and his sons led a party of the residents of Minas Ithil back to their home. They drove great wagons loaded with food and tools and seed for the fields. They found that although the garrison guarding the city had started the work, the cleansing of the city proved much more difficult than they had hoped. The walls were white again and the various repairs effected. The filth was swept from the streets and houses, but there remained an odor of decay that could not be removed. They set fires of sweet-smelling herbs and wafted the smoke through the houses, they tried various oils and perfumes. But for all their efforts, the buildings stank as if something dead had lain too long within.
They planted crops again in the fields, but these too seemed blighted. Some would not sprout at all; others bore only shrivelled, bitter fruits. Many that ate of them complained of nausea and a lingering flux. Some of the residents who had returned with Isildur closed up their homes and moved to Osgiliath or went to establish new farms in south Ithilien or across the River in Anórien. Many of the younger men who had served in the war moved to Dol Amroth to help the Elves establish their new colony.
Although discouraged and frustrated, Isildur refused to admit defeat. Many times he told his sons that he was not to be disturbed, and he was not seen for many hours. They thought he was resting or planning new policies, but in fact he was attempting to use the One Ring.
He found when he put it on that the Ring transported him into a shadowy world, separate from the world of sun but occupying the same space. The Ring also made him invisible when he wore it, and he could move about without being detected. Wearing the Ring, he could see the houses and buildings of the city but they were still stained and filthy as they had been when the Ring-Wraiths ruled there. It was as if all their efforts had carried away the physical filth, but left the noisome leavings of evil untouched. But the Ring gave him no new powers to cleanse it away. The inscription inside the Ring, once as bright as fire, was now fading and barely legible. Isildur copied it down lest it be lost.
The Ring also gave him great pain. The circular scar on his palm which he had received when he first touched it had never faded. Especially in damp weather it still pained him unmercifully. When he wore the Ring, the wound flared up anew and it seemed he could again feel the heat of it.
At last he had to admit defeat. Even the most dedicated settlers were giving up and moving away. Leaving a strong garrison of soldiers stationed there and at the much-strengthened fortress at Cirith Ungol, he and his sons prepared to depart for the last time.
But before he left Minas Ithil he had one important task to perform. The White Tree, seedling of Nimloth and the symbol of the House of Elendil, had been burned by Sauron's minions when they took the city. But even in the confusion of their flight that terrible night, Isildur had taken away a seedling of the Tree. Protected and carefully tended, the seedling had been carried with his family to Arnor. There it had grown in the court of Elendil's palace. Like all its line, the tree grew very slowly and it was still but a sapling in a pot ten years later. And when the news of the end of the war came, Aratan and Ciryon had carefully brought the tree to Gondor with them in a wagon especially built for that purpose.
Isildur had thought to plant the tree again in the court of his Citadel in Minas Ithil. But now he feared that the contaminated soil of Ithilien might harm the tree. He resolved to plant it in Anárion's memory in his city of Minas Anor, across the river on the slopes of blue Mount Mindolluin. And so one day, attended only by his sons and Meneldil, they stood in the great Court of the Fountain in the topmost circle of the seven-walled city of Minas Anor.
Isildur knelt and planted the tree with his own hands, patting the soil gently around it. Then he called Meneldil to his side.
"This is the White Tree," he said. "It is a seedling of the tree that grew in my court in Minas Ithil, and that was grown from the fruit of Nimloth the Fair that grew in the court of the King of Númenor at Armenelos before Sauron burned it. Nimloth had grown there since the founding of Númenor, for it had been given to Elros Firstking by the Elves as a memorial of their friendship for his aid in the first war against Sauron. And Nimloth was a fruit of the Tree of Tirion that grows in Elvenhome, and that is an image of the Eldest of All Trees, White Telperion, sung into being by Yavanna Kementári before the world was made.
"Tend and guard the tree well, nephew, for it is said that it is tied inextricably with the fortunes of our house, and that while it lives our line will rule. When it puts forth fruit, take the seeds up carefully and plant them in secret and untrodden places, so that if ever the tree fails, our ancestors yet might find its offspring and continue its line."
Then they went down to Osgiliath and called all the people to the city to witness Meneldil's coronation. Standing beneath the Dome of Stars, Isildur took from his head the old battered war helmet he had worn for so many years. He turned it slowly in his hands, his fingers running along the many dents, remembering the blows that had made them. Then he looked earnestly at Meneldil.
"I wore this helmet throughout the war. It saved my life at Dagorlad and many another time. These are the wings of a gull, to remind us that we came to these shores out of the sea. Anárion and I once spoke of dividing the realm into two when our father went to his rest at last. He would take Gondor and I Arnor. And we said there on the plains of Gorgoroth that if such should ever come to pass, our winged helmets would serve us for crowns, for our realms were born in one war and preserved by another. Alas, dear Anárion will never be King of Gondor. And even his helmet is no more, for it was crushed by the stone cast that killed him. But in his memory I give you my helmet, and declare that henceforth it shall be the Crown of Gondor, to be worn by you and your heirs forever. I give into your keeping all the realm of Gondor, its mountains and forests, its towns and cities, its crops and beasts, and its noble people, their language, culture, and history. Serve and guard them well, that they may long endure."
