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The Shire
Fun and Games

Song Parodies
Fan Fiction
Humorous Writing

Brian K. Crawford with
Gary D. Crawford

Copyright © 1994 by
The Crawford Press
All rights reserved
Printed in the United States of America

for Gary and Nathan


Three Rings for the Elven-kings under the sky,
      Seven for the Dwarf-lords in their halls of stone,
Nine for Mortal Men doomed to die,
      One for the Dark Lord on his dark throne
In the Land of Mordor where the Shadows lie.
      One Ring to rule them all, One Ring to find them.
      One Ring to bring them all and in the darkness bind them
In the Land of Mordor where the Shadows lie.


Preface: Notes on our Sources
Introduction: A Historical Background
Chronology: The Year 3441 Second Age
1 The Men of the Mountains
2 Ambassador from the South
3 At the Erech Stone
4 The Road to Linhir
5 Pelargir
6 The Gathering of the Armies
7 The Coming of the White Fleet
8 The Council of Osgiliath
9 Minas Ithil
10 The Barad-dûr
11 The Ride to Doom
12 Orodruin
13 At the Fields of Gladden


The idea for writing this book was suggested by my brother Gary. Together we developed the plot outline and sketched out the major characters. We divided up the chapters and began writing them, but then Gary moved to Virginia. The project continued by mail for a time, but gradually ground to a stop. The half-finished manuscript sat in a drawer for nearly twenty years. Then, as part of my nightly bedtime reading to my son Nathan, I read him first The Hobbit, then The Lord of the Rings.

It was a joy to me to see him moved by the same scenes that had moved me at my first reading some thirty years earlier. Together we sat in the firelight of the last homely house in Rivendell and heard the history of the Ring; together we hurtled through the dark lands of Rohan on Shadowfax with Gandalf and Pippin;together we stood with Sam on the high pass of Cirith Ungol and looked out into Mordor.

When all the tales were done at last, Nathan looked at me and said, ``I'm sorry we finished it. I wanted it to go on.'' Then I recalled the manuscript in my files. I pulled it out and reread what Gary and I had written so long ago. I resolved to finish it for Nathan, so we would have one more story of Middle-earth to share. I read the second draft to him as I wrote it, which kept me at the thankless job of revision because I had to have one night's reading done every day.

Without Gary's inspiration in the beginning and Nathan's at the end, I never would have been able to write this book. I give them my thanks and my love.

I also acknowledge my debt and thanks to Professor Tolkien, without whom Middle-earth itself would never have existed. He did not approve of other authors ``spinning off'' from his original work and would not give us permission to publish this book. It is therefore self-published only for the enjoyment of our family and friends. This is perhaps just as well, for I would not wish to have my work compared with the master's. Nevertheless, I shall always be grateful to him for enriching our lives with his creation.


Of all extant records of that ancient and remarkable race the hobbits, the best preserved and least fragmentary is of course the famous Red Book of Westmarch, by Bilbo Baggins and others, dating from the late Third Age and early Fourth. As well as being an invaluable source of information about a remote time, it contains many vivid accounts and stirring tales that can stand on their own as literature. Unlike most ancient documents, its fame has spread beyond the quiet world of scholarly research to achieve no little public acclaim, due largely to the excellent and entertaining novelized version published by Professor J. R. R. Tolkien of Oxford and called by him The Lord of the Rings. His popularization manages to bring fire and life to the old records without sacrificing historical accuracy. It has made history come alive for many thousands who otherwise would have been completely unaware of the people and events of those fascinating eras now known collectively and rather inaccurately as Middle-earth.

Many lay readers of Tolkien's work may however be unaware that the Red Book is far from the only record of Middle-earth. While nothing remains of the libraries of the Quendi (that mysterious people that Professor Tolkien translated as ``Elves'') or of the men of the era, some contemporary works have miraculously enough survived down to our time. In fact the hobbits kept excellent records, and the great library of the Tooks at the Great Smials in Tuckborough must have been truly magnificent in its heyday. Fortunately for us, hobbits were very diligent about protecting and preserving their ancient books, and a rather extensive remnant of the library has been preserved. Most of the original documents have of course long ago crumbled into dust, but careful copying over the millennia has preserved their contents.

Even the famous Red Book did not survive in the original. In fact, it has come down to us by a tortuous and fortuitous path. Peregrin Took, Thirty-Second Thain of the Shire, had ordered a copy made early in the Fourth Age. When he retired to Gondor in 64 Fourth Age, he took the copy with him and gave it to King Elessar I. It was long kept in the famed library of Minas Tirith, which burned, to our eternal loss, some four hundred years later. However, in 172 Fourth Age, Findegil, the Writer of King Eldarion II, made an exact copy of the Red Book at the request of Faramir II, Thirty-fifth Thain, and that copy went again north to be kept in the Took Library. This is the copy that has descended to us through countless generations of farsighted minds and careful hands. While the other surviving documents are less complete than the Red Book, they are no less interesting, for they tell us in detail of other fascinating matters not covered in the Red Book.

Of all the events of those far-off days, the most stirring are those that were recognized even by their participants as so momentous as to signal the end of an age and the beginning of a new. These are the times of great change and upheaval, of war and danger. But they are also the times when heroes stand forth, when brave men and women risk everything for their beliefs against seemingly insurmountable obstacles. Their struggles, their defeats, and their triumphs, reach across the gulfs of time to move us still.

As these words are being written, work is going forward on the translation, editing, and publishing of The Silmarillion, the account of the end of the First Age, as The Lord of the Rings told of the end of the Third. But nothing so far has been published of the momentous events at the end of the Second Age. The Red Book is sadly incomplete on that earlier war against the Great Enemy, Sauron. Fortunately, other chronicles exist that deal with the Second Age.

Shortly after the end of the War of the Rings, both Thain Peregrin and Meriadoc, Master of Buckland, resolved to preserve what they could of the old lore. They travelled extensively in Rohan, Gondor, and Rivendell, collecting information and documents from many sources. Peregrin and his many descendants organized and edited this material into a fascinating book, now called The Thain's Book. This remarkable manuscript is rich in the lore of the Second Age. In addition, a very few of the source documents for this book have survived, notably The Tale of Years, an anonymous history of Middle-earth from the point of view of the hobbits.

Several accounts exist of the important Council of Osgiliath which took place on Loëndë, Midsummer's Day, in 3441 Second Age. The source used for the current work is a set of large foolscap sheets, entirely covered with a very minute but legible hand. They were kept rolled in sheepskin, and the remains of a binding ribbon of indeterminate color may still be seen. The original source of this account was written in the first year of the Third Age by Halgon, King's Writer of Gondor, at the order of Isildur himself. It was presumably included in the now-lost Chronicle of the Kings, a history of the Kingdom of Gondor from its founding in 3320 Second Age until the end of the Telcontar dynasty over a thousand years later. The copy at Tuckborough bears the following preface: ``This tale and several others were copied by Peregrin the First, Thain of the Shire, on his visit to Minas Tirith in the year 1441 [20 Fourth Age]. A few archaic terms and forms have been altered to conform to modern Westron usage, but otherwise it is an exact copy of Halgon's manuscript. Copied by my hand, this year of 1486 [65 Fourth Age], by Isengar, son of Isembold, Thain's Scribe.''

The account of the great naval battle at Pelargir is extracted from the journal of Amroth, a lord of the Sindarin Elves. He kept this daily record from 2960 Second Age until he took the Straight Road and departed from Middle-earth in 1294 Third Age. Before he sailed he gave the journal to his friend Elrond Peredhil. Portions of it were lost or crumbled away over the centuries, but several volumes survived in the library at Rivendell. They were there copied by Meriadoc, Master of Buckland, and brought back to the Shire in 1428 Shire Reckoning (7 Fourth Age). This extract is from a copy in the library at Tuckborough, bearing the inscription, ``Master Meriadoc ordered this copy of Amroth's journal to be made as a gift for his friend Peregrin, Thain of the Shire. This I have done. By my hand, Anson Brandybuck, 6 Blotmath, 1436 [15 Fourth Age].''

The primary source of the material for this book comes from the invaluable Journal of Ohtar, a crumbling scroll in the great collection of the Tooks at Great Smials. All authorities agree that the handwriting is undoubtedly Bilbo's, but it bears corrections and marginal notes in another hand. These notes were apparently made soon after the manuscript was completed, as several take the form of notes to Bilbo. For this reason, most scholars believe this manuscript is a copy sent by Bilbo to another authority for correction and revision. Presumably it was then used to produce a final copy which has not survived.

The identity of this early editor is a subject of great debate among scholars. He was obviously very knowledgeable in the events of the tale and fluent in Sindarin, for some of Ohtar's errors and idiomatic expressions have been accurately translated. For this reason most authorities have identified the probable editor as Elrond Peredhil, Bilbo's longtime friend and host. The present editors, however, detect what we believe to be a Mannish outlook and attitudes in these marginal notes, and a strong case (see An Analysis of The Journal of Ohtar and Related MSS, by the editors) can be made that this may be the only extant sample of the hand of Elessar Telcontar, First King of the Reunited Kingdom.

Bilbo produced this manuscript during his residence at Rivendell, and there are numerous indications that it was completed before the War of the Rings, for there is no reference to the eventual fate of the One Ring nor his nephew Frodo's pivotal rôle in that war. This would place the manuscript between the years 3002 and 3018 Third Age. In translating Ohtar's work, Bilbo was in a position few historians enjoy. He enjoyed full access to the extensive library at Rivendell and also to its master, Elrond Peredhil, who of course was present at many of the events described. He could also consult his friends King Elessar (known as Aragorn or simply Strider in those days before his coronation) and the wizard Gandalf Greyhame, two of the greatest historians of his age.

Bilbo's scroll is a relatively short work, a condensation and translation into Westron of a very old book Bilbo had found in Elrond's library. In a foreward, Bilbo describes the original as ``a small black hide-bound volume, much worn and stained and with the back cover missing. On the front cover is written in a different hand: The Journal of Ohtar Kingsquire.'' It was in the format of a journal, though whether Ohtar actually carried it about and made daily entries, or if it was copied down later from the original journal, Bilbo was unable to determine. It was either brought to Rivendell by Ohtar or written by him soon after his arrival there. From other sources we know that Ohtar and his two companions arrived at Rivendell in the late summer or early fall of 3 Third Age and left with Isildur's son Valandil for Annúminas some months later, probably early in the year 4. As far as can be determined, Bilbo's is the only copy of it ever made. The original journal is assumed to have been included in Elrond's belongings when he went Over Sea with all the other surviving Ringbearers in 3021, bringing the end of the Third Age.


The present editors have had the privilege of examining these records at first hand. As we pored over the dusty archives in the laborious task of translating a fragmentary work in a complex and long-forgotten language, a fascinating tale began to emerge. Here was truly the stuff of legend. The heroes of that time seem like giants to us. Their joys and sorrows thrill us again as they did when the stories were read to young hobbits in the fire-lit halls of the Great Smials so many thousand of years ago. It occurred to us that these tales would also merit novelization and publication in the manner (if not the skill) of Professor Tolkien. But what should be the theme of the book; where should it begin and end? It needed a central character as a focus for the narrative.

Of all the heroes of those days, none stands out so clearly, none catches our attention and curiosity more than Isildur Elendilson. Remembered now chiefly for his fatal flaw -- his ill choice on Orodruin that doomed the world to another long age of struggle against Sauron -- he was nonetheless a remarkable man, a shrewd general, and a mighty king. He was of the House of Elros, greatest of all lines of Men, but in his veins flowed also the blood of both Elda and Vala [Elros was the great-grandson of Lúthien Tinúviel, daughter of Thingol Greycloak of Doriath and Melian the Vala]. He was a Númenórean prince, Lord of Ithilien, King of Arnor, and for two brief years the High King of the Realms in Exile. He founded a dynasty of kings that ruled the Dúnedain for five thousand years.

By nature a strong and resolute man; by training a powerful and canny king; born in the fires of civil war; tempered by the loss of his native land and the hard early years of the founding of Gondor; and hardened to adamant by a long and bloody war, Isildur Elendilson was not a man to be disregarded, even by Sauron himself.

He was a man of contradictions and paradoxes: a valiant and merciless warrior but also a loving husband and father; esteeming virtue and honor above all things but intolerant of the weaknesses of others; of noble lineage and demeanor but also comfortable with his subjects and beloved by them. Even the great error that doomed him and marred the age that followed was not due to weakness on his part. It was his very nobility and virtue, his confidence in his ability to control Sauron's Ring, that brought about his downfall.

His contemporaries heaped all praise and honor on him as a paragon of royal virtue, but his heirs had reason enough to curse his name. What sort of man was Isildur, the only Man to wear Sauron's One Ring? We decided to concentrate our research on this remarkable figure.


In the beginning was The One, Eru Ilúvatar, and he created the Holy Ones, the Ainur. And the Ainur were of two kinds: the great Valar and the lesser Maiar. And the Ainur took the mighty theme of Eru's thought and they raised their voices together and they sang the world into being. But Melkor, the mightiest of the Valar, thought to increase his own power and glory and introduced his own discords into the Music.

And then Eru made his Children: the Firstborn, or Eldar; and the Followers, or Atani. The Eldar call themselves the Quendi, or Speakers, but the other races call them Elves. They age until they choose to stop and then they live forever unless they are slain, when they Cross through The Curtain and return to whence they came. At any time, they can choose to sail away into the West and follow the Straight Path that leaves the Circles of the World. Then they will be reunited with all their kindred that have already Crossed. In contrast, the Atani, or Men, always grow older until they die, then they go where none but Eru knows. This the Elves are forever denied, and for this reason Death is called the Gift of Man.

Then Fëanor the Elvensmith created the Silmarilli, The Great Jewels of Light. And Melkor coveted them and seized them for himself. Then was Melkor known as Morgoth, the Enemy. And that race of the Elves called the Noldor sailed east to the land of Middle-earth to contend with him. One house of the Men of Middle-earth, the Edain, aided the Noldor in their war against Morgoth. Still they suffered only defeats until one Man, Eärendil the Mariner, sailed away to the west and Crossed through the Curtain, the only mortal Man ever to do so, and he went to Valinor and sought the assistance of the Valar. In the end they consented and the world was changed. Morgoth was driven from the circles of the world and his fastness of Thangorodrim destroyed, but many of the northern lands of the Noldor were sunk beneath the sea. Valinor was removed from the reach of mortals and Eärendil himself was set in the sky as the Evening Star. Thus ended the First Age of the world.


After the war, some of the Noldorin Exiles sailed away from Middle-earth to return to their homes in Eldamar, near to the shores of Valinor. But many remained in Middle-earth, setting up new realms called Lindon and Eregion and Lothlórien. The Valar rewarded the Edain by granting them the great island of Elenna, between Middle-earth and Eldamar, but they placed upon them the Ban of the Valar, forbidding the ships of Men to travel west toward Eldamar and Valinor. The Men established the kingdom of Númenor there that grew mighty on its sea-borne trade. They became known as the Dúnedain, or Men of the West. Those Men who had remained in Middle-earth were known as the Uialedain, or Men of the Twilight, and they formed petty tribes, often at war with one another.

As the power and wealth of Númenor increased, its kings grew proud and came to resent the Ban of the Valar. The people of Númenor became divided, many sharing their king's envy of the immortality of the Elves and the Valar. But always a minority remained faithful to the Valar and maintained friendly relations with the Elves. The kings ceased to use the Elvish tongues and reverted to the ancient tongue of their ancestors, the Edain of Middle-earth. In the thirtieth century, King Ar-Adûnakhor persecuted the Faithful and they fled into the westernmost province of Andúnië where their party was strongest. Soon after this the use of the Elvish tongues was forbidden by royal decree.

In 3175 Tar-Palantír came to the throne and tried to end the division. He pardoned the Faithful, but feelings by this time were too high against them, and there was rebellion in the land. In 3255, Palantír died and the rebel leader, Palantír's nephew, seized the scepter and took the name Ar-Pharazôn. Palantír's heirs fled to Andúnië.

At this time a new evil arose in Middle-earth in the form of Sauron. He was a Maia, one of the lesser Ainur, and he had been Morgoth's chief lieutenant and student. In the mountain-ringed southeast portions of Middle-earth he had secretly built for himself the realm of Mordor, the Black Land, peopled by orcs, an evil race created by his master. He deceived Celebrimbor of Eregion into teaching him how he had made the Great Rings of Power, and he forged for himself the One Ring to absorb the powers of all the Great Rings. With this new weapon he rose against the Elves and the Uialedain, and he drove them back before the fury of his armies. The Elves were hard-pressed until Ar-Pharazôn in 3262 sent his mighty fleet to Middle-earth to intervene. The overwhelming might of the Númenorean fleet quickly prevailed, and Sauron was taken back to Númenor in chains. But over the years he gradually rose from captive to guest of the court to advisor, and finally to first minister. He fueled the pride and arrogance of the king and urged him to ever greater persecution of the Faithful; but Amandil, Lord of Andúnië, and his son Elendil steadfastly maintained their opposition to Pharazôn's policies. This was the troubled world into which Isildur was born.

Of Isildur's early life we know very little. He was born in 3289 Second Age in Dol Elros, the chief city of Andúnië. His father was Elendil, the Prince of Andúnië and the spiritual and political leader of the Party of the Faithful. In 3285, Elendil married Aldamirë, a woman of southern Númenor, and she gave him two sons, Isildur in 3289 and Anárion in 3296. Amandil was elderly by this time and the people rallied around the handsome and charismatic young prince Elendil, just as they would gather to his eldest son many years later. In 3310, the aging king Pharazôn, urged by Sauron, resolved to assail Valinor to acquire the immortality of the Valar for himself. He began building ships and engines of war to Sauron's designs. The Faithful tried to dissuade the lords and people of Númenor from their blasphemous course, but Pharazôn punished all dissent with death. A religious and patriotic fervor developed against the Faithful and Andúnië was isolated from the rest of the kingdom, an embattled fiefdom.

In 3319, the Great Armament sailed for Valinor. Elendil believed that all of Númenor would be destroyed when the Ban was broken, and he began preparing for a hasty evacuation. His father Amandil attempted to repeat Eärendil's feat by enlisting the aid of the Valar, but his expedition was never seen again. Pharazôn landed in Valinor and the Valar enforced their Ban by withdrawing their gift of the island of Elenna. The island crumbled and sank forever beneath the waves. Of the Great Armament, its hundreds of ships and thousands of men, no trace was ever found.

Elendil and his sons and hundreds of their followers escaped the destruction in a fleet of nine ships, taking with them the treasured relics of their ancient line: the Scepter of the Lords of Andúnië; the Ring of Barahir; a seedling of Nimloth, the White Tree; the nine Palantíri or seeing stones; and the great sword Narsil -- all gifts of the Eldar to the Lords of Andúnië.

Isildur was a young man of thirty as he stood in the prow of his ship and watched the domes and towers of his homeland torn asunder and cast beneath the waves. The forlorn little fleet was borne away by a terrible storm and became separated. Elendil at last reached Mithlond, the Grey Havens of the Elves of Lindon, and was taken in by his friend Gil-galad, King of the Noldor. Later he was granted land east of Lindon and he and his people removed there. They founded a realm with its capital at Annúminas beside lake Nenuial, and named the land Arnor, the Royal Land.

Isildur and Anárion landed near to the one haven of the Faithful in Middle-earth, the port city of Pelargir near the mouth of the Great River Anduin. They began the ordering of a great realm along the Anduin. They built their capital Osgiliath, Citadel of the Stars, where the mountains drew close to the river on either side. The fair lands along the River became dotted with farms and vineyards and orchards and the rocky land soon began to yield its richness. They named their new land Gondor, the Land of Stone, and divided it into two provinces separated by the River; Ithilien on the east under Isildur, and Anórien on the west ruled by Anárion. Isildur built a fortress city high in a pass of the Ephel Dúath and named it Minas Ithil, the Tower of the Rising Moon. On the slopes of Mindolluin, the easternmost peak of the Ered Nimrais, Anárion built Minas Anor, the Tower of the Setting Sun. For many years Arnor and Gondor, the Realms in Exile, prospered and grew in power and wealth, and the Great North Road was busy with many travelers and wagons bearing produce and goods between the sister kingdoms. In 3409 Isildur married Vorondomë, daughter of the Captain of the Ships of Ithilien. She gave him four sons between 3412 and 3429: Elendur, Aratan, Ciryon, and Valandil.

The future looked very bright for the young lord Isildur: a fair land to rule; a beautiful and loving queen; a growing family; and the prospect of one day becoming King of the Realms in Exile and ruling the greatest kingdom in Middle-earth. Then in the autumn of 3429, disaster struck. A huge force of barbarians, trolls, orcs, and many other fell creatures swept over the mountains out of Mordor. They were led by Sauron, in a new and even more powerful form, dead and yet not dead. All had thought him killed in the fall of Númenor, but he had escaped with his hatred for the Dúnedain unabated. His savage hordes swept across Ithilien and besieged Minas Ithil. After a brief but bitter struggle, the gates were breached and the enemy spread through the city, destroying all in their path. The defenders formed a wedge around their families and drove desperately through their attackers, eventually reaching Osgiliath.

The wave of the Black Host pursued them and swarmed around the walls of Osgiliath. The city withstood the siege, though the eastern portion was much damaged. That night, with Minas Ithil lost and ringing to the harsh cries and foul revelry of the orcs, Isildur stood helplessly on the walls of Osgiliath and watched the crofts and villages of his kingdom going up in flames. His wife Vorondomë was so shaken by the loss and horrors of that night she became a frightened, broken woman, never again in her life to laugh. Isildur looked out on his suffering realm and vowed to avenge the evils done that day.

Leaving his brother to hold the River and defend what remained of their kingdom, Isildur and his family fled down Anduin to the sea and eventually to his father at Annúminas. There they secured the help of their old ally, Gil-galad of Lindon. Uniting the armies of Arnor, Gondor, and Lindon, and drawing many volunteers from other neighboring realms, they formed the Army of the Alliance and marched against Sauron's hordes. Slowly they pressed their foes south and east, driving them back to the very doors of Sauron's own land of Mordor. There, in the wide fenny plains known as Dagorlad, was fought perhaps the greatest battle of ancient times. Tens of thousands fell on both sides, but eventually the allies prevailed and the Morannon, the Black Gate of Mordor was broken and taken. Sauron and his forces withdrew to the south and took refuge in his impregnable fortress of Barad-dûr. The Úlairi, the Nine Kings of Men turned into Ring-wraiths by the Great Rings they wear, ruled in Minas Ithil and launched frequent raids into Anórien. The allies besieged the Dark Tower but could neither force the gates nor draw Sauron out. Unable to prevail and unwilling to depart, the vast Army of the Alliance remained camped about the Tower for seven long years. Many attempts had been made to take the Tower, but all had failed. Finally, the Lords of the Alliance formed a bold new plan; one last desperate attempt that would end the stalemate and ensure either victory or total defeat.

Year 3441 Second Age

01  Apr 15  Council of Gil-galad
02  Apr 16 
03  Apr 17 
04  Apr 18 
05  Apr 19  M: Isildur, Gildor, and Elrond leave Barad-dûr
06  Apr 20 
07  Apr 21 
08  Apr 22 
09  Apr 23 
10  Apr 24  A: Gildor and Elrond part from Isildur at Morannon
11  Apr 25  E: Gildor and Elrond camp at Emyn Muil
12  Apr 26 
13  Apr 27  E: Gildor and Elrond cross Anduin at Celebrant
14  Apr 28  M: Isildur arrives at Rauros and crosses Anduin; Gildor and Elrond arrive in Lothlorien
15  Apr 29  M: Isildur departs from Rauros; Gildor and Elrond meet with Celeborn and Galadriel
16  Apr 30 
17  May 01  M: Gildor leaves Lothlorien, is refused entry at Khazad-dûm; E: Isildur crosses Entwade
18  May 02  M: Gildor starts up the Dimrill Stair
19  May 03 
20  May 04  Gildor crosses the Misty Mountains
21  May 05 
22  May 06  A: Gildor arrives at the WestGate of Moria; Isildur arrives at Angrenost
23  May 07  A: Gildor arrives at Glanduin ford
24  May 08 
25  May 09  M: Isildur departs from Angrenost; E: Gildor arrives at Tharbad
26  May 10 
27  May 11 
28  May 12  M: Gildor departs from Tharbad
29  May 13 
30  May 14 
31  May 15 
32  May 16  M: Gildor crosses Baranduin; A: Isildur arrives Anglond; E: Gildor rrives at the Emyn Beraid
33  May 17  A: Gildor departs from Emyn Beraid
34  May 18  M: Corsairs attack Anglond; E: Gildor arrives at Mithlond
35  May 19 
36  May 20 
37  May 21 
38  May 22 
39  May 23 
40  May 24 
41  May 25 
42  May 26 
43  May 27 
44  May 28 
45  May 29 
46  May 30 
47  Jun 01 
48  Jun 02  M: Isildur departs from Anglond
49  Jun 03 
50  Jun 04  A: Isildur meets the men of Ethir Lefnui at Nanbrethil
51  Jun 05  M: Isildur departs from Nanbrethil
52  Jun 06 
53  Jun 07 
54  Jun 08 
55  Jun 09 
56  Jun 10 
57  Jun 11  M: Gildor sails from Mithlond; A: Isildur arrives at Erech; E: First council with Romach
58  Jun 12  M: Malithôr arrives at Erech; Cirdan sails from Mithlond; A: Second Council of Erech
59  Jun 13  M: Isildur curses the Eredrim; Isildur and Malithôr depart from Erech; Isildur rides to Tarlang's Neck
60  Jun 14 
61  Jun 15  A: Isildur passes Calembel; E: Malithôr arrives at Ringlond and sails for Tolfalas
62  Jun 16 
63  Jun 17  Isildur passes Ethring
64  Jun 18  M: Isildur enters Lebennin; E: Malithôr arrives at Tolfalas
65  Jun 19 
66  Jun 20  A: Isildur arrives at Linhir
67  Jun 21  M: Galadrim depart from Lothlorien; A: Council of Linhir
68  Jun 22  M: Isildur departs from Linhir
69  Jun 23 
70  Jun 24  A: Isildur arrives at Pelargir
71  Jun 25  Muster of Pelargir begins
72  Jun 26 
73  Jun 27  N: Corsails sail from Tolfalas; Gildor arrives Pelargir
74  Jun 28  2AM Corsairs arrive at Ethir Anduin; 7AM Cirdan arrives at Ethir Anduin; M: Isildur departs from Pelargir
75  Jun 29  5AM Corsairs attack Pelargir; 10 AM Cirdan attacks Corsairs; E: Cirdan departs from Pelargir
76  Jun 30  E: Isildur arrives at Osgiliath
77  Jun 31  M: Galadrim arrive at Osgiliath; E: Cirdan arrives at Osgiliath
78  loëndë  Council of Osgiliath
79  Jul 01  M: Invasion of Ithilien; Noon: Capture of Minas Ithil; E: Crossing of Pass
80  Jul 02  M: Ride to doom, Sauron breaks siege, is pursued; E: fall of Sauron
81  Jul 03 
82  Jul 04 


Chapter One
The Men of the Mountains

The valley of Morthond was still, save for the tumble and splash of water on stone. Morning mists still hovered above the small icy stream winding down the floor of the valley. Though the year was drawing on to midsummer, frost sparkled from the tips of each grass blade, for the valley was high in the flanks of the Ered Nimrais, the White Mountains that are the rocky backbone of Gondor, Land of Stone.

Gradually the valley awoke. The hoarse croak of a raven drifted faintly down through the still air as the rising sun touched the rocky heights above. A clatter of small rocks betrayed the presence of a marmot setting out on his daily search for food among the rocks at the foot of the cliffs.

Then a low door creaked open and a woman stepped out of a rough stone cottage. She stood a moment, yawning and looking up at the brightening sky, then she picked up a wooden bucket and went down to the Morthond stream to fetch water. Soon others joined her, a woman or a child from each of the twenty or so low sod-roofed houses clustered along the stream. Soon a thin vertical stream of smoke was rising from each smoke-hole.

Then the first man appeared, stooping under the log lintel of his door. He too looked about at the day, stretching and scratching. He wore a long tunic of coarse-spun undyed wool, leather boots stuffed with straw against the chill air, and he had a large black fur drawn about his shoulders. He bent to splash his face with water from a basin filled by the woman. Then, puffing and blowing at the icy water, he pulled his cloak more tightly about himself and stalked up to the top of a rounded hill that stood beside the village.

At the top of the hill, half-buried in the ground, was a strange stone. It was a huge black globe, as smooth as glass. It must have been enormously heavy, for even half-buried it stood nearly as tall as the man as he stood beside it and gazed south down the valley. In the clear morning air he could see for league upon league as the land fell gradually away. The Morthond wound away south and west until it disappeared behind a range of low hills some miles away. His eyes swept slowly around to the west. Suddenly he stiffened and stared under his shading hand.

Miles away, a cloud of dust hung in the still air, marking the path of the road that wound up from the west, between the Morthond and the western walls of the valley. The morning sun turned the cloud to gold. He stood staring a moment or two more. Clearly the cloud was approaching. The man turned then and walked quickly back down to the village. He went to the largest house, a long hall built of massive logs, and stood before its door.

``Romach,'' he called, but the only answer was a low growl.

``Lord,'' he tried again, ``an host approaches.''

``Eh?'' A large head with long curling hair, black shot with grey, was thrust through the door. ``Ah, it must be the embassy from Umbar, come at last.''

``I think not, my lord. They are too many. An army rides toward us from Anfalas. Perhaps an hour or two away.''

``What say you? How is this?'' Romach emerged hurriedly. He was a big man, with a bearing of command. His shoulders and arms were broad and strong, but his skin was old and scarred, no longer the most powerful man in the tribe, as he had long been. He was dressed much like the other, save a jeweled belt and on his head was a thin gold circlet. ``Come,'' he said. ``Let me see.''

They ascended the hill again and stood staring into the west. The dust was closer now, and here and there beneath it bright points of metal flashed in the clear light.

``You are right, it is not the Umbardrim,'' said Romach. He peered into the distance. ``But hardly an army. I would guess no more than three hundreds. They will be here before the second hour. Could the ambassador have betrayed us?'' He turned suddenly and bounded down the slope, very nimbly for a man of his age and girth. He was shouting over his shoulder. ``We must be ready! Sound the horns! To arms!''

Soon the village was in an uproar. The women wakened the children and bustled them up toward the refuges in the head of the valley. A long ox horn was winded and soon answered from the valleys on either side, then from other valleys beyond. The men arrayed themselves for war and assembled at the broad shallow ford where the west road crossed the Morthond. In thirty minutes they had nearly two hundred and fifty drawn up, still buckling their harness, but ready to fight. In an hour the first companies from the other valleys could be seen, picking their way over the high green passes.

The approaching host had long been hidden by a fold of the land. Now they reappeared over a rise in the road, much closer. The men craned their heads to see what they were facing. First appeared spear heads and furled banners, then the flowing crests and gleaming helmets of the lead riders bobbed into sight. There was an uneasy murmur among the men. This was no band of robbers, as sometimes roamed the high valleys in summers, but heavily-armed, experienced soldiers. Fingers tightened on the hafts of weapons.

Romach glanced over his shoulder nervously. Two companies were just entering the village and a third could be seen riding hard down the east road. Reassured, he turned back to study the lead riders, now approaching the ford. From the corners of his eyes, he could see their scout riders splashing into the river a few hundred yards to either side.

Those in the van were mounted but riding slowly, for the greater part of the men were on foot. Their faces were set and grim. They bore the look of men that had made a hard journey. Their clothing was of many colors and styles, though all dusty and weather-stained. Many wore odd bits of armor. They trudged along strongly in the rapidly warming sun. They marched under many standards and bore the devices of many lords and masters unfamiliar to Romach. But at their head flew a broad emerald banner emblazoned with a white tree surmounted by a silver crown and seven stars. He stared for a moment, then roared to his men.

``Stay your hands!'' he bellowed. ``That is the banner of Gondor. These are not our foes.'' The men relaxed as one and stood whispering to one another as the newcomers approached. The first riders came to the bank of the river and paused. Their leader was a tall man, sitting straight on a huge white stallion. He wore a blue robe over a suit of mail, and he wore a crownéd helmet bearing the white wings of a seabird. Romach stared grimly, for well he knew that man, even before the newcomers' standard bearer spurred his horse forward into the midst of the stream.

``Greetings to the Men of the Mountains,'' the herald called in a loud voice. ``Isildur Elendilson, King of Gondor, seeks to meet with your lord.''

Romach stepped forward. ``I am Romach, Lord of the Eredrim. Welcome to Erech, Men of Gondor.''

Isildur came forward then and with his herald crossed the stream and rode up before Romach. He lifted off his winged helmet and held it beneath his arm. A long dark braid, black as night, tumbled over his shoulder to his waist. His keen grey eyes looked piercingly into Romach's. ``Greetings to you, Romach,'' he said. ``Long it is since last we spoke.''

``Aye, it is that, Isildur King,'' said Romach, looking up at him. ``Twenty winters have whitened the heads of the Ered Nimrais since that day.''

``I hope they have left you well?''

``Well, enough, though my head is whitened as well, as you see.''

Isildur smiled grimly, then dismounted to clasp arms with Romach. ``I come in great haste, Romach. We bear many tidings, but perhaps they would be best related in private.''

``Let us go to my hall, then,'' replied Romach. ``See that the king's people and their horses are given food and shelter,'' he called to his lieutenants. ``And send for the women to return.''

As they walked side by side up the hill to the village, Romach stole sidelong glances at the tall king striding beside him. He seemed still a man in his prime, stern of face and mighty of limb, though he had looked just the same a half century before when Romach was only a child.

For Isildur was not like other men. He was a Dúnadan, of the race of men that had long ago sailed from Middle-earth to Númenor in the west. Dwelling there near to the Blessed Lands all those long centuries, they had become tall and long-lived and powerful, wise in the lore and arts of their friends the Elves. But those who remained in Middle-earth, the Uialedain or the Men of the Twilight, had fallen into rivalries and petty wars, and they dwindled and their years ever lessened. Many fell under the sway of Sauron, the Dark Lord of Mordor, and turned to evil and their houses declined.

But then Númenor had been thrown down and the few survivors, led by Isildur's father Elendil, had returned to Middle-earth. They established great kingdoms and set themselves up as lords over the Uialedain. Many welcomed their return, thankful for the peace and unity the Dúnedain had brought to the war-torn land. But not all Uialedain lords were pleased to bow to the Men of the West.

Romach showed the king into his hall. Isildur stooped under the door, for he was nearly a head taller than Romach. He looked around as his eyes grew accustomed to the dark interior of the hall. A large fire smoldered in a pit in the center, the smoke rising among blackened beams to escape from a hole in the center of the roof. Along either side, behind rows of carved and painted wooden columns, were raised bed platforms, heaped with skins and woolen blankets in disarray from the morning's hurried departure.

Romach led Isildur to the platform at the head of the hall, where stood a high-backed wooden throne behind a massive oaken table. He pulled two stools from under the table and he and Isildur sat.

``I am sorry, Sire, that there are none to wait on you. We sent the servants with the women and children to take refuge when we spied your approach.''

``It matters not,'' said Isildur, stretching out his legs and sighing. ``We do not seek your hospitality, Romach. Sending your people to safety is a wise precaution in these troubled times. I remember there are extensive caverns at the head of this valley. Is that where they are?''

Romach seemed surprised that the king was aware of the caves. ``Aye,'' he said. ``Were we to fall here, it would take a mighty army to roust them out of those dark ways. Only we Eredrim know the hundreds of twisting tunnels under the Ered Nimrais. Why, some of the ways pierce the very mountain's heart, so that a bold and resolute man may enter at Erech and emerge in Dunharrow on the borders of Calenardhon, a dozen miles away. Our people are safe indeed in the caverns of Erech.''

Isildur nodded his approval. ``You were very quick to take action when you saw us. Have you then seen enemies in your land before?''

Romach shrugged. ``Bands of brigands occasionally appear and cause some trouble in the higher valleys, especially in summer when many of the men are up in the high pastures with the herds. They're outlanders, wandered up from strange lands in the south, `tis said. And occasionally, I'm sorry to say, they're joined by some of the local lads, the wild ones, after the excitement, or the plunder. We are ever watchful. But we did not expect the King of Gondor, especially coming from the west.''

``I daresay you did not expect me on any road.''

``True enough, Sire. It has been long since so much as a merchant has been to see us from Gondor. We could well do with the trade.''

``Things are going ill in Gondor,'' Isildur admitted grimly. ``Most of the men have been long away, fighting in Gorgoroth, and we have little time for governance or commerce. I am afraid all the provinces are forced onto their own resources. We can send you neither aid nor supplies, nor can the wealthier citizens of Osgiliath escape the summer heat by visiting your fair valleys, as they once were wont.''

``Do any still dwell in Osgiliath? We had heard that city was destroyed.''

``Then you have heard more than the truth. It is true that in the first onslaught the enemy captured and defiled the eastern districts of the city, beyond the Anduin. The people have fled to the west shore. But the Great Bridge still stands, and a strong garrison guards it. The river is now the frontier.''

``Ithilien then remains in enemy hands?''

``The province is held by neither side and is a land of great danger for all, be they Elf, Man, or orc. We occasionally sortie into East Osgiliath or into the countryside beyond and there have been many skirmishes, but nothing decisive as yet. My own capital of Minas Ithil is yet held by the Úlairi, the most fell of Sauron's servants.''

``You cannot retake your capital?'' asked Romach in surprise. ``Is the mighty army of Gondor not strong enough to take one city?

Isildur's jaw tightened, but his voice was still even. ``We dare not even attempt it. Our forces encircle Sauron in the Dark Tower, but he is yet mighty. He is besieged, but we are no less trapped than he. We dare not break our siege to assail Minas Ithil. And so my beautiful city remains in the hands of the enemy, while we are helpless to free it.''

``But we rejoiced when we heard that the men of Gondor had broken the Black Gate and entered Mordor itself. We thought to hear soon that you had taken the Black Tower. But years have passed, and yet you say the Barad-dûr still stands?''

Isildur was becoming irritated by Romach's questions. Surely such news of the war had long since reached even these remote valleys. Romach seemed to be emphasizing the Alliance's ineffectiveness so far against Sauron. But why?

``The Barad-dûr is mighty beyond belief,'' Isildur replied. ``You should see it, Romach. All who approach it are filled with dread and black despair. I have seen brave men quail at the sight. It is built of black adamant so hewn and joined that it is as smooth as glass for hundreds of feet up to the first parapet. It stands close-ringed by a chasm so deep we have never been able to sound it, preventing us from close approach to the walls. The only entrance is by an immense bridge of black iron, and that leads to a massive steel gate that has long been shut.

``Smokes and reeks constantly obscure the plain, so that only the upper towers of the Barad-dûr can be seen standing above the murk. Poisonous fumes boil out of the abyss, but we know not whether from the design of the Enemy, or from some effect of Mount Orodruin, the fire mountain which stands but a few leagues away and is ever active. We can bring no siege engines to bear against the walls or gate. No catapult can overtop the walls, but Sauron assails us at will with arrows and darts, and burning missles. Many a brave Man or Elf has died in the siege. My own younger brother Anárion was slain last year by a great stone cast from the Tower. It is maddening. Seven years now have the combined armies of Gondor and of Lindon besieged it, but still Sauron mocks us from within.''

``He must be mighty indeed,'' said Romach with wonder in his voice.

``He wields great powers,'' acknowledged Isildur, ``But we are not without powers of our own. The Army of the Alliance is the most powerful force ever assembled since the Great Armament of Ar-Pharazôn. It is led by the greatest kings and heros of Elves and Men. And we have the famous weapons: Gil-galad's spear Aeglos the Snowpoint, that none may withstand; and Elendil's blade Narsil, MoonFire. Both these weapons were doomed at their making to be the Bane of Sauron. When we assailed Mordor, Sauron himself quaked in fear.

``Though the Black Gate of Mordor was guarded by Sauron's most trusted and loyal troops, the Morannon was thrown down and the defenders ran shrieking across the vale of Udûn. We took Udûn and swept over the Plains of Gorgoroth, and we have kept him bottled up within the Tower for seven years now. But Sauron is mighty and canny and learned in the ancient lore.''

``He is said to be ages old,'' said Romach. ``Perhaps he cannot be slain. How then can you hope to defeat him?''

Isildur's irritation flared suddenly into anger. ``We hope because there is no alternative,'' he snapped. ``I assure you, Romach, the Barad-dûr will yet fall. I have sworn it beside my brother's pyre. I will throw down the Black Tower and fling it stone by stone into the chasm. I have foretold its doom, and so it shall be.''

Romach flinched back at the sudden glint of fire in Isildur's eye, the tightness of his voice. He was reminded that Isildur came long ago from fabled Númenor, where deeds of trained will and Elvish arts were practiced. Romach did not know what powers Isildur might wield, but he was rumored to be able to augur the future and to cast spells of power. He looked on Isildur in new wonder, and trembled. Never had he met a man more resolute, more determined to exact revenge.

And Isildur was but one of the lesser lords at the head of that army in Gorgoroth. The immortal Elves were led by Gil-galad, King of Lindon, the greatest living warrior of any race. With him were many noble Elf-lords, veterans of the wars against Sauron's former master Morgoth the Enemy, thousands of years ago. The men of Gondor and Arnor were commanded by Isildur's father Elendil, high king of the Dúnedain, founder of the Realms in Exile.

``I am sure you are right, Isildur,'' he said placatingly. ``The Tower must fall. And as you say, Sauron is trapped within. What can he hope to accomplish?''

``Do not think he is helpless in his captivity. He has powerful allies yet. His minions continue his depredations throughout the land. Orcs infest the Misty Mountains, wild Easterlings fall on our outposts in Harondor and the Nindalf, Corsairs raid the coasts. Even here in Lamedon, far from the Mountains of Shadow, brigands roam and plunder. These are not independent incidents -- they are the plan and the will of Sauron.''

Romach gave a thin smile. ``You ascribe all the misfortunes of the world to him, Sire. Is it not more likely that these other peoples are merely opportunists? People on the outside of power, uneasily watching the rising might of Gondor, now seeing their chance when she is weakened, distracted by Sauron?''

Isildur shook his head quickly. ``Most of our neighbors view us as protectors and friends. Throughout the Dark Years each petty kingdom was at constant war with its neighbors, instigated by Sauron himself. We Dúnedain have brought peace and understanding throughout the many lands of the Uialedain. We have not come to conquer you nor to take your land. We come as friends, with skills and assistance to offer you. Their lords are happy to have us here. Lords like yourself, Romach, who have long seen the wisdom of joining us for the mutual good of our peoples. You know Gondor is not a threat to you. Your people have long been our allies.''

``Aye,'' agreed Romach carefully. ``We have ever been on friendly terms with the kings of Gondor.''

Soon a stocky man came in wearing Isildur's livery. Romach recognized him as the herald who had announced the king.

``Ah, there you are,'' called Isildur. ``Lord Romach, this is Ohtar, my esquire and friend. What news from the camp, Ohtar? How are the men?''

``Weary and dusty, Sire, and glad of a stop. The people of Lefnui are finding it hard to maintain the pace.''

``I am sorry for that, but it cannot be helped.''

``Ethir Lefnui?'' exclaimed Romach with a start. ``The men of Ethir Lefnui are among you?'' Isildur gave him a sharp look.

``That surprises you?''

Romach fought to contain his surprise. ``No, it..., well, yes. I have never known Ethir Lefnui to send her men to fight in another land's cause.''

``It is their cause as well. They bear the same hatred for the enemy as I, and for the same cause: he has destroyed our homes. Ethir Lefnui is no more.''

``Be it not so! How did this happen?''

``Aye, not these ten days past, lord,'' said Ohtar. ``We were bound there from Anglond, and in the Nanbrethil Valley, between the mountains and the Green Hills, we came upon a ragged party of thirty men and women, the sole survivors of Ethir Lefnui. It was the Corsairs. The cursed Black Númenóreans, servants of Sauron.''

Romach nodded absently, seemingly lost in thought. ``We have heard they were abroad again, though we fear them little. Our mountain valleys are far from the sea.''

``Perhaps not far enough,'' said Isildur. ``They have assailed the strong-walled city of Anglond, and it is well up the river Anga. They nearly took it, too. Their black ships could sail far up the Morthond, and it is not impossible that you could see not friends but Corsairs coming up the west road one day soon.''

Romach smiled. ``We are strong and well prepared. In truth we do not fear an attack from the seamen of Umbar. Still, we stand ever ready.''

``It would seem so. You marshalled your forces quickly.''

``Yes, we use horns to call the men of the other valleys. They are trained to come at the first alarm.''

``Mighty must those horns be,'' said Ohtar, ``if they can be heard to the next valley. The ramparts of the Ered Nimrais are high indeed.''

Romach nodded. ``We use the horns of the wild kine of Araw. They are as long as a man and give a sound when well winded that will carry for many miles.''

Ohtar turned to Isildur. ``Such a horn would be of great use in a battle, Sire,'' he said.

``Indeed it would,'' agreed Isildur. ``Oft it is that the men cannot hear their orders in the tumult of battle. Armies have been lost because of it.''

``If you wish, Sire,'' said Romach, ``I can have a horn brought for you. A gift from the Eredrim.''

``That would please us indeed, Romach. We thank you. But we are here to ask you for a far greater gift.''

``Indeed?'' said Romach, his smile fading. But he was clearly not surprised.

``Yes. We have need of your help, to aid us in the war against Sauron. We have tried to spare the western provinces as much as possible. At first it was thought that with the aid of the Elves, the men of Ithilien and Anórien would be sufficient. I also believe my father just wanted to know that there was a corner of the realm as yet untouched by the Shadow, where people could live in peace as before. Therefore we have never called upon the people of the Ered Nimrais and the western coasts, though we have had many volunteers from Lamedon and Lebennin and even as far as Anfalas. But as you see, the war in the east does not go well. The men are weary of the long siege on the plain of Gorgoroth. Gondor has need of your help. We need every man you can spare from the needs of your own safety. I must call on you at last to fulfill the oath of the Eredrim, as was sworn to me by Karmach on this very spot nearly six score years ago.''

``The Oath of Karmach is well-remembered by the Eredrim,'' Romach assured them. ``Although it was a very long time ago. Karmach has slept in his barrow these ninety years now.'' He was finding it hard to reconcile the man before him with the semi-religious royal figure out of the old legends. This man had actually spoken with Romach's distant ancestor, the founder of his line.

``Karmach was a good man and a brave warrior,'' said Isildur, his eyes distant as he stared into the past. ``And well-loved by his people.'' He smiled. ``I can still hear their cheers when he announced our alliance. He was a wise and far-sighted king.''

Romach was less than certain that his ancestor had acted wisely in joining the fortunes of his people to those of the Dúnedain. He couldn't help wondering if old Karmach hadn't been simply seeking the strongest ally in a dangerous time. After all, his old master Sauron, who had guided and advised the Eredrim for centuries, was suddenly and unexpectedly undone, lost in the downfall of Númenor that he had helped to bring about. Now enemies threatened on every side. And here were these newcomers, these Dúnedain, borne on the wings of storm out of the sea, asking if he wanted to be their allies. They were numerous and mighty, fierce warriors, a hundred or more years old, learned in all arts, bearers of magical weapons and Elvish sorcery. How far-sighted did he have to be to see which way the wind blew?

But things were different now. Sauron, whom all thought lost, had returned in another form, no longer fair to look upon, it was said, but more powerful than ever. In all these years of war, the Dúnedain and the Elves have been able to accomplish little more than retake a few miles of desert.

But Romach was careful to let none of these thoughts show on his face. He licked his lips anxiously. Much depended on how he chose his next words.

``Much has changed in the world since those times, Sire,'' he said, watching Isildur's face. ``Karmach was speaking for a nomadic tribe of a few thousands, helpless against its warlike neighbors. But now our neighbors are our friends. And we Eredrim have not been idle. We number nearer a hundred thousands now, and we have villages in every bay of the mountains from Nanbrethil to Gilrain. We watch the mountain passes and the fords of the great roads for Gondor.''

``Much has changed,'' said Isildur calmly, though Ohtar saw the hard dark gleam in his eye that always bode ill for someone. ``But much remains the same. The Gondorrim and the Eredrim are still allies, and common enemies still threaten. Karmach swore to me on the Great Stone that the Eredrim would always come at need if called by the King of Gondor. As I swore for Gondor's part to aid the Eredrim against any attack. And we both did agree that these oaths would be binding on our descendants and successors. It was a solemn bond. Such things do not change.''

``Of, course, Sire,'' said Romach quickly. ``The Oath of Karmach is taught to every child. Indeed, it has been but recently the subject of much discussion among the people. To be honest, Sire, many of my people feel that we should remain here to guard our homes. They have little interest in the war between Gondor and Mordor. They feel it does not concern them.''

``And what of you, Romach,'' asked Isildur. ``Do you deem the war with Sauron is of no concern to you?''

``Of course we are concerned. It is most uncomfortable when one's neighbors are at war with each other. It is difficult not to become involved. After all, our friends are suffering, and our trade is disrupted.''

``You will have more than your trade disrupted if Gondor falls.''

``We know that. But we are no longer bands of wandering warriors. We are a nation of herdsmen and farmers. We have no mighty army to send with you.''

``Were you not just praising the readiness of your army?'' asked Isildur slyly.

``Our army, as you call it, is but a militia.They are ready at a horn's call to defend their homes, but they return to their homes after each call to arms. They are bold and well-trained, but they are no knights errant, to pack up and troop off to war. Who would defend our homes, our families?''

``I do not ask you to leave your homes unguarded,'' replied Isildur. ``But many of us have already lost our homes, are some are still losing them, as at the Ethir Lefnui. There is no longer safety in remaining behind in your mountain fastnesses, Romach. If Gondor falls and Sauron prevails, there will be no safe haven in any land.''

``But Sire,'' said Romach. ``We guard the western approaches to Gondor. We cannot leave the fords unguarded. We could protect Gondor better by remaining here.''

Isildur's eyes blazed. ``Of course the fords must be guarded, and your lands and villages. But you are a numerous people and your men are renowned fighters. Gondor has need of your help.'' The king bent his eyes upon Romach's. ``Are you saying you would refuse the summons?'' he growled, and Romach's face blanched.

``No, my king,'' he exclaimed quickly. ``I am only explaining that it will take some time to call all the valleys together, to make known what is required, to establish suitable defenses for those that remain. Provisions must be gathered, transportation arranged, compensation provided. Such things cannot be done quickly.''

``And yet I say unto you,'' said Isildur, ``that haste is vital at this critical hour. We are all but a small piece of a much greater whole. Even as we speak, great forces are moving, gathering, throughout all of Middle-earth. All are to be drawn together this Midsummer's Day, now but three weeks away. Then much that is hidden will be revealed. There will plans be made and all our efforts bent to a final deciding conflict.

``According to the schedule arranged, I was to have been at Erech weeks ago. But at Angrenost and again at Anglond I was delayed by the designs of the Enemy. Now time is short indeed. You must move with all haste.''

``I will send messengers to all the valleys tomorrow,'' said Romach. ``Within three days, I will have the Elders of every tribe of the Eredrim before you.''

``We do not need your Elders,'' said Isildur. ``We need your warriors.''

``I am not a king,'' exclaimed Romach. ``I am the lord only of Erech. The Eredrim are a confederation of tribes. The Elders must be consulted on any decision so momentous.''

Isildur stared, struggling to control his frustration. Romach was frightened, but surely he didn't dare break the oath. Perhaps he was just speaking the truth.

``Summon your Elders, then,'' he growled. ``But let the messengers carry word also to the valleys that the Eredrim are summoned. Let the weapontake begin at once.''

``So it shall be done,'' said Romach.


They slept that night in their tents beside the hill of Erech, but Ohtar woke during the night to find Isildur gone from his bed. Scrambling quickly out of the tent, he saw a tall figure standing beside the stone at the top of the hill. Ohtar wrapped his cloak about him and climbed shivering up to join him. Isildur turned at his approach.

``This great stone once stood in the court of the palace at Rómenna in Númenor,'' he said, stroking it with his hand. ``It had been uncovered deep in the mountain not long after the founding of Númenor, when the foundations of the palace were hewn. No one knew whence it had come; whether it had been left there by the Valar who created the island, or whether some other still more ancient race had lived in that land before them. Elros at first would have his stonemasons cut it for use in the palace then building, but they felt some power in the strange black stone and would not. The people of the court, and especially those of the royal blood, felt drawn to it and it became an heirloom of our family. In the end it was set up in the midst of the palace with fountains playing round about and flowering trees leaning above. Yet even in that lovely setting, it seemed strange and mysterious.

"In my youth I felt myself strangely drawn to it and I spent many hours sitting near it. Father sometimes said that some of the strange powers I later discovered in myself were due to my affinity for the Black Stone. Whether that is true or not, I still feel a bond with it, as if my own powers are stronger in its proximity.

"When the Downfall of Númenor approached, father bade us leave the stone, but I would not have it lost and with great effort of many men we bore it to the havens and secured it deep in my ship, next the keel. When at length we landed at Pelargir we set it up there, but later removed it here as a token of the power and friendship of Gondor here in the western provinces. It has long been revered by the Eredrim, so they must sense its power as well.''

He was silent a while, his hand yet resting on the smooth black stone.

``I am uneasy, Ohtar. I fear Romach is up to something.''

``You think he means to break the Oath?''

``Surely not. I cannot think he would dare to openly defy us. It seemed rather that he was stalling, purposely playing for time.''

``Why would he do that?''

``I don't know.'' They stood together, watching the gibbous moon sinking behind the western cliffs.

``Some of our people were drinking with the locals tonight,'' said Ohtar. ``They told me they thought the Eredrim were not eager to join our cause.''

``Clear it is that Romach is not.''

``They also said the Eredrim, or at least Romach, seemed to be expecting someone else when we appeared this morning.''

Isildur was silent and said no more. They stood there together in the darkness for some time. Eventually Ohtar grew cold and returned to the tent, but it was much later before he heard Isildur come in.

Chapter Two
Ambassador from the South

They rose early to a fine morning. The Eredrim women brought them olives and mutton and white goat cheese with which to break their fast. Isildur sent Ohtar to seek out Romach, and he found him in his hall, in council with several of his lieutenants.

``But surely he will turn back when he sees that the Gondorrim are here?'' asked one.

``I would hope so, but you know how arrogant he...'' began Romach, then his eye fell on Ohtar at the door. ``Yes?'' he called loudly, clearly a sign to the others to break off the discussion.

``My lord Isildur sends to know if any word has been received from the other tribes.''

``No, not yet. The first are expected this afternoon. We will send word when they arrive.''

Ohtar bowed and departed, feeling their eyes on his back. He paused just outside the door, but the door warden stepped towards him and he hurried back to Isildur.

``So they do expect other visitors,'' said Isildur when Ohtar reported what he had overheard.

``Yes, someone who would not want to appear while we're here.''

``Some mischief is afoot here, but I cannot guess what it might be. We must remain alert. Pass the word to your friends among the men to see if they can learn anything.''

The men were employed repairing their gear and sharpening their weapons. Isildur met with his lieutenants, informing them they would likely remain in Erech several more days. In midmorning Ohtar heard shouting and looked up from his grindstone. The watchman that Romach kept posted at the Stone was running as fast as he could toward Romach's hall. Others of the Eredrim were gathering nearby. Ohtar joined them and found Isildur already there.

Romach and his lieutenants were whispering excitedly among themselves. Isildur strode up to them.

``What is it, Romach?'' he demanded. Romach's face blanched white. Ohtar noticed he was trembling.

``R-riders are approaching, Sire,'' he stammered.

``The Elders from the other tribes?''

``No, Sire. An embassy from another land.''

``An embassy? You did not mention yesterday that you were expecting an embassy.''

``No.'' He wiped his sweating face. Hoof beats could now be heard from the direction of the ford. ``We did not expect them to...'' he gulped. ``We did not expect them today, Sire,'' he finished.

``And whom do they represent? If they are from Anfalas, it would save me a long ride to Ringlond to meet with their lord.''

``They rode from Ringlond, Sire, but they are not the men of Anfalas.''

``Not Anfalas? Then who are they, Romach? Stop stammering and...''

Suddenly a high shrill wail cut through the babble of voices. It was a woman's scream, full of grief and terror, and it chilled the hearts of every man there. All fell silent in amazement.

Even as they wheeled to look, six riders thundered into the village under a white banner of truce. They were tall and dark, with swarthy, sun-darkened skin. Their raiment was black and red, and their leader wore a helm in the likeness of a sea eagle, its great hooked beak mirroring his own.

Ohtar gasped. ``Sire!'' he exclaimed. ``Those are no Uialedain!''

Isildur stared, his jaw set hard. ``No. We saw enough of their like at Anglond to ever forget them. The Corsairs of Umbar!''

A man came running up from the camp, sword in hand. He was followed by another, then another -- the men of Ethir Lefnui. Isildur's people grabbed up their weapons and came running as well.

``Stop!'' shouted Isildur. ``There will be no fighting until we know what game Romach is playing.''

The men stopped beside the king, but they glared at the riders, now calmly dismounting by Romach's hall. Their eyes were cold and hard, and their knuckles were white on their sword hilts. Ohtar called some of the Ithilien men to join them, but whether to attack the Corsairs or to restrain the men of Ethir Lefnui, no one was sure. Isildur stalked over to Romach's hall, his eyes blazing.

``What means this, Romach?'' he roared. ``Do you then betray us to our enemies?''

Before Romach could reply, the leader of the newcomers turned to Isildur.

``I am Malithôr,'' he said in a smooth unctuous voice. ``Ambassador of his Imperial Majesty Herumor of Umbar. And well do I know you, Isildur Elendilson. But I must point out to both you and my friend here,'' and he nodded toward the white-faced Romach, ``that your enemies, Isildur, are not necessarily his.'' The ambassador glared insolently at the king. He was nearly as tall as Isildur, but thin and narrow-shouldered, with a long face and high cheekbones. He stood drawn up to his full height, head thrown back proudly. Dark eyes glittered as he peered down his long nose. ``My lord Romach must first choose his friends before he may know his enemies,'' he said.

``The slaves of Sauron are the enemies of all free peoples,'' replied Isildur through clenched teeth.

The cold eyes kindled. ``The Men of Umbar are slaves to no one! We are our own agents, acting for our own ends.''

``Your ends are murder and pillage,'' growled Isildur. ``I was at Anglond when your ships attacked that city and slew many peaceable farmers.''

The ambassador of Umbar gave a grim smile. ``Peaceable farmers, were they? And what was your errand to Anglond, Isildur? We captured a few of those peaceable farmers alive, and upon questioning they told us you were there to turn them from farmers to soldiers.''

``Questioning? You mean torture.''

The ambassador shrugged. ``They required some persuasion, of course, but what of that? We needed to know why you were there and they were at first reluctant to tell us. We could learn nothing from their silence or their lies. In the end of course they told the truth, as they all do eventually. You're a soldier, Isildur. You know torture is the quickest and surest way to learn the truth.''

Isildur glared, his eyes full of hatred. ``We do not torture prisoners we capture. It is barbaric.''

``Then you are fools. I am sure you took a few of our people during the fighting at Anglond. They were brave and loyal men, I'm sure, but I have no doubt that torture, skillfully applied, would have induced them to tell you we planned to sail to the River Lefnui next. If you had known that, perhaps you could have saved that city.''

Isildur's face went red with anger. ``The sack of Ethir Lefnui is an outrage and a crime,'' shouted Isildur, his voice shaking. ``Those people had done nothing to you. They were no threat to you.''

The ambassador's face remained calm, even careless. ``That's quite true, of course. They were completely unimportant. The people of Lefnui have always been peaceful and trusting. But we needed to set an example, and burning Lefnui would cost us little trouble. We wanted the people of all lands to know that the hand of Umbar is long, and neither high walls nor the promised protection of Gondor will stay that hand when people insist on allying themselves with the wrong side.'' He glanced meaningfully toward Romach.

``You have a strange way of enlisting allies in your cause,'' said Isildur. ``Do you seek to make your friends by killing them?''

``We do not seek friends,'' snapped Malithôr. ``Umbar is so mighty it has no need of allies. But when a city threatens to rise up against us, it could give others ideas. And so we crush it, as we would a disobedient dog. Other lands that might have thought of wavering soon find new resolve to avoid a similar fate.'' He smiled at Romach. ``Might we go into your hall, my lord? We have much to speak of.''

Romach started. ``Yes, of course. Come in.'' He glanced at Isildur's face, now dark with fury. ``Both of you, come into my hall.'' He led the way under the low door. Isildur turned to Ohtar.

``Keep a close eye on the Umbardrim. And keep the Lefnui people away from them. They are under a flag of truce.'' He turned and entered the hall behind Malithôr.

``You have no right to threaten these people,'' he said as soon as the door was closed. ``They are free to choose their friends as they will.''

``We have every right to do whatever we want!'' replied Malithôr, showing signs of anger for the first time. ``Herumor is the rightful lord of all these lands, not your Elendil. Umbar was founded long ago by the mighty kings of Númenor, and we have ruled this land for long ages before Gondor existed. What would the Uialedain have been without us Dúnedain? We brought the first corn and wine to Middle-earth. We taught them farming and shipbuilding and constructing in stone. We have been their teachers, their protectors, their lords, for over two thousand years, while your forefathers sat in Andúnië and mooned after their friends the Elves. Where were your noble Elves when fair Númenor was torn asunder? Drinking, no doubt, with their allies the Valar, they who cast our homeland under the sea!

``We have lived with the men of Middle-earth for centuries. We know each other well. They have always looked to the mighty fleet of Umbar for their protection. They are our grateful wards. It is you, Isildur, and your father that have stirred them against us. We are merely bringing them back to their senses.''

``Does slaying them bring them to their senses, Malithôr? Do you truly believe that it is in their interests to bend their knees to Sauron?''

``Of course it is in their interest. It is always in one's interest to be aligned with a victor. It is fruitless to stand against Sauron. Do you think to defeat him with your puny weapons? He is not a man such as we, nor is he yet like to the Elves. For he is one of the Maiar, the mighty ones who were present when the world was made. You cannot dream to defeat him. Not all the Elves and Men in all of Middle-earth could so much as approach him. Why, he learned his powers at the feet of Melkor the Vala himself.''

``Speak not that name!'' spat Isildur. ``He forfeited his right to bear a name and shall ever be known only as Morgoth, the Black Enemy. Like his lackey Sauron, he too, once thought to set himself to be Lord of Middle-earth. Infinitely mightier than Sauron was he, and yet Elves and Men cast him down and he was driven from the circles of the world, and thus the Elder Days passed away and the New Age began.''

``He was overthrown only by the might of his fellow Valar, not by puny men nor Elves. Now the Valar have withdrawn from the world and they have sworn never to enter it again. And Sauron has grown much greater since his master's downfall.''

``You defend Sauron as if you spoke for him instead of your Emperor. Are you then Herumor's creature, or Sauron's?''

Malithôr's eyes flickered at that. ``I am a loyal subject of his Imperial Majesty Herumor of Umbar. His Majesty bows his knee to no one, not even Sauron. I was only pointing out the futility of your struggle against Sauron.''

``Sauron is bent on enslaving all the peoples of Middle-earth. Does your Emperor think to become one of his slaves? Or does he plan to stand against him when he moves to bring Umbar under his dominion?''

``Umbar will never be ruled by Sauron! But he is a great power to be reckoned with; it is not prudent to openly oppose him. Yet he can be appeased, placated. And when he is victorious over the Elves and you Gondorrim, he will remember his friends.'' With another significant glance at Romach, he added, ``As he will remember those who fought against him. And if you think Ethir Lefnui's fate hard, tempt not Sauron's anger.''

Isildur made a sound of disgust and abruptly broke off the debate. He turned to Romach.

``Do not be fooled by his lies, Romach. Do you fancy that you can ingratiate yourselves with such as Sauron? He does not make allies, he makes slaves. This Malithôr may deny it, but I tell you the Umbardrim are the agents of Sauron -- if not actually in his service, they are at best working his will for their own ends. Listen not to this tool of the Enemy. He says he is the ambassador of Umbar, but I say he is naught but the mouth of Sauron.''

Malithôr actually hissed. ``And you, Isildur, are the pawn of the Elves. Do you think they truly love Men? Gil-galad is using you as a minor distraction against Sauron, as a fallen warrior might throw dust into his enemy's eyes in the faint hope that his death stroke will go astray.''

``The Elves have ever been our friends and our allies,'' retorted Isildur. ``They fought beside us against Morgoth in the Elder Days, and they fight with us today against Sauron.''

Malithôr shook his head resignedly, as at a foolish and stubborn child. ``They are using you, Isildur. You spill the noble blood of Númenor for them, but the Elves are a fading race. They are no longer concerned with the affairs of Middle-earth. Always they are sailing away, never to return. Hardly a month goes by that a ship does not sail from the Grey Havens, bound back to their home in the west. Your Elvish allies will tire of the war and dwindle away. Soon all will be gone, and you will be facing Sauron alone. Would you still stand against him then?''

``Gil-galad and the Elves of Lindon will not abandon us while this war persists. And were there no Elves to aid us, still would we fight Sauron. Even if all hope of victory were gone, better to die his foes than to live his slaves.''

Malithôr gave a mirthless laugh. ``Bah. Your line has always been dreamers.''

``And you Black Númenóreans have ever been the tools of evil,'' snapped Isildur. ``Long have you harassed the people of these coasts, and many of them even now sit chained to the oars in your ships. You are nothing but common pirates.''

``Pirates?'' cried the ambassador. ``We are the descendants of the kings of Númenor. Are their deeds as naught to you? You are Númenórean yourself. Have you forgotten the glory and might of Ar-Pharazôn the Golden? He that landed at Umbar with a thousand ships, each with a thousand warriors? Even the mighty Sauron came then to his summons, and bent his knee before him and pledged fealty to him and gave himself up as hostage.''

``Yes, and lied and deceived and whispered until he rose from the king's prisoner to his chief councillor. And by his craft and urging he brought down all the might of Ar-Pharazôn and sank all our fair land beneath the waves.''

``It was not Sauron that destroyed Númenor,'' snapped Malithôr. ``It was your friends, the ever-protecting blessed Valar.''

``Do not speak ill of the Valar, Mouth of Sauron,'' roared Isildur, ``lest I forget your claim of emissary and have you hanged as a pirate!''

Malithôr's guards stepped forward. He started back, but he quickly regained his composure. He grinned insolently.

``But you wouldn't do that, Isildur. I am an emissary of my Emperor and I bear a flag of truce. You believe in diplomatic protection, surely.''

``I believe in honor, yes. I believe that the conventions of war must be observed, even to such as you.''

``And yet you know that we would feel no compunction in a similar situation.'' He nearly leered. ``Maddening, isn't it?''

``Civilized peoples must behave in a civilized manner. Your people were civilized once and did great works, but you destroyed it all and now merely prey on the shipping of your neighbors.''

``Their ships cross our territorial water carrying rich goods. If they will not pay our duties, we seize them. We are within our rights.''

``Your territorial waters? You raid all the way from Minhiriath to Harad. Both are a long sail from Umbar.''

``Such is our territory by ancient right. We have always been the masters of these seas. We provide for the safety of shipping. All seamen know no pirates prowl the sea lanes where Umbar rules. It is our custom to ask those who use our waters to make payment for our protection.''

``In exchange for it you mean. Your duties are nothing more than a ransom for the freedom of the captains and crews.''

``If they cannot pay our duty they must work it off in labor. It is a long-standing practice. Call it what you will.''

``I call it piracy,'' said Isildur. ``Know you that I will not rest until you have ceased your raiding and returned our people to us.''

Malithôr snorted. ``Then you shall go without your rest for a long time, Isildur Elendilson. Your threats are idle. You have neither the ships nor the time to contest the seas with us. Gondor has all it can do to try to contain Sauron. Do you think for a moment that he could not leave the Barad-dûr any time he wishes? He has no need to fight you. His reach and his sight ever lengthen, and his power grows even as you camp on his doorstep.''

Isildur seethed with rage, and only with difficulty did he contain his voice. He wheeled upon Romach, cowering back at the wrath of the two mighty Dúnedain.

``And what of you, Romach? You have heard the threats of the Mouth of Sauron. You are sworn allies of Gondor. You owe these Umbardrim nothing save the toe of your boot. Remember the Oath of Karmach.''

``Remember also Ethir Lefnui,'' whispered Malithôr.

``Yes, remember the people of Lefnui,'' said Isildur. ``They were your neighbors and trading partners, their race akin to yours. If they died as a lesson to you, let that lesson be that you cannot trust the Corsairs of Umbar. Send these pirates packing and join us against our foes.''

They both stared expectantly at Romach. Romach looked uneasily between their faces.

``It is a matter for the Elders to decide, my lords.'' he said. ``I cannot speak for the Eredrim.''

``The time to decide is now, Romach,'' said Malithôr.

``All the Elders will be here tonight, or in the morning at the latest. Tomorrow we will hold council together.''

``Let us hope they remember their friends of old,'' said Malithôr.

``Let us hope they remember their oath,'' growled Isildur, and he turned and stalked from the hall. The crowd of men near the door parted to let him pass, for none could withstand his glare.


Back in the camp, Isildur fumed up and down before his tent. None came near him, save Ohtar sitting on some packs nearby. Ohtar remained silent until he judged that Isildur's rage had cooled sufficiently to speak. ``Do you think he will keep their oath?'' he asked.

Isildur clenched his fists. ``He had better! I can not abide oathbreakers! Has the spirit of their race sunk so low that they will break their troth? Is honor and fealty as nothing to them?'' He stalked away, spun on his heel, stalked back, while Ohtar watched in sympathy and also some foreboding.

Ohtar well knew the depth of the sense of honor and virtue in Isildur. It was a large part of the reason he loved him, and it was the source of Ohtar's own unswerving loyalty to Isildur as his king and his friend. But he also knew that intensity of feeling created a blind spot in the king. It was inconceivable to Isildur why a man would break his bond. Isildur's confidence, his bone-felt certainty of what is right in every situation made him truly incapable of understanding the motives of lesser men.

Ohtar, however, was not a Dúnadan. He was but thirty, born long after fair Númenor sank beneath the waves. He had been a hunter in the forests of the Emyn Arnen, the hill country in southern Ithilien. He knew and understood the mixed feelings of many of the Uialedain lords to the Dúnedain kings. Many of them had been powerful local warlords when Isildur and Anárion's ships were driven upon this coast near their old trading station of Pelargir.

The Uialedain at first fled at their approach. The newcomers were numerous and well-armed, and looked like the feared Corsairs that the coastal dwellers knew all too well. But these new Dúnedain proved to be peaceable and generous, offering their help freely. Their healers cured the sick, their kings wielded powers that seemed as magic. None of the small states and tribes in the region dared stand against them. They were given land along the Great River and they built their cities of stone. Intervening in local conflicts and rivalries, they soon brought peace to a region that had never known it. The common people loved and feared them, but some of the lords yet longed for the days when people trembled at their names. And many liked it less when their children began to speak in the tongue of Gondor and there was estrangement between the generations.

Ohtar always felt it his part to speak for the Uialedain. He thought of himself not as an advocate, but as a translator.

``The Uialedain lords,'' he said when he felt the time was ripe, ``have learned by hard lessons that loyalties may change. They lack your long sight, Sire. Romach is frightened. Perhaps he values his honor less than his skin.''

``You think him merely craven? I fear he may be falling under the shadow of Sauron.''

``It is possible,'' Ohtar shrugged. ``But if you will pardon me, Sire, it seems to me that he is between a hammer and an anvil. Herumor openly threatens him and holds up the rape of Lefnui as a dreadful example.''

Isildur growled. ``A fair city destroyed, hundreds of innocents slain; all for no more than a demonstration that they are capable of it. Would that I faced that arrogant `ambassador' in battle. I'd separate that grinning head from his body. Sauron would have to speak through another mouth.''

``Still,'' said Ohtar, ``if Romach rode with us, Erech could face a like attack. He would have to leave a strong force behind.''

``We do not ask him to leave Erech undefended. But the Eredrim are numerous. He could yet muster a considerable army and fulfill the oath.''

``Perhaps he only speaks the truth. Perhaps he truly cannot make the decision alone.''

``I do not believe that, do you?''

``No. I deem that if he wished he could speak for the Eredrim without contradiction. But he thinks either decision is dangerous and he doesn't want to be the one to cast the die. I think he was stalling for time because he knew Malithôr was coming and he wanted to know the views of Umbar.''

``Yes. Though I think he would have much preferred to not have us both here at the same time.'' Isildur laughed suddenly, his great booming laugh.

``Hah! Did you mark Romach when I was contending with Malithôr?''

``Aye. His head was going back and forth like a shuttle,'' laughed Ohtar. ``His mouth dropped open when you called Malithôr a pirate.''

``The Mouth of Sauron bandied words with me, but they are no better than pirates. It matters little to a galley slave that he is serving a life sentence for being too poor to pay tribute. Would his bondage be more onerous if he had been captured by a pirate rather than a king's ship? He still loses both his ship and his freedom.

``And what of the dozens of small seaports and fishing villages along the coasts? Are they avoiding the duty fees of Umbar, too? The Corsairs make no apology for their plundering and murdering.''

``Aye,'' Ohtar agreed. ``They would say it is just part of protecting their trade.''

``The blackguards. If only we could win this war with Sauron, defeat him once and for all, then would I humble these Corsairs. Before the war Anárion and I had many debates about how best to deal with them. He ever counseled that we should build more ships and strengthen the fleet, then confront the Corsairs openly wherever we found them. But I was the elder, and had seen too much of battles at sea, of burning ships and good men borne down by their armour to graves in the deeps. I advised defense and patience. We strengthened our coastal cities. We set up strong places on the headlands and at the mouths of Anduin, with unsleeping watches to sound the alarm should the black sails be sighted.

``It worked, too. The Corsairs dared not attack Gondor or her allies, though they continued their depredations to the south. Then came the war, and the greater part of Gondor's strength was drawn away to fight Sauron. We thought the war would be won in a few months, but it has dragged on now for twelve years. The strong places were left undermanned, our ships without crews. The Corsairs were free to roam at will. They nibbled away at the edges at first, raiding fishing villages in the remote regions of Minhiriath, then small seaports on the Gwathlo. Two years ago they raided nearly to Tharbad, where the road to Arnor crosses the Gwathlo. Now even strong cities like Anglond are besieged. Anárion was right. We should have driven them from the seas when we could.

``I tell you, Ohtar, this stalemate in Gorgoroth is like to drive me mad with frustration. We can't get into the Tower or draw Sauron out, and yet we dare not leave or turn our attention to other pressing matters, such as retaking Minas Ithil and cleansing Ithilien, and driving these accursed Corsairs from our coasts. We have so much to do, and yet we sit here and wait while merchants like Romach weigh their loyalties like cheeses in the market.''

