“You will go back with them?” Saruman asked his fellow Wizard.
“Yes--if we can ever convince Eärnur that his armada is large enough to face the forces of the Witch-king.” Gandalf’s expression reflected his growing frustration with Eärnil’s son. “He appears convinced that only if one cannot see the surface of the sea for his ships will he have enough of a force to bring to Arvedui’s aid.” He frowned northward. “Although I suspect at this point the need will be for Aranarth rather than for his father. I feel a cold darkness surrounding Arvedui, and do not understand what that means.”
“Think you that it portends that Arvedui is a prisoner of the Witch-king?”
Gandalf clutched his staff more firmly, his concentration northward intent. At last he gave a shake of his grey head. “No--no, not that.” His frustration deepened. “I know not what it means. But I do not sense the satisfaction I would expect that one to know should that be true.” He returned to his previous concern. “We ought to have sailed at least a year ago, but Eärnur will not be satisfied with this fleet of his. He need not bring every last soldier Gondor has, for that would leave Gondor itself open to whatever the Enemy’s designs might be.”
Saruman settled one hip elegantly on a window embrasure. “It seems you are not easily satisfied, my friend. First, when he would have marched immediately off to Arnor with five battalions you complained that it was not enough.”
Gandalf turned to look at his companion in surprise. “And indeed it should not have been enough. Nor would he have been likely to arrive with such an army to face Angmar’s forces, for he would have found himself engaged in battle the moment he passed north of the vale of Isengard. The people of the Brown Lands would have refused his army passage, and those who now people Rhudaur would have challenged him as well. It is unlikely more than a thousand Men should have made it further than that, much less reached the most likely battlefield before Fornost.”
“Have you asked Eärnil to seek contact with Arvedui or his people through the Palantír of Minas Tirith?”
The Grey Wizard was quiet for a time, still looking northward but now seeing a memory, or so Saruman would guess. At last he said quietly, “Yes, at my behest he tried. But the Anor stone does not easily answer to him, and he does not easily interpret what he sees. And in the end he sees first blinding light, as if the sun shone upon a mirror; and then he sees only dark shadow, as if the stone he seeks to contact were shrouded.” The furrow of his brow deepened. “That he does not master the stone properly troubles me. As King of Gondor he ought to be fully in mastery of the thing.”
Saruman appeared somewhat bored. “I thought we had agreed it would perhaps have been better for all concerned had Arvedui been accepted as King by both realms.”
“So it would appear.”
“Then why are you surprised?”
“I had hoped that in the taking of the Winged Crown Eärnil would have been granted proper control over the stones as well. There has never been any suggestion that any in Meneldil’s lineage has been anything but masters of their Palantíri.”
Turning away to look out the window on whose sill he leaned, Saruman shrugged his shoulders. “Perhaps the gift is more properly inherited rather than bestowed with the office,” he suggested dismissively. “Eärnur has certainly shown little in the way of the healing gift common to the descendants of Elendil.”
“That gift has been manifested in both of Arvedui’s sons,” Gandalf noted. “Will you come north with me and help face the Witch-king’s assault?”
Saruman shrugged. “And if the Necromancer seeks to take advantage of Eärnur’s absence with the forces he takes with him do you not agree that at least one of us should remain here in the southern kingdom to his father’s support?”
Gandalf considered this. “Perhaps you are correct. The fleet Eärnur builds is so great that it seems enough to nearly empty Gondor of all its men.”
But the White Wizard was no longer paying attention as he stared out the window toward the street. “Speaking of Eärnur, it appears he intends to pay us a visit.”
Gandalf came close where he might look over the shoulder of his seated friend, watching the tall form of Eärnur approaching, surrounded by Men in various uniforms. “Perhaps he is at last ready to sail,” he said hopefully.
And so it proved. Four days later the ships remaining along the quays of the Harlond cast off and were carried by the current down the Anduin to the Sea, where they gathered forces day by day as they sailed west and then northward along the coast of Middle Earth. Ossë appeared compliant; his winds blew ever from the desired quarter, or so it appeared, and the fleet sped northward in force.
Eärnur had taken Gandalf aboard his flagship, Anor’s Pride. “I do not believe that Arnor’s foes will be able to prevail against us considering how great a force we have raised!” the King’s son exulted. “Do you not agree, Mithrandir?”
Gandalf looked about them. It was difficult to see the surface of the sea, so many ships were there. “I only hope that the harvests within Arnor have been sufficiently great so as to feed all of these,” he commented. “Although as the folk of Arnor have been fighting the forces of Angmar steadily for the past several years, it is questionable that there will have been many to work the lands to sufficiently meet their own needs, much less the needs of so many more.”
Eärnur waved a negligent hand. “Not all of these ships bear only Men and horses and weapons of war, Lord Mithrandir. The harvests of Lossarnach, Lamedon, and Ithilien have been particularly heavy for the past few years, and each year we have gathered a tithe of that bounty into the public stores, and another tithe solely to carry with this fleet. Ever, it has been said, an army marches upon its stomach. We know all too well how great a strain this force should place on the resources of Arnor did we not bring a goodly amount of food with us. Some carry only kine and swine and poultry and foods for them; others carry great stores of dried fruits or grains. There are mills within Arnor, are there not?”
“Then if the Enemy has not destroyed them, we should not empty out the barns of my kinswoman’s husband’s people.”
Gandalf had to admit that perhaps Eärnur had learned somewhat of wisdom befitting the future King of Gondor in the years since his father had accepted the Winged Crown.
Some weeks later one of the smaller scouting ships returned to the fleet and came within hailing distance of Eärnur’s craft. “We have made contact with a small fleet of exceedingly swift ships crewed by Elves!” the captain informed them. “They come to lead us to safe harborage. They tell us there is a great gulf some four to six days’ sail from our current position, and there might all our ships find anchorage. Within a week we should all be arrived where we might at last disembark and prepare to face the enemy!
“And they send word to Mithrandir as well, my Lord Eärnur,” he added. “Forces even now have braved the mountain passes from the valley of the Anduin, as allies from amongst the Éothéod and the Dwarves from the eastern slopes of the Misty Mountains also come to join the fight against Angmar. So heavily has the Witch-king drawn for Men from the lands to the east of the mountains that there is now the freedom known there to allow them to send support to Aranarth and his folk.”
