After the fall of Sauron, Isildur, the son and heir of Elendil, returned to Gondor. There he assumed the Elendilmir (the Star of Elendil; there were in fact not one but two gems of this name) as King of Arnor, and proclaimed his sovereign lordship over all the Dúnedain in the North and in the South; for he was a man of great pride and vigor. He remained for a year in Gondor, restoring its order and defining its bounds (as is related in the Tale of Cirion and Eorl, drawing on older histories, now mostly lost, for its account of the events that led to the Oath of Eorl and the alliance of Gondor with the Rohirrim); but the greater part of the army of Arnor returned to Eriador by the Númenórean road from the Fords of Isen to Fornost.
In the second year of the Third Age, Isildur planted a seedling of the White Tree in Minas Anor and delivered the South-kingdom to Meneldil.
When he at last felt free to return to his own realm, he was in haste and he wished to go first to Imladris; for he had left his wife and youngest son there, and he had moreover an urgent need for the counsel of Elrond. Isildur’s youngest son was Valandil, third King of Arnor. Isildur therefore determined to make his way north from Osgiliath up the Vales of Anduin to Cirith Forn en Andrath, the high-climbing pass of the North, that led down to Imladris. This pass is named only here by an Elvish name. At Rivendell, long after, Gimli the Dwarf referred to it as the High Pass. It was in this pass that Thorin Oakenshield and his company were captured by Orcs. Isildur knew the land well, for he had journeyed there often before the War of the Alliance, and had marched that way to the war with men of eastern Arnor in the company of Elrond.
It was a long journey, but the only other way, west and then north to the road-meeting in Arnor, and then east to Imladris, was far longer. Three hundred leagues and more than the route which Isildur intended to take, and for the most part without made roads; in those days the only Númenórean roads were the great road linking Gondor and Arnor, through Calenardhon, then north over the Gwathló at Tharbad, and so at last to Fornost; and the East-West Road from the Grey Havens to Imladris. These roads crossed at a point [Bree] west of Amon Sûl (Weathertop), by Númenórean road-measurements three hundred and ninety-two leagues from Osgiliath, and then east to Imladris one hundred and sixteen: five hundred and eight leagues in all. As swift, maybe, for mounted men, but he had no horses fit for riding; and safer, maybe, in former days, but Sauron was vanquished, and the people of Vales had been his allies in victory. He had no fear, save for weather and weariness, but these men whom need sends far abroad in Middle-earth must endure.
In Númenórean reckoning five thousand rangar (full paces) made a lár, which was very nearly three miles. Lár meant “pause,” because, except in forced marches, a brief halt was usually made after this distance had been covered. The Númenórean ranga was slightly longer than a yard, approximately thirty-eight inches, owing to their great stature. Therefore five thousand rangar would be almost exactly the equivalent of 5280 yards, or “league:” 5277 yards, two feet and four inches, supposing the equivalence to be exact. Account has to be taken both of the great stature of the Númenóreans (since hands, feet, fingers and paces are likely to be the origin of names of units of length), and also of the variations from these averages or norms in the process of fixing and organizing a measurement system both for daily use and for exact calculations. Thus two rangar was often called “man-high,” which at thirty-eight inches gives an average height of six feet four inches; but this was at a later date, when the stature of the Dúnedain appears to have decreased, and also was not intended to be an accurate statement of the observed average of male stature among them, but was an approximate length expressed in the well-known unit ranga. The ranga is often said to have been the length of the stride, from rear heel to front toe, of a full-grown man marching swiftly but at ease; a full stride “might be well nigh a ranga and a half.” It is however said of the great people of the past that they were more than a man-high. Elendil was said to be “more than man-high by nearly half a ranga;” but he was accounted the tallest of all the Númenóreans who escape the Downfall and was indeed generally known as Elendil the Tall. The Eldar of the Elder Days were also very tall. Galadriel, “the tallest of all the women of the Eldar of whom tales tell,” was said to be man-high, but it is noted “according to the measure of the Dúnedain and the men of old,” indicating a height of about six feet four inches.
