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!"
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[Glossary]; Colophon (Still unavailable.)
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