“And Arvedui and Beleg? The King does not fight alongside his son?”
The captain’s face grew grim and he explained, “They tell us that Arvedui went north with Beleg and many Men early in the war, hoping to flank Angmar’s army and attack from the rear. Alas--the Witch-king had more Men than they’d thought to see--ever the King fought, but was forced ever further and further north. They tell us that Lord Círdan has sent a ship northward to see if they can find the King and those with him.”
A week later the Firth of Lhûn was filled with Eärnur’s armada. As the ships were unloaded, Eärnur and his captains met repeatedly with Círdan and his folk and what messengers had come through the Shire with word for the lords of the Havens and what remained of Lindon. “The Queen rests here with her son’s wife and much of what remains of Arvedui’s court,” they were told. “The Periannath brought them safe through their lands and have left the road all but impassable for Angmar’s army. Indeed, oft they hide in the shadows of the fields and forests, slaying the enemy’s folk with their arrows and thrown missiles and driving them back over the Bridge. Some have sought to pass the Barrow-downs of Tyrn Gorthad to enter the Shire from the east, but so far there is no easy way to do so, and many of their folk are lost to the enmity of the Old Forest and the malice of the Barrow-wights. In this is Angmar’s evil will working to his own despite. So it ever is--evil in the end serving to limit its own effectiveness.”
“And has aught been heard of the King’s welfare?” Eärnur demanded.
Círdan’s face was grey with grief. “Word came after our ships went south to lead you here--one of our ships sent northward entered the Bay of Forochel, we having heard that Arvedui and those remaining of his folk had taken refuge there with the Snow-men. Although the ruler of the Snow-men advised them not to do so, all of Arvedui’s folk went aboard the ship, seeking to escape to the open Sea ere the ice fully closed in. They would have done better to heed the advice received--ere they could win free the ice came together, grinding upon the hull of the ship and sinking it. Only two of our folk escaped with word of what had happened--the rest died in the frozen waters of the bay, alongside Arvedui and his younger son Beleg.
“And there was a worse hurt--the King had borne with him the Palantíri, having had foresight that the Witch-king would seek to capture and destroy the places where each was kept and thus use them against the interests of the descendants of Númenor. All were lost with the ship and Arvedui.”
The Grey Wizard did not know whether to be filled with relief that the Enemy was denied the seeing stones or grief that they were lost. Now indeed direct communication was denied between Gondor and Arnor. “The Stone from the western-most Tower was lost, also?” he asked.
“Nay--that was not taken, for it is of little interest to the folk of the Enemy as its focus has ever been westward, not toward the rest of its fellows or the lands ruled over by the descendants of Elendil. Nor has any of the Enemy come so far. Indeed, they find the impenetrability of the Shire a far worse obstacle than any had thought to see.”
“And when we travel eastward to face the Witch-king’s forces? Will we not also know difficulty in coming to face the enemy if all is as bad along the road as you say?”
One of the Elves who sat by the side of Círdan gave a feral smile. “Oh, but it is not wise, we are learning, to underestimate the abilities and inventiveness of the Periannath of the Shire--what they have apparently destroyed they can and will restore swiftly. Yavanna’s children they may be; but they also have a great appreciation for the land itself, as if Aulë also is an influence in their hearts. They are not lovers of stone as are the Dwarves; but they understand the ways of the earth itself and ever use it to their advantage.”
“And of what kind are these Periannath?” asked one of Eärnur’s lieutenants.
Their questions were answered as two very small personages were led into the circle of those taking part in the council. One had muscular shoulders and a cap of loose dark curls, the tips of his leaf-shaped ears clearly seen. There was no question, however, of taking this for a child, for his face was as solemn as that of any Man or Elf present. And the quiver and bow at his shoulder, though small, were obviously well wrought and maintained, if well worn. The other had hair of a lighter brown with eyes to match, a face intended to be light hearted, but now filled with the healing grief and purpose Gandalf had seen too often in those who had gone into war idealistic young Men of good will but who had seen too many of their brothers die about them. He carried a board to which were pinned what appeared to be lists of some kind that he handed to one of the northern Dúnedain officers, who accepted it with a nod of acknowledgment and thanks.
“Captain Bucca--Master Holmwise. We are glad you could join us.” Círdan’s manner was deeply respectful. “Lord Eärnur, if we may present Bucca of the Marish in the Shire, and Holmwise Goodchild from the Breelands. They have fought the Enemy alongside Lords Arvedui and Aranarth and our kindred to the east. Lord Eärnur is the heir to the King of Gondor to the south of the Mountains of Mist. He has come at last to the aid of the north against the threat of Angmar.”
As the two Hobbits bowed politely, two women entered the chamber where the council was taking part. The younger was very beautiful, but it was plain she was in mourning. As for the older one----
“The Lady Fíriel?” whispered Eärnur to Mithrandir.
“Indeed,” the Wizard murmured in reply. “With her is she who was the wife of Prince Beleg, the Lady Istarien.”
“And Prince Aranarth--is he, too, married?”
“Yes, but his wife was sent to safety when word came that Angmar indeed led his forces from the north. She was expecting their first child at the time.”
“There are places of refuge within these lands?”
“Not many, but there are ever some. And there are those who gladly protect the heirs to Isildur’s lineage.”
Gandalf watched the Man absorb this information, turning his attention back to the company at large, although he kept turning to watch the two women who’d come to this council as well as the Hobbits.
Hobbits, fighting the Enemy’s folk. Most extraordinary, he thought to himself as he, too, found himself contemplating the presence of these two at the council.
A few days later he was following a small guide along a narrow path through a wooded part of the Shire along with a squadron of Men. He knew that there were many such groups traveling many such paths throughout the forested area, most of whom would emerge at various points across the northern borders of the Shire, some of whom would cross at the Sarn Ford, and some across the Bridge of the Stone Bow. There had been a good deal of damage to be seen in villages along the length of the Road; the Witch-king’s folk had been as quick to burn and loot here as they’d been anywhere throughout Eriador. But the Wizard was willing to wager that deaths had not been as numerous within the Shire as they were elsewhere in Arvedui’s lands, as the Hobbits along the Road had been encouraged to hide themselves and to lead their attackers astray, tasks they had taken seriously.