Meneldil knelt before him and kissed his hand. "My Lord Isildur, all shall be done as you have directed. Our two realms shall be friends and allies so long as the world lasts."
Then the people raised a mighty cheer. "King Meneldil! Long may he live! Gondor and Arnor, friends forever!"
It was but a week later that Isildur prepared to depart for the north, for he wished to leave Meneldil a free hand, without the complication of his uncle watching over his shoulder. With him were his three eldest sons, with the ever faithful Ohtar and twoscore of their housecarls, all that had survived the war. With banners flying from every tower and trumpets blowing from the walls, the little party rode out of Osgiliath and turned west into Anórien. Many friends followed them, for they were loath to see them go. Indeed some accompanied them for days, and the last made their farewells and turned back only when they crossed the Mering Stream. When they had waved farewell to the last well-wishers, they turned aside from the road to Angrenost and their horses waded into the long waving grass of Calenardhon.
They travelled thus for another week, meeting no travellers and seeing no sign of any settlements, for this was a lonely corner of the realm that had never been settled. Each day the Hithaiglin, the Misty Mountains, loomed closer on their left. They skirted the dark and ancient forest called Fangorn, for it had a strange repute. They crossed the River Limlight, and at last late on a hot still summer afternoon they topped a low rise and saw below them a broad forested valley with a river flowing through it. The trees glowed a deep golden color, their leaves like waving sheets of gold leaf.
"The Golden Wood," said Isildur with satisfaction. "And just across the stream lies Lothlórien, the realm of Galadriel and Celeborn." They hurried forward then and were soon under the eaves of the great trees. The cool shade was welcome after the long miles of open sunny grassland. The path wound between open glades, dropping gently down toward the Nimrodel Stream. The sun hid her face behind the mountains and the heat quickly went out of the sky. The air under the trees seemed cleaner, fresher, as if it had never been hot or dusty. A faint scent of flowers hung in the air, reminding each rider of some fair place he had once visited, though none could name the memory. At last the Nimrodel stream could be seen glinting between the white boles of the trees ahead. Just then fair voices floated out of the trees, singing an ancient Elvish song, though no singers could be seen.
They rode on in silence, listening to the music, until they came to the banks of the stream. There they were met by a company of Elvish archers, all dressed alike in green cloaks caught at the shoulder with silver clasps in the shape of leaves.
"Greetings, travellers," said one of the Elves. "You are come to the borders of Lothlórien and strangers may not enter without permission. What name should I announce to my Lords?"
Ohtar rode forward to herald the king, but Isildur waved him back. "Tell the Lord and Lady that Isildur and his sons have come to call."
The Elf looked at him in surprise. "You are Isildur, King of Arnor? My pardon, my lord. I did not realize; you bear no emblems of your rank."
"No. I wear no kingly armor for I have seen enough of arms and armor. And I bear no crown because it is yet in Annúminas."
"Crowned or not, my lord, you are welcome in Lothlórien. Your deeds in Mordor already are sung by our minstrels."
Isildur laughed. "Are they indeed? Your poets move more swiftly than do I."
"The Lay of Isildur is our most popular song these latter days. It is requested nearly every night. The people will all wish to see you. I am called Brethilrond, my lord. I shall ride ahead to announce your coming. My friends will escort you and show you the path." He whistled, and a beautiful white horse stepped out of the shadows. He leaped lightly onto its back and splashed across the stream, calling over his shoulder, "Welcome to the Golden Wood, my lords!"
They chatted with their Elvish escort as they rode along a broad lane through the trees. The dusk was falling, but the wood never grew completely dark. The smooth white trunks of the trees were so pale they seemed to glow in the twilight, while the golden leaves above caught every glimmer of light and set it shimmering. When the last purple tint was fading from the sky, they saw a golden glow high in the trees before them. Then they came out into a large clearing and saw before them a great high-crowned hill, set about with a thick hedge behind a moat. The hill was a solid mass of the tallest trees they had even seen, towering over all the rest of the forest. Among those mighty branches could be seen many lights; white and gold and yellow. Brethilrond was waiting for them at the near end of a bridge that spanned the moat and ended at a massive wooden gate covered with flowing, beautifully carved letters.
"Welcome to Caras Galadon, the city of the trees," he said.
He led them across the bridge and the gate swung open at their approach, though they could see no guards or gatekeepers. They walked along neat well-tended paths and climbed many broad stairs, the way leading always up toward the summit of the hill. Finally they came out in a wide glade with a fountain tinkling musically into a pool. In the center of the clearing stood the tallest tree any of them had ever seen. The mighty bole stood fully thirty yards across and swept up into a mass of golden foliage that shaded the entire glade. A wide white-painted ladder was fastened to the trunk. Brethilrond turned at the foot of the ladder.
"The Lord and Lady await you in their hall."
"And where is their hall?" asked Isildur, looking around, for no buildings could be seen.
