The Men of the Mountains
The valley of Morthond was still, save for the tumble and splash of water on stone. Morning mists still hovered above the small icy stream winding down the floor of the valley. Though the year was drawing on to midsummer, frost sparkled from the tips of each grass blade, for the valley was high in the flanks of the Ered Nimrais, the White Mountains that are the rocky backbone of Gondor, Land of Stone.
Gradually the valley awoke. The hoarse croak of a raven drifted faintly down through the still air as the rising sun touched the rocky heights above. A clatter of small rocks betrayed the presence of a marmot setting out on his daily search for food among the rocks at the foot of the cliffs.
Then a low door creaked open and a woman stepped out of a rough stone cottage. She stood a moment, yawning and looking up at the brightening sky, then she picked up a wooden bucket and went down to the Morthond stream to fetch water. Soon others joined her, a woman or a child from each of the twenty or so low sod-roofed houses clustered along the stream. Soon a thin vertical stream of smoke was rising from each smoke-hole.
Then the first man appeared, stooping under the log lintel of his door. He too looked about at the day, stretching and scratching. He wore a long tunic of coarse-spun undyed wool, leather boots stuffed with straw against the chill air, and he had a large black fur drawn about his shoulders. He bent to splash his face with water from a basin filled by the woman. Then, puffing and blowing at the icy water, he pulled his cloak more tightly about himself and stalked up to the top of a rounded hill that stood beside the village.
At the top of the hill, half-buried in the ground, was a strange stone. It was a huge black globe, as smooth as glass. It must have been enormously heavy, for even half-buried it stood nearly as tall as the man as he stood beside it and gazed south down the valley. In the clear morning air he could see for league upon league as the land fell gradually away. The Morthond wound away south and west until it disappeared behind a range of low hills some miles away. His eyes swept slowly around to the west. Suddenly he stiffened and stared under his shading hand.
Miles away, a cloud of dust hung in the still air, marking the path of the road that wound up from the west, between the Morthond and the western walls of the valley. The morning sun turned the cloud to gold. He stood staring a moment or two more. Clearly the cloud was approaching. The man turned then and walked quickly back down to the village. He went to the largest house, a long hall built of massive logs, and stood before its door.
"Romach," he called, but the only answer was a low growl.
"Lord," he tried again, "an host approaches."
"Eh?" A large head with long curling hair, black shot with grey, was thrust through the door. "Ah, it must be the embassy from Umbar, come at last."
"I think not, my lord. They are too many. An army rides toward us from Anfalas. Perhaps an hour or two away."
"What say you? How is this?" Romach emerged hurriedly. He was a big man, with a bearing of command. His shoulders and arms were broad and strong, but his skin was old and scarred, no longer the most powerful man in the tribe, as he had long been. He was dressed much like the other, save a jeweled belt and on his head was a thin gold circlet. "Come," he said. "Let me see."
They ascended the hill again and stood staring into the west. The dust was closer now, and here and there beneath it bright points of metal flashed in the clear light.
"You are right, it is not the Umbardrim," said Romach. He peered into the distance. "But hardly an army. I would guess no more than three hundreds. They will be here before the second hour. Could the ambassador have betrayed us?" He turned suddenly and bounded down the slope, very nimbly for a man of his age and girth. He was shouting over his shoulder. "We must be ready! Sound the horns! To arms!"
Soon the village was in an uproar. The women wakened the children and bustled them up toward the refuges in the head of the valley. A long ox horn was winded and soon answered from the valleys on either side, then from other valleys beyond. The men arrayed themselves for war and assembled at the broad shallow ford where the west road crossed the Morthond. In thirty minutes they had nearly two hundred and fifty drawn up, still buckling their harness, but ready to fight. In an hour the first companies from the other valleys could be seen, picking their way over the high green passes.