The Road was being cleared even now, he knew, being readied for the supply trains that would be carrying the bounty Eärnur had brought aboard his ships. He was grateful that the Shire was filled with folk as capable and quick on the uptake as were the Hobbits who populated it; had it been Men he suspected it would have taken thrice the time just to get all to agree to cooperate in the endeavor, while a significant number would be more intent on baiting the enemy rather than focusing on the task at hand.
Within three weeks most of Eärnur’s reinforcements were through the Shire and preparing to join with the Enemy. Gandalf was somehow not surprised to find those with whom he’d traveled joining a mixed force of Elves and Men that was keeping a fairly large troop of the Enemy under watch.
“Gandalf!” he was greeted by Gildor Inglorion.
“My Lord Gildor--an honor! And I see you fight alongside the Men of Arnor!”
Gildor gave a sour laugh. “And if we do nothing to hamper the aims of Angmar, do you think he will thank us and leave us alone? I think not! Why should we make it simple for him to set up a base of power close enough to assault us at his will? Certainly his fell Master and the Lord of them all never wished good on any of the Children of Ilúvatar who have failed to worship at their feet. I expect nothing different from this foul one.”
“Gandalf?” asked Eärnur’s lieutenant.
Gandalf smiled. “So they have ever called me, here in the northlands--Gandalf, the man with the staff.”
The Man nodded thoughtfully, eyeing the Wizard’s rod. “A name most mete to your appearance, Lord Mithrandir.” So saying, he turned to the Elf and indicated the force facing them. “Let you tell us of these.”
“They were in direct company with the Witch-king himself for some time, until we attacked them as they lay siege to the Queen’s Tower. We have rarely faced them directly, not having sufficient men for pitched battles. Instead we have mostly hounded them out of the shadows of hills and woods, coming upon stragglers and whittling them away, capturing such supplies as we have been able to take from their own trains. The number now is perhaps a third of what it was when they came out of the north at the whistling of the wraith, but remains too numerous for us to face it directly--until your coming, of course. Now I would ask you more of your Prince--he is a Man apt to war?”
The lieutenant nodded. “Indeed, he is such a Man, and has been since his youth. A hardy, canny warrior and Captain-General he’s proved for Gondor. And a great force has he brought to Arnor’s defense.”
“It is appreciated by all, although for the Mannish kingdom of Arnor I fear it is come rather late. Too many are already lost in this war.”
For two weeks Gandalf and the lieutenant he accompanied followed Angmar’s folk. Enough of Eärnur’s armies had made it through the Shire by now that they could plan proper battles, and more and more often they were winning these. But the enemy was falling back toward the plains before Fornost, and it was there that at last they found themselves between the forces of Eärnur and Aranarth once again, facing the Witch-king himself.
Three Hobbits remained of those who’d set out from the Shire--Bucca of the Marish and two Tooks; accompanied by Holmwise Goodchild they crept close to the camp set up between the combined forces of Gondor and Arnor and the ruins of the fortress, intent on bringing back such intelligence as could be learned.
“They are planning to fall upon our camp shortly after midnight,” one of the Tooks reported. “It is then that the power of that one is at its highest, and their goblins are most obedient and willing to fight at such an hour. They think to attack the southern Prince first, hoping that if they can defeat him they will be able to better cow the rest.”
“They have five hundred horse hidden in a hollow there,” the other Took added.
“And another five hundred t’the west,” added Holmwise.
Bucca, wearing a long knife at his belt for a sword, returned last leading a woman. “This one was the woman o’ one of their captains. The Witch-king ordered ’im killed after our folk wounded him. She wants ’im punished for it.”
The grief in the woman’s eyes could not be denied, nor the hatred she felt for the Nazgûl and his policies. “His wounds--they were but little!” she said in her heavily accented Westron. “He lost two fingers--but two fingers! And for this they killed him?”
Aranarth himself appeared out of the darkening twilight, accompanied by Belegorn, three Dwarves, and two Elves. “You are willing to tell us where more are?”
“There are more squadrons of the foul ones to the northwest, and there is yet another army of our Men from the other side of the mountains that has been marching from the east for the past week. Before my man was injured two days ago they told him he would meet them near Amon Sûl and lead them through the hills to the plain here before your ancient fortress. He was to bring them here at sunrise, and they would appear suddenly out of the dawn and fall upon you all to your destruction. Now that task falls to another, one who has not been here as long as my man was and who does not know the land as he did.”
As she spoke they were joined by a small but deadly mounted troop of Elves from Imladris who swung down from their mounts to listen. One of these was exceptionally tall, his carefully braided hair obviously pale even in the wan starlight.
With him were two more who were as dark-haired as he was fair, their faces identical. One of these spoke. “Our adar sent us with word that this army has come over the High Pass, but they are fewer than they were when they began the journey. They were frightened by the mountain giants, and sought to attack them. Usually the mountain giants pay little attention to the passage of Men, Elves, or Dwarves; but after three were severely injured they struck back, rolling great boulders down the pass after the army passed by them, believing them driven off. These succeeded in slaying and injuring many. There are perhaps five hundred where there were originally two thousand warriors. And worse for them, most of their supply wagons were destroyed, and many of their beasts of burden were slain or frightened into flight. They are angry at their losses and will probably fight the more fiercely at least at the first; but they are not in good array and have had but little rest. They ought to be fairly easy to confuse.”
The other added, “And what they do not know is that our daeradar leads another company northward, having crossed over the mountains at Caradhras. The folk of Dunland and Rhudaur are engaged in a fierce battle with the army watching the southern borders of Arnor, and so have none to stop the Elves of Lothlórien from traveling swiftly up the eastern ways. They travel far faster than Men, and will be in better shape to fight when they are come. They, too, will arrive at the dawn to swell our ranks even more. And with them is a great army of Dwarves from Khazad-dûm, who have no love for the Witch-king after what he has done to their northern kindred.”
The tall, fair-haired Elven warrior examined the Men who faced him. “You have done well, Lord Aranarth, to not draw attention to yourself by wearing distinctive armor or carrying great banners--the wraith is confused, for word has come to him that the ice he caused to form early on the Bay of Forochel has slain the King and his son. That it was the younger son and not the heir to Arvedui he does not yet appreciate--he thinks of you as but a captain of your people who thinks perhaps to name yourself ruler once all is again quiet within the ruins of Arnor. But rumor of the coming of the son of the King of Gondor has reached him, as I am certain you intended, Lord Eärnur. He will seek you out upon the battlefield, and intends to see you slain as brutally as possible, hoping that by doing so he will break the will of those who have followed after you.”