The Rohirrim were generally shorter, for in their far-off ancestry they had been mingled with men of broader and heavier build. Éomer was said to have been tall, of like height with Aragorn; but he with other descendants of King Thengel were taller than the norm of Rohan, deriving this characteristic (together in some cases with darker hair) from Morwen, Thengel’s wife, a lady of Gondor of high Númenórean descent.
The Númenóreans in their own land possessed horses, which they esteemed. But they did not use them in war; for all their wars were overseas. Also they were of great stature and strength, and their fully-equipped soldiers were accustomed to bear heavy armor and weapons. In their settlements on the shores of Middle-earth they acquired and bred horses, but used them little for riding, except in sport and pleasure. In war they were used only by couriers, and by bodies of light-armed archers (often not of Númenórean race). In the War of the Alliance such horses as they used had suffered great losses, and few were available in Osgiliath.
They needed some baggage and provisions in houseless country; for they did not expect to find any dwellings of Elves or Men, until they reached Thranduil’s realm, almost at their journey’s end. On the march, each man carried with him two days’ provisions (other than the “need-wallet”); the rest, and other baggage, was carried by small sturdy horses, of a kind, it was said, that had first been found, wild and free, in the wide plains south and east of the Greenwood. They had been tamed; but though they would carry heavy burdens (at walking pace), they would not allow any man to ride them. Of these they had only ten.
So it was, as is told in the legends of later days, that the second year of the Third Age was waning when Isildur set forth from Osgiliath early in Ivanneth, expecting to reach Imladris in forty days, by mid-Narbeleth, ere winter drew nigh in the North.
Yavannië 5, according to the Númenórean “King’s Reckoning,” still kept with little change in the Shire Calendar. Yavannië (Ivanneth) thus corresponded to Halimath (September); and Narbeleth to October. Forty days (till Narbeleth 15) was sufficient, if all went well. The journey was probably at least three hundred and eight leagues as marched; but the soldiers of the Dúnedain, tall men of great strength and endurance, were accustomed to move fully-armed at eight leagues a day “with ease:” when they went in eight spells of a league, with short breaks at the end of each league (lár or, in Sindarin, daur), and one hour near midday. This made a “march” of about ten and half hours, in which they were walking eight hours. This pace they could maintain for long periods with adequate provision. In haste they could move much faster, at twelve leagues a day (or in great need, more), but for shorter periods. At the date of the disaster, in the latitude of Imladris (which they were approaching), there were at least eleven hours of daylight in open country; but at midwinter less than eight. Long journeys were not, however, undertaken in the North between the beginning of Hithui (Hisimë, November) and the end of Nínui (Nénimë, February) in time of peace.
Meneldil was the nephew of Isildur, son of Isildur’s younger brother Anárion, slain in the siege of Barad-dûr. It is stated in annals concerning the Heirs of Elendil that Meneldil was the fourth child of Anárion, that he was born in the year 3318 of the Second Age, and that he was the last man to be born in Númenor. Isildur had established Meneldil as King of Gondor. He was a man of courtesy, but farseeing, and he did not reveal his thoughts. He was in fact well-pleased by the departure of Isildur and his sons, and hoped that affairs in the North would keep them long occupied.
At the Eastgate of the Bridge on a bright morning, Meneldil bade him farewell. “Go now with good speed, and may the Sun of your setting out not cease to shine on your road!”
With Isildur went his three sons, Elendur, Aratan, and Ciryon, and his Guard of two hundred knights and soldiers, stern men of Arnor and war-hardened. All three had fought in the War of the Alliance, but Aratan and Ciryon had not been in the invasion of Mordor and the siege of Barad-dûr, for Isildur had sent them to man his fortress of Minas Ithil, lest Sauron should escape Gil-galad and Elendil and seek to force away through Cirith Dúath (later called Cirith Ungol) and take vengeance on the Dúnedain before he was overcome. Elendur, Isildur’s heir and dear to him, had accompanied his father throughout the war (save the last challenge upon Orodruin) and he was in Isildur’s full confidence. It is stated in the annals previously mentioned that Isildur’s eldest son was bon in Númenor in the year 3299 of the Second Age (Isildur himself was born in 3209).