The approaching host had long been hidden by a fold of the land. Now they reappeared over a rise in the road, much closer. The men craned their heads to see what they were facing. First appeared spear heads and furled banners, then the flowing crests and gleaming helmets of the lead riders bobbed into sight. There was an uneasy murmur among the men. This was no band of robbers, as sometimes roamed the high valleys in summers, but heavily-armed, experienced soldiers. Fingers tightened on the hafts of weapons.
Romach glanced over his shoulder nervously. Two companies were just entering the village and a third could be seen riding hard down the east road. Reassured, he turned back to study the lead riders, now approaching the ford. From the corners of his eyes, he could see their scout riders splashing into the river a few hundred yards to either side.
Those in the van were mounted but riding slowly, for the greater part of the men were on foot. Their faces were set and grim. They bore the look of men that had made a hard journey. Their clothing was of many colors and styles, though all dusty and weather-stained. Many wore odd bits of armor. They trudged along strongly in the rapidly warming sun. They marched under many standards and bore the devices of many lords and masters unfamiliar to Romach. But at their head flew a broad emerald banner emblazoned with a white tree surmounted by a silver crown and seven stars. He stared for a moment, then roared to his men.
"Stay your hands!" he bellowed. "That is the banner of Gondor. These are not our foes." The men relaxed as one and stood whispering to one another as the newcomers approached. The first riders came to the bank of the river and paused. Their leader was a tall man, sitting straight on a huge white stallion. He wore a blue robe over a suit of mail, and he wore a crownéd helmet bearing the white wings of a seabird. Romach stared grimly, for well he knew that man, even before the newcomers' standard bearer spurred his horse forward into the midst of the stream.
"Greetings to the Men of the Mountains," the herald called in a loud voice. "Isildur Elendilson, King of Gondor, seeks to meet with your lord."
Romach stepped forward. "I am Romach, Lord of the Eredrim. Welcome to Erech, Men of Gondor."
Isildur came forward then and with his herald crossed the stream and rode up before Romach. He lifted off his winged helmet and held it beneath his arm. A long dark braid, black as night, tumbled over his shoulder to his waist. His keen grey eyes looked piercingly into Romach's. "Greetings to you, Romach," he said. "Long it is since last we spoke."
"Aye, it is that, Isildur King," said Romach, looking up at him. "Twenty winters have whitened the heads of the Ered Nimrais since that day."
"I hope they have left you well?"
"Well, enough, though my head is whitened as well, as you see."
Isildur smiled grimly, then dismounted to clasp arms with Romach. "I come in great haste, Romach. We bear many tidings, but perhaps they would be best related in private."
"Let us go to my hall, then," replied Romach. "See that the king's people and their horses are given food and shelter," he called to his lieutenants. "And send for the women to return."
As they walked side by side up the hill to the village, Romach stole sidelong glances at the tall king striding beside him. He seemed still a man in his prime, stern of face and mighty of limb, though he had looked just the same a half century before when Romach was only a child.
For Isildur was not like other men. He was a Dúnadan, of the race of men that had long ago sailed from Middle-earth to Númenor in the west. Dwelling there near to the Blessed Lands all those long centuries, they had become tall and long-lived and powerful, wise in the lore and arts of their friends the Elves. But those who remained in Middle-earth, the Uialedain or the Men of the Twilight, had fallen into rivalries and petty wars, and they dwindled and their years ever lessened. Many fell under the sway of Sauron, the Dark Lord of Mordor, and turned to evil and their houses declined.
But then Númenor had been thrown down and the few survivors, led by Isildur's father Elendil, had returned to Middle-earth. They established great kingdoms and set themselves up as lords over the Uialedain. Many welcomed their return, thankful for the peace and unity the Dúnedain had brought to the war-torn land. But not all Uialedain lords were pleased to bow to the Men of the West.
Romach showed the king into his hall. Isildur stooped under the door, for he was nearly a head taller than Romach. He looked around as his eyes grew accustomed to the dark interior of the hall. A large fire smoldered in a pit in the center, the smoke rising among blackened beams to escape from a hole in the center of the roof. Along either side, behind rows of carved and painted wooden columns, were raised bed platforms, heaped with skins and woolen blankets in disarray from the morning's hurried departure.