"Right above you, my lord," said Brethilrond with a smile. "We make our homes in the mallorn trees. If you will follow me, my friends will attend to your horses." And he turned and climbed quickly up the broad ladder fastened to the massive trunk.
Somewhat more slowly and tentatively, Isildur and his men followed. When they reached the lower branches, already so high that they didn't like looking down, they found a vast platform. As large as some mansions in the cities of men, this one platform, or talan, as the Elves called it, contained living quarters for more than a dozen families. The mallorn's branches were so huge that they were quite wide enough for four men to walk abreast on the broad upper surface, and a laughing group of Elf children dashed along the branch to stare at the visitors as they passed.
But Brethilrond did not pause. Already he was high above them, still climbing up the main trunk. The men climbed on. The ladder was wide enough for many climbers on each rung, and now and again a group of Elves would pass them, carrying burdens in packs upon their backs. They called cheerful greetings to the Men as they easily passed them. They passed talan after talan, each slightly smaller as the immense tree's branches diminished with height. The men's shoulders and thighs began to ache and complain with the unaccustomed effort.
"By my sword," muttered Elendur, "how high are we to climb? I would swear we must be above the clouds by now."
"Above the sun, you mean, "gasped Ciryon. "We must be close to her now, for I am dripping with sweat."
"I know," agreed Ohtar, "but I am loath to complain, for these pretty young Elf-maidens pass us by as easily as if we were nailed to the trunk. I would not have them know how much I am aching."
"Perhaps you had better hold your breath, then," laughed Isildur. "You are wheezing like a strong wind in a pine forest."
At last they reached a large white talan built right around the massive trunk. They climbed through a square opening in its base and stood gasping, glad to be standing on a floor again. Brethilrond was waiting for them.
"I have already spoken to the Lords. They bid you attend them at once."
He led them into a lofty hall, oval in shape, with walls of green and silver and a roof of gold. The trunk of the mallorn, still a dozen feet across, formed the central column of the hall. Against this column and beneath a canopy of a leafy bough of the tree, stood two thrones side by side on a gilded platform. There sat the Lords of Lothlórien, dressed alike in white robes. Their hair, Celeborn's silver and Galadriel's gold, flowed from beneath golden crowns. They stood and came down to greet Isildur warmly.
"Welcome, Isildur Elendilson," said Celeborn, clasping his arm.
"Greetings to all your company," added Galadriel in her lovely musical voice. "You are well come to Caras Galadon."
Isildur bowed deeply, and the other men, struck by the beauty and majesty of the Lords, fell to their knees before them.
"May I present my sons?" Isildur said. "Elendur, Aratan, and Ciryon."
"Elendur I remember well, of course," said Galadriel with a smile to him. "And his brothers I should have known at once, for they have the look and bearing of your line. Ciryon especially I could have mistaken for his noble forefather Elros, so alike are they."
The brothers stared at Galadriel in wonder, for Elros Peredhil, the founder of their line, had died many thousands of years ago. This woman, so lovely and fair, had actually known the great Elros himself!
"They look like fine bold warriors, Isildur," said Celeborn. "You may rightly be proud of them. Did they serve in the war as well?"
"Aratan was captain of the guard at Annúminas," said Isildur, "and Ciryon commanded the garrison at Amon Sûl, a watchtower on the eastern borders of Arnor. They came to join me after the war was over and the ways safe again."
"Alas," said Galadriel, "the ways are still not as safe as we would like them. Only last month a party of our people travelling in the Misty Mountains was attacked by a band of orcs. Several were slain, for they were not heavily armed nor expecting attack."
"Orcs?" exclaimed Isildur. "But they were forbidden to travel into the westlands!"
"We know not whether they are come from Mordor or if they have remained in hiding in the mountains. They seemed not to have a leader. We supposed they were but a band of renegades, making their living by attacking travellers. We have sent out several search parties, but have been unable to locate them."
"We have heard tales from our Sindarin cousins," said Celeborn, "of similar attacks in the forests further north. Sauron may be no more, but his evil influence continues."
"The roads shall be made safe again," said Isildur with determination in his face. "When I have returned to Annúminas and put my own realm in order, I will establish outposts and send rangers out to root out these bands of renegades. We shall not rest until all are destroyed. The roads should be open and safe for all travellers."
"It would be a great boon to all," said Galadriel. "But again you set yourself a difficult task, my friend. As in Mordor, you want to cleanse the world of every trace of Sauron's work. It may not be possible."
"Nevertheless, I accomplished much in Mordor. The Barad-dûr no longer exists. Osgiliath and Minas Ithil are again as they were. I have many subjects and friends to aid me in my work." He looked pointedly at Galadriel. "And I have other help besides."
The Lady looked gravely at him. "Aye, when Cirdan passed through Lothlórien on his way home, he told us of your decision at the Sammath Naur."
Isildur nodded. "I assume he told you he did not approve. He and Elrond did their best to dissuade me. I hope you are not going to lecture me as well."
"We shared his concerns," said Celeborn. "You take upon yourself a perilous burden."
