Ladies and gentlemen, time has come for the third episode of A Tale of Wide-Eyed Wonder. Join us as we set out to explore the wonders of this forgotten land, to misty mountains and cavernous halls; mysterious forests and the green hills of the Shire. We’re going on an adventure !
A Tale Of Wide-Eyed Wonder
EPISODE III – Arthedain
Two days and several dozen miles later, Niphredil and Thorbjörn reached the city of Bree. Bree was an important trading center between Men and the hobbits of the Shire, a small town where the Big and the Little People coexisted in a unique but most excellent arrangement. The town was set on the most important crossroads of Eriador, the north-western lands of Middle-Earth. Two roads crossed there, the Great East road, which stretched from the lands of Elves far to the West, towards the Misty Mountains in the East; and the Greenway, a north-south axis connecting the lands of Men in the North, Arnor, to Gondor in the South.
“What peculiar houses !” said Niphredil.
“Never seen what normal housing looks like ?”, ironized Thorbjörn.
“I haven’t, so what ?”, she grumbled quietly.
A few hundred stone houses stood on the Bree-hill, the only height in a hundred miles radius. A deep dike before a wooden wall encircled it, with gates breaking it up at regular intervals. The fortifications were derelict and in parts in ruin. The life in Bree was calm, and away from danger.
Many roads led to Bree, yet most of them were empty at this time of day. In the noon of night, the gibbous moon was at its highest. The glittering stars made for a bewitching firmament. The ghostly moonlight gave an odd atmosphere to the landscape below. From the many lights flickering at the houses’ windows, emanated a warm feeling, and the two companions hastened their pace towards them. Towards the inn, at last. A warm meal and a bed. What luxury.
After a well-earned night’s rest, Niphredil and Thorbjörn were ready for their morning preparations. They had decided to make some purchases in Bree, for the rest of the road would lead them for many days into Wilderness and uninhabited lands. The merchant stalls were already open, and they found a grocer that seemed to suit their needs.
“Good day to you ! Everything’s for sale my friend. Everything ! ‘f I had a sister, I’d sell her in a second !”
“Ehm, right. We’re only going to need food, enough for-”
“I’d even buy one of your relatives, if you’re looking to sell. Ha ha ha ha. That’s a little joke.”
“Yes, no.”, stammered Niphredil, less and less convinced now that this was the right shop. Or indeed a shop at all. “We’re just looking to buy enough food for a fortnight’s travel”.
“Well why didn’t you say so ? I’ve got just what you need.”
After a substantial monetary exchange, Niphredil and Thorbjörn were now in possession of enough equipment and victuals for a long journey.
“Do come back !” called the shopkeeper after them.
“What a queer man.” commented Niphredil.
The two travellers started walking towards the southern end of the city. In the morning light, Niphredil could finally observe her surroundings. In the lower half of Bree, the stone and thatch houses were built on fairly flat ground. Sturdy yet ancient looking, with mossy roofs and ivy-covered walls, they blended in with the wilderness beyond. Wild patches of color distinguished them, formed by rhododendrons and anemones growing freely around them; thereby dotting the landscape with warm shades of pink, blue and purple.
Shortly after leaving Bree, all traces of human settlement disappeared from the landscape, save for the road, ever present, a testimony of civilization in a desperately flat and empty land. These lands, home to the descendants of Númenor, once the greatest kingdom of Men beyond the Sea, were now slowly declining into nothingness. The might of the Dúnedain, bearers of the blood of old Númenor, was waning against the growing darkness cast by the Shadow of Angmar.
For many days they walked the Great South Road. They passed through the defile of Andrath, between the Barrow-Downs and the South Downs. The Downs were two series of low, barren hills, home to the remains of the old kings of Arnor. Here and there, megaliths stood upon the hills, looming in the distance. From the Downs, they followed the road into a deserted and sullen land, where vegetation scarcely grew, for many miles.
A long voyage, with nothing to differentiate one day from the other. A featureless and desolate landscape, whose brown dirt was darkened by an equally featureless layer of clouds above.
“This region feels dead. As devoid of life as the people who used to live in this land and are now buried beneath it.”, said Niphredil drily.