Romach led Isildur to the platform at the head of the hall, where stood a high-backed wooden throne behind a massive oaken table. He pulled two stools from under the table and he and Isildur sat.
"I am sorry, Sire, that there are none to wait on you. We sent the servants with the women and children to take refuge when we spied your approach."
"It matters not," said Isildur, stretching out his legs and sighing. "We do not seek your hospitality, Romach. Sending your people to safety is a wise precaution in these troubled times. I remember there are extensive caverns at the head of this valley. Is that where they are?"
Romach seemed surprised that the king was aware of the caves. "Aye," he said. "Were we to fall here, it would take a mighty army to roust them out of those dark ways. Only we Eredrim know the hundreds of twisting tunnels under the Ered Nimrais. Why, some of the ways pierce the very mountain's heart, so that a bold and resolute man may enter at Erech and emerge in Dunharrow on the borders of Calenardhon, a dozen miles away. Our people are safe indeed in the caverns of Erech."
Isildur nodded his approval. "You were very quick to take action when you saw us. Have you then seen enemies in your land before?"
Romach shrugged. "Bands of brigands occasionally appear and cause some trouble in the higher valleys, especially in summer when many of the men are up in the high pastures with the herds. They're outlanders, wandered up from strange lands in the south, 'tis said. And occasionally, I'm sorry to say, they're joined by some of the local lads, the wild ones, after the excitement, or the plunder. We are ever watchful. But we did not expect the King of Gondor, especially coming from the west."
"I daresay you did not expect me on any road."
"True enough, Sire. It has been long since so much as a merchant has been to see us from Gondor. We could well do with the trade."
"Things are going ill in Gondor," Isildur admitted grimly. "Most of the men have been long away, fighting in Gorgoroth, and we have little time for governance or commerce. I am afraid all the provinces are forced onto their own resources. We can send you neither aid nor supplies, nor can the wealthier citizens of Osgiliath escape the summer heat by visiting your fair valleys, as they once were wont."
"Do any still dwell in Osgiliath? We had heard that city was destroyed."
"Then you have heard more than the truth. It is true that in the first onslaught the enemy captured and defiled the eastern districts of the city, beyond the Anduin. The people have fled to the west shore. But the Great Bridge still stands, and a strong garrison guards it. The river is now the frontier."
"Ithilien then remains in enemy hands?"
"The province is held by neither side and is a land of great danger for all, be they Elf, Man, or orc. We occasionally sortie into East Osgiliath or into the countryside beyond and there have been many skirmishes, but nothing decisive as yet. My own capital of Minas Ithil is yet held by the Úlairi, the most fell of Sauron's servants."
"You cannot retake your capital?" asked Romach in surprise. "Is the mighty army of Gondor not strong enough to take one city?
Isildur's jaw tightened, but his voice was still even. "We dare not even attempt it. Our forces encircle Sauron in the Dark Tower, but he is yet mighty. He is besieged, but we are no less trapped than he. We dare not break our siege to assail Minas Ithil. And so my beautiful city remains in the hands of the enemy, while we are helpless to free it."
"But we rejoiced when we heard that the men of Gondor had broken the Black Gate and entered Mordor itself. We thought to hear soon that you had taken the Black Tower. But years have passed, and yet you say the Barad-dûr still stands?"
Isildur was becoming irritated by Romach's questions. Surely such news of the war had long since reached even these remote valleys. Romach seemed to be emphasizing the Alliance's ineffectiveness so far against Sauron. But why?
"The Barad-dûr is mighty beyond belief," Isildur replied. "You should see it, Romach. All who approach it are filled with dread and black despair. I have seen brave men quail at the sight. It is built of black adamant so hewn and joined that it is as smooth as glass for hundreds of feet up to the first parapet. It stands close-ringed by a chasm so deep we have never been able to sound it, preventing us from close approach to the walls. The only entrance is by an immense bridge of black iron, and that leads to a massive steel gate that has long been shut.