"Do you then think me unable to bear it?" asked Isildur in some irritation.
"It is not that, Isildur," said Galadriel soothingly. "It is that none of us know what its powers may be. And if it should somehow fall into lesser hands than your own, what should become of them? In hands with a propensity for evil or with a lust for power, might it not still be used for evil purpose? These are our fears."
Somewhat mollified, Isildur smiled and patted his chest. "I can assure you it shall never leave my person while I live. Never shall any hand touch it but mine. And when I die it shall go to my heirs, with all my advice and cautions in its use. I assure you it is quite safe."
"I would prefer the thing had been destroyed and was gone forever from the world," said Galadriel, "but I do not doubt your good will, your strength, or your wisdom. We shall rest easy knowing it is in Annúminas, safe in your care. But we urge you to use it as little as possible."
"I rarely wear it at all," replied Isildur. "Already I have learned the limits of its capabilities. In truth it seems but a poor thing compared with the wonders you have wrought with Nenya," he added, gesturing around at the hall around them, the city, and indeed all of the Golden Wood.
"The Three were forged to assist in good works and in building fair creations. The One was not. But perhaps you can yet wrest some good from it."
"It is not wholly evil, I assure you, Lords," said Isildur. "I find that it can be most useful when rebuilding that which Sauron spoiled."
"Is Ithilien then renewed as clean as before?" asked Galadriel with a knowing look. "Is its produce as sweet?"
Isildur caught Elendur's eye. "Well, perhaps not as much as before," he admitted. "But we have rebuilt Minas Ithil, and we have hopes that after the rains of spring have flushed the poisons from the soil that it will produce as it once did."
"Perhaps it shall," said Celeborn. "We shall see. And our hopes are with you. It was clearly a lovely land before Sauron got his claws upon it."
"But we are remiss as hosts," said Galadriel. "You have had a long journey and must be tired. Sometimes we forget that you Men desire your nightly periods of rest. Show our visitors to the best guest chambers. We shall talk again in the morning."
The men were led to a series of rooms along the outer wall of the palace. Before he went to sleep, Ohtar stood at the window and looked out over the city. The ground below was too far away to see, lost among the lower branches and the many houses below. All about them were spread the tops of the other mallorn trees. Lights of gold, yellow and white glowed from among the foliage, and he could hear singing and the voices of sweet instruments drifting up to where he stood. Far away to the east, the moon was rising above the eastern reaches of the wood, setting silver glints upon the golden leaves.
Ohtar crawled gratefully into the heap of soft woven Elven blankets and slept more comfortably and peacefully than he could ever remember.
They spent a few days resting and visiting with the Elves. The men strolled about the city, observing the Elves at their daily duties and entertainments. Isildur and his sons had many talks with the Lords or with the greater of the Elves, learning of their lore and hearing their counsel. The evenings were spent feasting and listening to singing of the ancient Elvish sagas. Verse after verse of the doings of ancient heros, most went on for many hours. One by one the men drifted off to sleep, their dreams full of the brave deeds of former ages. On their last evening the minstrels performed their newest saga, the Lay of Isildur, and Isildur congratulated the talented composer. On the following morning they prepared again to depart. The Lords accompanied them to the gate of the city.
"Go in peace, friends," said Celeborn. "I would recommend that you do not attempt to cross the mountains by way of the pass of Caradhras. Our scouts report that the snow lies especially heavy there yet. It would be very difficult for men and heavily laden horses."
"We had thought to go further north and cross by the pass that lies east of Imladris," said Elendur. "It is lower and it will have another few weeks to melt before we arrive there."
"Yes, that would be best," agreed Galadriel. "Take care in the mountains. Remember the raiders."
Isildur laughed. "I do not think orcs would attack such a numerous and well-armed party. If they did they would get a most unpleasant greeting."
"No doubt you are right," said Celeborn. "Take our greetings and good wishes to our friend Elrond. Namarië."
"Namarië, my Lord," said Isildur. "My Lady, farewell."
"Farewell, Isildur. May all your hopes and plans come true."
Then the men turned and with many waves and shouted farewells rode north around the moat that guarded Caras Galadon. Passing along a broad lane through the trees, they rode under the golden mallorns for another day before emerging blinking into the bright sunlight. The land here was low rolling hills cut by many shallow streams. The hills were covered with bright yellow grass, though their cooler northern slopes were thick with oaks. Day after day they rode over these hills, keeping the mountains on their left hand. From some of the higher hills they could catch occasional glimpses of the broad and muddy river Anduin away to the east.
On the fifth morning after leaving the Golden Wood, they topped a ridge and looked out over a wide flat land marked by many bright green fens and bogs. Beyond they could see a river coming down from the mountains and winding across the marshes to join Anduin.
"That is the Greenwood River," said Isildur. "There is a ford just to the west of the fens. And beyond are the grassy lawns the Elves call Loeg Ningloron. When father and I rode this way to the war we met some hunters there; men, but of a race we had never seen before. Their speech was strange and we could understand very little of what they said. But one thing I can recall is the name of this place, for it struck me as an odd name. Both the river and the lawns are known by the same name in their language: Gladden, they said it was called."