“Didn’t know you were into this kind of humour. Harrowing dark thoughts like that won’t help the atmosphere of the place much.”, answered Thorbjörn with a wry smile.
“It’s just tiring to be there, is all.”, she said blearily.
The solitude in this empty land would have been unbearable if she were travelling alone, thought Niphredil. She was glad to have someone she could talk to, remind her she wasn’t stuck in some neverending nightmare.
A little less than a fortnight later, Niphredil and Thorbjörn finally came into sight of a city.
“This must be Tharbad, if our feet haven’t strayed off the path we were supposed to take. Whatever it is, I am glad to be out of these Downs.”, said Thorbjörn.
“I think it is. A city built on either side of the Mitheithel River, the innkeeper told us in Bree. I don’t know if this is the Mitheithel River, but it certainly is a city built on either side of a river. We should at least be able to replenish our victuals here.”
“Not many roads our paths could have strayed off anyways. What a depressing place. How you people can bear to live in this wasteland is beyond my comprehension.”
“They’re not my people. If I remember my history right, there were hobbits here for a long time, but they’ve left for the Shire about 200 years ago.”, said Niphredil.
“You know much, O Wise One. It’s all old nonsense to me. The lore of smithing though, that I can comprehend. What do you say to a mug of beer and a comfortable bed for the night ?”, answered Thorbjörn, apparently insensible to the charms of hobbit genealogy.
Indeed had the foundation of Tharbad been lost in the mists of time to all but masters of lore, many centuries ago. It had been built by the sea-faring Númenoreans to protect their shipyards and wood-stores from the local population, whose forests they were exploiting. In their efforts to conquer these lands, the fortress promptly became a great river-port, built on one of the most expeditious routes between Arnor in the North and Gondor in the South, in the early days of both kingdoms. A fortified town and haven grew on either side of the Mitheithel River, home to a great garrison of soldiers, mariners and engineers. Symbol of the skill of the Númenorean builders and masons, a graceful bridge of white stone spanned across the flowing river. Upon it rode the Great South Road, itself another connection between the North and the South.
This road would Niphredil and Thorbjörn follow, to reach the Halls of Durin in Khazad-Dûm.
After a mug of beer (only tea for Niphredil) and a good night’s sleep in a comfortable bed, the two companions were ready to take the road again. Their bags were stocked with food for the rest of the journey.
“If I understood correctly what the innkeeper told me, we must now travel through the Nîn-in-Eilph fenland, north of Tharbad; then follow the Sirannon stream that flows into it, until we reach it’s source, conveniently right under the door of Khazad-Dûm.”, explained Thorbjörn.
“So we must leave the road ?”, said Niphredil.
“Roads ? Where we’re going we don’t need roads. That is, there are none.”, retorted Thorbjörn.
“Well then, better get going quick. We can make it to the Halls of Durin in two days if we hurry.”
They left when the Sun started cresting the Misty Mountains, away to the East, and headed in that direction, their shadows stretching long on the road behind them. The fenland bore its name well : Nîn-in-Eilph, water-land of the Swans; home to many of the white wingéd bird. On the west of the marsh lay Tharbad, on the northern borders flowed the Mitheithel. Towards the eastern end of the mire, a waterfall rushed down, and beyond it was a ford over the Glanduin. Out of these lowlands and into the plain beyond, the road led to the ruins of Ost-in-Edhil. Another once mighty city, now lost to time, of which only ruins remained to this day.
Arriving to the ruins, Niphredil and Thorbjörn were surprised to see a man there. He was sitting on a tree stump, under the cover of a tent stretched between four wooden poles. His disheveled white hair and beard shone in the sun. Before him was a wide slab of white stone, probably fallen from a building long ago. He was writing on a sheet of paper, a half-filled inkwell beside him on the desk. Many more books and paper sheets were stacked in improbable piles all over the stony floor of his makeshift office. Hearing their footsteps, he turned to say :
“Well met, travelers. Are you lost ? It is rare to see visitors coming to this forsaken place.”