"Smokes and reeks constantly obscure the plain, so that only the upper towers of the Barad-dûr can be seen standing above the murk. Poisonous fumes boil out of the abyss, but we know not whether from the design of the Enemy, or from some effect of Mount Orodruin, the fire mountain which stands but a few leagues away and is ever active. We can bring no siege engines to bear against the walls or gate. No catapult can overtop the walls, but Sauron assails us at will with arrows and darts, and burning missles. Many a brave Man or Elf has died in the siege. My own younger brother Anárion was slain last year by a great stone cast from the Tower. It is maddening. Seven years now have the combined armies of Gondor and of Lindon besieged it, but still Sauron mocks us from within."
"He must be mighty indeed," said Romach with wonder in his voice.
"He wields great powers," acknowledged Isildur, "But we are not without powers of our own. The Army of the Alliance is the most powerful force ever assembled since the Great Armament of Ar-Pharazôn. It is led by the greatest kings and heros of Elves and Men. And we have the famous weapons: Gil-galad's spear Aeglos the Snowpoint, that none may withstand; and Elendil's blade Narsil, MoonFire. Both these weapons were doomed at their making to be the Bane of Sauron. When we assailed Mordor, Sauron himself quaked in fear.
"Though the Black Gate of Mordor was guarded by Sauron's most trusted and loyal troops, the Morannon was thrown down and the defenders ran shrieking across the vale of Udûn. We took Udûn and swept over the Plains of Gorgoroth, and we have kept him bottled up within the Tower for seven years now. But Sauron is mighty and canny and learned in the ancient lore."
"He is said to be ages old," said Romach. "Perhaps he cannot be slain. How then can you hope to defeat him?"
Isildur's irritation flared suddenly into anger. "We hope because there is no alternative," he snapped. "I assure you, Romach, the Barad-dûr will yet fall. I have sworn it beside my brother's pyre. I will throw down the Black Tower and fling it stone by stone into the chasm. I have foretold its doom, and so it shall be."
Romach flinched back at the sudden glint of fire in Isildur's eye, the tightness of his voice. He was reminded that Isildur came long ago from fabled Númenor, where deeds of trained will and Elvish arts were practiced. Romach did not know what powers Isildur might wield, but he was rumored to be able to augur the future and to cast spells of power. He looked on Isildur in new wonder, and trembled. Never had he met a man more resolute, more determined to exact revenge.
And Isildur was but one of the lesser lords at the head of that army in Gorgoroth. The immortal Elves were led by Gil-galad, King of Lindon, the greatest living warrior of any race. With him were many noble Elf-lords, veterans of the wars against Sauron's former master Morgoth the Enemy, thousands of years ago. The men of Gondor and Arnor were commanded by Isildur's father Elendil, high king of the Dúnedain, founder of the Realms in Exile.
"I am sure you are right, Isildur," he said placatingly. "The Tower must fall. And as you say, Sauron is trapped within. What can he hope to accomplish?"
"Do not think he is helpless in his captivity. He has powerful allies yet. His minions continue his depredations throughout the land. Orcs infest the Misty Mountains, wild Easterlings fall on our outposts in Harondor and the Nindalf, Corsairs raid the coasts. Even here in Lamedon, far from the Mountains of Shadow, brigands roam and plunder. These are not independent incidents -- they are the plan and the will of Sauron."
Romach gave a thin smile. "You ascribe all the misfortunes of the world to him, Sire. Is it not more likely that these other peoples are merely opportunists? People on the outside of power, uneasily watching the rising might of Gondor, now seeing their chance when she is weakened, distracted by Sauron?"
Isildur shook his head quickly. "Most of our neighbors view us as protectors and friends. Throughout the Dark Years each petty kingdom was at constant war with its neighbors, instigated by Sauron himself. We Dúnedain have brought peace and understanding throughout the many lands of the Uialedain. We have not come to conquer you nor to take your land. We come as friends, with skills and assistance to offer you. Their lords are happy to have us here. Lords like yourself, Romach, who have long seen the wisdom of joining us for the mutual good of our peoples. You know Gondor is not a threat to you. Your people have long been our allies."