“And does he think that I will merely stand by and allow him to crush me?” Eärnur responded. “I have fought the armies sent by the lesser wraiths many times, as well as having defended our lands against the might of Harad, Rhûn, and Khand. I swear I will face him, and fight him alone if it is necessary.”
Aranarth gave a brief, mirthless laugh. “You say that now, but you have not yet faced him. I have done so, and I tell you it is not so simple as you might think. Sauron granted him far greater power than you can yet appreciate when he gifted him with the ring he wears, and he has learned to wield that power to full effect. I have found myself trembling in fear more than once when I have faced him--it has been far easier whittling away at those at the edges of his army by stealth than it has proved to stand in the face of the terror that is his greatest weapon.
“Nay,” he added, raising a hand against the Gondorian’s protests, “I call no Man a coward. But do not count your battles won before they are even fought!”
“Few even among the Elves bear within us the ability to withstand his power,” agreed one of the two dark-haired Elves, “but we will do what we can. Of us all, Glorfindel here is most proof against the terror he would wield. He will stand by you, if you will allow it, to shield you as he can. The wraith does not love him, and has learned to respect his strength of will and the power of his songs.”
“Songs?” Eärnur turned an amazed visage toward the tall warrior.
There was something terrible to see in the almost gentle smile given him by the pale-haired Glorfindel. “Do not forget--I was born under the Light of the Trees, and have spoken with the Powers face to face. Have you forgotten how it is that Ëa was wrought? I fought against Morgoth and his creatures in my time, and was given special preparation before being returned to Endorë to assist in the ongoing battles against the servants of Darkness. It is difficult to rouse unmanning fear in one who has faced werewolves and balrogs. I suspect that the Witch-king fails to understand how little power he has over those who have passed already through the death he accepted his ring to avoid.” His smile grew even more fell. “Nay, he fears me far more than I fear him, which will help to keep him more off balance when he seeks to fall upon us.”
One of the Dwarves spoke up. “Enough of talk of fear and whose will might be greater. We would be of some use this night, and we could do this best by slowing the approach of that one’s reinforcements. Lord Aranarth--you know this land perhaps best of all present--where would it be best for us to cut off the pathway for those approaching from the northwest and the east, and perhaps lie in ambush for them?”
Aranarth nodded, his own expression becoming fixed with purpose. “Yes, we will continue to follow the strategies that have served us best so far.” He looked back toward Eärnur. “I have so few Men left to me, and when this last battle is won, as I pray it will be, there will be little enough remaining to try to fashion once again into a kingdom. I must leave the greater battle to you, kinsman, for you alone command sufficient troops to effectively counter the strike Angmar even now shapes to his hand.”
He ran his hand through his hair, which was prematurely grey, as he turned to the Wizard who stood at Eärnur’s side. “Gandalf--have you any of your powders and smokes at hand that we might use to the consternation of the enemy, and perhaps to help break his path?”
Gandalf felt uncomfortable at this request. “I would rather not again use my toys as weapons, for doing so sets a bad precedent. But when it is necessary to stop the advance of such an army....”
Soon he found himself on the edges of the battlefield, going through the wagon given him by Eärnur to carry his stores. “Here,” he said as he rooted out some of his disassembled rockets and tubes, powders and balls. “Let me show you how I think such as these might be used to throw Angmar’s troops into disarray and to frighten his horses.”
There was little enough time to prepare much, but at least the Wizard knew he was adding to the probability that the armies of the Kings of the West would have at least a chance to win through the night.
It began before the middle hour of the night with drums beating in the enemy camp, first one, then more, here, there, on this side, on that. And each added drum was just out of beat with those already being sounded. This had a most unsettling effect, and those among the defenders of Arnor who had been ordered to rest and sleep as they could gave it up as a bad job, rising and readying their weapons and taking their assigned positions. After some time of this one among Eärnur’s folk who had come from Rhovanion began following the beat of one of the drums, and began a chant in keeping with it. Soon others joined in, and in time an entire company was singing together fiercely, which caused some of those taking part in the drumming to falter.
Recognizing that this was serving to cause uncertainty among the enemy, Bucca, who’d been readying his bow, gave his fellow Hobbits a feral smile. “Shall we give them a rendition of Mistress Broadloam’s Pantry, d’you think? I doubt as they’ll understand the sentiments, but it’s cheerful enough as it ought to confuse them, don’t you agree?”
Gandalf heard the answering laughter, and Bucca began to sing, swiftly joined by the two Tooks, then by their Breelands companion. There were some Men who were Breelanders in the company, and soon they were singing along, too, and those of Dúnedain extraction began laughing, and were soon joining in on the choruses. The drums closest to them began to either quiet or unconsciously reflect the rhythm of the song. And he heard other groups among the defenders doing much the same--here a Gondorian drinking song, and there a song commonly sung on long marches. The Wizard found himself smiling at how the music among the defenders appeared to be putting the invaders out of countenance.
As the darkness deepened a signal was given, and those who’d been singing went silent and shifted into their proper defensive positions.
There were only a handful of drummers still beating upon the skins of their instruments, and they had long ago fallen to a more coordinated beat. An order in a high piercing wail rang out, and all fell silent. Then an orc horn gave a shrill blat, and a company of goblins surged forward. The horn of a northern kine was blown, and a company of Men from Angmar began moving toward the last known position of some of Aranarth’s forces. A hoarse shout, and a squadron of horsemen armed with long lances came out of a defile. Gandalf’s smile hardened--this would be his first use of his devices.
He spoke a Word, and a fuse began to sputter. There was a great bang, and a glowing ball of light shot high into the air in front of the cavalry charge. Suddenly it blossomed into brilliant golden and silver sparks, which exploded into red and green coronas as they neared the ground. The enemy’s horses, unsettled already at being forced to run in the dark, gave neighs of terror and began to rear up and to the side, many bumping their fellows and throwing the intended assault into confusion. Then there was a creaking and groaning of rock, and from the tops of the bluffs on each side came a rolling of great stones. The mounted charge fell to sheer chaos.