A man hurried up to Isildur. ``My king. Riders approach from the east.''

``What now?'' grumbled Isildur. ``Do the Easterlings seek to treat with the Eredrim too?'' But they walked toward Romach's hall. Many of the Eredrim were hurrying there as well.

A score of horsemen approached: young Eredrim warriors fully armed and four old grey-bearded men. They dismounted, and Romach emerged from his hall to greet them. As they spoke, Isildur noticed Malithôr watching from the door of the hall. Isildur strode forward quickly.

Romach was already talking with the Elders in a low voice when Isildur approached. He looked up sharply.

``Ah, there you are, Sire. Revered Elders, I have the honor to present Isildur Elendilson, King of Gondor. Sire, the Elders of the Eredrim.''

As Isildur was introduced to each in turn and was struggling to memorize their names, Ohtar studied the old men. He noticed each glancing uneasily to where Malithôr stood watching from the shadows. It appeared that the ambassador was already known to the Elders.

``Now,'' said Isildur. ``The Elders are present. Perhaps now we can take counsel together and come to a resolution.''

``Oh, no, Sire,'' stammered one of the Elders. ``We are not all here yet, Urmach of Kiril Vale has not arrived, nor Fornen from the high valleys of Fornoch in the west. We could not proceed without them.''

``Could we expect them soon?'' asked Isildur, irritation evident in his voice. ``Time is precious.''

``Urmach should be here before dark. It is possible that Fornen could arrive tonight as well.''

``But more likely tomorrow,''said another.

``Let me know when they arrive,'' growled Isildur, and returned to his tent. Ohtar saw the nervous looks exchanged among the Eredrim. It was all too clear that Isildur's patience was wearing thin. Ohtar remained long enough to see the Elders join Romach and Malithôr in the hall, then he returned to camp.

Isildur was still in a foul mood, and Ohtar made no attempt to break his silence. When night fell with no sign of the two remaining Elders, they said little, but sat long before the fire. At last, when the moon, now waning gibbous, peeped over the eastern cliffs, turning the valley to ebony and argent, they went to their beds.

That night Ohtar could hear Isildur rolling about in his bed, and knew the king was sleepless, thinking no doubt of all that depended on this fateful mission. Ohtar too was awake long, watching the moon as she crept slowly across the sky, her face demurely half-covered in her lacy veil.

Chapter Three
At the Erech Stone

Isildur was up at first light. A light frost had fallen, and mists hung above the Morthond stream. Isildur paced the camp silently, wrapped in his long black cloak. He startled more than one of the sentries and the sleepy cooks starting their fires when his tall dark figure appeared out of the mists, pacing slowly and acknowledging them not.

After the men had broken their fast, the mists wafted away on the morning breeze and the day came bright and clear. Isildur called his captains together.

``Have your companies prepare to march tomorrow,'' he said. ``The remaining Elders of the Eredrim should arrive this morning, and then we can take counsel together. I hope to see the muster well under way by the end of the day.''

The hours dragged by and still no riders appeared. Isildur, too anxious to wait quietly, called for his horse Fleetfoot. Leaving orders that he be summoned if the Elders appeared, he rode alone up to the head of the valley to see the Caverns of Erech.

The valley was deep in lush spring grass, high enough that Fleetfoot waded through it up to his belly. The valley narrowed and grew steeper as the high and rocky walls closed in on either hand. He came upon a beaten path beside the stream and followed it into a jumble of huge boulders that had fallen from the heights above. The stream tumbled among the boulders in dozens of small cascades. The valley narrowed until it was only a slit in the mountain, so close the rock on the left hand nearly brushed his knees, while the trail became but a narrow ledge above the rivulet. The walls soared away out of sight, so high that stars gleamed in a black sky, though it was not yet noon. Fleetfoot's hooves rang on the stony path, sending echoes clattering into the heights.

He rounded a sharp turn and the walls fell back, leaving an open space almost like a huge well. In the far wall was a broad stone arch leading into darkness. A black horse was hobbled beside the tunnel's mouth. Isildur dismounted and approached. He could feel the cold damp air wafting from the opening, like the breath of something ancient that brooded under the mountains. Here was the entrance to the vast Caverns of Erech.

As he looked into the darkness, something moved within. His hand dropped to the hilt of his sword. A harsh laugh came from the blackness before him. And then the long hawk-like face of Malithôr appeared, a beam of light cutting across it, leaving only the eyes in shadow.

``You will not need your sword, Isildur,'' he smiled. ``This land is yet neutral, and we are both emissaries here.''

``The Eredrim will not remain neutral for long, Malithôr. This day will Romach give his decision. Then you may take word back to your lord that the Eredrim shall always remain faithful to Gondor.''

``Do you really think that Romach is bold enough to defy Umbar? He and those other old fools wouldn't dare. Did you see him sweat when I reminded him of Lefnui? He is a fool.''

``Is your contempt only for him, or for all the Eredrim?''

``It encompasses all the tribes of the Uialedain. Come, Isildur. You're one of us. You know what they're like. They're born to serve us Dúnedain. They've proven time and again that they're incapable of ruling themselves. Why do you bother trying to forge alliances with them? They don't need allies, they need a strong hand to rule them.''

``Such as your emperor's, I suppose?''

``Why not? He at least has already proven himself capable of ruling them, which your father has not.''

``We do not seek to rule them. We want them as friends, not subjects.''

``Friends? Why would you wish to have such rabble as friends? They are a lesser race, Isildur, you cannot deny it. They know nothing of Númenor, its great history, its heroes, its beauties. Through the long rise of our civilization and its recent downfall, they have remained here tending their herds and living in their log houses. They are barbarians. They don't even speak our noble language, but only babble in their rude tongues. They live but a handful of years and die like dogs.''

``No, like us, they die as Men and leave their widows grieving. Though our lines were sundered long ago before the world was changed, still they are our brothers. Malithôr, listen to me. You are a learned man. Herumor deems that he is acting for the greater glory of Umbar, but he is but Sauron's creature. Sauron sends forth his long arm and the Umbardrim sail to war. Do you not see the evil that Sauron represents?''

``I see only that he is the more powerful.'' Malithôr studied Isildur a moment, considering. ``I will tell you this in confidence, Isildur, speaking as one Dúnadan to another. I have lived in Middle-earth a long time, far longer than you, and I have seen kings come and go. Sauron cannot be defeated by Gondor or Umbar or the Elves, or by any alliance save that of the Valar themselves, and that will not happen again. He is mighty beyond our comprehension, and he is determined to rule all of Middle-earth. Nothing can stop him. I intend to survive this war, and that means standing with Sauron, whatever the Emperor desires.''

``I thought you were His Imperial Majesty's man.''

Malithôr looked at Isildur with a wry smile. He lowered his voice even further. ``No. You were quite right. Long have I served in the court of Umbar and the Emperor considers me his most loyal and trusted advisor, but as you guessed, I am in fact Sauron's agent. I manipulate the Emperor to keep the policies of Umbar to Sauron's liking, though Herumor thinks he is acting only for his own ends. Yesterday in your anger you called me the Mouth of Sauron. You meant it as an insult, but I acknowledge the compliment with gratitude.'' He drew himself up and his eyes flashed with pride. ``I do give Sauron's will a voice. I am proud that the Master trusts me to speak for him to Herumor, and through Herumor to these Uialedain savages. Sauron and I work together well. We understand each other.''

``Sauron knows me as well,'' replied Isildur. ``Often did I speak against him in the palace at Armenelos when he whispered his treacheries into the ear of King Ar-Pharazôn.''

``Aye, he remembers you as well, Isildur. He has spoken of you many times. He seems to bear a particular enmity towards you. Something I did not fully grasp, about a tree, I believe?''

Isildur gave a mirthless laugh. ``Yes. Once long ago in Númenor, he had at last convinced Ar-Pharazôn to burn Nimloth, the White Tree that grew in his court. He had no reason to do it, save spite and his hatred of all things Elvish, for it had been given to all Númenóreans by the Elves. I would not see it destroyed, and so alone and in stealth I entered into the palace in disguise and I took from the tree one fruit. I was discovered and attacked. Though I was grievously wounded, yet did I win back to Andúnië with the fruit and its seed.''

``All that for a mere fruit tree? Why?''

``Nimloth was more than a tree. It was a token of the undying friendship of the Eldar and also a reminder of the Valar, for it was a scion of Celeborn, and that of Galathilion, and that of Telperion, Mother of Trees.''

``You do indeed revere the old ways, Isildur, foolish and vain though they may be. A bold but senseless adventure. But in spite of your disguise Sauron learned that you were the thief?''

``Yes. He burned Nimloth, but he never learned where the seed was hidden. Years later I planted it before my hall in Minas Ithil and it grew tall and fair, even as Nimloth had.''

``It was in Minas Ithil?'' asked Malithôr. ``Then Sauron...''

``Yes. Now Sauron has burned that tree too, curse him. But tell your friend this when next you meet: know that the tree bore many fruits and the seed of each was kept. Many were planted in secret places, others were sent away to safe and distant lands. He can never destroy the White Tree, just as he cannot sunder the friendship between Elves and Men.''

``The Master,'' said Malithôr, ``holds another opinion. Whether or not the Elves remain allies of Men is unimportant. The Elves and all their powers and works are passing from the world. Their interest in events this side of the Sea is fading. They are leaving, sailing forever from our shores. Soon they will all be gone, and you will stand at last helpless and alone before the Master. These nuts you have squirreled away will not help you then, Isildur. All shall fall on their faces before him. All save those of us who stand beside him.''

``The Elves will never desert us,'' said Isildur. ``They will leave Middle-earth one day, it is true, but that day is not yet come. They returned hither from far Elvenhome to defeat the evil of Morgoth, and while Sauron yet rules their task is not completed. The Army of the Alliance will camp next the Barad-dûr until he comes out, and then they will destroy him.''

``Destroy Sauron?'' laughed Malithôr. ``There is no power on Earth that can harm him while he wields the One Ring. You may throw yourselves against his walls until he tires of your noise. He is but biding his time. Soon he will ride forth and wrest all the lands of the west from you. Then his enemies will be thrown down and his friends raised up.'' He drew himself up with a malicious smile. ``Perhaps then I shall be Lord of Ithilien, or even King of Gondor.''

``You may be the Mouth of Sauron, Malithôr, but you do not know his mind. You are more likely to become a slave than a king. There were once many high and noble kings of men who thought to be Sauron's lieutenants. Many were learned mages and wielded great powers of their own. No doubt they thought to be kings as you do. And Sauron honored them with gifts of the Great Rings of Power, and now they are now naught but shades of men, ghosts that must do his bidding like puppets dancing on his strings.''

Malithôr's dark face paled. ``You should not mock the Nazgûl, for they are fell and dangerous. A fear goes before them, and none may stand against them.''

``Yet stand against them I shall,'' replied Isildur. ``And I shall prevail, for they occupy my fair Minas Ithil. You can advise Romach to break his oath and kneel to Sauron, but I am not so easily swayed or corrupted.'' Suddenly he threw back his cloak and swept his sword out and held it up ringing before him.

``I make an oath to you, Malithôr: I shall scour Sauron's scum from Minas Ithil and all of my land, and if it is within my power I shall slay Sauron and cut the One Ring from his hand myself. Then all of Sauron's works and spells, his creatures and poisons, and all those who aided him, shall be thrown down.''

``You do not th...'' began Malithôr, but then they both turned as a horn rang clear and true in the distance. Isildur hurried to Fleetfoot. ``It is the horns of Erech,'' he called as he mounted, ``the Elders are come at last.'' But Malithôr was already racing for his horse. Isildur gave Fleetfoot his head, and the horse flew through the long grass like a ship plowing the sea. Malithôr was soon left far behind.

Isildur galloped into camp and hurried to his tent. Ohtar was already there.

``Is it another Elder?'' Isildur asked.

``Two. They arrived nearly together less than half an hour ago. They have been closeted with Romach since then.'' Ohtar looked at the king's face. ``Did you see the Caverns, Sire?''

``No. I reached them, but found another already there. The ambassador was there as well.''

``You met him? I knew I should have gone with you.''

``He is not fool enough to raise his hand against me. We had a most interesting talk. I'll tell you later what he said. Now, I must dress for the meeting with the Elders. I shall wear my mithril armor and the blue cloak. I want them to see with whom they are dealing. Now help me with this thong. Where's the other end of it?''


Isildur shifted uneasily in his chair. The meeting had been going on now for several hours, and still the Elders had not reached a decision. Isildur pleaded his case and they seemed to favor him for a while. But then Malithôr addressed them and he was both eloquent and threatening, and the Elders wavered again.

To Isildur the choice was clear. At last he could stand it no longer. He jumped to his feet, interrupting a seemingly endless speech about the impact on local trade of an alliance with Umbar.

``Only one argument need be considered,'' he suddenly cried.

Urmach, the Elder who had been speaking, looked at Isildur in surprise. He was not used to being interrupted. He blinked in annoyance. ``I beg your pardon, Sire?''

``The Oath of Karmach. Your lord Karmach gave his solemn oath that our two peoples would be allies for all time -- that if either were assailed, the other would come to its aid if called. Well, Gondor has been attacked and is in a struggle to the death with Mordor. I am the King of Gondor, and I am asking for the help of the Eredrim. There is but one response for honorable men. You are foresworn.''

There was an awkward silence. No one would meet his eyes, though there were many quick sidelong glances among the Eredrim.

``Karmach?'' said Malithôr in an innocent tone. ``I have not met this lord. Why is he not here today?''

There was a nervous chuckle. ``Karmach was the great-great-grandfather of Lord Romach,'' whispered Urmach to Malithôr.

``Oh, so he is dead?''

``Of course. His barrow has been green since before my father was born.''

``Are the living then to be ruled by the dead?''

``Yes!'' roared Isildur, his voice echoing back down from the rafters. ``Karmach swore his oath to me personally, and he bound his heirs to it forever.''

But Malithôr was not fazed.

``But none of you Revered Elders was alive at the time of this oath?''

``No, of course not,'' said the Elder. ``This is all ancient history.''

``But the world changes, nations and leaders rise and fall. Who knows that if Karmach yet lived he would not repudiate his vow?''

``Karmach was a man of honor!'' said Isildur angrily. ``His oath was without conditions or time limits of any kind. Karmach would never have countenanced any suggestion of breaking the vow.''

``So you say,'' said the ambassador. ``But he is not here to speak for himself. None of these Revered Elders heard his oath, nor can they ask him to clarify his thoughts and intentions at the time he made the oath.''

``His thoughts were to protect his people and their land, and Gondor offered that protection. He mentioned to me often in later years, how for the first time he had no fear of war upon his borders.''

``That may have been so at that time, when Gondor was the only nation strong enough to protect the Eredrim. But now Umbar too offers its protection. Gondor is pledged to protect you, but it is embroiled in a hopeless war against Sauron. Have they sent their legions here to protect you in these dangerous times? Did they protect the people of Ethir Lefnui? No. They are too busy fighting in Gorgoroth. Instead they ask you to leave your families unprotected and ride away to die in their war in some strange land far away.

``But Umbar offers its protection freely, without asking anything in return: no oaths, no sending your young men away to someone else's war. Umbar is not at war, with Sauron or anyone else. And his Imperial Majesty Herumor is on close terms with Sauron. He can protect you from Sauron's wrath. Or from Gondor's, for that matter.''

Isildur's rage burst forth at that. ``You do not need protection from Gondor, lords, whether or not you honor your oath. It is not our way to attack our neighbors. But you may well need protection from Umbar. They have a long-standing policy of destroying those who do not bow to them. Herumor is only seeking to add your lands to his empire. His very kind offer of protection is but a thinly veiled threat. He is extorting you at the point of a sword!''

Malithôr smiled. ``Thank you, Isildur, I could not have put it better myself. Umbar offers you the open hand of friendship if you join with us. But if you refuse that open hand, you may find it mailed when next you see it. The Empire will not tolerate disobedience. I say unto you, Revered Elders, that if you ride now with Isildur, his Imperial Majesty will have no choice but to view you as a threat to the Empire.''

``We are enemies of neither Gondor nor Umbar,'' said Romach pleadingly. ``Neither of you has aught to fear from us, and well you know it. We are but simple herdsmen who desire only to be left alone.''

``That is true today, yes,'' replied Malithôr. ``But if you were to acknowledge Isildur's claim on you, you would be forced to take up arms against Sauron. And know you that the friendship between Mordor and Umbar is very close, very close indeed. Herumor would certainly judge that an enemy of our ally is but another enemy of ours. Because of my esteem for you, I would of course plead for you at the court, but Herumor is given to sudden passions against those by whom he feels betrayed. I am afraid I could not answer for your safety.''

The Elders stared glumly from one to the other. For a time no one spoke. Then Romach broke the tense silence.

``We Eredrim are a people of peaceful commerce. We know little of the wars of the great. But when the diplomatic niceties are put aside, your messages come down to this: if we ally ourselves with either of you, the other will destroy us.''

``No,'' said Isildur. ``That is not my message. Gondor would never attack you, unless you were to take up arms against her.''

``That we would never do, Sire. We have no quarrel at all with Gondor, I assure you. Our only wish is to remain neutral.''

``Then the matter is settled,'' said Malithôr with obvious gloating on his face. ``The Eredrim shall remain neutral, and safely at home.'' The Elders brightened visibly. One moved to rise.

``No,'' said Isildur, and his voice was hard and cold. ``It is not settled. The Oath of Karmach still remains, and I shall not release you from it. Do not dishonor the noble Lord Karmach by becoming oathbreakers. If you fear the threats of this Mouth of Sauron, you must keep a strong well-armed force in reserve to protect your land from the Corsairs. But those you can spare, let them ride with me.''

The Elder who had risen collapsed back into his chair. ``Then you are leaving us no option, Sire?''

``Yes. I leave you one option. The option to do what is right and honorable, to ally yourselves with the people of good will and to strive against the forces of evil. Honor your oath and stand with Gondor and Arnor and Lindon and all the other free lands of the west. Help us to defeat Sauron and free the world of his evil. Then together we can begin to make the seas safe for travel. When the war with Sauron is over, I promise you Gondor will deal with these blustering, threatening Umbardrim and drive them from our shores forever.''

Malithôr's face grew even darker. He opened his mouth to reply, but Isildur cut him off by rising to his feet. He threw back his sky-blue cloak and his mithril armor glowed red in the firelight. He seemed to grow taller, filling the hall, and he looked fell and grim.

``This I say unto you, Men of the Mountains,'' his voice boomed out. ``I am leaving now to break my camp and make ready to depart at first light tomorrow.''

``Good,'' said Malithôr. ``You need not wake us.''

Isildur ignored him, but those near him saw his jaw clench tighter.

``But before we ride,'' he continued, ``I shall go to the great stone on the hill, the one you call the Stone of Isildur. There I shall sound the great horn that Romach gave us. And I shall call the Eredrim to fulfill their oath. Let any who think to ignore that call take long and careful thought. The oath shall never be forgiven.''

And he stalked quickly from the hall, his cloak flying behind him like the wings of a great sea bird.


Ohtar finished packing the last of their gear and men carried the bundles out to where the pack horses stood stamping in the early morning chill. On all sides tents and pavilions were fluttering to the ground. A pink glow was just beginning to suffuse the eastern sky when the last bundles were being lashed in place. As he worked, Ohtar kept looking around, hoping to see some sign of the Eredrim making preparations as well. But so far none could be seen. Glancing up the hill toward the Erech Stone, Ohtar could just make out the figure of Isildur standing there silent and motionless, wrapped in his long travel cloak against the cold mountain air. Finally all was ready. Ohtar picked up the long horn Romach had given them and climbed to stand beside Isildur. The men stood wtching in silence.

``Shall we give them a little more time, Sire?'' he asked.

``No. The sun is nearly risen. Sound the horn.''

Ohtar raised the immense horn and put his lips to its cup. Taking a deep breath, he blew as hard as he could. A deep mournful blast of sound, shockingly loud in the pre-dawn stillness, rent the air and reverberated from valley to valley.

``People of the Mountains!'' roared Isildur, and the echoes from the cliffs magnified his voice so that it might have been the voice of Aulë calling in the wilderness when the world was made. ``I, Isildur Elendilson of the House of Elros, King of Gondor, call upon you to fulfill the Oath of Karmach. Gondor has need of your aid. Will you answer her call?''

Several minutes passed, while the echoes gradually faded and died. There was no sign of life at any house. Finally a door creaked and a man stepped out of Romach's hall and stood looking up the hill toward them in the growing light. Ohtar realized he was too tall to be Romach, or any Eredrim. It was Malithôr.

``Isildur of Gondor,'' he called back. ``I speak for the Eredrim. They have no quarrel with you and do not wish to detain you any longer. But they have no wish to enlist in your war against Mordor. They declare themselves a neutral and sovereign state, in the service of neither Gondor nor Mordor, nor of any other state. They repudiate the oath made by Karmach and refuse to be bound by it.''

Isildur stared long and hard at Malithôr, hatred and a hot fury gleaming in his eye. Then Isildur drew himself up, and it seemed to those watching that they looked upon one of the old kings of Númenor, so mighty and so terrible did he seem. Then his great voice rolled out again over the valley. No Eredrim could be seen, but he knew they were cowering unseen in their houses, trembling as they listened to his voice.

``Then hear me, Romach,'' he roared. ``Thou shalt be the last king. And if the West prove mightier than thy black Master, this curse I lay upon thee and thy folk: to rest never until your oath is fulfilled. For this war will last through years uncounted, and you shall be summoned once again ere the end. The Eredrim will never again grow and prosper, but will dwindle until the last of your children's children fade and pass into the shadows, reviled by all honorable peoples. Then these valleys shall stand desolate and barren and even the names and deeds of your people shall be forgotten.

``Even death shall not release you from your oath. You shall find no rest in your long barrows and your shades shall wander the deep places under the earth. And so you shall remain forever, lest in some future time you find a way to fulfill your oath to me. This doom do I pronounce on you and all your descendants unto the end of time. Farewell forever, Oathbreakers!''

His dire words rang out over the village and came echoing back from the cliffs, as if the mountains themselves were repeating the terrible doom. But Isildur now was boiling with cold fury, all his intolerance for faithlessness burning in his voice.

Then he called Ohtar to bring him his horse, and he sprang upon Fleetfoot's back and he galloped down the hill, straight to Malithôr. The ambassador looked up at him with a triumphant sneer, but then he sensed Isildur's righteous power and the sneer faded.

``As for you, foul Mouth of Sauron,'' said Isildur. ``I will not slay you as you deserve for this treachery. But I lay a doom upon you also. You shall live long in the service of Sauron, but you shall ever diminish until you are naught but his mindless tool. All shall forget your name; even yourself. And my gifts for far-seeing tell me more than this -- that these Eredrim you have ruined will yet be the ruin of Umbar.''

Then he jerked the reins angrily, wheeled Fleetfoot around, and led his host on the eastward road. Only when the last companies had disappeared over the edge of the valley did the Eredrim start creeping cautiously from their homes. But the day that had dawned so fair was turning dark and ominous, and already they could feel a dread drawing about their hearts. Malithôr and his escort departed hurriedly for the south without a word, unwilling to meet the eyes of the people who stood staring in horror after them.

Chapter Four
The Road to Linhir

The column wended through the narrow defiles of Tarlang's Neck, the pass between the valleys of the Morthond and the Kiril. High crow-haunted cliffs rose close on either hand so that only a ribbon of sky could be seen above. The men were uneasy. An army could lie hidden in those bleak crags and deal destruction with impunity on those below. They marched in silence, their eyes ever alert for the slightest movement in the rocks above, their ears straining for the sound of sliding rocks or twanging bow strings. But except for the occasional hoarse croak of a raven, they heard only their own sounds: the creak of leather harness, the clink of mail, their boots and hooves thudding on the rocky ground.

Ohtar walked beside Isildur's horse, his fingers entwined in the horse's bridle, for the great charger that would plunge through ranks of howling enemies was now skittish and uneasy. Once, as they rounded a shoulder and yet another vista of close confining canyon opened before them, the horse reared, tearing from Ohtar's hand, and gave voice to his fear. The sudden shrill sound reverberated again and again in the close ways, startling the entire company. Isildur quickly brought him under control and Ohtar stroked his velvet nose soothingly.

``It would seem Fleetfoot likes not these pressing walls, Ohtar,'' said Isildur. ``He comes from the wide plains of Calenardhon, where a horse may run a hundred miles with never an obstacle to his speed. Such a steed takes joy in open plains and long flowing grass. He finds naught to comfort him in this close and dreary place.''

``Nor is it to my liking, my liege. I would give much to walk again in the green hills of our Ithilien.'' The king's eyes grew distant at this and Ohtar knew his thoughts flew far to the east, to their homeland, even now being trampled beneath the coarse boots of orcs.

``Aye,'' Isildur said at last, ``remember you, Ohtar old friend, how we would stand of a summer's eve on the parapet of the Moon Tower and gaze out to the west? The sun would finally hide her blushing face behind blue Mindolluin and cast the city into shadow, though the peaks above us glowed red still, as though lit by a fire within.''

Ohtar nodded, smiling. ``Then would the lights be kindled one by one in the cottages of the Ithil Vale far below, until the night mists rose from the stream to blur the lights, turning them into glowing haloes in the twilight. And the cattle would come lowing and clanking to their fold, led by barefoot girls with wildflowers twined in their hair. Often as not, one would tarry overlong and return after the gates were shut and we could hear the door warden laughing and bargaining for a kiss to let her in.''

The king laughed softly. ``And then one of my boys would come out to call us to our meat -- the proud and strutting Elendur, or the musician Aratan, lute in hand. Sometimes all would come together, even little Ciryon in his mother's...'' He stopped then and the soft light went from his eyes. Ohtar turned his face then and attended to his footing. No more was said between them, but before them both hovered the figure of Isildur's dark and beautiful queen Vorondomë who would never again stand with them on the walls of Minas Ithil. After being driven in terror from her home by the hideous orcs, she had sworn never to return to her defiled home. With their young son Valandil, she waited for Isildur now in Imladris, the hidden refuge of the Elves in the north. Of all of Sauron's crimes which Isildur had sworn to avenge, not least was this: his beloved Vorondomë a sad, frightened, and broken creature, who once had been so fair, so proud.

At long last the frowning cliffs fell back and there before them lay the highland meadows of Lamedon, crossed here and there by icy snow-fed freshets tumbling through the long grass to join the chill river Kiril, far below to their right. Beyond, two great peaks reared their purple heads in the east, forming another arm of the Ered Nimrais, like to the one they had just passed through. The valley was hemmed by steep mountains on three sides, but to the south it fell away to lush green fields washed with the gold and blue of wildflowers. The company's hearts were lifted by the sight and they pressed forward, knowing the road would be easier now.

They camped that night in the heather of Lamedon and in the morning began the long descent. All that day they marched and on the second day they came nigh to the Kiril, chuckling and tumbling in its rocky bed. They began seeing tended fields and an occasional cottage huddled under a stand of trees in a protected dale. The road then bore off to the east and descended steeply to the ancient Ford of Calembel. On the far side, the citadel of Calembel perched on a hill overlooking the fords. It was only a small town, but strongly fortified, with walls of grey stone ringing a cluster of roofs tiled with blue-grey slate. From the highest turret fluttered a green banner crossed with a silver stream. Armed men stood motionless on the walls and watched as the column splashed into the river. Before the van reached the far shore, however, a deep drum sounded from the battlements and a man called down to them.

``Hold there! I am charged with the guarding of this ford, and it is decreed that no armed host shall cross this river without the permission of the king. Who are you and what is your purpose in this land?''

Ohtar stepped forward to unfurl the standard and herald the king, but Isildur bade him hold. Instead, Isildur rose in his stirrups and called up to the walls.

``Can you not count spears, guardian? I have a score of men to each of yours. I could seize this pretty little town of yours and level it before dark. Think again, I beg you. Will you not let us pass?''

The guardian swept out his sword and held it aloft, shining in the sun.

``You may indeed take Calembel this day, Outlander. But you must needs slay every man of this garrison first, and you would not have so many bright spears to count when you rode on. If you seek death, stranger, step from the river and your wish shall be granted.''

``You speak boldly, guardian. Who is this distant king you would serve so valiantly?''

``We are liege men of Isildur, King of Gondor, and you would do well to speak no ill of him.''

Then did Isildur throw back his head and his great laugh rang out.

``I will indeed speak no ill of your king, faithful guardian. Be you at your ease, for in sooth I am Isildur Elendilson, and these are the men of Gondor you would die to protect.'' Then at his sign Ohtar and the standard bearers stood forth and broke the banners of the hosts, and foremost among them, snapping in the wind, the White Tree of Gondor, surmounted by the Silver Crown and stars of the house of Elros.

When the men on the walls saw this they gave a shout of joy and fell on their knees. The guardian, recovering from his surprise, turned and shouted to those within the walls.

``It is Isildur himself! The king is come to Calembel! Throw open the gates! Strike ye the drum!'' Then the drum rolled again in the tower and the hills resounded. A great shout rent the air and they turned in surprise and lo, the ridge behind them was lined with mounted and armed men. They shook their lances and hailed their king. Isildur laughed again.

``So, Ohtar, it would seem our guardian is not only valiant but also canny in the ways of war. You see he did not let us see all of his forces until he knew our purpose. We have a valuable ally here.'' Then he turned and rode toward the city, the water spraying up like diamonds about Fleetfoot's prancing hooves. The guardian, breathless from his hurried dash from the parapet, met them at the gates and fell to his knees before the king, presenting his sword.

``Hail, Isildur King,'' he said. ``I am Ingold, master of Calembel and your humble servant. I do beseech your pardon at my uncivil greeting, my liege, but these are troubled times and we knew you not.''

Isildur dismounted and bade him rise, saying, ``You were not meant to know me, good master Ingold, until I was sure of your allegiance. These are indeed unquiet times, and old fealties may no longer be honored. In truth, you could not have given me a greeting more welcome to my ears.''

``The men of Calembel are your faithful servants, my liege, and so it has been since you first brought peace to this land in the time of my father's father's father. You need fear no enemy while you abide in the land of Lamedon.''

Isildur clasped his arms. ```Tis good to be again amongst friends, Ingold. May you and your people prosper.'' Ingold bowed and ushered them into his humble court where red wine and meat and good goat cheese was set before them. As they supped, Ingold asked of their errand.

``What brings you to our poor corner of the kingdom, Sire? And whence came you, if you will forgive my curiosity? It is rare indeed that any traveller comes to us from the north, still less when the king himself appears with an army at his back. And I see standards and faces from many lands among your folk. You say they are the men of Gondor, but not all are from Ithilien or Anórien, I would wager.''

``You would win the wager. They are men of many lands, but all sworn to the defense of the realm. From Erech we come now, though our journey began many months ago and far away in the east, yea, even from the black plains of Mordor itself.'' As he spoke the fell name, the hall fell silent and the people glanced uneasily at each other.

``The Dark Tower is encircled and constantly besieged. But think not that its master is at bay. He has vast forces still at his command, and powers yet untested. Even now he weaves his dark webs about us. My own city, Minas Ithil, is still despoiled by orcs and ruled by wights yet more fearsome -- hideous undead things that were once great kings of men. No land is safe while the Enemy yet rules. All our efforts are bent on breaking his power.

``We have fought to a stalemate in Mordor, but we have so far been unable to break the Barad-dûr. Now a new stroke is planned. But much help is needed. Thus far the people of the western provinces have been spared the horrors of the war. But now I am come to seek your help. We have great need of every man who can and will fight. I ask you now, Ingold, before your men and your chief citizens: will the men of Lamedon march with me to lift this shadow of evil from our land and the world?''

When the king had spoken, the hall grew still and it was as if a chill vapor out of the east had filled the chamber. Ingold drew his cloak about his shoulders and shifted uncomfortably in his seat.

``Please do not misunderstand my hesitation, Sire,'' he said finally. ``It is not that we shrink from a fight, or from helping our friends. But we heard years ago that the Alliance had broken the Morannon and encircled the Dark Tower. We rejoiced at your triumphs and looked daily for messengers flying up from the lowlands with the news of your final victory. But that is more than six years ago now. If the mighty armies of the Elves and the Dúnedain are unable to force him out, what can this small army hope to accomplish? In truth, Sire, is victory still possible against so mighty a foe?''

Isildur studied Ingold closely. Ohtar again saw that dark glint of suspicion in Isildur's eyes. He leaned forward. ``He is strong beyond your dreams,'' he said. ``He is neither Man nor Elf. If truth, we do not even know if it is possible for him to be slain. But we too have our powers. The mighty magic and ancient strength of the Elves is at our side. Gil-galad of the Elves bears his mighty spear Aeglos, Snowpoint the Bright, forged in Gondolin an age ago, doomed by great spells to be Sauron's Bane. And beside Gil-galad stands my father Elendil the Tall, High King of the Realms in Exile and he wields Narsil Flameheart, the blade that none may withstand. They lead the warriors of Gondor and Arnor and the Elves of Lindon, and our friends of many other lands beside. If there be any in Middle-earth in these later days who might best the Dark Lord, these be they.

``And yet the balance is close. It is our hope that a cunning stroke, unlooked for, might yet carry the day. To this end the Kings have sent me throughout the provinces to seek out brave men wherever they can be found who will aid us in this our hour of greatest need.''

Ingold stroked his beard thoughtfully. ``You say you have come from Erech in the land of Romach. They are a strong and bold people, yet I do not see the banner of the Eredrim in your host. Did you not meet with Romach?''

The king's eyes searched those of Ingold intently. He did not like this hesitation. Perhaps the men of Calembel too would prove unwilling. He spoke sternly. ``The Eredrim swore allegiance to me a century ago when first I came to this land. Now when I call them to fulfill their oath, they refuse. They have become willing tools of the Enemy. I have laid a doom upon them, and they are lost both to us and to hope. I urge you to have no further dealings with them. But enough of the faithless Eredrim. Now what of the men of Lamedon? Are you allies of Elendil or of Sauron?''

Ingold met the king's gaze levelly. Then he suddenly rose to his feet and swept out his sword with a ringing clang. Ohtar started and his hand dropped beneath the table to his hilt, but the king made no move. Then Ingold turned the sword in his hand and offered the hilt to Isildur.

``Isildur King,'' he cried in a loud voice, ``we are your subjects and your friends! The men of Lamedon shall ride with you wheresoever you lead, yea, even unto death!'' At this the men of Lamedon rose as one and raised their swords. ``For Isildur!'' they cried, ``For Isildur and Gondor.''

Then Isildur rose too and smiled at them. ``You are brave men and loyal friends. Glad will I be to have you at my side.'' He raised his cup in salute to the soldiers. ``But I pray that I lead you not to death, but to victory. But for now, it will be neither. We are bound now only to Linhir and thence to Pelargir. My folk must ride as soon as they are fed and rested. Ingold, I would have you muster as many men as you can spare and join us in Linhir three days hence. But I pray you, leave a capable garrison at Tarlang's Neck, for Romach is no longer to be trusted. I doubt that he will attack, but this Lamedon of yours is a fair land and I would not have it fall into evil hands.''

``Nor I, Sire,'' answered Ingold. ``It shall be done as you command. Messengers shall be dispatched to every corner of Lamedon this very hour. And the ancient watchtowers above the Neck shall be manned again, as has not been since the dark days ere you Dúnedain brought peace to the southern shores. But the time is short and we are not a numerous people. I fear we cannot raise more than a few hundreds.''

``I have seen this day an example of the valor of your people. If all are as these in Calembel, your hundreds shall be worth thousands of the enemy. To Linhir, then, and may success crown our alliance.'' Isildur turned to depart, but Ingold spoke again.

``A moment more, Sire, if you please. If haste is required, perhaps I can be of some further help. Your army is afoot and travels but slowly. The men of Ringlo away in the south are our brothers. In the great green valley of the Gilrain too live many stout folk who bear no love for Sauron's orcs. It would take you days to travel to all the settlements. Let me send riders to Ethring and to the hill men who live nigh to the sources of the Ringlo. We can ask them to join us in Linhir.''

The king clapped his hand on Ingold's shoulder. ``I see you have more than your courage and strong right arm to offer us. Let it be done as you suggest. We shall wait in Linhir for two days to gather our new forces. My thanks to you, Ingold of Calembel. Now, Ohtar, let us ride.''


Within the hour the army was assembled without the walls. As they set out, horsemen thundered from the gate and galloped past the column and down the long hill toward Ethring. Others wheeled as they left the gates and spurred their mounts up the steep slopes to the north and east. The great drum of Calembel boomed and rolled in the hollows of the hills, and from the high meadows came back, shrill and faint, the horns of shepherds and cotsmen. As they topped a rise, Isildur turned in his saddle and looked back at the great tilted green bowl of Lamedon with little Calembel nestled at its lip.

``A pleasant place, is it not, Ohtar?'' he said as they rode on. ``Oftimes I think I might have been a happier man had I been born a goatherd in such a place as this. Then would many-towered Osgiliath be but a fair name in travellers' tales, and the Enemy but a shadow with which to frighten unruly children. I would tend my goats and raise my family in peace, and let the world and its cares pass by unmarked on the road below. It would not be a bad life.''

``But Sire,'' objected Ohtar. ``If you were not a king then you would not have your faithful squire at your side. Would you have me go back to scratching at the unforgiving rocks of the Emyn Arnen for a living?''

Isildur gave his great laugh. ``No, no, that would never do. I fear we must all fulfill whatever is our doom.''

At that moment they spied a very large man hurrying down a precipitous path to the road before them. He wore the hides of a herdsman and his matted beard and bristling brows jutted from beneath a close-fitting goatskin cap pulled down over his ears. In one calloused hand he bore a massive spear, its wooden point blackened by fire. He scrambled down the bank in a slither of rock and stood blocking the road. A fierce and determined barbarian he looked, with his bare legs spread wide beneath his tunic of stained skins. As the van of the column approached he called out in a booming voice.

``Stand! The drums of war call in Calembel and I answer to find armed strangers in the land. Tell me quickly: are you friends or foes of Lamedon?''

Isildur raised his hand, halting the column. The men stared at the man in some astonishment, but the king answered him civilly enough. ``We are friends of this land and its people. We have just come from an interview with your Master Ingold,'' he said.

The giant stood unmoving in the road and his gaze took in the king from helm to hoof. At last he grunted. ``Aye,'' he said. ``I believe you. You may pass.'' He stood aside.

``We thank you, yeoman, for your trust,'' said the king, spurring Fleetfoot forward. The line marched forward again. ``And the drums call the men of Lamedon to war against the powers of the east. We go now to fight the Enemy.''

The herdsman looked up the road toward Calembel. ``I will go then,'' he said. ``They may need my help.'' He strode off up the road with never a glance at the long column of armed men marching past.

Isildur turned to Ohtar and answered his grin with his own. ``Stalwart men, these herdsmen of Lamedon. I wonder what he would have done if I had said we were foes. Did you see the size of him? He is nearly a giant.''

``Have I not told you, Sire, never to underestimate us hill folk?''

``Aye, have you not, endlessly,'' he sighed.

The road slanted down across the wide shoulder of the mountains. Now and again it dipped into a dell where a rocky stream tumbled noisily beneath pine and aspen. At one especially deep chasm the road leaped across on a high stone bridge of many arches. On the parapet crouched misshapen stone figures covered in orange and green lichen, rounded by ages of weather. They were stubby fat seated figures with crossed legs and hands. They seemed human and yet undefinably alien, and they were ancient. They were hewn by a folk who had disappeared so long ago that they were forgotten even to legend, save as a single word: Púkel. They were gone without a trace, save for a handful of huge bridges, causeways, and viaducts scattered about in the higher, more remote valleys. And all were sound yet, most in daily use. What was their world like, that they should expend such energies building excellent roads in an age when all other ways in Middle-earth were but animal trails. But the Púkel-men had disappeared before ever the fathers of the Edain had come to the shores of Middle-earth. What manner of folk they were, whence they had come and whither gone, none could guess. Perhaps even the silent stones had forgotten.


On the second day from Calembel they descended with many turnings into the valley of the Ringlo. On the banks of that river they came to Ethring, a small settlement consisting of only a few rough dwellings clustered at the fords. As they entered the town, a small crowd gathered and cheered their progress. Noticing that most were women and children, Isildur stopped and beckoned an old farmwife holding a child by the hand.

They both came shyly forward to stand beside the huge black charger, clearly in awe of the stern dark man towering above them. The toddler stared up wide-eyed. But the king smiled kindly down.

"Good people, be not afraid of us. We will neither harm you nor rob you."

Her wrinkled face broke into a smile.

"Oh, I know that, Sire. A rider from Calembel dashed through yesterday, and now all the menfolk are riding about the hills, spreading the alarm. He said you were coming, and I wanted the boy to see you." She bent down to the boy now examining the mailed foot in a jeweled stirrup just above his head.

"Uri, this is a real king." The boy looked up and for the first time met the eyes of the knight on the horse.

"My name is Isildur," said the king. The boy only stared, and the woman laughed.

``Welcome to Ethring, my lord,'' she said. ``Tomorrow midday should see two hundred ready to ride to Linhir, if you please, sir.''

``My thanks and long life to you, good woman,'' Isildur replied. ``It does please me indeed. The heralds of Calembel have done their work well, it would seem. My blessing and my thanks to the town of Ethring,'' he called, and the people cheered and called out good wishes as they passed.


From Ethring the road turned south and climbed a steep ridge. It was the last rolling outlier of the mighty Ered Nimrais, now gleaming white in the north far behind them. Their peaks were lost in caps of grey cloud.

The army camped that night in the saddle between two rounded peaks. As they broke camp in the morning, the sun rose out of a haze in the east and cast long rays across the broad land of Lebennin at their feet. It was a land of undulating hills and green fields, with copses of oak and vanella. Streams meandered among cottonwoods as the land gradually flattened until, away to the south, they fell away to meet the distant gleam of the sea. Here and there thin columns of smoke rose vertically in the still air, marking isolated cottages hidden in the folds of the land. The road broadened as it descended from the hills, and the land became more settled. The men marched now between hedgerows. People rushed across the fields to stare and wave as they passed.

They pressed on and covered many leagues on the good road. At dusk they camped on a greensward by a homestead whose folk were most kind and helpful. When the men woke in the morning, crying gulls were circling above, heralding the sea at last. They hurried on, spirits rising as they saw on every hand the signs of many men preparing to join them. Just before evening, they came to Linhir near the mouth of the Gilrain.

It was a sizable town with no wall, but large earthworks had been thrown up around it. The triple ramparts were arranged in the shape of a star, so that a foe assaulting one part of the wall must expose his back to another. The mounds were not overly high, but very steep on the outer side, and their crests hid trenches for the defenders. Their inner sides were gently sloped so that if one rampart were taken its defenders could fall back to the next. Within the inmost rampart lay a wide moat with but a single bridge cunningly devised so it could be turned by a great windlass. These defenses had been thrown up but a few years before against the pirates who had started again to raid the coast.

The Gilrain at this point was wide and swift but not deep, easily crossed at many points near the town. But at the spring flood tides a sizable bore rushes up the river and well past the town to the confluence of the Serni, and woe then to any traveller caught in the fords.

On this day the people of Linhir were lining the ramparts to greet their king. The column clattered across the wooden bridge and entered the city, and women leaned from upper windows to throw garlands to the king. One caught on the wing of his helmet and he laughed and threw it back up at the giggling girl who had dropped it.

In the center of the town they came to a large open court, and there they were met by an old gray-bearded man in a long blue robe, wearing a massive silver medallion about his neck.

``Greetings, Isildur King!'' he cried in a loud but quavering voice. ``I am Guthmar, Elder of Linhir and keeper of the Ethir Anduin. We have had already tidings out of Lamedon and we know your errand. Know you that for two days the men have been gathering for your muster. The people of Lebennin are with you, Sire, and all our resources are at your disposal. Welcome to Linhir.''

Isildur dismounted and clasped his hand. ``A fair speech and a fair city, Elder Guthmar. It is long indeed since last I visited Linhir and it is a joy to find it as fair, and as loyal, as I recalled it. May you and yours prosper forever.''

Guthmar bowed his head and led them into his hall, a long stone room with a high arched ceiling and columned galleries on either side. They looked about them with wonder, for the walls above the galleries were lined with immense tapestries. The hangings were wondrous to look upon, alive with gulls and rocky coastlines and the colors of sea and sky. All were beautiful, but Ohtar's eye was caught by the largest, which hung at the far end of the hall behind a great carved oak table set with many candles.

The huge tapestry was also blue and grey, but it was shot with many glistening gold threads too, and it showed a towering city on a rugged precipice high above an azure bay. Pines lined the cliffs and from the shapely towers pennants fluttered in a stiff sea breeze. Ohtar turned to Guthmar in amazement.

``What a magnificent scene! Can that be a mortal place, Elder, or is it some artist's dream of deathless Avallónë?'' Guthmar smiled and opened his mouth to reply, but to their surprise it was Isildur instead who answered.

``That place was all too mortal, Ohtar. It is Rómenna, a great haven of Númenor that is no more. Mark you that shady strand there beneath the leaning trees? It is said that Elros Peredhil, founder of Númenor and of my line, first set foot on the island of Elenna at that place when the New Age was young.

``Ah, Rómenna, fairest of the cities of Men, would I could walk your fair broad streets again. But now only the octopus treads those stones and schools of fish dart through the open windows of those towers. O city that gave me birth, would that I could return the gift and bring you again to life. But alas, even Osgiliath, that I tried to build in your image, is fair no more, but despoiled. But not for ever, I swear it.'' His eyes roamed from detail to detail of the vast image, but they were filled with sadness.

Guthmar clapped for his servants. ``My lord, I am sorry, I did not think... I will have it covered.'' But Isildur waved away the pages who were hurrying forward. ``No, Guthmar, it is not necessary. It brings me pain, it is true, but it is a sweet pang indeed to see Rómenna again, as I thought I never should. But how comes it here?''

``The work was done long ago by Fornen, our city's greatest artisan. Linhir was founded by Númenórean mariners, as were Pelargir and Anglond, and even Umbar far to the south, though the last has fallen from her former glory. Though there are few here now with pure Dúnadan blood, still we look with pride to our Númenórean heritage. Fornen lived in Rómenna before he emigrated here. In his old age he created this tapestry, working solely from memory.''

``From memory?'' exclaimed Isildur. ``I dwelt in that city for thirty years and I could not recall all those towers, yet I swear they were just as the artist depicted them. This image must be old indeed, for it shows only two quays in the harbor, yet a third was twice an hundred years old when I was a boy there. This tapestry of yours is priceless, Guthmar. Protect it well.''

``It is guarded both day and night, Sire, for it is our most prized heirloom. It is said that while it endures the kingdom will be safe.''

``Then may your guards never sleep, good Elder, for we have need of every help in these troubled times.''

Then they went to table and food was set before them. When they had supped, Guthmar asked after their journey. He was dismayed to learn of the Corsairs' attack upon Anglond, for Linhir lived always in fear of their raids, and Anglond was a far stronger city, though further from the protection of the fleet of Gondor at Pelargir.

``And so Anglond feared to send its men with you, my king?'' he exclaimed. ``I can little blame them, for our watchmen, too, are always watching for the black sails at the horizon. Still, we will offer you what men we can spare. But tell me, Sire, did the men of Anfalas not rise to your banner?''

Isildur shook his head sadly. ``Alas, no. And that is the most dire news of all, Elder Guthmar. On the second day of Nórui, we departed Anglond, bound south over the hills of the Pinnath Gelin. In the afternoon of the third day we reached the long deep-cleft valley of Nanbrethil, where the road crests the hills and begins to fall away to Anfalas. There we spied coming toward us a ragged band of people, men and women, young and old. They were afoot and plodded slowly, though they bore no baggage. Then one of the women raised her eyes, saw us, and gave a shriek of terror. The others saw us and scattered, the women clambering into the rocks on either side of the road, the men drawing their swords and forming a line across the road. There was grim determination in their eyes, but not a glimmer of hope. We moved forward cautiously, making no hostile sign. They stood their ground against our much greater numbers, their knuckles white on their sword hilts. We halted at a small distance. I raised my arm in greeting, but at the same moment one of the strangers cried out.

```The White Tree!' He turned to a large man beside him, clutching his shoulder and pointing. `Look, Turgon! See you their banner? They bear the Tree of Gondor!'

``And I called out, `You see before you both Gondor's Tree and her King, for I am Isildur Elendilson, and if you be friends of that land you have nothing to fear from us.'

``Then the men sheathed their swords and called their women forth. They seemed greatly relieved but I saw no smiles nor signs of gladness at our meeting. I spoke to the large man, who was wearing rich clothes, though much torn and stained. `You are called Turgon?' I asked. `Of what city are you?'

``He gave me a hard look. `Of no city, my lord,' he answered grimly, and one of the women turned away with a stifled sob.

``I was much puzzled by this answer. `You are not dressed as country folk. Surely you come from Ethir Lefnui or some other city in these parts.'

``Turgon replied tight-lipped. `We are the people of Ethir Lefnui, but there is no city of that name.'

``Those of my people standing near cried out. `No Ethir Lefnui? Is he mad?'

``A young man beside Turgon fell to his knees, his sword fallen unheeded into the dust. `Turgon speaks true,' he wailed. `They have destroyed our city. Ethir Lefnui is dead. Its gardens are desert, its fields burned, its very walls thrown down. They have murdered our lord, they have slain our friends and families, they have destroyed our temples and holy places. We are homeless, we are penniless, we are dead!' He pressed his face to the ground and sobbed into the dust.

``We gazed at him in pity and horror, but his companions looked on with eyes devoid of emotion as the boy sobbed out his anguish. Turgon looked at me.

```He saw his father, mother, and two sisters slaughtered, He was not discovered and they died relatively swift deaths. Others here were not so fortunate.' I looked from face to face and read the horrors writ there by a cruel hand.

```Lefnui gone?' I cried. `But your walls were high and your people numerous and valiant. Surely there are not orcs enough in all the Ered Nimrais to cast down so great a city.'

```Orcs, my lord?' said a tall man, stepping forward angrily. `It was not orcs that did this, but Men. Men of high lineage and claiming brave Elros as their Sire. Dúnedain, my lord, like unto yourself!' His eyes flashed as he spat out these words and I thought for a moment he was going to strike at me, but Turgon caught his arm.

```Forgive him, my lord. He is nearly out of his mind with grief, he knows not what he says. It was the Corsairs, my lord, the men of Umbar, may they rot for the deed.'

``Then I cast back my cloak and dismounted before them. `Do I look a pirate to you, yeoman? The Corsairs are indeed Dúnedain, but my line was severed from theirs a long age ago. My ancestors, the Faithful lords of Andúnië, came among you thousands of years ago and founded Pelargir on Anduin. That city has always been your friend and ally. They brought peace and prosperity to a land that had never known them in all the deeps of time before. Why, it was we Faithful who helped you to raise Ethir Lefnui in the Dark Years when all the rest of Middle-earth was but a wilderness peopled by roving bands of barbarians.

```Aye, the Corsairs are Dúnedain as you say, but they were touched long ago by the hand and mind of the Enemy, and they have been turned to evil. They have done little for the Uialedain of Middle-earth but raid and pillage and enslave you. The rape of Ethir Lefnui is not due to Númenórean blood, but to the evil designs of Sauron.

```But still I say I am proud of my heritage. My family has brought unity and many years of peace to all the lands of the West. We have long been friends and allies to the Uialedain. Let us not allow our common enemies to divide us now, when our need is greatest.'

``The man stared open-mouthed, then stepped back a pace and stammered, `Forgive me, my lord. I... I....'

```I know. You have lost much and borne much. I know what it is to lose your homeland utterly. I know what it is to see your loved ones slain. You are sorely wronged and you wish to strike back against those who have done this to you. But turn that rage upon the proper enemy. Let Sauron feel your vengeance, not we who share your pain. Ride with me now and together we will return the blows he has dealt us.'

``The man bent his head. `My lord,' he said through clenched teeth. `I will serve you to the end.' Then Turgon held aloft his sword and cried, `And I, my king.' And his fellows followed him, making a brave but pitiable sight.

``I called Turgon to me then. `We had planned to go next to Lefnui and thence to Ringlond. Might there not be others of your people still at Lefnui? Did you search the city thoroughly?' But he shook his head grimly. `Naught lives there now, save the lizards and the rats. The thrice-cursed pirates leveled the city until stone no longer stood upon stone. That which was Ethir Lefnui is dead. Even the memory of the city is poisoned for us. If we ever rebuild it shall be in some other place and it shall bear another name.'

``I nodded, understanding his feelings. `So be it then,' I said. ``Thus passes a fair city of Men.' Turning then to my esquire, I said, `We shall not take the South Road then, but bear away to the east immediately and follow the skirts of the mountains to Erech in the valley of the Morthond. Our journey will thereby be shortened by near a hundred leagues and we may yet come to Osgiliath by the appointed time. Curse the Umbardrim for traitors! I had thought to have gathered a mighty army by this time, but we have but few more than we started with two months ago.'

``This is grim tidings indeed, Sire,'' said Guthmar. ``The people of Anfalas, and especially the weavers of Ethir Lefnui, have long been our friends. It is hard to believe that they are gone.''

``Nonetheless,'' said Isildur, ``all that remain of that people are in my camp without your walls.''

``I will see that my people give them special care and attention,'' said Guthmar, and he gave such orders at once. He and Isildur sat late and talked of olden times and the deeds of mighty folk of the past. Guthmar was an avid student of the lore of the elder days. His knowledge was great, and Isildur loved nothing better than to share his interest in the past.

They told each other tales of the heros of old: of Tuor and Barahir and Eärendil the Mariner. They talked of famous lovers: of Beren One-hand and Lúthien Tinúviel; of Idril and Tuor. There was much ale and laughter too, in which Ohtar took more interest, though he stayed close to Isildur. He noticed that as Guthmar spoke, the king's eyes strayed back to the magnificent tapestry above them. It was late before all were abed and the city quiet at last.


They passed the following morning in leisure, walking in Guthmar's rich orchards and watching parties of men riding into Linhir from all directions. They came in small groups, rarely numbering more than a score or two; hunters from the highlands of the Gilrain, bird-snarers from the marshes of the Ethir Anduin, and tillers and husbandmen from Dor-en-Ernil and the broad open lands about the river Serni. Then in the afternoon a larger column of horsemen rode in from the north, led by Ingold of Calembel, and Isildur went to meet him.

``So you have come as promised, brave Ingold,'' he called as the men dismounted and were led to their place in the large camp before the city gates.

``Aye, my lord, but I could find but five hundreds all told between Lamedon and here, and none are seasoned warriors, I fear. Many of our abler men mustered to the earlier call of your father and are with him yet in Gorgoroth. Too many of these new men are beardless youths, who were too young to follow Elendil in `30. They are as like as not to trip over their own swords. But they are strong and eager and will fight when the time comes.''

``You have done very well, Ingold. Courage and strength will stand a man in good stead in a battle, be it his first or his last. There are many more like them already in this camp, and more arriving each hour. Go you among them after you have encamped, and form them into companies according to the provinces from which they came. Have each company elect a leader to lead them in battle, one they will follow and who can keep his head when tumult is all around. Hopefully there is at least one experienced warrior in each company, and if the men know their lives will depend on him, we can trust their choice.

``Then have each company make a standard for their province if they have not one, so they can march beneath the colors of their homeland. A trusted commander and a fluttering banner they can see will lend strength and resolve that may surprise the lads. A man fights the harder when he fights alongside his neighbors under the banner of his homeland. The sight reminds him of his home and loved ones for whom he fights. When all this is done, have each company commander come to the square in the center of the city in the twelfth hour tonight. I would address them.

``Ohtar, you will take charge of the armaments. Speak to Guthmar and see if he can find arms enough for all the men. I see too many carrying hoes and pitchforks when swords or spears would serve them better. And pass the word to our own companies. The twelfth hour for the council.''


That evening, as the sun turned the towers of Linhir a rose pink, Isildur met with his new lieutenants in the great square of Linhir. He wore the high helm of the Kings of the Realms in Exile, and Ohtar stood by his side bearing aloft the great standard of Gondor. When they appeared with Guthmar from the doors of his court, the assembled host gave a great cheer, for it seemed to them that they saw before them one of the great sea-kings of old. Isildur raised his hand to still the cheering and cried out loudly, his voice ringing across the square.

``Men of the Southlands! Cheer not for me. All praise and honor should go unto you. I fight to recover my own country and to avenge wrongs done to me personally. But you, who are leaving your peaceful homes and your loved ones to fight with me in my cause, I salute you!'' Again the court resounded with cheers.

``You all know whom we strive against. I would have you know more clearly why. The Dark Lord has been an enemy to Men since he was but a servant of Morgoth the Damned, source of all the evil in Middle-earth. With all the strength and powers of all the free peoples of the West, and with great and irreparable loss, Morgoth was at last overthrown and the Elder Days of the world came to an end. The people of those times thought that evil was destroyed forever, root and branch, and they declared that a New Age had begun, free of the woes of the Old. It was a New Age, bright with hope and promise of peace, but it was also sadder, less innocent. All knew then that the Elves, the Firstborn that created so much beauty in the world, would be passing from it anon, that the wonders of the world were but passing, mortal things. Still, they did have peace, and the world was green and joyous again, as had not been for many a long year while Morgoth ruled. And yet a shadow remained, unmarked and unknown to all but the Wise.

``Yes, Morgoth was cast out, but his servant Sauron had escaped the ruin of Thangorodrim. He fled into exile in the East and lay there long, nursing his hatred and his resentment, plotting his revenge. He perfected the arts taught him by his master of old, and he dabbled in things only the Valar should attempt. He created races that never walked in the songs of the Valar at the Beginning: the orcs, and the trolls, and other wights that should never have been.

``When he deemed that his strength was sufficient, he arose again, and openly made war on the West. He attacked and destroyed Eregion, fairest of all the Elf-kingdoms; he despoiled the fair cities of Rhûn; he conquered the Uialedain kingdoms of men and enslaved their kings to his will, and he drew Harad into his realm. He seduced the mighty kings of Númenor and brought about the downfall of that great land, causing the deaths of untold thousands.

``He is a mighty foe. We do not even know what manner of wight he is. He is neither Man nor Elf, but a creature wholly evil, intent on the destruction of all that is good and free and fair. He does not die, but he can be crushed and his power broken, or so the Wise tell us. The armed might of Gondor and Arnor, with the aid of our Elvish brothers, has succeeded in invading the Black Land and even encircling him there in his fortress of Barad-dûr. But his reach is yet long. The Corsairs of Umbar serve his purposes, and the cruel Haradrim work his will when they attack their neighbors. His evil is at work even here in the Southlands, for your neighbors of the mountains have become his pawns. The Eredrim have turned their backs on their friends of old and refused us their aid.''

An angry murmur arose. Most had not heard these tidings yet. One captain standing nearby called out. ``But did they not swear fealty to you and yours at Erech long years ago? For such is the tale that is told.''

Isildur nodded grimly. ``Aye, they swore, but their word is as dust in the wind. They have sold their honor to the Dark Lord.''

Then many men cried out in anger. ``They are traitors. We should not leave them at our backs. Let us assail them in their mountain fastnesses before we set out. They dishonor all of us in the south. We shall teach them the price of treachery!''

``No!'' cried Isildur, and his voice was strong and commanding, echoing from the walls and drowning out all other voices. ``Heed not the Eredrim. They serve us not, but they shall do us no more harm. They will hide in their deep places and never again come forth to trouble our councils, unless it be to fulfill their oath at last. I have laid a doom upon them that may not be broken. They are lost to themselves and the world!''

Then did the men look with wonder on the king, for they saw that his eyes pierced regions unknown to lesser men, and he wielded weapons beyond their ken, powers learned in far lands that are now no more. Many shuddered at the cold, unforgiving tone in his voice, and counted themselves fortunate they had willingly answered his call.

``No, we march not north against the Eredrim,'' he shouted, ``but east, against the very source of the evil that threatens us. First we go to Pelargir to join with other allies there, then on to Osgiliath, where yet more friends will join us. There, on Midyear's Day, will be held a great council of many peoples.'' He swept out his blade and held it ringing above his head.

``There shall an army be assembled that will shake even the Black Throne itself. Nay, we shall even throw it down and crush it into dust!''

And the men brandished their weapons and roared their approval. ``Isildur!'' they cried, ``Isildur, for Gondor and the South!''

Chapter Five

Throughout the following day the army set about preparing arms and equipment and organizing the chains of command. The camp was a hive of activity. Everywhere people were hurrying about bearing supplies. Guthmar provided huge wains drawn by teams of oxen, and the good people of Linhir filled them with grain and fruit and salted meats. Finally all was done and the men fell on their cots in exhaustion.

They had slept but a few hours when the horns rang out in the early morning air. By the first hour after dawn, Ohtar raised the standard beside the king and the host set off to the cheers of the townspeople on the walls. They were a much larger company now, a true army at last. Behind the king's company rode the knights of Ithilien, followed by the lancers of Calenardhon and Angrenost. Then came the first of the infantry: the handful of seamen and fishermen of Anglond and the few grim survivors of Ethir Lefnui with their banner of azure and sable forever at half staff. Then came a large body of mounted hill men from Lamedon with Ingold at their head, and behind them strode a long column under the colors of Dor-en-ernil and even far Belfalas, away in the south. Next marched the farmers and herdsmen and weavers and vintners of Lebennin, thousands strong. Finally a long train of supply wains pulled by oxen joined the column, now winding away eastward towards Pelargir.

The first day they covered no great distance, for many of the new foot soldiers were unused to long journeys. They held a slow and steady pace and had covered but a dozen miles by dark. They camped where they had halted, in a long line of tents down the center of the road, for the land was grown fenny and concealed many treacherous bogs. Each company built fires and the supply wains creaked slowly up the line, passing out the first night's dinner. Late it was before they pulled into the camp of the Ithilien knights in the vanguard, and later still before the teamsters had their animals fed and hobbled and could seek out their own dinner and rest.

The army travelled thus through low hills and across wide fields dotted with wildflowers all that day and part of the next, then the road began gradually climbing until they were winding among tall downs. Then in the tenth hour of the day as their shadows were lengthening before them, they crested a hill and there below them lay the city of Pelargir gleaming in the westering sun.

It was a city of great beauty, for it crowned a high domed hill set between two large rivers. It was ringed with a stout wall studded with many towers, and it was built of a pale rose granite that caught the light and sent back glints and sparks to the eye, as if stars twinkled within the stone. The city within the walls was lofty and well-proportioned. Many houses bore flat roofs where women could be seen at their work under parti-colored awnings. Here and there rose high-arched domes of white limestone or gilded wood. And from the very heart of the city, at the crest of the hill rose a tall slim tower with a conical roof and a gallery beneath, built all of sky-blue marble quarried high in the Ered Nimrais and hauled with much labor on sledges and barges to the city.

A great gate yawned in the wall to the southwest and a broad avenue led down to the quays. Long river barges lay at the docks beside broad-beamed merchantmen and swift coastal luggers from a dozen ports. But towering over all the other craft were the white masts of the long ships of the fleet of Pelargir, and their sails were the color of deep waters.

The icy river Sirith tumbled down from the snowfields of the Ered Nimrais and curled about the western walls of Pelargir like a protective arm. Thence it flowed under a broad triple-arched bridge with strong towers at either end, the only point below the mountains where a man might cross the Sirith in any safety. The river, as if conquered at last, then yielded its blue waters to the brown flood of the mighty Anduin, greatest of all rivers of Middle-earth, for the last miles to the sea.

The men of Pelargir built and fortified that bridge a thousand years ago, and it had never been unguarded since that day, for it was the only land route into the south of Anórien. Because Pelargir guarded both this bridge and the great river Anduin itself, it was known throughout Gondor as the Gate of the South. It was a title of which the men of Pelargir were justly proud, for in all those centuries no enemy had ever succeeded in passing Pelargir.

As the van started down the hill toward the bridge, a horseman burst from the nearest bridge tower and rode hard to meet them. As he approached, they could see he wore jet black armor and a tall helm with a plume of peacock blue that streamed behind him as he thundered up the slope in a cloud of dust. He was riding hard and seemed so resolute and fierce that some began to doubt his intentions, but Isildur merely drew up Fleetfoot and awaited his arrival.

The dark horseman drew up before the king so suddenly that his horse reared and neighed, a ghostly shadow in the cloud of dust that now surrounded him. The knight leaped nimbly to the ground and swept off his helmet. He was a young man with a strong and noble face, and his eyes gleamed with pride.

``Isildur my king,'' he cried with a stately bow. ``I have the honor to welcome you to Pelargir in the name of Barathor, Lord of Pelargir and Keeper of the Gate of the South. I am Duitirith, his son and heir.''

Isildur greeted him saying, ``We thank you, Duitirith, son of Barathor. We have met before, though you would not remember it. The last time we were in your father's court, you were but a child on your father's lap.''

Duitirith blushed. ``Too many years have passed since last you honored us, Sire,'' he said. ``As you see, I have grown to manhood in your absence. And yet I do indeed remember you, Sire, for it was the sight of you and your kind words that have stood always as my model and my inspiration.''

Isildur's laugh rang out. ``Is that so? Well, young Duitirith, your fair speech complements your appearance and bearing. I am pleased to see you again and to find you grown tall and straight. Lead us now to your father that we may speak with him.''

Duitirith bowed low. ``It is my honor as well as my pleasure, Sire, for the city is prepared to greet you and bid you welcome.'' So saying, he mounted and rode with them down to the bridge. The garrison there had lined both sides of the bridge and stood now at attention, their arms held aloft and their panoply gleaming in the setting sun. A trumpet sounded high above their heads and the banners of Gondor and Pelargir broke from every tower in the city. As they cantered over the span, Isildur turned to his guide.

``Duitirith. Your name means Guardian of the River in the Eldarin tongue. Are you then commander of this garrison, charged with the keeping of this bridge?''

Duitirith laughed. ``I am indeed charged with that honor, Sire, and a good company they are. I chose and trained each one myself. But my name does not refer to the Sirith, but to Anduin himself. One day I shall rule Pelargir and guard the Great River for Gondor. You may be assured, Sire, that no enemy shall ever pass this city when I wear the Lord's Ring.''

``I doubt it not,'' smiled Isildur, watching the eager, intent faces of Duitirith's men, now lining the parapet with their spears arching above the road. Then they came to the gates of the city, but the gates were yet closed. The column halted. A voice called down from the parapets above the gate.

``You are come to Pelargir upon Anduin. State your name and your land and the name of the lord you serve.'' Duitirith turned to the king. ``We mean no disrespect, Sire. We know well who you are. But that is the traditional gate challenge and it has been asked of every traveller to cross this bridge for over a thousand years. None may enter without replying satisfactorily to the challenge.''

``We are not offended, good Duitirith. It pleases us to see the Gate of the South guarded yet against our enemies. We know the challenge well. I answered it first when my people arrived at these quays out of storm and tumult at the downfall of Númenor.'' He stood in his stirrups and called out in his booming clear voice.

``I am called Isildur Elendilson of Gondor and I serve my liege, Elendil, High King of the Realms in Exile.''

``You are then a friend of this city,'' cried the unseen voice. ``Enter in peace, Isildur of Gondor.'' The great gates creaked slowly open and a tall black portcullis rattled up into the shadows above the door. A group of knights in the livery of the Lord of Pelargir waited beyond.

``These men will escort you to the Blue Tower, Sire,'' said Duitirith. ``I must excuse myself, for I may not leave my post until I am relieved. I shall see you at dinner. Farewell and welcome again.'' He wheeled his horse to return to his post at the bridge.

Trumpets rang out again, and Isildur and his army rode into the city amid the cheers of thousands of people. They were dressed in every bright color and were very fair to look upon. Petals of rose and elanor fluttered down on the men from the balconies and rooftops, while minstrels strummed citterns and lutes and winded their pipes. The people's faces were shining with joy and wonder as they gazed upon their king, for they loved him well. Often in the old days before the war Isildur would board the ferry to visit Pelargir and walk among them with his open countenance and his great rolling laugh. Few of these people had ever visited far-off Osgiliath, and Isildur had been to them the symbol of the royal might of Gondor. Now they welcomed him as a friend returning after a long absence, and they felt his gladness too.

As the long column wended through the streets of the city the infectious mood of gaiety began to spread among the soldiers and the long grim march turned into a joyous parade. From somewhere in the ranks a deep baritone voice burst into song and soon others joined in, blending their voices of many lands in an ancient song of homecoming. The words were in the ancestral tongue of these people of the Southlands, and they spoke of the days before the coming among them of the people of the West. The people of the city joined in joyfully. The Dúnedain among the host, though they could understand but few of the words, felt their hearts lifted at the sound of tens of thousands of voices raised in welcome. The Uialedain tongue is at its most beautiful in lyric song and poetry, and the people's voices blended as in a choir.

And so they came at last in song to the Blue Tower in the heart of the city. There they were ushered into the great court where sat Barathor, Lord of Pelargir. He sat in a tall throne fashioned after the outspread wings of a sea bird, as if the seat were about to take flight. It was set with uncountable tiles and stones, each a different shade of blue. The floor too was of blue mosaic, with wide bands of gold radiating from the central dais. Barathor wore a long cloak of white feathers and on his hand was a ring of mithril, the Lord's Ring. His hair was gray and his face lined, but his back was still straight as a lance and his eyes clear. He rose as Isildur entered and went to greet him.

``Welcome, Isildur, my king and my friend.''

Isildur clasped arms with him. ``So, Barathor, we meet again as of old, though the world has changed much since last we feasted together in your hall.''

``Aye, the world has changed, but you have not, my liege. Ten years' leaves have withered and fallen, but you look just as you did then. It is your royal blood. The heirs of Elros have ever been a long-lived line.''

At that moment a striking woman with flaming red hair appeared and came to Barathor's side. He took her hand and turned to Isildur. ``I hope you have not forgotten my lady?''

Isildur smiled at her. ``How could I forget the lovely Heleth? I have spoken with your son, lady, and his bearing and countenance are a compliment to you.''

She smiled. ``You are kind, Isildur King. We are indeed proud of him.''

``But come,'' said Barathor. ``You must be tired. First you must bathe and rest. Then tonight we shall sit at board together and it will be again as it was.''

Isildur called to his squire. ``Come, Ohtar, a bath calls us. Let us scrub the soil of Lebennin from our limbs.''

Later, washed and dressed in fresh garments, they dined with Barathor and his family. It was a noble feast, full welcome after the weary months of marching. When at last the groaning boards were cleared, they sat and sipped good wine and listened to the strains of music. There sang the lute and the recorder, sweet and pure, soothing to their hearts. Barathor called for Isildur's cup to be refilled.

``My king,'' he said. ``you march with a great army at your back and glad we are to see the banners of our allies before our walls in these troubled times. But I fear your errand is not the defense of Pelargir. Whither are you bound?''

Isildur met Barathor's level gaze. ``We march to Osgiliath to meet with our allies the Elves. There will be assembled a host so mighty that the servants of evil shall quail before it. Then shall Ithilien be freed at last, and I shall once more sit in the high seat of Minas Ithil.''

``Such is our wish also, my king,'' said Barathor. ``Nothing would gladden our hearts more than to see you restored to your own and the fields of Ithilien swept clean of the foul orcs. They are a sore trial to us. Our villages near the river are often raided by roving bands of orcs from South Ithilien, but they have done their foul deeds and crawled back to their holes before we can come against them.

``It is maddening,'' exclaimed Duitirith. ``We could stop them if we could man all the old guard posts along the banks of Anduin as of old. But we dare not spare the men from the fleet. We are caught between two evils and cannot turn all our forces against either. Those blackguard Corsairs of Umbar sail forth each year to harry our fishing villages and ships. We never know where they're going to strike next. They have pillaged and murdered in dozens of our smaller ports over the years. Our ships patrol the coast, but it is rare that we get sight of them and rarer still that we can lay alongside them. The Corsairs sail smaller ships, no more than two hundred men in each, but they are well-handled and devilish fast. We chase them, but they lay closer to the wind than our ships. It drives us mad, watching them sail away, knowing they are carrying our people into slavery.

``Every year the Corsairs grow more powerful and more bold. Their attack last year was on a settlement in the Ethir Anduin, not twenty leagues from here. Some there are who whisper that they might even attempt an attack on Pelargir herself, though I myself believe they would not be so foolish. Still, they could be at sea even as we speak.''

``They are indeed,'' said Isildur suddenly. ``It is most certain.''

Heleth blanched and gripped the hand of her husband, and the guests glimpsed for a moment the great fear with which the Pelargrim share their lives.

``We have had no reports of pirates off the coasts this half year or more,'' protested Barathor.

``I have seen them with my own eyes,'' replied Isildur, ``and within the month past has this blade been crossed with those of Umbar.''

``Alas,'' cried Heleth. ``Full oft do the black sails ghost through our nightmares. But it is chilling indeed to know they sail again in reality.''

Barathor looked close at Isildur. ``It would seem there are tales and tales here. If the Corsairs are abroad again I would know all you can tell me.''

``Aye, there is a tale indeed, though it is not a pleasant one. Know you that we have marched around the whole of the Ered Nimrais, seeking allies for our struggle with the Dark Lord. But we crossed all of Calenardhon with little aid to us, and we grew discouraged. When we came unto Anglond it was at peace and many there were eager to ride with us to the relief of Ithilien. But the very day we arrived, the Pirates of Umbar fell upon the city and we were besieged there. They came in many long ships and they put the fields and the farms to the torch, until the sky was darkened with the reek. The folk of the country flew to arms and most reached the safety of the walls, but those caught in the fields or on the roads, the old and the lame, were hacked down like wheat before our eyes.'' Heleth hid her face in her hands.

``Two weeks were we besieged there, while all about us bands of pirates pillaged the land, taking all they could bear off and despoiling the rest. Again and again they drove against the walls, but we held firm, and in the end they withdrew and sailed away to the south.''

``They remained in siege for two weeks?'' exclaimed Barathor. ``They have grown bold indeed. They usually strike quickly and are gone in a few hours. It is not like them to lay a siege against a strongly held town.''

``Aye,'' agreed Ohtar, ``the people of Anglond were not prepared for so strong an assault. There was but little rejoicing when they sailed at last, for many had died and the spring crops were destroyed, the livestock slain. We fear they will have a hard time of it when winter comes. We tarried with them until the dead were buried and the defenses repaired, but when we left that sad place, few indeed of the brave knights of Anglond marched with us. Many were needed to rebuild the town and the farms, others to toil in the fields to gather what might be gained before autumn, and still more mouldered beneath the great down and tall menhir before the gates of the city.''