"Aye," agreed Romach carefully. "We have ever been on friendly terms with the kings of Gondor."
Soon a stocky man came in wearing Isildur's livery. Romach recognized him as the herald who had announced the king.
"Ah, there you are," called Isildur. "Lord Romach, this is Ohtar, my esquire and friend. What news from the camp, Ohtar? How are the men?"
"Weary and dusty, Sire, and glad of a stop. The people of Lefnui are finding it hard to maintain the pace."
"I am sorry for that, but it cannot be helped."
"Ethir Lefnui?" exclaimed Romach with a start. "The men of Ethir Lefnui are among you?" Isildur gave him a sharp look.
"That surprises you?"
Romach fought to contain his surprise. "No, it..., well, yes. I have never known Ethir Lefnui to send her men to fight in another land's cause."
"It is their cause as well. They bear the same hatred for the enemy as I, and for the same cause: he has destroyed our homes. Ethir Lefnui is no more."
"Be it not so! How did this happen?"
"Aye, not these ten days past, lord," said Ohtar. "We were bound there from Anglond, and in the Nanbrethil Valley, between the mountains and the Green Hills, we came upon a ragged party of thirty men and women, the sole survivors of Ethir Lefnui. It was the Corsairs. The cursed Black Númenóreans, servants of Sauron."
Romach nodded absently, seemingly lost in thought. "We have heard they were abroad again, though we fear them little. Our mountain valleys are far from the sea."
"Perhaps not far enough," said Isildur. "They have assailed the strong-walled city of Anglond, and it is well up the river Anga. They nearly took it, too. Their black ships could sail far up the Morthond, and it is not impossible that you could see not friends but Corsairs coming up the west road one day soon."
Romach smiled. "We are strong and well prepared. In truth we do not fear an attack from the seamen of Umbar. Still, we stand ever ready."
"It would seem so. You marshalled your forces quickly."
"Yes, we use horns to call the men of the other valleys. They are trained to come at the first alarm."
"Mighty must those horns be," said Ohtar, "if they can be heard to the next valley. The ramparts of the Ered Nimrais are high indeed."
Romach nodded. "We use the horns of the wild kine of Araw. They are as long as a man and give a sound when well winded that will carry for many miles."
Ohtar turned to Isildur. "Such a horn would be of great use in a battle, Sire," he said.
"Indeed it would," agreed Isildur. "Oft it is that the men cannot hear their orders in the tumult of battle. Armies have been lost because of it."
"If you wish, Sire," said Romach, "I can have a horn brought for you. A gift from the Eredrim."
"That would please us indeed, Romach. We thank you. But we are here to ask you for a far greater gift."
"Indeed?" said Romach, his smile fading. But he was clearly not surprised.
"Yes. We have need of your help, to aid us in the war against Sauron. We have tried to spare the western provinces as much as possible. At first it was thought that with the aid of the Elves, the men of Ithilien and Anórien would be sufficient. I also believe my father just wanted to know that there was a corner of the realm as yet untouched by the Shadow, where people could live in peace as before. Therefore we have never called upon the people of the Ered Nimrais and the western coasts, though we have had many volunteers from Lamedon and Lebennin and even as far as Anfalas. But as you see, the war in the east does not go well. The men are weary of the long siege on the plain of Gorgoroth. Gondor has need of your help. We need every man you can spare from the needs of your own safety. I must call on you at last to fulfill the oath of the Eredrim, as was sworn to me by Karmach on this very spot nearly six score years ago."
"The Oath of Karmach is well-remembered by the Eredrim," Romach assured them. "Although it was a very long time ago. Karmach has slept in his barrow these ninety years now." He was finding it hard to reconcile the man before him with the semi-religious royal figure out of the old legends. This man had actually spoken with Romach's distant ancestor, the founder of his line.
