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Throw, Coil, Ghost: the prompts taken from Tolkien Weekly's Potter's Wheel challenge. “Ghost” ended up being my guiding thread, since 'tis the season for drabbled genocide chez Dwim.


Pelargir: Or The Curious Case of the Dog That Didn't Bark in the Night

For some reason, Pelargir gets almost no attention. They didn't send levies to Minas Tirith (unlike everyone else), or else they sent surprisingly few: "some hundred." As with everything concerning Pelargir, the evidence is ambiguous.

Tolkien specifies that these roughly hundred men are "[f]isher-folk of the Ethir spared from the ships." Given the care with which he identified every other company's origin, and even whether or not they had a lord (and who he was if they had one), why would he not say that these were men that Pelargir had levied and spared for Minas Tirith? We don't even know who Pelargir's ruling lord or body is! If, though, one finds it reasonable to infer that these were men who answered to Pelargir, then considering that Lossarnach, whose major city isn't even mentioned, could've sent (unless hope exaggerates wildly) 2000 men (but only sent 200), some hundred men from a major city-state seems very low indeed (compare Dol Amroth, which sent over a thousand fully-equipped soldiers, including a large body of expensive knights, and had a much larger distance to cover).

Aragorn did say he sent four thousand from Pelargir, which might seem to say that the bulk of the population stayed home to guard the river. However, taken with Legolas's words and the anonymous narrator's elsewhere, these seem not to be entirely, and perhaps not even mainly, composed of Pelargirites. The specific attribution is men “from the southern fiefs”; considering that Aragorn had Angborn send word far and wide to follow him and assemble at Pelargir, it's possible that the bulk of those four thousand came from other places and simply set out as a single body from Pelargir, following Lord Angbor.

So we don't know whether Pelargir sent anyone to Minas Tirith initially, nor how many (if any) of the second wave of reinforcements were from Pelargir.

Then there's the question of the city's status after Sauron's opening onslaught. Was it captured? Was it breached at all? Here, it seems to me that our evidence is circumstantial, and comes more from side-comments and what isn't said than from direct statements.

The most direct evidence we have of significant Haradric incursion into the city's territory are the Haradric ships “drawn up” on the near shore (suggesting they got through all Pelargir's naval defenses and landed troops on the shores at least). There are also smaller Haradric craft on fire (suggesting semi-successful resistance from Pelargir). These points in themselves prove little but that one side at least is likely to have archers, and that the invader is likely to have gotten men on the ground to surround the city.

Indirectly, however, the length of engagement of the Grey Company and the Army of the Dead suggests freeing Pelargir was a more involved process than one might expect, and this suggests in turn that the city was taken at least in part. Legolas says that to get to Pelargir, they hunted their foes a day and a night, and his general description of the colors upon reaching Pelargir suggest they reached it at dawn; but despite the fact that Gimli said no one could resist the Dead, it still apparently took all day to secure the entire site. This is gleaned from the comment that "Ere that dark day ended none of the enemy were left": the wording suggests a struggle that took most of the day, but which ended before nightfall (though not very much before nightfall - if one has to mention the end of the day to limit the time frame, chances are high that there's a reason for that).

Yet Tolkien never speaks of anything but a battle for the ships. He never talks about the City, though what else could take all day to subdue? Given that the Dead inspire such terror, using them in a city, where civilians might panic, seems like a bad idea, forcing Aragorn to wait for an early wave of reinforcements before digging out entrenched opposition. A second possibility is that he and the Grey company had to wait while Pelargir's surviving forces fought their way out past the Corsairs who'd made it into the city before the Dead took out their ship-bound comrades.

Of the two possibilities, the former seems less likely, given that only later that evening are Angbor and the reinforcements he had to that point gathered said to arrive. Which leaves the latter possibility, since unless the Dead were used, thirty-odd soldiers would have no chance of evicting an army that had entrenched itself. But if all Haradrim not within the city already were driven into the river and drowned or chased downstream, leaving the remaining city defenders to force the remaining invaders out to flee or drown, or else to destroy them, then that might help explain the apparent delay between the arrival of the Grey Company and the complete elimination of any Haradric presence in or around Pelargir.

A final point possibly suggesting that the city was at least partly captured comes from what Tolkien does not tell us about it: we never find out who Pelargir's lord is. The men who march from Pelargir are under Lord Angbor's command. If these really were Pelargirites, why wouldn't Pelargir send an authority of its own to lead its people, instead relying on Angbor to lead, even though he isn't beholden to Pelargir so far as we know? Did something happen to Pelargir's leadership?

So with “Ghost” as a prompt, and all of these considerations in mind, my question ended up being: what's up with the funky timing and silence at Pelargir, Tolkien? What could have happened there that would explain all of these things?

And how can I make this about Haradrim and civil discord in Gondor? (Because I like Haradrim and civil discord in Gondor.)

All material cited comes from the chapters "The Last Debate" and "Minas Tirith" in Return of the King.

Notes to material found in the chapters themselves

1. Thy roses testify: rose symbolism from leading poems of For Want of Roses.

2. The Precepts are my fanonical sacred book of the Haradrim, first mentioned in Giving Gifts.

3. Ena uban za'an ahn-bairtan halota'ane din: Ta'alsheen Haradric: “The under-that-sun-not-born.”

4. Nai A-lehanoi Ta'alsheenoi: “From the Ta'alsheen A-lehani.” In my fanonical world, the a-lehani are a variant sect of the dominant Haradric religion, and the Ta'alsheen a large tribal subgroup in Harad.

5. Eni chudane eni enai tarakhenu t'hole: Ta'alsheen Haradric: “The tarks' bitches we!”

6. “With it, or on it”: "τἐκνον, ἢ ταύταν ἢ ἐπὶ ταύτας" = “Child, come home carrying that shield, or on it” – Spartan mother's admonition to her son.

7. March 10, 3019: Throw: Thanks, ecrm, for your analysis of Pelargir's defenses, which led me to Constantinople. I have also tweaked my analysis of Tolkien's silence about Pelargir to reflect our discussion.

8. March 13, 3019: Throw and March 13, 3019: Ghost II: The unabridged text, which is Gimli's account of the relief of Pelargir by the Army of the Dead, runs more than a page in length. I chopped it up and elided considerably to get the parts I wanted within range of each other. See “The Last Debate”, RoTK for the material that went into these two drabbles.


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