A call among the archers in Gandalf’s group, and Men and Hobbits aimed at the approaching orcs, with cries of satisfaction as the first row fell under the barrage of arrows to roll under the feet of their comrades.
There was a great boom off to the west, and the top of a steep hill was launched into the air, raining boulders down upon the enemy. And then some of Eärnur’s Men began their own countersurge against the Men from Angmar. A shriek from the Nazgûl was heard, and Gandalf aimed one of his rockets toward the source and uttered another Word. A great, blinding light lit up the center of the enemy’s army, and both Men and orcs could be seen trying vainly to shield their eyes against the sudden brilliance, many of the goblins throwing themselves in terror upon the ground, while the black shadow of the Ring-wraith fled involuntarily backwards.
Then the battle was being joined where any among the enemy was able to make it through the already sown chaos. Gandalf found himself doing what he could to protect those with whom he stood, particularly trying to shield the four Hobbits. A Man from Angmar was felled near him by a Hobbit-flung stone, and the Wizard reached down to catch up the now idle sword the Man had carried. In moments he was moving forward with the rest, using staff and sword to cut a swath of destruction among the enemy.
A grim dawn came at last. Clouds darkened the sky--undoubtedly weather engineered by the wraith to offer more comfort for himself and his orcs and trolls. But at least the light was now sufficient to show that great destruction had been wrought among Angmar’s forces. A great squadron of knights from Gondor now charged the center of Angmar’s bunched soldiers, and the Wizard could see Eärnur’s standard at its head. They were able to put more of the Witch-king’s folk to flight, but not without cost. At least thirty horses were suddenly felled as great bolts were fired by vast engines of some sort that had been hidden behind the Angmarianlines. Gandalf grabbed a rocket from a bag at his shoulder, pointed it at one of the devices, uttered a brief spell, and a ball of white fire was directed at the thing, causing the engine to burst into flames and spattering those firing it with great sparks. He then called upon the power of his hidden Ring to cause the fire to spread unaccountably sideways to the next such device, then to a third....
“Master!” he whispered, “We need a wind--let us have Light upon this battle!”
Most of the enemy’s army was beginning to scatter under the heavy assault forwarded by Eärnur’s forces, and many were looking to the east, from which it was known the Witch-king expected reinforcements of both Men and orcs. Suddenly a cry of triumph could be heard from the wraith’s folk as a number of trolls, massive and deadly, broke through the line of defenders from the rear along the eastern borders. Gandalf thought he saw about twenty-five of the creatures--certainly more than a score. Suddenly his heart froze as he saw a small figure rush into the path of one of them--a Hobbit was running forward, expecting to best such a monster as a troll?
As if all had been slowed to a remarkable degree the Wizard saw the Hobbit raise its small bow and aim upward. The troll opened its mouth to give a great cry of triumph as it bent forward to snatch up the small being, and the Hobbit let fly. It took the troll in the roof of its great mouth, one of a troll’s more vulnerable sites. There was another cry from the troll, of confusion and pain this time; and it fell forward--right on top of the small hero of a halfling!
He heard “NO!” from several quarters, including, he realized, himself, and now another small figure of a Perian ran forward as if it could single-handedly roll the fallen corpse off of its kinsman. Another troll, being harried closely by the archers, ran onto the field and turned sideways--and blundered over the darting Hobbit. It stumbled and fell upon the ground, and Gandalf could hear, somehow, a sharp crack! and knew that the second Hobbit was also gone.
But there was a wind blowing now as Celeborn of Lórien arrived with folk of the Éothéod and a great force of Dwarves, and the Wizard realized his prayer had been heard and was being granted. Cries from above marked the coming of the Great Eagles, who were only allowed ordinarily to take part in a battle when it was obvious that all were doing their best to protect themselves and one another.
As midday approached a great rent appeared in the clouds to the southeast, and through it shone bright sunlight. There were cries of dismay from the remnants of the army from the north that remained on the field, and both orcs and trolls turned to flee--except where the Sun caught the trolls out in the open they began to freeze to immobility as the sunlight stole from them the life with which Morgoth had infused their ancient ancestors with foul spells.
There was another call: from behind the line of stiffening trolls came a new line of horsemen--not the great, muscular steeds from Gondor brought aboard their great ships, but the smaller, hardier strain bred by the northern Dúnedain. “Elendil!” all heard. At their head, the Elendilmir shining like the Sun above and behind him about his brow, rode Aranarth, his sword raised in wrath against the soldiery of Angmar that had not yet managed to flee the field.
Out of a defile to the northwest rode one last mounted file of enemy soldiers, this time obviously come from afar, for their banners were black with strange symbols figured upon them in red. “Haradrim!” Gandalf shouted out. “Men from Far Harad!”
And toward them Aranarth turned, his escort behind him, those with lances riding forward to outstrip their Lord, sweeping those in the vanguard of the Haradrim to the ground. They were joined by those with the blue banners of southern Gondor, and they had this new force driven back against the wall of stone behind them as the day reached the fifth hour after the noon.
Doom! Doom! went the enemy’s sole remaining drummer as dusk approached, and a freezing cry cut across the field as the Nazgûl himself rode forward to assist his folk. Not even Aranarth appeared capable of withstanding the horror of that cry; certainly the Haradrim were as dismayed as were those from Gondor and Arnor. Then one of the Haradri lords raised up his banner of scarlet serpent upon a sable cloth and shook it, and the strings of dried bones that depended from it gave a great clatter.
Somehow Gandalf found himself with one of his final rockets in hand. He could not allow that banner to be used as a rallying point by the Witch-king’s folk--this he knew! He aimed the rocket and spoke a Word, and the fiery missile flew in growing incandescence from his hand, striking the banner right in its center, and it immediately burst into flames, its surprised bearer struck from his steed by the impact. And as he lay stunned upon the ground a third small figure appeared at his side and stabbed a blade into his chest. The Nazgûl gave still another cry and raised its blade, and the great sword burst into flame as it rode forward to confront the small figure.
All seemed to freeze at the sight of the great, black-shrouded figure mounted on its skeletal steed, looming over the small form of the armed Hobbit. And out of the almost deafening stillness that had replaced the cries of battle all could hear the wraith laugh!