"Karmach was a good man and a brave warrior," said Isildur, his eyes distant as he stared into the past. "And well-loved by his people." He smiled. "I can still hear their cheers when he announced our alliance. He was a wise and far-sighted king."
Romach was less than certain that his ancestor had acted wisely in joining the fortunes of his people to those of the Dúnedain. He couldn't help wondering if old Karmach hadn't been simply seeking the strongest ally in a dangerous time. After all, his old master Sauron, who had guided and advised the Eredrim for centuries, was suddenly and unexpectedly undone, lost in the downfall of Númenor that he had helped to bring about. Now enemies threatened on every side. And here were these newcomers, these Dúnedain, borne on the wings of storm out of the sea, asking if he wanted to be their allies. They were numerous and mighty, fierce warriors, a hundred or more years old, learned in all arts, bearers of magical weapons and Elvish sorcery. How far-sighted did he have to be to see which way the wind blew?
But things were different now. Sauron, whom all thought lost, had returned in another form, no longer fair to look upon, it was said, but more powerful than ever. In all these years of war, the Dúnedain and the Elves have been able to accomplish little more than retake a few miles of desert.
But Romach was careful to let none of these thoughts show on his face. He licked his lips anxiously. Much depended on how he chose his next words.
"Much has changed in the world since those times, Sire," he said, watching Isildur's face. "Karmach was speaking for a nomadic tribe of a few thousands, helpless against its warlike neighbors. But now our neighbors are our friends. And we Eredrim have not been idle. We number nearer a hundred thousands now, and we have villages in every bay of the mountains from Nanbrethil to Gilrain. We watch the mountain passes and the fords of the great roads for Gondor."
"Much has changed," said Isildur calmly, though Ohtar saw the hard dark gleam in his eye that always bode ill for someone. "But much remains the same. The Gondorrim and the Eredrim are still allies, and common enemies still threaten. Karmach swore to me on the Great Stone that the Eredrim would always come at need if called by the King of Gondor. As I swore for Gondor's part to aid the Eredrim against any attack. And we both did agree that these oaths would be binding on our descendants and successors. It was a solemn bond. Such things do not change."
"Of, course, Sire," said Romach quickly. "The Oath of Karmach is taught to every child. Indeed, it has been but recently the subject of much discussion among the people. To be honest, Sire, many of my people feel that we should remain here to guard our homes. They have little interest in the war between Gondor and Mordor. They feel it does not concern them."
"And what of you, Romach," asked Isildur. "Do you deem the war with Sauron is of no concern to you?"
"Of course we are concerned. It is most uncomfortable when one's neighbors are at war with each other. It is difficult not to become involved. After all, our friends are suffering, and our trade is disrupted."
"You will have more than your trade disrupted if Gondor falls."
"We know that. But we are no longer bands of wandering warriors. We are a nation of herdsmen and farmers. We have no mighty army to send with you."
"Were you not just praising the readiness of your army?" asked Isildur slyly.
"Our army, as you call it, is but a militia.They are ready at a horn's call to defend their homes, but they return to their homes after each call to arms. They are bold and well-trained, but they are no knights errant, to pack up and troop off to war. Who would defend our homes, our families?"
"I do not ask you to leave your homes unguarded," replied Isildur. "But many of us have already lost our homes, are some are still losing them, as at the Ethir Lefnui. There is no longer safety in remaining behind in your mountain fastnesses, Romach. If Gondor falls and Sauron prevails, there will be no safe haven in any land."
"But Sire," said Romach. "We guard the western approaches to Gondor. We cannot leave the fords unguarded. We could protect Gondor better by remaining here."
Isildur's eyes blazed. "Of course the fords must be guarded, and your lands and villages. But you are a numerous people and your men are renowned fighters. Gondor has need of your help." The king bent his eyes upon Romach's. "Are you saying you would refuse the summons?" he growled, and Romach's face blanched.