``This is grave news indeed,'' mourned Barathor. ``The people of Anglond are our friends and allies, and we have good trade with them in safer times. May they find peace.'' He was silent for a moment, but then he looked again at Isildur.

``But you say you received little help from Calenardhon? What of the brave lords of the vast grasslands? Did they not rally to you?''

Isildur shook his head. ``The plains of Calenardhon are vast indeed, but few people live there. The only town of any size is at the great citadel of Angrenost in the southern end of the Mountains of Mist. The army of Gondor has long maintained a garrison there, for it is a wild and strange country, bordered as it is by the wild lands of Dunland and the mysterious Forest of Fangorn. The mountains have always been dangerous, but they have become much more so of late. Trolls and orcs and huge wolves roam those dark forests, and it is even said that the trees walk in the deep reaches of Fangorn. Of this we cannot swear, but the orcs are real enough, for we spied several roaming bands in the brief time we were there. The garrison was already undermanned since the muster for the war in the east, and they could spare but few. Still, threescore volunteered to join us, and they have proven fierce warriors and horsemen without equal.''

Duitirith struck his fist down on the table. ``A curse on all the servants of evil! They thwart us on every side. And were there no others to aid you in all the northern provinces?''

Isildur shook his head sadly. ``No. We had hoped for a thousand or more, and as many from Anglond, but it was not to be.''

``Then all the host we see with you now is from the southlands?'' asked Duitirith. ``Still, I should have thought more would have risen to you.''

``The worst is not yet told,'' said Isildur. Heleth raised her eyes to him, and he could see that tears already brimmed there. ``I am sorry, lady, to be the bearer of such ill tidings, but we live in evil times.''

``Tell us all, Sire,'' said Barathor.

``After leaving Anglond we marched toward Ethir Lefnui in Anfalas. But on the way we met the remnants of the people of that city. The Corsairs have sacked Lefnui and destroyed it utterly.'' Heleth gave a wail of grief and all nearby gasped in dismay.

``There were no more than thirty survivors all told. The rest were slain. The city was pulled down to ruin. There was no longer any point in journeying there. And so we pressed on through the highlands and crossed the river Lefnui near its source, not at its mouth as we had intended. A week of hard travelling brought us to the banks of the Morthond. There we struck the road which follows the river up from Ringlond, away down on the coast. Turning north, we passed through the great Blackroot Gorge with the river roaring and foaming far below, and emerged at last into the high valley of Erech. There indeed my chief hope lay, for the Eredrim are a strong nation and already sworn to our aid.

``We met there with their lord Romach and I called them to fulfill their oath. But they had taken evil counsel and they refused me in despite of their word. For their minds had been turned against us by an emissary from Umbar.''

``The cursed Black Pirates again,'' cried Duitirith, leaping to his feet. ``They have ever conspired against us and harassed our ports and shipping. I urge you again, father. Let us sail against them and drive them forever from the sea!'' Several of the younger knights shouted their agreement.

Barathor shook his head. ``We dare not. Not yet. They are mighty indeed, and we are sorely weakened by the war. It is all we can do to keep them from our shores.''

``They are the tools of the Dark Lord,'' said Isildur. ``They work his will, thinking in their vanity that they will rule beside him when we are destroyed. They are but poor pawns to be swept from the board when he has no more use for them. We must first unite to strike down Sauron, then gladly will I take ship with you against Umbar.''

But Barathor's brow was knitted with concern. ``Yet now it seems we have yet another enemy at our door. The Eredrim are many and fierce in battle, and Romach a clever and experienced commander. If they marched against us, we could be hard-pressed to hold the bridge against them.''

``I do not believe that the Eredrim will assail you,'' said Isildur. ``They have refused us their aid, it is true, but I doubt that they would take up arms against us. Romach hopes to hide in his fastnesses beneath the mountains until the war is over, then seek the favor of the victor. But they swore allegiance to me many years ago and they shall not so easily evade their duty. Romach has chosen to wait in the mountains and not come down. But he shall abide there much longer than he had thought, for I have read their weird and laid their fate. They shall remain forever in their holds, to death and beyond, until they fulfill their oath.'' And he fell silent, grim and thoughtful.

Then did the company look upon their king with wonder. Again they were reminded of the strangeness and power of this man from the far places of the lost West. Those that knew him best read his grim eyes and saw the anger that burned there. This treachery of the Eredrim had struck deep, the last and cruelest blow to all his plans for victory. The Lords of the Alliance had expected a great host to be in his train by the time he reached Pelargir, and for many more to join him here. And they had placed their greatest hopes in the Eredrim. He thought of Malithôr with his proud heritage and bearing, meanly performing Sauron's errands, and his fist clenched on his wine horn.

Then Isildur became aware of the long silence that had fallen on the company and their fearful stares as they looked on him.

``But enough of sad tales and the litany of our woes,'' he said. ``No more shall we bear the insults of our enemies. The time for a final stroke approaches. The need is great and the time is short. My Lord Barathor, I have need of all the men and supplies of war that you can spare.''

Barathor stared down at the table and paused long before replying. ``I had expected your request, Sire, and I burn with shame at the reply I must give. I can offer you perhaps five hundred stout yeomen, my liege. More we cannot spare.''

``Five hundred?'' exclaimed the king in dismay. ``But I need ten times that number. Barathor, you know well our need.''

Barathor looked up sadly and held out his empty hands. ``My king, I can give you food, arms, and a few of the other supplies you require. But I cannot give you what you most request of me. Some six thousand of our men marched with Belrund to join your father at Dagorlad. That is seven years past now and still they have not returned. They are sorely missed, for we are threatened on every side and continuously harassed. We are a large city with broad and productive fields and many villages round about. We are spread thin to protect what we have. And we are charged with the guard of the bridge, and of the Great River as well. Our fleet patrols the myriad channels of the Ethir Anduin and all the coast as far as the rockbound shores of Linhir. We can barely hold our own with fifty ships afloat, and all sorely undermanned. My captains are constantly begging me for more men, but there are none to spare.

``Our men are needed here in Pelargir, my liege, or the Gate of the South will be but an open door to our enemies. With a reduced force we could perhaps hold the bridge and beat back the orc raids, but we dare not reduce the fleet or I could not answer for the safety of the Anduin. As you yourself told us, the Corsairs are abroad. They could come up the River at any time. If Pelargir falls, it is but a short sail to Osgiliath herself. It will be to no avail for us to ride to victory in Mordor, only to find all of Gondor in the hands of the Corsairs upon our return.''

Isildur looked hard at the Lord of Pelargir. ``Barathor, we have been friends for many years. There has never been deceit between us. I know that you speak truly and that the safety of Pelargir and indeed all of Gondor is your only concern. But I say unto you that final victory or defeat will come in the next few weeks. Victory may be within our grasp, but only if we act now in a concerted stroke. The Alliance is in dire need of your aid. Gil-galad and my father considered all the options carefully, and well they know the dangers you face. But they felt that the risk must be taken. Without your assistance, we have but little hope. The fate of the West is in your hands. I tell you in all candor that the situation in Mordor is grave beyond your reckoning.''

``Grave no doubt, but is the Dark Lord not shut up within his Tower? You at least know where your foe is and can turn a united face against him. But we have foes on every hand and must guard all the ways at once. You are in a position of power in Gorgoroth, while we can do little but wait for an unseen blow to fall.''

Isildur nodded. ``We encircle the Barad-dûr, it is true, but think not that Sauron is our prisoner. We are as much his. The Tower is impregnable, we have learned that to our cost. We can neither enter in nor force him out. And the long siege is no hardship to him. His slaves and his resources are unlimited and time has no meaning for such as he, who has lived through long ages of the earth. He waits in comfort in his own halls, while we endure in the desert, fighting and dying every day and growing the weaker for it. Seven years! Seven years, lords, and we are no nearer victory than when we first saw that accursed Tower. The truth is, my friends, that we cannot defeat him with the forces we have. A new weapon must be brought to bear on him, a new army to attack where and when he does not expect it. I can say no more at this time, but it is my errand to gather all available men for this assault. Other forces too are gathering at Osgiliath for a great council on Midsummer's Day. There all will be revealed. I have scoured half of Middle-earth and been thwarted at every turn. Pelargir is our last hope. There are no others to be called upon.''

Barathor sat with anguish writ plain upon his face. ``Isildur, my king, do I not love you as a brother? Does my heart not grieve for your many tragedies? It pains me to have you think me either disloyal or shy of combat. My wealth, my honor, my life will I gladly give for you. But you ask the one thing I cannot give -- I cannot give you my city, for it is not mine to give. It belongs to its people and to their ancestors who died for it, and to their descendants who would live here in peace. If I sent them to war with you, Isildur, they would almost certainly find no city upon their return. Is this then what you demand?''

Isildur stared long at him, but then he touched his arm gently, saying, ``I do not doubt either the loyalty or the courage of you or Pelargir, Barathor. I know all too well the perils you face. I know you are acting as your conscience demands.'' He sat a while in deep and gloomy thought, then looked again at his friend.

``But perhaps there is yet a way. Other events are occurring across the wide face of Middle-earth that may yet resolve your dilemma.'' He leaned close to whisper in the lord's ear. ``Barathor, would you trust all in this hall with knowledge that could mean life or death to Pelargir and even all of Gondor?''

Barathor looked about the table, eyes searching each face. Then he nodded. ``There is no danger here, Sire. All are friends or kinsmen and their loyalty is long proven.''

Isildur nodded. He turned and addressed the company. ``Then I may entrust to you a secret known to none but myself and the Lords of the Alliance, and that must not become known to the Enemy or we are all lost.

``You say you need your men to guard the Great River against the Corsairs. But what if the River were guarded by others, if you could be certain that no pirates could slip up it? Could you not then grant my request?''

The company stared at him in amazement. Duitirith was the first to find his voice. ``But Sire, it is not just the count of men that guard the River, but the many strong ships and experienced seamen to sail and fight them. You cannot replace them with soldiers or farmers. What force save our own could guard the River? Is this a jest?''

``Isildur does not jest in such things, Duitirith,'' said his father. ``I say unto you, Isildur, that if the River were guarded, and guarded, mind you, so well that none could pass despite their numbers, then we would fear no attack. Our walls and the bridge are strong. A few hundred picked men could hold them at need against a far stronger foe. But the River is the weak point in our shield wall. There is no other fleet in all of Middle-earth mighty enough to stop the Corsairs if they should come in force.''

Isildur smiled grimly. ``None other? What of the White Fleet of Lindon?''

``The Elves?'' stammered Duitirith. ``But... Elves sailing in these waters? Oft have we heard the tales of the mighty Sea-Elves of Lindon, but never in the memory of our oldest grandsires has a swan ship breasted the seas of the south. In truth, many of us have come to believe they are but figures in the old stories. But they are said to be legendary sailors and mighty warriors.''

``If the tales be true,'' said Barathor, ``they are mighty indeed. But the tales also tell us the Grey Havens are far, far to the north, a ride of many weeks or even months away. And even if they were willing and able to come to our aid immediately, it would take weeks to prepare and provision their ships and a fortnight more at least to sail here. If a rider left today we could not hope to see them before mid-winter. Even then we would have to recall all our ships and gather and organize the seamen and then ride to Osgiliath. And yet you say you want us in Osgiliath on Midsummer's Day, and that is but a week away.''

Isildur was nodding his head. ``All that you say is true, my lords,'' he said. ``And yet I say unto you, people of Pelargir,'' and he raised his voice so all could hear, ``that even as we speak here tonight, the White Fleet of Lindon is at sea, and should now be approaching the Mouths of Anduin.''

The hall erupted in confusion, with everyone speaking at once. ``The Elves?'' ``Did he say the Elves were coming here?'' ``But... but...,'' stammered Barathor. ``But how could this be?''

Isildur held up his hand for silence, and the tumult gradually subsided. ``You know that we have ridden around the Ered Nimrais, mustering all the fighting men we could gather. But we are not alone. Even as we left Gorgoroth on this long journey, others were setting out on another, far longer, journey. Gildor Inglorion, one of the greatest of the Elvish captains, rode north at the bidding of his lord Gil-galad. He was to ride north, to seek aid in the lands of Lothlórien and Khazad-dûm. From thence he was to ride to Cirdan the Shipwright at Mithlond. Gil-galad's orders to Cirdan were to put the White Fleet in readiness and to sail to Osgiliath at once with every ship that can swim.''

``But could he have reached Mithlond already?'' asked Guthmar. ``That is four hundred leagues at least.''

``It is two months and more since we departed from the Barad-dûr together, and Elves ride very swiftly at need. Gildor was told to make all haste, so that they should be at Osgiliath for the Council. They should be sighted any day.''

``But this is news good beyond all hope,'' cried Heleth, her lovely smile breaking out for the first time. ``To think that Elves would sail all that long way for our help. Elves! I have never even seen one of the Firstborn. Elves to guard us! Oh, I feel as if a weight has been lifted from me!''

``Aye,'' said Barathor. ``With the Elves beside us, we would fear no enemy.'' But he gave Isildur a canny glance. ``But they were not summoned here to protect Pelargir. I suspect the Alliance had other plans for Cirdan's Sea-Elves. Is that not so, Sire?''

Isildur nodded. ``The Lords of the Alliance had thought to send the Elves against Mordor with us. But in truth they are more used to decks beneath their feet than deserts. With the Corsairs abroad again, they could be better employed guarding the coast and defending the Anduin. Then if Pelargir were freed of those duties....'' He looked meaningfully at Barathor.

Barathor looked at his captains, judging their reactions as he spoke. ``I say unto you, Sire,'' he said, ``that if the White Fleet is as mighty as legends tell, and if they were deployed across the mouths of Anduin and at strategic points along the coast, we would feel more secure than we have in many a long year. Then the men of Pelargir would flock to your banner and follow you to the ends of the earth if need be.''

His men cheered long and lustily. Isildur realized how torn they had been between their duty to their king and their duty to their city and their families. Freed at last of the fear of the Corsairs, they were eager to go to the aid of their country. He looked on their faces with affection.

``Then you will ride with me when Cirdan arrives?'' he asked, and every man in the hall rose to his feet and shouted his allegiance. Isildur was truly touched.

But Barathor was clearly still worried. ``This messenger Gildor you spoke of, his road was long and perilous,'' he said, ``and Cirdan's course no less so. As seamen, we all know that the winds and seas play havoc with a schedule. Much could have befallen them that would make them late. I could not recall the fleet until the Elves arrive.''

``But we cannot wait,'' said Isildur. ``Many preparations must be made if you are to ride with me. And Cirdan may arrive only in time for the Council of Osgiliath. If we wait until he arrives it will be too late for us to march to Osgiliath. Can you not at least start the muster?''

Barathor thought for a moment. ``This much I can do, Sire. I will call the fleet back within the Anduin and withdraw them from the coasts and the Bay of Belfalas. The coastal settlements will like it not, but with luck they will be safe for a few days. With all the ships in the River I could recall them all in less than a day when the Elves arrive. In the meantime we shall begin the muster. We will be ready to ride with you as soon as the Elves are in place.''

``So be it,'' said Isildur, much relieved.

Barathor turned to a tall dark man near at hand. ``Telemnar!'' he called. ``Send the signals. All outlying ships are to be recalled. Let those patrolling off the Ethir Anduin withdraw into the River. I want only four scouts patrolling the bay, the fastest vessels you have. Have the best lookouts at the mastheads. When the Elves are sighted, they are to be contacted at once and instructed in Isildur's orders. See that they array themselves in sufficient strength and order at the Ethir, then all ships are to return to Pelargir with all possible speed.'' The man bowed and hurried away.

``Duitirith! Let heralds be sent to every corner of our realm. Every man capable of fighting is to arm himself and come to Pelargir as soon as possible. We shall ride to war with our king!''


For the next three days the city was a hive of activity. Merchants and townsmen were turning over their businesses and duties to their wives or to men too old or too young to go to the war. Companies of soldiers marched in from border checkpoints and strongholds along the banks of Anduin. Other groups marched up from the River, their rolling gait revealing them as seamen from the ships lying at the quays. Wagons and trains of loaded beasts passed in from all directions. The markets were frantically trying to meet the demand for food, weapons, clothing and blankets. Small groups of farmers and fishermen from the surrounding villages started arriving, mingling with the crowds in the streets and adding to the confusion. But still there was no word of the Elves.

On the third morning Isildur and Ohtar walked through the city streets to see Barathor. As they crossed one of the city's many large squares, they stopped to watch a ragged company of adolescent boys marching back and forth. Sweating heavily and wearing armor a size too large for them, they were being drilled in basic military maneuvers by a bellowing and exasperated old soldier.

``Step lively, there!'' he shouted. ``Try to at least look like soldiers, you young fools. Watch where you're marching! Within a week you'll be manning the walls, and I don't want you falling off the battlements!'' Isildur and Ohtar smiled to each other and hurried on.

The Hall of the Blue Tower was crowded with messengers, supplicants, and people just seeking instructions. Barathor and his people were swamped with questions, decisions, and disputes. One of the greatest needs was for messengers. All the usual heralds and runners had been pressed into service, but still Barathor grew frustrated waiting for replies or for someone to carry his orders. As Isildur approached the Lord, a young boy no more than ten or twelve raced past him and fell to his knee before the Lord.

``More messages, Lord Barathor?'' he gasped. Barathor thrust a paper into the boy's hand. ``Yes. Take this to Carlen, the master of the wainwright's guild. Put it in his hand, mind, not that of one of his apprentices. You know his hall?''

``Yes, lord,'' replied the boy. ``It is in the Rath Gelin, near to the square of the lion fountain.'' He was panting, still out of breath from running his last errand.

``Yes. Make haste now.'' Barathor stopped and looked down at the boy. ``Haven't I given you several messages already today?''

``Yes, lord,'' he gulped. ``Four so far. I have been running since before the dawn.''

``Here now, that's more than four hours gone. You must be exhausted, poor child. Rest a while and get something to eat. Let another boy carry this one.'' He glanced around for another runner, but there were none present at the moment.

``Please, my lord,'' the boy pleaded. ``I can run all day if need be. I want to help. My dad says I'm too young to fight this time, and then the war is likely to be all over before I get my chance. Well, I'll do what I can to help anyway, but I'd dearly love to meet that old Dark Lord. I'd give him a whack, I can tell you. He'd be sorry he ever peeked over those mountains.''

Some of those standing near smiled, but Barathor looked at him gravely. ``Well,'' he said. ``I see you are rather greater than we first thought. The Dark Lord had better hope he doesn't have to tangle with you. Go on then. But save your pretty speeches; you'll need all your breath for running.'' The boy ran out, glowing with pride.

Barathor spotted Isildur and came to meet him. ``Good morning, Sire,'' he said. ``The recall flag has been hoisted at all the signal stations along the coasts. Some of the scattered ships are starting to straggle in, but many are still far down the River. The first will not be in until late tonight.''

``How large a force are you keeping at the Mouths of Anduin?''

``We normally have between ten and twenty ships stationed in the Bay of Belfalas and patrolling the coast between Ringlond and Harondor, and that many again as pickets in the River. You know the Ethir Anduin is a maze of islands and treacherous channels, and we need that many to keep them all secure. I plan to leave but half of them on station. That will leave them spread thin indeed until the Elves arrive. Ah, here comes my son. He is to rule the city in my absence, you know.''

Duitirith strode across the hall with a young knight at his side. They bowed to Barathor and Isildur. ``You sent for me, father?''

``Yes. Have you turned the command of the bridge over to Foradan?''

Duitirith glanced at his companion's face. ``Yes, father, but he...''

``I would ride with you, lord,'' said Foradan, stepping forward quickly. ``I would be with you when you ride to Osgiliath,'' he said. ``I am a warrior.''

``Indeed you are,'' said Barathor, laying a hand on his shoulder. ``But you should feel honored, not slighted, by your new assignment. It is true that I shall ride to Osgiliath. But while we face the enemy in the east, we must not fear an enemy from the west. Nor should the men be worrying about their families back in Pelargir. The guardianship of the bridge has been the duty of the greatest warriors of Pelargir since the city was founded. Your own father's father was its captain for over forty years. Would you leave it unguarded now, Foradan?''

The young knight bowed deeply. ``No enemy shall cross the bridge while I live, my lord,'' he said. ``You can depend upon me.''

``We are all indeed depending on you, Foradan.'' He turned to his son. ``We are depending on all of you who remain here. The safety of the city is in your hands. Have you chosen your men well?''

``I did as you suggested, father. I retained only the youngest men, but also one experienced hand from each company. They know their duties, my lord. But they are so few. We could not withstand a concerted attack.''

``Remember you will be behind the shield wall of the White Fleet. With the River secure and you in command here, Duitirith, I shall not worry overmuch.''

At that moment Barathor spied a wiry old man wearing the livery of a ship's captain just entering the hall and peering about at the hurrying crowds. Barathor called to him, his voice booming above the uproar. ``Caladil! You are come at last. Excuse me, Sire,'' he said to Isildur. ``One of my commanders from the Tolfalas station.'' He hurried across the room and began issuing orders to his captain.

Isildur turned to Ohtar. ``It would seem that Barathor has matters well in hand here. We are but in his way. Let us return to camp and see to our own. Barathor!'' he shouted. The Lord of Pelargir looked up. Isildur signalled that they would be at their camp. Barathor waved and bowed, then resumed talking with Caladil. Isildur and Ohtar made their way through the crowds and returned to their camp, close under the western gate.

There they spied Ingold of Calembel standing before a blacksmith's tent. With him was the giant herdsman they had encountered on the road outside Calembel. The two were arguing with the smith, a brawny black-bearded fellow, who seemed to be trying to explain something to them, and not at all patiently.

``I've been shoeing horses and straightening spears half the night,'' the smith was saying as Isildur and Ohtar approached. ``Then at first light some lads from Lebennin up and borrowed my cart and they haven't brought it back yet. Where it's got to now I can't say, and I don't have time to go traipsing all over the city to find it. For all I know they've made off with it and gone home. But I've got my forge and all my tools right here, and if you want your axle fixed you'll have to bring your wagon here.''

``I can't bring the accursed wagon here, man,'' thundered Ingold in exasperation, pointing down the long slope to where a large wagon stood broken down by the bank of the Sirith. ``It takes a team of four to move it when it has all its wheels, which it doesn't because the blasted front axle's sheared in two. We'll have to move your forge down there.''

The smith stood chin to chin with Ingold. ``I've told you,'' he bellowed. ``I've got no cart and no team. Just how do you suggest we get my forge and all my gear down there?" He gestured at the clutter of tools on the ground all around him.

Ingold looked around at the tools and the forge. ``Can we carry it ourselves, think you?'' he asked, a little more quietly.

The smith threw up his hands. ``Oh, my mates and I can carry the tools all right, and I wager you and your men can carry the bellows, but what about this anvil? I can't mend your axle without an anvil, and it takes four strong men just to heave it up into my cart.''

They both stared glumly at the huge anvil resting in the shade of a ragged canopy. Then the giant herder spoke for the first time.

``That anvil there?'' he asked quietly. Both men nodded without looking up. The goatherd went to the anvil and, crouching down, locked his huge arms around its base. With a great heave, he slowly raised himself, then turned and started off down the hill to the wagon, the immense anvil cradled in his arms like a baby. The entire group just stared after him in wonder. Then the smithy bent and started gathering his tools. He grunted.

``I pray I never have reason to quarrel with that one,'' he muttered under his breath. He shouldered his tool box and staggered off after the goatherd. Then Ingold saw the king.

``Isildur! Greetings, my king. Good day to you, Ohtar."

``Good day, Ingold,'' answered Isildur. ``You have a mighty friend there. Does he handle a sword as well as an anvil?''

``To tell the truth, Sire, he likes not the sword. He uses only a great spear with a wooden point.''

``Wooden?'' asked Ohtar. ``Would not bronze or iron serve better?''

Ingold shrugged. ``He says his people have always fought thus. His spear is an heirloom of an ancient past. It is hardened in the fire and is devilishly strong and sharp. And it serves him well enough. I once saw him thrust the spear completely through the body of a huge grey wolf and pin it to the ground. In fact, had he not done so, I would not be standing here today.''

``Who is he? Do you know him?''

``Orth is his name, Sire, but I know not where he makes his home. He comes down into the Calembel market but once or twice a year and he speaks little. I don't think anyone knows him well. He seems perfectly content living in the high valleys alone with his goats. But if the alarm drums roll he is always there. Would I had a hundred like him.''

Bidding them good day, Ingold picked up the bellows and followed the others down toward the wagon, where Orth was just putting down the anvil.

Isildur, Ohtar, and the other officers spent the day seeing to the preparations and helping the Pelargrim whenever they could. In the evening Isildur and Ohtar climbed a watchtower on the southern wall, built for its commanding view down the River. Bands of villagers in leathern jerkins and bright copper helmets hurried down the River Road toward the gate. The dust of their passage rose in the soft evening air and hung motionless above the roads. Far below where they stood, they could see Foradan's men at the bridge, tallying the men, horses, and supplies as they poured into the city. Everywhere in the city rose clouds of dust and the crying of men, women, and horses, the clang of the armorer's hammer and the thudding of the wheelwright's mallet.

At last as the sun began her long descent over the hills of Belfalas, the roads began to clear. The milling throngs broke up into more orderly arrays as each group began making its camp. Fires sprang up here and there as meals were started.

Ohtar looked back down the River, then stared hard. ``A ship!''

Isildur peered through the fading evening light. A ship was approaching from the sea, its long sweeps rising and falling together like a water strider on a pond. ``I see no swan's head,'' he remarked.

``No. Nor a white pennon such as Cirdan is said to fly. Still, they could bear news.'' They watched as the ship slowly approached the quays, already crowded with so many vessels they were moored three abreast. The ship docked, but no hurrying messengers appeared. Isildur and Ohtar descended and walked to the Blue Tower.

There in the Great Hall were gathered many of the chief elders and captains of Pelargir. Barathor sat in his high seat, talking with a stocky man with long grey hair, worn in a long braid down his back.

``Ah, Isildur,'' said Barathor as the king approached. ``I was about to send for you. This is Luindor, my Captain of Ships.'' The man bowed to Isildur and gave him a level, unsmiling glance.

``I am but now arrived from the Ethir,'' he said. ``I have been maintaining station within sight of the shore signal stations. My scout cutter was another ten leagues from shore, and they espied no Elven fleet.'' He stopped, leaving an accusatory tone hanging in the air.

``When was that?'' asked Isildur, ignoring the man's glare.

``I left the Ethir at dawn yestermorn, as my lord Barathor commanded.''

Ohtar broke the brief silence that followed. ``Then Cirdan could have come to Anduin yesterday, or today. He could be in the River already.''

Luindor snorted. ``He could be, aye, but is he? We don't know that he is coming at all.'' He appealed to Barathor. ``My lord, I don't like this drawing in of the fleet. The pickets are spread too thin. Meaning no disrespect to the king, but I think this policy is ill-considered.''

Barathor's brows bristled. ``Luindor, you go too far! No one questions your loyalty or your love for Pelargir. But Pelargir is a city of Gondor, and our allegiance to our king must ever be paramount.''

Luindor glanced quickly at the king, now standing quietly listening, his face giving away nothing. Most men would have been daunted, but Luindor had been Pelargir's Captain of Ships for many years, and he bore the scars of many battles. He was determined to speak his mind.

``My lord,'' he began, ``You can relieve me of command if you deem me disloyal, but I have something to say. I'm a seaman. My face has been turned to the sea all my life. Perhaps I may have paid too little attention to doings at the capital and in the east. Nevertheless, I well know the shadow that looms over us all. But my first responsibility is the safety of Pelargir, and I can no longer vouch for the fleet's ability to defend the city. Now that the fleet is being recalled, the outposts are left unmanned, whole provinces are undefended. Such a thing has never been allowed to happen in all the long years that Pelargir had been charged with the keeping of the Anduin. We should not be lying about here; we should be at sea.''

Barathor stared, his face grave. It was clear he liked the situation no more than Luindor. When Isildur had first spoken of the Elves, Barathor had felt only pleased and relieved, a great fear lifted from him. But now, as the time for departure approached and still no news came of Cirdan, he was less sure of his decision.

``You will not be relieved of your duty, Luindor,'' said Isildur. ``Fear not that I think you disloyal. It is your loyalty that makes you question my orders. And I like no more than you the withdrawing of our defenses. But the situation in Mordor is grave. The Lords of the Alliance have summoned all of us for the final stroke against Sauron. This is the best hope of protecting Pelargir and all of the West. If we succeed, the war will be over. If we fail and the West falls at last, then Pelargir will be swept away with the rest. You can not stand against The Enemy alone.''

``Hmph,'' grunted Luindor, unconvinced. ``Did the Lords tell you then to strip us bare? Did they order us to leave the Gate of the South standing open?''

``No,'' admitted Isildur. ``The Lords expected me to have a great army at my back when I reached Pelargir, gathered from Calenardhon, and Anglond, and Anfalas, and the southern provinces. Pelargir was just to send the men it could spare from its own defense. And they did not know that the Corsairs were abroad. The Enemy has thwarted our plans at every step.''

``Then perhaps the plans need to be changed. Can you not send to the Lords and seek new instructions?''

``There is no time now. The fate of Pelargir, indeed of all of Gondor, is but one piece of a great engine that has been set in motion. All will come together at the Council in Osgiliath, but six days hence. We must be there, and in sufficient force to be effective, or all hope of winning the war is lost.''

``But, Sire...'' began Luindor.

``Luindor,'' said Barathor, ``we have long been friends and we are as one on matters that concern the safety of Pelargir. But I also know Isildur and his love of the city and its people. I know he would not ask this of us if there were any other way. If he says Cirdan is coming, then he will come. And if he says we must ride to Osgiliath, then we must ride.''

``I do not doubt it, my lord, but yet I fear to leave our shores unguarded for even a moment.''

``You speak for all of us, Captain,'' said Isildur. ``But these are difficult times, and ours are hard choices. We cannot afford to do as our hearts list. I had dearly hoped to leave for Osgiliath today or tonight at the latest, but now we must delay another night. We must leave early tomorrow, whatever happens. Let us pray that Cirdan arrives tonight."

There was nothing more to be said, and all returned to their tasks. In the evening Isildur and Ohtar again climbed the tower and gazed out over the lamplit streets of the city. But their eyes looked beyond the roofs and chimneys of Pelargir, beyond the walls, to the broad Anduin, gleaming faintly in the dusk. In all that long reach of River, where yesterday all had been bustling activity, no craft now stirred. The greater part of the fleet and all of the merchant ships were tied up at the quays or moored nearby in the Sirith.

The city slowly quieted as final preparations were completed. The necessary supplies had been gathered, divided, and packed. The men were all armed and drawn up into companies. Now they fell to the harder task of waiting. A thin layer of smoke from the cooking fires rose above the walls to hang motionless in the darkling sky. The flaming color in the west faded to purple and the first stars appeared. Looking down, they could see other groups of people here and there along the parapets, straining their eyes into the dusk for a glimpse of the Elves. One by one these other watchers descended to their beds, leaving only the guards.

Isildur seemed determined to wait all night if he had to. Ohtar waited with him, but at last he settled into an embrasure, wrapped his cloak around him, and fell asleep. His last sight was of Isildur standing above him, tall against the stars, peering into the west.


It seemed only a moment later that Isildur clutched Ohtar's shoulder.

``The Elves are come,'' he said softly. Ohtar sprang up quickly, shaking off his dreams, and looked to the west. The moon, now waxing to first quarter, was setting beyond the River, turning it to glittering diamonds. For a moment he could see nothing. But then, far away at the edge of sight and still very small, he found one diamond that did not twinkle, but shone with a cool pure light. Behind it he could just begin to make out the outline of a ship, black against silver. It was beating up the River toward them, the gentle night wind just filling the sail.

``Your eyes are better than mine, Sire,'' he said. ``Is it indeed Cirdan at last?''

``It is an Elven ship, I am sure. A cog, I believe -- one of their lighter, faster ships. Odd that it should be in the van instead of Cirdan's flagship. Still, it would move more easily against the current. Perhaps they have outrun the rest of the fleet.''

At that moment a cry went up from the parapet below them. The lookouts too had now spied the ship. They heard a quick debate, then running feet, taking the word to the Lord of the city. A bell rang in a distant tower. The ship neared the far shore and tacked toward the city. They could hear faint shouting down at the quays now, and a jouncing lantern showed running legs coming up the lane from the River.

Isildur still peered into the west. ``Where are the rest?'' he muttered through tight lips. ``Where are the others?'' Then he whirled and rushed headlong down the winding stairs. Ohtar stumbled breathless after him.

They met Barathor near the gate leading a mounted party and bearing a blazing torch. Behind him in the dark were several other prominent citizens looking rumpled and sleepy, along with a score of soldiers. The gate creaked as it was opened.

``There you are, Sire,'' Barathor called when Isildur pelted out of an alley into the broad street. ``I have brought horses for you and your esquire.''

Clambering up, they set off at once down the road to the River. By the time they reached the quays the ship was much closer, heeling slightly in the gentle night breeze as it beat in to the shore. A crowd was already gathering at the head of the dock. An awe fell over them, and they stood silently watching. All could now see the long white pennon floating from the masthead. The ship was white, low and long, but broad amidships. The stern rose high and arched over the after part of the deck, ending in a carved swan's head. White wings sheltered the figures that stood there. The stem rose high and ended in a large oval lantern, like a cage of mithril silver. From it shone the strange cool white light that illumined now the faces of the watching throng.

The sail rattled down and several figures moved forward and quickly secured it along the yard. The ship ghosted silently toward the dock as if out of a dream, and indeed for most of those watching the Elves were as creatures out of legend. They knew they existed in far-off lands, but never had Elves sailed up Anduin since before the city was built over a thousand years ago. Pale figures could be seen moving about the deck, readying lines and mats for docking, but no sound could be heard save the gentle lapping at the cutwater.

Suddenly then the ship loomed large before them and soft gray lines looped through the night to land at their feet. The nearest men looked down at them for a few seconds, but then a seaman's rough voice rang out. ``Are you frozen, lads? Haul and make fast. Belay those lines!'' The spell was broken. The lines were secured and eager hands on both ends drew the ship against the dock. The ship was beautiful and magical, but it grated reassuringly real against the stones before a mat was adjusted. A plank was swung across to the shore and a tall figure in a long grey cloak strode across. He was fair and golden-haired. His mail was of mithril silver that caught the moon's light and set it dancing about his feet. Isildur stepped forth.

``Welcome to Gondor, Gildor Inglorion. Elen síla lúmenn omentilmo.'' The Elf clasped both the king's arms in affection and stood smiling at him. Tall as Isildur was, Gildor towered over him.

``Hail Isildur Elf-friend,'' he said. His voice was soft, like the sighing of leaves at twilight. ``I rejoice in our meeting. Long and perilous have been our ways since we parted in the thunder of the Falls of Rauros.''

``Glad indeed are we to see you also, my friend. But where is Cirdan and the rest of your fleet?''

Gildor smiled, glancing at the anxious faces all about him. ``Do not fear, good people of Gondor. I was sent ahead to bring you word that all is well. The Elves of Lindon will be at Osgiliath for the Council at the appointed hour. Cirdan's Fleet is nigh.''

These words were heard by many standing near, and a cry of joy went up from the Pelargrim. ``Cirdan is nigh! The Elves are here! We are saved!'' The word spread swiftly through the people now hurrying from the gate. Soon the glad cries could be heard at the gate, then from the walls, and soon the whole city was awake. Bells pealed from many towers. Gildor looked around in some surprise at the evident relief of the people. His smile faded as he saw the concern on every face.

``We have gathered far fewer men than we had hoped,'' Isildur explained, ``and the Corsairs are abroad again. The Lord of this city has pledged his aid, but he will not leave the Gate of the South ajar to the pirates of Umbar. He will not ride with us until Cirdan's ships are guarding the River.''

``We saw no sign of a Corsair fleet, neither at sea nor when we crossed the bay,'' said Gildor, ``and the White Fleet should arrive today.'' Then all were glad, and the Elves were ushered into the city in a joyous parade. They accompanied Isildur to his camp where they sat long around a campfire, exchanging news of their respective journeys. Isildur told them of the difficulties and disappointments he had encountered on his journey around the Ered Nimrais. He spoke bitterly of the betrayal of the Eredrim.

Gildor shook his head. ``These are evil times, when friends will not come to the aid of friends. I encountered much the same when I went to see the Dwarves in their great delvings at Hadhodrond, that they call in their own tongue Khazad-dûm. Those halls are great indeed, and filled with Dwarves of many kindreds. We had hoped that ten thousand would join us in our cause. They listened to my plea, and they met long and argued this way and that. At the last they decided that the war with Sauron was not their war, and they refused us. Of all the Dwarves only a handful of Durin's line seemed inclined to join us.''

``That is a great disappointment,'' said Isildur, ``for the Dwarves are fierce warriors and will not quail in a battle. But I am not surprised. They often remain aloof and keep their own counsels. Still, the ancient line of Durin has always been friendliest to Elves and Men.'' Isildur stifled a yawn.

``Now I am weary in my bones,'' he said. ``If you will excuse me, Gildor, I feel great need for sleep, for I hope that Cirdan will arrive tomorrow and there will be much to do.'' The Elves left him then and spent the night walking about the city, viewing the buildings and works of Men.

But dawn came and the sun climbed high and still but one swan floated at the quays. In mid-morning Barathor called a council in his Great Court. The chiefs of the Pelargrim were there, as were Isildur and Ingold and the leaders of their divisions. Then all eyes went to the main entrance, where Gildor and his Sea-Elves entered and bowed to Barathor and the king. They took their seats and looked about at the men and the hall with interest. Barathor opened the council and called first upon Gildor.

``Gildor Inglorion of Lindon, I bid you and your people welcome to Pelargir. Too long has it been since the Firstborn have visited us here in the south.''

``Thank you, Lord Barathor. Indeed it has been long since we walked in these lands, even in the reckoning of the Elves. For my own part it is a return to a land I once knew well. In fact, I once visited this very hill where your fair city now stands. It must be more than twelve yén ago now, before the first war with Sauron.''

The men looked at Gildor in astonishment, for they knew that a yén was one hundred forty-four years. And that meant that Gildor had been here centuries before the city was founded over a thousand years ago. They had come to accept that Isildur was over a century old, but this smiling Elf's casual comment struck them dumb with wonder.

Gildor appeared not to notice the sudden silence that fell on the listeners. ``Let us hope that we may exchange visits more often,'' he went on, ``now that our kindreds are acting in concert once again.''

``It would give us great pleasure to have the fair people as our guests at any time," said Barathor. "But you are especially welcome now, as we have been very anxious about the Corsairs of Umbar, especially as we withdrew our fleet from the Bay of Belfalas. We are most concerned how long we must lie thus open to attack. We must ask you for your best estimate of Cirdan's arrival at Pelargir.''

Gildor bowed to the Lord. ``The fleet was nearing readiness when I sailed from Mithlond on the eleventh day of this month,'' he said. ``The last ships were still being loaded. They would surely have sailed in another day or two at the most. My Varda travels somewhat faster than the fleet, of course. I would expect him this day or before the end of the next.''

The entire company relaxed and Barathor broke into a wide smile, the first seen on his face in many a day. ``Your news is most welcome, Gildor,'' he said. ``In these latter times we rarely have good news from any quarter, and my mind has not been easy in my decision to leave the River unguarded. Now at last we will have strong friends at our backs, so that we may advance. We are nearly in readiness. We shall ride with Isildur to Osgiliath as soon as Cirdan arrives.''

But Isildur then spoke. ``My lord, the time is very precious. Every day we tarry here, the enemy has one more day to learn of our plans and to plot against us. Only by a swift and united stroke can we hope to defeat the forces arrayed against us. Many peoples and armies are moving in Middle-earth as we sit here, and they will be gathering at Osgiliath only four days hence. We must leave tomorrow if we are to reach Osgiliath in time.''

``Then let us hope,'' said Barathor, ``that when the sun first tops the mountain in the morning, she sees a hundred swan ships in the roads.'' Many of the Pelargrim murmured their agreement.

That night Isildur went not to the Blue Tower, but left the watching to others. The walls and parapets were lined with eager eyes, each wishing to be the first to spy the Elves. Isildur left word to be awakened when the first sail was seen, but no call came and the night passed slowly. Morning found the River empty and the people growing again troubled and anxious. ``Will they never come?'' was the question on everyone's lips. When they had broken their fast, Isildur and Ohtar went to the Great Court seeking Barathor. They found him in his chambers near the court, speaking with Duitirith and Luindor.

Isildur hailed Barathor. ``Lord, the time has come. I must ride this morning for Osgiliath. Will you ride with me?''

Barathor glanced quickly at Luindor. ``My king,'' said he, ``some there are among my people who counsel me to abide here until Cirdan's forces are in place.''

Isildur turned to face Luindor. ``Well I understand your fears, Captain,'' he said. ``But we can wait no longer. Great events are afoot. Gildor assures you that Cirdan is near, perhaps even now meeting with your pickets at the Ethir. The time for caution is past. Would you have orcs streaming down the River Road, burning your lands and slaying your people before you march against them?''

``Nay, Sire,'' replied Luindor, flushing hot, ``but our men are needed here in Pelargir. We have a good bridge, high walls, and a strong fleet. Fully manned, we can hold the southlands against the minions of Mordor. But we must have the men. The walls alone will not stop the orcs for long. You would have us strip our defenses and bare our breasts to the Black Ones.''

``I would instead have you gird yourselves and confront the evil in its own places, so that Pelargir and the southlands may not be torn by the cloven hooves of War. I tell you the time to strike is now. Even now, watching eyes are peering across Anduin, spying out our encampment here. Perhaps they already know that I am here. Messengers may at this moment be hurrying to Mordor with the news. Soon Sauron will be pondering what it means, perhaps guessing where our stroke will fall, strengthening his forces there. We must not delay, not another hour. Great powers are gathering at Osgiliath, and we must be there.''

``But, Sire,'' said Duitirith, ``surely there can be no council until Cirdan himself comes. Could we not wait and ride with him to Osgiliath?''

Isildur's eyes flashed as his temper rose. ``Again I tell you nay. We will wait for no one, not even for Cirdan and his Sea-Elves. We go now to the capital to meet with others whose powers are greater even than Cirdan's, for all his Elvish magic. There can be no further delay. Events are already in motion that will change the world forever, for good or ill. Doom has taken up his gaming cup and we must be there when the die is cast. The time for talk is past. Captain, whom do you serve?''

Luindor stammered, taken aback by the question. ``Why... I serve the Lord of Pelargir, of course,'' he said firmly.

Isildur turned then upon Barathor. ``And you, Lord Barathor? Whom do you serve?''

Barathor at once fell to his knee. ``You, my king. Ever has Pelargir been loyal to the King of Gondor. I shall do now as both my king and my heart command. I shall be stayed no more by gainsayers. Today we ride to Osgiliath!''

Isildur clapped his arm on Barathor's shoulder. ``Well said, old friend. I knew you would not fail me at the last. Now, let us ride!''

Barathor sprang to his feet and began barking out orders to his messengers. Isildur sent Ohtar to the camp to pass the order to strike the tents. The court burst into activity as men hurried in every direction. Barathor turned then to his captains.

``You must not let any watching enemy realize just how short of men you are. Duitirith, you must try to maintain the usual number of guards upon the walls. They are the most conspicuous and any change in their number is sure to be noticed. Use every available man, and if you must, dress women or old men in armor and have them pace the walls. See that there are always figures moving about on the battlements. Have them carry torches at night. Give the impression of a well-fortified and prepared defense. After dark, have people go out and light campfires outside the walls. A score of boys should be able to keep a hundred fires burning all night, and it will look as if a thousand men are still camped before the walls.

``And Luindor, gather the remaining seamen together and take at least one ship out as often as possible. Sail a few leagues down the River, then hoist a sail of a different color and return. The enemy may think it is two ships. They must not realize the River is unguarded. Have people moving about on the ships at the quays, anywhere they can be seen from the far shore. Do what you can. The ruse should not have to work more than a day or two at the most. Before the orcs realize we're gone, the Elves will be here. Go now, and instruct your men.'' They bowed and left, just as Barathor's esquires arrived with his panoply and arms.

Soon all was ready. The tents were all struck and stowed on the wains and the army was formed up on the River Road along the east bank of the Sirith, hidden from any unfriendly eyes by the bluffs on the west bank of Anduin. Isildur rode with Ohtar and Gildor to meet Barathor at the city gates. They waited there a few moments in silence. Then came a thunder of hooves from the shadow of the gate and Barathor rode forth at the head of a long column of the knights of Pelargir. He sat a huge black war horse and both he and his mount gleamed in black armor chased in gold. From his helm streamed a long plume and beside him flew his banner, both the hue of the famed Blue Tower of Pelargir.

Four abreast, the knights of Pelargir poured forth from the gate, lances bristling to the sky, and the sound of their passing was as the breaking of the sea on the rock-bound coasts of Anfalas. Isildur spurred Fleetfoot and sped to the head of his column. Ohtar sounded the great horn of the Eredrim, and the men fell into line with the Pelargrim. Their forces merged into one army at last, Isildur and Barathor rode stirrup to stirrup into the north.


High in the Blue Tower, Duitirith and Luindor watched the great army wind slowly from view. Many hours passed before the last carts lumbered slowly into the clouds of dust and disappeared. At last the road stood empty.

``They are gone,'' said Duitirith. ``May good fortune go with them.''

``Aye,'' agreed Luindor. ``And may it abide with us. We shall have need of it.'' They looked down into the city and saw the empty squares, the closed shops and markets. Here and there lone figures hurried along silent streets. Down at the quays, the ships rocked quietly in the current. The wide brown waters of Anduin, normally crowded with shipping, stood empty. They realized for the first time how many sounds normally rose from the city, and how quiet it now was. The accustomed voices and cries, the rumble of wheels, the beating of hooves -- all was now silent. After the noise and bustle of the muster and departure, all seemed deathly still. They gazed silently for a few moments, then turned to their tasks.

Some time later a long lean warship, bristling with lances, its bulwarks lined with the shields of a hundred warriors, put off from the quays and ran out of sight down the River. A few hours later, under a patched and stained mainsail and with smoke rising from three cooking fires, she returned and tacked up the Sirith to a different dock. She made a brave sight, but Luindor from the tower could see down into the ship and through her ruse. Most of the lances were lashed to the gunwales. The fires were not surrounded by crowds of warriors, but were tended by a handful of seamen and a score of old men in rusty armor dragged from the attic for the occasion. Luindor gnashed his teeth to see this pathetic crew on one of Pelargir's proudest ships of the line.

``Will the Elves never come?'' he grumbled, and so said the sentries pacing on the walls, and the people in their houses. But the day waned and the sun sank, and still no sail appeared on the River. Just before dark, Luindor's seamen joined the three Elves posted to guard Gildor's cog Varda, to make another short run down the River. They rounded the point and there before them stretched more miles of empty River. They tarried there as long as they dared, hoping each minute to spy a line of sails beating toward them in the dusk, but at the last they had to return.

After full darkness had fallen, boys slipped out and lit the campfires, but to Duitirith watching from the Blue Tower, they seemed but a faint reflection of the blazes and noise that had existed there the night before.

``If the orcs have any brains at all in those ugly heads, they will know we are shamming,'' he thought. ``We can only hope it is more convincing at a distance.'' Late it was before he sought his bed, and later still ere he slept.


He was awakened by a hammering at his door. He sat up, confused. It was still dark.

``Captain Duitirith, awake, awake!'' cried his chamberlain. ``The Elves are come at last!''

Fully awake now, he leaped from his bed and began pulling on his clothes. ``Are you certain, man?'' he shouted through the door. ``Make no mistake in this.''

``Aye, my lord. The sentries spied them rounding the point. They made them out clearly against the setting moon. Many ships are approaching.''

Duitirith flung the door open. ``Come then,'' he called. ``Rouse the heralds and messengers, rouse the cooks, light the fires. Food must be prepared at once. The Elves have come far indeed. They will be hungry. Chamberlain, where is Luindor? Has he been called? Wake my esquire. Bring me my armor. Send to the stables to ready my horse. We shall go to meet them at the quays.''

The palace was in an uproar, with people rushing here and there, some carrying guttering torches, others still dressing as they ran. Horses were already snorting and blowing in the courtyard below. The chandeliers in the Great Hall had been lowered to the floor and were being lit from candles. Duitirith reached the Great Hall just as his esquire struggled up with a small wooden cart bearing his armor and weapons.

``Ah, Arador, there you are,'' he cried. ``Gird me now in my finest, for the Elves are come. Bring too the banners of Gondor and Pelargir and the devices of my house. We must greet the Elves with all the honor due to them, though we be but few.''

Armed and ready at last, Duitirith and his housecarls rode out under the great portcullis and drove hard for the quays. Now for the first time they could see the approaching fleet. At the confluence of the Sirith and the Anduin, a long line of bobbing red lights marked the advance of many ships. They were close to the shore now, not far from the rows of empty warships at the quays. Luindor's seamen were shifting a ship to one side to make room for the first of the Elven ships. Other citizens of the city were pelting down the road to the River, shouting with joy. Luindor's men greeted them with happy shouts as they stood on the ends of the dock, ready to take the Elven lines. Duitirith and his men reached the bluffs above the shore and started their descent. The first ships approached the quays.

But from the silently approaching ships came not mooring lines snaking out of the dark, but a hissing rain of arrows. Men screamed and toppled into the water, clutching at black-fletched shafts in their chests. Then came the rattle of catapults and flaming skins of oil arced through the night to burst with a roar among the watching crowds or across the moored ships. In an instant half a dozen ships were enveloped in flames.

On the road above the harbor, Duitirith and his people stopped, frozen in horror. They stared unbelieving as the close-packed ships of Pelargir burst into flame and the ghastly scene was lit by a lurid glare. From below came hoarse cries and the screams of the wounded. On the docks, men clambered over the dead and dying, clawing desperately to escape the rain of death still pouring from the sky.

The first ships reached the shore and great iron hooks whirled out of the night and bit into the soil of Pelargir. More catapults rattled and the sky was streaked with scores of lines of fire. With a sickening roar, more ships burst into flame. The ships were so closely moored that the flames leaped from deck to deck faster than a man could run. In less than a minute the whole once-proud fleet of Gondor was blazing. The sails and tarred cordage burned brightly, and by their light the invaders could be seen at last. Long and lean were their many-oared hulls and their sails were the color of night. Then a wail rose from every throat, for they knew their death was at hand.

``The Corsairs!'' they cried. ``The Pirates of Umbar are come upon us! We are lost!'' The people near the quays began to panic and dashed about in all directions, but suddenly a clear voice rang out from the bluffs above.

``People of Pelargir!'' cried Duitirith. ``Back! Back to the city. We can no longer save the ships, but we have yet a strong wall. We shall make the Corsairs pay dearly for their treachery this night. Sound the horns! Call everyone back within the walls!''

Then all who still could turned and fled in terror up the road they had descended in such joy but a moment before. Duitirith wheeled his horse and called to his esquire.

``Arador! Stay a moment!''

Arador reined in beside him and they sat side by side looking down on the ruin of the fleet. Already a dozen more black ships were drawn up on the strand and men were pouring out of them, overcoming the last feeble resistance of the Pelargrim defenders on the docks and shore. Some of the Corsairs had their yards tilted and were already hoisting out huge siege engines on wooden wheels. Out in the River, more ships jostled for room to land, eager for a share of the plunder.

``This is no raiding party,'' said Duitirith, ``but the full might of the fleet of Umbar. We cannot hope to stand against so many.''

``But the Elves,'' said Arador. ``Where are the Elves?''

``They must have met the Corsairs near the mouth of the River,'' replied Duitirith. ``The Elven fleet must already be destroyed.''

``Then we are doomed.''

Duitirith clutched Arador's sleeve. ``Ride, Arador!'' he cried. ``Ride thou like the wind and overtake if you can Lord Barathor. If he and Isildur can reach us in time there is yet a spark of hope. I only pray they have travelled slowly. Tell them we shall hold out here as long as we can. Ride now, Arador, and do not fail, for in truth the fate of Pelargir depends on you alone this night.''

Duitirith wheeled again and spurred his horse for the gate. Arador took one last look at the Corsairs now swarming up the hill, then dug in his spurs and plunged away for the River Road. The thunder of his hoofbeats was soon lost in the growing roar of the advancing hordes.

Chapter Six
The Gathering of the Armies

On the 30th day of the month of Lothron in the one hundred twenty-first year of the reign of Isildur Elendilson, the King returned to Osgiliath after an absence of many years. Then the Steward Meneldil let the trumpets be sounded and the heralds cried, ``Behold the coming of Isildur son of Elendil, Lord of Ithilien and King of Gondor.'' And the West Gate of the city was thrown open and the King entered in at the head of a long column of armed men. And their banners rippled in the sun, proclaiming the proud men of Calenardhon and Angrenost, and the tall warriors of the coasts of Anglond and Ringlond and Linhir, and the bold knights of Pelargir, mighty Gate of the South. They rode into the city and the people hailed them, for it had been long since such an army had been at Osgiliath. The people in the streets cheered as they caught sight of each new standard and knew that the stalwart warriors of that land had come to their aid.

Yet many of the more knowledgeable noted that the companies were much smaller than could have been expected. And when the banner of Ethir Lefnui passed, with its black tower above blue waves, and they saw that it was at half staff and followed by only a score or so of grim-faced people, they fell silent. And when the end of the column appeared, the men on the walls said to one another, ``Is this all the host? Where are the Eredrim? Where is Romach?'' For the red and gold eagle of the Eredrim flew not among the banners.

The legions turned aside then and began setting up camps on the wide green fields within the city walls along the west bank of the river, but the King and his captains continued to the Hall of the Dome of Stars. There men of the Guard ran out to take their horses' bridles and they dismounted and went up the broad stairs before the Hall. There Meneldil the king's nephew came out and knelt before him, holding out the white rod of his office.

``My King,'' said he, ``the Steward of Gondor begs leave to surrender his office.'' And he held out the Rod of the Steward. But the King took the Rod and returned it to him, saying, ``You are yet Steward, Meneldil. Keep you the Rod and govern the city in my stead as you have done so ably these several years since your father Anárion and I rode forth. For I come not to abide here, but only to return again to war.'' Then the Steward rose and led the King and his people into the Hall.

The Hall was long and lofty, with a high-arched ceiling supporting mighty columns of gold-veined marble. In the center of the Hall the ceiling rose into a vast round dome of deep blue stone. The dome was cunningly pierced in many places and the openings set with jewels, so that the sun shining through them caused them to sparkle like stars. And indeed the holes were arranged to match the sky as seen from the summit of Mount Meneltarma in long-lost Númenor. This was the Dome of Stars, renowned throughout all of Middle-earth.

Beneath the Dome of Stars stood on a raised dais the two thrones of Gondor. That on the west, the seat of Anárion Lord of Anórien, was surmounted by a golden sun. But the high seat was draped in white cloth and the sun's face was shrouded. The eastern throne, topped by a silver crescent moon, was that of Isildur Lord of Ithilien. A tall young man in armor stood before it. He turned as Isildur entered.

``Hello, father,'' he said, smiling.

Isildur stared in wonder a moment. ``Elendur!'' he cried, rushing forward. He embraced his eldest son in joy, their armor clashing together.

``But how come you here?'' Isildur asked. ``I thought you were with your grandfather in Gorgoroth.''

``He sent me hither that I might ride with you. I came with a small body of horse, through Cair Andros, but a week ago.''

``But that is wonderful. And what of your brothers? Have you had news of them? Are they coming to the council as well?''

``No, they remain at their posts, but they are well.''

``But why did father send you here? Were you not needed at the head of the Ithilien lancers?''

``I turned their command over to my lieutenant. To tell you the truth, father, I begged the High King to let me come to you.''

Isildur looked at his son. Though he still thought of him as a boy, he saw before him a strong confident man of thirty-eight, hardened by twelve years of war, eight of those in command of a thousand men. Elendur looked levelly back.

``You want Minas Ithil back, don't you? You want to be there.''

``More than anything, father. I was only in my tweens when we were driven from our home, but I remember still the screams of the dying, the bodies in the streets as we fled for our lives. Always in my dreams I see the city again. I can't bear the thought of orcs defiling our home. I want to live there again, to help cleanse it of their stink, to make it fair once more. I want to show my brothers through its halls and courts. Ciryon was only four, he remembers only the terror of that night. And of course Valandil never even saw it. He's never been in his own homeland. And I think poor mother will never smile again unless she see her old home swept clean again.''

``Aye,'' said Isildur. ``We are of one mind, my son. Now perhaps at last we shall have our chance.''

Isildur knelt briefly before his brother's shrouded seat, then mounted the Throne of the Moon and took his seat. Elendur stood beside him. Meneldil, as steward, sat in a plain stone seat at the foot of the dais.

Isildur looked at the captains and leaders of Gondor gathered around them. They watched him expectantly, awaiting his orders.

``Much evil has befallen our land," he began, "and many of our folk have fallen. But the war is not over. Many deeds are yet to be done and many more of our countrymen may fall before it is ended. And yet we may hope that the end is now nigh.'' He looked from one to another of the captains standing by, their faces grim and determined.

``Aye, for good or ill, the end is nigh. Then shall old debts be repaid,'' he said, glancing at his fallen brother's throne. ``The armies of the West are gathering now to Osgiliath. I have brought many allies, but more will arrive soon. Has aught been heard of the Galadrim?''

``Aye, Sire,'' said Meneldil. ``Our scouts report that they crossed the Mering Stream but yesternight. They should be here at any time.''

The King's face brightened. ``Ah, good news at last. Some at least of our plans may go aright. Now if the others arrive soon we may begin the Council.''

``The others, Sire?'' asked Meneldil. ``Mean you the Eredrim? Will Romach be here soon?''

Isildur's eyes flashed. ``No!'' he said harshly. ``The Eredrim will never come to Osgiliath. They are no longer men of honor. I called them and they refused me to my face. They are accursed!''

The men of Osgiliath blanched. ``Oh, alas,'' cried Meneldil. ``This is ill news indeed. We had great hopes that Romach would bring many thousands of his brave Eredrim to aid us in our need. I cannot believe that he would break the Oath of Karmach. Is he grown fey in his age?''

``Nay, but he was swayed by a servant of Sauron that openly threatened the Eredrim. Romach had not the strength of will to stand firm. But you shall hear all that has passed when all the allies are gathered and we take counsel together. For now, see that all my people are fed and cared for. Some have marched hundreds of leagues and they are weary indeed. Lodge the lords and captains here in the Tower and spare not the board, for they are valiant men and they have come to fight at our side. As for myself, I would be left alone this night.


Dawn was near, but light had only begun to creep into the sky above the Ephel Dúath when those watching from the walls heard the faint traces of distant singing from the darkness to the north. Deep and fair came the sound of many voices together. Ever and anon one clear voice rose alone, piercing the night like the first bird song of a new day. Men strained their eyes, peering north into the dark. Then there was a glimmer far away, though whether it was starlight on the road or some other radiance none could say. The music and the light slowly drew nearer, and then the faint clink and jingle of harness and arms could be heard. The road itself seemed to glow, though no lanterns could be seen. The strange light approached the gate. Then abruptly the song ceased and all was silent. At the same moment the sun climbed above the Ephel Dúath and lo, there before the gates stood a great host of Elves.

Tall and fair they were, with long dark hair streaming, though here and there golden hair flowed from beneath a helm, proclaiming the noble and ancient line of Finrod. They wore long cloaks of grey or pale green, though armor showed beneath. In their hands were sharp lances with points like golden leaves, and they carried long slender bows slung at their backs. They were led by three tall riders of royal bearing.

On a great black charger rode Celeborn, Lord of Lothlórien. His hood was thrown back and a golden crown shown on his head. Beside him on a white palfrey sat the Lady Galadriel, Queen of the Galadrim and the fairest of women. She wore a long green riding cloak that trailed nearly to the ground, and her golden hair was bound in a riband of verdant green. With them rode Elrond Peredhil, loremaster and standard bearer, wearing the white and gold livery of his master, Gil-galad, King of Lindon.

Then Elrond rode to the gates and called out in a loud voice. ``Behold, the Galadrim are come to Osgiliath. We would take counsel with your king.'' Then were the gates thrown open and the clarions rang out. Meneldil greeted them and welcomed them in the name of Isildur, then led them through the streets to the Tower. Isildur, Elendur, and Gildor came down the broad stairs to greet them.

``My Lord and Lady,'' said Isildur in his powerful voice, ``you are well come indeed to this our city. My people thank you for your offer of aid in these evil times. I believe you already know my eldest son Elendur, and of course Gildor of Lindon. Master Elrond, my friend and kinsman, my heart is gladdened that you should come at long last to see Osgiliath.''

And Celeborn replied, ``Well met again, Isildur King. Good day, Elendur. And greetings to you, friend Gildor Inglorion. So the two far travellers are united again, and their efforts may at last bear fruit.''

Then some of Meneldil's guards led the Galadrim host to the walled fields of the Westbank, where they made their camp nigh to that of the men of the south. But Isildur led their lords into the Great Hall to seats of honor beneath the Dome of Stars. After they had broken their fast and shared their news, the Elves expressed their interest in seeing this new city, which none of them had ever visited before. Isildur led them up into the Tower of Stone and they stood at a high window and looked out over the city stretching out on either side of the broad river Anduin.

On all sides, the sun gleamed on white buildings and red tile roofs. Many tall buildings and towers stretched to the sky, for this was the commercial center of the city. To the south, between the last residential street and the high walls of the city, lay the green fields of the Westbank, now covered with rows of brightly colored tents and the streaming banners of many lands. But to the east across the River, the scene was not so fair. There many walls were scorched and blackened, and some of the towers were broken like jagged teeth. Hollow windows and burned houses spoke of the war that had raged across that part of the city in the first assault of the orcs. Through the midst of the city flowed the placid brown Anduin, spanned by the many-arched Golden Bridge. Once that bridge had streamed with people and wagons, a life-giving artery across the city. Now it stood empty, with barricades at each end guarded by strong parties of soldiers. On the near bank, the homes and shops were abandoned and a rough boardwalk had been built across their roofs, forming a parapet for a sort of second wall in case the enemy attempted the bridge again. Men paced there and their arms glinted in the morning sun.

From the streets below the Tower came the cries of vendors and the rumble of wagons and carts. The market in the central square was thronged with people and the scene seemed normal and peaceful. Yet rare was the sound of laughter and now and then a smith would look up from his forge or a woman set down her child and they would look to the east, to the guards on the parapets. For just beyond lay the land of the Enemy, and those walls marked the frontier. Beyond lay the grey-shrouded Mountains of Shadow, looming high and dark yet in the early morning light, casting long shadows like fingers groping toward Osgiliath. Banks of clouds hung above them, threatening a summer storm.

Between the city and the mountains lay the land of Ithilien, the former fief of Isildur. It lay now all in darkness. There all was still and no motion or life could be seen, save only that a keen eye could mark, far off in a high valley, the faint smokes where orcs made their foul meals of luckless things they had caught in the night.

Long the Lords looked out over that scene in silence, then at last Celeborn spoke. ``This is a noble city you and your people have built, Isildur. Though it is yet new, still it has the potential for greatness. I remember that this was a fair site ere the Edain returned to Middle-earth, but your labors here have made it a place of much beauty.''

``It shines yet, does it not?'' said Isildur fondly. ``It was intended to remind us Dúnedain of Rómenna in Númenor. Would you had seen it when it was fair and clean. It was once gay and proud and many shapely towers stood where all now is blackened and burned.'' He looked sadly at the ruined parts of the city. ``I fear the damage will never be fully undone. Can that which Sauron has defiled ever be completely clean again?''

But then Galadriel spoke, and her voice was like moonlight on rushing water. ``It is not her white stones that make your city noble, Isildur, but her people. Long has the valor of the people of Gondor been a shield wall, defending the West against our enemies. We honor them.''

And Elrond said, ``And if our plans go not amiss, new towers may rise in Osgiliath and all will again call it Fairest of the Cities of Men.''

``Such is my dream,'' replied Isildur, ``though many might deem it foolish in these dark times.''

``Nay, Sire,'' said Meneldil, ``it is only foolish to despair. Surely with these good people as our allies we may dare to hope again. Do not Elvish eyes pierce the future? Is there not bright victory before us? Can you not see it, my lords?''

But Celeborn sighed. ``Alas, no. Our eyes may see beyond those of mortal men, but the future can not be seen with certainty by any eyes, not even the Lidless Eye of the Enemy. Therein lies both our fear and our hope. We must build our own future with such tools as we possess.''

Isildur looked up sharply at that and Galadriel caught his eye and nodded. ``Aye,'' she said. ``We have fulfilled our trust and have done as bid by Gil-galad. We come not empty-handed, though this is not the time nor place to speak of such things. For now we would rest from our journey and walk in your city. Farewell for now.'' And the Lord and Lady of Lothlórien descended from the Tower. But when Isildur rose to leave, Elrond bade him stay.

``Isildur, I would speak with you. You know the Lady referred to the Rings of Power. She herself bears Nenya, the Ring of Water, and wondrous indeed are the powers it bestows on its wearer. But few even of the Wise know this.'' And he pulled a fine gold chain from around his neck, and behold, it bore a gleaming ring of burnished gold with a single immense sapphire that shone with a clear blue light like a ring around the sun.

``This is Vilya,'' said Elrond. ``The Ring of Air, and mightiest of the Three.''

Isildur could only stare. The ring sparkled and glowed. Elrond dropped it again into his tunic.

``It was given to me for safekeeping by Gil-galad when he rode away to war. He bade me keep it until he called for it. But he also told me that he hoped he would not call for it while the war lasted, for it was very perilous.''

``And so it is,'' agreed Isildur. ``Sauron forged his One Ring especially to draw the Three Rings to him and to absorb their power into his. If it were to fall into his hands, he would be immeasurably stronger and all the good works made with Vilya's powers would fade and die.''

Elrond nodded. ``Aye. It was intended that the Three should be kept separately, far from Mordor, and would not be brought against him.''

``Except in the most desperate need. And the need is upon us now. This must be the final battle against Sauron. If we fall, there is not strength enough in all of Middle-earth to mount another attack. The time has come to use our last weapons.''

``I know,'' said Elrond. ``And I believe that Galadriel is ready to risk using Nenya in our cause. But she fears for Vilya. As the mightiest, it will surely be drawn most strongly. We do not know the true power of Sauron's One Ring, but we are told that he might even be able to sense the presence of the Three at a distance, to know when they are approaching.''

``Still, we have no choice but to make the attempt. And Vilya is Gil-galad's ring. He wore it long and built many wondrous and marvelous works with it. If he can wield it against Sauron, then Sauron would most likely be drawn forth from the Barad-dûr. Perhaps if he is distracted by Vilya's presence, we may yet...''

There was a sudden commotion on the stairs and a guard rushed out onto the balcony and fell on his knee before Isildur.

``Your pardon, Sire,'' he gasped. ``An envoy has come from Pelargir. He seeks the most urgent audience with you, Sire. He says that Pelargir is under attack.''

Isildur leaped forward in alarm. ``Pelargir attacked? I'll see him in the Dome of Stars, at once, do you hear?''

``Aye, Sire.'' The guard ran to the stairs, but Isildur was there before him, leaping down the winding stairs like a goat. The others followed as best they could.

They reached the Great Hall just as the guard led in a haggard man in the livery of Barathor, though it was difficult to make out the colors, so covered was he with dust. His pale face was lined with exhaustion and he seemed ready to fall. Isildur bade him sit and called for wine to wet his throat, but the man shook his head.

``Isildur King,'' he gasped, ``we are undone. Pelargir is besieged by a great host. The enemy is upon us. Fire and slaughter is at our gate. You must return before it is too late.''

``The enemy, did you say? Did you mark their livery?''

``Aye, Sire. They wore scarlet and black and bore the banner of Herumor. It is the Corsairs right enough, Sire.''

Isildur struck his fist against his own brow. ``How can this be true? We left but five days ago, and the Elves were no more than a day or two away.'' He sprang to his feet and began pacing distractedly. ``What can have happened? There was no sign of an attack. The picket ships were still on guard at Ethir Anduin.''

``Sire,'' blurted out the messenger. ``Forgive me, Sire, but there is no time to be lost. The attack was well under way when I left. The city may already have fallen.''

Isildur glared at him then, his eyes hard. He was not accustomed to being ordered about by a soldier. But as he looked, the man swayed and would have fallen, had not Elrond caught him and helped him to a chair.

``Yes, you are right, of course.'' He called to some officers standing nearby. ``You there! Find Lord Barathor and bid him come here at once. Elrond, summon if you will the Lord and Lady, and Gildor, too. Find Ohtar and have him bring all the chief captains. We must hold council at once. Make haste!''

The room was suddenly empty, save only Isildur and the messenger, slumped in his chair, his head down on the table. Isildur stood long, staring at his heaving back, thinking, calculating distances and marching speeds.

Barathor rushed unheralded into the hall with several of his officers. He was still straightening his clothes and he looked angry at the peremptory summons.

``What is it?'' he bellowed. ``What is the sudden hurry?'' Then the messenger looked up at his lord and struggled to his feet. Barathor saw him and started.

``Arador? Is that you? What are you doing here?'' Then seeing the look in Arador's eyes, his heart froze in his chest. ``What is it, man? What has happened?''

Arador struggled to Barathor and fell to his knees before him. ``Oh, my lord. Forgive this poor messenger. It was the Corsairs, my lord. They have burned the fleet. They are even now besieging Pelargir, if it still stands.''

Barathor seemed to shrink. His face went white. ``By all the Valar...'' he began, then he collected himself. He bade Arador return to his seat. ``Tell us what happened,'' he said.

Elrond came in with the Elven lords. They stopped when they saw the stricken faces of everyone in the hall.

``Two dawns past,'' Arador began, ``a great fleet came up the River in the dark to our quays. We went forth to greet them, thinking them to be Cirdan and his Elves...'' He looked quickly up at Isildur, then away. ``As you had told us, Sire,'' he added.

``But then arrows flew and fires sprang up among our ships and then we saw that the ships were black and filled with our enemies. They fell on us with great slaughter. The horns were sounded to call the people back into the city, but many were cut down before they could gain the gate, for few bore arms. My lord Duitirith sent me after you to bring you back. I have ridden here without stopping, hoping to catch you up on the road.''

The Pelargrim looked at one another in horror.

``What was the situation when you left?'' asked Barathor.

``A large number of people had gone down to the quays to greet the ships. Many died on the dock and along the quays, but the greater part were fleeing to the gate with Duitirith and some of his knights guarding their rear. They should have reached the gate. The Corsairs were still disembarking and unloading their siege engines.''

``How many were they?'' asked Gildor.

``I do not know. But many, many. They came in many large ships. It was still dark when I left, hard to see in the smoke and confusion, and many had not yet landed. But when I reached the rise of the road I looked back. I could see three score at least of biremes in the river and perhaps a dozen large galleasses.''

``But that must be every ship in Umbar!'' cried Barathor. ``That could be twenty thousand men at least, perhaps thirty. It will be ten to one at best.''

``You say it was still dark when you left,'' said Gildor. ``How can you be so sure of the number of ships?''

Arador looked at the king with a cold eye. ``They were easy to see by that time, Sire. The river was lighted up all the way to the far shore by our burning ships.''

``All of the ships?'' asked one of the Pelargrim captains. ``Did not one get away?''

``No. It all happened so suddenly. The Corsairs hurled burning skins of oil amongst the ships. All were alight in moments. If any men reached their ships, they died in them.''

``Think you that Duitirith can hold the walls?'' asked Meneldil.

Arador looked up proudly into the Steward's eyes. ``He will hold them or die in the attempt. His men are well-trained and they are fighting for the lives of their families. But they are so very few. And the Corsairs have siege engines. I would not think they could hold out for more than a few days.''

Barathor shook his head, envisioning the Umbardrim host around the walls of Pelargir, his son fighting the hopeless battle, the city in flames, the terrified women and children hiding in their homes.

``But what of Cirdan?'' he cried. ``Was he not guarding the river?''

``Nay, my lord. We saw no sign of the Elves.''

Barathor wheeled on Isildur. ``You said the Elves would be there! You said the River would be guarded!'' Isildur stared at him helplessly, unable to answer.

``Ah, my city!'' wailed Barathor. ``My son!'' He swung about aimlessly, like a caged bear unable to reach his tormentors. ``Why did I leave? Oh, Eru, why did I leave? What are we doing here while Pelargir burns?''

``We all came here to defend Gondor,'' said Ingold of Calembel, who had come in with the other captains while Arador was finishing his report.

``Yes! We came here to defend Gondor. We guard Osgiliath and we left Pelargir unguarded. But all the time the attack was to be against Pelargir, not Osgiliath. Oh, Isildur, what have you done to us? And now fair Pelargir is destroyed. I have betrayed my trust and delivered my charge into the hands of our enemies. May my ancestors forgive me, for I will have no descendants!''

Then Arador cried out. ``Do not despair, my lord. Captain Duitirith sent me to you not to bring you news of defeat, but to seek your aid. I rode one mount to death and had to steal another, but I could not overtake you on the road. At every turn I prayed I would see you ahead and we would race back together like the wind. Always my last sight of the city was before my eyes. But each mile was another in the wrong direction. Now I have found you at last, will you not ride with me at once to Pelargir? The city may yet stand!''

Then Barathor looked to Isildur, standing with bowed head. ``Arador is right, Sire,'' said Barathor. ``We have made a terrible error by coming here. We may perchance yet save Pelargir. Or if not,'' he added grimly, ``we shall at least avenge it.''

But Meneldil stepped forward. ``My King, you must not leave Osgiliath now. If Pelargir is indeed fallen, the Corsairs will not long tarry there. They will strike here next. They may even now be sweeping up the River to assail us. Pelargir may be but the prelude to a concerted assault from the south and the east. It is too late to save Pelargir, but not Osgiliath. You must stand by us here.''

Barathor turned to the Steward, his fists clenched and his face dark with anger. ``My city is burning and my people cry to us for help, Meneldil. Would you have us stand idly by while they die? Can you think of nothing but Osgiliath? Is Pelargir but a worthless pawn to be sacrificed?''

Meneldil stepped back a pace, but he did not stand down. ``I am Lord of Osgiliath, Lord Barathor, and this city must always be my first concern. But I am also Steward of Gondor, and we must now think of standing together against our foes before we are all swept away. Pelargir is a staunch ally and her people are our brothers. My wife's family is there, and my brother's. My heart is heavy with grief. But this is not the hour for incaution and rash actions. Stay a moment and think what this could portend.