"Well, it gladdens my heart," said Ciryon, "for it means we are done with climbing these ridges for a time."
"Aye. Beyond this Gladden the land is flat and easy. In another week we should be at the pass, and but a few days beyond that lies Imladris."
"Yes, and mother and little Vali," said Aratan. "I am anxious to see them again. Wait till you see him, father."
"I really feel that I am about to meet him for the first time." replied Isildur. "He was but an infant at his mother's breast when I left. Curse Sauron for taking from us all those years together. I will never know my fourth son's early years. I did not hear his first words, nor hold his hands when he essayed his first steps. I myself am only a name to him. And there is no way for me to get those years back. It will take some time, I know, but I intend to bridge across those years. I truly hope and believe that now our family will be able to live in peace and even happiness again. And I am most anxious to begin. Let us ride."
They wound their way down the ridge. Near the bottom was a faint trail skirting the fens. They rode in single file, scanning the ground ahead, for here and there small green pools lay on either side of the path, marking treacherous bogs. In late afternoon they left the fens and saw the Greenwood River before them. Isildur led them to the left along its bank until they found a path leading steeply down the gravel bank. The river was wide but very shallow, and they could see the large smooth cobbles sparkling beneath the surface. They stopped to let their horses drink their fill and to refill their water bags, then splashed across the stream and up the far bank. As Isildur had predicted, the land here was flat and grassy, broken by occasional thickets of low shrubs. The grass was short, lush and green, a contrast to the dry lands they had been crossing. The narrow track they were following bore off to the east. As the sun sank behind the mountains behind them, they came to the banks of the Anduin, where the clear sparkling waters of Greenwood merged with the thick brown waters of the Great River. There between the two rivers was a fair green lawn of sweet grass, bordered on its northern and western edges by a thick forest.
"These are the fields of Gladden," said Isildur. "Let us make camp here and tomorrow set out refreshed. We should be able to make good time in the land ahead."
The men started unloading and setting up the tents. Ohtar and two others walked over to the edge of the forest to gather firewood. Ohtar was breaking up a long branch that had fallen onto the grass when one of his companions stepped out of the woods nearby.
"Whew!" the man said. "You are wise to pick wood out here in the sun. There is an unhealthy chill in yonder wood." Soon, arms piled high, they returned to the camp and started building a fire. By the time the last light had faded from the sky the men were seated about the fire, eating a good hot meal and talking happily of home.
"Well, I for one am ready for bed," said Elendur. "I hope I don't have first watch tonight."
"Oh, perhaps for tonight we do not need to set a watch," said Isildur with a yawn.
Aratan and Elendur exchanged looks of surprise. "Do you think it is safe, father?"
"I believe so," said Isildur, already spreading out his blankets. "Peace is upon the land again. It is time we laid aside the ways of war."
"I like it not," said Ohtar. "Remember the warning of the Elves."
"You were always over-eager to protect me, Ohtar. But look around. This is a wide and empty land. We have seen so sign of any other travellers for weeks. We are far from the mountains where the orcs are said to be hiding. And besides, no ragged band of renegade orcs would dare attack us. They are cowardly things, never eager for a fair fight and we have many doughty knights among us. We are as safe as houses. We must learn anew the pleasure of sleeping through a night. Let us all get a good night's rest and be ready to ride many miles on the morrow."
It was late in the evening before they rolled into their blankets to sleep. Ohtar was still uneasy and lay awake for a long time, arms folded behind his head, looking up at the stars burning down from the black sky. It seemed strange and unnatural to be lying there on the open ground, knowing there were no sentries pacing the perimeter of the camp. But no doubt Isildur was right. The war was over. It had been going on for so long that he could hardly remember what peace had been like. But now he was reminded of times years ago, when he and Isildur had hunted together in the hills of the Emyn Arnen and had slept out beneath the stars with never a thought of danger. Ohtar snorted wryly. He was just an old soldier, set in his ways. He needed to learn to relax again. He turned on his side, pulled his musty old blanket up around his throat, and went to sleep.
He woke with a pounding heart and his eyes snapped open. It was very dark. The waning crescent moon was a thin arc in the west, just about to set behind the jagged peaks of the Misty Mountains. The camp was silent, save for the faint crackle of the dying embers of the fire. He was trembling, but not from the cold. Something, some unnamed sense, had awakened him as swiftly and completely as if a pail of cold water had been thrown over him. It was his soldier's instinct, learned by evil experience. But what had caused it? Silently he sat up and looked around.
The camp was so dark he could make out nothing at all. The thick woods to the west blocked what little moonlight remained and all was in deep shadow. Then, just at the limit of hearing, he heard a shuffling sound in the grass not far away. Every nerve tingling with a sense of danger, he softly threw off his blankets and reached for his sword lying beside him. Still unwilling to sound an alarm and wake the camp without reason, he paused a moment more. He was peering toward the only light, the dim glow of a smoldering log in the fire, when it blinked. Something had passed in front of it; something silent, something crouched and bent. His nerves, drawn taut as a bowstring, jerked him to his feet.