"No, my king," he exclaimed quickly. "I am only explaining that it will take some time to call all the valleys together, to make known what is required, to establish suitable defenses for those that remain. Provisions must be gathered, transportation arranged, compensation provided. Such things cannot be done quickly."
"And yet I say unto you," said Isildur, "that haste is vital at this critical hour. We are all but a small piece of a much greater whole. Even as we speak, great forces are moving, gathering, throughout all of Middle-earth. All are to be drawn together this Midsummer's Day, now but three weeks away. Then much that is hidden will be revealed. There will plans be made and all our efforts bent to a final deciding conflict.
"According to the schedule arranged, I was to have been at Erech weeks ago. But at Angrenost and again at Anglond I was delayed by the designs of the Enemy. Now time is short indeed. You must move with all haste."
"I will send messengers to all the valleys tomorrow," said Romach. "Within three days, I will have the Elders of every tribe of the Eredrim before you."
"We do not need your Elders," said Isildur. "We need your warriors."
"I am not a king," exclaimed Romach. "I am the lord only of Erech. The Eredrim are a confederation of tribes. The Elders must be consulted on any decision so momentous."
Isildur stared, struggling to control his frustration. Romach was frightened, but surely he didn't dare break the oath. Perhaps he was just speaking the truth.
"Summon your Elders, then," he growled. "But let the messengers carry word also to the valleys that the Eredrim are summoned. Let the weapontake begin at once."
"So it shall be done," said Romach.
They slept that night in their tents beside the hill of Erech, but Ohtar woke during the night to find Isildur gone from his bed. Scrambling quickly out of the tent, he saw a tall figure standing beside the stone at the top of the hill. Ohtar wrapped his cloak about him and climbed shivering up to join him. Isildur turned at his approach.
"This great stone once stood in the court of the palace at Rómenna in Númenor," he said, stroking it with his hand. "It had been uncovered deep in the mountain not long after the founding of Númenor, when the foundations of the palace were hewn. No one knew whence it had come; whether it had been left there by the Valar who created the island, or whether some other still more ancient race had lived in that land before them. Elros at first would have his stonemasons cut it for use in the palace then building, but they felt some power in the strange black stone and would not. The people of the court, and especially those of the royal blood, felt drawn to it and it became an heirloom of our family. In the end it was set up in the midst of the palace with fountains playing round about and flowering trees leaning above. Yet even in that lovely setting, it seemed strange and mysterious.
"In my youth I felt myself strangely drawn to it and I spent many hours sitting near it. Father sometimes said that some of the strange powers I later discovered in myself were due to my affinity for the Black Stone. Whether that is true or not, I still feel a bond with it, as if my own powers are stronger in its proximity.
"When the Downfall of Númenor approached, father bade us leave the stone, but I would not have it lost and with great effort of many men we bore it to the havens and secured it deep in my ship, next the keel. When at length we landed at Pelargir we set it up there, but later removed it here as a token of the power and friendship of Gondor here in the western provinces. It has long been revered by the Eredrim, so they must sense its power as well."
He was silent a while, his hand yet resting on the smooth black stone.
"I am uneasy, Ohtar. I fear Romach is up to something."
"You think he means to break the Oath?"
"Surely not. I cannot think he would dare to openly defy us. It seemed rather that he was stalling, purposely playing for time."
"Why would he do that?"
"I don't know." They stood together, watching the gibbous moon sinking behind the western cliffs.
"Some of our people were drinking with the locals tonight," said Ohtar. "They told me they thought the Eredrim were not eager to join our cause."
"Clear it is that Romach is not."
"They also said the Eredrim, or at least Romach, seemed to be expecting someone else when we appeared this morning."
Isildur was silent and said no more. They stood there together in the darkness for some time. Eventually Ohtar grew cold and returned to the tent, but it was much later before he heard Isildur come in.
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[Glossary]; Colophon (Still unavailable.)
This story was inspired by Tolkien's work.
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