Of their journey nothing is told until they had passed over the Dagorlad, and on northward into the wide and empty lands south of Greenwood the Great. On the twentieth day, as they came within far sight of the forest crowning the highlands before them with a distant gleam of the red and gold of Ivanneth, the sky became overcast and a dark wind came up from the Sea of Rhûn laden with rain. The rain lasted for four days; so when they came to the entrance to the Vales, between Lórien and Amon Lanc, Isildur turned away from the Anduin, swollen with swift water, and went up the steep slopes on its eastern side to gain the ancient paths of the Silvan Elves that ran near the eaves of the Forest.
Amon Lanc, “Naked Hill,” was the highest point in the highland at the south-west corner of the Greenwood, and was so called because no trees grew on its summit. In later days it was Dol Guldur, the first stronghold of Sauron after his awakening.
So it came to pass that late in the afternoon of the thirtieth day of their journey, they were passing the north borders of the Gladden Fields (Loeg Ningloron), marching along a path that led to Thranduil’s realm, as it then was.
In the Elder Days, when the Silvan Elves first settled there, there was a lake formed in a deep depression into which the Anduin poured from the North down the swiftest part of its course, a long descent of some seventy miles, and there mingled with the torrent of the Gladden River (Sîr Ninglor) hastening from the Mountains. The lake had been wider west of Anduin, for the eastern side of the valley was steeper; but on the east it probably reached as far as the feet of the long slopes down from the Forest (then still wooded), its reedy borders being marked by the gentler slope, just below the path that Isildur was following. The lake had become a great marsh, through which the river wandered in a wilderness of islets, and wide beds of reed and rush, and armies of yellow iris that grew taller than a man and gave their name to all the region and to the river from the Mountains about whose lower course they grew most thickly. But the marsh had receded to the east, and from the foot of the lower slopes there were now wide flats, grown with grass and small rushes on which men would walk.
Long before the War of the Alliance, Oropher, King of the Silvan Elves east of Anduin, being disturbed by rumors of the rising power of Sauron, had left their ancient dwellings about Amon Lanc, across the river from their kin in Lórien. Three times he had moved northwards, and at the end of the Second Age he dwelt in the western glens of the Emyn Duir, and his numerous people lived and roamed in the woods and vales westward as far as Anduin, north of the ancient Dwarf-Road (Men-i-Naugrim).
It is the Old Forest Road described in later tales; the ancient Forest Road that led down from the Pass of Imladris and crossed Anduin by a bridge (that had been enlarged and strengthened for the passage of the armies of the Alliance), and so over the eastern valley into the Greenwood. The Anduin could not be bridged at any lower point; for a few miles below the Forest Road the land fell steeply and the river became very swift, until it reached the great basin of the Gladden Fields. Beyond the Fields it quickened again, and was then a great flood fed by many streams, of which the names are forgotten save those of the larger: the Gladden (Sîr Ninglor), Silverlode (Celebrant), and Limlight (Limlaith). In later tales, the Forest Road traversed the great river by the Old Ford and there is no mention of there having once been a bridge at the crossing.
Oropher’s retreat northwards within the Greenwood is ascribed to his desire to move out of range of the Dwarves of Khazad-dûm and of Celeborn and Galadriel in Lórien. He had joined the Alliance, but was slain in the assault upon the Gates of Mordor. Thranduil his son had returned with the remnant of the army of the Silvan Elves in the year before Isildur’s march.
The Emyn Duir (Dark Mountains) were a group of high hills in the north-east of the Forest, so called because dense fir-woods grew upon their slopes; but they were not yet of evil name. In later days, when the shadow of Sauron spread through Greenwood the Great and changed its name from Eryn Galen to Taur-nu-Fuin (translated Mirkwood), the Emyn Duir became a haunt of many of his most evil creatures, and were called Emyn-nu-Fuin, the Mountains of Mirkwood.