"To arms!" he bellowed at the top of his lungs. "To arms! They are among us!" Instantly there was a roar of noise. Men's confused shouts, the hoarse croaking cries of orcs, the sickening crunch and clang of metal striking bone.
Not knowing what else to do, Ohtar ran toward the fire. He ran headlong into someone with a jarring impact and they both went down with loud grunts of surprise. He struggled to his feet as quickly as he could, and could just make out the dim shape of an orc rolling over and rising, an axe in its hands. It looked up at him, its eyes yellow in the feeble glare of the fire. Ohtar brought his sword around in a two-handed sweep with all his strength behind it. He felt it connect solidly. The orc shrieked and something flew off to the side and landed with a heavy thud. Ohtar turned and ran to the fire. He kicked the glowing log hard and it rolled over in a towering fountain of sparks and burst into flame. Instantly the camp was lit with a lurid flickering glare.
Orcs were everywhere, threescore at least, with more running in from the darkness. Most of the men were still on the ground, blinking in confusion. Many of them woke to find two or three orcs standing over them. Many another never woke at all, for the orcs for several minutes before the alarm had been moving silently through the camp, piercing each blanket roll with their long sharp knives. Now the orcs were rushing through the camp, swinging their jagged swords wildly about them.
Ohtar saw a nearby orc bend over a man lying on the ground and raise its sword to strike. With an oath, he hurled himself forward and brought his sword down on the orc's shoulder with such force that the sword cut nearly to the breastbone. The orc fell across his intended victim. Ohtar rolled the body off and a man struggled to his feet covered in the orc's black blood. He snatched up the orc's sword and together they drove against three orcs attacking one of the few knights on his feet fighting. It was Thalion, one of Isildur's housecarls. In a moment they had slain two and Thalion drove his sword through the third. Then an orc plunged toward Ohtar with his pike held out before him. Ohtar turned to meet him, but the orc tripped over a body on the ground and went down. Ohtar pinned him there with a thrust between the shoulder blades. He heard a scream just behind him and wheeled around to see the man he had just saved go down before a large orc with a double-headed axe. Ohtar and Thalion leaped forward and after a fierce struggle killed the orc. Glancing around the camp, they could see only two other men on their feet, hemmed in by many enemies. As he watched, they both went down almost at the same instant.
"Isildur," shouted Ohtar at the top of his lungs. "Sire!"
"Here!" came an answering shout from the other side of the fire. Ohtar shouted to Thalion, who was so covered in blood that he could barely recognize him. "To the king! The king!" Together they leaped through the fire and landed beside Isildur, Aratan, and two other men. They had their backs to the fire, facing half a dozen orcs who stood hesitating before the bright blades. The orcs backed off further when the other two men burst out of the flames. Ohtar glanced at the king. Thick blood pulsed slowly from a wound on his shoulder and he held the arm tight against his body. His face was pale and shining in the light.
"Sire," said Ohtar, "You're hurt."
"It will not matter if we cannot fight our way clear," said Isildur through clenched teeth. "Have you seen Ciryon and Elendur?"
"No. I believe no more of our people are alive on the other side of the camp," said Ohtar.
"And very few on this," said the man beside him. "Only the fire deters them, I think."
"The fire will be our doom," said Isildur. "Our only hope is to get out into the dark and try to escape."
"We can't hope to outrun orcs in the dark, Sire," gasped one of the men, slashing at an orc that was waving a trident toward his face. "They can run for hours, and they can track us by smell."
"Yes, Linfalas, but they are rarely swimmers. They like not the water. If we can get to the river, we have a chance at least."
"They can just wade the Greenwood," said Aratan, glancing back over the fire at a group of orcs gathering on that side.
"Then it must be the Anduin."
"That would be a long dangerous swim," said Ohtar. "And you are wounded."
"Does anyone else have another plan?"
No one spoke. The orcs started edging closer, getting ready to rush them.
"Ohtar, take my pack, I can't carry it with this arm. It's right here at my feet. Keep it with you at all costs. Put it on so you can swim." He thrust forward with his sword and the orcs fell back a few paces, snarling. "Now everyone pick up a brand out of the fire. When I give the word, scream like a madman, shove the brands in their faces, and run to the right. The Anduin should be no more than three hundred yards away. The bank is steep and the water deep. I suggest just running right into it. Then swim as fast as you can. They'll be shooting at us, no doubt. You'll probably have to drop your swords. If we become separated, we'll meet on the east bank. "
He paused, then added in a low voice to Ohtar alone, "You may not see me, but I'll be with you. Do not wait to look for me. Do you understand?"
Ohtar nodded grimly. He knew Isildur meant to put on the Ring, and he approved if it would increase his chances. "Aye, I understand," he said, stooping and picking up Isildur's pack. It was heavy, and something within it shifted and gave a muffled clank. Then, one by one while the others guarded them, each man turned and picked a stout burning brand out of the fire. They held them before them and waved them at the nearest orcs. The orcs fell back, snarling and holding their hands up against the light and heat.