“And what is this that seeks to defy me?” the terrible voice asked.
But one other was able to control his steed to ride forward. Suddenly Eärnur arrived behind the Hobbit. His voice sounded amused as he called, “And does one such as you think it needful to face such a small champion as this?” But in spite of the apparent lightness of the challenge, Gandalf, who had spent much time in the company of this Man in Gondor, detected a tremor of fear, and realized that the son of King Eärnil was no more immune to the power of the Witch-king than any other Man, although he yet managed to stand up against the foul thing. His admiration for the Man’s courage rose.
But it was all Eärnur could do to keep control of his horse, whose eyes were rolling with terror, its mouth foaming with bloody froth as it fought the bit as the wraith transferred its attentions from the still frozen form of the Hobbit to the face of his new challenger. The wraith seemed to swell in darkness, and even the Sun seemed again shadowed.
“And dost thou, too, think thyself greater than am I?” that horrible voice asked. “Nay, I think not, princeling, though thou shouldst know we have indeed heard of thee. But no Man may think to stand against me!”
It spoke a Word of power, and a great ball of purple flame appeared in its hand, and it hurled it at Eärnur. This was more than the Man’s horse could withstand, and with a great neigh of terror it broke out of its master’s control and leapt away, bucking and shrieking in rage and fear as it fled both the dark fire and the horror that the black shape radiated. After the fleeing forms of horse and rider followed the derisive laughter of the Nazgûl. “Behold the one who would be King of Gondor! The heir of Elendil and Anárion! See him flee like the craven being he is!” he called out. And he began to utter Words of Power as he turned his gaze again upon the Hobbit, who’d fallen to his knees!
But he was not unchallenged. Glorfindel rode onto the field from the east, followed by a troop of horsemen from Imladris. Gladdened by these reinforcements, Gandalf uncloaked himself, as did Glorfindel, once the Lord of the House of the Golden Flower. Behind these two the sons of Elrond now rode forward, followed by their father, who although he came with no weapons in his hand still shone with the pure Light of the Noldor, whose hatred had ever been kindled by the forces of Darkness. Against the Wraith’s Words were raised Songs. And toward them from the other side, his own steed answering to its master’s will, approached Aranarth of Arnor, his blade naked in his hands, the Star of Elendil kindled upon his brow.
And there was one more who rose out of the tumble of the fallen to face the Witch-king of Angmar--the last Hobbit, who, bow in hand, dipped an arrow into the flames still rising from the destroyed engines, aimed, and let fly with a cry of defiance. The wraith turned to seek out the source of the cry, and as its attention left the Hobbit before him that one rose unsteadily to its feet and stumbled forward, and struck his blade against the foot of the dread being with a defiant cry to answer that of the one who’d fired the arrow.
The blade pierced the armor, and there was another cry from the wraith, this time one of dismay, just as the flaming arrow caught in his black mantle, setting it afire.
Eärnur had mastered his horse and was returning as the wraith’s steed gave way to its own terror; with its dread master immobilized by pain he ought not to have felt and his shrouding garments flaming, there was none to guide it, and it fled from the field. Seeing his enemy flee, the Gondorian prince set himself to pursue it, only to have his shoulder caught by Lord Glorfindel. “There is no use,” the Elven warrior advised him. “Not by the hand of any son of Man shall that one meet his end.”
The Man glared at him. “I would not have it said that I fled from the face of such a one as that.”
One of the sons of Elrond, watching after, shook his head. “There was no shame in what happened. There is no question it was not you but your steed that was overwhelmed by terror.”
“I have never fled an enemy!”
Elrond gave the prince a cool stare. “If you feel your honor is measured by such standards as never fleeing before an enemy then it is likely that it will end with you dying untimely, my Lord Eärnur. Only a fool does not know when it is wise to pull away from an engagement that you might live to fight again, and with better preparation and chance to prevail, on another day.” He sighed as he dismounted and looked about. “The Witch-king has fled, but there are many wounded. I have work and to spare here. My sons, I leave you and Glorfindel to assist Lords Eärnur and Aranarth to subdue those who would think to continue to fight. Mithrandir--if you will aid me....”
Together they turned toward the small figure to be seen now kneeling where he’d stood in defiance against the wraith, and Gandalf saw another Hobbit running toward them, having dropped the bow he’d wielded. “Master Bucca!” they heard the Perian cry. “Master Bucca? Are you well?”
Bucca of the Marish knelt, clasping his right hand to him as if it hurt, his dazed eyes fixed on the ground where the hilt of his broken sword lay. “How?” he was saying as they came even with them.
Elrond knelt and placed his hand on the Hobbit’s right shoulder, then looked up in alarm at the Wizard. “It’s cold!” he breathed.
But Gandalf was also falling to his knees, fixing Bucca’s almost feverish gaze with his own. “How what?” he asked.
“M’sword--the blade! The blade! It burned away, sir! Like it was kindlin’! I but struck his foot is all I did--cut through the armed boot. But he cried out as if I’d struck off the leg, and the blade--it----” Again he looked down at the hilt, which Elrond reached down for, lifting it with exaggerated care.
“It’s not broken!” the Master of Imladris said, examining it carefully.
“No--as he said, it appears to have been burnt away,” Gandalf agreed. He took it gingerly from Elrond and turned it, then sang a trill of Song that questioned the situation. In his mind he could see an echo of the enchantments that had been woven around the ring of Power the wraith had once accepted, back in the day when he had been one of the greatest of lords of Men. He examined the traces of the spell with interest and growing repulsion. At last he looked at the Peredhel. “Have you about you anything of silk with which I might wrap this? It will warrant further study, but now is neither the proper time nor place for such work.”
Elrond thought for a moment, then released the shoulder latch for the armor he wore over his chest to expose the silk shirt he wore under it. He tore away the front panel of the garment and handed it without question to the Wizard, who used it to enshroud the hilt of the weapon before he stowed it carefully in the bag he wore over his shoulder.
The other Hobbit had reached them by this time and was enfolding Bucca in his arms. “Master Bucca! It’s all right, sir--ye’re not alone. Ye’re not alone!” Then he looked up at the two opposite him, his expression alarmed. “His arm--it’s cold as ice!”