``If Pelargir is truly taken, then not only the Anduin is unguarded. The River Poros also is open to the Corsairs. If the border garrisons at the Crossings of the Poros be not taken already, they shall surely fall soon as well. We knew the Haradrim were strengthening their forces near the border. They could be pouring across the border into Harithilien already, marching to attack us. The Úlairi, those most fell servants of Sauron, hold Minas Ithil, but ten leagues from where we stand. We are threatended from the south and east. If the army now goes south to Pelargir, Osgiliath will surely share her fate. It is possible, as you say, that a great error has been made. History shall decide that, if there be any left to write it. But let us at least learn from our error, not repeat it and again draw our forces away from the point of attack.''

``You are too quick to concede the loss of Pelargir, Meneldil,'' said Barathor. ``If Pelargir has not yet fallen, then a swift blow from us now could yet save her and vanquish the Corsairs. Then the River could be guarded and Osgiliath would again be safe from attack from the south. We must ride at once.''

``The attack was already two days past,'' said Elendur. ``It will take two more to return. Could Pelargir stand for four days against so many, Lord Barathor? Undermanned and with her fleet destroyed? I know well your agony, but do you think it possible that Pelargir yet stands?''

``My people are brave and fierce in battle, Prince Elendur, and they are led by my son Duitirith. They will fight to the last man. They could yet be holding the walls. And if so, even now they will be looking over their shoulders to the River Road, watching for our return. Would you have us simply drink another glass of wine and let them be slaughtered without trying to come to their aid? No! I shall go to them at once, if I have to ride alone.''

Barathor turned to Isildur, who had still not spoken. ``What say you, my king?'' he asked. ``Will you not ride with us?''

Then Isildur looked up and met the eyes of Barathor and Arador and the other Pelargrim. His own eyes were filled with anguish and sorrow.

``My friends,'' he said. ``This is an evil choice. How can I choose between two cities that I love? Osgiliath is my own capital, the heart of my kingdom. But Pelargir too is part of Gondor and I am responsible for her safety as well. The people of Pelargir welcomed me and succored me when I was cast up on their shore on the wings of storm. They ceded me this land on which we stand, and they helped to haul the stones of this tower. Now, at my own behest Pelargir has left herself in mortal danger. Can I now ignore her calls for help in her hour of greatest need? How can I refuse my aid to either city?''

``Sire,'' cried Meneldil, ``this is your own city. It was conceived by you and my father. You laid out its very streets. If you leave us now you are casting away our only hope. For eleven years now we have fought and prepared, always waiting for the blow which must surely come. And all that time we knew we would not be able to withstand a concerted attack. With our kings and most of our fighting men away in Gorgoroth, what hope could we have against an all-out attack from Ithilien?

``It was been a most anxious wait. Now at last you have come back to us, and with an army that could repulse the enemy, drive him from Ithilien, perhaps even throw down the Dark Tower itself. For the first time in years, we have felt true hope again. Now as the Black Hand is stretched forth for our throats, would you ride away again to leave us to our fate? Do not let the agony of Pelargir draw you from your true duty. The main attack, when it comes, will be against the capital. Your place is here in Osgiliath.''

Then the king rose up tall and menacing and he shouted, ``Tell me not my duty, Meneldil! You are my Steward, not my master. I am King of Gondor, and I take orders only from Elendil, High King of the Realms in Exile.''

Meneldil fell back and bowed. It had been long since he had had to bow to any man. But still he was not cowed.

``Sire,'' he said. ``I do not presume to tell you your duty. But this is a momentous decision. The fate of us all could ride on it. Perhaps if you consulted with your father...'' He let his voice trail off, not sure how much he should say before all these foreigners.

``Yes,'' said Isildur. ``The plans of the Lords of the West have gone all amiss now and we must plan anew. They must be made aware of what has happened.''

``But Sire,'' said Barathor. ``We must ride at once or Pelargir is lost.''

``We have a means for speaking with Elendil in Gorgoroth, even from here in the Tower, Lord Barathor. I say to you, prepare your men to ride to Pelargir at once. I will give you my decision within the hour.''

Barathor stared at him a moment, not understanding, but then he wheeled and hurried from the room, with Arador and the other Pelargrim close behind. Isildur watched them go with anguished eyes.

``My heart tells me to join them, Ohtar,'' he murmured privately. ``But Meneldil is probably right. My place is in the capital.'' He looked then at the Elves standing near by. ``My Lords of the Eldar,'' he said. ``I would have you accompany me. We must take counsel with Gil-galad and my father. We must make the greatest haste. Come, into my private chambers. Ohtar, get thee to the camp and see that all is ready for a quick departure. Meneldil, look to the defenses of the city. Double the guards along the quays and riverbanks. The Corsairs could appear at any moment. The orcs too could take advantage of our confusion to attack at once. War is upon us, whether I stay or go!''

Then Isildur and the Eldar retired to the king's apartments, close behind the Dome of Stars. He led them into a small dark room without windows, lit only by a small hanging lamp. The only furniture was a marble pedestal in the center of the room, supporting something round covered by a cloth of gold. They gathered around it as Isildur closed the door. He stepped up to the pedestal and carefully drew off the cloth, and behold, atop the column was a great round crystal as large as a man's head. Dark it was, and yet something seemed to move within it, like a fire smoldering within a shroud of smoke. They stared at it in wonder.

``This is a treasure beyond value,'' whispered Celeborn.

``It is very beautiful,'' said Elrond. ``But what is it?''

``This is a palantír,'' said Isildur. ``One of the seven Seeing Stones, heirlooms of my house. It may be the oldest made object in all of Middle-earth.''

``The palantíri were wrought by the hand of my uncle, Fëanor Firespirit himself, in Aman when the world was young,'' said Galadriel. ``They remained long the pride of all his works, and it was a sign of the special esteem in which the Eldar hold your house, Isildur, that they were given to Amandil your grandsire.''

``They were an aid and a comfort to us Faithful of Númenor,'' said Isildur, ``and they remained there until its fall. My father brought them to Middle-earth, where we now use them to speak one to another, though vast distances separate us. This is the Master Stone, that can speak to each. I had another at Minas Ithil and took it with me when I was forced to abandon my city at the beginning of the war. My father now has it in his camp in Gorgoroth. That is the stone I must contact.''

Then he laid his hands on the globe. The mists inside swirled at his touch and the red glow brightened, lighting Isildur's intent face. He bent his mind upon the stone, willing it to speak out to its mate in the plains of Mordor.

The others watched silently. The smoke writhed within, and images began to form. Tiny they were, as if viewed from a great height. Each cloudscape formed but for a moment before swirling away. The light grew and the images became clearer. There were mountains in the clouds now; black crags thrusting through a swirling reek. The red glow pulsed, as if a heart of fire beat beneath the clouds. Then another dark pinnacle appeared, but this was no mountain summit. High it reared, higher than any mountain, with sheer black sides and a jagged crown. Looking closer, they could see that it was a mighty fortress, with battlements on the parapets, and many turrets and a myriad of tiny windows glowing orange and red.

``Behold the Barad-dûr,'' said Isildur softly, and the room seemed to grow chill at the sound of that fell name.

The image grew, swelling larger and larger until it filled the globe, and it was as if they were descending through the clouds toward the Tower. Finally a torn and tortured land appeared far below. It was all a somber ash gray, slashed by deep cracks and crossed with black tongues of old lava flows. There on the very edge of a smoking chasm lay the only spot of color in all that wide land -- a small square patch of many bright colors, like a scrap of embroidered cloth dropped near the brooding walls of the Tower. As the view continued to descend and grow, they saw that the bright square was in fact a huge city of tents for a vast army that now could be seen moving about the slag heaps.

The globe settled toward one of the larger tents, a pavilion of gold and white silk. There was a disorienting moment as the view seemed to pass through the roof of the tent. Then it was if they were gazing not into the globe, but out of it, at a group of men in armor. A tall man with long silver hair came close until his face filled all the globe. Like Isildur, he wore upon his brow a circlet set with a single glowing gem. This was Elendil, High King of the Realms in Exile, and eldest of Men.

``Ah, Isildur, my son,'' he said, his voice ringing clear in all their heads, though no sound emerged from the palantír. ``I see you are with Elrond and the Galadrim. Are all then gathered for the council on the morrow? Did Elendur arrive safely?''

``Yes, father, but evil unlooked for has befallen us. Pelargir is assailed by the Corsairs.''

Elendil's face showed his dismay. ``Umbar? Oh, that Númenóreans should turn against Númenóreans in such times as these. Curse their black hearts. I wonder that they dare the attempt. The fleet should be more than a match for the Corsairs, as long as the wind holds.''

``The fleet of Pelargir is already destroyed, Sire, and the city but lightly defended. It is not likely that they yet stand.''

Elendil's eyes glared. ``Why? Did the patrols not give ample warning? Were they not prepared for the attack? What was Barathor about?''

``My lord, Barathor and most of his warriors and seamen are here in Osgiliath. At my behest.''

``You told them to leave the Gate of the South open to our enemies? But why?''

``Because I needed them here. You sent me throughout all of Gondor, and we had hoped to have fifteen or twenty thousand in our host by now. But at every turn we were thwarted. I told you from the Orthanc stone that Calenardhon and Angrenost had but few to spare from the raiding orcs. And at Anglond and again at Ethir Lefnui, the Corsairs attacked and slew many, and we had but few volunteers.

``Even Romach and the Eredrim have refused us. We had but three thousand when we reached Pelargir. There we met Gildor, just arrived from Mithlond. He told us that Cirdan's fleet would be at Pelargir in a day or two at most. And so Barathor agreed to withdraw the fleet and send every available man with us to Osgiliath. It seemed a necessary risk for a day or two.''

Elendil's face stared grimly from the globe. ``Oh, my son, these are terrible tidings indeed,'' he said at last.

``Father, I knew the importance of our mission here. What hope would we have trying to attack Minas Ithil with but three thousand men, even with the help of the Elves? I deemed it essential that Barathor ride with us, even though it left Pelargir stripped bare. And loëndë was fast approaching. Cirdan's ships could guard the River, but we could not wait for him. Father, did I do wrong?''

``No, Isildur,'' said Elendil. ``You did not do wrong. It was a desperate gamble, indeed, but necessary. I suppose I would have done the same in your place. It is a token of the love and loyalty of Barathor that he would even consider leaving Pelargir undefended. But you were correct: if you do not have sufficient force to take Minas Ithil, the entire plan will fail, and we shall be certainly lost. What is the situation now?''

``We have just learned of the attack, and Barathor is returning to Pelargir. I urged him to remain, but he would fly to Pelargir at once and I didn't feel that I could in conscience try to prevent him.''

``No, of course not.''

``He wishes me to go with him, to take the whole army back to Pelargir. And as he only left at my repeated pleading, I feel responsible for the people he left behind.''

Elendil looked at his son with compassion in his eyes. ``And you are torn as to what you should do?''

``Yes. If I stay here, Pelargir is almost certain to fall if it has not already.''

``And if you go with Barathor, Sauron could choose that moment to attack Osgiliath.''

``Yes. If Pelargir is taken, the Corsairs will be at our gates in a few days. They could attack while we are on the road back to Pelargir. Either choice could bring disaster.'' Elendil nodded his head, a humorless tight smile on his lips.

``It is at such times that the crown wears heavy on the head, does it not?'' he said. ``What do you intend to do?''

``I will bid him go, but I shall remain here with the rest of my men. We shall continue with the plan as best we can.''

``Yes, that is probably the best. You should not leave Osgiliath unguarded now. You could find Pelargir sacked and return to find Osgiliath burning, and probably Minas Anor as well. But it is not easy to stand idly by and see our friends fall.'' He shook his head sadly. ``May the Powers be with you, and with the Pelargrim.''

``My lord,'' said Galadriel. ``Is Gil-galad nigh? I would speak with him on a different matter, though no less grave.''

``Aye, he is here.'' A proud and stately Elf appeared, clad in silver mail and a long blue cloak. ``Galadriel,'' he said with a smile. ``Greetings to you, cousin. You grow more beautiful as the yén flow by.''

"Elen síla lúmenn omentilmo,'' she replied. ``It is good to see you well. My king, I have done as you bade me.'' And she held up her hand. Nenya glinted like the Evenstar on her hand. ``And Elrond Halfelven is here, with your Vilya. We expect Cirdan any day with Narya.''

``Good. Then the Three are gathered together at last, as has never been since the day Sauron's treachery was revealed.''

``That is my concern,'' said Galadriel. ``Perhaps you are right and the time has come to use the Three against him. But is it wise to bring them all together? Was this not Sauron's whole purpose in this war: to draw them to him so he could take them all together?''

``It may well be so, Lady. But we know not if we still have the strength to oppose him. All our force of arms, great as it is, we fear insufficient to stop him if he emerges from the Tower in his full strength. We shall have need of all our weapons if that should occur.''

``But if we should fail; if he were to take the Three?''

``Then all would be lost and the West would be helpless against him.''

``Exactly. Can any reward be worth such a risk?''

``We have long debated just this question, Lady. Our thought was that if he knew the Three were near, he would be drawn out of his fortress and we could at last test our strength against his. We are sick and weary of this waiting. It has been too long, especially for our allies the Men.''

``You would risk all for this one confrontation?''

``We cannot hope to defeat him by waiting here. He is in no hurry. He can wait until we are so weakened and dispirited that our alliance founders. We must draw him out now. It is that or withdraw.''

``But would not one of the Three be sufficient? I will bring Nenya and we shall fight together, shoulder-to-shoulder as we did against Morgoth. But let Vilya and Narya remain here in case we fall.''

Gil-galad shook his head. ``We considered that path as well. We fear that any single ring might prove insufficient against the One. And perhaps be insufficient bait, as well.''

``But to reveal the Three! This is a desperate chance.''

``It is indeed. A desperate chance for desperate times.''

Galadriel bowed her head. ``We have great reservations about this course you have chosen, Gil-galad. But we will do as you bid.''

``Thank you, Lady. And thank you, Lord Celeborn. I well know what you are risking by bringing your rings here.''

Celeborn bowed his head grimly. ``Yes. All the good that we have done in Middle-earth could be undone in a moment. Lothlórien would cease to exist. But we defer to your judgement, O king.''

``Elrond, a word,'' said Gil-galad.

``Sire?'' answered Elrond, stepping forward.

``I would have you bring Vilya to me here. But I caution you against its use except in the most critical need. It is the mightiest of all the Three, and I fear lest any wear it save myself.''

``It shall be done as you say, Sire,'' replied Elrond.

Trumpets sounded from without. ``Barathor is preparing to depart,'' said Isildur. ``We must go.''

``Yes,'' said Gil-galad. ``And you must come to us here as quickly as you can. Orodruin's rumblings increase with each passing day. We suspect Sauron is preparing to attack. May Eru be with you.''

``And with you, Lords. Goodbye.''

The stone grew cloudy again and the light faded. Isildur covered it again, his face grave.

``It is as I thought,'' he said to Elrond. ``My duty must be here in Osgiliath. Yet if I were free I would fly to Pelargir as fast as Fleetfoot could run.''

They returned to the Dome of Stars and thence to the portico that fronted the Great Hall. The dark clouds they had seen at sunrise were now covering the sky, though here and there light slanted down, highlighting a gilded dome here, a white tower there. Just as they emerged, Barathor rode into the square with Arador and some others of the captains of Pelargir. They rode to the foot of the steps.

``We are ready to ride, Sire,'' called Barathor from his saddle. ``Will you not come with us? We need your strength.''

Isildur looked sadly at the Lord of Pelargir. ``My friend, I fear your choice is ill. The attack on Pelargir may well prove to be but the first stroke of Sauron's attack on Gondor. If so, it will not be long before the plains yonder will be black with orcs. Then will Osgiliath in turn need your strength. I would have you here when that attack comes. But I cannot stay you against your will. In your place I would no doubt do the same.

``I love you as a brother, Barathor son of Boromir, but I cannot ride with you. My place is here. If you must go, I beg you to part as friends and allies still. And when your task in Pelargir be finished, whether relief or revenge, I ask you to return to us. For the mind that directed the attack on Pelargir is not in that city, but there before us, in the east.''

``I understand, Sire,'' said Barathor. ``And I shall return when I can. Farewell, Isildur Elendilson.''

``Farewell, Barathor. Ride faster than the wind, and may you find the sea-blue pennant still fluttering from the walls of Pelargir.''

Then raising his sword, Barathor called, ``Ride, Men of Pelargir. Ride as you have never ridden before.'' His horse reared and gave a great cry like a call to war, then wheeled and plunged down the road to the south gate. His officers followed in a cloud of dust and a thunder of hooves.

Isildur stood and watched them go, then he and his party returned to the hall and ascended again the great tower. They stood looking out over the city. Isildur was deep in thought, his face as grave as it had ever been.

``My mind is much troubled,'' he said to no one in particular. ``Did I well or ill this day? I stayed here, dooming Pelargir to fire and pillage, so that Osgiliath might be protected. But now Barathor takes the greater part of my forces. It may be that his force is now too weak to save Pelargir and mine too weak to protect Osgiliath. Should I have tried to stop him? Might it not have been better to remain united and pursue one course or the other with our full strength?''

``Nay,'' said Galadriel. ``Fault not yourself in this. You could not in faith leave Osgiliath -- you saw that well enough. And yet you could not stay Barathor. He would not have been swayed by any words of yours or ours, and you cannot bind an ally to you against his will. You have done well at least to preserve the alliance. Perhaps he will yet return in time.''

Isildur glanced at the Lady sadly. ``Your words reassure me, Lady, but still am I uneasy in my heart. He will return quickly only if Pelargir and all her people are utterly destroyed. Even then, he will be gone at least five days, too late to help us. And I fear greatly for Cirdan. In our concern for Pelargir we have given but little thought to why he should be delayed. If he was in the Bay of Belfalas when the Black Fleet arrived at Anduin, they could have had an evil time of it. The Elves of Lindon are mighty mariners, unequaled in seamanship, but they are unused to the ways of war at sea. And the Corsairs have been masters of that art for a thousand years. Their ships are driven by many slaves, and they carry catapults that throw skins of flaming oil.

``The White Fleet is strong, but if they met this mighty assault fleet in the open sea, especially if the wind were light or fickle, I fear greatly for the outcome. We know both fleets must have been in the bay at the same time, and but one has emerged. I like it not.''

``I have had these same thoughts,'' said Celeborn, ``and yet one more: if Cirdan has indeed fallen to the Corsairs, might not that which he bore be even now on its way to Sauron?''

``Aye,'' said Isildur, his face growing even darker. ``If that were so, all our plans would be thwarted before they were begun. Already the tide seems to flow against us. We sought throughout the west for aid, but the Eredrim and the Dwarves refuse us and the men of Minhiriath and Anfalas cannot come, and now even the brave legions of Pelargir are denied us on the very eve of battle. If Cirdan too is lost, we lack even the strength to strike and can only helplessly await the end. Woe to us, and alas to all we love and seek to preserve!'' And his grief was writ plain upon his face.

``And yet we must not despair,'' said Galadriel. ``The Host of the Alliance is mighty yet and guards the enemy within his last refuge. The armies of Gondor and Lothlórien are strong and eager. We are alive, our powers are at the full. There is hope yet. While the sun yet shines, there is hope.''

At that moment there came another blare of trumpets and shouting from the walls of the city. On the fields of the Westbank, the men of Pelargir were forming a long column. Barathor and his cavalry could be seen riding to its head. The great doors of the gate swung open, and Barathor led his army out of the city.

For an instant the sun gleamed on sprearpoint and helm and Barathor's banner rippled beneath the arch. Then a cloud passed over the sun and a breeze sprang up from the east. Barathor's esquire sounded his horn, but the call seemed already faint with distance. Then a sudden cold rain pelted down and the riders were lost to the sight of those watching from the tower. And Isildur gazed up at the lowering clouds and repeated Galadriel's last words.

``While the sun yet shines,'' he murmured.

Chapter Seven
The Coming of the White Fleet

``Lord Amroth, a light has been sighted ahead!''

Amroth looked up from the journal in which he had been writing. His esquire Iorlas was standing in the door of the cabin, his head bowed under the low deck beams.

``What sort of light?''

``I don't know. We can't see it from the deck yet. Better put on a wrap. The sun's not up yet and the air is cool and damp. It's still blowing hard.''

Hastily wrapping a cloak around himself, Amroth followed Iorlas up the ladder to the deck. The wind was still fair and strong behind them. The stern rose to long rolling swells, sweeping up invisibly in the dark. As each sea passed under them, the ship teetered on the crest an instant, then rolled and slid away down its receding back. The newly repaired mainsail boomed and shuddered with the strain. Amroth stood and watched it a moment, but it seemed to be holding and drawing well. Looking about the deck, he saw that the storm damage was nearly all repaired now. Working without a stop for nearly three days, the skilled Sea-Elves had spliced and knotted and replaced the more serious damage wrought by the great storm. As Sindarin, or Wood-Elves, he and Iorlas were excused from such skilled work, even discouraged from helping. He had spent much of the last week in his cabin, keeping out of the way of the real mariners.

He sniffed the air and thought that there might be the faintest hint of land in it, but he well knew that his forest-dweller's nose was not as quick to catch the subtle changes as the mariners'. He made his way to the bows and found a group of Sea-Elves assembled there, peering ahead into the night and talking quietly. He heard Cirdan's deep voice among them.

Amroth peered ahead into the darkness but could see nothing except the creaming bow wave now and again thrown out wide on either side.

``What is it, Lord Cirdan?'' he asked. Cirdan stood upon the rail, grasping the forestay, his body swaying easily with the pitching of the ship. He glanced down and looked away to the horizon again.

```Tis a light, Amroth. The lookout at the masthead believes it to be a burning afar off, though I confess I as yet see nothing.''

``There, my lord,'' cried one of the mariners, ``just to larboard of our head.'' Amroth recognized the gravelly voice of Gilrondil the sailing master.

``I saw it that time!'' said Cirdan. ``It is like a spark, very low on the horizon and we see it only from the crests. There! And there again. What make you of it, Gilrondil?''

The sailing master studied the faint flicker for a few minutes. ``No small light, I think, Lord, but a great flame far away. See how the sky above it seems to pulse with the flame?''

``Yes, I see that now. How distant would you reckon it?''

``It is most difficult to say, Lord. Not less than eight leagues, I would say.'' He shouted up to the lookout swaying high above at the masthead. ``What can you make of it, Lindir?''

A voice called down out of the dark. ``It is more than one now, master. There are two fires. No, three! Another to the right.''

``Are they on land, think you?''

``I cannot be certain, but I would guess they are either on the sea or perhaps on a strand. They appear to be low. Another! Four, four fires burn on the sea.''

``The glow is right ahead,'' said Cirdan. ``We should be nigh to them before daylight.''

They all stood watching those faint red sparks.

``It bodes ill, I fear,'' said Cirdan. ``It may be the flames of war we see.''

``Might they not be signals?'' Amroth suggested. ``Perhaps the people of Gondor have lit beacons on the shore to guide us.''

``Once there was such a beacon on the North Cape of the Ethir Anduin,'' said Gilrondil, ``but it has long been dark. In time of war such lights guide foes as well as friends. Nay, if fires burn at the Ethir it can only mean evil. We shall see what the dawn reveals.''

As the long night wore on, the glowing lights in the east gradually faded and one by one flickered out. Then a white light appeared in exactly the same place. Amroth was about to point it out to the others, but it soon rose from the sea and was seen to be Eärendil, the Morning Star, presaging the dawn. Soon after, a soft glow gathered on that same horizon and the looming seas around them took on long grey shapes. Then came a brilliant yellow gleam and suddenly the sun rose over the bow.

There behind them and on either side rode the great swan ships of Mithlond, their prows splitting the grey seas. Already a few were altering course slightly to close up around the flagship for the daylight formation. The new sun turned their sails a shell pink and cast diamonds into the spray at their bows. The fleet looked proud and strong, though they numbered but ten long swanships, thirty smaller corbitas, and a half dozen cogs. Most lay to windward, off their starboard quarter, and on each sail was emblazoned in gold the eight-pointed star of the Noldor. At each masthead flew the white banner of Galathilion, the Silver Tree.

Beyond the main body of the fleet loomed the dark mass of Tolfalas, the Island of Cliffs, which they had passed unseen in the night. Far away to larboard were the green rolling hills and white cliffs of Belfalas. Far ahead, just visible now in the slowly clearing haze, was a low dark line.

``What is that black shore ahead of us?'' asked Amroth.

``Those are the willows of the Ethir Anduin,'' answered Gilrondil. ``There among those immense trees, the mighty Anduin flows by many mouths into the sea.''

As the day waxed and the line of trees drew nearer, many gaps began to appear, marking the passages between islands. They made for the northernmost, close under the beetling cliffs of North Cape, for it was the widest and least troubled by rips and overfalls when the tide was in flood. As they drew near, Amroth climbed into the weather rigging and searched the coasts for any signs of life.

``What see you, Amroth?'' cried Gilrondil from the aftercastle. ``Are there any sails?''

``No. There is nothing.''

``That is not good. The Men of Pelargir keep always several picket ships at the Ethir. They should have challenged us long before. The Ethir is never unguarded. Keep a sharp eye.''

At that moment came a hail from the ship nearest to starboard. ``Something floats in the water, Lord Cirdan. Just ahead of us.''

Cirdan stepped quickly to the rail and called back. ``Heave to, Hithimir, and see what it is.'' The other ship quickly dropped its sail and its slow and stately pitch became a wallowing in the heavy seas. Amroth could see sailors rushing forward to peer down at some dark object rising and falling in the water.

``It appears to be wreckage, Lord,'' came the cry.

``Gilrondil!'' shouted Cirdan. ``Signal all ships to heave to. Bring us alongside Hithimir's ship.'' A string of flags flew to the masthead and the Elves leaped to the braces to haul the yard around into the wind. A moment of thundering canvas, then the sail was clewed up and bunted in. The ship lost way and drifted over toward Hithimir's ship. Soon they could all see the dark object bobbing in the clear blue water.

At first Amroth could make no sense of what it was. It seemed to be a jumble of blackened logs, skewed at every angle, entangled in vines. Suddenly Amroth realized he was looking at the rigging of a large ship. A crossed mast and yard drifted in a tangle of rope and blackened sailcloth. Then with a shock of horror he saw a body tangled in the rigging, floating face-downwards, the long brown hair drifting around it. Everything was burned and blackened, but the masthead was undamaged and a few feet beneath the surface a blue banner streamed in the water -- a gold citadel on a blue field.

``That is the banner of Pelargir,'' said Cirdan.

``There can no longer be any doubt,'' said Gilrondil. ``The pickets of Gondor are destroyed and the Ethir is taken.''

``A curse on the storm that delayed us! We have come too late.''

``This can only be the work of the Corsairs of Umbar. Pelargir may already be destroyed,'' said Gilrondil in a voice of despair.

Cirdan turned to him. ``The flames were but five hours past. The Corsairs could not have reached Pelargir yet. They must still be in the River.''

``They could be hidden among the islands, lying in wait for us,'' said Gilrondil.

``I think not. If they had known we were here they would have attacked us out here in the open bay. They would never let themselves be bottled up within the River, with us the stopper.''

Gilrondil studied the islands and the openings between them. He pointed to the North Cape. ``We could lie in wait beyond that headland and fall upon them as they return. If we strike just as they attempt this pass, we will have the weather gauge and they will be on a lee shore in close waters and will be sore hindered.''

But Cirdan shook his head. ``Gil-galad sent us to aid Gondor against its enemies. If Pelargir is now to be besieged, it would be small aid to its people to strike its attackers after the city is fallen. We must attempt to prevent the attack, not avenge it. Nay, our way lies up Anduin, and as fast as may be.''

``My Lord,'' said Gilrondil, ``it is unlikely we will overtake them, for they have at least five hours head start. From the look of those bluffs along the west bank, the wind is sure to be fickle in the River and we may have to tack against the current while they can row against it even if the wind dies completely. Also, if they dare to attack Pelargir they must be in their full force and must surely outnumber us. Even if we were to catch them in the River, the current will be in their favor. And they have great experience in combat in narrow waters. In pursuing them we are giving up every military advantage.''

``These things are all true, Gilrondil, and it is your duty to point them out to me. Nevertheless, it is my duty to help defend Pelargir. With the picket ships destroyed, most likely the city is unaware of the danger approaching. We have no choice but to try to warn them and give what assistance we can. The Corsairs must soon encounter the main body of the Pelargrim fleet, and it is mighty and experienced in these waters. No matter their strength, they cannot hope to pass up to Pelargir without heavy losses. Most likely the two fleets are engaged already. If we were to appear suddenly at their rear and fall upon them, they would be pinned between us and the Pelargrim. And we should have that most able of allies, surprise, at our side.

``Now we must fly before it is too late. If the Corsairs were to best the Pelargrim fleet before we arrive, we would have a hard time of it ourselves. Hoist the signals to get under way and to prepare for battle. We are unlikely to see them before they see us, so we must be ready to attack as soon as we sight them.''

Gilrondil bowed and raised his booming voice. ``Cast off the brails! Brace the yard round! Haul and belay! Sheet home! Sheet home!'' The mariners leaped to the rigging and the ship surged forward as if struck with a whip. At the same time the signals broke at the masthead and all around them the great sails dropped and bellied. The fleet formed up and drove for the northern mouth of Anduin.

As soon as all lines were coiled the mariners went below and brought forth bows and quivers and long slim swords. These were stowed in receptacles for that purpose just under the gunwales. The pieces of a small catapult were brought up from the hold and assembled on the forecastle. Long lances were fitted into sockets pointing outward from the rails and boarding nets were stretched between them.

Amroth donned his mailed shirt and his cuirass and helm. He set his bow and quiver ready to hand and buckled his sword belt. As he stood stringing his bow, Gilrondil called to him. ``You had best use one of our longbows, Lord Amroth. Your short Sindarin bow is unsuited for the long shots required at sea.''

Amroth looked askance at the tall weapon Gilrondil held. ``I am unused to your Noldorin bows, Master. I fear I would give too many shafts to the waves,'' he laughed. ``This bow of mine will bring down a stag at nigh a furlong, and yet it is small and light and easily handled, for it was designed for hunting in the forests of Greenwood the Great. When drawn by a steady hand, it is more accurate than your longer bows, and handier in close combat.''

Now it was Gilrondil's turn to look dubious. ``A furlong? Very well, Lord. Perhaps you are right. But for myself I shall keep this old yew of mine. It has served me well for many yén.''

They both strung their bows, fitted arrows, and drew several times. ``What will the range be, think you?'' Amroth asked. ``I know not the ways of war between ships. When should I shoot?''

Gilrondil lowered his bow and his voice. ``In truth, I know not. We have fought no pitched battles at sea since this New Age began. Many of us here were not yet born when last the Swanships of Mithlond fought an action. But distances can be deceiving at sea. When we rendezvous with another ship, I notice it often seems to take forever to approach within bowshot, then suddenly we are alongside. You can try a shot when you feel sure of hitting your mark. But I would think that except for a lucky shot or two, little damage could be done until the ships grapple one another. Then would the fighting be hand to hand and eye to eye and we will need our swords, not our bows.

``If the Corsairs have already landed, I would advise that we land at some small distance so that we might disembark, form up our companies, and fight a land engagement. I fear at sea the pirates would have the advantage of us, for they sail in long galleys with hundreds of slaves to draw the sweeps. They could easily outrun us, especially if the winds are light. Their ships are very long and narrow and I believe they would not maneuver easily, especially in narrow waters. If we can come upon then suddenly in some narrow strait, I believe we would be on nearly equal terms, for we could wheel and turn and attack their flanks. My greatest fear would be a calm, for then we would be at their mercy.

``They bear beneath their bows, below the waterline, long sharp rams which can tear the belly out a ship in seconds. Neither your bow nor mine would avail us then, Amroth. An Elf will not swim far in a suit of mail. So pray that the wind holds steady and fair.''

The wind did hold, and they raced up the broad lower reaches of Anduin hour after hour. The Great River at this point was many miles from shore to shore, and but for the smooth water, they would have thought they were yet at sea. League after league rolled by under their keels as the day wore on, but never a sight did they have of another vessel.

Just before dark they approached the confluence of the River Poros, which joins Anduin from the southeast, bringing the waters of the dread Ephel Dúath across many leagues of hot and barren sands. The Anduin narrowed considerably just above the Poros. Cirdan had reasoned that the Pelargrim might have fallen back to these straits so the galleys would be more hindered. He had hoped to find a battle in progress here, or even better, the Corsair ships lying on the strand under the colors of Pelargir. But the rivers and beaches were silent and empty. The lookouts strained their eyes for any hint of a masthead away up the Poros, for fear of an ambush after they passed, but there was no craft of any kind, nor even wreckage. It was difficult to believe that this land was at war. They could only assume that the Corsairs had run unopposed toward Pelargir. But no one could explain why the Gate of the South should stand thus open.

They passed the Poros and the banks of Anduin closed around them. They were passing now through a flat land, the banks lined with willows and cottonwoods, broken here and there by a sunny beach. It was a lovely peaceful land, cool and inviting, but they noted only how slowly the banks crept by, an indication of the strong current against them. At last night fell and some hours later the first quarter moon sank into the River behind them. Much against his will, Cirdan was forced to reduce sail to navigate the many turns of the River in the dark.


The mariners had feared the sun would draw the wind after it, as their saying goes, but it held and even increased, so that they fairly flew up the River. Even with reduced sail, their progress seemed more swift at night, for they could hear the water rippling along the side and the creaming wake rolled out astern, and they could not see the shore creeping past so slowly. The yard was braced nearly square now as the River bore more to the north.

The fleet swept on through the night, parting the black water with a white rush of foam. The great lanterns in the prows had not been lit, so the other ships were mere curling white waves astern. The smaller ships were falling back in the formation, though Cirdan was careful not to let the larger corbitas outrun them and divide the fleet.

Amroth stood on the aftercastle, just behind the two helmsmen at their steering sweeps. Gilrondil stood on the gallery at the stern, beneath the long curving neck of the swan. He leaned long on the rail, silhouetted against the glowing wake. At long last he climbed the ladder to the aftercastle.

``We are making a goodly speed, Master,'' said Amroth.

``Aye,'' said he. ``The log gives it as nearly eight knots, even under reduced sail, though the River must be taking back at least three of that. We should reach Pelargir before midday if we come not upon a battle before then.''

``Is it not most strange that the Corsairs have seemingly met so little resistance?'' asked Amroth. ``The River is swept clean. We sail through the heart of one of the largest and most populous nations in Middle-earth, yet we might as well be at sea for all the signs of life we see. Where can the fleet of Pelargir be?''

``I cannot guess. By all accounts the River should be full of ships. Besides their main fleet, their patrols along the coasts, and the pickets always at the Ethir, there are many smaller craft that always patrol the River, protecting trade and preventing crossings by the orcs that now infest southern Ithilien. And there is always much commercial traffic on Anduin, for it is not only Gondor's South Gate, but also bears the cargos of Pelargir and Lebennin, and even some from your lands far to the north, portaged around the falls of Rauros. The River is never empty, so we are told.

``I like it not,'' he said. ``The pirates could not have swept the River clear of all traffic so quickly. There is no sign of battle, no wreckage. It is as if the entire nation of Gondor has been swept away to the moon. No, there is much we do not know here, and that makes me most uneasy.''

He lowered his voice so that the helmsmen should not overhear. ``I have had another thought which sore troubles me, but I am loath to speak of it, for it involves a most evil chance.''

``Speak, my friend,'' said Amroth. ``I would know your fears, lest they prove true in the end.''

``Very well then. What if the Corsairs have already taken Pelargir some time ago? If they rule in Pelargir and their fleet guards the River, that would explain the absence of shipping or people on the shores.''

Amroth's heart chilled and he drew his cloak more closely about his shoulders. ``Then we would be hurrying to our doom. But what of the fires yesternight, the wreckage we saw?''

``If the Corsairs held the city and the River, would they not station their own pickets at the Ethir? And if ships of Pelargir returned unknowing from some long voyage?''

``Ah,'' said Amroth, seeing again the blackened timbers in the pellucid water, ``they would have been unprepared for an enemy lying in wait in the Ethir.''

``Aye, and they would have lighted the night for us.''

``But we saw no pickets, Corsair or otherwise.''

``But we came there at dawn, looking into the rising sun. The light would have lit our sails long before we could see the Ethir clearly. And if a Corsair picket sighted an Elvish fleet approaching?''

``Would they not have attacked us as we entered the River?''

``A handful of picket galleys would be foolish to attack us. But if they concealed themselves among the myriad islands of the Ethir and allowed us to enter the River, they could even now be following us, waiting gleefully for us to meet their main fleet. Then we would be trapped between their forces.''

``If that is true,'' said Amroth, ``then the trap is already sprung, and we are already in its jaws. There would be nothing we could do.''

``Aye,'' he said. ``That is why, when all other eyes are looking up the River, I look down it.''

Amroth looked astern with a shudder and imagined low sleek galleys pulling toward them with muffled oars, their brazen rams gliding along in the Elves' wakes. ``Ah, Gilrondil,'' he sighed. ``You have not brightened this night for me.''

He turned and started down the ladder to the gallery again. But at that moment came a shout from many throats, and lo, the eastern sky was ablaze.

``Pelargir!'' groaned the mariners. ``The city is aflame. The Corsairs attack and we are yet many leagues away. Alas, alas, for Pelargir!''

Gilrondil leaped back up the ladder and stood gazing at the pulsing red glow ahead.

``Our friends are attacked,'' he said. ``And yet even from this comes some comfort, Amroth. My fears were unfounded. Pelargir yet stands, and we come unlooked for. There is hope yet.''

The flames of Pelargir gave them one more service: they could now see the River ahead. Cirdan ordered the reef shaken out of the sails and small triangular sails were set between the yards and the mastheads. Their speed increased noticeably.

All through the rest of that long night they watched the sky ahead. The wind became variable toward dawn and backed to the south. They feared that they would be becalmed, but then it steadied again. They braced round the yards and the ship heeled in the stiff breeze. Brown water coursed along the larboard scuppers.

As the sky lightened with the dawn, a great pall of smoke could be seen rising ahead, so the sun rose a baleful blood red. On either side, the growing light revealed low hills, green with trees and meadows. Now and again they passed lone cottages or small villages on the left bank, surrounded by tended fields and with a fishing coracle or two drawn up on the strand, but they saw no sign of life or movement. Still there was no evidence of damage, and they surmised that the people of Lebennin had fled from their homes in fear as the Umbardrim fleet passed.

The wind continued to back, reaching southeast, but as the River was trending now more to the northeast, the sails could still draw well with the tacks taken well forward. The sun was climbing high in the east and burning a sickly yellowish-red in the battle-wrack when they heard shouts from the ships to their left. The nearest ship hailed.

``Lord Cirdan!'' cried her captain. ``The ships to leeward report that Pelargir is just coming into sight around that furthest point, distant perhaps three leagues.''

Cirdan lifted his speaking trumpet and called back. ``Pass the word to close up to windward, Hithimir. If we skirt the east bank we can preserve secrecy as long as possible. How fares the city?''

Hithimir turned and spoke the next ship as the yards were braced up hard. The ships began to close with the flagship. There was a brief conversation they could not make out, then Hithimir turned back to them.

``Pelargir does not yet appear to be burning, my Lord, though it is wreathed in a great column of smoke that rises from someplace near the River. Anduin itself seems to be clear as far as they can see.''

``What? No ships from either side? Where are they?''

Hithimir held up his hands. ``They said no ships could be seen, my Lord.''

Cirdan lowered his trumpet and turned to Gilrondil. ``What think you of this, Sailing Master? Where is the fleet of Pelargir?''

The Master shook his head. ``I know not. Perchance they were taken unawares at the quays and had not the time to cast off. And yet they have patrols in the River and watchers along the banks. There is some mischance or evil here we know not of.''

``There will be no more mischances today!'' cried Cirdan. ``Clear for action! Let the archers prepare.''

Then everyone hurried to their appointed tasks. Pots of pitch were brought out onto the castles and small fires were built under them. The round shields were taken down from the bulwarks and placed by each fighting station. Those Elves not at the sails or helm gathered atop the castles. Their esquires drew buckets of water and soaked the decks and rigging, then dipped cloths in the River, ready to beat out flames. Grappling hooks stood ready beside coils of line.

Finally all was in readiness. The fleet had drawn in hard against the eastern bank and formed into two columns. No word was spoken as they rounded the last bend and came in full sight of the city of Pelargir.

There before them in the angle between two rivers stood a high round hill, crowned by a great walled city. Banners fluttered from tower and battlement and from the highest point a tall slim spire pierced the sky. A great bridge arched over the smaller river on the left. At the eastern end of that bridge, under a bluff close beneath the western walls, the fleet of Pelargir was clustered at the quays. But lo, they were all aflame, and a great black column of smoke licked with red tongues of flame rose above the walls. Along the strand to the right, many long black galleys and galleasses were drawn up on the sand. A roar of many voices and the sound of clashing steel drifted across the water.

Cirdan steered directly for the quays, and with the wind more free the water curled back from their bows. Now they could see men on the shore, like a black tide flowing out of the galleys and up the road toward the city. Near their head some huge engine crept forward: a massive battering ram pulled by thousands of slaves.

Still they sailed on undisturbed. Now they could make out a group of men by the ships; officers, they supposed, from their high gilded helmets. They were all looking up at the city and the siege engine toiling slowly toward the gate. They seemed to have no eyes for the River at their backs.

Finally, when the Elves were nearly halfway across, someone must have turned and seen them. A lone trumpet sounded, high and clear above the tumult. And the men of Umbar turned at the sound and beheld the White Fleet of Lindon bearing down upon them with war, and they were smitten by a great fear. Then did Cirdan have all the trumpets be sounded and the Elves gave a great shout and clashed their arms together and made a fell clamor.

The legions of Umbar turned and raced for their ships, heedless of command. The slaves dragging the ram dropped their ropes and milled in confusion. Several of the ships cast off and backed desperately into the stream to meet the foe, their banks of oars flailing wildly. Others hesitated, waiting for their complements to return. Those arriving at the strand leaped aboard the nearest ship, so that many galleys sailed with barely a warrior aboard, and others with so many that there was but little room to stand. The slaves at the oars, hearing the trumpets and tumult but unable to see what was happening, panicked and crossed their oars and the helmsmen struggled to hold their courses.

Havoc reigned amidst the black fleet as each ship tried to back and turn to meet the foe. Ship collided with ship and men were thrown into the water. Oars clattered together as neighboring ships tried to gain room to maneuver. One long galleass became turned across the strand and was struck by several other ships attempting to move away from shore.

But the Corsairs were accomplished seamen and were soon bringing their ships under control. Within moments a score or more of bireme galleys and six or eight heavy trireme galleasses pulled free of the wheeling, jostling press of ships. Across the water came the beat of drums and the cracking of whips, and the banks of sweeps began to rise and fall as one. They looked like great birds of prey, the oars like beating wings. They quickly formed into a wide arc, the flanks slightly in advance of the center as they moved out to meet the new enemy.

As they approached, the Elves could make out better their appearance. The hulls were long, narrow, and low, the oarsmen protected by leather covers so that only their oars could be seen. Narrow raised walkways ran the length of the ships, and these were crowded with armed men. The sterns curved up into carved heads of dragons or other foul beasts, but their prows terminated in long brazen rams edged with sharpened teeth on either side.

Cirdan ordered the mainsail braced round to spill its wind and allow the rest of the fleet to form up into a wedge behind. The warriors stood motionless, gripping their weapons and watching in fascination as two thousand black oars dipped and fell and the Corsair fleet gathered speed.

When the fleets were separated by no more than two cables' lengths, the Elvish archers dipped their shafts in the burning pitch and sent a continuous rain of fire into the advancing galleys. Several sails burst into flame and men toppled from the fighting bridges as they were pierced by flaming arrows, but the line did not waver and the oars continued to dip and rise with a terrible regularity.

As the ships closed further Cirdan let a horn be sounded and the Elven ships behind wore ship to meet head-on the enemy flanks, now closing around them. But the flagship steered directly for the center, straight at the largest galleass, a giant trireme with a battlemented aftercastle. A few scattered arrows began to fall among them, but with little effect. The Corsair archers were pinned behind their shields by the hail of Elvish fire-arrows, and smoke now streamed from a hundred places on the hull.

Cirdan had the helm put over slightly to starboard, exposing his larboard bow to the cruel ram, now less than a hundred yards away. The galleass swerved slightly to keep the ram aimed at their bow. Cirdan snapped out a few quick orders and held his hand above his head. The ships rushed together at tremendous speed. Then, just as collision seemed inevitable, Cirdan dropped his arm. The yard was braced hard around just as the helm was thrown hard to larboard. The great sail was brought aback with a thunder of thrashing canvas. The ship lurched and groaned, but was nearly stopped by the sudden pressure of wind on the front of the sail.

The bow swung sharply toward the enemy. His ram frothed by but a few feet from their bow as, with a terrible rending and splintering, the entire starboard bank of oars was sheared off by the white hull. Then her aftercastle was drawing alongside Amroth where he stood in the stern. He saw her commander sitting in a high seat like a throne. He was leaning forward, shouting to his helmsmen, but before he could speak Amroth had put a shaft through his chest, pinning him to his seat. Quickly fitting another shaft, he brought down one of his officers and Gilrondil beside him felled another, even as they passed out of range astern, crippled and aflame. The Elves cheered as they leaped to the braces to come about while the esquires carried the wounded below. They had lost only two dead and three wounded and the galleass was destroyed.

As they wore ship close under the shore, Gilrondil turned to Amroth. ``Fine shooting, my Lord Amroth. You sent two shafts true to their mark before I could get one away.''

The Wood-Elf grinned. ``Perhaps my poor short Sindarin bow is not without its uses at sea, Master.'' But he thought Gilrondil still looked unconvinced as he bent again to his quiver. A young Elf ran by, his arms full of arrows, filling each archer's quiver.

Then they were heading back toward the fray and found a brief moment to look about. Several galleys lay motionless in the water, wreathed in flame, and men were leaping into the River, only to find themselves amidst a mass of maneuvering ships and razor-toothed rams. The River was choked with the wrack of ships and many white hulls lay split and broken. Finarthin's fair corbita was gone, and Linroth's, and Belcarnen's drifted rudderless and aflame.

Then out of the tumult and smoke, two lean galleys drew off and made straight for the flagship. One soon pulled ahead and the other followed close on his larboard quarter. The Elves again let fly their rain of flaming arrows, and in a moment had nearly swept the leading ship's forecastle clear.

``The helmsmen!'' Amroth shouted. ``Aim for the helmsmen on the second ship!'' A dozen keen-eyed Elves let fly at once and one helmsman slumped to the deck. Another leaped to his place just as the second helmsman clutched his chest and toppled into the River. A final deadly volley cleared the aftercastle and the galley rowed ahead with no hand to guide her. Seeing this, Cirdan put his helm to starboard and swung across their bows. The leading galley wheeled to engage them, and the other drove full into her side. The wounded ship was lifted high onto the other's prow, spilling men into the River and fouling her sister in rigging and wreckage.

Cirdan came about and hove to close to windward of the crossed hulls. He called for the grapples and three hooks looped out over the enemy ships. Many eager hands tailed on to the lines and drew the hulls alongside. While the archers sent a hail of arrows into the warriors clustered on their aftercastle, Gilrondil and a score of bold Elves leaped to the rail. ``Elbereth!'' they cried, ``Elbereth a Manwë!'' Then they threw themselves onto the enemy ship and cut a bloody path along the fighting bridge with their spears and swords.

At the foot of the ladder leading to the aftercastle, they were halted by a desperate defense. There stood a man, tall for his race, in a captain's lofty helmet, and surrounded by six knights. They held long curved sabers and their eyes were hard and fearless.

Gilrondil halted and called out, ``You are defeated, Men of Umbar. Lay down your weapons and your lives shall be spared.'' But their captain gave a grim laugh.

``Accursed Elvish meddlers! Would you spare my life? But I would rather take the life of an immortal!'' And he swept his saber over his head to slash down at Gilrondil, but he fell pierced through by Gilrondil's spear. The captain's knights fell upon the Elves fiercely, but in a few moments of deadly fury all lay sprawled on the deck, though two Elves lay stretched out beside them. Then Gilrondil took up the captain's saber and with a single stroke hacked the black banner of Umbar from its staff and it fluttered into the River. The boarding party freed the grapples and scrambled back to their own deck.

Their shipmates greeted their triumphal return with a cheer, but it died in their throats, for at that moment a trireme passed by close to larboard and sent a deadly fire into them. All around Amroth Elves fell to the deck, pierced by long black-feathered arrows. Gilrondil fell groaning, a shaft through his thigh. One of the helmsmen dropped and another took his place. The galley sheered off and swung about to engage them again. Amroth took careful aim as it receded and put a shaft through the back of its captain. The ship wavered and the drum stopped. The oars hesitated briefly, and in that moment an Elf on the forecastle let fly the catapult and sent a great stone hurtling toward her. It dropped through the leather shield into the slaves' benches and must have torn right out through the bottom, for the oarsmen on that side threw back the shield and began leaping into the water.

The Elves had no time to attend to them. They left the crippled ship dead in the water and listing heavily, and jibed to return to the fray. There near them was Hithimir's great corbita. Her forecastle was aflame and her decks were littered with the dead. Though there were few left to sail her, she was coming about to return to the battle with Cirdan. Side by side they drove grimly down on the wheeling, circling ships.

As they approached, a galleass moved out to meet them. Their fire raked her decks and took a terrible toll, but her men were staunch and quailed not, but stood and returned shaft for shaft. Then her catapult clattered and a huge ball of flame arced roaring toward Hithimir's ship. It burst full on the sail and burning oil drenched all the rigging and those on the deck below. Amroth could see Elves rolling on the deck and beating at their clothes, but soon the whole ship was aflame. Many leaped into the River but they could not aid them, for the galleass was nearly upon them now.

Cirdan tried his old trick, throwing down his helm and backing the sail. The bow veered to larboard and the flagship heeled steeply, dangerously close to capsizing. But the enemy captain was quick and swung his bow to point at their exposed side. They could hear the slavemaster's drum beating an ever-quickening rhythm and saw the warriors on her bridge clashing their swords on their shields and howling with the battle madness.

They braced themselves for the inevitable collision, but in that last moment came aid unlooked for in the shape of a hellish apparition. Between the two closing ships drifted a blazing tower of flame. For one instant they could see Hithimir at the helm of his ship in the midst of the flames. His clothes were scorched and blackened, his hair was smoking, but he seemed not to notice as his blistering hands strained at the steering sweep. Then came a deafening grinding crash and a long black ram burst out of the flames and stopped, quivering, a few feet from their side. Hithimir's blazing rigging toppled and fell with a roar over the black galleass, impaled on its own bane. Cirdan circled the burning ships, but from that inferno came none alive, neither Man nor Elf.

``Helm alee!'' cried Cirdan. ``After them!'' Amroth looked up from the burning ships and saw a black galley pulling away from the engagement, making for the eastern shore. It was just then passing close under their stern as they began their tack. Looking back, he saw a group of tall men in dark robes on her quarterdeck, not fifty yards from where he stood. Just forward of them, a group of seamen were clustered around some kind of engine he could not make out, but a column of smoke rose from it. They suddenly jumped clear, and with a loud explosion, a ball of flame arced straight toward Amroth.

He had only time to shout a warning and throw himself to one side. He heard a deep-throated roar and felt a blast of heat as the projectile sailed past his shoulder, then a crash behind him. Wheeling around, he saw that the ball had struck the quarterdeck rail, sending a wave of flame along the deck and down the side of the ship. Instantly a dozen Elves leaped forward, beating at the flames with their wet cloths. He heard a cry of triumph behind him and turned to see the Umbardrim officers jeering at them. One, taller than the rest, stepped to the rail and shook his fist at them. He had a long aquiline face and a great hooked nose. For an instant their eyes met, and Amroth was struck by the look of pure hatred in his gleaming eyes.

In spite of the flames licking around them, the Elves soon brought the ship around in pursuit of the fleeing galley. With the ship close-hauled, the wind fortunately carried the flames away from the sail and rigging. Soon a hose was brought into play and the pump manned, and the fire was extinguished. The galley was rowing into the eye of the southeast wind, so the Elves were forced to beat into it, losing ground to her at each tack. They were perhaps two hundred yards behind when she reached the shore opposite Pelargir and drove heedlessly straight into the strand at full speed. Her mast toppled forward, crashing down into the banks of rowers. All aboard were thrown from their feet, but the officers were soon up and running forward, clambering over the backs of those struggling to free themselves from the tangle of rigging that now covered the fore part of the ship.

Cirdan tacked once more, heading for the beach beside them. The boarders had already gathered on the forecastle, ready to leap ashore. Figures were now pouring out of the wrecked galley, jumping over the bows or clambering over the tangled mass of oars along the side. Most seemed to be in panic, trying to reach shore, but one group around the bow was still under command of the officers. A gangplank had been let down to the sand. Several figures jumped onto it to flee, but were shoved off by the officers. Then the Elves saw why. A great black horse, snorting and struggling in fear, was being led up from below. Somehow they managed to get that mighty stallion down the plank in the midst of much shouting and confusion. The swan ship's prow scraped onto the sand a hundred yards to the left of the galley.

With a cheer of ``Elbereth Gilthoniel,'' the boarding party leaped down. Amroth followed, his bow and short sword at the ready. After over two weeks at sea, the land seemed to be still rocking under his feet. Fifty strong, they quickly formed up and began trotting toward the stranded galley.

The horse was ashore now, and the officers were clustered around it. Amroth saw one mount the horse, and recognized again that sinister face he had seen glaring at him. He cast a quick look in their direction, then spurred the horse viciously and it leaped forward, throwing up sprays of sand at each stride. He was making for an opening in the trees that stood behind the beach. The Elves veered to their left to cut him off. He never slackened his pace, but drove straight toward them. Several Elves drew arrows from their quivers and prepared to bring him down, but he burst straight into their right flank. The horse simply rode down two of their number and the Corsair slashed down with his sword, slaying another Elf reaching for the reins. A dozen arrows whistled around him, two rebounding from his mail, but then he was past. The horse plunged up the steep slope of loose sand, then they were gone amid the trees. They last saw him riding hard, not south to his allies in Harondor, but northeast, toward the mountains of Mordor. A ragged cheer arose as the Corsairs saw their chief escape. The Elves turned and advanced toward them and the battle was joined in an instant.

Many deeds of bravery were done in the next few minutes, and many a brave Man and Elf died there, their lifeblood seeping away into the sand. But in no more than ten minutes the fight was over. Many of the slaves had refused to fight and stood now in a terrified group at the water's edge. But the Corsairs fought bravely and well, asking and giving no quarter. At the end only two of the Corsair officers remained, standing back to back amid a circle of their slain comrades. They would not yield and glared at the ring of Elves around them, waiting for the end. But then an Elf grabbed up a piece of boarding net lying there and threw it over them so they were encumbered. Several Elves leaped forward and bore them down, disarming them and binding their hands. They raged and cursed at their captors, as if by sparing them they had been done a grievous insult.

Cirdan called to the frightened slaves, saying ``You are now free men. If you wish, we will take you to Pelargir. If you give your bond not to take up arms against us or Gondor, we shall see what can be done to return you to your homes.''

The poor bedraggled group gave a weak cheer, and all gave their bond. Gilrondil led them and the two prisoners back to the ship, and in a few moments more they had pushed off and were returning to the battle on the River.

But lo, every sail they saw was white. On every side burning ships and capsized hulls settled hissing into the befouled water, now choked with bodies, and a brown smoke masked the scene. The pungent reek of battle burned their nostrils. After the shouting and tumult of battle, the River was again quiet, save for the crackling of burning ships.

They stood silent at the rails, gazing sadly out over what had been but moments before two proud fleets. The Black Fleet of Umbar was no more, but of the forty sails that had sailed from Lindon, two and twenty would never again part the blue river Lhûn, and many a fair Elf that should have lived yet long ages would never see Elvenhome.

At last Cirdan winded his horn and the remains of the White Fleet drew up behind him. Squaring their yards, they ran up the Sirith to the Havens of Pelargir.

A fierce battle was still raging between the city gate and the bridge ahead. Although their fleet was broken, the Men of Umbar were not yet defeated. Those who had been unable to reach their ships had made a determined stand. When the city's defenders had seen the fleets engage, they had sallied forth and fallen on their discomfited foes. The Men of Umbar, their means of escape destroyed and their ranks in great confusion and disorder, quickly found themselves on the defensive. Their slaves, ignored and leaderless, flung down their weapons and either fled the field or lay down in surrender. Their former masters had fallen back from the gate and regrouped, forming into tight-packed squares of archers with pikemen around the edges, forming a bristling wall. Now they were driving determinedly toward the bridge and the road to Lebennin. Even now they drew near the eastern towers of the bridge.

The Pelargrim defenders still held the bridge, but they seemed strangely few and greatly outnumbered. It was clear that they could hope only to hinder but not halt the retreat of the Umbardrim.

``Cirdan!'' Amroth cried. ``Land me on the west bank with a stout band and I will hold the bridge!''

He turned in surprise. ``Are you not yet weary of battle, Sinda? Or is it perhaps that you long for the land under your feet?''

Amroth grinned and pointed to the swan's head above him. ``Your swan has served us well this day, Lord, but I will not miss her overmuch. I prefer more solid footing when I fight.''

``So be it then. Curulin! Starboard your helm! Put her on the strand there nigh to the west end of the bridge. Our Wood-Elf here would go ashore. And not too near the rocks there. Gilrondil, signal the fleet of our intentions. Let all those who would follow Amroth have their chance.''

The war-torn little fleet drove its stems into the sand. Amroth lifted the staff and banner from the taffrail and leaped to the shore, followed by a score of archers. Then more and more mariners leaped down, until the ships stood nearly empty.

At last even Cirdan jumped down beside Amroth. He gave a quick smile. ``It would seem that I must follow if I am to continue to lead. Let us then fight together on land as we have at sea. And he took from him the flagstaff. ``Onward now!'' he cried. ``For Elbereth! Elbereth and Gil-galad!''

``Elbereth!'' went up the cry from many throats, ``Gil-galad our king!''

From every ship Elves poured down until a large company of several hundred lined the narrow beach. They climbed the bank to the road, formed up again, and marched to the bridge. There stood two strong towers with a lofty arch thrown between them. But their parapets were empty. Many of the Elvish archers climbed the towers and took their positions in the embrasures and in the windows. Those with pikes or spears knelt across the road under the arch, forming a triple wall. The rest stood behind them with arrows already notched to their strings.

A few minutes of waiting, then there came a triumphant shout and a body of armored men rushed over the crest of the arched bridge. Their panoply was black and crimson and their faces wild and fierce, streaked with sweat and smoke beneath their golden helms. One bore a staff with a standard of a sable ship on an red sea. The were looking over their shoulders as they ran, laughing and jeering at their pursuers. When they saw the Elves blocking the road they halted, cursing and looking from them to the men rapidly coming up behind them.

Cirdan stood forth and called to them in a loud voice. ``Men of Umbar!'' he shouted. ``Yield, for you are bested. Do not make widows of your wives!''

But the one carrying the banner spat toward him and shouted, ``The women of Umbar would rather be widows than the wives of cowards.'' Then he rushed forward with a hoarse bellow, followed by all his comrades. A hundred bowstrings sang as one, and not one of the Corsairs reached the lines unwounded. Their leader, pierced by many arrows, swung his standard like an axe, striking down several Elves, then he disappeared beneath a flurry of flashing swords. In a moment it was finished. Not one knight of Umbar remained alive.

Then came another company of men racing onto the bridge, but these bore plumes and shields of blue. They halted when they saw the Elves standing over the dead Corsairs. Cirdan and Amroth advanced to meet them at the center of the span. Their standard bearer dipped his banner and their captain lifted off his helm and knelt to Cirdan. He was fair of skin and dark of hair, with a stern and proud countenance. He had some of Isildur's and Elendil's look to him, but to Amroth's Elvish eyes he looked more like to those other Númenóreans who lay about them.

``Well come indeed, Firstborn,'' said the Man. ``I am Duitirith, son of Barathor, the Lord of Pelargir. And I say unto you: Pelargir is yours, for you have purchased it this day with your immortal blood. Come into the city, and Pelargir will do what it can to welcome you with honor and gratitude.''

But Cirdan bade him rise, saying, ``Nay, stand, Prince Duitirith, for today you have shown that you can stand against all odds. I am Cirdan, and we came not to accept your city but to aid you in your hour of need.''

``And verily,'' said Duitirith, rising, ``that hour had for us come, Lord Cirdan, for we could not have stood an hour more. Come, all you brave Elves, and visit the city you have preserved. We shall feast in your honor.''

And he led the Men and Elves together back to the city. As they approached, they could see that the walls were blackened and streaked with smoke. The huge oaken gates were cracked and splintered, and the immense brazen battering ram lay flung down beside the road amid piles of the fallen.

They reached the gates and stopped. A voice called down from the ramparts above.

``You are come to Pelargir upon Anduin. State your name and your land and the name of the lord you serve.''

Cirdan stepped forward and called out, ``I am called Cirdan Shipwright, Master of the Havens of Mithlond and Guardian of Lindon in lieu of my king, Ereinion the Gil-galad. These are my friends and allies, of many Elven lands.''

``You are then a friend of this city,'' replied the voice. ``Enter in peace, Cirdan of Mithlond.'' The gates creaked slowly open with a great rasping squeal, for the hinges were sprung and the timbers splintered. They trooped into the city as the citizens of Pelargir cheered from the rooftops and balconies.

Cirdan looked about in surprise as he walked slowly through the streets.

``I see many women and children, Prince Duitirith, but few men. Where are the rest of your warriors?''

``We had fewer than a thousand men in arms, all told, when the Corsairs fell upon us. I do not rightly know how many remain, my Lord.''

``How can this be?'' said Cirdan. ``Pelargir is a great city ringed with fertile fields and many villages.''

``Aye. Last week, my Lord, we had more than six thousand, but they have ridden with Barathor to Osgiliath to give aid to the king of Gondor.''

``The king? Isildur came here? When?''

``He rode from Linhir and the lands to the west, but five days past. He bore evil tales and ill tidings and sought our help against Mordor. But my father was loath to yield so many fighting men when we lay under the peril of a Corsair raid. Then did Gildor of your people arrive, saying you were but a day behind, and Barathor departed with the army of Pelargir, leaving us to hold the city until you arrived.''

``We would have been here two days ago, but we were delayed by a fierce tempest that swept down on us from the east and carried us many leagues from shore. Have you suffered heavy losses by our delay?''

``We needed every man upon the walls, and so dared not keep the fleet manned. We lost too many at the quays when they came on us in the night, but most of us reached the walls. We maintained some pickets at the Ethir, but they too must be destroyed.''

``Alas, it is so,'' said Cirdan. ``We saw the fires from afar yestermorn, but could not come to their aid in time to save them. We saw no survivors.''

``The Corsairs do not leave survivors. It is as we feared. Many good men have died.''

``They died unbowed, Prince, for their ship's wrack bore still the colors of Pelargir. They died in a hopeless fight, but not in vain, for the very fires of their death called us in haste to your aid. Grieve not overmuch, Duitirith. Your city yet stands, your people are still free. My fleet shall remain here with you and my shipwrights and sailmakers are at your disposal. We shall guard the Ethir and the coasts until your fleet is ready once more. And with the Black Fleet destroyed, there should be little fear of attack. Long will it be ere Umbar again sails against Pelargir.''

``Aye, my lord, our hearts are indeed gladdened in the midst of our sorrow. Long have we lived in the shadow of fear. It is difficult to realize it is over at last. We shall feast this night, a night we thought never to see but a few hours ago.''

They reached a great hall surmounted by a towering blue spire and entered in. A man came to greet them, his head bandaged and his arm in a bloody sling.

``Lord Cirdan,'' said the Prince, ``this is Luindor, Captain of the Ships of Pelargir. He has done great deeds this day.''

Luindor bowed to Cirdan and was surprised when Cirdan bowed in return.

``All the people of Pelargir have done much and borne much today,'' replied Cirdan.

``Thank you, Lord,'' said Luindor. ``From all the people of Pelargir, thank you. You have saved our city and our lives. I saw your engagement from the battlements near the gate, and I have never seen a naval maneuver carried out so handily.''

``We took them unawares and unprepared. If they had been fully manned and had time to prepare for us, the day could have had a very different outcome.''

``Nonetheless, you made use of your advantages and reacted with great alacrity. Smartly done, sir. I salute you, one naval commander to another.'' And he brought his sword across his chest in salute. Then his face darkened. ``But I forget myself. I am no longer a naval commander, for a city without a ship has no need for a Captain of Ships.''

``You will be Captain of Ships as long as you can stand a deck, Luindor,'' said Duitirith. ``The fleet shall be rebuilt immediately. Have you not told us many times that we needed newer ships? You are forever bringing us plans for more modern innovations you want to incorporate in the next ships. Hardly is the keel laid before you want to change the plans.''

``But they are all gone, my Lord. All my beautiful ships: Míriel, and stately Indis, and long-honored Melian, and... and all. Long will it be ere such ships grace Anduin again.''

``Perhaps not so long, Captain,'' said Cirdan. ``For among my people are many shipwrights and sailmakers and all the maritime trades, for we have been building ships in Mithlond all this age. They shall remain here to help you to rebuild. And I will send our own pickets to guard the Ethir and patrol the coasts, so that the South Gate of Gondor remains safe while your ships are building.''

Luindor's face brightened at once. ``I would be most happy to talk with the architects who designed your corbitas, my Lord. Never did I think a ship so large could turn in its own length, yet I swear I saw it happen more than once in the engagement. With a score of ships like that I could hold the Bay of Belfalas against all foes!''

Duitirith smiled at Luindor's eager face. The waterfront was still smoldering, and already Luindor had twenty swan-ships on the ways.

They were seated at long tables in a large and lovely hall. Platters of food, hastily prepared, were brought out with flagons of wine and mead. Then a beautiful woman appeared and bowed to the Elven lords. She wore a flowing green gown that accentuated her long red hair. She went to Duitirith and threw her arms about him. She held him tight as if to convince herself he really had survived the battle. Duitirith kissed her and smiled at his guests.

``My Lords, may I present my mother, Lady Heleth? Mother, this is Cirdan of Mithlond and his lords and allies.'' Cirdan introduced his companions, and her eyes were shining as each was named. Finally she burst into tears of joy.

``Welcome to Pelargir, my Lords,'' she said, wiping her eyes. ``Forgive me, but I cannot contain myself. Since the earliest hours of the morning we have seen our ships burned, our people slain, our gates shattered. We looked only for death before the evening. I tell you, Lords, when I looked out from the Blue Tower and saw your ships gleaming in the morning sun, I thought I saw Eärendil returned from the sky to save us. We shall forever be indebted to you.''

``Fair Lady,'' replied Cirdan. ``I am only sorry we did not arrive earlier and spare you this day of horror.''

``Lord Cirdan, you have freed us of a horror that has loomed over us all our lives. We have paid a terrible price, but if the might of Umbar is broken, the cost is well spent.''

They fell to their food then and all ate with good appetite, for none had broken fast that day. Men and Elves laughed and talked together and exchanged tales of their parts in the battle. Amroth sat between two ship captains, one of Pelargir and one of Mithlond. The Elf told of driving his ship toward a great trireme, using the Corsairs' own ramming tactic against them.

``I kept the helm over slightly,'' he said, ``so that we turned into them, like this.'' He swung two loaves of bread in the air, arcing one into the side of the other. ``They saw us coming at them and put their helm hard over. I could hear their slavemaster drumming for all he was worth. If they had pulled hard, they could have slipped past us, but the oars just drooped into the water and stopped. It was as if they just gave up and waited for us.

``Then the oarsmen on the side toward us threw back that leather cover they're under and stood up, shouting and waving their arms. I thought they had panicked, but just before we struck, I could hear what they were shouting. They were cheering, crying `Gondor! Gondor! Gondor!' Then I realized they must be captives taken from Gondor. They were being forced to attack their own city, and they would row no more for Umbar.'' He shook his head grimly. ``We cut them in two. We cut them in two and had to leave them there in the water, and still they cheered us. I'll never forget it.''

The Pelargir captain was silent a moment. ``It was always thus when we fought the Corsairs,'' he said. ``We knew they had our people at the oars, but what could we do? We had to do our best to sink them, knowing our brothers or sons might be aboard. Many more brave men of Gondor died today than fought in Pelargir.''

"None were braver than the garrison at the bridge," said a Man sitting on his other side. "Young Foradan had only twenty men to hold the bridge over the Sirith. Several of the Umbardrim galleys landed beyond the Sirith and their companies had to cross the bridge to come at the gates. I saw the battle from the top of the gate. Foradan's men formed a line across the road at the near tower, though hundreds of the enemy were already on the bridge. They didn't have a chance and they knew it. It was a terrible bloody fight and soon over, of course, but every one of them fell where he had stood. Not one had been pressed back a foot." He shook his head sadly. "Young lads, they were, all of them, not one more than eighteen."

Though their conversation was grim, many others in the hall were joyous, and laughter was often heard. The people of Pelargir felt as if delivered from a sentence of death, and the Eldar were ashore again after a long and perilous voyage. And all felt that strange guilty joy a soldier feels after a deadly battle when he realizes that, though many have fallen, he has survived.

Duitirith seemed in particularly good spirits. He offered toast after toast to Cirdan and the other Elven-lords. His young face glowed red with pleasure and with mead. Suddenly his clear laugh cut across the room. He was standing, holding up his drinking horn.

``I just want to see my father's face,'' he roared, ``when he returns in great haste and finds us not besieged but besotted!''

Cirdan turned to him in surprise. ``Lord Barathor is returning to Pelargir? You sent word to him?''

``Oh, aye, many hours ago. When the pirates first struck, I sent my esquire riding as fast as he could after him.''

``But this is not good,'' said Cirdan. ``If what you have told me of Isildur's fortunes is true, the loss of Barathor's men will leave Osgiliath but weakly defended.''

``But the battle is over,'' said Duitirith, suddenly sober. ``The Corsairs are destroyed and the Gate of the South is secure. We have won.''

``Do you think that because we have destroyed its fleet we have defeated Umbar? Umbar is mighty yet. It has other ships. It has great forces on land, and they have allies: the men of Harondor and Far Harad will rally to Herumor's banner. And Umbar is but one weapon in Sauron's arsenal. Even were the Empire of Umbar broken and humbled, he could discard it like a broken bow string and simply take up another. Nay, this was but a skirmish before the true battle begins.''

Duitirith paled and the hall fell quiet.

``The Lords of the West decreed that a council of all our allies be held in Osgiliath in but three day's time. If Barathor is not there the council could be delayed and our long-planned stroke go amiss. The war could yet turn on this chance. Indeed, this could have been the whole purpose of the Corsair attack -- not to take Pelargir, but to delay the council.'' He sat a moment, deep in thought.

``Duitirith, Lady Heleth,'' he said. ``We thank you much for your hospitality. Long has it been since we sat at board with friends and laughed. But we must go to Osgiliath with all possible speed.''

``Now?'' asked Duitirith in amazement. ``But you are just out of battle. You have barely eaten. Rest here tonight, and in the morning...''

``We cannot wait until morning. You do not know all that hangs on this. If our plans are thwarted and we are undone, you will find a far greater peril than the Corsairs of Umbar at your gates, and there will then be none to come to your aid. Cardur! When can we have a ship ready?''

Cirdan's senior surviving captain pulled himself gingerly to his feet, a bandage about his wounded leg. ``There is hardly a ship fit to sail, my Lord,'' he said. ``but in a few hours, I suppose, if we...''

``Good. Luindor! How long would it take a ship to reach Osgiliath?''

``It is sixty-five leagues, Lord Cirdan, against the current. Three days, at best.''

``And if we ride?''

``The road is but fifty leagues. A day and a half, perhaps.''

``Then we must ride. Just as well, we would have a better chance of intercepting Barathor. Prince Duitirith! Can you provide me with six swift horses?''

``Of course. Glamrod, make it so. Have them brought to the ships of the Elves. And provide them with plenty of provisions, for let it never be said that a guest of the Lord of Pelargir went away hungry.

"And Lord Cirdan,'' he went on, "when you meet my father he will wish to come here to help us. He must not. Urge him to return to Osgiliath with you, for the greater need is there. Assure him that we are well and with the help of your Sea-elves we are secure and repairing our defenses."

"My lord," said Cirdan, "I shall do so. Clear it is to me that you are managing a difficult situation admirably. You will be a great lord one day."

Duitirith fairly swelled with pride and pleasure at this compliment.

``Cardur,'' said Cirdan. ``I leave you in charge of the fleet. See first to the repair of the ships. When a dozen are ready, send them at once to the Ethir and see that no other unwanted visitors enter the River. Luindor, you have full use of all our resources. Use them to begin rebuilding your fleet. Amroth, Gilrondil, you're with me. Bring your esquires. The rest of you, give all necessary aid to the Men of Pelargir. If you are attacked, hold the line of the River at all costs. Now, let us away. Farewell to you all, people of Pelargir.''

And with that Cirdan strode from the hall. There was a moment of stunned silence, then everyone jumped to their feet and hurried to their duties. Amroth bade a hasty farewell to his new friends and hurried after Cirdan.


As they passed through the city they saw people busy on every side. Some were tending the many wounded, others were still dousing fires set by the Corsairs' catapults. A wagon rattled by with several still figures lying beneath shields. There was much emotion in the air, a mingled grief and joy. Many bold warriors wept openly even as they toiled, for nearly all had lost friends and comrades in the battle. And yet Amroth could see in many faces a light of happiness, for the battle was won and the city safe, at least for the moment. At the feast too, he had been struck by the almost carefree joy of many of the young Men and Women there, who only hours before had been prepared to die and leave the world forever. For his part, Amroth knew that the events of this day -- the fear and horror of battle, the friends slain -- would be in his heart for thousands of years. Amroth thought as he watched them how the emotions of Men seemed to flit through them more swiftly than do those of the Elves.

He had time to note also the city around them. This was his first glimpse of a city of Men. He had often heard tales of fair Annúminas, Elendil's city by Lake Nenuial, but he had never visited it, imagining it but a crude imitation of Mithlond or Caras Galadon. But now he saw he had misjudged Men. Pelargir was a much newer city than even the most recent of the Elvish settlements, though doubtless its people would think a thousand sun-rounds a long time. And it was not built with the arts of the Firstborn. It was built of stone, without spell or power to bind it save that of plain mortar. How many brief lives of men had it taken to cut these stones and drag them here and erect this city; to carve its columns; paint its frescoes; tile its courts; pave its streets? And each artisan knew that he could not hope to live to see the work completed. Did they build it for themselves, or for their children, or for some other goal? And he realized that he would like to return to this land in happier times, if such were ever to come again. He wished to know more of this curious race, to live among them for a time and learn their ways.

They reached the gate and waited but a few minutes for it to be dragged open, then hurried down to the ships. They gathered their belongings and called their esquires, Cirdan snapping out orders to his officers all the while. They had hardly finished when Duitirith's Man Glamrod appeared with six beautiful sleek horses.

``These are noble animals,'' said Amroth, stroking the neck of one. ``They are from Duitirith's own stable, my lord,'' said Glamrod. ``They will bear you with the speed of the wind.''

Cirdan leaped to the saddle of the first horse. ``They will be cared for and returned to your lord as soon as may be. Our thanks to you, and to your master.''

``Follow the road from the bridge, my lord,'' Glamrod called. ``Take the larger road at each turning, and the second evening should find you before the walls of Osgiliath. A fair journey to you.''

Then the esquires ran up, still chewing their dinners, and began strapping the packs to the saddles. Gilrondil limped up, his wounded thigh wrapped in a linen bandage. He mounted without requiring aid. Amroth turned to the people of Pelargir who had come down to the strand to watch them.

``We thank you all, good people of Pelargir. You have made us feel at home in a distant land.''

``May Eru bless you and your city,'' called Cirdan. ``Now, we ride.''

They spurred their horses up the bank to the road, turned left, and galloped up a long rise. At the crest they paused to look back at the city. The high towers of Pelargir gleamed against the afternoon sky. A thin smoke still trailed up from the valley of the Sirith just beyond.

``A fair city,'' said Amroth. ``I would not like to see it a citadel of the Enemy.''

``Nor I,'' said Cirdan, ``and if that is not to be its fate, we must ride as if borne by eagles.''

Then they turned and thundered down the slope to the long road winding away across the plains.

Chapter Eight
The Council of Osgiliath

The Elves had rested but a few hours before they were roused by Cirdan. The eastern sky was lightening, but a bank of clouds hung above the jagged peaks of the Ephel Dúath, hinting at thundershowers later in the day. They had some bites of lembas, then mounted their still weary horses and set off once more. By the time the sun broke free of the clouds they were well out into the plains of southern Anórien. It was a fair and pleasant land of pastures and forests, with many hay fields. This was the country in which were raised the sturdy horses for which Anórien was famed. They passed through a number of small villages of a few dozen houses grouped around a mill. Startled villagers came out to watch them gallop through. They stared in wide-eyed amazement at the tall Elves with their bright armor and strange outlandish banners.

The road was gradually descending into the wide vale of Anduin, dotted with small farms and villages. Many seemed nearly deserted, but they could see a few teams in the fields, already mowing the early wheat. It made Amroth realize how far south they had come, for in Lindon the wheat would not be ready for a month or more.

The Ered Nimrais, at first only a line of white peaks in the north, gradually drew nearer. The eastern end of the range terminated abruptly in a huge peak of blue-grey stone that loomed above the surrounding land. The road's many winding turns carried them northeast toward the mountain, until by late morning they were riding around its lower foothills. High in a deep-cleft valley they could see a gleaming white city rising tier above tier to an elegant white spire. A farmer they met on the road told them that the city was called Minas Anor and the mountain Mindolluin, ``Towering Bluehead''. They came to a fork in the road, the left winding up toward Minas Anor. They turned right, descending more steeply toward the River.

They had not seen the Anduin since the evening before, for it looped away into the flat lands to the east, while their road headed northeast, directly toward Osgiliath. They could trace the path of the River by a line of dark trees far off to the right amidst the green fields. Beyond the River, still hazy in the distance, rose the rounded green hills of the Emyn Arnen. They rode without stopping until the sun had passed its height, then paused beneath a copse of aromatic cedar trees to eat some of the food prepared for them by the Pelargrim.

``We should see Osgiliath in the next few hours if the map is accurate,'' said Cirdan. ``A pity the horses are so tired or we could make better time. I begrudge each hour.''

``Where can Barathor be?'' asked Amroth. ``Surely we should have seen him ere now.''

``It is still some distance to Osgiliath. And even after the messenger arrived, it would be some time before they could march. But we should meet him soon.''

``I only hope he did not go by the River, for we would be sure to miss him.''

``They will come by land. Even with the favoring current, the River is the longer and slower path. Barathor will travel as fast as he possibly can.''

Cirdan had them riding again in less than a quarter of an hour. Amroth was continually shifting his weight in the saddle. He was unused to riding and now even longed for the feel of a deck under his feet again.

The clouds gradually covered the sky as the day went on, until by mid-afternoon the sun was streaming in long diagonal rays from a few ragged holes in a woolen blanket of cloud. A light breeze sprang up from the east, bearing the smell of rain. The cool air in their faces was soothing, and the horses were able to quicken their pace slightly.

Amroth was trotting along, his eyes on the lowering sky, when an Elf near him shouted out.

``Riders! Riders approach ahead, my lord.''

Amroth stood in his stirrups, and there over a slight rise he could see a long line of riders coming down into a low flat valley. Cirdan led his people to the crest of the rise and halted, watching the approach of the column. They were four abreast, riding hard, their horses gleaming with sweat. At their head a blue banner streamed in the wind of their passage. It could only be the Pelargrim.

The lead riders saw the armed horsemen on the hilltop and reined in their mounts. One raised his arm and brought the column to a sharp halt in a choking cloud of dust. A score of riders quickly fanned out on either side of the road. There was a brief conversation among the leaders. Then a dozen of the foremost horsemen rode on up the hill and stopped twenty yards from the Elves. Their cloaks were dripping and their long hair hung lank, though whether from a squall of rain or from the sweat of hard riding, Amroth was not sure. Their faces were grim and set and their eyes held a cold hard glint. Their leader was a large man wearing black and gold armor. A long blue plume trailed from his helm.

``Who are you strangers to ride thus armed in Gondor?'' he called. ``And if you came from Pelargir, what do you know of its fate?''

Then Cirdan urged his horse forward. The man's eyes widened as he realized he was addressing not Men but Elves.

``From your haste, sir,'' said Cirdan with a smile ``I take you to be Lord Barathor. I am Cirdan, called the Shipwright, Master of Mithlond in the land of Lindon. And as for your city, it is safe.''

Barathor's people cried out in amazement. Their astonishment and the change in their faces was wonderful to behold.

``But...,'' Barathor stammered, at a loss for words. ``But we heard the city was besieged. We have ridden with images of fire and slaughter before our eyes. We feared it already lost.''

``The fleet is destroyed, it is true, but your banner yet flies from the Blue Tower. The walls are blackened and many defenders have fallen, but your son and his people held the walls until we arrived.''

``You saw my son?'' asked Barathor, his voice tight with tension. He paused, as if afraid to ask the next question.

``He is alive and unhurt. We left him feasting in thanksgiving this hour two days past. Your Lady was with him.''

Barathor's relief was evident in his face, but he quickly asked, ``And the Corsairs?''

``We fell on them from the rear as they attacked the city. They are utterly destroyed. The Black Fleet will trouble you no more.''

Then Barathor's dark face was split by a wide white grin. He whipped out his sword and threw it spinning high above his head. It glinted and flashed in the bright sun before he caught it deftly by the hilt. The Men back in the main column were staring at him in wonder. No doubt they thought him struck fey. But two of the knights were already spurring their horses back to deliver the news. In a moment a great cheer broke out in the foremost ranks and rolled back through the column as the word spread.

Barathor directed his men to fall out in a field beside the road and the Elves joined them to tell what they knew of the battle. The mood was festive. Flagons of wine were broken out and passed around. Amroth soon realized that many of the soldiers were in fact mariners from the fleet of Pelargir. There were many downcast faces when they were told of the burning of the fleet, but they asked the Elves over and over to tell them the details of the naval engagement. They laughed aloud at the confusion of their ancient enemies when the White Fleet had appeared completely unlooked for at their rear. But the listeners' mood became more somber as they came to realize the losses suffered by the defenders.

"And what of young Foradan?" asked Barathor. "He was at the bridge over the Sirith.It was his first command."

"I know not, my lord," replied Cirdan, but Amroth shook his head.

"Lost, my lord, with all his garrison," he said. "I heard the tale at the feast. The quays were so crowded with the ships of both fleets, many in flames, that some of the Corsairs landed on the other side of the Sirith. Many of the Pelargir people who had gone down to the docks were still rushing back to the gates. If the Corsairs had won across the bridge quickly they could have cut them off. The situation was desperate, because the gates were of course still open. Foradan's men held the bridge long enough to allow the people to escape and to close the gates before the Corsairs could reach them. It was a hopeless struggle, but every man of them held his ground until he was slain. They delayed the Umbardrim just long enough.

Barathor shook his head sadly. "Foradan dead? That noble young man? He was so eager to ride with us, but I ordered him to hold the bridge."

"From all accounts, my lord, he did all that could be done."

"And you say losses were heavy? Do you need medical assistance? I have several skilled physicians with me."

"No, my lord," said Cirdan. "My own healers are among them now. They can get no better treatment anywhere in Middle-earth."

Cirdan assured them that his own ships would soon be on station at the Ethir and patrolling the River, and that his people were helping Luindor to begin rebuilding the fleet.

``Then there is no need for us to go to Pelargir?'' asked Barathor.

``None whatsoever,'' replied Cirdan. ``Your son told me particularly to tell you that he has everything well in hand. And it is true. With the people that I left there and the supplies we brought in the fleet, they lack for nothing. The mood of the city is one of thanksgiving.''

``Then we shall return to Osgiliath at once. These injuries we have suffered are the work of Sauron. Let us ride with Isildur and repay these debts. We shall take the war to Sauron's door and let him taste his own bitter medicine.''

His men cheered and clashed their weapons together, eager now for revenge.

``Come, my lads,'' he roared. ``Back to Osgiliath, and thence to Mordor!''

And so the column formed up again, back the way they had come. But what a difference in their manner! Instead of galloping at full speed, they now cantered easily, their helmets slung at their saddles. They laughed and called to one another and asked endless questions of the Elves. They passed through a few brief rain showers, but no one minded.

And thus after a hazardous voyage and a long ride, Cirdan and his Elves arrived at last at many-towered Osgiliath. Topping a small rise, they saw below them the capital of Gondor within its walls. It was the largest city many of them had ever seen. It stretched for over two miles along the banks of Anduin, with street after street of stately mansions and temples and public buildings. Domes and towers and minarets bristled into the sky. The wide Anduin wandered through the city, and across its heart stood an immense many-arched bridge like no other in Middle-earth. It was so large that it was lined with houses along both sides, each with several balconies and cloistered walkways out over the River. And beyond Anduin the city continued again, stretching away into the distance.

Amroth had been surprised by Pelargir, but he stared in wonder at this immense city, much larger even than Mithlond, and yet all so new in comparison. Few of the buildings had seen their first yén. It was as if it had sprung up overnight. Amroth wondered how mortal Men could build so much in such a short time, and all without even the most basic Elvish arts, that they in their ignorance call magic. He spurred his horse and caught up with Cirdan, now jogging along a little apart from the others.

``My Lord,'' he said. ``This city the Men have built is a wonder to behold.''

``Aye,'' he agreed. ``Isildur and Anárion have made much progress in a few short years. And Elendil's city at Annúminas is nearly as great.''

``Does it not surprise you, Lord, that creatures as ephemeral as these Atani find time enough in their brief lives to create such beauty, and on such a scale? Generations must toil and die that their descendants, whom they will never know, should have a fair home. It is as if they forget that they are mortal.''

Cirdan's eyes moved over the city, taking in detail after detail. Each tower seemed lovelier than the last; each house more stately; each monument and arch more impressive.

``Perhaps it is because they are aware of their mortality that they build so feverishly,'' he mused. ``Though they will be gone, the builders will be remembered as long as the buildings themselves stand. Perhaps it is their way of grasping at the ages that are our birthright.''

Amroth considered this. ``You may be right, my Lord,'' he conceded. ``But do you ever wonder, if our roles were reversed, would we Quendi do as well?''

``That we shall never know. The Gift of Man is forever denied us.''

``The Atani do not call death the Gift of Man but the Doom of Man.''

``It is because they do not know so much of life or death as we Quendi. They see death but as an ending, and they are reluctant to end.''

``And who is the more fortunate, I wonder? Their experience of life is brief, but is it not more intense for that? These Atani die quickly, but they also live quickly. They move and change more easily than do we. They have not our ancient wisdom, but they are clever and adaptable. They bear children when they are little more than children themselves, still in their tweens or even teens. Their numbers are constantly growing, while ours do not. And when we take the Straight Road and leave the circles of the world, they shall remain.''

Amroth thought about this for a while. ``I wonder what will come of the world when we Quendi have all sailed away and the world will be ruled by Men?''

``Only Eru knows that,'' Cirdan answered, ``but for my part I think it will be a sadder and less fair place when the lore and the arts and the music of the Elves has passed from the world. I am glad I will not be here to see it. But for now, the Atani are loyal and valuable allies against the Enemy. They are our only hope of casting down Sauron, as should have been done when his master was expelled forever from the circles of the world.''

Then they were approaching the gate and they turned their attention to the city. The gates were thrown open and they rode in to the cheers of the people of Osgiliath, for they had seen the Elves among the Pelargrim and knew what that signified.

Barathor led them through the city to the stairs of the great hall where the king dwelt. Isildur himself came down to meet them. He looked from Cirdan to Barathor's beaming face.

``My Lord Cirdan,'' he said. ``What news of Pelargir?''

``We arrived but a few hours after the siege began,'' replied Cirdan. ``Eru saw fit to give us the victory. The Corsairs are defeated and the city is safe. We left our people there and hurried to Osgiliath with all speed, for we knew Barathor had been summoned. I feared the alliance would be dissolved.''

``Welcome news at last,'' said Isildur, standing up straighter and a smile lighting his face. ``Welcome, Lords, to Osgiliath. Our undying thanks to you for your aid in our darkest hour.''

``We know not how dark our hours may yet become, Isildur. We have won a battle, but the war is yet to be decided.''

``True that is, but still we are much heartened that Pelargir is saved. And we are most happy to have our friend Barathor and his brave men with us again.''

Isildur and Barathor clasped arms. Amroth stood looking on, smiling at the relief in every face. Then a tall figure came down the stairs behind Isildur, and to Amroth's surprise he recognized a friend.

``Elrond Peredhil!'' he cried. ``Are you here as well?'' He looked at Amroth and smiled.

``Is that Lord Amroth?'' he called.

``It is, and a changed Elf you find me, for I have sailed upon the Sea and my heart is moved.''

``The Sea is always dangerous to the Noldor,'' said Elrond. ``Welcome to Osgiliath. You will find many here that you know, some even from your homeland. There are a number of Sindar among us.'' He bowed to Cirdan.

``And welcome to you, Lord Cirdan. It would seem you had an eventful voyage.''

``So we did. It is good to see you again, Elrond. I last saw you marching from Lindon in Gil-galad's host, ten sun-rounds ago.''

``Aye,'' he said. ``Much has been accomplished since that day, but not all that we had hoped.''

``I see we will have many tales to exchange,'' said Isildur. ``Now come into my hall, if you please, Lords, and we shall endeavor to make you feel welcome.'' And he led them up the broad stairs to his hall.

``This is a wondrous fair city, Isildur,'' Amroth said. ``We marvelled much when we first saw it. The towers seem to scrape the sky.''

``There are more wonders within,'' said Elrond. ``You have yet to see the Dome of Stars. I have never seen a more beautiful hall. You would think you were in Eldamar.''

``Such a sight I would gladly see,'' said Amroth, but Barathor took his leave, saying he wished to deliver the glad tidings himself to those of his people who had remained in Osgiliath.

``Farewell, Lords of the Firstborn,'' he called. ``And to you and all your folk goes the honor and praise of a grateful people. You will not be forgotten while Pelargir stands upon its hill.''

``Your thanks are not necessary, Lord Barathor,'' said Cirdan. ``Your enemies are ours. For are we not allies in a common cause? Your steadfast courage is known even in far-off Lindon, and we know you would come to our aid at need. And indeed you may get many opportunities in the days to come.''

``Farewell, Barathor,'' said Isildur. ``And the council will be in the Dome of Stars at the second hour tomorrow.''

``I shall be there, you may be sure. Farewell, my king.'' And Barathor led his men back to the fields near the southern gate where they had decamped but a few hours before.

Isildur showed the others into his hall, and there they were met by Celeborn and Galadriel, both dressed all in white. Celeborn wore a simple circlet of mithril about his brow, and the Lady had a garland of blossoms twined in her hair. She smiled at sight of them and came forward with open arms.

``Welcome, cousins,'' she said in her melodious voice. ``Elen síla lúmenn omentilmo.''

Lord Cirdan bowed deeply. ``Surely, lovely Lady,'' he said, ``a star does indeed shine on our meeting. I am heartened to see you and your people here in our common need. It has been many yén since last we met.''

``So it has, Shipwright,'' said Celeborn. ``We none of us travel so much as we were once wont, since these evil days have come upon the world. May all soon be again as it once was.''

``And Amroth,'' said Galadriel to the Sindarin lord, ``our neighbor of old. Long have you been away from the Golden Wood.''

``Yes, Lady,'' he replied, ``I have travelled much since I left my home in Lothlórien, and I have seen much of the world -- some that was fair and some that was horrible to look upon.''

``There is something fair in the Golden Wood that pines for a sight of you, Amroth,'' said Galadriel with a smile.

Amroth flushed. ``How is my Nimrodel?'' he asked.

``Lovelier than ever,'' said Celeborn, ``and when any traveller comes to the Wood she asks for news of you.''

``I would that I could come unto her again, but this war sends me ever hither and yon. I shall not return to Cerin Amroth until either Sauron is defeated or I lay slain.''

``Let us pray it is the former,'' said Celeborn, ``and not long delayed. Too long has that spawn of Melkor defiled the land. We too are come here to Osgiliath to see this through to the end.''

``And I,'' said Cirdan.

``And so for all of us,'' said Isildur. ``But that is for tomorrow. For tonight let us rest and take food and wine and such comforts as I can offer you.''

``Yes, certainly,'' said Amroth. ``But first let us see this famous chamber that Elrond praises so highly.''

Isildur led them through several wide passages until he came to a pair of great oaken doors that stretched nearly to the high vaulted roof. He set his hand to one of the doors and it swung back silently and effortlessly. They entered the Dome of Stars and stopped, struck by the beauty around them.

They stood in silence, heads craned back, slowly turning about to view the entire sky.

``Look there,'' Amroth said, pointing. ``There is Menelvagor the Swordsman with his belt. How the Pommel Star shines in his upraised hand. It must be a great ruby.''

``And there above him the netted Remmirath,'' exclaimed Cirdan. ``Isildur, I have gazed at the stars a thousand thousand nights, but they have never appeared more fair than this. Their beauty rivals nature's.''

``It is my father's design,'' Isildur smiled. ``He built it to honor the stars for guiding us safely back to Middle-earth after the downfall of Númenor. The stars are as they were when seen from the peak of Meneltarma in the midst of Númenor.''

``This is a great treasure, Isildur,'' said Cirdan.

``Other treasures the Gondorrim have in this hall,'' said Celeborn. ``Isildur showed us the great master palantír of Fëanor.''

``That is rumored to be among the greatest of all the works made by the Elves in the Elder Days,'' said Cirdan. ``Would it be permitted to view it?''

``Of course,'' bowed Isildur. ``I have it in my inner sanctum. And perhaps that would be a safer place to discuss other matters close to our hearts.''

A significant glance passed among the Lords. They accompanied Isildur into a small dark chamber lit by a single hanging lamp. In its center stood a short marble column shrouded in dark velvet. Isildur drew away the cloth, revealing a crystal globe..

``This is the Master Stone,'' said Isildur, ``the only palantír that can speak to each of the others. Watch you the globe.'' He stood by the column and laid his hands on either side of it. They all gathered around and watched intently as the darkness within the crystal swirled and cleared. Tiny shapes seemed to move and form within the mists. Then Amroth found himself looking out from a high place over a walled city. The city clung to a steep rocky slope at the head of a mountain valley. It dropped down step after step, each level ringed by its own wall. A road wound down from level to level, emerging finally from a massive gate and stretching away across a wide rolling land. In the distance he could see an even greater city with many towers and a river flowing through it. Suddenly he recognized that distant city.

``Why that is Osgiliath!'' he cried. ``I am over a mountain fortress, but I can see Osgiliath in the distance. I can make out the dome of the very hall where we now stand.''

``You must be seeing the Anor stone, Lord Amroth,'' said Isildur. ``That is in the city of Minas Anor to the west, in the Ered Nimrais. You may have seen it high above you as you approached Osgiliath.''

``I see a great rocky valley,'' said Galadriel, looking into the stone from the other side. ``A mighty spire of black rock thrusts up from its midst. That can only be Orthanc, in the valley of Angrenost. It is as if I were flying high above it.''

``I see something different,'' said Elrond. ``I see a wide land of brown hills amid scattered forests. One hill, standing alone, is crowned by a stone tower. I seem to be flying toward it. Why, surely that is Amon Sûl, not far from my home in Imladris. How strange to see it from above.''

``I see a great walled city beside a lake,'' said Celeborn. ``That can only be Elendil's city of Annúminas by Lake Nenuial.''

Cirdan stood in silence, then he murmured quietly. ``I see beyond this mortal world, to the mountains of Eldamar, far Elvenhome across the sea.''

``That would be the view from the Tower Hills,'' said Isildur. ``On the western borders of my father's kingdom of Arnor. From that stone alone can Eldamar be seen from Middle Earth.''

Isildur too looked in the stone, but he saw through the Ithil stone, now on the plains of Gorgoroth, and of what he saw he spoke not. Then he took his hands away and stepped back and the stone again grew dark.

``You have shown us great wonders, Isildur,'' said Cirdan, ``Yet I believe that the stone is perhaps not the greatest treasure in this chamber today.''

Galadriel looked at him gravely. ``Have you then brought your burden as Gil-galad asked, Shipwright?''

``I have,'' answered Cirdan, drawing forth from his pocket a small leather wallet on a chain. Reaching in, he withdrew a golden ring with a great glowing ruby that seemed to shine with its own light in the dim chamber. ``Here is Narya, the Ring of Fire, kept hidden since it was given to me by Celebrimbor more than twelve yén ago.''

Amroth looked at it in wonder. He had heard of the Three Rings of Power, of course, but they had been hidden so long and their location kept such a closely guarded secret, that he had never thought to see one. It loomed so large in the Elves' history and councils that he was somehow surprised to find it but a ring after all, though the loveliest he had ever seen.

Then Galadriel drew forth a fine silver chain from between her breasts, and lo, it bore a great ring of mithril with a single white adamant that sparkled like the Evenstar on a clear evening. ``And here is Nenya,'' she said, ``the Ring of Water.''

Amroth stood staring, shocked at the display of so much power gathered in one place. Then to his amazement, his friend Elrond beside him drew a similar chain from around his neck. It too bore a ring, this a startling sapphire blue the color of a summer sky. ``And here is Vilya,'' he said, ``the Ring of Sky, mightiest of all, which I bear for my king Ereinion the Gil-galad.''

The Ringbearers held them up and the small chamber was filled by the combined light of the Three, their colors mingling into a radiance that shimmered and scintillated, lighting their faces as they stood looking on in awe.

``And so the Three are together again,'' said Galadriel, ``as has not happened since the day Sauron forged the One and his treachery was revealed.''

``They are beautiful,'' breathed Amroth.

``Beautiful indeed,'' said Celeborn, ``and also mighty, for they embody the power imbued upon us Quendi by the Valar in the Beginning of Days.''

``Beautiful and mighty,'' said Galadriel, ``but also most perilous, for all that we have wrought in the world is made through them. If they are lost, all the good that we have ever done will be undone. The fate of the world lies in these Three Rings, my friends, and in that One Ring now on the hand of Sauron.

``For remember the words that Celebrimbor heard the day the One was forged:'' And her lovely clear voice turned harsh and cruel.

Ash nazg durbatulûk,
Ash nazg gimbatul,
Ash nazg thrakatulûk agh burzum-ishi krimpatul!

They all stared in horror at the change that seemed to have come over Galadriel at these words. Her voice had become like the harsh croaking of some huge carrion bird. Cirdan started back aghast, Elrond's hands went to his ears. But Galadriel was unchanged, and her voice returned to normal as she translated:

One Ring to Rule them all,
One Ring to find them,
One Ring to bring them all and in the darkness bind them!

``You see,'' she went on, ignoring their horrified looks, ``Sauron desires the Three to be brought to him, so he can meld them with his own and absorb all of their power into himself. This has been at the heart of all his devices and stratagems from the beginning. I remember well the words of Celebrimbor the day he gave us the Three: `Take these Rings, each unto your own lands, and guard them well. Best that they lie unused, for when wielded they may draw Sauron's eye unto them. Above all, they must never be brought together again, for in concert they are more clearly perceived. Would that I had never made them, or that they could be unmade. I cannot keep them, for Sauron knows they are here and even now prepares a stroke against me, a stroke I fear I will be unable to withstand. But I give them unto the steadiest hands still to be found this side of the Sundering Sea.'

``That stroke he feared came soon after, and both Celebrimbor and all his land of Eregion are no more. Sauron has sought for the Three ever since. I ask you then, are we not playing into his hands to bring the Three into Mordor? Would he not rejoice to know of it?''

Cirdan shook his wise old head sadly. ``Those were black days indeed, Lady. But I fear these are blacker still. Long have we kept the Three hidden and Sauron is stronger than ever. He waits now within his Tower as we gradually weaken, until such time as he deems us sufficiently helpless. Then he will fall upon us as he has done in the past. He was rash when he razed Eregion and he was humbled at last and driven out by Tar-Minastir and Gil-galad. He is more cautious this time.

``But our time is near at last. Our strength will never be greater. We can only decline and diminish. Even now ships are sailing from Mithlond, bearing the Eldar back over the sea. No more will ever come. Sauron knows that and bides his time.

``If there is any hope of casting him out, we must strike now, united with the Men, and using all the weapons we possess. If the Three cannot defeat him together, how can we hope to stand against him alone? It is most perilous, but we cannot afford to not use the Three.''

``You speak wisely, Master,'' Galadriel replied. ``But the chance is great. If we fail, all the west is lost, the Atani shall be enslaved, and the light of the Quendi shall pass forever from the world.''

``All the more reason we should not falter or grow overcautious now, Lady,'' said Elrond. ``Think back to the Elder Days, when we fought Morgoth in Thangorodrim. We were cautious then, and it availed us naught. Only the rash courage and bold attack of the Man, Beren One-Hand, brought us the mastery at last. If he had not risked all in the tunnels of Thangorodrim and again in crossing the Shadows, we might all be freezing yet in the icy wastes of Angband, and facing a far greater foe.''

Galadriel nodded. ``Sauron was then but a servant of Melkor the Morgoth. Alas! Would we had caught him then in the wrack of Thangorodrim and cast him out with his master. Little did we imagine then the evil that would come from the escape of that poor broken wretch.''

She sighed. ``Yes, my friends, you are no doubt correct. We are only finishing a task that was begun long ago. We must see it through to the bitter end, no matter the danger. We must cleanse the world of the last shadow of Morgoth.''

``It is well,'' said Isildur. ``Now it is growing late and we must away to our rest. The council is on the morrow and there much will be revealed. Until then, I bid all of you good night.'' They separated then, Isildur to his sleep, the Quendi to that pensive silence that serves them for slumber.


The night, being midyear's eve, passed swiftly, and the first cock-crow found Amroth high in the tower above the Dome of Stars. He sat in rest, pondering the stars now fading in the rising glow of the sun as she crept above the Ephel Dúath. Their fading beauty, finally overwhelmed in the harsh glow of the advancing sun, brought to his mind the inevitable fading of the Quendi as they are replaced by the more earthly Atani. Sighing deeply, he rose and looked out over the vast city of Men as it awoke.

Far below him on the battlement he saw Celeborn and Galadriel walking slowly together, as they have for so many thousands of nights. He wondered what thoughts they shared on this eve of a great battle that could mean the end of all for which they have labored over the ages. If anyone truly knew the terrible danger they were now in, it was they. If Nenya were destroyed, the Golden Wood, their city of Caras Galadon, all of Lothlórien would quickly fade and die. And how each must fear for the other as they go into battle together. The love they share had become ever more legendary as the long ages passed. Amroth tried to imagine his feelings if he knew his beloved Nimrodel were riding into battle beside him.

Seeing the people of the city beginning to stir, he descended the tower. He found Cirdan in the chamber of the palantír, looking through it to the stone in the Emyn Beraid, and from thence to the distant towers of Eldamar, whence they would all one day return. They went together to the dining hall, where they found Elrond and Gildor Inglorion and the Lord and Lady already at table. They spoke little to one another, each lost in his own thoughts.

They had hardly broken their fast before messengers came to them, bidding them to come to the Dome of Stars, for the council was to begin. They were greeted there by a stocky dark man with his hair and his beard alike drawn into long braids. He wore a tunic of light green over good mail, and he greeted the Elves civilly with a deep bow.

``My Lords and Lady,'' he said. ``I am Ohtar, the king's esquire, and I welcome you to the Great Council of Osgiliath. I bid you to be patient a few moments more, for not all the guests have arrived.''

They were shown to seats at a great table shaped like a crescent moon. At the center of the curve stood two high thrones of ebony chased with many graceful designs in mithril, one draped in white shrouds. In the other sat Isildur, dressed all in white with a white stone bound upon his brow. He rose to greet his guests.

``Welcome, Firstborn,'' he called. ``Pray take your seats on my either hand. The others are even now arriving.''

They sat in the high-backed chairs and watched as the lords and captains of many lands entered the hall and took their seats, each dressed in the colors and livery of his homeland. There was Barathor, whom they already knew, but there were many others. Amroth had not realized how greatly the race of the Atani had come to vary over the ages. There were tall men of Númenórean descent, like unto Isildur. His son Elendur was the greatest of these. Others were shorter and broader, with long yellow hair and fair faces, having somewhat the coloring of the Noldor. Still others had ruddy faces and carrot-colored hair, while others were a deep brown or black, with curling black hair. A group of dwarves entered and bowed low to Isildur, their long beards sweeping the ground. A herald was announcing each of the nobles as they entered:

``Thardûn, Captain of Angrenost. Ingold, Master of Calembel. Súrion, Guardian of the isle of Cair Andros. Bergil, Mayor of Minas Anor. Halgon, Master of the Ships of the Harlond. Barathor, Lord of Pelargir. Turgon of Ethir Lefnui.''

Each looked at the Elves as they came in, some in wonder, some in surprise, some in open puzzlement. Few had ever seen Elves before. The names went on and on, but Amroth soon lost track of their many names and titles and lands. Some he did notice. One was a thin, studious-looking young man, Isildur's nephew Meneldil, Prince of Anórien since his father's death. At last all the chairs were filled and the room fell quiet. Isildur stood and called out.

``Lords, I greet you and welcome you to Osgiliath. We are gathered in answer to a summons from the Lords of the West: my father Elendil, High King of the Realms in Exile, and Gil-galad, King of the Eldar. We are called to decide matters of great moment today, decisions that will change the course of the world. For long now we have endeavored to keep our plans hidden, lest they reach the ears of the enemy. But now the time for secrecy is past; the time for decisive action is come. But to make such decisions we must know the risks and the costs, what can be gained, and what lost; and know how we have come to this pass.

``The tale of how this council came to be called is a long one, but it should be fully known to all here, whose lives and fortunes lie now in the balance. Many tales go into the making of this tale, and I would have each tell his part in turn. I will begin myself.

``You all know the history of this war with Sauron: how his forces swept down without warning on my city of Minas Ithil in the year `34. His most foul servants yet hold my city and much of the fair land of Ithilien, and they constantly harass us here in Osgiliath and in raids across the Anduin. His allies and agents elsewhere assail our ports and ships and towns, murdering our people and destroying what they cannot carry away. Sauron will not cease his attacks until Gondor and all the free lands of the West are in his power. We are resolved to oppose him while life endures.

``The good people of the Eldar, that you call Elves, have joined us in our struggle against Sauron. Gil-galad has long been a staunch friend of our people, and many an Elvish warrior has laid down his life in battle at our sides. You see here among us some of the greatest Lords of that noble race, come to offer us their assistance and support.

``At first all went well for the Army of the Alliance. United with the Elves, we defeated Sauron's best troops and threw down his Black Gate and took all of Udûn and much of the blasted plains of Gorgoroth. We encircled him in his Dark Tower, the Barad-dûr, but it is immeasurably strong, and our siege has been unavailing. For seven years now we have maintained the siege, at great cost to ourselves. Many fall in battle, others die of thirst and heat and weariness and the poisonous fumes that belch from the ground. Daily our comrades fall around us, and we can do the enemy but little hurt. They laugh at us as we waste ourselves on their adamantine walls. We had driven Sauron back into his last stronghold, but we could do no more, and it could be said that by maintaining the siege we are in fact losing the war, for our forces ever diminish and his do not.

``Last year my brother Anárion thought to make a last great attempt on the gate of the Barad-dûr. He designed a huge covered structure on wheels that contained both a wooden bridge that could be lowered across the chasm and an immense battering ram to force the gate. He built a model and showed it to the kings. It seemed a bold but likely plan. The permission was given and the construction of the engine was begun. Hundreds of huge trees had to be cut high in the northern valleys of the Ered Lithui and dragged and sledged with untold weary labor across many miles of broken terrain. After many months, the engine was completed and the men trained.

``On the appointed day, the entire host rose as one and assailed the Black Tower from every side. Anárion led his men with their engine to the gate. The huge bridge was lowered into place successfully and the engine advanced to the mighty gates. But hardly had the order been given to start the ram when Sauron's hordes unleashed a terrible rain of huge stones, glowing red with heat. Within moments the siege engine was struck by an immense boulder and the forward end collapsed. Many men and Elves were trapped within, doomed to certain death beneath the rain of missles. Anárion ran forward with a party of men and endeavored to free those caught beneath the wreckage. As he stood thus, bent low to help free an injured man, a great stone, cast from high in the Tower, smote him on the helmet and burst both helm and skull asunder. Gildor here and I crossed the now teetering bridge and freed some of our people, and I carried back the body of my brother. Hardly had we reached the ground again when the entire structure tilted, groaned, then collapsed into the bottomless depths, carrying with it a hundred or more of our brave soldiers. The attack was called off and the army withdrew to a safe distance.

``Within a few terrible moments, a king of Gondor and many hundreds of our people had died, our siege engine was destroyed, and with it went all our hopes of ever breaching the Black Tower. We all realized at last that we could besiege the Tower, but we could never take it. Sauron and his servants seemed to command limitless supplies of food and arms and missles. We knew not if the tower was filled with vast stores of supplies or if it was being replenished through some underground or even magical means.''

Isildur paused, looking around at the grim listening faces around him. ``Many who have not been to Mordor might cherish the illusion that Sauron is trapped and helpless within his Tower. The truth is rather that he does not bother to sortie against us. He has waited for his victory for thousands of years, he can afford to wait ten or twenty more while we grind ourselves to dust against his walls.''

There were murmurs in the room. Dark looks were exchanged. Many had not realized just how grim the situation in Gorgoroth had become.

``The Lords of the West took counsel together to determine our course of action. It was a grim and desperate gathering, you may be sure. Many proposals were advanced, discussed, and abandoned. At last Gil-galad disclosed an idea he had been harboring in secret. `If we cannot get into the Tower,' he said, `then we must lure Sauron out.'

``We could not be certain, of course, but we hoped that we could best Sauron's forces in an even fight in the open. But our great fear is his other unconquered fortress, my own city of Minas Ithil, in the mountains of the Ephel Dúath. It is ruled now by the Nine Kings, the Úlairi. Their powers too are very great, for they bear the Nine Rings of Men, wrought long ago by the Noldor, but long since corrupted by Sauron's One Ring and brought under his dominion. The Nine are like blades at our backs. We must always keep a part of our forces stationed on the road to the Ephel Dúath, lest they fall on our backs. We have become actually two armies back to back, and the division greatly weakens each. We dare not throw our full weight against either fortress, for the other cannot be left unguarded behind us.

``Gil-galad's plan then was this: to raise a third army far from Mordor and the spying eyes of the Enemy; to bring this army secretly against Minas Ithil from the west; to wrest that city from the Úlairi before Sauron knows it is assailed. Then all three armies would join at the Barad-dûr. It was hoped that the loss of Minas Ithil and his most valued servants would so anger Sauron that he would become rash and venture forth against us. Stripped of his allies and his walls, he would be at his weakest and we at our strongest. There, on the plains of Gorgoroth, the doom of the world would be cast in a single mighty test of arms.''

Isildur stopped and looked over the assembled lords. ``It must be clear to you all by now that we gathered here are to be that third army. But before we talk of the coming campaign, let us hear how Gil-galad's plan was to be realized. The greatest difficulty, of course, was to somehow locate as many warriors as possible, recruit them in our cause, and bring them all to Osgiliath in secrecy. To that end, three messengers were sent forth from Mordor: Elrond Peredhil to Lothlórien and the Vales of Anduin; Gildor Inglorion to Eriador and Lindon; and I to the lands around the Ered Nimrais and Pelargir.

``Now let us hear how each has fared. I will rest now and let the others tell their tales. I will call first upon Elrond Peredhil, known as Halfelven. For those of you who know not of him, he is great among the wise and ancient ones. He is the son of Eärendil the Mariner, the greatest hero of the Elder Days. Elrond dwells in Imladris, a valley far to the north in the western slopes of the Misty Mountains, not far from my father's realm of Arnor. He has long been a friend and a help to us Exiles, for his brother was Elros, the founder of Númenor and of my own line, so he is a living ancestor to me and to many of us here. Welcome, Master Elrond. Please tell us of your journey here.''

Isildur took his seat as Elrond stood, and the Men looked on the Elf with wonder, for he was ancient beyond their knowing, and his father was said to have been set in the sky as the Evening Star by Manwë himself. ``We three couriers,'' began Elrond, ``set out from Gorgoroth on the nineteenth day of Víressë. We rode together through the gates of the Morannon, which lay yet in ruin. We passed through the marshes of Dagorlad where so many of our people fell in the seige of the Morannon. We passed through the Brown Lands and crossed Anduin nigh to the Falls of Rauros. There we parted company, and Isildur turned west across the fens of Calenardhon. Gildor and I turned north and followed the west bank of the River to Lothlórien, the Land of the Golden Wood. There we took counsel with Lord Celeborn and Lady Galadriel and received their pledge to join our cause, as they have now done.'' Elrond bowed to the Lord and Lady. ``Gildor bided there but a short time before turning to the high road over the mountains. For my part, I continued north, travelling the length of the great forest of Taur Galen, called by Men Greenwood the Great, seeking always for friends to fight with us. I found several settlements of Men and sought their aid. I was received well, but all claimed that they could spare us no men, for they were often attacked by orcs and wolves and other fell creatures. Their lives were hard enough, and I did not press them further.

North of the confluence of the river Gladden, I came across a village of a small people of a race I knew not. To my knowledge they are not recorded in any of the ancient chronicles. They are as small as dwarves and like dwarves live beneath the ground, but with hair on their feet instead of their chins. They too welcomed me to their councils and heard my pleas, but they said they were a peaceful people and knew nothing of the arts of war. My arguments were unavailing, and I passed on.

I came at length to the realm of Thranduil, King of the Forest Elves, but he too was engaged in repelling frequent raids by orcs. His borders are weak and ill-defined, and he is hard-put to hold the margins of the forest. He has lost many of his Elves in the trackless deeps of the forest, where lurk orcs and great spiders and other dark things. He could spare no more than a score of his green-clad archers. I ranged throughout Rhovanion, but always the story was the same. The few people I met were all engaged in defending their own and could spare none for the `Westman's War,' as they called it.

At length I returned to Lothlórien and helped Celeborn and his Elves to clear the foes from their borders as best they could. Then, leaving the realm in good order, we marched south and came at last to Osgiliath, arriving but yestermorn. All told we number nigh to four thousand, each a tried warrior, skilled with bow and spear. We offer our services to you, Isildur.''

``Well said and well done, Master Elrond,'' said the king. ``We had hoped many more would rally to us, but you have done all you could, and we are very grateful to you and the people of Lothlórien, and to you, my Lord and Lady. The Galadrim are welcome allies in these or any times.

``Now I would have the account of the second courier, Gildor Inglorion of the House of Finrod, aide to king Gil-galad. Gildor, what of your journey?''

Now Gildor stood and bowed to the king, and he looked very imposing in his blue and gilt armor and his long cape of cloth of gold.

``My Lords,'' he began, ``many of you have travelled far to attend this council, but I wager that my road has been the longest. Like Master Elrond, I accomplished my task but brought far fewer than we hoped for that day in my king's tent in Gorgoroth.

``When I left Elrond at Caras Galadon in the Golden Wood, I climbed the Dimrill Stair to Nanduhirion, the high valley where lie the gates to the dwarvish city of Khazad-dûm. For those who do not know of it, there lies under the heart of the Misty Mountains a great underground city of the dwarves, delved by them in the Elder Days. Hall below hall, level below level, the earth is hollowed by their tunneling. At one time the Little People were more friendly with the Elves, and they bored a shaft through to the west side of the mountains to link their city with the land of Celebrimbor in Eregion. They traded with both Eregion and Lothlórien, and all profited thereby.

``But then Sauron's hordes swept out of the east and Eregion was attacked. Then the dwarves shut their gates and refused to have any part of the fight. Eregion was destroyed and Celebrimbor slain, but at last the forces of evil were driven out again by the Elves of Lindon. Still, the gates of Khazad-dûm have remained closed for many centuries. The dwarves resent us Elves, blaming Celebrimbor for bringing Sauron's wrath down on us all. They do not love us, but they are not an evil folk, and they hate Sauron, remembering his destruction of their northern cities in the Elder Days. We had not much hope of their aid, but thought it worth the attempt.

``I went therefore to their East Gate in Nanduhirion and sought an audience with their lord. They would not suffer me to enter, but after much debate their king came to the Gate. He was taller than most of his race, and his long white beard hung to his feet. `I am Durin,' said he, `the fourth of that name. For long we have sought only to be left in peace. What do the Big People want of us now?'