"All ready?" asked Isildur.
"Aye." "Ready." "Ready, Sire."
"May the Valar protect you all." Isildur glanced quickly to Aratan on his right and Ohtar on his left. "Goodbye, my friends," he whispered. Then he turned to face the orcs edging warily forward again.
"Now!" he shouted, and all six of them leaped forward, screaming, pushing the flaming brands in the orcs' faces, and slashing wildly with their swords. Three orcs went down before them, the rest fell back howling. The men turned right and raced off into the dark, leaping over packs and bodies scattered about the camp. Several bands of orcs looked up from plundering the dead and saw the men charging at them, still screaming and brandishing their torches. Some fell back, others moved to intercept them. Two that opposed them were quickly cut down. They met a knot of five or six orcs and there was a brief and bloody fight. Ohtar raised his sword to meet the stroke of their leader, a big orc whose scales glinted red in the firelight. Suddenly the orc screamed and its sword arm fell away and dropped to the ground. Pushing past, Ohtar ran on. Isildur was still beside him.
They fought their way clear of the camp and to the edge of the circle of firelight. They threw the torches at their pursuers and ran out into the dark, the fire now far behind.
"Aratan," gasped Thalion. "Your father is not with us! I did not see him go down!"
"He did not go down," said Ohtar. "Run on. He will be with us at the far bank." Hoping with all his being that his words were true and that Isildur was still with them, he ran on. He could hear orcs shouting not far behind. They were being pursued.
A hundred yards, two hundred. Surely they had run three hundred yards by now. Where was the River? If they had run the wrong way they were doomed. Another hundred yards, Isildur's pack slamming hard against his back. An arrow whistled past his ear and disappeared in the dark. More shouting behind them, and some now off to their left. There were more of them coming, trying to cut them off! Ohtar found one last bit of speed. Suddenly the man running in front of him grunted and went down, an arrow in his back. As he leaped over him, Ohtar realized with a shock that it was young Aratan. He faltered, torn between turning back and going on. He started to slow down, and then there was no ground beneath his feet. He just had time to take a gulp of air, then he struck cold water hard and went under. He dropped his sword, tightened the pack on his back, and started swimming hard underwater.
When he came up he was fifty feet from the shore. Some way to his left someone else was swimming, thrashing feet kicking up a white spray. Looking back, he could see the bank high and dark, silhouetted against the dim glow from the fire. Nothing else could be seen. He turned and struck out for the far bank.
The Anduin at this point was fully four hundred yards wide. Ohtar was not the strongest of swimmers, and encumbered as he was by the heavy pack he made slow going of it. He had lost track of the other swimmer, and he felt very frightened and alone out there in the midst of the great river carrying him away to the south. In the middle of the stream he came out into silvery light. Looking back, he saw the moon shining white from the tops of the mountains. Though it was slender, but four days from new, it seemed as bright as day after the deep darkness of the shore. He felt very exposed and helpless.
Suddenly more orc shouting broke out behind him. He heard the twang of bowstrings, and two arrows ripped into the water nearby. Cursing and gasping for breath, he paddled even harder. Another arrow made a splash close in front of him. He took a deep breath and turned over, going down under the surface. He swam a few hard strokes, then had to come up. His head popped up and he floated, gasping. The shore behind was invisible, but the cries sounded dangerously close. No arrows landed nearby, however, and he struck out again, cursing the pack that kept slipping from his shoulders and entangling his arms.
It seemed like hours before he could see the far shore rising ahead. Hopefully he was out of bowshot by now, but he couldn't be sure. He continued swimming, more and more slowly as his limbs grew exhausted. Finally his fingers touched mud. The bank loomed right above his head, but much too steep to climb. He let the current bump him along the shore. He tried to grab hold of the slippery clay bank and climb out, but failed once, twice. Finally he caught a root and pulled himself out of the water. Standing on the root he could just get his arms over the grassy bank above. He slung the pack up onto the grass, then pulled himself up and over. He lay gasping on the grass, too tired and dispirited to move.
He lay for a few minutes, then heard something splashing in the water right below him. He had no weapon but the pack, so he crept forward, holding the pack by one strap, ready to swing it. A dark hand lunged over the lip, inches from his face. He gasped and swung the pack, slamming it down on the creature's fingers.
"Ow! Curse your eyes, stop that, you fool." He recognized Thalion. He tossed the pack behind him and caught the outstretched hands, dragging the limp figure up onto the bank.
"Did the others make it?" gasped Thalion.
"I don't know. Did you see anyone?"
"There was someone off to my left and ahead of me. I know he made it to the River, for I saw the splash just before I hit the water. I don't think it was you, you were somewhere to my right."
"Did you see the king?"
"Nay. I did not see him after we threw the brands. I fear he may have fallen there."
"And perhaps not," said Ohtar, knowing of the Ring's powers, which Thalion would not. "Come, let us search along the bank," said Ohtar, retrieving the pack.
Struggling to their feet, they walked downstream. Suddenly a figure loomed before them and all three fell back. "Who is there?" demanded Ohtar.