It was nearly sunset when the Mannish lords returned, Eärnur and Aranarth together, Aranarth weary with the fighting and griefs of the day, Eärnur’s fury and shame at having been torn from his confrontation with the wraith still clearly smoldering in his heart. Behind them came some of Eärnur’s lieutenants and his aide. Elves had begun raising pavilions into which the wounded were being brought, and some of the most notable of the fallen were being gathered to a sheltered place at the foot of the siege ramp that the enemy had raised to enter the fortress of Fornost.
Aranarth watched as Captain Belegorn came out of one of the healer’s tents with the shrouded form of what appeared to be a child in his arms. At his lord’s wordless cry of alarm the captain looked up, his eyes filled with grief. “One of the Periain, my lord. Densodras Took, sir. He slew a troll with an arrow to the roof of its mouth--went through and into the brain, you see. But it fell upon him. He was yet alive when we found him, but never woke. He breathed his last a few moments ago.”
“Do any of these brave souls remain?” Aranarth demanded.
“But two, my lord--Bucca of the Marish and Holmwise Goodchild. Densodras’s last remaining kinsman died upon the field--his neck snapped when another troll tripped over him. Unless any of those who went south remains yet alive, only two Hobbits have survived of all those who answered your call for men.”
The two Men entered the pavilion, and found themselves approaching where Gandalf sat by a low pallet on which lay a still, small body, holding the pale white hand of Bucca of the Marish. He looked up. “It is as if the wraith’s own breath seeks to steal away his life,” he said softly. “I cannot call him back.” So saying, he laid the still hand upon the Hobbit’s breast. “I must help those I can,” he said as he rose and bowed before turning to cross to where Elrond labored over still another form.
“Can you call him back?” Aranarth asked Eärnur.
The Gondorian looked surprised. “Call him back? And how would I do such a thing?”
Aranarth gave a great sigh. “Then I shall see if I can do so,” he said, and he turned to one of the Elves who knelt nearby to offer water to one of the wounded. “Have you any athelas?” he asked.
Eärnur exchanged inquiring glances with his fellows, and all turned to watch the latest Lord of Arnor as he stripped off the Elendilmir and carefully placed it in his scrip before brushing his hair back from his face with his fingers. He knelt beside the Hobbit and placed his hand on the small one’s right hand. He appeared surprised and dismayed. “The warmth of his very life is nearly stolen away!” he murmured. He placed his other hand on Bucca’s brow. “Nay,” he commented, “not all his warmth is gone--not yet, at least.” So saying, he closed his eyes as if in concentration, then opened them to look down in authority at the Hobbit. “Bucca! Bucca of the Marish! Bucca--come back! I do not give you leave to depart this life!”
When heated water and green leaves were brought he accepted them, rolling the leaves between his hands and breathing upon them before casting them into the steaming water, then accepting cloths and with them cleansing the Hobbit’s hand and face. Then again he called to the Hobbit, and this time there was a response. The pale grey of the Perian’s face began to show some color once again, and his breaths became deeper.
Eärnur’s aide watched in awe. “He lives!” He looked up to search Aranarth’s face. “In you the power of healing known to the ancient Kings remains!”
“The athelas answers to his authority,” the Elf explained.
It was the aide who bore back to Gondor a rhyme he’d constructed about athelas answering to the hand of the King....
Three days later the corpse of the wraith’s horse was found in the Baranduin some days north of the Bridge of the Stone Bow; its master had disappeared completely, and did not return to the northern lands for many lives of Men.
Six weeks later Eärnur’s army stood alongside the remnants of the once great army of Arnor, watching as Aranarth honored many of the heroes of the war. When the Ring-wraith had fled the field before Fornost his allies to the south of Arnor had inexplicably lost all heart for the battle and had retreated into the hills and hidden places of Rhudaur and the Dunlands, and most of those who’d marched south had returned a few days earlier. At last Aranarth called before him the two Hobbits who alone remained of those who’d fought against the forces of Angmar, although fully half of those who’d gone south, all of them from the Breelands, had survived. “To Bucca of the Marish and Holmwise Goodchild of Staddle--stand forth.”
The two Hobbits came forward, but when they would have bowed he forestalled them. “Nay, it is to you we should bow, for you had the fierce courage to do what we could not--you both struck blows, each in your own way, at the Witch-king of Angmar. Little harm perhaps did he suffer at your hands; but nevertheless he is gone from our lands and you remain alive and healed, save for the wounds of grief for countrymen and kinsmen lost.
“Never can we fully repay you. You, Holmwise, once indicated you hoped to receive lands of your own where you might cultivate gardens of flowers and trees. I would----”
Holmwise interrupted him. “Ye would give me lands, here, outside the Shire? Nay, sir, beggin’ yer pardon, Lord Aranarth, but I’ll not remain here outside no longer. I promised Master Ladro as I’d go in, find his wife ’n’ childern, take ’em his last respects an’ a letter as he wrote ’em, an’ bring ’em his things, like. And then--well, there’s still land within the Shire as is open to them as is willin’ to take an’ work it. But I’ve had enough of Men’s battles and Men’s griefs. Yer ancestor give the Shire t’ Marco and Blanco of the Tûks for the dwellin’ of any from among Hobbit-kind as wished to live there. I want t’ live there, now. I hope as you understand, my lord.”
Aranarth nodded his head. “I do understand. And I would wish you well. To you I give this chest, which was made for me in my childhood. Within it is sufficient, I think, to allow you to purchase land of your own and the means to provide for you and whatever family you’d take to yourself.” So saying he laid a strong coffer of carved oak in the Hobbit’s hands. “And I give you this book also, to serve as the repository of the history of your family. May all who follow after you remain as honest, true, and loyal as you have shown yourself.” With these words he presented a yellow-bound volume, and laid his hand upon the Hobbit’s brow, blessing him, before he turned to Bucca.
He looked long upon Bucca, before at last saying, “How can I ever show you the honor you deserve, Bucca of the Marish? You convinced your people to send out the requested support to our lands. It was no fight of yours, not that the Witch-king would have recognized that and left your lands unmolested had he prevailed. Nay, I deem that the Shire my ancestor Argeleb gave unto Blanco and Marco would have been trodden underfoot, its lands razed by fire and the earth salted to make it desert, its people slain for sheer sport, had he been victorious. The forces of darkness have little respect for those who are given to mere joy of life, we have learned over long centuries of strife.