The Elvish names of the Mountains of Mirkwood are not found elsewhere. Elsewhere the Elvish name of Mirkwood is Taur-e-Ndaedelos “forest of the great fear;” the name given here, Taur-nu-Fuin “forest under night,” was the later name of Dorthonion, the forested highland on the northern borders of Beleriand in the Elder Days. The application of the same name, Taur-nu-Fuin, to both Mirkwood and Dorthonion is notable. After the end of the War of the Ring Thranduil and Celeborn would rename Mirkwood once more, calling it Eryn Lasgalen, the Wood of Greenleaves
The fair day was waning; above the distant mountains, clouds were gathering, reddened by the misty sun as it drew down towards them; the deeps of the valley were already in grey shadow. The Dúnedain were singing, for their day’s march was near its end, and three parts of the long road to Imladris were behind them. To their right, the Forest loomed above them at the top of steep slopes running down to their path, below which the descent into the valley-bottom was gentler.
Suddenly, as the sun plunged into cloud, they heard the hideous cries of Orcs, and saw them issuing from the Forest and moving down the slopes, yelling their war-cries.
In the dimmed light their number could only be guessed, but the Dúnedain were plainly many times, even to ten times, outnumbered. Isildur commanded a thangail to be drawn up, a shield-wall of two serried ranks that could be bent back at either end if outflanked, until at need it became a closed ring. If the land had been flat or the slope in his favor, he would have formed his company into a dirnaith and charged the Orcs, hoping by the great strength of the Dúnedain and their weapons to cleave a way through them and scatter them in dismay; but that could not now be done.
Thangail “shield-fence” was the name of this formation in Sindarin, the normal spoken language of Elendil’s people; its “official” name in Quenya was sandastan “shield-barrier,” derived from primitive thandā “shield” and stama- “bar, exclude.” The Sindarin word used a different second element: cail, a fence or palisade of spikes and sharp stakes. This, in primitive form keglē, was derived from a stem keg- “snag, barb,” seen also in the primitive word kegyā “hedge,” whence Sindarin cai (compare the Morgai in Mordor).
The dírnaith, Quenya nernehta “man-spearhead,” was a wedge-formation, launched over a short distance against an enemy massing but not yet arrayed, or against a defensive formation on open ground. Quenya nehte, Sindarin naith was applied to any formation or projection tapering to a point: a spearhead, gore, wedge, narrow promontory (root nek “narrow”); compare the Naith of Lórien, the land at the angle of the Celebrant and Anduin, which at the actual junction of the rivers was narrower and more pointed than can be shown on a small-scale map.
A shadow of foreboding fell upon Isildur’s heart.
“The vengeance of Sauron lives on, though he may be dead”, he said to Elendur, who stood beside him. “There is cunning and design here! We have no hope of help: Moria and Lórien are now far behind, and Thranduil four days’ march ahead.”
“And we bear burdens of worth beyond all reckoning,” said Elendur; for he was in his father’s confidence.
The Orcs were now drawing near. Isildur turned to his esquire: “Ohtar,” he said, “I give this now into your keeping;” and he delivered to him the great sheath and the shards of Narsil, Elendil’s sword.
Ohtar is the only name used in the legends; but it is probably only the title of address that Isildur used at this tragic moment, hiding his feelings under formality. Ohtar “warrior, soldier” was the title of all who, though fully trained and experienced, had not yet been admitted to the rank of roquen, “knight.” But Ohtar was dear to Isildur and of his own kin.
“Save it from capture by all means that you can find, and at all costs; even at the cost of being held a coward who deserted me. Take your companion with you and flee! Go’. I command you!” Then Ohtar knelt and kissed his hand, and the two young men fled down into the dark valley.
Later it was told that “three men only came ever back over the mountains.” In the text given here the implication is that the third was Estelmo, Elendur’s esquire, who survived the battle.
If the keen-eyed Orcs marked their flight, they took no heed. They halted briefly, preparing their assault. First they let fly a hail of arrows, and then suddenly, with a great shout, they did as Isildur would have done and hurled a great mass of their chief warriors down the last slope against the Dúnedain, expecting to break up their shield-wall. But it stood firm. The arrows had been unavailing against the Númenórean armor. The great Men towered above the tallest Orcs, and their swords and spears far outreached the weapons of their enemies. The onslaught faltered, broke, and retreated, leaving the defenders little harmed, unshaken, behind piles of fallen Orcs.