```I am Gildor Inglorion of Lindon,' I said. `I met your father once while visiting in Eregion. I honor his name and his son. Our people were friends in those happier times.'

```Those times are gone,' he said gruffly, `and so is my father, no thanks to Elvish meddling in arts that did not concern them. Our gates are shut to you and to all Big Folk. We have no need of you and your troubles.'

```My lord Durin,' I said, `it was not Celebrimbor but Sauron who brought about the destruction of Eregion and the wars that followed. And Sauron yet rules in his Dark Tower. We seek to throw him down, but we are hard pressed. The Khazad are renowned warriors. We have need of your strength, lest he have the victory at last. Would you see us all enslaved?'

```What care I for the Big Folk?' Durin replied disdainfully. `Let them fight amongst themselves. Our gates are strong, we have all that we need. We shall wait safely in our homes for the storm to pass, as we have for over seventeen centuries. We are safe from Sauron here.'

```Have you forgotten the lessons of Belegost and Nogrod? Were they not mighty cities of your people, hewn deep into the living stone of the Ered Luin? Did they not have strong gates? Yet Morgoth and his servant Sauron crushed them as you would crack a bone to suck out the marrow. Many dwarves died in the Lost Cities. Would you again crouch in your holes and await the wrath of Sauron?'

``Then Durin's dark eyes flashed. `Aye,' he said. `Many died in the Lost Cities. They will never be forgotten. But it was the Elves who started that war by meddling in forbidden arts and setting themselves against Melkor the Vala. Our fathers sided with you in that war, and for their pains their cities were destroyed and their people slain. We learned our hard lesson, but you Elves evidently did not. Celebrimbor again sought to practice the forbidden arts and has brought evil down on our heads again. But Sauron stalks Elves and Men, he has no quarrel with us Khazad as long as we take no part in your war. If we stir him not, we shall be left in peace.'

```And if he does not leave you in peace?' I said. `Once he has defeated us, he will surely come against Khazad-dûm, for he cannot tolerate free people.'

```If he comes, we shall fight him. But we shall fight for our own people and our own homes. We have no desire to fight in far-off lands, dying so that Elves may live. Begone, Gildor of Lindon, you will find no help here!' And with that he went back in and the gates were closed.

``And so I turned away and climbed the long stairs over the high pass of Caradhras. Though it was then early Lótessë, there was still much snow on the sheltered northern slopes, and the passage was difficult. I hurried down then, past the West Gate of Khazad-dûm, where once throngs of people of all races passed in and out. The door is sealed now, and even the inscription, a gift of Celebrimbor, is fading.

``I followed the ancient highway beside the swift river Sirannon to the empty moors and rank meadows that were once the fair lawns of Eregion. I pondered much as I travelled those lonely leagues through what had once been a happy and prosperous land. Eregion had been built after the fall of Morgoth and it alone of the lands of Eriador was untainted by his evil. Those Noldor returning from the war in the north came to this land and ordered a fair realm. I thought of the destruction of Eregion; of the murder of Celebrimbor and his family; of the rift with the dwarves; and always my thoughts returned to the same agent -- Sauron.

``I thought of the people of Lindon and Lothlórien, of Gondor and Arnor, and even those of Khazad-dûm, with the long hand of Sauron stretched forth to destroy them. I spurred my horse ever faster, and at length reached Tharbad, where the Royal Road between Gondor and Arnor spans the River Gwathlo.

``Once it was a fair town of Men, the southernmost of Arnor, but I found it nearly deserted, with burned buildings and ruined farms giving evidence to acts of war. The few folk I found there told of a Corsair raid but a few weeks before. They were taken completely unaware, for Tharbad is over a hundred leagues from the sea. It must have taken the Corsairs a week of hard rowing to reach the town. Never before had they struck so far from the coasts, and none knew why they should suddenly sack a city never famous for its wealth.

``It occurred to me that the city's value was more likely to be its strategic location at the crossing of the largest road and the longest navigable river into the heart of Eriador. But surely, I thought, Umbar could not be contemplating an invasion of the North lands. But what if Sauron were thinking of such a stroke? Might he not first send his Corsair allies to destroy Tharbad and sever both the road and the river? Or worse yet, if he had somehow learned of our errand, he might have thought this a way to thwart our plans and perhaps even waylay me. If so, they struck too soon to take me. But they had done their master's work well. The survivors were frightened and disheartened and too busy rebuilding their town to listen to my talk of riding away to a distant war. I rode north alone.

``Now I travelled more quickly, for I was on the Royal Road which runs from Annúminas in Arnor through the Gap of Calenardhon even here to Osgiliath. I crossed the desolate Red Hills country and came at last to the broad Baranduin. Crossing safely on the small ferry there, I entered a fair green country of rolling downs and gentle air. It is a pleasant land with fertile soil, but only lightly tilled by the few men who dwell there. It is but a quiet corner of Arthedain, as the westernmost regions of Arnor are coming to be called.

Passing through this land with all speed, I saw away in the west the three towers of the Emyn Beraid looming high against the sky and knew I was nearing home at last. Gaining strength from the sight, I hurried thence and ascended the hills to stand at the foot of the towers, the tallest in all of Middle-earth. Of the three, the westernmost, called Elosterion, is the highest. I broke my journey there an hour so that I could climb the tower and view once again, through the Stone of Elendil, the vision of Elvenhome afar off across the sea. I had hoped perhaps even to see Varda Starkindler, as sometimes others have reported, standing upon the summit of Oiolossë and gazing into the east, as if waiting for us Exiles to return. But the peak was hidden in clouds and the view but hazy. I thanked the Guardian of the Stone and descended, turning again to the west.

``From Emyn Beraid the road drops down in long looping coils to the valley of the Lhûn. Rounding the last turn, I saw at last before me the high stone ramparts of the Havens of Mithlond. I was greeted warmly at the gate and admitted at once to Lord Cirdan's chambers, where he sat with a Sindarin Elf I did not know. Cirdan rose in surprise when I entered.

```Gildor Inglorion!' he said, `long has it been since you rode away with the king. Greetings and welcome home. This has been a week for meeting old friends returned from long journeys. This is Amroth, a Sindarin lord from lands far to the east.'

```Honor to you, Lord Amroth,' I said. `I have heard your name. Did you not once live in the Golden Wood, nigh to the Lady Galadriel?'

```Indeed yes,' he replied. `I dwelt long there, though for some yén now I have wandered alone in far lands, even to the Uttermost North. Much have I seen and learned, but when I returned again to the lands of our kindred, news of the war was on every lip. And so I came here to offer my services to my friend Cirdan.'

```You have come at an opportune moment then,' I said, `for I am come to seek aid for our king.' And I told them then of our mission. Cirdan immediately called his captains and lieutenants together and bade them set about readying the ships as speedily as possible. Amroth and I travelled throughout Lindon and the neighboring lands, gathering volunteers for the armada. In three weeks, warriors and supplies were pouring into Mithlond and the ships were being loaded.

``Since the time of the council was so nigh, Cirdan gave me the service of his cog Varda, the fastest vessel in the fleet, so that I might sail ahead and assure those awaiting us in the south that relief was near. And so, after a swift and uneventful passage, we came at last to Pelargir and were met on the quays by none other than Isildur himself. Two days later we rode here to Osgiliath. And so the tale of a long journey is told but in a few moments.''

So saying, Gildor resumed his seat. Isildur rose.

``Your journey was indeed long and weary, my friend, but you have succeeded well, perhaps better than you had thought. And your labors at Khazad-dûm were not wholly in vain, for as you see, there are representatives of the Khazad at this council. I present to you Frár of Khazad-dûm.'' The leader of the Dwarves stood up and bowed low to the company.

``Frár, son of Flói, at your service,'' he said in his deep voice. ``Master Gildor, I would apologize for the greeting you received from my Lord Durin at our gate. Much has happened over the years to strain the friendship that once obtained between our peoples. We have suffered much, and many blame our troubles on the Elves. But some of us do not, and we would see the old wounds healed at last. All the Khazad hate Sauron and his accursed orcs. And we have lived always on good terms with the Men of Gondor.

``After you left us, we had many debates among ourselves. I and some of my friends urged Durin to reconsider and send a strong force to your council. But as you know he is not one to turn his tunnel when once it is begun. In the end he agreed to let us call for volunteers and allowed me to lead them to Osgiliath. He insisted, however, that we not march under the banner of Khazad-dûm, and that we serve the king of Gondor, rather than any Elven lord. We have three hundred stout Khazad warriors ready to do as you bid, Isildur.''

``Your help is most welcome, Frár, and we honor you for your courage and your friendship. If you can cut through lines of orcs as well as you cut through stone, you will be mighty allies, no matter your numbers.I would be honored and grateful if you would march with me under my personal standard, if that would suit you. ''

Frár's bushy eyebrows went up in surprise. He swept off his hat and bowed low to the king. ``Isildur Elendilson,'' he said, ``we should be greatly honored to fight under your royal standard. Our axes are yours to command.'' He returned to his seat looking very pleased.

Isildur turned and smiled at Amroth. ``And besides Frár, Gildor has brought us Amroth, famed in song and legend as a mighty warrior and explorer of far lands. Welcome, Lord Amroth. Your feats of arms are renowned among the Men of the South.''

Amroth had to laugh at that. ``Are they indeed? But so are the Southlands famed in the North. But not enough, I find. For in sooth I say I have seen no mortal land more fair than your provinces of Belfalas and Anfalas. Happy are those that live with the towering Ered Nimrais at their backs and the southern sea spread before their feet.''

Isildur smiled. ``Fair spoken, Lord Amroth, and welcome to hear even in these times. Would you could see Gondor in peace, with the people working their fields and the land yielding its fruits. If the war should indeed fall to us, we would be most honored if you would visit us in Belfalas. I say unto you that if you wish, I will grant you land in Belfalas that you might dwell in sight of the sea.''

Amroth bowed. ``That I should be very pleased to do, my Lord. You are most gracious.''

``Now,'' said Isildur. ``You have heard the tales of the other couriers. It is time for my tale. It is a story of frustrations and disappointments, for at every step were our plans thwarted by the enemy.

``I went first to the great iron-bound valley of Angrenost, where is the northernmost fortress of Gondor, the mighty tower of Orthanc. We had hoped to recruit the greater part of the garrison there. But when I spoke with their commander, he told me of frequent repeated raids by orcs from the dark and mysterious forests that ring the valley on three sides. The orcs have often given trouble in the past, but only in small parties attacking a lonely farmhouse or hunters' camp. But of late they have come in ever greater numbers and accompanied by dire wolves of immense size. The orcs ride upon the wolves, and the wolves are clearly intelligent, at least as intelligent as the orcs, for they speak among themselves and to the orcs. Each attack is bolder and in greater numbers. Just the month before we came there, a company of twenty armed horsemen, seasoned soldiers of Gondor, was attacked in the narrows not far from the gates of Angrenost. They fought their way to the fortress, but not before losing six men.

``Their commander heard my request and was eager to help us in our cause, but his garrison has been at but half strength since the muster for the Army of the Alliance, and he feared to further weaken his forces. Nonetheless, he detached forty bold horsemen, all volunteers under Thardun here, to ride with us, though he feared the loss would leave him unable to send out patrols as had been his wont. And so we rode with but forty where we had hoped for four hundred. Yet it was a greater aid than I had at first thought, for they saved us all a week later at Anglond, as I shall tell.'' He gestured to a powerfully built man in armor much scored and dinted by many blows, who bowed respectfully to the king.

``With Thardun's men we then rode from Angrenost at the source of the River Anga to Anglond at its mouth, a distance of well over a hundred leagues. Again we were well received. Their lord offered us three hundred of his bravest knights and others there were who begged to join us. But before we could depart a fleet of black ships appeared from the sea and fell upon the outlying farms. The people fled in terror for the safety of the city walls, but many there were who were cut down in their flight. Perceiving the attack from afar, we sallied forth to protect the people. We expected to meet a band of savage sea raiders, bent only upon pillage and plunder, but we met instead a well-armed, well-commanded force of the knights of Umbar. They were formed up into orderly columns and were advancing purposely across the lands, slaying all before them -- man, beast, and crop. Every house and barn was burnt, the wells befouled. It was as if they sought to destroy Anglond and all its works utterly.

``We came against them though we were greatly outnumbered, and bravely did the men of Anglond and Angrenost fight. In the heat of the battle I was struck by a spear that was turned by my armor but unseated me from my horse. If not for Thardun and his strong sword arm, my head would now be swinging at the masthead of a galley on its way to Umbar. With his aid I was able to remount and we fell back within the city walls, though many fell without.

``For two weeks we were besieged there while the Corsairs ruined all the lands beyond the walls. The situation was grave, for our supplies were rapidly diminishing, and I could but count the days until we were due to be here at this council. Still, there seemed to be nothing we could do, for we were too few to attempt another sortie against so many.

``Then one day another Corsair galley came up the river and a party of men went to the tent where the leaders of the raid were headquartered. An hour later, all the raiders suddenly struck their tents, returned to their ships, and sailed away.

``We could imagine no reason for their withdrawal and suspected some trick or deception. But at last we ventured out. The Corsairs were gone, leaving nothing of use or value in the entire land thereabout. We did what we could to assist the people of Anglond, but then we were forced by the calendar to depart. We had ridden to Anglond in hopes of greatly increasing our numbers, but we left with our numbers sadly diminished. Now, more than a week behind our schedule, we hurried south to Anfalas, where we hoped to at last find many warriors ready to join us. Alas, worse was to come.

``While passing through the green hills of Pinnath Gelin, nigh to the River Lefnui, we came upon a handful of survivors of a Corsair raid on the city of Ethir Lefnui. That city, much smaller and more lightly defended than Anglond, could do little to defend itself and in but a few hours was reduced to smoking rubble, nearly all of its people slain.''

Several in the hall had not yet heard this news, and many gasped in horror and anger. There were growls and oaths of revenge.

``Then it was clear that the Corsairs had withdrawn from Anglond only to fall on Lefnui,'' Isildur continued. ``It was our thought that the solitary galley had brought orders to the raiders, directing them to Lefnui rather than spend any more time besieging Anglond to little profit. We believe that some hints or suspicions of our plans may have already reached the enemy, and that he is purposely moving to thwart us. The innocent people of Ethir Lefnui paid with their lives for that suspicion. Turgon here leads what remains of that people.'' All eyes turned in wonder and pity to the grim-faced chief who had borne so much. He stood and looked upon them.

``That which was Ethir Lefnui is no more,'' he said, ``save as a fair memory forever darkened and poisoned in our minds. When last the sun rose to her greatest height at midsummer, more than a thousand people danced in the streets of Lefnui to celebrate Loëndë. Now we are but thirty, and there will be no more celebrations for us, unless it be to dance upon the ruins of the Barad-dûr.'' And he sat down to silence.

Cirdan, who sat next to Amroth, leaned close and murmured in his ear, ``Woe to the foe that meets that one in battle, for he seeks only revenge and he does not fear death.''

Amroth nodded. ``He is one Man who might agree that death is the Gift of Men.''

Isildur then continued his tale. ``We journeyed then to Erech in the southern vales of the Ered Nimrais. We met there with Romach, Lord of the Eredrim. When my father and I discussed our prospects in the western and southern provinces, we had the greatest hopes for the Eredrim, for they are a numerous and formerly warlike people, and they long before swore to me a solemn oath of mutual aid. Though they tend to be reclusive and keep to their own valleys, still they have for many years been allies and friends to Gondor.

``But Romach was evasive and asked for time to make a decision. Soon enough we learned why, for the following day there arrived at Erech an emissary from Umbar.''

``What?'' came several voices at once. ``The Corsairs openly treat with the Eredrim? They should have been seized for their crimes!''

Isildur's voice grew harder still. ``It was with regret that we were forced to honor their flag of truce, especially as I thought it most likely that their emissary was the same that had ordered the attack on Ethir Lefnui. Malithôr is his name, but I called him the Mouth of Sauron, for though he pretends to speak for his Emperor Herumor, his thoughts and his speech are but the will of the Dark Lord.

``I warned Romach against his threats, but Romach is grown fearful and cautious in his old age, and he would not side with us. I think in the end he thought he would rather have Gondor as a betrayed ally than Umbar, for he knows we will not attack him for it.

``And so when I sounded my horn and called them to the aid of Gondor, they broke their oath and hid their faces from me. But Romach's cowardly cunning did not avail him, for I called upon my own not inconsiderable powers and laid a doom upon him and all his people. They shall remain undisturbed in their remote valleys as they wish, but they shall neither increase nor flourish. Their line shall wither and fade and their settlements and their works shall fall into disuse and ruin. They shall never find rest, neither in this life nor after it, until they fulfill their oath and answer the call of my horn.''

The hall remained silent, in awe and horror at this doom. Amroth studied Isildur in surprise. He could not say if Isildur had such power, but he looked so grim and determined that he doubted him not. He whispered to Elrond beside him. ``These Dúnedain seem to wield powers greater than many an Elf a hundred times older. We Quendi tend to think of Men as our younger brothers, but there may come a time when they rival or even exceed us.''

Elrond must have been thinking much the same thoughts, for he whispered back, ``With allies such as Isildur, perhaps we shall indeed prevail against the enemy.''

While they were thus engaged with their thoughts, Isildur had gone on to relate the tale of the council at Pelargir and his return to Osgiliath. When he was finished he called upon Cirdan, who told of his voyage, the storm at sea, their mad race up Anduin, and the battle at Pelargir. Since Amroth had taken part in these adventures, he was giving only half an ear as he scanned the faces in the hall. But then Cirdan said something that caught his attention.

``And near the end of the battle,'' Cirdan was saying, ``when it was clear that the Corsairs could not have the victory, one galley broke free and dashed for the eastern shore. We pursued it and caught it, but not before one of their officers took to a great black horse and escaped. Of all the men of Umbar in that fleet, I believe he is the only one to escape alive.''

``Lord Isildur,'' said Amroth. ``You told of an emissary from Umbar that came to Erech. What was his name?''


``And what his likeness?''

``Very tall and dark, with a long face and a nose hooked like a hawk's.''

``It is the same man!'' exclaimed Amroth. ``Our eyes met as his galley swept past ours. Such a face, and such a look of hatred upon it. I would know him anywhere.''

``Which way did he ride?'' asked Isildur sharply.

``East and north, toward Mordor, my lord. We noted it at the time.''

``Returning to his true master, no doubt,'' said Isildur. ``Would you had caught him. Our entire enterprise depends on surprise. If he has learned or guessed our plans and bears them to Sauron, we have but little hope of success.''

``Then we must move swiftly,'' said Galadriel, speaking for the first time. All turned at the sound of her voice, like water falling in a fountain on a still night.

``I would urge the greatest possible haste,'' she continued. ``We have heard the reasons for this council and how we have been gathered here. This Malithôr threatens Gil-galad's plan, root and leaf. Our only hope is to strike before he can reach the Barad-dûr. What would you have us do, Isildur?''

Isildur nodded. ``All our tales are told. Now is the time for us to fulfill our part of the final acts of the war. The Lords of the West bid us to cross the Anduin and assail Minas Ithil using all the weapons at our disposal. Our task is to strike swiftly and rout the foul carrion things that now rule the Tower of the Moon before they can send to the Barad-dûr for aid. We are to secure the city as quickly as possible, then drive east without delay to join him in Gorgoroth. We have reason to believe that Sauron will soon perceive that the city has been attacked. He will be compelled to come forth to attack us. Gil-galad and Elendil will do all they can to stop him when he issues from his Tower. If fortune is on our side, they will have bested him before we arrive. If not, we will be there to finish him. This is my charge by my king and father. I will fulfill my duty, if I have to ride alone. But most of you are not subjects of Elendil. You are not compelled and must choose. I ask you all, will you ride with me?''

Turgon leaped to his feet. ``My king, if you go to assail Mordor, to the death would I follow you!''

``So say also the men of Pelargir, my lord,'' said Barathor. ``The Enemy tried to destroy our city. We are eager to return the compliment.''

``The men of Angrenost,'' said Thardun, ``will always serve our king, through both duty and love.''

``We too serve our king,'' said Cirdan, ``for Gil-galad has ruled us since the world was changed, and always we have fought against evil. We will do as he bids.''

``The Galadrim,'' said Celeborn, ``also recognize Gil-galad as High King of the Exiles. We will not shirk our duty.''

``My lord Isildur,'' said Súrion, ``the men of Cair Andros will also serve you.''

``And of the Harlond,'' shouted Halgon.

``And Linhir!'' ``And Calembel!'' ``And Emyn Arnen!'' ``And Minas Anor!'' Then all were shouting, calling out their support. Isildur stood smiling at them. Gradually the shouting ceased.

``My friends, my heart is moved by your loyalty and trust. We have a difficult task before us. I have sworn to slay Sauron and throw his Tower into the abyss. But now with your help we will surely have the victory at last and I will fulfill that oath.''

Then a great cheer broke out from many throats: ``Isildur! Isildur! Isildur!'' There were also many shouts of ``Elendil!'' and ``Gil-galad!'' Isildur acknowledged the cheers with a smile, but then he raised his hand for quiet.

``My friends,'' he shouted, ``with such allies, how can we fail? We are armed and ready. We should move as soon as possible.''

``A moment, Isildur,'' said Galadriel, rising, her soft voice cutting through the many voices in the room. ``One more tale needs to be told here today. If these good folk are risking their all to fight with us, they should be aware of all the forces that will enter the field. Do you not agree?''

Isildur's smile faded. He looked at her seriously, then at the watching faces.

``Aye, my lady, it is meet. The time for secrecy is now past. Will you tell the tale, since you know it best?''

She bowed gracefully in acceptance, then turned to the hall. ``My friends,'' she began, ``what I will now relate is known to many of the Elves here but probably to few of the others. The tale begins long ago, but if you will bear with me, I think you will see that it has great import to our enterprise now.

``Long ago as Men reckon the years, in Ost-in-Edhil, the city of the Elves of Eregion which is no more, one of the greatest of all the Noldorin smiths, Celebrimbor son of Curufin, labored at his forge. After many yén, he found a way of forging gold and incorporating into the metal the powers of the great Eldarin arts, those with which we create and maintain the wonderful beauties that surround us in our own realms and which remind us of our home in the immortal lands across the sea. These are arts only partially understood even by those of us who practice them. Most Men call them magic. Celebrimbor discovered the means of distilling the essence of these powers and mixing it with the molten metal. With this process, Celebrimbor forged many rings of power, rings which gave their bearers the power to alter the world around them. With each ring, his skill increased, until he created the greatest of all, the Three Great Rings: Nenya, Narya, and Vilya.

``Using the Three, the Noldor built many fair places in Middle-earth and imparted them with some of the eternal beauty of Valinor. Great works were done and much good was accomplished. Many places fouled by Morgoth in the Elder Days were cleansed and made fair again. But always Celebrimbor sought to make even greater rings to accomplish even more.

``Celebrimbor sought also for other great smiths with whom he could share his knowledge and from whom he could learn and improve his skills. Many master smiths came to his workshops and foundries in Eregion. The dwarves of nearby Khazad-dûm especially sent many to learn from him.

``Then one day a strange figure appeared at Celebrimbor's foundry. He gave his name as Annatar, which means Lord of Gifts, and he was a great smith in his own right. He became Celebrimbor's ablest student and chief assistant, then his colleague, for his skills were nearly equal to the master's. Together they worked in the smithy, day and night, year after year, their skills always increasing. Together they forged other Great Rings designed especially for the use of Men and Dwarves, as the Three were for Elves, and Celebrimbor gave them freely to the kings of those races, that they might use them for the good of their peoples.

``Then one day Annatar could not be found. He had left without a word, and none knew whence he had gone or why. Celebrimbor was much affected, for he felt that Annatar was close to achieving great success, even beyond his own. Then a few months later, Celebrimbor in a dream suddenly perceived his former student surrounded by flame. He was holding up a plain gold ring, his face transformed by triumph into a twisted mask of evil. Annatar held up the ring and spoke a dire spell. Though the language was harsh and horrible, Celebrimbor understood its meaning: `One Ring to rule them all, One Ring to find them, One Ring to bring them all and in the darkness bind them!' Then Celebrimbor knew Annatar's mind and will, and all his treachery was revealed at last.

``Then he knew his former student to be Gorthaur, called also Sauron the Enemy, who had been Morgoth's most powerful servant -- a Maia from the origins of days, but turned entirely to evil. All had thought him lost in the downfall of Thangorodrim when the world was changed. And Celebrimbor knew also in that terrible moment that Sauron had succeeded in his desire to forge a Great Ring of Power. Working in the Sammath Naur, the Chambers of Fire within the volcano Orodruin in Mordor, he had forged a ring not only more powerful than the Three, for it contained much of his own great powers, but it gave him the ability to perceive the minds and doings of those who bore the other rings. Like a fisherman drawing in a net, the One could draw to it those who wielded the other Great Rings.

``Horrified, Celebrimbor immediately sent the Three into hiding and forbade their use. They were sent far away, for he knew that when Sauron learned that his betrayal was known he would attack Eregion to acquire the Three by force. And so it came to pass. Eregion was attacked and Celebrimbor himself fell in its defense. I am sure you all know of the war which followed, in which Eregion was destroyed and all of Eriador overrun, though all of us Exiles fought in its defense. We were hard-pressed even to defend Lindon itself, and we sought the aid of Tar-Minastir, mighty king of the Men of Númenor. He came with thousands of great ships full of warriors and together we swept across Middle-earth, driving the hosts of Sauron before us. Sauron fled into the east and was not seen again for many long yén. In the end he got his revenge upon Númenor by tricking its king Ar-Pharazôn into assailing Valinor, and all the land of Númenor was destroyed, though Sauron himself nearly perished in the deed.

``Now he is risen once more, and still he bears the One Ring, seeking always for the other Great Rings. Of the Seven given to the Dwarves, some were consumed by dragons, but the others have all been drawn at last to Sauron and their owners slain. Of the Nine given to the kings of Men, all are now in his power. The kings who bore them were once bold and mighty warriors, using their rings as they saw fit, some better, some worse. But one by one they were drawn to leave their own lands and ride into Mordor. We can but guess at their motives. Some no doubt sought their fortunes, others power or fame. Some perhaps in their folly even thought to contend with Sauron and bring him down, that like Beren of old they would be sung as heros. But all were brought down by their own vain pride and found only eternal slavery in Sauron's service.They are become undead things, living long past the normal span of years given to men, but they no longer are their own masters, for they are now Sauron's most powerful slaves. They are the Úlairi, that now rule in Minas Ithil.''

There was murmuring in the hall at this.

``My Lady,'' said Barathor. ``If we are to face these Úlairi we must know our enemy. What manner of powers do their rings give them?''

``We do not know the full extent of their powers, Lord Barathor,'' replied Galadriel. ``Even Celebrimbor who made the Nine knew nothing of the incantations with which Sauron must have secretly enchanted them. But the souls of those that bear them have been stretched and drawn until they are bound to bodies that should have long since mouldered into the soil.''

``Do we then fight things of air and ether?'' said Barathor. ``will our weapons even bite upon them?''

``They are living men yet,'' said Isildur, ``though long past the age granted to even the greatest of the Men of Númenor. Your weapons should slay them. But when they launched their surprise attack upon Minas Ithil the guards on the walls were struck by a terrible unreasoning fear. They called it the Shadow of the Nine. Some brave men threw down their weapons and fell on their faces, rather than resist the coming of the Nine. Others stood firm, but told me they trembled in every limb and could barely raise their weapons, such is the fear that goes before them.''

Many more voices were raised in concern. They were ready to assail any army, but how could they hope to fight the undead?

``If their powers be so great,'' said Ingold of Calembel, ``how can we hope to defeat them?''

Galadriel glanced at Isildur, and he nodded. Cirdan and Elrond, on either side of the Lady, rose to their feet. Then all three drew forth the chains around their necks and all could see the jewelled things shining there.

``Behold the Three,'' said Galadriel.

An awed hush fell over the hall, for all knew they were in the presence of power beyond all understanding.

``Long have the Three been hidden,'' said Galadriel, ``and never since their making have they been together in the same land, lest Sauron take them. Now all hiding is at an end, and the Three shall go to war.''

``But is it not dangerous in the extreme to bring them here?'' said Meneldil, the Lord of Osgiliath. ``Will they not draw Sauron here to Osgiliath?''

``It is our belief that Sauron cannot perceive them until we put on the rings and wield their powers,'' said Galadriel. ``Nevertheless, it is as you say dangerous in the extreme. Celebrimbor gave Vilya, the greatest of the Three, to Gil-galad, and it has been in his keeping ever since. But when the king went to war in Mordor, he deemed it unsafe to take Vilya with him and he left it in Lindon. Now at his bidding Elrond has fetched it here.''

``It is the hope of the Lords of the West,'' said Isildur, ``that the Three will give us the strength to defeat the Úlairi at Minas Ithil.''

``But surely,'' said Ingold, ``you are proposing to follow in the footsteps of them that became the Úlairi. Might not our Ringbearers become ensnared as were they? If Sauron's purpose is to draw the Three to himself, surely it is folly to bear them willingly to his doorstep.''

``It is a perilous chance indeed,'' Galadriel replied. ``And we take this desperate step only because all others have failed.''

``We hope to use them only against Minas Ithil,'' said Celeborn. ``We hope the Nine will not have power over the Three, which were never sullied by Sauron's evil. If we succeed there, it is our hope that the Army of the Alliance will destroy Sauron before he can come near the Three.''

``But think not,'' said Galadriel, ``that the Three will make their bearers invincible warriors. They are not weapons and cannot be used to do harm, nor will they protect us from the blows of our enemies. But it is hoped that they will at least dispel the shadow of fear that surrounds the Nine. The Úlairi will be seen as they really are, stripped of all spells and illusion. Then it will be the task of edge and shaft to destroy them, not the Three.''

``But won't Sauron perceive the Three if we use them against the Úlairi?'' asked Meneldil. ``Is that not taking a chance of giving Sauron exactly what he has sought for so long?''

``Yes, it is,'' admitted Isildur. ``And that is the other part of Gil-galad's plan. Only the lure of the Three could draw Sauron out of Barad-dûr. If he knows the Three are close at hand in Mordor, it is hoped he will not be able to resist attempting to take them.''

``Then we -- all of us -- are to be used as bait, to draw all of Sauron's forces against us?''

``Yes,'' said Galadriel quietly. ``That is why we thought you must know of the Three, though we feared to reveal them openly.''

There was another silence. ``And what if Sauron does sally forth and the kings cannot stop him? asked Turgon. ``What if he comes against us? Will the Three avail us against him? If he is a Maia, can he even be slain?''

``In truth,'' said Isildur, ``we do not know. Perhaps the Three together will have the strength to dispel the aura of despair that seems to fall on any who come near him. And we have other weapons of great power. My father's blade Narsil was wrought in the Elder Days by Telchar of Nogrod, greatest of the smiths of the Dwarves, and it has been borne by all our fathers since. Gil-galad's spear, Aeglos Snowpoint, was forged in Eldamar to be the weapon to slay Morgoth himself. Both are now charmed to be Sauron's bane, and no evil things can withstand their coming. These weapons should have the strength to pierce even the unholy flesh of Sauron, if only they can be brought to bear against him.''

``Then you believe the Three can overmaster the Nine?'' asked Barathor.

``It is our hope, but we cannot be certain until we make the attempt. The Nine are but slaves of the One. Their power is by terror, not by great magical strength.''

``Their Shadow is great for all that,'' said Elrond. ``I fought against them at the Black Gate, and I felt the fear myself. In the midst of our charge, our boldest warriors suddenly quailed. Elf and Man wandered in confusion and horses went mad. Seeing our disorder, the Úlairi led their forces out in a powerful sortie against us. But Gil-galad led a column in a swift flanking attack around behind them and burst through the open sally port and so took the Gate. Even in their defeat, the Shadow of the Nine went before them, and we could not prevent their retreat across Udûn and so back to Minas Ithil.

``I fear they have learned the folly of the extended sortie at Dagorlad. Had they remained on the walls they would be there yet. They will not repeat that error at Minas Ithil.''

``No,'' agreed Isildur. ``We must assail the city, break the gate, and destroy the Úlairi, all in one sweeping rush. We cannot hope to besiege them, not while they bear the Nine. There must be no delay, or Sauron will be able to move other forces against us. The stroke must be swift and complete. Half a victory means defeat.''

``Yes,'' said Cirdan. ``We Ringbearers will each lead a column. When we perceive the Shadow we shall place the Three on our hands and contend against it. We hope to dispel it or at least diminish it and force it back. Then you must do the rest.''

``You say you will contend against the Nine,'' said Barathor, ``but how will such a struggle appear to us mortals?''

``The Rings will change us as we wield them,'' said Cirdan. ``We will enter into that Twilight that is not of this world. Elves will perceive us but dimly, as shapes in a mist, and Men not at all. We know not of the Úlairi, but we believe that to them we will suddenly become more clear, for they dwell always in the Twilight. If so, we shall be clearly visible targets to them, and in a world unfamiliar to us but home to them. It will be a most dangerous time.''