"It is I, Linfalas," came a voice. "Who is that?"
"Ohtar and Thalion. Saw you the king?"
"No. Not since the fire. He was not running with us. What of Lord Aratan?"
"An arrow took him just before we reached the River," answered Ohtar. "I saw him fall."
"Then it is just the three of us?" asked Linfalas. They looked at each other in silence.
"Let us go back upstream," suggested Ohtar. "Perhaps the king reached the shore further up. He was ever a strong swimmer."
"But his arm...," said Thalion, and stopped. They walked slowly back up the stream, their eyes scanning the bank and the water. Then they were abreast of the fire. On the far bank figures could be seen moving about, silhouetted against the fire. They stood staring in misery at the fire, thinking of all their friends that lay about it. All three were shivering with the cold and wet.
Suddenly harsh shouting broke out on the far bank. They saw orcs gathering directly opposite where they stood. Many were fitting arrows to their bows.
"What is it?" asked Thalion. "What do they see?"
"There!" shouted Ohtar. "Do you see? At the edge of the moonlight. Something is splashing!"
"It is the king!" said Linfalas. "I see the circlet he wears on his brow. See how it catches the light?"
"He is well within their range!" groaned Ohtar. "Why is he visible? Sire! Sire! Over here! Put it on, Sire, put it on! They see you!"
"I lost it," came Isildur's voice from the water. "I slew many of them, then I followed you into the water. But then it just fell off. It was as if it suddenly grew larger and came off."
Arrows started whistling into the water around his head.
"Swim, Sire, swim, for Eru's sake," screamed Ohtar, dancing about helplessly on the bank. More arrows whistled out of the dark, plunging into the water with a sound like cloth ripping.
"Dive, Sire!" shouted Linfalas. "Dive and turn."
"I have lost it," moaned Isildur, as if he had not heard them. Another arrow struck only inches from his head. He splashed on slowly. "Why did it come off..." he began. Then they saw an arrow strike him. He cried out and raised one arm toward them. A half dozen more arrows fell all around him. At least one must have struck him, for he suddenly stopped struggling. He looked up toward his subjects watching in horror, his face a white oval in the dark water. "I lost my preciousss..." he wailed, then his face disappeared and did not come up again. From the far shore a hideous cry of triumph went up. Ohtar and his companions stood silently, watching the flowing water, waiting for Isildur to reappear. At last they slumped to the ground, lost and desolate.
Some time during the night they crawled off under some bushes and lay shivering, miserable and cold and full of despair. The night seemed endless, but in fact it was not long before the sun began to lighten the eastern horizon. When she was fully up, they crawled out into the chill morning air to draw what little warmth they could from the low slanting rays. Mist was rising from the river and drifting slowly around them. From glimpses they could sometimes catch, there was no sign of anyone on the opposite shore. Shivering so hard they could hardly speak, they took stock of their situation.
"Well, as I remember what Elendur told me," said Thalion, "it's another eighty leagues or more to Imladris. That could take three weeks on foot. And we have no food, no weapons, no warm clothes, nothing."
"I have the king's pack," said Ohtar. "Perhaps there's some food or clothing." He unfastened the pack and a gush of water spilled out. He rummaged inside and pulled out a long bundle wrapped in embroidered cloth.
"Is that all?" asked Linfalas. "Is there no food?"
"No. Only this." Ohtar laid the bundle on the ground between them. Untying a cord wrapped many times around it, he gently folded back the cloth and they all stared down at the object within.
"It's a sword," said Linfalas. "But it's broken."
"Yes," said Ohtar. "This is Narsil, his father's sword, that was broken when he fought Sauron."
"A noble weapon," said Linfalas, "but it will not help us in our need."
"It could serve yet as a weapon, and certainly as a tool. And the cloth when dried could be a blanket for one of us at a time. Perhaps with this cord we could try snaring a few birds."
"Do you really think we can still get to Imladris by ourselves, with no more than this?" asked Thalion.
"We must, and we shall," said Ohtar. "We must take this sword to Isildur's heir." He shook his head in grief. "That would be poor little Valandil now, I suppose."
"Why? What's the use of a broken sword?"
Ohtar sat staring off into the sunrise as if he could see something there the others could not. "Some day Narsil will be reforged," he said. "And someday Isildur's heir will avenge his father with it. We must take it to Valandil in Imladris."
They all sat looking down at the broken sword. It was going to be many weary dangerous miles. And even if they could somehow get it back to Imladris, what could a young boy do with a broken sword? How many years would it be before the sword was made whole again?
"Come," said Ohtar. "We have a long way to go."
Thalion and Linfalas got stiffly to their feet and stood stretching in the growing warmth of the sun. Ohtar carefully re-wrapped the shards of Narsil and put it back in the pack. Then he shouldered the pack and started walking north along the bank of the Anduin. The others stared after him a moment, looking at each other. But then they stumbled off after him. Soon all three disappeared into the blowing mists and were gone.
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[Glossary]; Colophon (Still unavailable.)
This story was inspired by Tolkien's work.
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