It seemed to Isildur that the enemy was withdrawing towards the Forest. He looked back. The red rim of the sun gleamed out from the clouds as it went down behind the mountains; night would soon be falling. He gave orders to resume the march at once, but to bend their course down towards the lower and flatter ground where the Orcs would have less advantage.
They had passed the deep depression of the Gladden Fields, beyond which the ground on the east side of Anduin (which flowed in a deep channel) was firmer and drier for the lie of the land changed. It began to climb northwards until as it neared the Forest Road and Thranduil’s country it was almost level with the eaves of the Greenwood. This Isildur knew well.
Maybe he believed that after their costly repulse the Orcs would give way, though their scouts might follow him during the night and watch his camp. That was the manner of Orcs, who were most often dismayed when their prey could turn and bite.
But he was mistaken. There was not only cunning in the attack, but fierce and relentless hatred. The Orcs of the Mountains were stiffened and commanded by grim servants of Barad-dûr, sent out long before to watch the passes, and though it was unknown to them, the Ring, cut from his black hand two years before, was still laden with Sauron’s evil will and called to all his servants for their aid.
There can be no doubt that Sauron, well-informed of the Alliance, had sent out such Orc-troops of the Red Eye as he could spare, to do what they could to harry any forces that attempted to shorten their road by crossing the Mountains. In the event the main might of Gil-galad, together with Isildur and part of the Men of Arnor, had come over the Passes of Imladris and Caradhras, and the Orcs were dismayed and hid themselves. But they remained alert and watchful, determined to attack any companies of Elves or Men that they outnumbered. Thranduil they had let pass, for even his diminished army was far too strong for them; but they bided their time, for the most part hidden in the Forest, while others lurked along the riverbanks. It is unlikely that any news of Sauron’s fall had reached them, for he had been straitly besieged in Mordor and all his forces had been destroyed. If any few had escaped, they had fled far to the East with the Ringwraiths. This small detachment in the North, of no account, was forgotten. Probably they thought that Sauron had been victorious, and the war-scarred army of Thranduil was retreating to hide in fastnesses of the Forest. Thus they would be emboldened and eager to win their master’s praise, though they had not been in the main battles. But it was not his praise they would have won, if any had lived long enough to see his revival. No tortures would have satisfied his anger with the bungling fools who had let slip the greatest prize in Middle-earth; even though they could know nothing of the One Ring, which save to Sauron himself was known only to the Nine Ringwraiths, its slaves. Yet many have thought that the ferocity and determination of their assault on Isildur was in part due to the Ring. It was little more than two years since it had left his hand, and though it was swiftly cooling it was still heavy with his evil will, and seeking all means to return to its lord (as it did again when he recovered and was rehoused). So, it is thought, although they did not understand it, the Orc-chiefs were filled with a fierce desire to destroy the Dúnedain and capture their leader. Nonetheless it proved in the event that the War of the Ring was lost at the Disaster of the Gladden Fields.
The Dúnedain had gone scarcely a mile when the Orcs moved again. This time they did not charge, but used all their forces. They came down on a wide front, which bent into a crescent and soon closed into an unbroken ring about the Dúnedain. They were silent now, and kept at a distance out of the range of the dreaded steel bows of Númenor, though the light was fast failing, and Isildur had all too few archers for his need. No more than twenty, it is said; for no such need had been expected.
He halted. There was a pause, though the most keen-eyed among the Dúnedain said that the Orcs were moving inwards, stealthily, step by step. Elendur went to his father, who was standing dark and alone, as if lost in thought.
“Atarinya,” he said, “what of the power that would cow these foul creatures and command them to obey you? Is it then of no avail?”
“Alas, it is not, senya. I cannot use it. I dread the pain of touching it. And I have not yet found the strength to bend it to my will. It needs one greater than I now know myself to be. My pride has fallen. It should go to the Keepers of the Three.”
At that moment, there came a sudden blast of horns, and the Orcs closed in on all sides, flinging themselves against the Dúnedain with reckless ferocity. Night had come, and hope faded. Men were falling; for some of the greater Orcs leaped up, two at a time, and dead or alive with their weight bore down a Dúnedain, so that other strong claws could drag him out and slay him. The Orcs might pay five to one in this exchange, but it was too cheap. Ciryon was slain in this way and Aratan mortally wounded in an attempt to rescue him.