``Even so,'' said Galadriel. ``Do not be dismayed at our disappearance, but press forward with all speed, for we may be unable to fight while we are wielding the Rings.''

``And what if you should fall while in that Twilight?'' asked Súrion.

``If we fall you will not see it, save that the protection of the Three will be lost. You must fight on.''

``But what would happen to you?'' he persisted.

``As you may know,'' said Galadriel quietly, ``when an Elf dies or is slain on this side of the sea, he will yet rejoin his friends beyond the Veil at the end of this world. But it is said that an Elf who dies in the Twilight may not pass through the Veil, but will be lost forever.''

``Then you risk more, perhaps, even than we mortals.'' Súrion looked sadly at Galadriel with her golden hair and her face and form of surpassing loveliness. Young and beautiful she seemed, more than any other woman who had ever lived.

``Tell me if you will,'' he said after a pause. ``Is it needful that an Elf-Maiden should bear one of the Three into battle? Among Men, women do not lead armies to war. I would not see you lost to the world.''

Galadriel laughed. ``And how am I to take that, Súrion? You compliment me as a Lady, but slight me as a commander. I am not unused to wearing mail, you know. I led an army of the Elves of Beleriand against Morgoth's fortress of Thangorodrim. I fought in the first war against Sauron and helped to drive him out of Eriador. I am no trembling shield-maiden.''

``My apologies, Lady,'' stammered the young captain of Cair Andros, his face burning. ``I am unused to the ways of the Eldar. You are fair and lovely and look no older than my sister, who has seen but twenty winters.''

Many of the Elves smiled at this. Galadriel laughed and said, ``You are indeed unused to us, Captain. You think me twenty? I am more than forty, and not in years, but yén. Save Gil-galad only, I am the eldest of our kindred in Middle-earth. Twenty years! Why, I had seen twenty centuries before ever I left Eldamar, and the sun has gone round nearly four thousand times since then.''

Súrion stared unbelieving, and Isildur laughed.

``Do you still fear to follow such a young girl into battle, Captain?''

``Nay, Sire,'' he gulped. ``I am honored, my Lady, and I will follow you to victory or to death, though still do I fear for your safety. Such beauty should not perish.''

She smiled at him. ``You are kind, Captain, but be not anxious for me. Think only of victory and it will surely come.''

``Now all tales are told!'' said Isildur, rising to his feet again. ``It is time to act. Do any here doubt the necessity or the wisdom of Gil-galad's plan?'' There were a few shouts of ``No!'' and ``Let us strike quickly!''

``Then we need only plan our attack. Since speed and surprise are our allies, I suggest a direct approach. We will cross the Great Bridge into East Osgiliath and press forward with all possible speed up the main road to Minas Ithil. It will mean crossing ten leagues of occupied territory, in clear view of their spies. Our only hope then is to travel faster than their spies and arrive at Minas Ithil before word can reach the city. As many of you know, it lies well up in a winding mountain valley. With any luck they should have little time to prepare their defence. Then we will have to surmount the walls. They are both strong and high, for I built them myself to withstand even a determined attack from any evil things that might issue out of Mordor.

``But ever since my family was driven out of Minas Ithil I have dreamed of reconquering it. I have given great thought to how it might best be done, and I think I know the way. The city stands on a rocky prominence on the southern side of the valley, and its main gate faces north with a strong tower on either side. The gate is set back between the feet of the towers, so attackers find themselves in a kind of courtyard, at the mercy of archers on the battlements above the gate and in the towers. The gate would be very difficult to take by any force and losses would be terribly high. In the center of the city is the fortress of the Citadel, enclosed within its own wall, with the Tower of the Moon at its heart. We must not let the Ring-Wraiths withdraw into the Citadel or we shall find it hard indeed to dislodge them.

``There are three sally ports let into the outer wall, but these too are well fortified and certain to be strongly guarded. A passage is let into the top of the walls, along which men can move to any point of attack, completely protected from their enemies. That passage is everywhere wide enough that four men may walk abreast, except at one point. The western tower of the gate is built close to the edge of a steep bank above a stream, with hardly room for a man to stand at its foot. It was built thus purposely so it would be difficult to come against it. But because of the nearness of the declivity, I was forced to narrow the passage atop the wall to but a few feet so defenders must pass in single file, though this is not apparent from without. ``Because of the steep slope, this tower appears impregnable on that side. I am hoping that the fewest defenders would be stationed there, especially as the narrow passage prevents many from gathering on that side of the tower. I propose that we make a strong feint to the gate, massing our strength there, but without allowing ourselves to enter the deadly fore court before the gate itself. Hopefully this will draw many defenders to those parts of the walls nearest the gate.

``At the same time, parties of mounted archers could sweep around the city, riding close under the walls on either side. It is difficult to see or attack fast-moving enemies hard against the wall. These parties would then climb the hills behind the town and lay down the heaviest possible fire at defenders on the walls. This should further distract the defenders and discourage them from putting their heads over to look down the wall.

``As the riders pass along the narrow path by the western tower, a small party would dismount. They will then attempt to scale the tower with the aid of grapples shot from crossbows. If they can gain the top and take the passage, it can be easily defended at both ends because of the closeness. With the passage held, a bold and agile man could enter the tower through a small window that overlooks the passage. Within the tower is the mechanism for the gates. They are counterweighted by huge stones that descend within the tower. It takes but a touch to open them.''

``A bold plan indeed, Sire,'' said Ingold. ``But who will scale the walls?''

``Not I, it pains me to say,'' replied Isildur, ``for I shall be looked for on the field of battle. The enemy knows me well, and if I am not seen leading the attack on the gate, they might suspect a feint. And yet it should be someone who knows the walls, and the gate mechanism.''

``I will open the gates,'' said a quiet voice and all turned at the sound. Elendur, Isildur's son, had spoken.

``Elendur, no,'' said Isildur. ``It should be an older, more experienced leader. You are yet too young.''

``Young and active enough to scale a wall,'' replied Elendur. ``I have led the Forithilien lancers these last three years. And I know that tower and the gate mechanisms well, for I played there as a boy. I was born in Minas Ithil. I will be Prince of Ithilien after you. Do not deny me this thing, father, for what is a prince without a land?''

``Ah, you strike deep there, Elendur. You know my own pain. What say you others here? Shall we trust our lives and fortunes to this lad?''

``Aye,'' said Meneldil. ``Elendur is right. He knows the city better than any of us.''

``Aye,'' said many voices. ``Give him his chance. He is no child.''

``So be it then, Elendur,'' said Isildur, though all could see he was not pleased at the decision. ``Choose you a bold party, no more than a dozen, with knowledge of Minas Ithil.''

``I will take my own housecarls that rode with me from Gorgoroth. We grew up together, and many's the day we defended the west tower against imaginary enemies of the king. We have fought together since the war started, and know one another's ways.''

``Very well. Prepare yourselves well. Draw what you need from the armory. And may tomorrow night find you again within the city of your birth.''

``Tomorrow?'' exclaimed several of the lords. ``Can we march so soon?''

``We must,'' replied Isildur. ``We hoped to have the surprise of them, but it may be that Malithôr is already there. If he tells them a great army is gathering here, they will guess where the blow is likely to fall. Thus our only hope is in speed. They will expect us to fight a long and bloody battle at the bridge, then move carefully through East Osgiliath and Ithilien, rooting out the orcs from every building and copse, before we attack them in Minas Ithil. But I say that a few scattered and dispirited orcs can cause little trouble if we take Minas Ithil. Let us not bother with them, but strike directly for their nest.

``My plan is to mount as many of our warriors as possible. We have six thousand mounted knights now. If we scour the city and all the nearby villages, we may find four thousand horses still capable of running. They need not be war chargers, nor the riders skilled in fighting from horseback. As soon as the bridge is taken, we should drive immediately for Minas Ithil. We can have ten thousand men-at-arms before their gates before the Úlairi know the bridge is assailed. It is but thirty miles. If the infantry keeps up a steady march, they will be but a few hours behind the cavalry.''

``But Sire,''said Meneldil. ``The defenses at the bridge are strong. It may take us long to overtop them. If it takes but three hours, a messenger will have arrived at Minas Ithil and our advantage will be lost.''

``That is so. But I propose to send a party across the River by boat tonight and land them near the southern walls of the city where there are many docks and empty commercial buildings. If they can move stealthily through the city and reach the bridge by daylight, they will be behind the defenders when we attack. Caught between our forces, the orcs will be helpless.''

``This is a sound plan, Isildur,'' said Elrond. ``If it can be carried out without discovery, it will be a brilliant stroke. You have planned well.''

``I have had twelve years with little else on my mind,'' said Isildur with a grim smile. ``We will not fail now.''

``Sire,'' said Turgon of Ethir Lefnui. ``A boon, if you will. Let me lead this boat party. I have spent most of my life on a river in all manner of small boats. And I have a great debt to repay.''

``Very well, Turgon. I estimate fifty men will be enough. Choose your men carefully, for in an enterprise of this sort each man's life will depend on the other's.''

Amroth rose to his feet. ``I too beg leave to go with Turgon. I too know small boats well. And an Elf can move silently where a Man cannot. I would take some bold Lothlórien Elves with me. Deer-stalkers, used to moving stealthily at night.''

``What say you, Turgon?'' said Isildur. ``Would you have Amroth accompany you?''

``It would be an honor, Sire. I welcome you, Lord Amroth.''

``Are we all agreed then?'' asked Celeborn. ``We attack tomorrow, and as Isildur has proposed?''

``Aye!'' shouted many voices. ``We have suffered their insults and their raids long enough. Let us take the war to their gates for a change.''

``It is well,'' said Isildur. ``Long have I waited for this day. Thardun, Ingold, go with your men and round up as many horses and saddles as you can find in Osgiliath. Meneldil, send to all the outlying villages and have every beast capable of trotting brought to the fields near the gates. Halgon, we will need six or eight boats near the southern walls by sundown, the smallest and lightest you can find. Barathor, I hope your yeomen can ride as well as plow with their horses.''

``They can learn,'' laughed Barathor.

``Good. And what of the Galadrim? Most of your host is on foot. Are they familiar with horses?''

``We rode horses before Men came to the West,'' said Gildor. ``The horses are our friends.''

``So?'' said Isildur. ``We shall see. Let us waste no more time in talking. There is much to be done. Tomorrow we go to war!''

Chapter Nine
Minas Ithil

When the last glimmers of the sun had faded behind Mount Mindolluin and Midsummer's Day had ended, a tense group gathered in a warehouse in the southernmost part of the city. Meneldil the Steward was there, and Bortil, the merchant who owned the building. Before them stood a group of Elves and Men dressed in cloaks of black and grey. Their hoods were thrown back, for the warehouse was still warm from the long summer day. Around the walls, before massive wooden racks holding large amphorae of wine, lay a dozen small round boats, stacked like bowls. They were light and crude, made of ox hide stretched over a frame of willow. In the center of the floor was a dark opening leading to a flight of dank and mossy stone steps. Water could be heard lapping gently below. The warehouse extended right out over the River for ease in loading and unloading the boats that came up the River from the vineyards of Emyn Arnen.

``These coracles,'' said Bortil, ``were once used as lighters for offloading the wine before I had the dock built below the warehouse. They are small and not built for speed, but each will hold two men and a half-dozen amphorae. I daresay six men could ride in each if they stay low.''

``They will serve well,'' said Amroth. ``In the old days we used craft not unlike them on the Nimrodel Stream at Lothlórien. Two will row, the rest will keep out of sight and lie still.''

``But are these stairs safe, Bortil?'' asked Turgon. ``They would seem to be an entrance into your city. Is it wise to leave them unguarded?''

``The water gate is closed by a portcullis at the outer end, Lord Turgon. In happier times it kept pilferers from sampling my vintages, but it serves to keep out orcs as well. I will raise it when you are ready.''

``We are ready now,'' said Turgon. ``My men thirst not for your wine, but for orc blood beneath their blades.''

``We shall have enough of that, I fear,'' said Amroth. He saw the lust for revenge in the eyes of Turgon and his men of Ethir Lefnui. ``But let no one make a rash move. Our mission tonight is not to slay orcs, but to elude them. We must be in position at the bridge when the sun again shows her face. Galdor, note the hour. Is the light full gone?''

Galdor, one of Lady Galadriel's boat steerers, peered out a dusty window. ``Aye, Lord Amroth. The sun is down. The moon, waxing gibbous, is already high. The night awaits us.''

``It would be better to wait until the moon has set,'' said Amroth, ``but I fear we cannot wait so long. We have a great deal of ground to cover before dawn. Let us begin. Turgon, you go first. Strike across the River and seek a secluded place to land. As quiet as ever you can, but be ready. We know not if the orcs keep sentries watching the River this far below the bridge. If you are attacked, raise a shout to warn the rest of us, then return at once. We can't hope to force a landing in these flimsy craft.''

The first boat was carried down the steps and set in the muddy water moving sluggishly past. Many hands steadied the coracle as one by one Turgon and five of his men climbed in. Two paddles were handed down.

``Keep your hoods over your faces and your weapons down,'' said Turgon. ``Let no metal show, for it might catch the moonlight. And for Eru's sake don't put your spear through the bottom of the boat.''

``Do not let the paddles strike the side of the boat,'' said Bortil. ``They resound like drums.''

The men wrapped their weapons in spare cloaks and stowed them carefully, then lay or crouched in the bottom of the boat. The two paddlers nodded. Bortil and some of the Elves put their shoulders to a large windlass and raised the portcullis dripping from the River. Blobs of black mud fell back into the water with soft wet splats.

``Go in good fortune,'' whispered Bortil, and the paddlers gave a few strong strokes. The bulky little boat bumped against the dock once, then wheeled ponderously out into the current and drifted downstream, out of sight. They all listened for shouts or the twang of bow strings, but there was only the soft lapping of the water on the stones. It was hard to believe that in spite of the silence, the great battle had already begun.

``Quickly now, quickly,'' Amroth whispered. One by one six other boats were filled and launched. Then he climbed into the last. It was very cramped in the bottom of the boat, and the round bottom meant they were constantly standing on each other's feet. Amroth crouched down with the others. Bortil and his apprentice shoved them away from the stone dock. Then they emerged from the tunnel. The night was bright and clear, too much so for Amroth's liking. The moon was only four days short of the full and stood nearly straight up. Away from the moon's glare, stars glimmered in the darkness. Amroth raised his head enough to peer ahead and saw the other boats like small round shadows on the water. They lay in a long curve as the current swept them downstream.

The Elves at the paddles began a steady stroke, struggling to keep the boat headed for the eastern shore. At first their attempts at steering only caused the coracle to spin, but they soon learned the trick of coordinating their strokes. The current was only moderate, but the coracles were so slow and unwieldy that they could see the towers of the city's southern walls approaching before they drew in under the shadow of the buildings lining the far shore. Now they were in easy bowshot of any guards on the east bank, but still no sound but the River met their straining ears.

Turgon and the other boats drew together in an eddy behind an outthrust stone pier. Amroth's boat paddled hard to reach it before they were swept past. At last they drew into the calmer water. No word was spoken. Turgon pointed silently toward a black inlet between two overhanging buildings, and without a word they all made for it. The current was nearly still here, and they slipped noiselessly into the shadows, breathing sighs of relief.

The larger building, apparently another warehouse, was built partially out over the water, and they pulled themselves among the concealing pilings. The smell of mud and rotting fish was intense in the close space.

``All here?'' whispered Amroth.

``Aye. Eight boats. Let's go.''

One of the Elves found an old wooden ladder on one of the pilings and scrambled up onto a rickety wooden walkway that went around the building. It took some time to unload each boat, for they had to maneuver the boat to the ladder, hand up the weapons and packs, clamber out, then work the boat out of the way and secure it before the next could be moved in. But in less than half an hour they were gathered at the end of a narrow alley, their cloaks wrapped about them, their weapons clutched in their hands.

``Carefully, carefully,'' whispered Amroth. ``Stay close to the walls and watch the windows and doorways. Above all, we must see them before they see us. If we are spotted, try to bring them down before they can give the alarm. If they don't see us, let them go. We'll get our chance to fight soon enough.'' He was still worried about Turgon's men, though they moved with discipline and order.

``We need to keep moving north,'' Turgon said. ``That's where the Bridge is.''

``And the orcs,'' someone replied grimly.

For nearly an hour, they moved noiselessly from shadow to shadow. There was no sign of life. All the buildings were dark and silent. Apparently this whole part of the city was deserted. They estimated they must be nearing the eastern end of the Great Bridge. Then, as they approached yet another cross street, they could hear the sound of marching feet and melted silently into doorways and arches. Amroth crept forward and peered cautiously around the crumbling corner of an old brick building.

A company of perhaps twenty orcs was approaching. They were squat and bent, but very powerful, with large chests and short bowed muscular legs and long arms that reached nearly to the ground. They were of many different breeds and lands, and their faces showed it. Some were thin vulture-like things with heavy curved beaks. Others were hairy beasts with muzzles like baboons. Some wore rough leather boots, others trotted barefoot on wide three-toed feet. They wore armor of black unburnished iron and bore swords with long jagged blades. They were trotting along at a good pace, but without any sign of caution. Clearly they did not know the raiders were there. Amroth ducked into a dark doorway.

The orcs turned the corner into their street and the raiders tightened their grips on their weapons. But the orcs turned into a building across the way. Their heavy feet clattered down a flight of stairs. Then they were gone. A moment later Turgon ran up.

``I would guess that is the Bridge garrison's day watch returning to their barracks,'' he whispered. ``Orcs prefer to sleep below ground if possible. If they have just come off watch, they are likely to sleep until near dawn.''

``Shall we go on to the Bridge or try to take them?'' asked one of the men.

``No. The night watch has just come on duty and will be fresh. A sound now will bring them all running. We will give them an hour to become drowsy and careless. But we can check on the exits from those barracks. If we can keep them in there instead of having to fight them, so much the better.''

A half-dozen Elves moved silently forward and examined the barracks on all sides.There were four small windows at ground level, but they were too low for even an orc to wriggle through. There was a second door at the rear of the building, though it looked as if it had not been opened in a long time. Some of Turgon's men found some wooden beams in a vacant lot down the block and wedged them carefully against the door. Leaving two men there and six more at the front door, the rest moved around the corner and down the next street. It was sloping gently to the River.

A small square opened before them, dominated on the far side by two round stone towers. Between them lay the gate of the Bridge, blocked by a wooden barricade bristling on the far side with spears. Four or five orcs lolled by the barricade, speaking in low harsh voices. A window in the northern tower showed a flickering red glow. As they peered from the shadows, they were startled by a resounding crash of broken glass, followed by shriek of pain and a roar of coarse laughter. Obviously most of the watch had retired to the tower for a bottle or two, leaving only a handful at the barrier.

Amroth signalled for the others to withdraw with him into a small courtyard opening off the square. ``They are but few,'' whispered one of the Elves. ``We could take them easily.''

``So it would seem,'' Amroth replied, ``but let us not be duped.''

``Aye,'' said Turgon. ``These buildings around the square could be full of orcs. If so, one sound would raise the alarm and the square would turn into a trap.''

``Yes. We must know how many are around the square. If we separate into small groups and move cautiously, we should be able to search all the buildings that actually front on the square. See if you can determine where the orcs are. Above all, we must avoid making any contact before dawn, for there are sure to be hundreds of orcs nearby. We could not hope to fight them all. If you must strike, be swift and silent. After you have searched your building, station yourselves at likely vantage points above the square where you can do some good when Isildur arrives at dawn. Let us go.''

They moved down a narrow alley that ran behind the buildings that fronted on the square. At each door three or four entered and began a silent search. Turgon and two Elves slipped into one large house and moved noiselessly down a long dark hallway. It had clearly once been a noble mansion with a marble floor and wood panelling, though all was now chipped and filthy. Approaching a closed door, they could hear loud snoring coming from behind it. Flitting quietly past, they found the rest of the floor empty, as was the level above. Then as they ascended the stairs to the third floor they froze in their tracks, for low speech could be heard above. Not daring to go up without knowing how many might be there, they secreted themselves in a small room near the stairs to await the dawn.

Galdor and Amroth with two other Elves tried the door of a large stately building with a domed roof and a tower overlooking the square. The door was locked, but they found a window they could open and soon they were all standing in a dark room. With bows drawn and arrows nocked, they carefully opened an inner door. Beyond was a large and elegant room, perhaps a ballroom, beneath the dome. On the far side, an arched doorway led to winding steps that must go up into the tower. They padded silently across the polished floor.

Suddenly a door flew open, light flooded into the hall, and an orc entered carrying a large sack. For an instant he stared, his mouth open and eyes wide, then he dropped the sack and raced back the way he had come. He had not taken three steps when two arrows pierced his back and his body slid to a stop in the doorway. The others waited, but there was no sound but their pounding hearts.

They dragged his body behind a column and closed the door that led into a kitchen. Examining his sack, they found two hard crusts of bread, two browning apples, and a clay flask full of a harsh red wine that smelled of vinegar.

``A good sign,'' whispered Galdor, his lips nearly touching Amroth's ear. ``No doubt provisions for guards in the tower. If there be but two, we may be able to take them quietly.'' Amroth nodded. Taking up the sack, they crept up the winding stairs, turn after turn until they lost all sense of direction. At the top they came to a heavy wooden door. They pushed gently, but it was latched or barred from the other side.

Galdor grinned. He stamped heavily on the floor, then dropped the sack beside the door. The flask broke with a clatter. There was commotion on the other side of the door. Then a hoarse voice croaked.

``Gordrog, you clumsy bag of pus! If you've fallen and spilled our wine I'll have your eyes out for it. Gordrog? Do you hear me, you maggot?'' Suddenly the door was yanked open and a very angry orc stormed out, still cursing. Amroth's sword flashed down and the orc's head bounded away down the stairs, the eyes wide and surprised, the lips still twisting in anger. His body fell heavily at their feet and they leaped over it into the chamber, weapons at the ready. But the room was empty. Gordrog must have been bringing food for the two of them.

It was a round room with shuttered windows on each side. A wooden table stood in the center, littered with filth and lit by a guttering candle. Various pieces of arms and armor lay scattered about the walls. Beside one window stood a large basket of arrows and crossbow bolts. A massive crossbow leaned against the wall. They snuffed the candle, then opened the shutter and peered cautiously out.

They were high above the square, looking down on all the neighboring buildings. Directly below was the barricade at the Bridge. They settled down to wait. An hour or so later, a dozen orcs came out of the building opposite and joined the others at the barricade. Angry words broke out, mixed with a string of curses. A scuffle broke out between two of them. The leader, a huge brownish orc with a long hooked beak, clubbed one with the haft of his spear to restore order. The stricken orc dropped senseless to the pavement. His comrades ignored him. They took up positions, lounging against the barricade. Four or five squatted in a corner and took to rolling dice, now and again breaking out into arguments.

Some time later, Galdor caught Amroth's sleeve and pointed to a rooftop across from them. Several dark shadows flitted swiftly across a patch of moonlight, but whether friend or foe they could not tell. The moon set soon after, throwing the city into blackness. They raiders withdrew into themselves, waiting silently for dawn, though their eyes were turned toward the dark shapes of the buildings and walls to the west across Anduin.


Isildur sat astride his grey charger Fleetfoot and patted his long muscular neck. The spirited animal was skittish, for he could smell the excitement and nervous tension in the many men and horses crowded around him. They were moving slowly and as silently as possible down a dark and narrow street, the horses' hooves muffled with rags. They turned corner after corner, always descending to the riverfront. When they at last reached the large square that had formerly been the bustling marketplace of the waterfront, they found it packed with armored riders. Isildur led his own housecarls, the men who had ridden with him from Gorgoroth, through the press. Ohtar rode at his knee, as he had at so many battles before. At last they came out of the crowd and there before them was the wide avenue leading east to the Great Bridge. It was empty and silent, for they had forbidden anyone to approach beyond the square.

The Elf-lords were already there: Celeborn and Gildor and Elrond and the Lady Galadriel, their grey cloaks drawn about them against the pre-dawn chill. They greeted one another with nods, no more. Isildur drew up beside the Lady and they looked down the long straight avenue to the dark loom of the gates, the gates that marked the western end of the Bridge.

``The false dawn came and went a few moments ago,'' said Galadriel, a mist escaping from her hood as she spoke. ``It will be true dawn soon.''

``Aye,'' said Isildur, looking to the eastern mountains. ``There is a hint of grey above the Ephel Dúath. Soon, away in the east, the sun will strike the summit of Orodruin. Elendil and Gil-galad will be there to see it, their thoughts bent on us here, wondering how we fare. And we will ride to them though all the hosts of Mordor stand between us.''

``And those hosts wait but on the other side of yonder gate,'' said Galadriel.

Isildur nodded. ``Arannon, the Gate of the King, it is called. Once it was but an arch, through which on festival days processions would march between the two parts of the city, with girls scattering blossoms before them. Heralds would stand atop the arch and sound fanfares on their long brazen trumpets. The sun would shine down on the crowds and you would swear that no two wore the same color.

``But then the war came and the entire eastern sector of the city was wrested from us. Only by fierce and bloody battle did we hold the Bridge. A strong wall was hastily thrown up and the arch became a gate. Never did they take it, though they tried it again and again. Occasionally we would throw open the gate and sortie out against them. After many assaults, they learned to respect and fear that gate, for, open or closed, it meant only death for them.

``They tried to cross at other points, but we had thrown down all the lesser bridges and our hails of arrows emptied their boats before they could cross. It is almost two years now since last they assailed us in force.That gate has been our shield all these years, and now we propose to throw it open and reach beyond it.''

``A shield which cannot be moved is of little use in a battle, Isildur,'' said Galadriel. ``We Ringbearers are Gondor's shield now, and you its sword. Neither shield nor sword can remain behind walls when the horns of war are calling. Perhaps soon those doors can be pulled down and it will become an arch of triumph for you!''

Isildur smiled. ``You speak fair words of hope, Lady. Spring they from Elvish visions of what will be, or are they but a woman's words of comfort to a warrior?''

``If there be a difference I know it not. For do we not all have visions of what the future may hold? And words of comfort may strengthen our cause as much as deeds of arms, and bring these visions to pass. My visions are not of what will be, but of what can be. Sauron too has his dream of what can be. It is our part to determine which vision shall prevail.''

Isildur lowered his voice so that only she could hear. ``Lady, if you can see somewhat of the future, tell me this: Can Sauron be defeated? Or do we ride to certain death, as I sometimes fear in this darkest hour of the night?''

A look of surprise crossed Galadriel's lovely face framed in its cowl. ``Of course it is possible to defeat him. My vision sees many possible futures, and in some he is indeed thrown down. But I am not shown how that can be accomplished. Is your view of the future so short that you cannot see even the possibility of victory?''

``My Lady, we Men share not your Elvish senses. The future is wholly dark to us.''

``And do you then suspect our task is hopeless?''

``I would never say it before any of my people, Lady, but when I think of his hideous might and power, his ruthless cruelty; truly, my heart misgives me.''

``You Atani never cease to surprise me,'' she said. ``We Quendi know, perhaps better than you, the terrible danger into which we ride and the desperate chance we take by doing so. But always we know that victory is possible; that the future good is never completely closed to us. But you Men, knowing nothing of all that, gird yourselves in nothing but baseless hope and ride into the glimmerless dark. Your path is never lighted, save behind you, where all futures have collapsed into one immutable past. We ride side by side against the same foes, and yet who shall say who has the greater courage?''

Isildur had no answer, but only raised his eyes to the dark brooding peaks of Mordor, now silhouetted against a glowing rose sky. What lay there now, waiting for them? He wondered what Elvish eyes saw in those distant crags.

He was called from his revery by the hurried arrival of Elendur.

``All is ready, father,'' he panted. ``The streets are filled with mounted men for many blocks to the north and west and south. All await your word.''

``Have you chosen your companions well?''

``Aye. Most are companions of my youth in Minas Ithil. A few are Osgiliath men I fought beside when the enemy attacked us here at the Arannon. And one is a bold shepherd fellow from Calembel, a giant of a man. He speaks little, but he came to me when he heard of our purpose and volunteered for our party. He would not be denied.''

Isildur laughed. ``I know the man, I believe. He threatened not to let my column pass until he had cleared us with Ingold. He is as strong as an ox and seems to know not fear. I am glad he is with you.''

He looked over his shoulder at Mindolluin looming behind the city. Already the sun was gilding its highest peaks. ``When the sun sends her rays upon the Tower of the Stone we shall ride,'' he said. ``Just before we reach the Arannon, have the gate wardens throw open the doors. May we never have need to close them again.

``We will make no attempt to capture the eastern sectors of the city. Their strongest defenses will be gathered at the east end of the Bridge. If we can break through there, we shall ride straight through the city and on up the road to Minas Ithil. As the infantry follows, they should spread across the city and sweep it clean of orcs. The militia of Osgiliath will retake the walls of the city and hold them against our return.''

The army stood silent, watching the growing dawn. The light crept down Mindolluin's slopes. No sound could be heard but the warbling of birds awakening in the eaves of the buildings.

``Since we have heard no sounds of battle,'' said Elendur, ``we can hope that Amroth and his raiding party have not yet been discovered. I pray they have succeeded and are now somewhere over there, waiting for us.''

Elrond rode over to them. ``Lo,'' he said. ``The sun strikes Minas Anor.'' They looked, and there, thrust up against a purple fold of Mindolluin's vast bulk, the Tower of the Sun gleamed like a white flame in the sun.

``May the sun shine as brightly upon Minas Ithil,'' said Celeborn. ``For orcs like not the light. It hurts their eyes and makes them fearful. And it will hearten the men against the Shadow.''

They waited a few moments more, the suspense and anticipation growing unbearable. At last a golden beam of sun broke through a pass high in the Ephel Dúath and struck the white banner fluttering bravely from the top of the Tower of Stone.

``The sun shines upon Gondor,'' said Isildur. ``It is time at last.'' He looked once at Minas Anor and the fair towers of Osgiliath, at the thousands of eager faces watching him. Then, with neither word nor sign, he wheeled Fleetfoot around and spurred him forward. For a moment he was the only moving object in the entire city. He galloped down the center of the empty street, the horse's hooves clattering loudly on the paving stones. Then Ohtar and Elendur and the royal guards of their house sprang forward and thundered behind him, followed by the Elf-lords and Barathor and the other great knights of the land. Ohtar pulled the bindings from the standard he bore and Isildur's banner broke free and rippled in the speed of his passage. Beside him Elrond and Gildor did the same, and all marvelled to see the Star of Gil-galad, the White Tree of Gondor, and the Golden Tree of Lothlórien riding together into the East.

Behind them, the square rapidly emptied as the river of mounted knights rushed away. Then street after street, alley after alley, poured its thousands of riders into the flood, swelling it to a great river, and it seemed that the column would never come to an end. The thunder of hooves was drowned in a roar of many voices shouting in hoarse and wild joy.

Isildur bore down on the gates of the Arannon, oblivious to the growing roar behind him. As the gates swung open he could see high before him the lofty mountains of his Ithilien. Then he was pounding across the Great Bridge, the empty houses and shops flashing past on either side. There before him was a wooden barricade and a dozen astonished orcs staring wide-eyed. Above the noise he could hear the raucous calling of a brass trumpet ahead, suddenly cut short, and orcs started pouring out of the buildings just beyond the barricade. He did not slacken his pace.

``For Gondor!'' he shouted, sweeping out his sword. The host at his back took up the cry. ``For Gondor! Gondor and the West!''


When the first shouts rang out, Galdor and Amroth leaped to the window. Orcs were streaming out of the guard tower, but they suddenly stopped, gaping in awe across the Bridge. Glancing there, the Elves saw that the massive gates were swinging slowly open. Through them rode a single rider dressed all in white with a great cape streaming behind him, his sword sweeping in shining circles above his head.

``Isildur comes,'' cried Amroth. A second later a phalanx of fierce horsemen, bellowing like madmen, burst from the gate, followed by the lords and standards of many lands, all riding as hard as they could straight for the barricade. Behind them came a thundering column of armored knights, row upon row.

The orcs dashed to the barricade. One raised a horn to his lips and started a blast of warning, but Galdor quickly sent a shaft through his body before he could draw a second breath. From the neighboring houses came a deadly rain of arrows that felled all but a few of the orcs at the barricade. The others fell back and ran shouting up the street, away from the River. Most were cut down by archers from the windows and rooftops.

Looking back to the Bridge, Galdor saw a second group of figures dash out of a house and run to the barricade. He drew his bow again, but then saw that these were not orcs but Men. Turning instead to shoot an orc trying to climb into the window of a house across the street, he turned back to see the men struggling to move the barricade. In moments they were joined by a half dozen Elves, and together they swung the heavy wooden structure back and to the side. Tipping it over the parapet, they cheered as it crashed into the River below with an immense splash.

They spun around just in time to see Isildur go pounding past, his speed unchecked. He looked neither to left nor right, but crossed the square and disappeared up the main road, still all alone. Then the square was suddenly filled with thousands of armed men and Elves, cheering wildly. Galdor and his companions ran down to join them, but Amroth remained in the tower.

Turgon's party were waiting beside the stairs when the trumpet sounded. Soon orcs, still stupid with sleep and fumbling with their harness, came pouring down the stairs. The men fell on them with merciless fury and many were slain, but it was some moments before the orcs realized the house was taken and they continued to run into the slaughter at the bottom of the stairs. When they heard the shouting and the pounding of hooves outside, they became wild with fear and threw themselves again at the grim-faced men. One man fell when an orc crept up on him from the floor below, but he was avenged before he struck the floor. At last the terrible work was done and all the orcs lay slain, their blood spreading across the marble tiles.

Leading his men to the street, Turgon found that although the square and main street thundered to the passage of the host of Gondor, the side streets were now teeming with terrified orcs. The raiders chased them from their holes and drove them yammering down the streets. Advancing a few blocks fairly quickly, they soon came against stronger resistance. After a short but fierce battle against a strong band of determined orcs in a large intersection, they could hear the sounds of another battle just around the corner.

Rushing on, they rounded the corner and found four of the men they had left guarding the barracks hard pressed by a much larger number of orcs that surrounded them. All about them lay the bodies of men and orcs. As Turgon's men ran forward, one of the four was cut down by a savage swipe of a jagged sword.

Howling with anger, they fell on the orcs with a cold fury, but two more men lay dead before the battle was won. They stood panting and looking at the carnage around them. One of the defenders wiped the blood from his eyes and looked at Turgon.

``Our thanks, my lord,'' he gasped. ``Six of us kept forty of the foe trapped in that cellar until Isildur's van passed by. Finally they burst through the door. We slew many, but at last they killed one of ours and broke out. Those you slew were the last.''

``Our thanks to you, yeomen,'' said Turgon. ``Your valor has spared the lives of many of our comrades. But our work is far from done. Let us move from house to house, clearing each of the vermin that infest it, until no living orc remains within the city. By nightfall this evening Osgiliath will be one city again.''

Just then the sounds of renewed battle reached them from the direction of the square. Hurrying there, they found that a large company of orcs from the northern part of the city had driven into the square from the north, endeavoring to cut off the infantry, now pouring across the bridge, from the cavalry, now racing out of the city.

A great battle filled the square, along with clouds of dust and the commotion of shouts of anger, cries of pain, and the clashing of metal on metal. These orcs were larger, better trained, and better armed. They wore steel armor over their thick scaly hides. They drove the men back by their sheer ferocity, slashing this way and that with their heavy crooked swords. Their leader, a huge greenish orc with a flat snakelike head, thrust viciously at his adversaries and then leaped atop their corpses to better wield his bloody trident. Howling in triumph, he thrust again and again at the press of men around him, taking a life with nearly every stroke. Several times arrows struck him, but always they bounced off his heavy armor. He raised his head and roared, striking terror in all who heard him.

Suddenly his roar changed to a scream of pain and outrage, and he stared down in horror at the feathers of a crossbow bolt protruding from his chest. Then a dozen hands grasped him and pulled him down among the flashing blades. Looking up, Galdor saw Amroth at the high tower window, smiling grimly and already rewinding the orcish crossbow. Again and again it twanged, dealing swift death to the orcs. Finally, leaderless, frightened, and confused, they broke and fled wailing down the street, closely pursued by the men of Gondor.

Gradually the tumult died away and the fighting moved away into other parts of the city. Amroth rested then and looked away to the east. Far away, a long dark line was climbing steadily toward the pine-clad Mountains of Shadow.


Isildur held Fleetfoot to a steady canter now, letting him rest from the long furious run. The road was smooth, wide, and straight, and the cavalry had formed up behind him in orderly ranks. Beside him rode Cirdan, Celeborn, and Galadriel, and in the rank just behind were Ohtar, Gildor, and Elrond with the banners. They had surprised several bands of orcs on the road but they had fled in terror at the first sight of the grim-faced warriors. The sun rose high before them.

The road approached a ring of huge pine trees where it crossed the road running up from Harad to the Morannon. As expected, the Crossroads was defended by a large garrison of orcs. They were already forming up in a wide band across the road. Charging upon them at full speed, the van quickly broke through their line, then wheeled to surround them. There followed a short but fierce skirmish, but the orcs were greatly outnumbered and were soon overwhelmed. The column formed up again and moved on.

As they rode through the line of trees and into the Crossroads, the Elves saw there a large statue of Isildur, seated on a throne and staring sternly off into the west toward Osgiliath. The statue had been set up as a warning and notice to all who passed that this was the fief of Isildur. The king was back in his homeland again. He did not glance aside at his likeness, but rode on with his eyes fixed on the heights above.

Once past the Crossroads there were no more orcs to be seen and the host rode on unhindered through a sparse forest of pines and firs. Ohtar now rode at Isildur's side. He sniffed the air appreciatively.

``It smells like home, Sire,'' he said. ``This part of the land always reminded me of the Emyn Arnen. I'm glad to see it unchanged.'' Isildur nodded.

``I used to hunt in these woods, years ago,'' he said. ``I remember one trip, with Anárion and father, we hunted a large and noble stag right into that grove at the Crossroads. We camped there. It was early on, and Osgiliath was still under construction. After the hunt we three stood there and looked down on the city -- it was all one-story buildings and dirt roads in those days. It was a good moment, seeing our works going up like that.

``Father looked across at the White Mountains in the distance and said `There should be fortresses in those mountains and these, to guard our new capital. A tower over yonder on that great blue peak could view the whole valley of the Anduin from the Nindalf halfway to Pelargir. Another on this side could defend all these fair lands from north, south, or east.'

``Anárion spoke up at once. `I would live on that mountain, Father,' he said. `I climbed it once and it is the fairest prospect in all the land.'

```For my part,' said I, `these tree-shaded slopes are more to my liking. They are better watered and I am fond of the music of a mountain stream. Let Anárion have the blue mountain. I would build my fortress here.'

``Elendil laughed, saying, `Are you dividing up my kingdom already? We have worked hard to unite the many tribes of these valleys. Would you now make two kingdoms of Gondor?'