“I would see your lands preserved, and swear my people to the protection of the borders of the Shire as we can.”
“What?” Bucca answered him. “Ye’d protect us, but not them of the Breelands an’ other places?”
“We intend to do what we can to help them as well,” Aranarth replied rather hastily.
Bucca looked back at the small contingent that remained of Arvedui’s once-proud army and shook his head. “Ye’ll be hard put t’protect yer own,” he declared as he returned his attention to the Man. “Ye’ve not enough t’set to the keepin’ of our borders, too.”
“Then what would you have me do?”
Bucca searched Aranarth’s eyes. “Fer now, ye need t’return t’yer own lands, Lord Aranarth--set them in order. Us Hobbits’ll have t’care fer our own till ye can return t’call us t’allegiance as subjects of the King.”
The Man exchanged looks with Gandalf, then nodded. “Then know this--I hereby name you my theign, my deputy charged with seeing to it that order is restored within the Shire and that its borders are made proof against enemies from without. You and the descendants of your body shall hold this office from this day forward, offering all justice and protection in the name of the King.”
He gestured, and Belegorn brought forward a second coffer. “This was made for my brother Beleg. It, too, is filled with sufficient to aid you and yours to rebuild and restore your homes and lands. And so it will be until the King returns again, at which time the office will be reconfirmed.” He reached toward his waist, and unhooked from his belt the sheath of a long knife. “This blade has come down in my family from the days of Malvegil. I give it now to you, a sign between the lineage of Isildur and the folk of the Shire of the love that we hold for you. May it ever serve to remind you of the honor in which we hold your people. We cannot give back those who came out with you, nor your brother, who died succoring those who remained within the stronghold of Fornost. We can never repay the folk of the Shire for their faithfulness and the sacrifices you have made for us.”
Aranarth straightened to his full height once Bucca reluctantly accepted the blade. “I tell you this--there are not enough now of our people remaining in our lands that I can name myself King of Arnor, and for more generations than I can foresee I fear we who remain of the Dúnedain of the northern kingdom will be hard put to offer open protection to those who have depended upon our defense. But as I told you, we will do what we can to be faithful to our responsibilities to the folk of Eriador, even if we are not recognized as the remnants of Elendil’s own folk. Will you yet swear fealty to the ancient line of the Kings of the descendants of Númenor?”
Bucca nodded, never taking his eyes from the face of the son of Arvedui. He then knelt, his hands upon the hilts of the blade given to him, and made his oath: “I, Bucca of the Marish, do hereby swear....”
The oath given and received, Aranarth leaned down to kiss the Hobbit upon the top of his head, then lay his hand again in blessing upon his dark curls. “My Steward I name you, then. Go, and do well by your people.”
Some weeks later Bucca, accompanied by the Grey Wizard, crossed the Bridge of the Stone Bow, Holmwise Goodchild their lone companion. The village that had grown up on the Shire’s side of the bridge had been burned to its foundations. Fields had been reduced to ash, and farmsteads near at hand were destroyed.
Bucca’s home had suffered damage, but there were signs that it was being rebuilt. He paused, recognizing the young Hobbit who turned from the turves being raised to serve as its roof. “It’s m’ cousin!” he said with surprise. “Little Bolco--him’s all grown up!”
A Hobbitess looked out of the unglazed window at the sound of the unaccustomed voice, and suddenly Bucca’s wife came running out of the door, all thoughts of decorum fled her mind as she raced to take her husband at last again into her arms.
Another five days found the Wizard and Holmfast Goodchild entering Hobbiton. The Baggins home remained much as it had been the last time Gandalf had been there with Drogo Baggins for his marriage. Holmwise gave Ladro Baggins’s widow the letter her husband had entrusted to him, and she slit the seal to take it to the window to read it.
Her eyes were red when she looked back up at him. “He’ll never know the son what was born after he left us,” she said, her voice tight with emotion. “He’ll never see the day his lads and lasses come of age and take wives and husbands.”
Holmwise nodded. He appeared thoughtful, then picked up the coffer Aranarth had given him. “This goes with the letter,” he said. “Ye’ve lost yer husband, but him’d never want fer ye and his childern t’be in want.”
She looked at the coffer in surprise, while Gandalf held his peace, watching to see how it would play out. She finally reached out her hand, released the latch and opened it. There was a small fortune within. She carefully lifted out a small hoard of coins, and then a golden necklace before she looked back at him. “This was given my Ladro?” she asked, amazed.
“Him helped save the Lord King’s wife,” he explained.
She turned her attention back to the contents of the coffer, her eyes still wide. “He helped save the King’s wife? And the King sent us weregild?” Again her eyes were swimming as she suddenly slammed the lid shut. “I’d far rather have him home again than all the treasure in the world!”
She rose. “Please,” she said, doing her best to restore her dignity. “Please take no note of me. Both of you--sit and I’ll see to a meal shortly. But for the moment....”
They waved her off to the kitchen where she set about washing her face. Holmwise eventually joined her and began to help her start a meal.
After supper she gave them the best seats in the smial, and stood to address them. “My Ladro--well, Mr. Goodchild, he thinks the world of you--that’s plain for them as reads his letter. His gammer--she was from the Northfarthing, from Gammwidge. She inherited a farm there, but it’s not been worked for ever so long. There’s the farm and a ropewalk. My Ladro--he wanted you to have it, Mr. Goodchild. I’ve no use for it--I’ll not be wanting to leave Hobbiton. I’ll see to it as its title is made over to your name. And I want to thank you--for coming to tell me, to see me and bring me his things and his letter.”
She looked at the coffer that had remained where she’d left it on a small table. “And I’ll use this--see to it as it goes to all them whose husbands didn’t come back.”
He nodded, his own eyes swimming.
He remained in Hobbiton for three days before he prepared to leave it, heading north, deed in hand, to examine his new property. Before parting with Gandalf he sighed. “I know as the coffer was give t’me, but I’ve no use fer it. Nay, it’s better put t’use by her, I’m thinkin’. And I suppose as the King did give me lands, fer with it I’ve bought land of me own.”
The last Gandalf saw of Holmwise Goodchild was of the sturdy Hobbit marching northward, heading for the roads into the Northfarthing, going off to inspect his new home.