Elendur, not yet harmed, sought Isildur. He was rallying the men on the east side where the assault was heaviest, for the Orcs still feared the Elendilmir that he bore on his brow and avoided him. Elendur touched him on the shoulder and he turned fiercely, thinking an Orc had crept behind.
“My King,” said Elendur, “Ciryon is dead and Aratan is dying. Your last counsellor must advise, nay command you, as you commanded Ohtar. Go! Take your burden, and at all costs bring it to the Keepers: even at the cost of abandoning your men and me!”
“King’s son,” said Isildur, “I knew that I must do so; but I feared the pain. Nor could I go without your leave. Forgive me, and my pride that has brought you to this doom.” [i.e. The pride that led him to keep the Ring against the counsel of Elrond and Círdan that it should be destroyed in the fires of Orodruin.]
Elendur kissed him. “Go! Go now!” he said.
Isildur turned west, and drawing up the Ring that hung in a wallet from a fine chain about his neck, he set it upon his finger with a cry of pain, and was never seen again by any eye upon Middle-earth. But the Elendilmir of the West could not be quenched, and suddenly it blazed forth red and wrathful as a burning star. Men and Orcs gave way in fear; and Isildur, drawing a hood over his head, vanished into the night.
The meaning, sufficiently remarkable, of this passage appears to be that the light of the Elendilmir was proof against the invisibility conferred by the One Ring when worn, if its light would be visible were the Ring not wore; but when Isildur covered his head with a hood its light was extinguished.
Of what befell the Dúnedain only this was later known: ere long they all lay dead, save one, a young esquire stunned and buried under fallen men. So perished Elendur, who should afterwards have been King, and as all foretold who knew him, in his strength and wisdom, and his majesty without pride, one of the greatest, the fairest of the seed of Elendil, most like to his grandsire. In the year 10, Valandil, Isildur’s fourth son, became King of Arnor.
It is said that in later days, those (such as Elrond) whose memories recalled him were struck by the great likeness to him, in body and mind, of King Elessar, the victor in the War of the Ring, in which both the Ring and Sauron were ended for ever. Elessar was, according to the records of the Dúnedain, the descendant in the thirty eighth degree of Elendur’s brother Valandil. So long was it before he was avenged.
There were eye-witnesses of the event. Ohtar and his companion escaped, bearing with them the shards of Narsil. Months later, in the following year, Ohtar brought the shards of Narsil to Imladris. The tale mentions a young man who survived the slaughter: he was Elendur’s esquire, named Estelmo, and was one of the last to fall, but was stunned by a club, and not slain, and was found alive under Elendur’s body. He heard the words of Isildur and Elendur at their parting. There were rescuers who came on the scene too late, but in time to disturb the Orcs and prevent their mutilation of the bodies: for there were certain Woodmen who got news to Thranduil by runners, and also themselves gathered a force to ambush the Orcs – of which they got wind, and scattered, for though victorious their losses had been great, and almost all of the great Orcs had fallen: they attempted no such attack again for long years after.
Now of Isildur it is told that he was in great pain and anguish of heart, but at first he ran like a stag from the hounds, until he came to the bottom of the valley. There he halted, to make sure that he was not pursued; for Orcs could track a fugitive in the dark by scent, and needed no eyes. Then he went on more warily, for wide flats stretched on into the gloom before him, rough and pathless, with many traps for wandering feet.