```Nay, Father,' said Anárion with a smile. `But would not your two fortresses be best ruled by your two sons? Let us guide the building of them and you shall decide which is the most beautiful and strong. And you will always know that friendly eyes are watching over Osgiliath from above.'

```Osgiliath is scarcely walled and already you talk of building new fortresses. But the symmetry pleases me. Let is be thus.' He looked to both sites, then smiled. `And look, the very orbs of the heavens do ordain it. There, where the sun begins to blush on the high snowfields of the White Mountains, let Minas Anor, the Tower of the Setting Sun, rise under Anárion's hand. And up there, where now the moon climbs over the high passes of the Mountains of Shadow, I would have you, Isildur, build Minas Ithil, the Tower of the Rising Moon. So will your names, given so long ago in Númenor, be fulfilled and Gondor will be the more secure.'

``And so it was done, though I chose the next valley to the south for my city, for there is both a clear stream there and also an ancient path that crossed the mountains into Mordor. We widened the trail and built a smooth road over the pass.'' His nostalgic smile faded. ``Little did I think when I built that road that it would one day carry enemies to our door and sorrow to our land. But soon we will drive them back up that road and out of Gondor forever.''

Now they were approaching Minas Ithil and still there was no sign of an alarm. Isildur reined in and waited for the Elf-lords and the other captains to join him.

``In another few hundred yards this wood will end,'' he said. ``When we come out of the trees we will come to a bridge over the stream and behold the city above us. I would have us in full gallop before we are seen from the walls. But that means we won't know what forces we will find there. If the foe is fore-warned, they may be arrayed before the city. Everyone must be prepared for immediate battle. Let the riders form up in close order with a lancer on the ends of each rank. If we are hard-pressed, each division will form a ring with the lancers on the outside. My men of Ithilien shall be in the first division, for they know the land.

``After we cross the bridge, the road winds across the valley and up the southern slopes to the city. The gate is in the northern wall. Just before we reach the gate we will divide our force. Let the Galadrim take the left flank and try to encircle the city to the east. Barathor, take your people to the right around the western and southern wall. If all goes well you will meet where the land rises quickly and you can ply your bows to best advantage over the wall. I will assail the gates with all the other companies. I would have the Ring-bearers with me, for I intend to challenge the Nine with my sword and I shall have need of your powers.''

``What if the divisions become separated?'' asked Barathor. ``Should we not have a place appointed to gather?''

``Aye,'' said Isildur. ``If we are separated, we will meet at the foot of the Tower of the Moon in the center of the Citadel.''

Barathor opened his mouth to point out that they would have to take both the city and the Citadel before they could meet at the tower, but one look at Isildur's determined eye caused him to close his mouth again.

``Try to keep moving toward the gate whatever happens,'' Isildur went on. ``Remember our primary purpose is to make them concentrate their defenses there. Elendur and his men will ride with the men of Pelargir, then drop off as they pass under the southern gate tower. Elendur, is your party ready?''

``Aye, father,'' answered Elendur. He had coils of rope over his shoulder and grappling hooks at his saddle horn, concealed under a blanket. His companions looked on grimly, their faces calm and set.

``Then let us arrange our formations,'' said Isildur. The captains rode back to their companies and passed on the king's orders. Swords were loosened in their scabbards, bows and quivers checked. In a few moments all were in readiness. Isildur raised his arm, then dropped it, and the companies spurred their mounts forward as one.

The sound of their hooves grew from a clatter to a drumming to a thunder as ten thousand horses surged forward and broke into a gallop. Then the van broke out of the trees and there across the valley stood the City of the Moon.

White it was, gleaming in the afternoon sun, a striking contrast to the dark rock of the mountains it guarded. It stood on a sharp rise jutting out from the southern shoulder of the valley. From its center rose a tall slim tower like an ivory needle, glowing coolly in the hot sun as if brimming with moonlight. At its feet stood a massive castle of many gables and battlements, the Citadel of Isildur. The road wound down from the city's gate, back and forth as it descended from the heights until it came to the single-arched bridge. Sirlos, the Snowstream, was that flood called, for it had its birth in the ice and snow of the pine woods at the summit of the mountains. Looking up to his left, Isildur was sickened to see that all those woods were gone, the slopes marked only by stumps. The lower valley too had changed. It was a tangle of bramble and thorns, with here and there a fire-blackened chimney or a wild rose or lilac to show that it had once been the site of farmhouses and homely cottages. The men of the Ithil Vale looked about grimly as they rode and tightened their grips on their spears and lances, determined to avenge these wrongs.

The road to the bridge was lined on either side by low stone walls, beyond which lay fair meadows dotted with white flowers. Now the van was thundering between those walls, now across the stone bridge, now pounding up the slope toward the city. Still there was no challenge.

Isildur rode at the head of the host, his eyes searching his city. Only now, when they were nearing the top of the slope and were but a few hundred yards from the gate, did he see any sign of alarm. Then he could see dark figures racing along the top of the wall. The gates were closed, but a small sally-port in one door stood open. Just outside, a company of men and orcs lounged idly, but as the horsemen crested the hill the guards saw their death approaching and they hurried through the door, pushing each other out of the way until arrows began to fall amongst them. The door slammed shut just as horns could be heard blaring frantically in the city.

Isildur's heralds sounded their own horns in reply and the host roared like a breaking sea. As they approached the gates, the van split into three columns. The Elves, led by Gildor, swept off to the left, their horses' hooves suddenly muffled as they left the road and pounded off across the springing turf. Isildur led the main force against the gate, signalling them to spread wide and halt just out of bowshot from the gate towers. The third column, led by Barathor, veered to the right and rode into the very shadow of the walls. The orc archers on the walls could not fire down on them without leaning out precariously, and then they were exposed to the deadly hail of arrows sent aloft by Isildur's bowmen.

The flanks swept around the city, those on the right compelled to ride single file due to the sudden drop of the land but a few feet from the foot of the wall. Along this perilous path Barathor sped in reckless haste, eager to reach the wider slopes behind the city. Within minutes, the path widened and started to climb. Then he was spurring his horse up the steep slopes, away from the walls. He reached a level meadow less than a hundred yards from the walls, but already above them. He signalled to his herald to sound the order to dismount and began ordering his formation of archers. Already the arrows were falling thick amongst them. One whistled past his ear as he dismounted.

Looking back to the city, he saw Gildor suddenly appear around a curve of the wall, riding hard toward him. Several horses in the Elvish column were now without riders, as were no few of his own. But he knew that some of those horses now running in confusion and terror in the midst of the battle had belonged to Elendur's party. He prayed they had reached the wall safely without being seen.

In fact, Elendur and his comrades were now standing not far away around the curve of the wall, their backs pressed hard against the cool white marble. They had waited anxiously as their friends had galloped away out of sight. After the long ride up from the River and the heart-pounding excitement of the cavalry charge, they now stood silent and motionless, listening, waiting for missiles to rain down on them at any moment. Their archers stood with bows drawn and aimed straight up the wall, ready to shoot if a head were to peer over the parapet. Off to their right they could hear the tumult of a great battle at the gate, thousands of voices shouting and cheering and cursing at the same time.

Without stepping away from the wall, they bent to their tasks. Elendur took from his shoulder a coil of slim greyish rope, as soft and supple as silk. Made by the Elves and no thicker than a man's smallest finger, it could yet bear the weight of a large man in armor. Beside him, Orth, the giant herdsman of Calembel, unslung from his back a stout and murderous-looking crossbow. Setting its nose on the ground between his feet, he began to crank back the string. Another man secured the line to a light four-barbed grappling hook. Then the bow was passed from hand to hand to Elendur, who seated the haft of the grapple securely into its track. The coil of line was flaked out ready to run free. Elendur raised the stock of the bow to his shoulder. Still no man had moved more than a foot from the wall.

Suddenly Elendur stepped away from the wall, turned, and fired. With a loud clatter, the grapple sailed up and disappeared over the wall. Instantly two men tailed onto the line and began pulling it back as quickly as they could. It caught, slipped, caught again. They gave it a hard jerk to set the hook. Elendur put his hand to the rope, but Orth stayed him.

``Wait here,'' he said. He spoke with such assurance that Elendur, unused to taking orders from anyone, paused and looked at him in surprise. In that moment the man took the line from his hands and scrambled up it with surprising speed, his heavy oaken spear swinging from his belt.

``If the line holds him,'' chuckled one of the men, ``it should bear the rest of us easily enough.''

``Aye,'' said Elendur, ``and I wager we could all ride up on his back without hindering him overmuch.''

They saw him reach the battlement, peer cautiously over, then scramble through a crenel and disappear. A moment later his head reappeared and he beckoned the others to follow.

Elendur slung the crossbow on his back and started up. He found to his surprise that the Elvish rope, though soft and of an even lay, yet gave good purchase to his hands and he went up easily. When he was but halfway up however, he heard a muffled cry from above. He looked up just in time to see a dark shape hurtling toward him. Before he could react, the figure flashed past and struck the ground with a sickening wet thud. He froze, his heart pounding, spinning perhaps thirty feet off the ground, expecting at each moment to feel the line go slack in his hands and himself falling to certain death. He looked up, and there was Orth's big hairy face looking down at him.

``Orc,'' he explained. ``Come.''

Elendur hauled himself to the top, then found he couldn't fit through the crenel with the crossbow across his back. He started trying to pull the bow around with one hand while he hung by the other, but Orth simply grasped his shoulders and lifted him into the passage set into the wall. Still trembling, he rewound his bow and drew his sword, just as Orth hauled the third man, his old friend Belamon, over the parapet. Their eyes met.

``Full oft have I walked these walls,'' said Elendur, ``but never before did they seem so lofty. Belamon, take up your position beyond Orth, lest we be attacked from that side. I will do the same here.'' Belamon nodded and fitted an arrow to his bow. Elendur watched him squeeze past the herdsman, then turned to see three large orcs rushing at him, one with a scimitar raised to strike.

Elendur parried the blow with his blade, but the force of it knocked him back against the outer parapet. The orc thrust straight for his chest, his big yellow eyes gleaming with murderous malevolence. Elendur rolled to the left and heard the scimitar ring against stone. The orc grunted with the shock and turned toward his opponent, but he met only steel as Elendur's blade flashed down and hewed through his massive shoulder and deep into his chest.

Wrenching free his blade, Elendur turned to find the other two orcs engaged with Orth. He leaped forward to assist, but Orth swung his heavy spear like a bat, crushing the side of one orc's head. The other staggered back in awe, only to meet his end on Elendur's blade. Elendur spun around, but there were no more orcs in sight. By this time two more raiders had joined them. They gradually spread out along the narrow wall, until all twelve were there. They peered cautiously over the inner wall.

The city was in a turmoil of activity. Companies of orcs raced here and there through the streets, bearing bundles of arrows and short bows. Wagons creaked down the narrow lanes, pulled by teams of shouting, cursing orcs while whips cracked around them. Most seemed to be hurrying north toward the gates. Above and beyond the eastern walls, they could see the orderly blocks of the archers of Lothlórien and of Pelargir, sending a continuous rain of arrows into that part of the city. No orcs could be seen on the walls on that side.

Then Elendur looked toward the large plaza stretching between the gates to the foot of the Tower of the Moon. There, not a hundred yards away, a large body of orcs was swarming around a row of massive catapults, bringing them a constant supply of rocks, balks of wood, even paving stones prised from the street. Striding among the squat orcs were two tall figures in gleaming ebony armor, directing the operation, laying about them with whips. Mailed and caped they were, with high helmets topped with golden crowns. A fear lay about them, for the orcs crouched and cowered at their approach.

``I like not the look of those tall ones by the catapults,'' said Belamon, coming up beside Elendur. ``They seem unlike orcs, and yet somehow fouler still.''

``Verily,'' aid Elendur. ``It is so. For there walk the fell Úlairi, foulest of all of Sauron's creatures.''

``Those are the dreaded Úlairi?'' said Belamon in wonder. ``Then let me put arrows through them both while they are yet unaware.''

He stood and drew his bow string to his ear. But even as he sighted on the Ringwraith's chest, it must have sensed danger, for it suddenly stiffened and looked up toward the parapets. Elendur clutched Belamon's cloak and pulled him roughly down behind a merlon.

``Down, fool,'' hissed Elendur, ``lest you bring the whole city down on us. Do not forget that they have seven brothers within these walls.

``But...,'' stammered Belamon, ``is it not meet that they should die for all the evil they have wrought?''

``Aye, more than meet, and their deaths are long overdue, for they have lived beyond the span of years allotted to them by nature. But not such as we shall bring them down. Leave that to the Elves and the lords of magic, who now wait without the gate while we tarry here. If we fulfill our trust and open the gate, even though we perish in the deed, the Úlairi will see their death ride in through that gate. Now, to the tower.''

Crouching low to avoid eyes in the windows, they sped toward the western gate tower. Suddenly a loud cry rang out from high above, calling a warning in a harsh tongue. Elendur as he ran glanced up at the many windows in the tower, but he could see no one. A man running just in front of him suddenly screamed and straightened up, clawing at an arrow in his back. He fell and Elendur leaped over him. Now there were orcs at several of the windows and arrows were flashing down amongst the raiders. A second man fell, then a third. Some of the men ducked into crenels in the battlement, seeking shelter from the fire from the tower.

``On, on,'' cried Elendur. ``We cannot allow ourselves to be pinned down out here in the open or we are doomed. Make for the tower as you love life.'' At that moment a shaft glanced off his helmet with a deafening clang. He stumbled and fell, striking the wall and spinning to the pavement, stunned. He struggled to his hands and knees and tried to rise, but his head was spinning and the world seemed to have gone dark. Arrows clattered on the stones around him as he bent there.

Then someone grabbed him and dragged him roughly to his feet. Confused, he allowed himself to be hurried forward, nearly carried. Still dazed, he stumbled over a body and nearly went down again, but the other man held him up. Looking down, he saw Belamon's face white and staring beneath him. Then there was the tower before them. The tunnel pierced the tower and they all crowded inside, gasping and trying to catch their breath. Elendur stood doubled over, and gradually his vision cleared. When he stood up, he saw the giant herdsman beside him.

``My thanks to you, Orth of Calembel,'' he said. ``You saved my life.''

They looked around. Only seven of the original twelve remained, one with an ugly slash down his arm where an arrow had ripped it. The others lay sprawled out in the sun, black arrows protruding from their bodies.

Orth tried a heavy oak door that gave into the tower from within the tunnel. ``Locked and barred,'' he said. ``How do we get in?''

``We have to get through one of the windows,'' said Elendur. ``We must use the grappling hooks again.''

``How? There are orcs at every window by now,'' said another man.

``Our only choice is to rush out with bows drawn and fire as quickly as we can at the windows. As the orcs duck back, I will fire the crossbow through the lowest window. It is a desperate chance, but I see no alternative. It is only a matter of time until reinforcements arrive and we are driven from the wall.''

``Then let's do it now,'' said the man. They readied the second grappling hook and fit it to the crossbow. Each fitted an arrow to his bow and had two more arrows ready in his hand. Elendur glanced around and saw each man ready.

``Now!'' he cried, dashing out into the bright sun. They rushed out together, wheeled, and fired. The orcs, taken by surprise, pulled back howling. One slumped across the windowsill. Elendur raised the heavy crossbow and took aim at the lowest window. Just as his finger tightened on the trigger, an orc suddenly appeared, his broad body filling the opening, a throwing knife in his upraised hand. Without hesitating, Elendur pulled the trigger and the grappling hook arced into the window, striking the orc's chest. He screamed and fell back out of sight, the knife clattering to their feet.

Orth gave the line a heave. It gave a few feet, then caught. ``It holds,'' he called, ``though I believe you have speared the fish.''

``Dare we climb with such a hold?'' asked one of the Men.

``We must!'' shouted another. ``Look there!''

A line of orcs came running along the wall from the direction they had come. Each held before him a short pike.

``Quickly!'' shouted Elendur. ``We must climb. Hold them off as long as you can.'' And he swarmed up the line hand over hand. The others began shooting into the advancing orcs. Their arrows were swift and deadly. The orcs were in the narrow part of the wall and could only advance one at a time. As each came within range, he was shot down and the next had to clamber over his body. But each that fell was a little closer to the tower.

Elendur reached the window and tumbled over the sill. He fell sprawling across the dead orc, the body pinned beneath the overhanging window sill by the hook protruding from its chest. The room was otherwise empty. He jumped across to the open doorway and closed and barred the door, lest he be attacked from the rear. He raced back to the window just as a second man clambered through it and tumbled to the floor. Unslinging his bow from his back, Elendur stepped to the window and began sending a deadly fire down into the close-packed orcs. Firing as quickly as he could, he took care to send each shaft straight to its mark. Only moments before he and his men had been trapped down there while orcs fired down upon them; now the situation was reversed. A third man climbed into the room, blood streaming from a cut on his cheek. They hauled him roughly over the sill and resumed the feverish fire.

``Here's one for Belamon, you murdering fiends,'' Elendur growled, sending an arrow through the body of the orc chieftain, who toppled from the wall and disappeared with a shriek. The remaining orcs hesitated, but then came on again, leaping over their fallen comrades. Two men were on the rope now, leaving only Orth and one other to hold off the orcs. The window was too narrow to allow more than one man at a time to shoot, but they alternated, keeping up a steady fire at the foremost orcs. But still they came on. Orth pushed the last man to the rope, then strode forth out into their midst swinging his heavy staff like an immense club. The orcs fell back before his onslaught, though one managed to land a lance-thrust in Orth's side before he went down. Two more men reached the window safely. Looking out, Elendur did not dare shoot while Orth was among them, but orcs in the other tower windows fired into the midst of the combat, heedless of the comrades they slew.

The great oak staff swept like a scythe, reaping a terrible harvest of shattered bones and crushed skulls. Back and forth the strange combat flowed, the man taking wound after wound but fighting on, smiting down one foe after another as they pressed forward in the narrow passage. Then a black arrow flashed down from one of the high windows, striking Orth full in his broad back. He roared in pain and rage and fell to his knee, dropping his spear. Seeing their chance at last, three orcs leaped up on the battlements and jumped precariously from merlon to merlon, bearing down on the injured warrior. Elendur brought down one, and Orth swept a second over the side with a backhanded swipe of his huge arm, but the third brought down his scimitar in gory triumph. Even as he crowed in victory, two arrows pierced him and he fell across his victim. With a shout, the remaining orcs climbed over them both and raced to the foot of the tower. They were too late. The last man fell breathlessly through the window and the orcs howled in frustration as the rope flew up the wall and disappeared.

``Elendur!'' called one of the men at the door. ``They are outside. They are trying to beat down the door!'' Heavy crashes could be heard from without.

``Let every man gather by the door with bow drawn. When I give the signal, raise the bar.'' They did as he commanded, standing in a tight semicircle around the door, every bow drawn to the full. Elendur drew his sword and nodded, and one of the men flung the bar from its brackets. The door burst open and three orcs tumbled to the floor with oaths of surprise, instantly cut short. Elendur leaped through the door and quickly cut down two more trying to flee. Leaving two men to hold off any pursuit from the upper levels of the tower, he led the other three down the narrow winding stairs.

The stairs ended in a large vaulted room, the gatekeeper's hall. Two orcs looked up in surprise and ran forward with scimitars raised, but the men of Gondor met them and would not be denied. It was over in seconds.

Elendur led them to an array of huge wooden gears and wheels along one wall of the room. A massive iron chain ran from the wheels and disappeared through a hole in the floor. Snatching up one of several long wooden poles in racks on the wall, Elendur thrust it at a huge pawl holding back the wheel and threw it back. With a heavy groan and rumble, the wheel began to turn slowly. The chain clanked down the hole, gathering momentum with each link. Then there came a deafening thud and the wheel thundered to a stop. The gate was open.

A roar of sound, the shouting of thousands of men, came in the the tall slit windows in the front of the tower and quickly grew to a single mighty cry: ``Gondor!'' they cried, ``To victory!'' Then the sounds of battle, the ringing of metal on metal, came nearer and passed under their feet, drowning out all other sound. The companions grinned weakly at each other. They had done it!

But there was no time to celebrate. They barred all the doors, then went back up the stairs and joined their companions. Room by room, floor by floor, they systematically went through the tower, slaying every foe they found. At last they reached the roof and found it empty. Rushing to the parapet, they looked out over the city as they had when first they topped the wall and found it much changed.

The great gate below them now yawned wide and through it the hosts of the Southlands continued to pour. Everywhere was combat and carnage. On every street corner, in every doorway, it seemed, Men and Elves and orcs were locked in deadly combat, much of it hand to hand. In the huge court behind the gate the catapults had been overrun by Frar's company of dwarves and the fighting was fierce and merciless there. The orcs began to fall back under the onslaught. Swords and axes and lances rose and fell in the press and groans and screams mingled with the war cries on both sides.

Then a new sound rose above all else: a high shrill keening of fear, of men struck dumb with despair. Elendur looked to the east side of the square, from whence the cry came, and lo, the throng melted back like wax from a flame, parted by an unseen hand. There stood three tall dark figures, each wearing a black cowled cloak over ebony armor and holding a long straight sword. Then they advanced as one, walking slowly forward, directly into the front ranks of the close-pressed army of Gondor. They held their swords in both hands and swung them back and forth with an unhurried sweep, hewing friend and foe alike. None raised a hand against them.

It was a terrible sight. Now and again an especially courageous man stood forth against them, only to falter and stop, standing quivering before them like a child before a wolf, his weapons fallen forgotten to the ground as the swords swept toward him. Most threw themselves on the ground and lay sobbing piteously. But death came to all in the path of those three. Further away, where the terror was less strong, men and orcs alike turned and began clawing desperately at the throng around them, trying to escape the doom that approached. Everywhere in the court below was madness and horror. Everywhere, except near the catapults, where bright armor gleamed and colorful banners rippled in the air.


Isildur's face was grim and set as he wielded his sword, but his heart was singing within him. He had thought his heart would burst with joy when he saw the great gates suddenly swing wide. He knew also that it meant that Elendur probably yet lived, and the ache of fear was instantly lifted from his heart. Raising his sword above his head, he'd shouted for the charge, but none could hear him in the tumult. Nevertheless, the army had surged forward as one as the gates swung back, heedless of the darts and missiles raining down from the wall. They had swarmed through the gate, down the long dark passage beyond, the walls echoing with their shouts, and out into the bright sun of the square. He longed to take the time to look about, to see what they'd done to his city, but there was no time. A fierce flame of revenge was burning in his heart. Calling to those close enough to hear him, he'd ridden directly against the catapults that had sent such a deadly rain into their midst. Beside him were Frár and his bold dwarvish warriors.

The fighting at the catapults was fierce and perilous, for these were seasoned, experienced orc soldiers and they were determined to hold their ground at any cost. One by one, however, they began to go down under the relentless attacks. There came a time when it was obvious to all combatants on both sides that the orcs were losing the fight. But they would not give up. Their fighting took on the reckless, fearless fury of those who know they have nothing to lose. Still it was only a matter of time.

Then an unearthly shriek rose above the tumult, and Isildur's fire of battle turned to the ice of fear and despair. The orc before him turned at the sound and cowered to his knees. The roar of battle slowly subsided as the fighters one by one felt the despair close around their hearts, weakening their wills. What was the sense in fighting, when victory was impossible and even death in battle was but vanity and mockery? All around him, warriors sank to their knees or fell on their faces. Isildur, struggling against the clutching terror, looked over their heads and met the icy eyes of the Úlairi fixed on his, their swords rhythmically rising and falling as they advanced toward him. His heart shrank at the sight, but he fought off the despair. Tearing his eyes away, he saw the Elf-Lords nearby.

``My Lords,'' he called, ``there, to the east. They come!'' Celeborn followed his gaze. ``I see but three,'' he said. ``Where are the others?''

``There, my husband,'' called Galadriel, pointing south, ``nigh to the gate of the Citadel.''

They wheeled about and saw six more of the fearsome creatures advancing steadily through the throng, unhindered by the despairing warriors grovelling before them. They moved with a grim determination, their visored heads turned only to the Elven-Lords, slaying only to clear a path.

``The time is come at last,'' said Galadriel. ``The time for concealment is past. Now must we unveil the Three and trust to their might.'' She unfastened the chain at her neck and took from it Nenya, the Ring of Adamant. Cirdan brought forth Narya, the Ring of Fire. Elrond alone hesitated. He bore Vilya only for his master Gil-galad, and had always hoped he would not be called upon to wield it himself. But he could not refuse. He drew it from its chain and held it on his trembling palm. The sun flashed from the gold and the brilliant sapphire stone.

Isildur found his courage waning even as he stood watching. He felt a sudden wave of fear and doubt. How could these bright baubles stop the terrible Ring-Wraiths? Was it not the height of folly to even attempt it? Perhaps the Elves were wrong to put their faith in them. What did any of them know of their power, if they had any at all? They were made so long ago, and had lain unused for so long. These Elves were fools to think they could still be potent against such overwhelming might. And he was a greater fool to have followed them into this trap. Now there was no escape for any of them.

He looked past the three Elves, and there were the three leading Úlairi coming toward him. Tall they were, taller even than Isildur, for they were of high-born blood, kings and wizards and magicians of ancient days. Their eyes glowed red within their cowls and bored into him, revealing every fear and doubt within him. As he looked, they seemed to grow taller and taller, with great shrouds of darkness wrapped about them like huge wings. He was dimly aware of his men moaning and writhing on the ground all around him. His heart was pounding against his ribs. A clear vision came to him, more vivid than daylight. He saw his body sprawled in the dust in a pool of blood, cloven nearly in half.

So this is where I die, he thought. All my life I have travelled a path through the world and never knew that it ended here, in this court, on this day, beneath the blades of the Úlairi. He felt an overwhelming desire to just sink to the ground, to await the inevitable death in peace.

But a voice crying far away broke into his black thoughts: a fair woman's voice, like the sound of water over cool stones on a moonlit night, crying his name. He fought against the voice, for it was drawing him back from the peace of death, back to the world of pain and suffering and struggle. Nevertheless, he turned dully toward the sound. Galadriel stood before him, her golden hair flying wild around her face. She looked anxiously into his face, searching his eyes.

``Isildur!'' she cried again. ``Despair not, my Lord. It is but their aura that you sense. Do not give in to it! Behold now the power of the Three!''

As she spoke a red light flared from her hand, as bright as the setting sun, though she herself seemed to fade and waver. He realized he could see through her to the walls beyond. Then she was gone. Cirdan too faded in a white flash. Turning, Isildur saw Elrond place Vilya on his finger, and he disappeared in a ball of blue light. The entire court was filled with a radiance of iridescent colors that shimmered and boiled around the point where the Elf-Lords had stood. Suddenly the terror that gripped him drained away and he saw clearly once more.

He looked to the Ring-Wraiths. Their relentless advance slowed and stopped. They drew together and stood motionless, heedless of the blood and carnage all around them. Then the tallest slowly raised his arm, pointing straight toward Isildur and the light that pulsed around him. The sun glinted on something bright on the Ring-Wraith's hand. The others followed suit, until all nine of the Rings of Men were arrayed against the Three. The air became charged with a wavering, flickering glow of many changing colors. Isildur stood still, feeling the currents of power flowing around and through him as mighty forces beyond his ability to understand did invisible battle in the air. He felt his soul being pushed and pulled by invisible winds.

But the fear was gone. Everywhere Men and Elves were struggling slowly to their feet, shaking their heads, looking about in confusion. Still the ethereal battle continued, with no one striking a visible blow. Isildur could feel the air around him crackling with tension.

His heart leaped with hope. They had been stopped; perhaps they could even be beaten. But the Elf-Lords could only withstand them so long. They were risking their immortal souls to hold back the terror, but it was now up to him to meet the foe blade to blade. He must strike now. His sword felt like a bar of lead, but he raised it before him. He made to cheer his men on to attack, but only a hoarse croak escaped his throat. Forcing his feet to move, he began slogging forward, directly at the Lord of the Ring-Wraiths. He felt as if he were in neck-deep water, trying to run in his heavy armor. Step by step, he shuffled forward.

No one moved, either to aid him or to hinder him. He felt as if there was nothing in the world except himself and the burning eyes of the Ring-Wraiths. The glowing coals followed his slow and painful approach. One by one, their outstretched arms swung to point at his chest, and he felt the pressure against him increase. Still he pressed on, step after step. Unaware now of the thousands of watchers on all sides, he struggled on in a world of his own. He felt the despair pulling at him again, but he closed his mind to all thought except the placing of one foot in front of the other. His body ached with the strain; sweat poured down his face and chest.

Darkness closed around him, and he could see only nine glowing points of light before him, each a different shade of amber or gold. He kept his gaze fixed on the brightest, a pure yellow, glowing like the sun. It swam and danced before his dazzled vision, but at last he drew near it. Shaking his head to fling the sweat from his eyes, he drew himself up. He could dimly make out the tall cowled shape behind the glowing sun.

``Now,'' he gasped. ``Look on me and taste despair yourself, thing of night, for I am Isildur Elendil's son of Númenor, and I have come to slay thee.''

The figure threw back its cowl and those nearby cried out in horror, for no head supported the golden crown and the glowing eyes beneath. Isildur drew back in amazement. A deep hollow voice rang out as if out of some bottomless pit.

``Then you have come in vain, Elendil's spawn, for it was long ago foretold that I shall never be slain by Man nor Elf. You have come here seeking my death, Númenórean, but you have found your own!'' Even as he spat out the last words, the black sword whipped up and scythed down toward Isildur's neck. But Isildur swept up his own blade and turned the stroke aside in a clash of sparks. The Úlairi grunted in surprise as his sword drove into the ground. Long had it been since he had needed to strike twice at any foe.

With a roar of rage he swept his blade up, just as Isildur brought his sword down with every ounce of his strength. With a bone-jarring impact, the blades met and the black blade broke asunder, ringing to the dust. The Ring-Wraith fell back as Isildur raised his sword for the death blow, but another black figure leaped to the aid of his king and closed with Isildur.

Isildur in his turn fell back, but then around him he saw other Men and Elves coming forward to the attack. A fierce struggle broke out, and the Úlairi, deprived of their shadow of fear, were soon hard-pressed by many foes. Unable to wield their rings and forced to depend on their blades, the last vestiges of the terror dissipated. More and more Men rushed forward, eager to avenge the terror and shame brought upon them. The orcs that remained rose up to fight as well, and the battle resumed.

A roar of noise from the far side of the city, and a few moments later Barathor's banners could be seen advancing into the square from the east. The Pelargrim had broken through the sally-port on that side and breached the wall. More men were still pouring in through the main gates, and Gildor's archers were now atop the wall, sending a deadly fire down into the enemy ranks. The orcs, surrounded on all sides, began milling in confusion, easy prey to the hungry blades of Gondor.

But even without their eldritch powers the Ring-Wraiths were bold and cunning swordsmen and many a brave warrior fell before the tide of battle truly turned against them. Then, as if at some signal, they gave back on either side, forming a wedge around their king, and slowly backed away toward the Citadel.

Isildur saw their design and moved to forestall it. ``The Citadel!'' he bellowed above the din. ``They are making for the Citadel! They must not reach it or all is lost!''

Driven by desperation, he threw off his fatigue and fell to his sword work with a new fury. But the Ring-Wraiths maintained their formation and withdrew through the mass of shrieking terrified orcs. Isildur fought to pursue them, but always there were more foes pressing before him. The Úlairi continued to draw away, always closer to the safety of the Citadel.

Then the banner of Pelargir could be seen moving swiftly through the press behind the Ring-Wraiths. Barathor and his knights, still mounted, were forcing their way to the entrance of the Citadel, attempting to cut off their retreat. Seeing their danger, the Úlairi turned and raced to meet the new threat, leaving Isildur and his people far behind to cut through the leaderless and dispirited orcs.

The two groups met at the foot of the broad entrance steps. The Lord of the Wraiths sent up a shrill inhuman call like the cry of some fell bird of prey, the more terrible because it issued from no visible throat. They threw themselves in fury on the bold cavalry of Pelargir. The horses, trained as they were to battle, would not stand against these undead things and reared and screamed in terror. Some knights were unseated and quickly trampled in the shouting, shoving press of men and orcs and horses. Others dismounted and fought as well as they could in the throng. None could swing a blade for fear of striking his neighbor.

The Úlairi cared not and hacked their way through the press, slaying man and horse and orc alike, drawing ever nearer the doors of the Citadel. Isildur saw one knight, one of the few still mounted, spur his fear-maddened steed directly at the advancing Ring-Wraiths. He whirled his blood-stained mace at the unseen head of the King of the the Úlairi, but the stroke went wide and in an instant the knight was run through and fell.

The black king shouldered the knight's horse from his path and saw before him Barathor of Pelargir on the very steps of the Citadel, and with him only his young standard-bearer. The boy paused not a second, but lowered his flagstaff and, wielding it like a spear, drove straight at the crowned specter. The golden sea gull surmounting the staff struck the mailed chest and snapped off, driving him back, but he was not felled. The lad turned and shouted to his master. ``My Lord,'' he cried, ``enter into the Citadel and bar the doors. Let Isildur deal with this carrion!'' And then he died, struck down by two of the Ring-Wraiths at the same instant.

Barathor looked on in horror, then unreasoning rage gripped him and he pressed forward into the midst of his foes, laying about with his sword. Once only his good steel sank into undead flesh and a high shriek pierced the roar of battle. But then Barathor too was pulled down and the black blades rose and fell.

Some of the knights of Pelargir had heard the herald's last words, and they dashed up the stairs toward the open doors of the Citadel, shouting in triumph. But black arrows whistled out of the darkness within, and they fell tumbling down the marble steps. The Ring-Wraiths leaped over their bodies and raced through the door, one clutching at his dangling arm. With a loud rumble and crash of steel, a massive portcullis dropped from the darkness above the door. A flurry of arrows rattled through the grillwork from both sides, then the heavy doors slammed shut with a dull thud.

Isildur's voice could be heard rising above all other sounds. ``They have escaped!'' he cried. ``Lost! All is lost!''

Chapter Ten
The Barad-dûr

Elendil the Tall, High King of the Realms in Exile, paced restlessly over dun hills of ash and slag, his feet stirring up clouds of fine grey dust that filled the nostrils and caked the lips. Fetid vapors of some great corruption drifted across the poisoned desert and swirled about him in hot gusts. Instinctively he drew a fold of his cape up over his nose against the dust and fumes, but he had long since ceased to notice them. For seven long years he had lived in this place of death and decay, so long that the memory of gentle breezes and running water and green growing things was like a lost scent from a beautiful dream, but dimly recalled.

Elendil stalked on with head bowed, deep in thought, until a shadow fell across him, chilling the unclean air. He shivered then, stopped, and looked up. There, looming above him, blocking out the wan and sickly disk of the sun, stood a monstrous mountain of somber stone rising from a black chasm, as if the earth had vomited it up in some unimaginably violent paroxysm. And yet it was not a mountain but a made thing, built up over many centuries by the toil of hundreds of thousands of slaves. Walls and battlements and many steep-gabled roofs rose tier after tier into the dizzying misty heights. And above them all a blackened tower like an uncouth finger pointed toward the pallid and cheerless sky. Over all lay a darkness, even in the pale morning light, a shrouding of detail so that the immense whole confused the mind with its complexity. The eye could not follow its lines, but became lost among its countless angles and overhangs and impenetrable shadows. Such was the Barad-dûr, the Dark Tower. And somewhere within that impenetrable mass of stone brooded the evil that was Sauron.

Elendil gazed silently at the monstrous structure as he had so many times during the seven weary years the Army of the Alliance had laid siege to it. That vast army lay deployed as it had for the last few years, in a huge semi-circle a short distance back from the precipitous edge of the chasm, from which the foundations of the Barad-dûr sprang smooth and unbroken for hundreds of feet. Three roads converged on the western rim of the chasm. One led northwest toward the Morannon, the Black Gate of Mordor, long since broken and cast down. The second wound south and east across the slag heaps stretching away to the murky horizon, leading eventually to the bitter inland Sea of Nûrn. The third, paved with slabs of hewn stone, ran arrow-straight into the west, past the great volcano of Orodruin a few leagues away, and on to Minas Ithil in the Mountains of Shadow. This road leaped across the chasm to the tower on a massive iron bridge without rail or parapet, ending at the Gate of Adamant, through which nothing passed, save with Sauron's leave.

Many Men and Elves had died trying to cross that bridge and breach the gates, but none had ever succeeded. Now it stood silent and empty, for to set foot upon it was to invite a rain of huge rocks from the battlements above. Elendil thought bitterly of his younger son Anárion, who had fallen on the Iron Bridge, struck by a great stone as he stooped to help a wounded comrade. Then, as usual, his thoughts flew to his elder son Isildur, who had been constantly in his mind these long months since he had set out on his mission.

Elendil had feared much for him, well knowing how dangerous were the roads he must tread. He had been overjoyed to hear from him at last, when they had spoken through the palantíri three days ago. But Isildur's news was not good. It seemed that all their careful plans were coming unravelled, thwarted at every point by the will of the Enemy. They had thought to drive his forces out of Minas Ithil and reclaim all the kingdom of Gondor. But now Pelargir was under siege, and Osgiliath would be next. Their kingdom was under attack and he was not there to defend it. While his people fought and died, he languished out here on the burning plain of Gorgoroth, idle, useless.

Midyear's Day was now two days past, and if all their plans had gone well, Isildur should have attacked Minas Ithil the prior afternoon. Elendil stared off to the west, burning to know what was happening there. Would Isildur's daring dash across Ithilien succeed? What if they were delayed? What if the Ring-wraiths knew of the attack and had had time to prepare? They could have secretly built up their force in East Osgiliath. Then when the Arannon was thrown open for Isildur's attack, the orcs would have poured into Osgiliath instead. Could anything stand against the combined force of the Nine? He had encountered them himself at the battle of the Morannon, and he well remembered the shadow of fear and despair that had enveloped him, shutting out all light, all hope. He shuddered to think of the Úlairi striding into the Dome of Stars, sweeping all before them. And what then of the Three? Angry with himself for the doubts gnawing at his resolve, he turned abruptly and walked back to the camp. He made his way among the tents to a large pavilion set up on the highest mound of slag, commanding a view of the area.

Entering, he found a figure tall even for an Elf, bent over a map on a table. He was dressed in mail of mithril like the other officers, but his cloak was royal purple. His hair was the color of old ivory, once fair and golden, now streaked with silver. His face, save for his delicate Elvish features, could have been that of a Man in his late prime, an experienced warrior-king; perhaps sixty winters had cut their tracks in it. But Elendil knew full well that he had been Fëanor's lieutenant in the Sailing of the Noldor to Middle-earth over four thousand years ago. In his grey eyes dwelt the imperturbable wisdom that comes only of many centuries of the contemplative Elvish life. There shone also the light of pride and command, the confident strength of one long used to leadership and responsibility. Elendil was two hundred and twenty-seven years old, and had founded two mighty kingdoms, but he still felt like a child in the presence of Gil-galad, King of the Noldor.

Elendil stepped up the the table. The map, much yellowed and worn, was of Mordor. Gil-galad was peering closely at the depiction of Minas Ithil, and Elendil knew his thoughts too were on the events now occurring in the Ephel Dúath.

``Has aught been heard?'' he asked. Gil-galad looked at Elendil's pale face, read the concern there.

``No, my friend, nothing yet. But we could hardly expect to hear so soon.''

``Perhaps if we sent a small party to the mountains, on our swiftest horses. They might need our help.''

Gil-galad shook his head. ``No. They come to help us. Their task is perilous indeed, but ours is of the first importance. We must do all in our power to keep Sauron here until they have taken Minas Ithil and ridden to us here. We shall need every Man and Elf here with us. Now above all, we must marshall our greatest strength, for the end is drawing nigh. If Sauron has as we suspect some means of seeing that which occurs far away, he will soon know of the attack on Minas Ithil, if he does not already. And he will be filled with rage. Then the long stalemate will be broken and he will come forth to do battle. We have never fought against Sauron in open battle, army to army. The prospect is daunting in the extreme. I will not weaken our circle by sending more of our people against another foe.''

Elendil bowed. ``I know, but still my heart misgives me. So much can go amiss. So much already has.''

Gil-galad nodded. ``I know. And your son leads them. This is why you are so anxious. But that is exactly why I have every hope for their success. Your son is a wise and noble man. One day he will be a great king of Gondor and his name will be sung when the mountains have crumbled into dust.

``Even we Quendi look on Isildur with great hope, for we know that our stewardship of Middle-earth is coming to its end, that we shall wane even as the races of Men increase. One day Men alone will rule and protect the world. Great leaders will be needed, Men of courage and strength and wisdom. Isildur could be their Sire. He has given you four strong grandsons. If we do succeed in casting down Sauron, it may well be that you have founded a dynasty of kings, my old friend. Kings that will rule this land for ages to come.''

Elendil smiled. ``You flatter me, Sire, but your words bring comfort.'' His eyes went far away. ``I had such great hopes for my sons. I had thought that upon my death Isildur would go to rule in Arnor and Anárion would become sole king of Gondor. The two lands would remain sister kingdoms, ruled by brothers, united in peace forever. That would be a legacy indeed for the dispossessed Last Lord of Andúnië to leave to his people. The glory that was Númenor might live again in the Realms in Exile.''

His face was alight and he trembled with emotion as he remembered his dreams. But then he sagged.

``But such was not to be,'' he went on. ``Just as the Realms were coming into good order and life was settling into a peaceful routine, Sauron fell upon us and wrested our lands from us. Minas Ithil fell and Isildur and his family fled to Arnor.'' Elendil's eyes turned from sad to cold.

``And then he stole from me my greatest treasure: Anárion, the brave, the gentle. How can a life so full of strength and vitality, so full of promise, so much future before it, be suddenly crushed beneath a stone? How can mere dumb rock erase such a life, create in an instant a father and a brother bereft, a widow and an orphan grieving? By all the Valar, I swear that deed will be avenged. If by dint of might or strength of arms or lore or magic I may come against Sauron, I shall slay him, though I die in the deed!''

Gil-galad said nothing for a few moments, seeing the father's pain swelling in his friend's eyes. Finally he spoke. ``The fall of Anárion is a tragic loss that will ring in history. Thousands will weep at the tale. He was a Man like no other. He was always laughing, always smiling. The younger Elves, especially, were more than fond of him. Perhaps because he was so like them.''

Elendil sighed. ``He took great pleasure in life. That is why it is so unjust that it is denied him. He was the happy one, carefree, ready with a joke. Isildur was always the serious one. He loved his younger brother, but he thought him too... frivolous, Isildur would call it.''

``Anárion was not frivolous,'' said Gil-galad confidently. ``I had many talks with him and he thought deeply and took his responsibilities very seriously. It was his manner that was so different from Isildur's, not his character. He was a fine prince and would have been a great king.''

``I know that, and Isildur does too, I'm sure. But Isildur was always so serious about everything. His face was ever grim.''

``Your family has been through enough to turn anyone grim. The bitterness of the civil conflict in Númenor, where your own king exiled you to Andúnië. And then of course the Fall.''

``But Anárion went through it all as well -- those terrifying last days, the towers toppling, the waves, the storm, the shipwreck.'' Elendil paused, remembering again those terrible times. ``Of course, he was younger -- still in his tweens. The young are more resilient to misfortune, don't you think? But Isildur was serious even as a boy. He had to excel at everything, could not stand to be beaten. He took every competition as a challenge. He always had to be the strongest, fastest, most heroic.''

``But he is hero. He may even be all those things. Many acknowledge him the greatest warrior in the army. And his character, too. He is noble as well as strong. His idealism and his resolve are almost frightening. Do you know he has pledged to throw the Barad-dûr stone by stone into the abyss?''

Elendil had to smile. ``Aye. And I think he will do it, too. But not Sauron. Him I will throw down myself, with this blade.'' And he slapped at the hilt of the ornate sword hanging at his side.

Gil-galad nodded. ``Aye, Narsil was forged for just such a task, though Sauron has outlived its maker by many a yén. Poor Telchar died in the the fall of Nargothrond and never knew that Morgoth the Enemy was even then in his death throes. Telchar would be well pleased if you slew Sauron with his blade.''

``Such is my dearest wish,'' answered Elendil grimly, ``for he has much to answer for.'' He eyes strayed to the map unrolled upon the table, to the multiple ridges that made up the range known as Ephel Dúath, the Mountains of Shadow.

``But for now,'' he continued, ``I would be content with word of Isildur and his companions. Let no harm come to them, for if they fail there is but little hope for the rest of us.''

Gil-galad nodded. ``If the Three be taken from them, there will be no more hope forever.''

``I know we had little choice,'' said Elendil, ``but still I lie awake at night wondering if we have done the right thing. To send the Three against the Nine -- it seems such a desperate chance.''

``It is indeed, and yet still I hope for success. The Great Rings of Power are not equals; each is unlike the others. The Nine and the Seven were always lesser than the Three, and they were made with Sauron's arts. His powers are mighty, but they are drawn from the well of evil, and it is my belief that evil can never finally triumph over good. The Three are unsullied; they derive their powers from that of the White Tree and The Golden, expressed through Celebrimbor's art.''

``Such things surpass my understanding,'' said Elendil with a shake of his head. What is it like to wield the Rings?'' he asked. ``How do you activate its powers?''

Gil-galad considered. ``It is difficult to describe, my friend. Long have I kept Vilya, and it is like no other object on Earth. I am always aware of it when it is near. Even after being away from it all these years, still it is often on my mind, wondering if it is safe. It preys on my thoughts, drawing them always to it. It is almost as if it were alive.''

``Alive? But is it not only metal and stone after all?''

``It is metal and stone, to be sure. But it is more. I do not mean that it is truly alive, not as we know life. It is certainly not conscious. But it seems to have a will, a course that it would pursue if it can. What that will is, I do not know, save that it must be good. After a time, I believe, a Ring and its bearer come to share a bond. There is no doubt that we are changed by them. More so when we use them, but even by their mere possession. Each of the Three seems to have a will and a character all its own, so that over time the bearers themselves take on some of their nature.

``Narya is the Ring of Fire, and it has great strength both to build and to destroy. It excels in bold, physical changes. With it Cirdan has built a mighty city at Mithlond, and some say that the beauty and perfection of form of his swanships is due at least in part to Narya. Cirdan too is strong and bold, unafraid, eager to move forward. Perhaps this too is Narya's influence.

``Nenya, the Ring of Water, has long been Galadriel's charge. It promotes life and growth. Things touched by its power thrive and endure and do not fade. With its powers, the Lady has built Lothlórien, the Land of the Golden Wood, where the leaves never fall and winter never comes. Galadriel too, thrives and endures, for she yet looks very young and lovely, though she is nearly as old as I. She takes joy in living and growing things, in gardens and trees and fair bowers. But is it Nenya or Galadriel that changed to become so alike, or was it both? We do not know.

``Vilya, the Ring of Air, is acknowledged to be the mightiest of the Three, and yet its power is not revealed by great works of either the mason or the gardener. Like the air, it moves swiftly and powerfully, yet invisibly. It is said to give wisdom and judgement in leadership to its bearer, though if that be true, I wish I could be more certain of my decisions. Still, since I have possessed it I have risen from Fëanor's lieutenant to High King of all the Noldor. I do not believe I ever consciously wished to become king, yet here I am. Did I wish it without knowing it, or was it Vilya's wish? How could we ever distinguish?''

``It seems a perilous thing,'' said Elendil, ``to bear an object that might be bearing you.''

Gil-galad smiled. ``It certainly makes one consider one's actions and motives, and even accomplishments. Still, I would not part with Vilya for my life. It was the hardest thing I have ever done, to leave it at home. It haunts my dreams every night.''

``Will Elrond be able to wield Vilya to advantage?''

``I hope so. He too is wise and learned, and his heart is good to the core. If any other Eldar can bear Vilya safely, it is he. Still, I wish I were there.''

``As do I, but we must be visible here, lest Sauron perceive our absence and suspect the attack on the Nine. And do you truly think the Three are stronger than the Nine?''

``No one knows. They have never been put to the test. But I believe so. If the Three are wielded in concert, they should be able to withstand the Nine, for each is complement to each, and their combined strength is more than their sum. Galadriel and Cirdan are both great mages and learned in the oldest arts. They have long borne their Rings and their knowledge and their courage will guide them all. At the very least, the Three will appear to Sauron as a threat to his power and a temptation to his greed. His sole motive is ever greater power, and the Three represent the greatest powers remaining in Middle-earth. Whatever the outcome of the battle at Minas Ithil, Sauron will come forth, I am sure of it.''

Gil-galad crossed the tent and took a long spear with an ebony handle from a rack. Its head was in the shape of a leaf of the Golden Tree, with edges so razor sharp they shone blue in the light.

``And then he must reckon with this,'' he said grimly, running his hands over the shaft. ``Aeglos was made to taste Sauron's blood, and it shall yet do so, I swear it. Well does he know this weapon and fear it, for it is doomed to be Sauron's Bane.''

Elendil patted the hilt of the great sword at his side. ``And if Snowpoint does not slay him, my Narsil will, for it too is charmed to bring him down.''

Gil-galad looked to the open tent flap. ``Is it morning yet, Elendil? It is still dark and grey without, and yet surely the sun must be up by now.''

``She is up, Sire, but gives little light through the murk. The haze and fumes are much thicker than usual this morning, and a noxious bitter dust is sifting down from the low clouds. Orodruin is unquiet.''

``And so too is its lord, I wager,'' replied Gil-galad, ``for I notice that the volcano oft reflects Sauron's mood. It has many times trembled and smoked just before a major attack by his forces. He is linked to the subterranean powers of the earth ever since he forged the One in the Sammath Naur within the mountain itself. Perhaps he even controls Orodruin's eruptions, though how I cannot guess.''

``Then perhaps this unrest indicates that he even now senses a disturbance in the west, a changing, a moving, in the borders of his realm.''

``Perhaps. If so, let him fret a while. It will make him more rash in the end. I would have him come out in fear and anxiety, his troops all disordered and confused. I assume ours all stand at the highest readiness?''

``Aye. Every one is awake and watchful. The barricades and forces at the road to the west have been quadrupled.''

``Good. Well, if the day is as fine as you say, Elendil, we should be out enjoying it. And we should be seen from the walls of the Dark Tower, so he knows we are still here. Let us ride to the road.''

The two kings called for their housecarls and standard bearers, and soon were riding down the slope to the road below. Men and Elves in full armor were pacing slowly back and forth as they had every day for years. The perimeter of the siege had been established long ago by the catapults of the Barad-dûr, for it lay at the bottom of a barren slope strewn with the massive blocks of stone hurled from the walls.

They spoke briefly with the Elvish captain of this section of the perimeter, then turned south and rode slowly along the long line of grim-faced warriors: Elves and Men and here and there a few dwarves. The eyes of all were cold and weary, for they had lived with the threat of imminent death for many years. A siege is a terrible thing to endure on either side of the walls, for the tension and fear of battle are prolonged not for hours, but for years. It is one thing to ride into a battle knowing you may be killed before the day is out, quite another to face it day after day. It is the fear and uncertainty of war, the privations and discomfort of a military campaign, but with no glory, no homecoming, and no end in sight. It was difficult for everyone, but especially the Men. Many of the younger Men had spent a large portion of their lives here on this bleak plain, far from their wives and sweethearts and families. They felt their lives passing them by, their youth wasted in this idle watching and waiting for the Gate of Adamant to open. They stared at those immense doors day after day, hoping to see them creak open, and also dreading it.

The leaders of the host had always to contend with both the boredom and the frustrated eagerness to fight and have done with the waiting. There was much grumbling and complaining and all were thoroughly sick of the plains of Gorgoroth and the sight of the Dark Tower. But they all knew that there could be no going home until the issue was decided. At great cost had they driven Sauron into his fortress; they must not let him escape now.

Elendil and Gil-galad rode along the perimeter, offering occasional words of encouragement as they passed each group of warriors. They topped a low rise and looked out over a wide plain dotted with row after row of brightly colored tents, though now much stained and grimed by the volcanic ash like black flour that constantly sifted down from the clouds. Well-beaten paths ran among the rows of tents, and many figures, horses, and wagons moved about its dusty streets. Here was the main body of the Host of the Alliance, scores of thousands of warriors of every race, from nearly every land of the West.

Through the midst of the huge camp ran a broad and well-paved road with a low wall on either side to hold back the drifting ash that threatened to bury it. The Road of Sauron ran straight and level, slicing through hills of slag and broken rock and leaping over black chasms on massive arches of stone. It disappeared in the vapors and smokes of Orodruin, away to the west. As it drew near the bridge to the Barad-dûr, the Road passed between two rows of huge carven images of misshapen and bestial forms, though whether they represented actual creatures of Sauron's devise or were only figments of some mad nightmare, none could guess. The camp lay close to these beasts but not among them, for all sensed something unnatural and evil about them. Indeed, many of those closest to camp had been smashed or the faces chiseled away, for few could bear those stone eyes upon them for long.

Where the Road entered the Field of the Beasts, four stout barricades of heavy timbers and broken stones had been constructed across it and stretched far away to either side. Thousands of the strongest warriors were stationed at these barricades. Some stood or walked on the fortifications themselves, others marched in the lanes between. Everywhere spear points and lances gleamed red in the murky morning light, as if already running with blood. Ever they looked beyond the barricades, to the Iron Bridge and the towering Gate of Adamant. If Sauron did come forth, this is the way he would come, and these warriors would be the first to take the brunt of his attack.

The Tower itself stood silent. No guards paced the battlements, no archers could be seen at the occasional high windows. During an assault on the Tower, missles of all sorts would descend from those heights, but seldom would any enemy be seen. Between attacks, the Tower seemed as lifeless as a tombstone. None of them knew what forces Sauron had at his command, nor where they obtained their food and supplies. If they were suffering under the siege, there was no sign of it. As for Sauron himself, he had not been seen by Elf nor Man since the night he had slipped away from Celebrimbor's workshops in Eregion that is no more.

The kings' company rode to a large tent near the outermost barricade. Esquires took their horses and the lords went in to break their fast. It was the beginning of another day, just like hundreds before -- nothing to do but wait and watch.


The morning dragged on, the heat if not the light increasing steadily. The company in the mess tent speculated on the doings of their colleagues in the west. Were Isildur and the Elf-Lords victorious and even now riding hard toward them; or would the next riders to appear be black, bearing the Three triumphantly to their master? Hopeful guesses and terrifying possibilities were bandied back and forth, to no resolution. Tiring of the talk, Elendil went out and called again for his horse. He rode along the barricade, speaking with many of the commanders, Men he had known and fought beside for many years. Some indeed had sailed from Númenor with him in the terrible storm that destroyed their island home.

Then he turned south again and continued along the perimeter. He was fearful that if Sauron did come out he would see the strong force at the barricades and veer aside, probing for a weak spot along the perimeter. It was his job to see that there were none. All along the line Men and Elves called to him or waved or saluted if too far away to speak to him. His appearance always seemed to buoy them and give them strength and hope. He wondered at the source of the strength, for they seemed to draw more from him than he could possibly offer them, more even than he felt himself. But their eager loyal faces cheered him as he rode past, and his spirit too was lifted.

He rode but a few miles and could see ahead the jagged spur of the Ered Lithui where it tumbled into the chasm that surrounded the Barad-dûr, marking the end of the Allies' perimeter. Bitter experience had taught that the Mountains of Ash were unscalable by any means, even by the light-footed Elves. Elendil rode to the very edge of the abyss and peered down into blackness, for no bottom had ever been seen in that huge pit. He talked briefly with the captain of the southernmost company, telling him to be ready to move his men north if Sauron attacked the center of the line. He said farewell, then turned back toward the Road.

As his horse was picking his way down a steep slope of cinders, the ground shuddered violently beneath his feet and he went down on his knees with a cry of pain. Elendil leaped free and rolled down the slope. He was not injured, but before he could rise the air was rent by a deafening thunder of sound, striking him flat with its violence. All around men clapped their hands to their ears, striving in vain to keep out the blast. The ground heaved again. The plain buckled, and several crags toppled and slid with a roar into the abyss, some taking men with them. Steam and flames belched forth from a thousand cracks, scalding warriors and horses alike and setting whole sections of the camp aflame. Horses screamed in madness and broke free to run wildly through the crowded camps, adding to the confusion. To the west the entire sky turned to roiling black smoke laced with blood red flames, and a hail of fiery ash and glowing cinders rained down on the stunned host. Everywhere was tumult and destruction.

Elendil struggled shakily to his feet and gazed about him. All men turned to the west to watch in awe as Orodruin writhed and changed before their eyes. Lava gushed from a dozen vents at once. Elendil looked on the torment of the mountain and saw the mouth of the Sammath Naur, the great cave where Sauron had forged the One. It was glowing now with white heat, and he knew he was seeing the naked Flame of Udûn, created on the First Day by Melkor the Morgoth, source of all evil. What could he -- what could anyone do against forces like this?

But even as he thought this and his heart shrank within him, there came a new sound -- a shrieking and braying of many trumpets together, rising above even the groaning of the tortured earth. Now there was no time for fear; no time for doubt. Sauron was coming forth.

He found his horse standing shivering a few yards away, eyes wide with fear. He stroked its head a moment to calm it, then leaped to the saddle and rode hard back toward the Road. He passed groups of warriors standing dazed and confused.

``To the barricades!'' he shouted. ``He comes!'' But his words were all but drowned out by fresh eruptions from the mountain. Fearing what he would find, he spurred his horse on to the top of the last ridge, beyond which lay the camp and the Road. Reaching the summit, he stopped in amazement.

The orderly camp he had ridden through only moments before was in shambles. Many of the tents were in flames as the glowing cinders continued to pour from the sky. Huge cracks had opened up where before was solid land, swallowing up whole sections of the camp. Groups of warriors either milled about aimlessly or dashed headlong through the press, on what errands he could not guess, for no orders could be heard in that noise. Then came an even greater tumult from the north, near the Road. A confused rabble was stumbling back south into the camp, throwing into disarray the few companies still under command.

Elendil swung his horse to the right, picking through to the first barricade, now tumbled into heaps. There the throng was less and he was able to make his way at better speed. Finally he reached the Road and his worst fears were realized. The siege had been broken. Sauron was gone.

The barricades were all scattered and thrown aside like a child's blocks amidst the sprawled and burned bodies of the fallen. Here and there a few crawled or moved weakly, but their eyes were blank and staring, their minds blasted by what they had seen. Some gibbered or howled, others shouted meaningless orders.

Elendil moved among them, scanning each face, each banner trampled and forgotten in the dust, seeking always the standard of Gil-galad, but in vain. He rode to the mess tent where he had left the others and found it thrown down and charred, as if blasted by a scorching wind. A group of figures were creeping from the wreckage, then turning to help others. Elendil dismounted and went to help.

``Gil-galad!'' he called to them. ``Have you seen Gil-galad?''

``He was up there on the hill,'' said an Elf.

Elendil picked his way among smoking wreckage to the top of a small hill where a dozen Elves stood laboring, pulling others from a collapsed tent. Already a row of bodies lay there. A few were struggling to rise, more only groaned feebly or writhed in pain, but most lay still. When Elendil reached them he saw to his relief that Gil-galad was among them, though his robes were torn and his face blackened and streaked.

``Sire,'' he cried, ``are you hurt?''

Gil-galad turned and saw Elendil coming toward him.

``So you have survived as well. That is the only good news we have had. Did you see him?''

``Nay, Sire, I saw only the Flame of Udûn. I was well down on the southern perimeter. Would I had been here at your side!''

``It would have made no difference,'' answered Gil-galad with weariness and despair lining his face. ``He was too great for us, too great by far. We had no idea how powerful he really was.''

``Did you see him?''

``Not his form, but only a great darkness, and we felt the fear that goes before him.''

``How did he come upon you?''

``The Mountain burst asunder and all turned and looked to the west. Then came the sound of thousands of trumpets and we turned, and lo, the Doors stood open. Then a great host poured forth onto the bridge, orcs and trolls and goblins and other creatures I have no name for. Just as they reached the land, the barricades suddenly burst asunder with a terrible roar. How he did it I do not know, but in a moment the barricades and the men on them were flying through the air. Nearly four hundred warriors, Man and Elf, destroyed at one blow, swept aside as you might sweep a table clear.

``Then their van was upon us, and with them came a great fear. All light and hope seemed to vanish from the world, and many quailed before the onslaught. It must have been some weapon of Sauron's, for in truth I believe their numbers were less than ours. But they did not stop to fight. They thundered past the shattered barricades, right through our camp, and on down the west road, not even pausing to slay our warriors, some of them just standing by the side of the road staring. I felt him coming nearer -- how I cannot say, but the center of the evil approached. I advanced with Aeglos before me, thinking to make a stand, but then came a blast of terrible heat and all faded from me. I came to myself but a moment ago.''

``We found the king under this tent,'' said one of the Elves, looking up from his work. ``He moved not at first and we feared for him. But he roused at last. It is more than can be said for many here.''

``But there was no real battle,'' continued Gil-galad. ``Only that strange blast, then they were past and away. Where has he gone? Did you see?''

``I know not, Sire,'' replied Elendil. ``I have seen only our own people, and many of them are dead or mad. Of Sauron and his creatures there is no sign. They can only have gone west.''

``Aye. And he can be bent on only one errand. He seeks the Three.''

``Curse him!'' cried Elendil. ``He rides against Isildur and the others, and we were charged to contain him here. They will be crushed between Sauron and his Úlairi. Oh, alas, alas. We have failed.''

Then one of the Elves came up to Gil-galad and handed him the long spear Aeglos. ``This at least is unbroken, Sire,'' he said. Gil-galad took the spear and stood leaning upon it, gazing about at the ruin as far as he could see. But then he seemed to draw strength from the familiar feel of the great spear. He drew himself upright.

``Aye,'' he said. ``My Aeglos is yet whole, and still capable of piercing Sauron's body. It is still capable of fighting.'' He touched the sword at Elendil's side. ``And so is Narsil, and so indeed are we, my friend.''

``Aye,'' said some of those standing nearby, slowly regaining their wits and their courage after the numbing blast. ``Many have died, but most yet live. Away from the road, our host is untouched.''

``But stay,'' said an Elf, holding one shattered arm against his side, ``how can we hope to prevail against such a foe? Now we have seen his hideous might, would it not be vain and foolish to attempt to assail him again?''

Then Elendil cried out in a loud voice. ``We must! While yet we have life and strength to fight, we must! For Sauron is once more loose upon the world. He flies west to Minas Ithil, where our colleagues strive against his minions, unaware of the doom approaching from the plains. They were the bait in this trap, and Sauron has taken it. Our task was to destroy him as he came forth. In that we have failed, and now he races to swallow the lure. If we falter now, our friends will be destroyed and Sauron will rule the world. We must ride, ride like the wind!''

``Yes!'' shouted some. ``That's right! He's right!'' said others. ``To the west!''

The kings called messengers to them and sent them riding along the perimeter. There was no longer any point in maintaining the siege. Every warrior capable of riding was to join them at the Road.

In less than an hour the riders were assembling. Over a thousand had died or were still missing, and nearly as many were to remain to care for the wounded and bury the dead. But all others, still over eighty thousand strong, were ready. The columns of horsemen dwindled into the distance on either hand.

Gil-galad signalled for quiet, then rose in his stirrups. ``You have seen the strength of the enemy,'' he roared. ``But all his will now is bent on reaching Minas Ithil, and the rear of his host may be unprotected. At the least they shall not surprise us again. Most of his host is on foot. If we ride hard, we should overtake them near Orodruin.

``All these years we have waited for Sauron to come out so we can fight him in the open, without the chasm and walls of Barad-dûr to protect him. At last we have that chance. The waiting is at an end. Now we have only one task. We must pursue Sauron and catch him and bring him to bay. Then everything depends on one final battle. Ride with me now down Sauron's Road, and know that death lies at the end of it, either ours, or Sauron's!''

``To death!'' shouted thousands of voices. ``Ride to death!'' Then the kings wheeled their horses and plunged down the road, followed by their surviving knights and housecarls. Slowly at first, then with ever increasing speed, the Army of the Alliance swept out onto the road and followed their lords.

Those remaining in the ruined camp watched company after company thunder away to the west, banners flying bravely through the smoke and dust. For an hour and more they flowed by, until at last the final company of Men from the upper vales of Anduin pounded into the cloud of dust and were lost to sight.

``To death!'' came the last cries, already muffled by the distance. Then there was only the sound of the wind. For the first time in many years, the plain of Gorgoroth was silent.

Chapter Eleven
The Ride to Doom

Throughout Minas Ithil, the roar of battle gradually subsided. Here and there knots of combat continued to rage furiously: small bands of orcs fighting desperately against now overwhelming odds but with no thought of surrender. From far beyond the plaza came the sounds of clashing arms and the shouts and cries of combat. The allies were pressing their foes back street by street and resistance was rapidly fading.

Looking out over the vast plaza from the steps of the Citadel, Isildur could see groups of his men leaning on their swords, resting from the fight, looking about for any further enemies. Leeches and litter-bearers were already moving about the square, tending to the wounded. The quartermasters' wagons had rolled in through the gate and men were gathering around them eagerly for food. Clearly the city was theirs.

But when Isildur turned and looked up at the walls of the Citadel above him, his heart sank. The towering walls stood silent, surrounded only by the dead. Bodies sprawled grotesquely upon the broad stairs, their blood running down the elegant white marble he had imported at such great cost from the Ered Nimrais. And everywhere he looked in the beautiful city he had designed and built, he was sickened by the filth, the stench, the ruined mansions and monuments. The statues of his ancestors that lined the porticoes of the buildings around the square had all been defiled: some toppled from their perches to lie broken on the pavement below, others with heads and limbs broken off, others splashed with paint or worse, in malicious mockery of his heritage. Looking up above the gate of the Citadel, he saw the statue of Elros, the founder of Númenor and his line. The face had been chiselled off and a grinning orc face rudely painted in its place. Isildur's face burned with shame as he thought of all that noble Elros Halfelven had borne and done, the immortality that he had voluntarily given up for Men. What would the hero say if he could see his image so desecrated? Isildur gave a guilty jump when he suddenly heard the voice of Elros's own brother quiet in his ear.

``It is but an image, my friend; a thing of stone,'' said Elrond. Isildur looked and saw with him also Cirdan and Galadriel. Their faces all were drawn and tired, as if from a great effort, long sustained. Celeborn came to join them, his long silver hair flecked with blood. He looked anxiously at his wife.

``I am glad to see you all again on this side,'' said Isildur.

``It is good to be back in the world of light and warmth,'' said Galadriel, and Isildur thought that never before had her many years shown so clearly on her face. ``But it is an evil chance that the Úlairi reached the Citadel. It may prove difficult to drive them from this fortress.''

``Difficult indeed,'' replied Isildur, ``for it is very stoutly built. This is the only gate, and the portcullis is forged of the best iron. Beyond is a low vaulted tunnel with a massive oaken gate at the far end. In the ceiling are narrow slits through which arrows and hot oil or tar can be cast down upon those within.''

Cirdan shook his head grimly. ``You gave great thought to your defenses, Isildur. Did you also think to build a secret entrance?''

``Nay. I did not think I would be attacking it myself one day.''

``You are a cunning architect, Isildur,'' said Celeborn, ``though I am coming to regret it. I wish you had erred somewhere.''

Isildur pounded his mailed fist on the wall. ``I erred in my tactics today. We should have struck for the Citadel at once, not the Úlairi. With their retreat cut off, we could have pursued the Ringwraiths to their destruction, wheresoever they fled. ``We might have sent a party through the side streets to attack the Citadel, but when the Fear came...'' He drew his hand over his face, as if to wipe away the horror still before his eyes.

``I know,'' said Elrond. ``Their evil flowed from them as blood gushes from a wound. They are an affront to all that is good in the world. When I felt them coming toward us, I knew that I had to destroy them or die in the attempt.''

``I had the same feeling,'' said Cirdan. ``They are unnatural abominations. They do not belong in this world, and it is stained and tainted while they walk in it. They are the antithesis to us Firstborn.''

``Do not fault yourself, Isildur,'' said Galadriel. ``No one could have withstood their Shadow. Even the Three together were only just enough to drive them back.''

``But if...'' began Isildur, but he was interrupted by the sound of shouting from the direction of the gate. Turning, he saw Elendur striding toward him, his face shining. The warriors in the plaza cheered him as they caught sight of him. He ascended the stairs and fell to his knee at Isildur's feet.

``Welcome home, father,'' he said.

Isildur drew him up and looked upon him, fatherly pride and gratitude struggling to express themselves, but in vain.

``Elendur!'' shouted many of the men nearby, and the cry was taken up across the entire plaza: ``Elendur! Elendur and Isildur!''

``Minas Ithil is ours once more,'' said Elendur. ``Long have we waited for this victory!''

Isildur shook his head. ``It is less than half a victory as yet, my son, for the Úlairi still hold the Citadel.''

Elendur's face fell. ``But we saw them falling back before you. We thought them defeated at last.''

``Alas, it was not to be.'' He gestured at the many bodies all around them. ``As you see, many a brave warrior died in the attempt to stop them, but in vain. They are safe within.''

``Then they are our prisoners.''

``Perhaps. But it could take months to force them out. Our duty was to destroy them, to take away Sauron's most powerful allies. In this we have failed.'' And he hung his head in despair.

``Perhaps all is not lost,'' said Galadriel. ``Our task was to prevent the Ringwraiths from joining with Sauron. We have retaken the city, destroyed their legions, and driven them back to their last refuge. We know now that they cannot stand against the Three. We can keep them penned up here in the Citadel. They will give no aid to Sauron now.''

``Yes, but our work is not done. Now we are to cross the mountains and join forces with Gil-galad and Elendil in Gorgoroth. They will need us there when Sauron at last issues forth. We cannot leave the Ringwraiths unguarded at our backs. It is the situation in Mordor all over again: we cannot get in, the enemy will not come out, and we dare not leave or relax our guard. We are now trapped here as much as they.''

The Lords paused to watch in silence as a group of dusty, blood-stained knights bore past them the body of Barathor on his shield. Just behind, four more knights bore the small body of Barathor's herald, wrapped in the blood-stained banner. Of all the host there assembled, these two alone had actually landed blows on the Úlairi. All who saw this sad cortege hung their heads.

``So passes Barathor, the Eagle of the Blue Tower,'' said Isildur. ``May his strength and wisdom flow in the veins of the Pelargrim forever.''

``Aye,'' said Celeborn. ``Many a brave Elf and Man died today, but there passes the bravest among them. We will want his courage and wisdom in the days to come, for I fear our cause nows goes ill.''

``It may be so,'' agreed Elrond sadly. ``I fear Isildur is right. We dare not leave the Ringwraiths behind us, especially now we know more fully the power they wield. Even the bravest and most trusted guardians could not stand against their Shadow.''

Galadriel stood gazing thoughtfully at the bier of Barathor as it was born from the plaza. At length she turned to her companions.

``Ringbearers, think you that one Ring alone could stand against the Nine?''

Elrond looked at her in surprise. ``My lady,'' he said, ``I know not how it was with you, but for my part I was drained and weakened by the conflict. Even now I am trembling and my limbs feel as water.''

Cirdan nodded. ``Their power nearly overmatched us all. I doubt that two Rings would have been enough. For one Ringbearer to stand alone against all Nine -- no, it is unthinkable.''

``But if the Three remain here,'' Galadriel persisted, ``there is little hope for the war in Mordor. The Rings must go over the mountains to serve as the lure for Sauron's greed, and to help the Kings in the final conflict. I will remain here with Nenya and some of the Galadrim and attempt to keep the Ringwraiths within. The rest of you should proceed with the plan and ride to Gorgoroth.''

``My Lady, no,'' said Isildur and Elrond together, but Celeborn raised his hand to silence their protests.

``Galadriel is correct,'' he said. ``The risk is indeed great, but it must be borne. Any other path leads to stalemate, which will only mean defeat in the end.''

``But one Ring against all Nine?'' protested Cirdan. ``It is impossible.''

``Perhaps the Úlairi will bide their time,'' said Galadriel, ``thinking all Three are still here. Perhaps I will not be tested. But whatever happens to me, it is clear that the other Rings and the host must hurry at once to Mordor.''

``You would remain here while we go on?'' exclaimed Elrond. ``But the Three are most powerful when they are wielded in concert. Isn't that why even Gil-galad's Vilya was brought here? The Three must remain together.''

``That was the plan, but that can no longer be,'' said Galadriel. ``Our task was twofold: to prevent the Ringwraiths from joining with Sauron; and to aid the Kings in Gorgoroth. Since we have been unable to complete the first, we must divide our forces to accomplish both goals. Both forces have need of Rings, and therefore the Rings too must be divided. Sauron is the greater foe, so two Rings should go east. But the one that remains should be the strongest, for the other two can help each other. Vilya is supreme only if worn by its master, Gil-galad. Of the other two, Nenya is the stronger and I have been its mistress since it was given to me by Celebrimbor that dark day in Eregion. Therefore Nenya and I must remain here to guard this door, while the rest of you fly at once to Mordor.''

The lords looked on her in silence, but there was no more argument.

``The Lady is right,'' said Celeborn. ``We shall remain here.''

Galadriel put a white hand on his shoulder. ``No, my husband. You must lead the Galadrim against their ancient enemy. I will remain with but a small company.''

``That I will not permit, my Lady,'' said Celeborn. ``It is not just the Ringwraiths. The city is not yet secured and Ithilien is still crawling with enemies. You will need a strong force to protect you. And besides,'' he added with a warm smile. ``Neither I nor the rest of our people would leave you alone at such a time, my beloved Altariel.'' Galadriel looked on him in silence, then bowed her head.

``Let it be so then,'' she said. ``The Galadrim will remain to guard Minas Ithil.''

Isildur looked on them sadly. ``Sorely will we miss the strength and the courage of you and your fair people, my Lord and Lady. And thus again does Sauron thwart our plans and weaken us for the final conflict.''

``But now,'' said Cirdan, ``if we are to be present for that conflict, we must ride with all speed. We must not delay another moment.''

``Yes, father,'' said Elendur. ``We have done all we can accomplish here. Now my grandsire has urgent need of us.''

``It is so,'' said Isildur. He turned to Celeborn. ``Lord, the infantry of Gondor will be here in but a few hours. They will secure the city and scour the countryside round about. Perhaps the Ringwraiths will not dare to attack against so many.''

Galadriel smiled grimly. ``Be not fooled, Isildur. It is not the armed warriors that daunt the Black Ones, but the Rings. But your people will be welcome indeed. At least we will be safe from marauding orcs at our backs. As for the Galadrim, we shall watch at this door and await your victorious return. Then shall the Wraiths be banished forever from the circles of the world.

``Now you must go. We know not how Sauron communicates with his Úlairi. Perhaps even now he knows the city is taken.''

``Father!'' cried Elendur. ``The Lady reminds me of something I saw from the gate tower when the army was pouring in through the gate. I marked it little at the time, but it may be of import.''

``What was it?''

``A rider. A lone rider, riding hard up the road to the high pass. He must have gone out the eastern sally port before the Galadrim reached it.''

``An orc or a Man?''

``A Man, certainly. Tall and thin, in black armor, with a long cape flying behind him like a wing.''

Isildur caught Ohtar's eye. Ohtar nodded.

``Most likely our old friend Malithôr of Umbar,'' he said. ``Would we had cut off his sneering head when we had the chance at Erech.''

``Is this the same Man we chased at Pelargir?'' asked Cirdan.

``Most likely,'' said Isildur. ``He warned the Ring-wraiths of our coming, and now he rides to Mordor to warn his master.''

``He will have a rough welcome when he meets Gil-galad and Elendil,'' said Elendur with a grim smile.

``But he may know secret ways into the Barad-dûr,'' said Celeborn. ``And now he knows the Three are here. If he can get into the Tower, he will bear the tale to Sauron. If so, Sauron will not delay long before coming forth. You must make all possible haste.''

Isildur, Elendur, and Elrond departed to issue their orders, but Cirdan yet lingered. Leaning close to Galadriel, he spoke in a low voice so that he should not be overheard.

``But do you truly think you can hold this door with Nenya alone?''

She met his eyes. ``I think we three Noldor all know it is most unlikely, noble shipmaster. If the Úlairi knew your Rings were leaving the city, they would be at our throats before you were out of sight. Our only hope is that they are unsure and hesitate until it is too late. If they do come forth, we shall delay them as long as possible. It is your task to deal with Sauron. With their master gone, their power will be broken. May Elbereth be with you. Namarië.''

``May she be with you as well. Namarië, Lady. I must ride.''

The plaza was again a bustle of activity, with companies forming up, men moving about, exchanging damaged gear with those who no longer needed theirs. Commands were shouted, horsemen moved through the press. Bands of fighters poured in from the side streets where they had been going from house to house, searching out the last orcs.

The Lords rode to the head of the column. Isildur sent a messenger to carry news of the battle back to Osgiliath. With him went a courier of Pelargir, and a long black riband floated from his arm. Isildur and Elendur sat their mounts and watched him ride away.

``A long road he faces, and a sad homecoming,'' said Elendur.

``Aye,'' said Isildur. ``I grieve for the Lady Heleth. She was so filled with fear for her husband.''

Elendur squinted up at the sun. ``It is two hours past midday. It has been but eight hours since we rode from Osgiliath. It seems a long day already.''

Isildur nodded. ``Many a warrior who rode into the dawn with us this morning shall never see another. And we do not even have time to mourn them. But if we are ever to have the victory in this war, I fear there will be more widows wailing in Gondor.''

``Will they wail for us, I wonder?'' mused Elendur. ``I fear not for myself, but it pains me to think of mother and my brothers.''

``If we fall,'' said Isildur, ``I fear our mourners will not long survive us.''

Looking up to the walls, he saw the battlements lined with green-clad Elves. The Lord and Lady stood on the steps of the Citadel with the greater part of their knights, looking on solemnly. Isildur raised his sword to them, then turned and led his army through the gate. Ohtar rode before him with his banner, and his son Elendur was at his side. Just behind them rode Elrond and Cirdan and his Sea-Elves of Lindon. It was much like the ride from Osgiliath that morning. The flags were as bright in the sun and the cheers as loud, but now the swords were notched and the lances stained. The column was also much shorter, missing the Galadrim and the many fallen or wounded. The horses as well as the riders were weary now, and the column slowed to a canter as soon as the last riders left the gate and the great doors swung closed behind them with a heavy thud.


They turned east at once, the towering crags of the rocky Ephel Dúath looming above them. The road wound through grasslands dotted with occasional trees, the River Sirlos tumbling below in its rocky bed. Soon both the stream and the road crowded into a narrow defile. The road narrowed as it entered the twisting canyon, but it lay between low stone walls and the paving stones were smooth and well laid.

Soon the way grew steeper. Sirlos became a series of frothing waterfalls, and the road had been hewn into the living rock of the canyon walls. Low steps appeared across the road more and more frequently, until in places they were actually riding up broad stairs, the horses' hooves clattering on the smooth stones. There was an oppressive, suffocating air to the place. The host labored upward in silence, with only the stream's thunder echoing in the hollow barren place.

At one point they rounded a turn and saw the Sirlos, reduced to little more than a freshet, falling free for some two hundred feet. The road, now so narrow that the riders had to pass in single file, slashed back and forth across a nearly vertical rock wall beside the fall. The pavement became mossy and slippery. They dismounted and led their horses upward. In two places the path went behind the fall and the riders looked down toward the mouth of the canyon through a shimmering silver curtain of water.

``This road must have been built by mountain goats,'' grumbled Elrond, leading his horse up an especially steep switchback. The rocks were green and mossy from the constant mist from the falls, and the horses were skittish and uneasy.

``My people built this road many years ago,'' said Isildur, ``but it follows an even older path that may indeed have been made by the goats. They abounded here of old, but I have seen neither track nor spoor of them today. No doubt the orcs killed them as well.''

``Perhaps they merely removed to another place,'' suggested Cirdan. ``Oftimes wild things can sense evil in a place and shirk it thenceforth.''

``If so,'' replied Elrond, ``they must have left the Ephel Dúath completely. These mountains reek of evil and a watching malice.''

``Aye, `tis true,'' said Isildur. ``It has a most unwholesome air to it. Yet it was not always so. When first I saw this canyon it was green and hung with ferns. Pines and firs leaned from the cliffs, and the light of the Sirlos danced on the mossy walls.''

``I remember,'' said Elendur. ``Aratan and I often rode up here. Once we brought Ciryon, when he was old enough to sit a horse. We climbed on the rocks and threw stones into the stream. I always loved the clean smell of the place and the merry sound of the falls. Now even the voice of Sirlos sounds sad and lonely.''

They looked around sadly at the barren walls, the occasional leaning tree, dead and white and broken. No sign of green could be seen anywhere.

``I know not what has made the change,'' Elendur went on. ``Surely the orcs did not scale every precipice and cut or kill the trees, pull out the ferns? To what end?''

``Some of the trees they cut for firewood for their furnaces and factories, no doubt,'' said Gildor. ``Others they wantonly destroy -- they seem to take some sort of perverse pleasure in destroying what they cannot use. And wherever they live and build, they poison the land around them. Growing things wither and die; animals sicken or wander away.''

The leaders had reached the top of the cliff now and stood catching their breaths, watching the long, long line of soldiers winding up behind them like ants climbing a rock wall.

``Do you think the land will ever recover?'' asked Elendur sadly, snapping off a dead branch from the snag of a fir tree beside the path.

``A wound may heal,'' replied Cirdan, ``and a warrior ride again as proud as before, but he bears the mark of it forever. If we can force Sauron to loose his grip on this land then life will eventually return, given enough time. But that which is once touched by Sauron can never be wholly clean again. Eregion was once one of the fairest of lands, and it is barren and deserted still. Mordor will remain a poisoned desert as long as the world lasts.''

``Is all of Ithilien despoiled forever then?'' asked Elendur with a knot of despair around his heart. Ithilien was the land of his birth and he loved it dearly.

``The extent of the taint will depend on how long he ruled the land and how extensively he despoiled it. He has not long occupied Ithilien, nor has he built great factories and forges here as in Gorgoroth. There is hope yet that the land will recover, though I fear a shadow will always lie on this valley and the city where the Ringwraiths ruled.''

``Where they still rule,'' growled Isildur. ``I swear, when we have dealt with Sauron I will return here and destroy every one of them. I will expunge their evil, root and branch, and cleanse this land of their poisons. Ithilien will be a garden again, and the people will return to their homes and farms. This I swear.''

Cirdan looked at him sadly but said no more. They mounted and continued on their way, the road now winding through a rolling stony land, ever up toward the jagged ridge line high above them. Elendur rode up beside Cirdan and Elrond.

``Shipmaster,'' he said. ``You mentioned the land of Eregion, but I do not know where it lies. Was it one of the Drowned Lands, like Beleriand?''

``No,'' replied Cirdan. ``Beleriand and Nantasarion were drowned in the last struggles of Morgoth at the end of the Elder Days. Eregion was founded much later, though many of its people had come from Beleriand. Celebrimbor was its lord, and it lay west of the Hithaiglin, which Men call the Misty Mountains. It is now called Hollin by Men, I believe.''

``I know Hollin,'' said Elendur. ``I rode there with grandfather once. A grey and empty land, I thought it.''

``Aye, so it is,'' said Elrond. ``But once it was a place of great beauty and good works, for Celebrimbor was a master builder and smith. Green were its fields and bright its cities. Brightest of all was Ost-in-Edhil, where dwelt the craft-Elves known as the Gwaith-i-Mírdain, the Jewel-Smiths. Never were there greater foundries and workshops than those of the Jewel-Smiths. Led by Celebrimbor, they learned to make jewels such as never grew in the earth. They developed new alloys of metals that had marvelous new properties. Some even glowed in the dark by their own light, it was said. With these new materials, the Jewel-Smiths made jewelry and ornaments and tools and weapons, unequalled anywhere before or since. And then they forged the rings of power, great and small. Few now honor them for the deed, for Sauron learned the art from them and so began the Great War.''

``But Celebrimbor did many other great works,'' added Cirdan. ``The Floating Gardens at Ost-in-Edhil enchanted all who beheld them. And the Crimson Palace, and the Ice Caves, his hand made them, though few remember it today.''

``Eregion was wide and green,'' said Elrond, ``and the Elves tilled their fields and traded their produce with their friends the Dwarves of Khazad-dûm.''

``The Elves and Dwarves were friends?'' asked Elendur in surprise. ``Forgive me, but I have never heard of any great love between your races.''

``It is true, sad to say,'' replied Elrond. ``We have little contact now, nor indeed much desire for it these days. The Khazad are a proud people -- some might say stiff-necked -- and they love gold and forged things above all else, even their former friends. They cannot be blamed for it. They were made ahead of their time by Aulë the smith of the Valar, and they alone of all the Children are not of the making of Ilúvatar the Father. Still, that is no fault of theirs, and many great deeds have they done in the struggle against evil. As you see, a handful have joined our host. A few companies are even with the kings in Gorgoroth, and they have fought long and hard in our common cause.''

``In Eregion of old,'' added Cirdan, ``the Little People could often be seen walking and laughing with Elves. But all that is gone now. Sauron's hordes swept across Eregion, destroying all before them. They pulled down the lovely towers and gardens of Ost-in-Edhil and slew its people. Many Dwarves too were slain, and the gates of Khazad-dûm were closed and have never yet been opened to our people. Celebrimbor was slain and his Jewel-Smiths were driven in fear from Eregion.''

Elrond shook his head sadly. ``It was a dark time. Many thought the realm of peace was doomed in Middle-earth. Gil-galad sent me with an army from Lindon to defend Eregion. Fierce were the battles with Sauron's hordes.''

Elendur looked at Elrond in wonder. ``You fought Sauron before?'' he asked. ``What was the end of it?''

Elrond shrugged sadly. ``This is the end of it,'' he replied. ``The battle tomorrow should determine who will rule in the end.''

``What I meant was: What happened in that earlier war?'' asked Elendur.

Elrond smiled. ``You Men cut time into too many small slices,'' he said. ``It is still the same war. It was the same war when we Noldor first returned to the Mortal Shore to do battle with Morgoth the Enemy. It was the same war when we fought in the plains of Eregion. This present conflict is the same war. And it may even be that tomorrow's struggle will be but another battle, and that in future ages Men and Elves will continue to serve in the same war.''

``But what happened in Eregion?'' Elendur persisted.

``We arrived too late to save Eregion. Ost-in-Edhil's last defenses were overrun and we found only scattered bands of the people hiding in caves and hidden valleys. We strove against Sauron, but he was too strong for us and we fell back to the north. I led one band, the remnant of my best division. We found a deep-cleft valley and built a refuge there. Others joined us later.''

``Was that valley Imladris, where my mother and brother now wait?''

``Even so. Men often call it Rivendell. We took refuge there, and soon Sauron came to rule all of Eriador and threatened even fair Lindon, last and greatest of the lands of the Eldar in Middle-earth. But his victories were short-lived, for aid unlooked-for came to us out of the western seas. Your own ancestor Tar-Minastir, King of Númenor, came with a great fleet of many hundreds of ships to the Havens at Mithlond. Together we drove Sauron's armies out of the west lands, back across the Misty Mountains and the Great River Anduin. But Eregion was destroyed and Celebrimbor went through the Curtain before his time, and his wonderful skills were lost to us forever.''

``Was Eregion never settled again?'' asked Elendur, thinking always of the fate of Ithilien.

``A few Elves went back, but they soon returned to Imladris. The land was changed, they said. There was a sadness and a sense of loss in all the land. Where once cool forests grew, now only dead grasses whispered and muttered in the dry winds from the east. The flowers and gardens were gone, the grass withered and brown. Even the water does not taste right, for the sweet springs are now bitter and burn the tongue. It is not a foul place, a place of evil, but it is a spoiled land. It is not truly ugly, but it has none of its old beauty. To those who knew it of old, it is a place of great sadness and infinite regret.''

``Would that Ithilien does not become so,'' said Elendur. ``It was once the fairest in all of Gondor.''

``It shall be again,'' swore Isildur with a cold look in his eye. ``I did not build Minas Ithil to be a haunt of ghouls and undead things, nor its houses the warrens of orcs. The city has been befouled, the glens of Ithilien poisoned, and the shining white walls of Osgiliath blackened. But we shall renew them. We were driven from our homes twice by Sauron -- once from Númenor and once from Minas Ithil -- but we shall not be again.''

Cirdan shook his head, his grey hair swaying. ``I wish you well, Isildur, but it takes great power of good to cleanse a place where once the Morgul spells were spoken. Ithilien perhaps, but I fear for Minas Ithil. Perhaps it would be best to pull it down and begin anew in some other valley.''