“Well met. I don’t believe we are lost. We’re on the way to Khazad-Dûm. Is this Ost-in-Edhil ?”
The old man smiled, his eyes tinted with melancholy. “This is indeed what remains of Ost-in-Edhil, the ancient elven capital of Eregion. Allow me to present myself, I am Alwis Peredhil, member of the guild of historians in Tharbad.”
“I am Thorbjörn son of Thorgald, and this is Niphredil.”, said Thorbjörn with a slight bow.
Niphredil had always been curious about the Elves. That these ruins were originated from the Fair Folk ignited her curiosity.
“If you don’t mind my asking, what is your purpose here ? What is Eregion ? And why are there no elves here today ?”
“So many questions ! I wish my students were so eager to learn.”, answered the historian, amused. “The story you wish to hear would take me many hours to tell in full. The history behind this city spans many millennia.”
“To answer your questions, I come here regularly in order to learn more about the inhabitants of Eregion. Eregion is the region west of the Misty Mountains and east of the Mitheithel river. You may know it under the name of Hollin.
The story begins in the early days of the Second Age, when Galadriel and Celeborn, Lady and Lord of the Lothlórien, founded Ost-in-Edhil. It was meant to become a trade center with both the Dwarves of Khazad-Dûm to the east, and the Men of Númenor to the west. In its time, it was a beautiful city, the gem of the West. Imagine a city filled with many fountains and statues finely carved by skilled craftsmen. A city of slender spires, towering to the sky, and houses of white stone, that held the sun’s light long after evening fell. It was home to the greatest smiths in Middle-Earth, and the greatest of all was the unrivaled Celebrimbor.
Ost-in-Edhil ultimately met its doom at the peak of its glory, at the hand of Sauron himself. Under the guise of a craftsman named Annatar, Sauron befriended the elvish smiths of Eregion, easier to mislead because of their thirst for knowledge. But a knowledge gained without wisdom comes at a price. Through cunning lies and insidious persuasion, he taught the Elves dangerous secrets for 400 years, and together with Celebrimbor, he forged the Rings of Power. Then Annatar revealed himself as Sauron by forging The One Ring and declaring war on all that was living, and Ost-in-Edhil fell shortly thereafter. Thus started the War of Elves and Sauron, and it was long and bloody, leaving all of Eriador ravaged and broken.
Dwarves, Elves and Men alike suffered heavy casualties, and many fair cities were destroyed by the forces of Sauron. He was eventually defeated near Tharbad at the Battle of Gwathló; his army routed by the combined forces of the Elves, led by Gil-galad, and Men of Númenor, who had sent a great fleet across the sea to their aid.
Ost-in-Edhil was never rebuilt, a symbol of its smith’s folly in their lust for knowledge. Forgotten by Men and forsaken by Elves, it came to us today, a ruin full of the glory and regrets of the past.”
Alwis was silent for a while, as if lost in his own story. Niphredil eventually spoke up.
“Sometimes I wonder if I wasn’t born in the wrong time. Stories of the old days fascinate me. It seems like the world was so full of powers and magic beyond the reach of Man, a strength that has now departed and been lost forever. A world vividly alive, terrible and wonderful. Perilous without a doubt, yet today we relish in the marvels of those times, gazing longingly at this grandiose past.
In any case, I thank you for the tale, loremaster.”
“I am no loremaster. Though some call me half-elven because of my fascination for the lore of the Fair Folk, I have nowhere near the depth of knowledge of the only true half-elven loremaster there is : Elrond of Imladris. I am however glad you appreciated the lesson. Perhaps we’ll have the occasion of talking again if you come here on your return journey.”
The return journey. The words had a distant yet heartening feel to them. Filled with determination, Niphredil turned away from the ruins and started walking towards the road leading from the ancient elven city to the mines of Khazad-Dûm. Thorbjörn had taken the lead, uninterested by a past that was already gone anyways, and impatient of reaching his kinfolks’ dwellings.
This, dear listeners, was the third episode of A Tale Of Wide-Eyed Wonder. Comb your beards, pick up your helmets and sharpen your axes, we are headed to the fourth episode : to the dwarven halls of Khazad-Dûm.