``No!'' hissed Isildur. ``No. Minas Ithil is my city and my home. If Sauron found the power to defile it, then somewhere there must be the power to cleanse it. I shall seize that power and use it to make all of Gondor clean and whole again.'' Cirdan looked at Isildur's determined face and said no more, and the company moved now in melancholy silence, save for the creaking of leather saddles and the occasional clank of metal.


The road continued to ascend, winding across the floor of a bowl-shaped valley at the head of Ithil Vale. Elrond let his horse choose his own footing among the rocks littering the trail. He sat back in his saddle and eyed the precipices of the final sawtooth ridge, still high above them.

``This road is bad enough,'' he said at last to Ohtar riding nearby, ``but I think I see a worse. See? There, high on the northern wall.''

Ohtar followed his pointing arm and could just make out a thin line etched across the wall, above a sheer drop of many hundreds of feet to the streambed below.

``You have keen eyes, my lord,'' he said. ``I have been in this valley many times and I had never marked it. If it is a trail, it could be a path I have heard of in old tales. A road of evil memory.''

Elrond shaded his eyes with his hand as he peered up at it. ``I should not remember it kindly either if I had to travel it. Look at that drop!''

``It is not just the way itself, my lord, but there are legends of a fearsome creature, a she-monster, that lurks there and snares hapless travellers.''

``What a pleasant road! Has it a name?''

``It is called Cirith Ungol, my lord.''

``The Pass of the Spider,'' said Elrond. ``A lovely name. I wonder that anyone ever ventures upon it. Is it ever used?''

Elendur joined their conversation. ``Not by Men that I know of, my lord. I climbed up there once with some friends, but we did not venture far, not having wings. It is little more than a goat track in most places, but someone or something had long ago widened it.''

``We guessed that the orcs came that way when they attacked Minas Ithil,'' said Isildur, ``for this main road was well guarded. I wonder what grisly toll they paid to she who guards the pass?''

Elrond sighed. ``This ride seems doomed to cheerless conversation. How far to the top?''

Isildur glanced at the sun, just starting her descent into the west behind them. ``Another hour, perhaps two,'' he said.

``It will be growing dark by then,'' said Cirdan. ``Do you believe the pass will be guarded?''

``I would be surprised if it is not. There is a watchtower there that we built to defend Ithilien. If the orcs have not pulled it down, they no doubt will have occupied it.''

``Then again we must strike swiftly, for the night is their friend, not ours. They can see in the dark like cats.''

``Yes,'' agreed Isildur. ``I think we must win the pass tonight before the light is fully gone, for I have no wish to spend the night here while Sauron may be hurrying reinforcements to the pass. If we can cross tonight, we can rest on the ride down the far side of the mountains. It is less steep on that side and the road is good. But we must make as many leagues as we can. We must be at the Barad-dûr before he comes forth, and that could happen at any time.''

``It is a hundred weary miles from here to the Barad-dûr,'' said Gildor. ``We cannot hope to come there tomorrow if we ride all night and day. Both Men and horses must sleep, or they will be of no use when they reach the Tower. And the Elves must seek their rest. Everyone is nearly exhausted already.''

``Perhaps we can find a sheltered valley on the eastern side in which to lie and rest for a few hours,'' said Isildur. ``But we must win the pass tonight if ever we can.''


And so they pressed on, toiling ever upward. The Sirlos was no longer below them, its source lost somewhere among the jumble of boulders at the foot of the wall. The trail high above them was no longer visible either, apparently climbing out of the valley through some secret way or tunnel. The sun had now sunk so that it no longer shone down into the valley and they rode now in purple shadow, though above them the high ridges were orange and yellow against the darkening sky.

The road wound up a long steep slope strewn with huge tumbled and leaning rocks, some taller than the highest towers of Osgiliath. The air grew chill, then cold; and men and horses shivered as their sweat dried in the thin wind. At last, just as the highest peaks were fading to a dull red, the slope decreased and they saw the pass just above them. Isildur gave the order to halt the column in the shelter of a heap of huge boulders. The leaders left their horses with Ohtar and crept forward, keeping in the shadows of the rocks. In a few moments they reached a tall pinnacle that marked the last cover before the pass. Silently they climbed the jagged crag until they could see the summit of the pass before them.

``I see neither guards nor tower,'' said Gildor.

``The watchtower is just beyond the pass,'' answered Isildur, ``for it was built to face east, not west. For once my own defenses are not turned against us. If fortune is with us Malithôr did not stop to warn them. Orcs make poor and unreliable sentries, especially in a remote and lonely outpost such as this. Like as not they will get in out of the cold wind and fall to gaming and quarreling, their favorite pursuits.''

``I also see no barricade at the summit.''

``No. There was not one of old, for the tower was built as a watchtower only. I had feared the orcs might have built a wall, but surely they would have built it there on the right, where the road goes through that narrow passage. Apparently they did not expect an assault from the west.''

``Why should they?'' said Elrond. ``They know the armies of Gondor and Lindon are both already in Gorgoroth. They have no reason to suspect the existence of our host.''

``Unless our friend Malithôr has reached them,'' growled Isildur.

``Let us then form up in battle order before they discover us,'' said Cirdan, ``and ride hard over the summit in a body. When they see our numbers they will be none too eager to fight. Orcs like a fight only when their foes are weak and few. With any luck we can drive right through them and be on our way down the other side before they can collect their wits.''

``Very well,'' agreed Isildur. ``But let one company assail the tower while the rest of the host crosses the pass. I would not have the entire column ride by the foot of the tower under fire.''

``Agreed. Pass the word to form up the divisions. And be as silent as possible.'' They climbed down and crept back to the others. The quartermasters were moving along the column, handing up waybread to the riders. The hostlers went about placing feedbags on the horses and brought skins of water for all.

Elendur approached Isildur. ``Father, I would lead the attack on the tower if I might. This is the last outpost of Ithilien, and it would give me great pleasure to drive the orcs out of it.''

``Very well,'' said Isildur. ``But take care. Remember we do not have to take the tower. The important thing is to keep the orc archers pinned down until the column is past. Once we are past, the orcs may keep the tower until we return for all I care. And do not chase any that escape. They will be no threat to us. So take no unnecessary risks. I want you at my side in Gorgoroth.''

``I will be there, father. And thank you. I will take the First Forithilien company if I may. They are familiar with the pass and the tower.''

``May Elbereth protect you, my son.'' Isildur watched his son ride off back down the column with a mixture of pride and anxiety. Elrond saw the look on his face.

``It is hard to send your son into battle, is it not?''

``Aye. I want him to be a brave warrior, a strong leader. He will be king one day, and there is nothing to teach responsibility and leadership like leading men into war. But as a father I would rather have him walk in peace and safety and live to a ripe old age to dandle his grandchildren on his knee.'' Isildur smiled at the thought. Cirdan nodded, but said no more, his face grave. Whatever Elves saw of the fortunes to come, they seldom spoke of it to Men.

The column was broken into combat formation: many tight blocks of riders, four abreast, pikemen on the outer files, archers in the center. Each company rode under its own flag and was commanded by its own captain so it could operate independently if need be. The horses snorted and stamped, for they could sense the tension and excitement of their riders.

Isildur rode back down the companies, greeting friends and acknowledging salutes, speaking words of encouragement. The men looked weary, as well they might after a long ride, a fierce battle, and a hard climb to the heights of the mountains. They were caked with dirt, the fine dust of the road clinging to their sweating faces and arms. They looked uneasily toward the low rise of land ahead, for they knew that beyond lay Mordor, that land of ancient terror that had darkened their world all their lives. Few among them had ever seen it but its very name bore a dread. There was fear there, certainly, but a grim determination looked out of their eyes as well. They were ready, even eager, to face what lay beyond. For too many years they had waited fearfully behind walls as Sauron's hordes wandered at will through Ithilien. Now Gondor was bringing the war into Sauron's homeland, and the men were eager to settle old scores and repay old griefs.

Isildur reached the rear of the column. The quartermasters and healers were in their wagons, teams of oxen ready for the whip. He saluted them gravely, for they shared all the dangers and discomforts of a campaign, but precious little of the glory. But well he knew, and often told them, that without them they would not be an army.

As he rode back to the van, he met Elendur and two of his captains carrying unlit torches. They hailed him and he stopped.

``I thought that we raiders would be both more threatening and more visible if we carried torches,'' explained Elendur. ``The orcs will see us and perhaps have more difficulty seeing the rest of the host.''

``A good thought,'' said Isildur. ``Though a torch will make a good target for arrows as well.''

``I had thought to throw them down when we reach the tower. Perhaps they will waste some arrows shooting at the torches before they realize what we have done.''

``Good! Good, I like that. Let it be so.''

``Are all ready?''

``Aye. Your company will ride first and make straight for the tower. We will keep to the road. When the last company is safely past, fall back and follow us. We shall wait for you.''


``Take care, my son.''

``I shall, father.''

``Then let us ride.''

Elendur signalled to his men, the woodsmen and hunters of northern Ithilien, and they rode after him in single file, each carrying an unlighted torch dipped in pitch. Some men had been stationed just behind the last rocks by a great pile of dead wood, and as they saw Elendur approaching they set it alight. It blazed up with a roar, and as Elendur rode past, he swung his torch through the flames and galloped off toward the high pass, the torch's flames streaming behind him. His men followed his example, and soon a long line of lights could be seen streaming over the rise and disappearing into the darkness beyond.

``Now ride!'' shouted Isildur. ``Ride into Mordor!'' He spurred Fleetfoot forward, Ohtar beside him with the white standard of Gondor flickering in the wind of their passage. Behind him he could hear the growing thunder as thousands of hooves started pounding up the road. It was a long steep slope, and he could feel Fleetfoot's shoulders bunching and pulling, bunching and pulling, as he clawed his way up, his mighty rear legs thrusting them forward.

When he reached the top he saw before him a world of blood. The setting sun turned every stone crimson. The road dropped away into darkness. In the far distance a great mountain spewed forth dark roiling clouds of smoke, laced with red flames beneath. Red streams crept down its sides, and a pulsing sullen glow lit all the wide land below.

Immediately below them a round stone tower loomed, its top still lit by the dying sun, orange against the blood-red land beyond. Near its foot, a line of horsemen with guttering torches, pale and wan in the ruddy glow of the mountain, dashed headlong into a dark rabble of orcs. Cries and screams rose to his ears as he started down the road toward the tower.

Isildur had to mind his path in the wavering, uncertain light, but he stole quick glances at the battle below. He saw the orcs break and scatter in all directions. Some riders left the column to deal with them, but most maintained their speed and rode straight for the tower. The gate was open, and he saw the lead riders disappear without a pause into the gaping dark maw. He had not expected the gate to be open, nor intended the raiders to enter it. But he knew that Elendur was like him -- if he saw an opportunity, he would seize it instantly.

His heart in his throat, he urged Fleetfoot forward. They plunged headlong down the steep road, the thunder of their hooves drowning any sounds of combat from the tower. He looked back over his shoulder as he drove past the turning to the tower but could see nothing but some dark forms lying still before the gate. Forcing his mind to the business at hand, he led the column down a long series of wide sweeping turns as the road worked its way down the eastern face of the ridge.

They rode half an hour more, the horses' hooves throwing up sparks in the darkness as they wheeled around each turn, only to see yet another before them. Isildur's eyes swept the slope below, looking for a place where the host could dismount and wait for the others. Then he stiffened. A turn or two below them he could see a high stone bridge arching across a chasm to a lower ridge beyond. Lights moved on the bridge.

``Cirdan,'' he called over his shoulder. ``What do you see on yonder bridge?''

``Orcs -- perhaps threescore. I don't think they are guards; they carry heavy packs. Perhaps they were bringing supplies up to the tower. But they have seen or heard us -- they are throwing down their packs and forming a line at this end of the bridge.''

``No doubt they haven't seen our numbers yet. Ride them down!''

In three more minutes they had descended the last switchback and were driving across level ground toward the bridge. Now the orcs could see them clearly, row after row of armed men riding hard, the column winding down the whole mountainside, the end not yet in sight. They broke in terror and ran shrieking for the bridge. Isildur swept out his sword and drove after them. He caught the stragglers just as they reached the near end of the bridge and turned to make a desperate stand. He swept his blade down on one that was poised to loose an arrow at him, then grunted as the shaft bounced from his breastplate.

Elrond drew and shot as he rode, his horse needing no guidance. Ohtar rode up alongside Isildur, as he often did in the heat of battle. He held the standard aloft in his left hand and waved his sword in the right, cutting down any foes that tried to attack his master.

The orcs broke ranks and fled across the bridge. A particularly large one with orange-green scales leaped up onto the right parapet and drew back his scimitar for a stroke at Isildur as he passed. Isildur was turned to his left, slashing down at two orcs trying to grab his reins. Ohtar saw the scimitar start to sweep down, but he was too far back now to intervene in time. Then Cirdan sent a shaft straight and true that went through the orc's thigh. He screamed and dropped his blade, toppling onto the bridge just as Isildur pounded onto the span. Isildur saw his contorted face for one instant before it disappeared beneath Fleetfoot's hooves. The orcs fleeing across the bridge looked back and saw that they were about to be overtaken. They panicked: some falling to be trampled where they lay, others scrambling wildly over the parapet to launch themselves into the abyss. Cirdan and Ohtar ran down the last two. The bridge ended on a sharp lower ridge of the mountains. Where the road crossed the ridge a wide area had been levelled off before plunging down again beyond. Isildur raised his hand. ``My Lords,'' he cried. ``Let us halt here to rest and wait for the others.''

The order was passed back over and over until it faded into the dark. The rear of the army was still descending the many switchbacks and had only seen the action at the bridge from above. The Elves dismounted and walked over to the eastern parapet, talking together and pointing out over the red heart of Mordor. Isildur walked off by himself, watching the rest of the column spread out over the level area and thankfully dismount. Clearly the men were exhausted. They gulped water from their canteens and looked about for the wagons, but these had been left far behind in the rush over the pass. Ohtar hobbled their horses, then walked over to join Isildur.

``Don't be too anxious, Sire,'' he said. ``Elendur will be here soon.''

``He didn't need to try to take the tower; only divert them.''

``You know how eager he is to rid Gondor of every last orc. But he is not foolish -- he will not risk his men's lives needlessly.''

``Aye, I know that, but even if he survives the fight up there, he will be spared only to face that which waits for us out there in Gorgoroth. There is no safety anywhere in these terrible days. If I valued his safety above all else I would have left him in Annúminas with his brother Aratan, or in Rivendell with his mother.''

``Your sons are all serving their country and their king, Sire. Even Valandil serves by remaining to comfort his mother in Imladris.''

``Aye. She was grieved enough when we left. She could not have borne having me and all her sons away at the war.''

``You need not fear for any of them.''

``Easy enough for you to say, Ohtar. You have no family.''

``No woman would have me, you mean. But we have a loyal and capable host, Sire, and we ride now to join the mightiest army ever assembled in this age of the world. Even Sauron must quake at the thought of meeting us.''

Isildur laughed and clapped Ohtar's shoulder. ``Isn't that a thought, now? The mighty Sauron peering from his window in the Dark Tower and biting his nails.''

Ohtar smiled in relief to see Isildur laugh again. ``Perhaps these tremors we feel in the ground are not the volcano's rumblings at all, but only old Sauron's knees knocking together.'' Isildur laughed again.

``Ohtar, your nonsense makes me laugh even in this foul place. Thank you. Your loyalty and concern for me counters the gloomy spells and forebodings that hang over me.''

At last the wagons arrived and food was hastily prepared and passed out. The men slumped against their packs or sprawled on the ground, taking advantage of the brief respite. Servants carried food to the leaders where they sat on the parapet gazing out into the ruddy glow to the east.

``This ridge is called the Morgai,'' said Isildur. ``From here the road will be less steep.''

``The Black Fence,'' said Elrond around a mouthful of waybread. ``A fitting name. Look at that tortured land. You would think nothing could live in that waste, and yet somewhere out there are Gil-galad and Elendil and all the Army of the Alliance. They must be anxious indeed for news of us.''

``Aye,'' said Isildur. ``Their part has not been easy either. It is hard to sit and wait while your fate is decided by what others do elsewhere. For myself it is nearly unbearable to not be acting.''

Elrond glanced at him. ``I think of Elendil,'' he said. ``It must be hard for a father to send a son into battle alone for the first time.''

Isildur smiled. ``Your subtlety is not lost on me, old friend. Ohtar too tried to reassure me. I am sure Elendur will be well.''

After their meal, Isildur and Ohtar walked around the camp. Some were tending their horses or seeing to their gear, but most were deeply asleep, lulled by the constant slow tread of the sentries around the camp. An hour passed, another. Isildur tried to sleep but could not.

Then a clatter of hooves from the road above. Men leaped up, shaking the sleep from their heads and reaching for their weapons.

``Hold,'' called one of the sentries. ``It's our lads.''

Isildur hurried to the foot of the road and could dimly make out a line of horsemen descending the slope. Then he saw the rear of the line and realized the column was much shorter than that which had ridden into the tower. His eyes strained to see the figure at their head, but he could not be sure of him until they came around the last turn and rode slowly into the camp. It was indeed Elendur, but his head hung down and his white armor was splattered with blood, black in the dim light. Isildur's heart caught in his throat. He hurried to take the horse's bridle.

``Elendur! Are you wounded?''

Elendur's head snapped up. He looked about in confusion, then smiled down at Isildur.

``No, father. I believe I had fallen asleep. I was rather tired.''

``But the blood...''

Elendur looked down at his gory raiment. ``Not mine, but that of a number of orcs. The action was hand-to-hand.''

``And how went the fight? Did you lose many men?''

``Over a score, I'm afraid, father. You should have seen them. They were so eager to fight that many rode alone into large companies of orcs. The orcs thought them mad. They thought we were some sort of demons, I do believe. They stood their ground, though, I'll say that for them.''

``Orcs will fight fiercely if they are cornered. You know what they do to the poor devils they capture. I suppose they think the same thing would happen to them if they surrendered. So they usually fight to the last, asking no quarter.''

``So they did,'' said Elendur. ``I know you said to just hold them off until you had passed, but the fighting was fierce from the start. It would have been more dangerous to turn our backs and try to withdraw. So we fought on. The last of them we drove back up the tower, step by step, fighting fiercely all the way. It was terrible, bloody work on those stairs in the dark, everybody shouting and swearing and slipping and falling over one another. At the end only three of them reached the roof, and when we fought our way out the door they threw themselves from the parapet.''

``Then the tower is ours?''

``Aye, Sire,'' said Elendur with a weary grin. ``The banner of Gondor once more flies from the tower of Cirith Ungol.''

``Well done! Well done indeed,'' beamed Isildur. ``Rest now. We will not ride before dawn.''

The raiding party slipped from their horses, took some quick bites, and rolled themselves in their blankets to grab a few hours sleep. Soon the whole camp was quiet again, save for snoring and the soft tread of the oft-relieved sentries.

The Elf-Lords sat apart from the rest and looked silently out over the vast plains of Gorgoroth. The violent eruptions had died down and the lowering clouds were but dimly seen in the dim orange glow from the gouts of lava still creeping down the mountain's slopes. Here and there steam and fumes drifted from cracks in the tortured earth. The Elves' eyes were turned upon that grim scene, but saw it not. They rested their minds in other realms -- far worlds no mortal Man had ever seen. Of these the Firstborn do not speak even among themselves, save only, it is said, in old songs in the high Quenya tongue, which few even of the Elves of Middle-earth now remember.


Dawn came early on the exposed eastern flanks of the mountains. The sun crept up out of brown smoke and haze, dimming at last even the sullen glow of Orodruin. The men awoke and stood wrapped in their blankets against the morning chill, looking out over the plain far below that they must somehow cross. Orodruin itself was wreathed in sulphurous fumes and it loomed only as a dark shadow piercing the sullen roof of grey clouds. Nothing could be seen of what lay beyond the Mountain.

Elendur woke to find his father already about, ordering the preparations for the day's march. He rose, stretching and bending to work the kinks out of his back after the night on the hard ground, then went to the eastern parapet and looked out over Gorgoroth. His father joined him there a few minutes later.

``Whence comes this perpetual low gray cloud, father? Is it the fumes of the Mountain, or is it some devise of Sauron's?'' They watched a spurt of flame suddenly shoot from a fissure in the plain, sending up a plume of black smoke.

``Sauron's forges and foundries lie beneath the surface, in a vast warren of tunnels and caverns, tended by slaves who work endlessly in the dark and heat. Many of the tunnels are natural, formed when the lava flowed out from beneath its cooling skin. These were connected and expanded by many passages hewn out of the rock by his slaves. We suspect that there are secret underground entrances to the Barad-dûr through which they receive their supplies, for even orcs must eat. We have searched for them, but it is dangerous and bloody work to try to fight our way through the underground passages where the orcs have every advantage.

``But the plain is also rent in many places by fumaroles and other vents for the fiery violence beneath. And it seems that Sauron even has some control over the volcano, for it is most active as his power waxes, and it is said it bursts forth in fury when he is angered. His power is great indeed.''

Even as he spoke the ground trembled beneath their feet. The Mountain grumbled and roared. Flame gushed from a red-lipped wound in its side. Elendur looked out over the ravaged, blasted plain, wavering in the heat and steam of the fumaroles. ``He must be in a foul mood this day,'' he observed. ``Why would even Sauron choose such a place in which to live?''

``Sauron does not love life and light. He seeks only ever greater power. The natural furnaces of the Mountain power his machinery. He delights in bending the land to his will, forcing it to yield up weapons and engines of destruction. He would rather see flames and slag heaps than green growing things. He goes always in shadow and cloud.

``But Orodruin is yet more to him. He is linked to the Mountain in some manner we do not understand. Celebrimbor, in his vision that revealed Sauron's treachery, saw that Sauron used the flames of the Sammath Naur, the great chambers of fire high on Orodruin's slopes, to forge the One Ring, the lens that focuses all his malice and power. Celebrimbor suspected that the Mountain was the earthly gate to the dread Flame of Udûn, and that this was the source of Sauron's power.''

Elendur looked upon the Mountain with loathing. ``Must we go right to the Mountain, father? My heart quails at the sight of it.''

``No, even the mighty arts of Sauron cannot build on the heaving flanks of Orodruin itself. The Barad-dûr is beyond it to the east, upon a jagged southern spur of the Ered Lithui. It must be forty miles, I would guess, from the Mountain to the Tower, but Sauron has built a road from his gate to the foot of the Mountain, and from there it winds up to the mouth of the Sammath Naur itself. There he has built a door that faces directly toward the Barad-dûr, so that he might look out from his abode and see directly into the Flame of Udûn. Our road will pass close under its flanks before striking Sauron's Road, but we need go no closer.''

Ohtar joined them to report that the men were fed and ready.

``Then let us ride,'' said Isildur, and they turned and joined the Elf-Lords. Cirdan and Elrond were already mounted. ``To horse,'' cried Cirdan. ``We have many leagues still before us. Tonight we shall sleep in the camp of Gil-galad and Elendil.''

They rode then, down from the heights of the Morgai ridge into a shallow ravine that gradually widened as they descended until it opened out onto the plain in a wide fan of broken rock. The road at last ceased its tiresome twisting and stretched away toward the east, turning only to avoid slag heaps and the steaming fumaroles.

Once they spied of group of dark figures on the road ahead, but they fled from the road at sight of the host, leaving something dark lying in the road. When they reached the spot, they saw that it was the body of a great black stallion. It was gaunt and covered with streaks of foam.

``A magnificent animal,'' said Elendur sadly. ``From the looks of him, someone rode him to the death.''

``I know this horse,'' said Ohtar. ``Remember, Sire? We last saw him at Erech.''

``Aye. You may be right, Ohtar. He is much like, and I never knew you to be wrong about a horse.''

``What a sad end for such a noble beast,'' said Elrond. ``A curse on him who destroyed it.''

``Many curses has he already had,'' said Isildur, ``for his master was Malithôr of Umbar, the Mouth of Sauron.''

``And no sign of him or the orcs we saw either,'' said Elendur, looking about at the trackless wastes all around them.

``Gone down their rat holes,'' grumbled Ohtar.

``But he was alone when he left Minas Ithil,'' said Elendur. ``Has he gathered a body of orcs to him, do you think?''

``No,'' said Isildur. ``He is a proud Númenórean. He will not deign to associate with orcs. He is long gone by now.''

``But the orcs that fled at our approach?'' asked Elrond.

``I fear they admired Malithôr's horse only as dinner,'' said Isildur, pointing to a short crude knife dropped by the horse's head. ``Let us ride on. Perhaps we can overtake him.''

The sun was climbing high when the road descended the last slopes and entered the blackened lava fields of Gorgoroth. The temperature rose to a suffocating heat. Ribbons of grey wind-blown dust writhed across the half-buried road, whipped here and there into twisting dust-devils that moved slowly across the landscape like ghosts. Foul-smelling fumes that burned the eyes erupted from cracks in the lava, and many riders tied cloths across their faces against the stench. They rode on in silence, each enduring the miseries alone, lost in his own thoughts. Gradually the Mountain crept nearer, looming ever higher before them.

Then, just as the leaders topped a low rise and could see the whole Mountain rising before them, the plains groaned and heaved and the air shuddered with a mighty, deep-throated roar. The horses reared and screamed in their fright, and several fell. The ground shook so violently that many crags and slag heaps nearby crumbled and fell, and new fissures and cracks split the ground. Steam and smoke issued from every vent.

When they had their mounts under control, they looked up at Orodruin and saw that it was in full eruption. The topmost crags burst asunder and fell tumbling and rolling down its steep sides. A great fountain of flame burst from its summit. The face of the Mountain was slashed and scored by searing rivers of thick clotted lava. Choking clouds of fiery ash boiled from a dozen new vents. The column halted in awe.

Elrond looked to Gildor. ``What means this, Lord? Think you it is but another eruption? Never have I seen one more violent.''

Gildor looked upon the Mountain's torment as yet another gout of flame shot up. ``I know not, my friend, but I fear that Sauron is roused to anger. Mayhap he has learned somehow of the taking of Minas Ithil. Perhaps he even senses the approach of the Rings, so closely are they linked to his own.''

Isildur rose in his stirrups, peering into the roiling clouds of smoke wreathing the Mountain. ``Orodruin and its fumes prevent any glimpse of the Barad-dûr beyond. Would we had some news of the Kings.''

Cirdan's face was grim and set. ``My heart misgives me,'' he said. ``I fear our plans have gone awry. Sauron may even now be coming out of his tower, and we have many leagues still to ride. We must make great haste.''

So the riders moved out again, at a trot. Hour after hour they rode across the steaming wastes. Ever the Mountain rumbled and belched forth streams of lava, but none toward the road. It seemed that the Mountain came no closer, but only grew taller and taller. Then at last they came to the lip of a broad and shallow valley and could see the road stretching out like a thin white line etched upon the blackened southern skirts of the Mountain.

Cirdan peered under a shading hand. ``Elrond, do you mark an odd dark cloud above the road in the distance, beyond the Mountain's shoulder?''

``There is a blackness that seems almost solid, directly above the road.''

Isildur squinted into the distance, but his eyes were not equal to the Elves'. ``Could it be the pall which hangs always above the Barad-dûr?'' he asked.

``It is very like,'' said Gildor. ``But surely it is too near. The Tower is yet fifteen leagues beyond.''

``I like it not,'' said Cirdan uneasily. ``It has an evil look. Methinks I would not willingly ride under it.''

``Is there no other way, father?'' asked Elendur.

``No. This is the only road, and we dare not leave it, for the land is a maze of pits and vents masked by drifting ash. But perhaps the cloud is but smoke from the eruption. It may dissipate as we approach. Let us ride on.''

``Hold!'' said Elrond. ``Look there!'' They followed his pointing arm toward a line of smoking cinder cones off to their left.

First Cirdan, then the others, noticed a tiny dark figure struggling slowly along the side of the easternmost of the small volcanic vents. Clouds of dust rose as the steep cinder slope slid away from its feet.

``It is a Man, alone and on foot,'' said Elrond, squinting at the tiny black dot in the distance. ``If it is our old friend Malithôr, he has chosen a difficult path,'' he added, watching the hurrying figure stumble and fall, then rise and struggle on.

``He no doubt wished to avoid the road, and us,'' said Isildur. ``He is most determined to reach Sauron before we do. But it is hopeless on foot. If he continues on that course we should catch him somewhere near the southern foot of the Mountain. He cannot hope to reach the Barad-dûr before we do.''

The column advanced down into the valley of black lava, blocking out the sight of the distant figure. Another hour passed, and still the Mountain quaked and still the ominous cloud hovered before them. All could see it now, and the men murmured uneasily, wondering what evil it might hold. They rode up across the southern skirts of the Mountain and several times had to pick their way across more recent lava flows that had buried the road. Then the road dropped away into a steep-sided ravine and they halted once more to pass around food and to water the horses.

``Surely, my lords,'' said Cirdan. ``Yonder cloud is moving. When first we spied it, it was clearly above the plains east of the Mountain. Now it is further south and nearly before us. It is as if it were moving along the road we are on, coming toward us.''

They watched a few moments, and soon there could be no doubt. The dark pall crept across the landscape like a living thing, following a weaving pattern that must mark the path of the road below.

``This is the work of Sauron,'' said Cirdan darkly. ``It may be some weapon or pestilence of his making.''

``Must we just sit here and wait for it to engulf us?'' asked Elendur. ``I believe I can smell it, or some change in the air -- some reek of putrescence, of death.'' He shivered, even in the oppressive heat.

``But surely,'' said Isildur, ``it seems to have just now stopped. See, it hovers but a league or two away.''

``But hark ye,'' said Cirdan, bidding them to silence. Elrond sat unmoving a moment, then turned to Cirdan. ``The sounds of battle: the clash of steel and the voices of many warriors.''

The men strained their ears, but could hear nothing but the wind. Isildur shook his head. ``Your Elvish ears are keen indeed. I hear nothing.''

``Nevertheless, a great battle rages beneath that cloud,'' said Cirdan.

``Then it can only be the Kings!'' said Elendur.

``Aye,'' said Cirdan, ``and Sauron. The final battle is upon us.''

``Men of Gondor and the Southlands!'' shouted Isildur, rising in his stirrups and facing his men. ``This is the final hour. The enemy is before us. Strike now, and strike well, or the West shall never strike again! The world rides on your shoulders. Forward now, for Gil-galad and Elendil!''

The thousands of riders gave a hoarse and ragged cheer, uncovering their shields and drawing their weapons. Then the column moved forward, down the slope into the ravine, and into the shadow of that black cloud. Ohtar drew forth the great horn of the Eredrim and gave wind to it in mighty blast after blast. High and clear the horn rang. Then the Host of the West was swallowed by the Night of Sauron and the horn became muted and faint. Soon no living thing could be seen moving in all that tortured plain, and only the cloud of darkness remained.

Chapter Twelve

Elendil drove his heels into his charger's sides, urging him on to greater speed. The great horse, already covered with sweat from the long gallop in the stifling heat, grunted but responded, stretching his stride and pulling away from the horses around him. Soon he was a dozen lengths in front of the pounding column of cavalry. No one spoke, their faces masked against the heat and dust, their reddened eyes intent on a column of dust and smoke always a few leagues ahead of them.

The walls of the road crept monotonously by, and still they drew no nearer their foes. The heat, the dust, the lava walls blurring by on either hand, combined to give a nightmarish sense of futility, as if they were doomed to ride thus forever. The only indication of their speed was the fiery summit of Orodruin rising above the black pall. It grew steadily closer. Now and again it shuddered and belched forth new streams of lava and clouds of black flame-laced smoke. Near its summit shone a gleaming red light like a baleful eye watching them -- the door to the Sammath Naur, the Chambers of Fire.

Hours passed and they were forced to slow to a canter. The large heavy war horses were streaming with sweat, their great shining sides heaving as they gasped for air in the oppressive heat. Finally by unspoken consent they stopped and allowed the hostlers and grooms to catch up and water the horses from the leather sacks slung on their pack horses.

Elendil sat on the wall, breathing heavily and drinking from a water gourd, as Gil-galad turned from some of his captains and came over to him.

``We cannot keep up this pace much longer,'' said the Elf.

``We must,'' gasped Elendil. ``Sauron is no more than a league or two before us.''

``Aye. But his orcs are accustomed to this heat and short rations. And he has no compunctions about running them to death. If we exhaust our horses we can't hope to pursue him on foot.''

``I suppose not. But it galls me to know he is so near and to be unable to bring him to bay.''

``I know. But if we do catch him we must be ready to fight. Many of the people look ready to drop from their horses. This ride is destroying their fighting ability.''

Elendil looked at his men slumped in the meager shade of the wall. Their faces were ashen and drawn, grey even under the dust. They did not speak, and ate and drank only mechanically.

``You are right. We must rest. But no more than an hour, or we may never catch him.''

And so they rested, eyes closed against the blaze of the sun. It was high now, burning down like a copper coin through the smoky yellow haze. It bathed the barren landscape in a glare and heat that left the rocks too hot to comfortably touch and took all relief even from the few shadows. The Elves stood sentry duty, standing tall and dark against the orange sky, wrapped in their long grey cloaks that somehow sheltered them from the heat.


Elendil had thought to only rest his eyes for a moment, but then he was being shaken awake by Gil-galad.

``Elendil,'' said the Elf. ``Elendil, rouse yourself.''

Elendil rose from the ground with a groan. ``Oh, my friend,'' he sighed. ``My Númenórean blood has given me long life, but it has not padded these old bones for sleeping upon stones. What is it? Is it time to ride again?''

``I believe Sauron too has stopped. The black cloud reached the foot of Orodruin soon after we stopped, but it has not moved since. Come see for yourself.''

They climbed over the low wall of black lava rocks and walked to the top of a mound of cinders a few hundred yards north of the road. Three Elvish sentries stood there, looking out to the west and pointing.

``There, Sire,'' said one. ``You see? The cloud is over that low area just beyond the old lava flows at Orodruin's southern skirts. But it has not moved this last half hour.''

``What could it mean?'' mused Elendil, staring out at the dark pall like a motionless column of smoke.

``Perhaps even his horde needs rest,'' suggested Gil-galad.

``Or perhaps he lies in wait to ambush us,'' murmured one of the other Elves.

``He has no need to hide,'' said Elendil. ``All he has to do is to wait for us to catch up.''

``Then perhaps he is ready to make his stand.''

``But then why lead us this chase halfway across Mordor first?''

``He may feel stronger in the shadow of Orodruin,'' said Gil-galad. ``It is said that the source of his power is within the Mountain.''

``If so, we have no choice but to fight him on the ground of his choosing. Rouse the army. Let us mount and ride at once.''

Soon they were under way again, the men still groggy from their short sleep, the horses disgruntled at starting again so soon in the heat of the day. Elendil and Gil-galad rode side by side at the head of the column, watching that ominous dark cloud growing nearer every minute.

``It is an evil situation,'' said Elendil, keeping his voice low so the others wouldn't hear. ``He is at the peak of his power, in his own territory, and he can arrange his troops as he pleases. He even chooses the time and place of the battle.''

``Aye,'' said Gil-galad, ``while we shall arrive exhausted from a long siege and chase, and we do not even know where our friends might be at this moment.''

``Would they were with us now,'' said Elendil. ``I would feel much easier if I had Isildur at my side.''

``And his ten thousand warriors,'' agreed Gil-galad. ``But if we must face Sauron as we are, let us do all that we can. Sauron alone must be our object.''

``Aye, if he were slain the orcs alone would be no great danger. They can fight fiercely, but only with leadership. If their captains are slain, individually they are cowards.''

``Then let us not spread out into a long battle line,'' suggested Gil-galad. ``You and I shall ride straight for Sauron with all our greatest knights. All the rest shall follow at our backs, perhaps no more than ten abreast. We will make no attempt to engage along the entire front. It will be one glorious charge. Are we agreed?''

Elendil considered a moment. ``If the charge is stopped, his orcs will be able to close in around us. We would have no defense on our flanks at all. We wouldn't have a chance.''

``Yes. It is win or lose, all or nothing. We shall gamble all on one thrust straight at him.''

``It is a desperate plan. There could be no retreat, no regrouping, no second attempt.''

``For myself,'' said Gil-galad, ``I am sick of this miserable land and all that is in it. I have no desire for other battles, other days. I would meet Sauron face to face and give him a taste of Aeglos in the ribs,'' he said grimly, holding the great spear upright at his side. ``If I die in the attempt, so be it. But we will have done our utmost. Let it be finished today.''

``Yes,'' said Elendil. ``I too am ready for the war to be over today. I will ride beside you. And my Narsil too is thirsty for Sauron's blood.''

``Then let the orders be passed, for methinks he is only beyond that ridge.''

Isildur turned in his saddle and his voice boomed out over the pounding of hooves. ``Form up in ten files, no more. When we see the enemy, keep together and draw up tight behind us; let no one straggle or they will left behind. Engage only those immediately before you. Do not turn aside to pursue. Let every warrior ride straight for Sauron, no matter what may come between. And he whose hand brings him down shall live forever in song. His name shall be sung in the halls of kingdoms yet unborn. Ride now, and do not stop until Sauron is dead!''


The pall loomed right above them now, blocking the sun and throwing the land into shadow. Smoke drifted among the pinnacles of broken rock on either hand. They pounded up a last slope, topped a rise, and looked down into a wide flat valley. On the right was a jagged black wall of lava, the toe of a massive flow coming down from Orodruin, now filling the entire northern sky. And there before them lay all the armies of Mordor.

They were spread along the floor of the valley, from the lava on the right until they disappeared in the murk to the south. Rank upon rank of armored orcs, their weapons bristling above and before them. Here and there among them were companies of Men: cruel Haradrim of the South and the savage Men of Rhûn and the Berserkers from the lands to the east.

On the far side of the valley, perhaps three miles away, a group of a few hundred black figures were formed up in a dense square behind the last ranks. There, where the darkness was deepest, flew the banners of ebony with the crimson Lidless Eye. Even at that distance, the Men and Elves could feel the malice and the terror that was Sauron's Shadow.

No orders were necessary. No maneuvering was required. Gil-galad and Elendil simply topped the rise and rode shoulder-to-shoulder, straight for that darkness. Behind them the long, long column continued to pour over the hill, riding at full speed. Deep-throated cries rang out, tearing the air: ``Gondor! Gondor!'' and ``Elbereth. Elbereth for Lindon!''

The orc officers apparently assumed the leaders would pause at the foot of the hill to disperse their troops along the front, for they did nothing but watch silently. Closer and closer came Elendil and Gil-galad, their armor gleaming in the sun, their banners rippling above them. Their chief knights spread out into a tight wedge behind them so the column assumed the form of a giant spear, the point driving straight toward the center of Sauron's army.

The orcs in the center of the front rank watched with growing uneasiness. When the Kings were only a few hundred yards away their intent became clear and panic fell on the orcs in their path. Some few turned to flee, but they were instantly cut down by their officers in the second rank. The others were driven forward with many blows and cruel cuts from the officers' whips.

But none could withstand the onslaught of the Kings and their knights. The greatest fighters of many an age, all gathered together in one cause, driven in desperation to one final charge, were not to be turned aside by mere orcs. They struck with the impact of an avalanche, sweeping the terrified orcs aside, trampling them screaming under their hooves. The wedge of knights drove forward, each sweeping down with his sword as if mowing a field of wheat, and the orcs fell back before them.

Now the flanks of the orc horde understood at last the nature of the attack. They abandoned their formations and rushed toward the center, howling as they came. But the press was so great around the allied column that few could approach close enough to strike a blow. Those unfortunate enough to be near found themselves pushed forward by their fellows, right into the cruel slashing blades of the Men. The Elvish archers could fire at will into the close-packed throng of orcs, sure of a kill with every shaft.

At the head of the column, Elendil and Gil-galad chopped madly at the foes that attempted to strike at them or their mounts. They continued to drive forward so fast that each blow was against a new foe. Face after astonished face appeared before them, the horrible goblin features twisted in a grimace of terror, then they swept by or fell before their blades.

Looking up quickly, Elendil saw that they had forced their way through all but the last two ranks of orcs. On the rise above him he could see a solid phalanx of tall Men mounted on black horses watching his approach with what appeared to be calm interest. Then an axe glanced off his thigh armor and he brought Narsil viciously downward, hewing a fur-clad Man nearly in two. Beside him Gil-galad wielded his spear with a cold efficiency, rarely letting a foe close enough to even strike a blow. Elendil stole a glance over his shoulder and saw that the column was still together and still moving like a white snake through a field of black. He could see, though, that many of the horses were now riderless, though they still pushed forward in the eagerness of battle.

Slashing down at a pair of orcs that were thrusting at his horse's neck with their short knives, he spurred forward, riding down a knot of determined orcs. Then they were through. Before them was fifty yards of open ground, rising to the square of black-clad riders. The enemy knights had tightened up their formation, each rider stirrup-to-stirrup with his neighbor, all facing outwards, swords drawn and ready.

Gil-galad hacked his way free of the press and rode up beside Elendil. He too looked up. ``These are neither orcs nor wild Men,'' he gasped.

``No,'' said Elendil. ``They are Dúnedain. They must be knights of Umbar.'' He turned and looked back at the battle behind them. A few score of their knights were just fighting their way free, but most of the host was in a desperate battle, pressed from all sides. Many were now engaged in hand-to-hand combat with several determined foes on either side. Those that became separated from the main column were soon pulled from their horses and slain horribly. And yet the column could be seen to be visibly moving forward, still driving toward Sauron.

Then came a roar of many voices, and Elendil wheeled about to see the enemy riders spurring their mounts forward and lowering their lances. They pounded down the short slope toward the few allies free to engage them. ``For Umbar!'' they cried. ``Remember Númenor!''

But Elendil's knights were not to be dismayed. ``For Gondor!'' they shouted. ``Remember Númenor!'' And so, with the same battle cry, the descendants of the Men of that long-lost island rode against each other, each blaming the others for its downfall.

Outnumbered, exhausted, in many cases wounded, and riding up a steep hill, the knights of Gondor met the knights of Umbar, and never has such a conflict of mounted Men been more bitterly fought, with many a cruel blow and valiant death on both sides. The advance of the Allies wavered, then stopped. The mad impetus of the wild charge was broken at last. Elendil's horse fell back a step, then another. Gil-galad's horse screamed and went down kicking. Gil-galad rolled free and was on his feet in seconds, but he was soon surrounded by three mounted Umbardrim.

Elendil rode back to help and slew one of the black knights with a sweep of Narsil. The other turned to engage him and they traded blow for blow. Gil-galad was in a fierce struggle with the third. The Corsair forced the Elf-lord back, but each mighty two-handed stroke of his sword was parried by Aeglos. One blow went wide and the force of it half-turned the knight. Before he could recover, Aeglos had pierced him through. His scream distracted Elendil's opponent, and in a second he lay stretched beside his companions.

The Kings looked around. The white-clad Gondorrim and the black-clad Umbardrim were engaged in deadly single combats all around them -- hundreds of individual battles between grunting, swearing, men with none to intervene or even see the desperate blows. But too few had fought clear of the orcs and those who had were cruelly outnumbered. Most of the Elves and Men were still trying to force their way through the orcs and could not get free to help. Everywhere the allies were being pressed back down the hill. The orcs swarmed forward to surround them. The Kings plunged back into the fight, each attacking the nearest enemy knight. They had neither time or breath for words, but both knew that the bold charge had failed. Now there was nothing more to do but to continue fighting, battling on and on until fatigue slowed their arms and their opponents found their chance.

Then, from somewhere beyond the top of the hill came the sound of a horn: high and clear, cutting through all the roar of battle. A black knight with a mace raised to strike at Elendil paused instead and looked back at the sound. It was his last motion, for Narsil swept against his neck and he toppled headless from his horse. Then came a mighty roar from many throats, for over the summit of the hill appeared a solid mass of mounted figures, banners streaming and swords waving over their heads. They plunged down the slope without a pause: hundreds, then thousands of them.

Gil-galad, standing by Elendil's stirrup, cried out in dismay. ``More of these Númenóreans! It is over!''

But Elendil could not speak for a moment. He watched a tall knight riding straight toward him, his sword whirling above his head. Behind him pounded another rider carrying a standard. And from the standard rippled the Crownéd Tree of Gondor.

``Yes, it is over, old friend,'' said Elendil. ``For there rides my son Isildur.''


Isildur crested the ridge and a smoke-shrouded valley opened before him. There below lay two vast armies locked in mortal combat. It was like no battle he had ever seen. There were no lines, no front, no flanks. The floor of the valley was filled with a seething mass of black figures, all seemingly pressing inwards upon their fellows. In their midst was a thin white line of mounted warriors, laying about them on either side. He could see small parts of the white column cut off from the rest and rapidly shrinking, like a white floor being flooded with black ink.

On the slope before them, another battle was raging between two groups of mounted knights, the white again badly outnumbered. In the midst of this wheeling mass of armored men rose a white banner bearing the Crownéd Tree.

``There, Sire,'' shouted Ohtar. ``Your father is there, by the banner.''

``I see him,'' called Isildur. ``But he is very hard-pressed, and I do not see Gil-galad. I pray we are not too late! Ride, my brothers. Forget your weariness and ride like the wind. Ride to your king's standard!''

``Elendil!'' went up the cry. ``Gondor for Elendil!''

The Umbardrim heard that cry and knew themselves lost. They drew off and tried to form a defensive formation, but then the knights of Gondor were upon them. Coming down the steep slope, the force of their impact was like a wave crashing on a shore. In an instant the hillside was a mass of shouting, hacking men and wheeling horses. Isildur and his companions drove straight for the king, slaying any who stood between them.

For the first time Elendil had no foe before him. He paused to catch his breath and saw his son and grandson riding toward him. It came to him that never had they looked more kingly. Isildur reined in beside him and leaped from his horse. They clasped arms, their eyes revealing more than words could ever say.

Isildur bowed his head. ``My father and my king,'' he said. ``We are come at last. I pray we are not too late.''

Too overcome at first for words, Elendil looked at Isildur's companions. There was his grandson Elendur, his smile beaming through a smoke-stained face. And there also were the Elves, Elrond Halfelven and Cirdan Shipwright, and his old friend and aide Gildor Inglorion. He was overwhelmed with emotion at seeing their faces again after so long.

``No,'' he said. ``No, I believe you may have come in time. Welcome, my Lords,'' he said to the Elves. Then Gil-galad, still on foot, came up to them. He gripped Cirdan's hands in his.

``Well met, my friends,'' he said. ``We are most glad to see you. I believe you have turned the tide of the battle.''

They stood there, a momentary island of calm in the midst of violent struggle, and looked out over the battle. All around them the knights of Umbar and Lindon and Arnor and Gondor were fighting fiercely, giving blow for blow, though it was the Umbardrim now being slowly driven back. Still, the balance was nearly even.

In the valley below, however, it was a different story. The orcs, seeing Isildur's army continuing to pour down upon them, broke and fled, many throwing down their weapons for greater speed. The Army of the Alliance, though terribly reduced, took heart and redoubled their efforts, beating their foes back and giving themselves room to breathe. Isildur's men galloped to their aid, sweeping all before them. The orcs fell into complete confusion, running about in terror. The Kings sat and watched as their warriors attacked the last pockets of organized resistance.


Yet even as their hearts soared with joy, a darkness fell upon them. Sounds became muted, the very light of the sun seemed to dim. Warriors looked about in confusion and dismay. Suddenly the battle, the whole war, seemed hopeless, all their sufferings futile. The light faded from their eyes, the smiles from their lips. Isildur felt his shoulders sag, as if all his weariness were overcoming him at last. He knew it at once, for he had felt it at the battle for the Morannon so many years ago.

``Do you feel it?'' shouted Gil-galad. ``It is Sauron. It is his Shadow. He is near.''

``Fight on,'' called Isildur to his captains. ``It is Sauron's Shadow. You must fight on. We shall deal with Sauron.''

But even as he said it, he felt a wave of hopelessness sweep over him. Deal with Sauron? How could they possibly stand against someone so powerful that his mere presence sent fear knifing through the bravest heart?

``Now, my Lords,'' said Gil-galad, ``we are come to the final conflict of all. This is the hour of reckoning. Now we must wield all the powers at our command.'' He looked at Elrond and Cirdan. ``Have you brought the Three? Where is Galadriel?''

Cirdan shook his head. ``We were unable to destroy the Ring-wraiths, my king. Galadriel and Celeborn remained at Minas Ithil to try to contain them there. She has Nenya with her.''

The news seemed to crush Gil-galad's spirit. His face sagged and went ashen. ``The Three are not here? We go to do battle with Sauron himself and the Three are not here? How can we hope to dispel his Shadow without them?'' The others only looked at him, unable to reply.

Seeing his face, his friends were stricken with the sense that all hope had gone. Despair beat at them like black wings about their heads. Elrond struggled against it, knowing it for the fear he had felt near the Úlairi, only much, much stronger.

``Cirdan still has Narya,'' he said, ``and I have brought Vilya for you, Sire.'' They seemed but small words, hollow and weightless against the crushing despair. The others stared at him hopelessly. But then he withdrew the great blue ring and held it up gleaming in the light. And somehow, seeing it shining there in the gloom gave them all hope. They looked at each other in wonder.

``Surely,'' said Gildor, ``with such weapons we can defeat even Sauron.''

But Gil-galad shook his head. ``Remember, they are not weapons at all,'' he said. ``They cannot be used to attack him. But the Three together might have been enough at least to dispel his Shadow and allow us to see him more clearly. But with two only...'' His voice trailed off.

``Would that we knew what their effect will be,'' said Cirdan. ``It is thought that he has some mystic link with them, that they will draw Sauron to them. But it is also possible that their use could give him some power over us. But we just don't know.'' Gil-galad stood leaning on his spear, looking at Vilya in Elrond's hand. ``Long have I loved that bright shining thing,'' he said, ``And yet for some reason I feel reluctant to don it now.'' He stepped back as if with an effort.

``No, on reflection I believe I shall not bear Vilya into this conflict.'' They all looked at him in surprise. ``Is that wise, my king?'' asked Elrond. ``I bore it through great peril so you would have it here at the final conflict. You are its rightful master, and on your hand its strength is greatest.''

Gil-galad patted the heavy ebony handle of his spear. ``Aeglos here has always served me well. I will fight with the weapon I know.''

``But it could at least help guard you, Sire,'' pleaded Elrond, holding out the ring to him. ``My mind would be easier if I knew you had its strength with you.''

``Hear him, Sire,'' said Gildor. ``Let the Ring provide what protection it can.''

The old Elf-king shook his head, his long grey hair swaying beneath his helm. ``No. Throughout this war Elendil and I have fought side by side on equal terms, sharing the labors and dangers equally. But the Three were wrought for Elvish hands and they would not serve a Man. Since Elendil has no Ring to protect him, I too shall face Sauron with only what courage I can summon. And Elendil and I have our enchanted weapons, in which I place my greatest faith.

``Elrond, you and Cirdan do not have such weapons, but he will have his Narya. It is for you I fear, my old friend. Keep Vilya for me a little longer. Perhaps it will spare your life this day. For myself, I will trust to Aeglos here. It has never failed me yet.''

``But Sire,'' protested Elrond. ``Vilya is yours. If it may indeed spare its bearer's life, I would have it on your hand, not mine.''

``Yes,'' agreed Cirdan. ``Will you not reconsider, my King? You will need all the strength and courage you can muster to fight Sauron. Why will you not take Vilya?''

``Strength and courage I will indeed need,'' Gil-galad replied. ``But Vilya does not provide either. Any of us Elves can wear it to help dispel the Shadow. But wearing it also reveals its bearer more clearly to Sauron. Perhaps if I face Sauron without it, he will find me more difficult to fight.''

``But Sire,'' said Elrond. ``Surely it...'' But Gil-galad was already turning away, his eyes searching the battlefield.

``No, I will face him with Aeglos alone,'' he called over his shoulder. ``Wear Narya yourself, Shipmaster, and let Elrond wear Vilya. Elendil and Isildur and I will do the fighting, if it is possible against this Shadow. You must use your Rings' strength against it. Gildor, I put you in charge of the Elvish forces.''

``As you, Elendur,'' said Elendil, ``shall command the armies of Men. Your father and I have duties that lie elsewhere. We have some debts to repay to Sauron.''

``But before we can fight him,'' said Gil-galad, ``we must find him. We must find the source of the Shadow.''

He caught a riderless horse and swung onto its back. ``Come,'' he called to the others. ``This way. Do you feel it? He is this way.''

He veered off to the right, toward the lava flow that blocked the northern end of the valley. The others lords followed, slanting up across the slope. Looking beyond Gil-galad, Isildur saw the advancing wave of Gondorrim troops falter. Horses screamed and reared, riders toppling from their backs. He realized he was having trouble seeing the men clearly, though whether it was due to the growing panic in his chest or to some disturbance in the air, he could not be sure. But the smoke and murk definitely seemed thicker in that direction.

His horse faltered, shied, and stopped, trembling. He urged it forward, but it was no use. Fleetfoot had a great heart and had never shirked a battle, but he could not abide the Shadow. Not far ahead, Gil-galad was also having trouble with his new mount. He threw his leg over and dropped to the ground, still carrying his Aeglos. ``Leave your horses,'' he shouted, his voice strangely distant. ``They feel the Shadow too. We must go on foot.''

They dismounted and started up after Gil-galad. It felt as if they were walking through a pool of hot tar. It was all they could do to push their feet forward. And always there was that growing terror clutching at their hearts, the sense that this whole struggle was useless, that they could not hope to win. Still they could see Gil-galad above them, stumbling upward among the loose rocks.

Gil-galad climbed out of the valley and stood swaying, looking around him. Elendil struggled up beside him. Then they turned to the right and began walking unsteadily upwards, towards the Mountain. The others followed, forcing themselves forward as if against a wind.

When he reached the top of the ridge, Isildur paused to catch his breath. He was gasping for air. His chest felt tight, constricted, as if there were no air to breathe. And always there was that growing terror that threatened to turn into panic and send him screaming back down into the valley. Glancing back, he saw the battle continuing in the valley below. To his right, Elrond and Cirdan were starting up the long steep slope of cinders that formed the side of Orodruin. Their faces were drawn and white with the effort. Beyond them, the figures of Elendil and Gil-galad could be seen struggling upward, already partially obscured by drifting clouds of smoke. Gathering his strength and his courage, Isildur started after them.

How long they climbed like that, none of them could guess. The cinders slid away beneath their feet, raising choking clouds of ash and dust that swirled away in a growing wind -- a hot wind that swept down the slope into their faces. It became harder to breath or even see the way ahead. Every step was an effort of will, a denial of the despair that filled their hearts. What could they possibly hope to accomplish if they did catch Sauron? How did they dare to challenge him? Did they not know he was immortal -- a Maia, created by The One Himself when the world was new? What could mere foolish Children do against such as he?

Isildur at one point sank beneath the weight, falling to his knees in the cinders. His shoulders shook in a great sob. He could not take another step. It was madness to go on. Why didn't the others see it, too? The thought of the others made him look up. Elrond and Cirdan plodded heavily on. Then they disappeared, hidden in the thickening fumes that drifted and swirled about the Mountain's flanks. He was alone.

``Father!'' he called. ``Wait for me.'' But his voice seemed weak and frail, swept away by the wind. No answer came, and he struggled to his feet and went on. The sounds of the battle far below faded away. The swirling smoke obscured both the plain below and the summit above. All he could see was the grey slope of the volcano, broken here and there by piles of slag and streams of steaming lava. The air was like fire in his lungs. His lips were parched and his eyes burned from the fumes and heat. And above everything else was the unending sense of despair, of impending doom. He trudged upward, his mind blank, his eyes watching his feet sinking into the cinders and ash, sometimes nearly to his knees.

Then he stumbled onto a stony uneven road cut into the slope. He stopped and looked around. The road climbed up from the left and disappeared around the shoulder of the Mountain to his right. Preferring anything to this endless trudging up the cinder slope, he turned right and plodded off up the road, still climbing steeply.

He rounded the shoulder and climbed a short steep slope and there before him was a level platform of rough lava blocks. He stopped and looked up in surprise. The road disappeared into an arched tunnel that plunged straight in toward the heart of the Mountain. The tunnel's mouth pulsed with a lurid red glare, sending long black shadows back from four silhouetted figures. Gil-galad and Elendil stood there at the mouth of the tunnel, watched by Elrond and Cirdan a few yards further back. The black gloom they had been following was emanating from that red hole. Isildur came up behind Elrond.

``What is it?'' he gasped, his voice barely a croak. ``Where is Sauron?''

``It is the mouth of the Sammath Naur, and we believe he is within.''

The Mountain shuddered beneath them and they staggered to keep their feet. The red glare brightened with a blast of hot air, and a tongue of flame flicked briefly from the top of the tunnel mouth.

``Are they... are they going in?''

``I do not know,'' answered Elrond, never taking his eyes from the Kings. ``For myself, I do not think I could. Surely nothing could survive in that heat.''

But just then something moved in the glare beyond. The flames swirled and roared, and then parted to reveal a dark figure, black against the pulsing red glow. Isildur started back in terror, throwing his sword up before his face. A tall thin figure stepped out onto the rough pavement and they could see it clearly at last.

``Malithôr!'' cried Isildur.

``We meet again, Isildur Elendilspawn,'' sneered the Black Númenórean. ``As you see, all your plans have come to naught in the end.''

``We have destroyed the fleet of Umbar, retaken Minas Ithil, and defeated the army of Mordor,'' said Isildur. ``Is this what you call naught, Mouth of Sauron?''

The thin lips pressed even tighter. ``Your petty victories are meaningless while Sauron rules the Flame. These crimes against His Lordship shall be punished many times over. Though you shall all die here, your people will soon find He is not a forgiving Master. Your insolent pride shall be cut from the flesh of your families and subjects until no trace of it remains. They will come to curse your names.''

``You shall have to slay us first,'' growled Isildur.

Malithôr actually laughed. ``You cannot still hope to prevail, you fools. Do you not see where you are? You are come to the Flame of Udûn. Here is the seat of His power. Here He is supreme. If you have come here to attack Sauron, you are even greater fools than I thought.''

``Fools we may be,'' said Gil-galad, ``but we are not fools enough to heed your words. Stand aside, traitor. Our quarrel is with your master, not with his slaves.''

``I am no slave, you meddling Elf. I am Malithôr, of the house of Ar-Pharazôn the Golden. I am Sauron's spokesman when he deigns to treat with fools such as yourselves. I am his treasured colleague, and it was through my efforts that your every move was thwarted.''

``Why does a Man of Númenor,'' asked Elendil, ``stoop to aid a thing of evil like Sauron? And against your own people. We are cousins, after all.''

Malithôr wheeled furiously on Elendil. ``Because you and your family caused the eclipse of the glory that was Númenor, you arrogant traitor! You Elf-lovers were ever in league with the Valar who destroyed our homeland. And now you think to set yourselves up as overlords in Middle-earth. We shall drive you and your meddling Elvish friends back into the sea. Middle-earth has belonged to the Men of Umbar for these long ages, and when Sauron has destroyed you all, I shall be Emperor of Umbar and lord of all the lands you now think to rule.''

``You blind fool!'' cried Elendil. ``It was your master with his treacherous lies who brought about the downfall of Númenor. He pretended to advise King Pharazôn, but in the end he destroyed him and his whole kingdom. The Valar destroyed our island of Elenna only because Pharazôn violated their Ban. Sauron knew what would happen. He well knew that Men could not become immortal merely by sailing to Valinor. He used Pharazôn's pride to destroy the kingdom that had humbled him. He betrayed the king, and he will betray you as well. You will never be an emperor, Mouth of Sauron -- you will be his lackey!''

``Enough!'' came a voice like thunder from deep within the tunnel. All fell back before it. Even Malithôr cowered before the hatred in that voice.

Then a second shape emerged from the glare, taller and broader and blacker. It stepped forward, but it was so wreathed in its own Shadow that they could not see it clearly. It seemed to be generally man-like in shape, but much larger, and it had great vast wings that loomed above it, so that it towered even taller. The head might have been that of a vulture, save that it was scaled like some hideous viper. The eyes glowed a baleful red from a flat reptilian face. It loomed over Gil-galad like a cobra over a mouse.

``Gil-galad,'' hissed that terrible voice. ``You have come at last. For two ages of the world have we contended with each other. Too long have you meddled in my affairs, Ereinion. But now you are finished.''

``It is you that has met your doom, Spawn of Melkor,'' replied Gil-galad. ``Your allies are destroyed, your hordes are in flight. You have managed to creep back up here to your hole, but you will never go down the mountain again. You are trapped.''

``You think you have me trapped?'' sneered Sauron. ``Do you think we are all here by accident? I planned this meeting a thousand years ago, and now my efforts have borne sweet fruit. Don't you see, old fool? You were brought here, every one of you, by me.'' He raised his hand, and on it they could see a plain golden band.

``Behold the One,'' he said. ``It was forged here in the Sammath Naur, for one purpose only -- to bring all the Great Rings to me here. This it has now done. Now all my plans and labors of a thousand years are complete. I already hold the Nine and all of the Seven that survived. And now I have the Three. Once I slay you three Elves, I will take your rings and meld them together with the One. All the might of all the Great Rings of Power will be mine alone, and none shall ever dare to threaten me again.''

``But first you must slay us, Unclean One,'' said Gil-galad. ``And before you can do that you must first taste this!'' And he stepped forward with his spear held before him, and its point gleamed white and pure, like moonlight on new-fallen snow. ``Behold Aeglos Snowpoint, that was forged to be your doom.''

``And this,'' said Elendil, stepping up beside his friend. He held up his sword, and red flame ran along its edge. ``This is Narsil, and it is thirsty for your blood.''

Sauron gave a harsh croaking laugh. ``Do you think that I, who made the One and who bear it now, who can raise up mountains and cause the seas to boil -- do you think I fear such puny weapons as these? Behold now the inconceivable power of Udûn!'' And he raised up his arms like the wings of some terrible bird of prey. The flame shone in his eyes.

"Behold, despair, and die!"

Isildur saw his father suddenly rush forward, sweeping Narsil above his head, then there was a blinding flash and a clap of thunder like the end of the world. He had a quick glimpse of his father rising into the air. Then he felt himself being lifted and thrown backwards. His limbs flailed helplessly. Then he was smashed down on the ground and his world went black.


Elendil was closest to Sauron when the blast came. He took the force of it full in his face, and he was crushed by it. His body was lifted into the air and thrown backwards like a discarded doll, every limb twisted and broken. Narsil flew spinning from his lifeless hands, and his body landed on it with such force that the tempered steel blade snapped beneath him.

The Ringbearers Cirdan and Elrond were further away, but they were knocked over backwards and tumbled along the ground by the force of the blast. Though burned and bruised, they were not seriously injured. But some sorcery of the One Ring seized on them and left them powerless. Their bodies would not respond. A great weight held them motionless. Strive as they might, they could only lie and watch in horror as Sauron slowly emerged from the tunnel. Massive and dark he was, with great long arms and thick legs like the trunks of old trees. Great leathery wings rose above his shoulders like those of some immense bat. His face was flat and scaled, with glowing red eyes that gloated now in triumph.

Gil-galad had been a few paces behind Elendil, but he too was flung high in the air and smashed brutally down on the lava. He lay stunned but conscious. He could feel the stabs of many broken bones and his breath gurgled deep in his chest. One leg lay twisted at an impossible angle, and he could taste blood rising in his throat. He knew he was mortally wounded, but he found Aeglos somehow still clutched in his hands. Then he looked up and saw Sauron stooping over him. That hideous face came down to his. He could smell sulphur and decay. The cold red eyes burned down at him in triumph. The lips curled back, showing long curving yellow teeth.

``You ignorant fool!'' hissed Sauron. ``Did you really think you could contend with me? I am one of the Ainur, older than the world. My kind made this world, and we made your kind as well. We made you, and we can unmake you. You have no concept of the power I wield. The One is master to the Three, you see, even as I am master to you. While you wear them it can hold you as helpless as a fly in a web. I can slay you all as easily as I would step on an insect.'' The horrible face cracked in a crooked smile. ``So here ends the great Ereinion the Gil-galad -- not nobly, marching bravely forward against a foe, but lying helpless on his back like a grovelling dog. Long have you been an annoyance to me. Though you die here now, know also that after your deaths, all that you have worked and fought for will be destroyed. Now the Three are mine, and soon all the world will be mine. I will rule in Gondor, and Lindon, and in the Golden Wood as well. Farewell, old fool. But before I kill you I want you to watch how easily I take your beloved Vilya from you, and know that its power is mine forever.''

He reached down toward Gil-galad's hands, but then the glow of self-satisfied triumph disappeared from his face. A flicker of doubt came to his eyes. ``What? He does not have it? Then where...'' But before he could straighten up, Gil-galad with the last of his strength thrust upward with Aeglos, driving the shining steel through Sauron's body. The spear point tore from his back and the shaft burst into flame. Gil-galad fell back dead.

With a piercing scream of pain and rage that echoed across all of Gorgoroth, Sauron rose to his full height, the burning spear protruding from his chest. He clutched at it, but the fire swirled up his arms and enveloped him. He stood there a moment more, a terrible shrieking, writhing figure of flame. Then he collapsed forward across Gil-galad's body. A long rending howl rose above the roaring flames, and for an instant something could be seen moving, rising with the oily black smoke. It drifted away and dissipated in the breeze, and the unearthly shriek faded slowly into a gurgling moan, then silence.


Isildur woke lying on his back, staring up at a sky streaked with smoke. He became aware of a crackling sound nearby. He rolled over with a groan and discovered that he was badly bruised and his face had been burned. He struggled unsteadily to his feet and looked around. A few yards away lay Elrond and Cirdan, both motionless, their eyes wide and staring. His heart sank at the sight. Two noble Elf-Lords, slain at one stroke. Then he turned and saw something burning fiercely near the mouth of the tunnel. He stumbled to it and saw to his horror that it was a body, perhaps two. Then he saw a blackened head wreathed in flames, and it bore the crown of Lindon.

``Gil-galad too? And Sauron escaped.'' Then he looked around wildly. ``Father? Father?!'' There was nothing else to see on the stone platform. Then he remembered that last glimpse of his father darting forward with Narsil before him. Fearfully, Isildur went to the mouth of the tunnel and, shading his hand against the glare, peered within. A figure lay sprawled in the tunnel. It was his father.

He stumbled in and fell to his knees beside the broken body. ``Dead! They are all dead! Oh, this the end of all our hopes! Oh, my father, I would have died for you. I should have died for you.'' And he put his head down on his father's chest and wept, great racking sobs that shook his body.

When at last the sobs stopped, he sat back on his heels and looked at his father's body. He saw Narsil broken beneath him and he pulled the broken shards free. He looked at the beautiful blade, still as sharp as a razor. For a wild moment he considered throwing himself on the blade and ending his pain. But then he knew that he had to find Sauron. It was up to him now. He was alone, and he had no ring and no enchanted weapon.

He pushed himself to his feet. Still carrying the broken sword, he stumbled from the Sammath Naur. Gil-galad's body was still burning, but the flames had gone down enough for him to see that it was indeed two bodies entangled. But who could it be? The others were all dead. Was it Malithôr? He bent and looked more closely. And then he saw a blackened hand protruding stiffly from the fire, closed like a talon. And on one smoldering finger was a golden Ring, bright and unsullied by the flame.

He stared for a long moment before it made sense. This was the One Ring. Then the second corpse was that of Sauron. But even now his Shadow was unbroken.

Dumbly, still hardly comprehending, he was suddenly filled with a rage. He raised the broken blade of Narsil high above his head and slashed down, severing the finger. The Ring dropped to the ground with a musical clink. Immediately the thing that had been Sauron crumbled into dust, and the terrible fear and despair that was his Shadow fell away and was gone. The Mountain gave a convulsive tremor and a bright gout of flame gushed from the Sammath Naur. Freed of the Shadow at last, Isildur straightened up.

``Now Sauron is no more!'' he hissed, kicking disdainfully at the heap of grey dust, already being scattered by the wind. Then he saw the Ring lying there on the stone. Suddenly it seemed to him the most beautiful and desirable object he had ever seen.

``This I will have,'' he said, ``as weregild for my father's death, and my brother's! Was it not I that dealt the Enemy his death-blow?'' But even as he bent to pick it up, a voice rang out behind him.

``Touch it not!''

He whirled around, and there was Cirdan standing before him. Just beyond, Elrond was struggling to his feet. Their faces were blackened, their hair and clothing singed, but they were alive.

``My Lords! I had thought you dead.''

``Not dead, as you see,'' said Cirdan with an effort, ``but held in thrall by the power of the One. When you cut the Ring from his hand, its power was broken and we were released.''

``The others were not so fortunate. Gil-galad and my father are dead.''

``We know,'' said Elrond. ``We saw it all, but could do nothing to help. Sauron was too sure of himself. He thought Gil-galad was bound by Vilya and he bent close to gloat. Though Gil-galad was mortally wounded, still he struck upward with Aeglos and slew him, as was foretold so long ago. But Sauron fell across him and they were both consumed. I think the king died in the same stroke that slew Sauron. But even then I was still held bound by the One. I could do nothing but watch.''

``I thought you and Elrond were dead,'' said Cirdan. ``I was afraid that we would die up here, lying helpless as the Mountain destroys itself. Before you roused, I saw Malithôr creep out of the tunnel, take one horrified look at his master, and slink off as fast as he could go. I was most happy to see you stir.'' He stepped on Sauron's severed finger and ground it into black ash. ``So passes Sauron the Enemy. May his like never be seen in this world again.''

But Isildur could feel no joy with his father's body lying broken and lifeless before him. ``And so pass the greatest heroes of our age, both Elf and Man,'' he said.

``Aye," said Cirdan, "and so too passes the One Ring, that should never have been made.''

Isildur knelt there looking down at the shining thing in the dust, and again there came that strong urge to possess it. ``No,'' he said at last. ``Sauron was the source of the evil, not his Ring. It is still a Great Ring of Power, and the mightiest of them all. The Three survive and will continue to do good works. I will take this unto myself. With it I shall cleanse Minas Ithil and Osgiliath, too. I shall purge the evil from all of Ithilien.''

``That would be a grave error, Isildur,'' said Cirdan firmly. ``The One was made by Sauron and he imbued it with all his black arts. Whatever you wrought with it would be tainted and stained with his evil. It was forged here in the Sammath Naur. Let us cast it back into the Flame from whence it came.'' But Isildur's desire suddenly crystallized into resolve in his heart.

``No!" he said. "It is mine. It has cost me my home and my brother, and now my father. I claim it as his weregild, and as recompense for all the losses suffered by Gondor and its people.''

``Isildur, pray think again,'' urged Elrond. ``This was the focus of all of his evil. Let us destroy it now, while the flames are near at hand. Give it up. It can never be used for good, only for destruction.''

``Then I will use it to destroy the Barad-dûr and all the works of Sauron. That alone would be a noble deed. It is mine, I tell you. It is precious to me!'' And he snatched up the Ring.

Instantly he screamed and let it fall again. ``Aieee! It is hot!'' He clutched his wrist and looked at his hand in agony. The Ring had seared into his flesh, burning a bright red circle deep into his palm.

``It glows still with the heat of Sauron's body,'' said Cirdan. ``Let it be destroyed, Isildur. It is not for mortal Men.''

Isildur looked up sharply. ``No more is it for Elves, Shipwright. You would not seek to take it from me?''

``I have no desire for it myself, save to see it destroyed.''

``But you shall not take it from me,'' growled Isildur, his eyes wild. His hand strayed to the hilt of his sword.

``If you mean take it by force, no, of course not,'' said Cirdan soothingly, looking at him curiously.

``We do not wish it for ourselves, old friend,'' added Elrond. ``But I agree with Cirdan. It is too dangerous for anyone.''

``Well, it is not too dangerous for me. I will keep it and it shall become an heirloom of my house, like the seedling of the White Tree, and like these, the shards of my father's sword.''

``Let us not argue amongst ourselves here at the end, my friend,'' said Cirdan. ``Take it if you will. But I counsel you to wield it rarely, if at all, and let it never fall into lesser hands.''

Isildur drew his dirk from his belt and used it to gingerly lift the glowing Ring. He stood admiring it, turning it this way and that. ``It is beautiful, is it not?'' he asked. ``In spite of its maker, I mean. Look, there is some inscription running around inside it.''

They peered closely, but none of them could read the letters of flowing fire. Isildur slashed a piece of leather from his harness and wrapped the Ring in that, then put the bundle against his breast.

``Come, let us go down,'' he said. ``We will return later and bear their bodies down in glory.''

Together the three companions turned and trudged back down the mountain.

Chapter Thirteen
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.



Aeglos ``Snowpoint'', Gil-galad's spear
Ainur ``Holy Ones'', divine beings created by Eru. The fourteen greatest Ainur were called the Valar, the others were Maiar
Aldamirë ``Tree Jewel'', wife of Elendil
Alliance, Army of The combined armies of Gondor, Arnor, and Lindon, which united to drive Sauron from the west
Altariel See Galadriel
Aman ``The Blessed Lands'', island in the far western sea, home of the Valar
Amandil ``Lover of Aman'', last lord of Andúnië, father of Elendil
Amon Sûl ``Hill of the Wind'', outpost on the eastern borders of Arnor, later known as Weathertop
Amroth Sindarin Elf, lover of Nimrodel, founded the city of Dol Amroth in Belfalas
Anárion Younger son of Elendil, born in Rómenna 3296 SA, died in the siege of the Barad-dûr 3440 SA
Anduin ``The Long River'' that runs the length of Middle-earth and drains into the Bay of Belfalas
Andúnië ``Sunset'', the westernmost province of Númenor, refuge of the Faithful
Anfalas ``Long Strand'', southwestern province of Gondor
Anga ``River of Iron'', rising in Angrenost, emptying into the sea at Anglond
Angband ``Hell of Iron'', the dungeon-fortress of Morgoth
Anglond ``Port of Iron'', port city at the mouth of the River Anga
Angmar ``Iron Land'', northern land, capital Carn Dûm, home of the Lord of the Ring-wraiths
Angrenost ``Iron Fortress'', outpost in northwestern Gondor, later known as Isengard
Annatar ``Lord of Gifts'', the name Sauron used among the Elves of Eregion
Annúminas ``Tower of the West'', the capital of Arnor, built on the shore of Lake Nenuial
Anórien ``Land of the Sun'', western province of Gondor, chief city Minas Anor
Ar-Adûnakhor ``Lord of the West'', 19th king of Númenor
Ar-Pharazôn ``The Golden'', 24th and last king of Númenor
Arador ``Royal Land'', Duitirith's esquire
Aragorn 39th heir of Isildur, also known as ``Strider'', crowned King of the Reunited Realms as Elessar Telcontar ``Elfstone Strider''
Arannon ``Royal Gate'', triumphal arch in Osgiliath
Aratan ``Royal Man'', Isildur's second son, born 3411 SA in Osgiliath, died 2 FA at Gladden
Araw Land near Rhûn, home of giant cattle
Ari Diminutive of Aratan
Armenelos ``Citadel of the Men of Heaven'', capital of Númenor
Arnor ``Royal Land'', northern kingdom of the United Realms
Arthedain Northern region of Arnor
Atani Men, also called The Followers and The Secondborn
Aulë One of the eight Aratar, the mightiest Valar, married to Yavanna, he made the Dwarves
Baggins, Bilbo See Bilbo
Baggins, Frodo See Frodo
Barad-dûr ``Dark Tower'', Sauron's fortress in Mordor
Barahir Father of Beren, he was given Finrod's ring
Baranduin ``The Brown River'' in Eriador, later called the Brandywine in The Shire
Barathor Lord of Pelargir, father of Duitirith, died 3441 SA at Minas Ithil
Belamon Soldier of Ithilien, died 3441 SA at Minas Ithil
Belcarnen A captain of the White Fleet
Belegost ``Mighty Fortress'', one of the two cities of the Dwarves in the Blue Mountains
Beleriand ``Country of Balar'', ancient realm of the Elves in northwest Middle-earth, sunk under the sea in the war with Morgoth, Lindon is the only remainder
Belfalas Southern coastal province of Gondor
Belfalas, Bay of Large bay between Harad and Gondor
Belrund Leader of Pelargrim that went to fight with Elendil
Beren Son of Barahir, hero who took silmarilli, slain by the wolf Carcharoth
Bergil Mayor of Minas Anor
Bilbo Hobbit that found the One Ring, uncle of Frodo
Blackroot See Morthond
Blessed Lands See Aman
Blotmath Hobbit month, roughly November
Boromir Father of Barathor
Bortil Merchant of Osgiliath
Brandybuck, Anson Scribe who copied Amroth's journal
Brethilrond Elf of Lothlórien
Buckland Eastern region of The Shire
Cair Andros ``Long Foam'', island in the Anduin north of Osgiliath
Caladil Ship captain of Pelargir
Calembel Town in Lamedon in Gondor
Calenardhon Northern region of Gondor, later called Rohan
Caradhras ``Redhorn'', mountain in the Misty Mountains
Caras Galadon ``City of the Trees'', capital of Lothlórien
Cardur A captain of the White Fleet
Carlen Master of the Wainwright's Guild in Pelargir
Celeborn Lord of Lothlórien, husband of Galadriel
Cerin Amroth Hilltop home of Amroth in Lothlórien
Cerveth Dúnedain month, roughly August
Cirdan ``Shipwright'', Lord of Mithlond, bearer of Narya
Ciri Diminutive of Ciryon
Cirith Ungol ``Pass of the Spider'', between Minas Ithil and Mordor
Ciryon Third son of Isildur, born 3425 SA in Minas Ithil, died 2 FA at Gladden
Curufin ``Skill Hair'', father of Celebrimbor
Curulin ``Skill Pool'', Cirdan's helmsman
Dagorlad ``Battle Plain'', field before the Morannon, site of a great battle
Dimrill Dale Valley in the Misty Mountains near Khazad-dûm
Dol Elros The capital of Andúnië in Númenor
Dor-en-Ernil A seacoast region in Gondor between Belfalas and Lebennin
Doriath Ancient Elvish kingdom in Beleriand
Duitirith ``Guardian of the River'', Barathor's son
Dúnadan Singular of Dúnedain
Dúnedain ``Men of the West'', who founded Númenor, Umbar, Gondor, and Arnor
Dunharrow Ancient city of Men in the northern Ered Nimrais
Dunland A wild land west of Calenardhon
Durin King of the Dwarves
Dwarves A race created by Aulë the Vala
Eärendil ``Lover of the Sea'', son of Tuor and Idril, married Elwing, sailed to Aman and secured the help of the Valar against Morgoth, called ``The Mariner''
Easterlings Wild men of the east
Edain ``The Men'', The Three Houses of Men
Elbereth ``Star Queen'', see Varda
Elda Singular of Eldar
Eldamar ``Elvenhome'', region of Aman in which the Elves live
Eldar ``People of the Stars'', the Elves, also called ``The Speakers'', ``Quendi'', ``Firstborn''
Eldarin Relating to the Eldar or their language
Eldarion King of Gondor in the Fourth Age
Elendil ``Elf-friend'' Amandilson, founder of the Realms in Exile
Elendili ``Elf-friends'', ``The Faithful'', those Númenóreans who continued to revere the Eldar and the Valar when the kings of Númenor turned against them
Elendur ``Devoted to the Elves'', first son of Isildur, born 3403 SA in Osgiliath, died 2 FA at Gladden
Elenna ``Starwards'', the island on which Númenor was founded
elanor Small white flowers
Elessar ``Elfstone'', the name in which Aragorn ascended the throne of the Reunited Kingdoms
Elosterion Westernmost and tallest of the towers on the Emyn Beraid
Elrond ``Star-dome'', son of Eärendil and Elwing, known as Peredhil ``Half-elven'', lord of Imladris
Elros ``Star-foam'', son of Eärendil, brother of Elrond, founder of Númenor
Elvenhome See Eldamar
Emyn Arnen ``Hills of Royal Water'', in southern Ithilien
Emyn Beraid ``Tower Hills'', in western Eriador
Ephel Dúath ``Fence of Shadow'', mountains between Ithilien and Mordor
Erech Town in northern Lamedon, capital of the Eredrim
Ered Lithui ``Ash Mountains'', mountains on the northern side of Mordor
Ered Luin ``Blue Mountains'', in western Eriador
Ered Nimrais ``White Mountains'', mountains in Gondor
Eredrim ``People of the Mountains'', a strong tribe in the southern Ered Nimrais
Eregion ``Land of Holly'', Elvish kingdom of Celebrimbor in southern Eriador
Ereinion ``Scion of Kings'', see Gil-galad
Eriador The land between the Misty Mountains and the Blue
Eru ``The One'', see Ilúvatar
Ethir Anduin ``Mouths of the Long River'', the delta of the river Anduin
Ethir Lefnui ``Mouths of Lefnui'', a city at the mouth of the river Lefnui in Anfalas
Ethring A town on the river Ringlo in Lebennin
Evenstar The planet Venus as evening star, see Eärendil
Faithful, the See Elendili
Fangorn Forest between Lothlórien and Calenardhon
Faramir Thirty-fifth Thain of the Shire, he had a copy made of the Red Book
Fëanor ``Spirit of Fire'', true name Curufinwë, the leader of the Noldorin rebellion, he made the silmarilli
Findegil The writer of King Eldarion II of Gondor
Firstborn, the See Eldar
Fleetfoot Isildur's war charger
Flói Father of Frár the Dwarf
Followers, the See Atani
Foradan ``Northman'', soldier of Pelargir
Forithilien ``North Ithilien'', north of Minas Ithil
Fornen ``Northern Water'', one of the Elders of the Eredrim
Fornoch Valley in the southern Ered Nimrais
Fornost ``Northern Fortress'', a city of Arnor
Frár Dwarf of Khazad-dûm who joined Isildur
Frodo ``Nine-fingered'', Bilbo's nephew, Ringbearer
Galadriel Queen of Lothlórien, bearer of Nenya
Galadrim ``People of the Trees'', the people of Lothlórien
Galathilion The White Tree of Tirion, the image of Telperion
Galdor One of Galadriel's boatsteerers
Gandalf One of the Istari, or wizards, also called Mithrandir, Greyhame
Gil-galad ``Star or Radiance'', King of Lindon and all the Noldor, true name Ereinion
Gildor ``Starland'', Elf of Lindon, also called Inglorion
Gilrain A river in Lebennin
Gilrondil Cirdan's sailing master
Gilthoniel See Elbereth
Gladden River and fields at the confluence with Anduin, also called Loeg Ningloron
Glamrod Keeper of the stables in Pelargir
Gondolin ``Hidden Rock'', hidden Elvish city of Turgon, also called Ondolindë
Gondor ``Stone Land'', southern kingdom of the Realms in Exile, capital Osgiliath
Gondorrim The people of Gondor
Gordrog Orc of the bridge garrison in East Osgiliath
Gorgoroth ``Dreaded Horror'', a plain in central Mordor
Gorthaur ``Abominable Horror'', see Sauron
Great Armament The Númenórean fleet that attempted to attack Valinor
Great North Road The road between Gondor and Arnor
Great Smials The mansions of the Took family of hobbits in Tuckborough of the Shire
Greycloak See Thingol
Greyhame See Gandalf
Grey Havens See Mithlond
Guthmar The Elder of Linhir
Gwaith-i-Mírdain ``People of the Jewel-smiths'', the craft-Elves of Gondolin
Gwathlo River in western Eriador, called the Greyflood
Hadhodrond Sindarin name of Khazad-dûm
Halfelven The brothers Elros and Elrond, also called Peredhil
Halgon Isildur's scribe
Harad Land in the far south of Middle-earth, allies of Umbar
Haradrim The people of Harad
Harithilien ``South Ithilien'', south of Minas Ithil
Harlond ``South Beach'', the docks of Osgiliath
Harondor ``Southern Land'', border region between Gondor and Harad
Heleth Wife of Barathor
Herumor ``Dark Lord'', Emperor of Umbar
Hithaiglir ``Line of Misty Peaks'', the Misty Mountains
Hithimir ``Mist Jewel'', a captain of the White Fleet
Hollin See Eregion
Ilúvatar ``The Father of All'', God, also called ``The One''
Imladris ``Deep-cut Valley'', Elrond's home east of Arnor, also called Rivendell
Indis One of the ships of Pelargir, named for the mother of Fingolfin and Finarfin
Inglorion See Gildor
Ingold Master of Calembel
Iorlas Sindarin Elf, esquire of Amroth
Isembold Father of Isengar
Isengar Thain's Scribe of the Shire, copied Halgon's manuscript
Isildur ``Devoted to the Moon'', first son of Elendil, King of Gondor and The Realms in Exile, born 3289 SA in Andúnië, died 2 TA at Gladden
Isildur, Stone of ``The Black Stone'', ``The Stone of Erech'', a large round stone found in Númenor, brought to Pelargir by Isildur at the Downfall, and later set up at Erech
Ithilien ``Moon Land'', eastern province of Gondor
Karmach Lord of the Eredrim who made an oath of allegiance with Isildur
Kementári ``Queen of the Earth'', see Yavanna
Khazad The name the Dwarves call themselves
Khazad-dûm ``Dwarf-mansions'', city of the Dwarves beneath the Misty Mountains, later called Moria
Kiril A river in Lamedon, also called Ciril
Lamedon Province in southern Gondor
Langstrand See Anfalas
Lebennin Province in southern Gondor
Lefnui River in southwestern Gondor
lembas ``Way-bread'', Elvish bread for travelling
Lhûn A gulf and river in northwestern Eriador, also called Lune
Limlight A river running from Fangorn Forest to the Anduin
Lindir A lookout on Cirdan's ship
Lindon ``Land of Song'', Gil-galad's Elvish kingdom in the northwest of Middle-earth, capital Mithlond
Linfalas ``Coast Song'', Man of Arnor, one of survivors of Gladden
Linhir City in Lebennin
Linroth A captain of the White Fleet
Lithui ``Ashy'', river in Anfalas
Loeg Ningloron ``Pools of the Golden Waterflowers'', Elvish name for Gladden
Lótesse Eldarin month, roughly May
Lothlórien ``Garden of the Blossom'', the Elvish kingdom of Celeborn and Galadriel, between the Misty Mountains and Anduin
Lothron ``Flowering'', Eldarin month, roughly June
Loëndë Midsummer's Day
Luindor ``Blue Land'', Captain of the Ships of Pelargir
Lúthien Daughter of Thingol and Melian, consort of Beren, called Tinúviel
Maia Singular of Maiar
Maiar The lesser Ainur
Malithôr ``Golden Eagle'', ambassador from Umbar, agent of Mordor, called ``The Mouth of Sauron''
mallorn Gold-leafed trees in Lothlórien
Manwë The chief of the Valar
Melian A ship of Pelargir, named for the Maia, Queen of Doriath, mother of Lúthien
Melkor ``He who arises in might'', Vala who rebelled against Manwë, called Morgoth the Enemy
Meneldil ``Devoted to the Heavens'', son of Anárion, King of Gondor
Meneltarma ``Pillar of Heaven'', high mountain in Númenor
Menelvagor ``Huntsman of the Heavens'', the constellation Orion
Meriadoc A hobbit, Master of Buckland, called Merry Brandybuck
Mering Stream between Anórien and Calenardhon
Minas Anor ``Tower of the Setting Sun'', fortress city in Anórien, later called Minas Tirith
Minas Ithil ``Tower of the Rising Moon'', fortress city in Ithilien, later called Minas Morgul
Minas Tirith ``Tower of Guard'', see Minas Anor
Mindolluin ``Towering Bluehead'', mountain beside Minas Anor
Minhiriath Western province of Arnor
Mithlond ``Grey Havens'', capital of Lindon
mithril ``Moon silver'', Elvish metal alloy
MoonFire See Narsil
Morannon ``Black Gates'', gates of Mordor
Mordor ``Black Land'', Sauron's realm in southeastern Middle-earth
Morgai ``Black Fence'', eastern ridge of the Ephel Dúath
Morgoth ``Enemy'', see Melkor
Morthond ``Blackroot'', river in Lamedon rising in the caverns of Erech
Namarië ``Farewell'', Elvish salutation
Nanbrethil ``Valley of the Silver Birches'', a valley in the Pinnath Gelin
Nanduhirion Valley outside the eastern entrance to Khazad-dûm
Nantasarion One of the Drowned Lands of Beleriand
Nargothrond ``Underground fortress on the river Narog'', founded by Finrod, destroyed by Glaurog, former home of Galadriel
Narsil ``Moonflame'', Elendil's sword, made by Telchar of Nogrod, broken at Elendil's fall, later reforged for Aragorn and renamed Andúril, ``Flame of the West''
Narya ``Ring of Fire'', one of the Three Elf-Rings made by Celebrimbor, given to Cirdan, later to Mithrandir, was taken by him Over Sea at the end of the Third Age
Nazgûl See Ring-wraiths
Nenuial ``Lake of Twilight'' in Arnor, where Annúminas was built, called Evendim
Nenya ``Ring of Water'', one of the Three Elf-Rings made by Celebrimbor, given to Galadriel, taken Over Sea at the end of the Third Age
Nimloth ``White Blossom'', the White Tree of Númenor
Nimrodel[1] A stream running through Lothlórien to join the Gladden
Nimrodel[2] An Elf-woman of Lothlórien, lover of Amroth
Nindalf Marshes at the mouth of the Entwash where it joins Anduin
Nogrod ``Hollow Dwelling'', a lost city of the Dwarves in the Ered Luin
Noldor ``The Wise'', second house of the Elves, led by Finwë, called ``Deep Elves''
Noldorin Of the Noldor
Nórui Westron month, roughly July
Númenor ``Westernesse'', large island given to the Edain by the Valar at the end of the First Age, also the kingdom established there by the Dúnedain under Elros, destroyed by the Valar when the Ban of the Valar was broken by Ar-Adûnakhor; also called Elenna, Land of the Star, Akallabêth, Anadûnê
Nûrrn A southern region of Mordor
Ohtar A Uialedain man of the Emyn Arnen, esquire to Isildur
Oiolossë ``Ever Snow-white'', the White Mountain in Valinor where Manwë and Varda reside
Orcs A bestial race bred by Melkor to be his slaves
Orodruin ``Mount Redflame'', a volcano in central Mordor where Sauron forged the One Ring, later called Mount Doom
Orth Giant herdsman of Calembel
Orthanc ``Forked Height'', tower in Angrenost
Osgiliath ``Fortress of the Stars'', capital of Gondor
Osgiliath, Council of A meeting of Isildur and his allies on Midsummer's Day, 3441 SA
Ost-in-Edhil ``Fortress of the Eldar'', capital of Eregion
Palantír Singular of palantíri
Palantíri ``Those that Watch from Afar'', the seven Seeing Stones made by Fëanor and given to the Dúnedain
Pelargir ``Garth of Royal Ships'', Númenórean haven in Anduin; Gondor's Gate of the South
Pelargrim The people of Pelargir
Peredhil ``Half-Elven'', Elros and Elrond, the sons of Eärendil and Elwing
Peregrin Peregrin Took, a member of the Fellowship of the Ring, later 35th Thain of the Shire
Pharazôn See Ar-Pharazôn
Pinnath Gelin ``Green Hills'' region in southwestern Gondor
Pippin Diminutive of Peregrin Took
Poros River between Harithilien and Harad
Quendi ``The Speakers'', the Elves
Quenya The language of the Elves
Rath Gelin ``Green Street'', a street in Pelargir
Rath Romen ``Road of the East'', the road running from the Morannon to Harad
Rauros ``Roaring Spray'', great falls on Anduin north of Gondor
Realms in Exile Gondor and Arnor, the realms founded by Elendil and his sons after the downfall of Númenor
Remmirath ``Netted Stars'', the constellation Pleiades
Reunited Kingdom Gondor and Arnor after they were reunited under Elessar Telcontar in 3441 TA
Rhovanion ``Wilderland'', the region east of the Misty Mountains
Rhûn An inland sea and the surrounding region in eastern Middle-earth
Ringlo A river in Lebennin
Ringlond The port city at the mouth of Ringlo
Ring-wraiths The nine kings of Men to whom Sauron gave the Nine Rings, thus enslaving them; also called Úlairi, Nazgûl
Rivendell See Imladris
Rohan See Calenardhon
Romach Lord of the Eredrim
Rómenna Haven on the east coast of Númenor
Sam Diminutive of Samwise Gamgee
Sammath Naur ``Chambers of Fire'', caves near the summit of Orodruin, where Sauron forged The One Ring
Samwise Gamgee Companion of Frodo Baggins, Ringbearer
Sauron ``The Abhorred'', a Maia of Aulë, student of Melkor, Lord of Mordor
Secondborn See Atani
Serni A river in Lebennin
Shadowfax Gandalf's horse
Shire, The The land of the hobbits in central Eriador
Silmarilli ``Great Jewels of Light'', a set of jewels made by Fëanor and stolen by Melkor
Silmarillion The story of the silmarilli jewels
Sinda Singular of Sindar
Sindar ``Grey-Elves'', those Elves that remained in Middle-earth when the Noldor departed for Eldamar
Sindarin Relating to the Sindar or their language
Sirannon A river issuing from the west gate of Khazad-dûm
Sirith A river in Lebennin
Sirlos ``Snowstream'', running down the valley of Minas Ithil
Snowpoint See Aeglos
Snowstream See Sirlos
Speakers, the See Quendi
Starkindler See Elbereth
Straight Road The path taken by the Elven ships when they leave the circles of the world and return to Eldamar
Strider See Aragorn
Súrion Guardian of the island of Cair Andros
talan Tree-dwelling of the Elves of Lothlórien
Tar-Minastir 11th king of Númenor, he aided Gil-galad against Sauron
Tar-Palantír ``He who looks afar'', 23rd king of Númenor, he tried to heal the rift with the Faithful
Tarlang's Neck A narrow pass in the Ered Nimrais between Morthond and Lamedon
Taur Galen ``Greenwood'', the Great Forest east of the Misty Mountains, later called Mirkwood
Telchar A Dwarf-smith of Nogrod, he made Angrist and Narsil
Telcontar ``Strider'', the name of the dynasty founded by Aragorn
Telemnar 26th king of Gondor
Telperion The White Tree of Valinor
Thain The title of the lord of The Shire
Thalion ``Steadfast, strong'', housecarl of Isildur, one of the survivors of Gladden
Thangorodrim ``Mountains of Tyranny'', built by Morgoth around Angband
Tharbad ``Crossway'', a town at the crossing of the Great North Road and the Gwathlo River
Thardûn Captain of the garrison at Angrenost
Thingol ``Greycloak'', Elwë, King of Doriath
Thinros Captain of the garrison at Annúminas
Thranduil King of the Silvan Elves of Taur Galen
Tinúviel ``Nightingale, daughter of the twilight'', see Lúthien
Tirion ``Great Watchtower'', the city of the Elves in Aman
Tolfalas ``Steepcoast Island'', an island in the Bay of Belfalas
Took A prominent family of hobbits in The Shire
Tuckborough A town in the Westfarthing in The Shire
Twilight, Men of See Uialedain
Turgon Leader of the survivors of Ethir Lefnui
Udûn A valley in northern Mordor
Uialedain ``Men of the Twilight'', those Men that remained in Middle-earth when the Dúnedain went to Númenor
Umbar Port city and empire built by Númenórean royalists in the south of Middle-earth
Umbardrim The people of Umbar
Urmach One of the Elders of the Eredrim
Vala Singular of Valar
Valandil ``Lover of the Valar'', fourth son of Isildur, born 3430 SA in Imladris, king of Arnor 2 TA to 249 TA
Valar The fourteen great Ainur that sang the world into being
Valar, Ban of A ban placed upon the Dúnedain of Númenor by the Valar forbidding them to sail west of Elenna and approach Aman
Vali Diminutive of Valandil
Valinor The land of the Valar in Aman
vanella A type of tree that grows in Gondor
Varda The queen of the Valar, she created the stars; also called Elbereth Gilthoniel ``Star-queen Star-kindler''
Vilya ``Ring of Air'', greatest of the Three Elf-Rings made by Celebrimbor, given to Gil-galad, borne by Elrond at Orodruin, taken Over Sea at the end of the Third Age
Vorondomë Wife of Isildur, daughter of the Captain of Ships of Ithilien
waybread See lembas
Westbank Open fields on the west bank of Anduin inside the walls of Osgiliath
Westmarch Western region of The Shire
Westron The common language of Middle-earth
White Tree See Nimloth
Yavanna ``Giver of Fruits'', Vala, spouse of Aulë, she made the trees and fruit
yén ``Long-year'', 144 years, or sun-rounds, in Elvish reckoning
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