So it was that he came at last to the banks of Anduin at the dead of night, and he was weary; for he had made a journey that the Dúnedain on such ground could have made no quicker, marching without halt and by day. Seven leagues or more from the place of battle. Night had fallen when he fled; he reached Anduin at midnight or near it. The river was swirling dark and swift before him. He stood for a while, alone and in despair. Then in haste he cast off all his armor and weapons, save a short sword at his belt, and plunged into the water. This sword was of a kind called eket: a short stabbing sword with a broad blade, pointed and two-edged, from a foot to one and a half feet long. He was a man of strength and endurance that few even of the Dúnedain of that age could equal, but he had little hope to gain the other shore. Before he had gone far he was forced to turn almost north against the current; and strive as he might he was ever swept down towards the tangles of the Gladden Fields. They were nearer than he had thought. The place of the last stand had been a mile or more beyond their northern border, but maybe in the dark the fall of the land had bent his course somewhat to the south. And even as he felt the stream slacken and had almost won across, he found himself struggling among great rushes and clinging weeds. There suddenly he knew that the Ring had gone. By chance, or chance well used, it had left his hand and gone where he could never hope to find it again. At first so overwhelming was his sense of loss that he struggled no more, and would have sunk and drowned. But swift as it had come the mood passed. The pain had left him. A great burden had been taken away. His feet found the river bed, and heaving himself up out of the mud he floundered through the reeds to a marshy islet close to the western shore. There he rose up out of the water: only a mortal man, a small creature lost and abandoned in the wilds of Middle-earth. But to the night-eyed Orcs that lurked there on the watch, he loomed up, a monstrous shadow of fear, with a piercing eye like a star. They loosed their poisoned arrows at it, and fled. Needlessly, for Isildur unarmed was pierced through heart and throat, and without a cry he fell back into the water. No trace of his body was ever found by Elves or Men. So passed the first victim of the malice of the masterless Ring: Isildur, second King of all the Dúnedain, lord of Arnor and Gondor, and in that age of the World, the last.
The story of the last hours of Isildur and his death was due to surmise: but well-founded. The legend in its full form was not composed until the reign of Elessar in the Fourth Age, when other evidence was discovered. Up to then it had been known, firstly, that Isildur had the Ring, and had fled towards the River; secondly, that his mail, helm, shield and great sword (but nothing else) had been found on the bank not far above the Gladden Fields; thirdly, that the Orcs had left watchers on the west bank armed with bows to intercept any who might escape the battle and flee to the River (for traces of their camps were found, one close to the borders of the Gladden Fields); and fourthly, that Isildur and the Ring, separately or together, must have been lost in the River, for if Isildur had reached the west shore wearing the Ring he should have eluded the watch, and so hardy a man of great endurance could not have failed to come then to Lórien or Moria before he foundered. Though it was a long journey, each of the Dúnedain carried in a sealed wallet on his belt a small phial of cordial and wafers of a waybread that would sustain life in him for many days – not indeed the miruvor (the cordial of Imladris) or the lembas of the Eldar, but like them, for the medicine and other arts of Númenor were potent and not yet forgotten. No belt or wallet was among the gear discarded by Isildur.
Long afterwards, as the Third Age of the Elvish World waned and the War of the Ring approached, it was revealed to the Council of Elrond that the Ring had been found, sunk near the edge of the Gladden Fields and close to the western bank; though no trace of Isildur’s body was ever discovered. They were also then aware that Saruman had been secretly searching in the same region; but though he had not found the Ring (which had long before been carried off), they did not yet know what else he might have discovered.
But King Elessar, when he was crowned in Gondor, began the re-ordering of his realm, and one of his first tasks was the restoration of Orthanc, where he proposed to set up again the palantir recovered from Saruman. Then all the secrets of the tower were searched. Many things of worth were found, jewels and heirlooms of Eorl, filched from Edoras by the agency of Wormtongue during King Théoden’s decline, and other such things, more ancient and beautiful, from mounds and tombs far and wide. Saruman in his degradation had become, not a dragon, but a jackdaw. At last, behind a hidden door that they could not have found or opened had not Elessar had the aid of Gimli the Dwarf, a steel closet was revealed. Maybe it had been intended to receive the Ring; but it was almost bare. In a casket on a high shelf, two things were laid. One was a small case of gold, attached to a fine chain; it was empty, and bore no letter or token, but beyond all doubt it had once borne the Ring about Isildur’s neck. Next to it lay a treasure without price, long mourned as lost for ever: the Elendilmir itself, the white star of Elvish crystal upon a fillet of mithril that had descended from Silmarien to Elendil, and had been taken by him as the token of royalty in the North Kingdom.
For that metal was found in Númenor. Tar Telemmaitë (“silver-handed”), the fifteenth Ruler of Númenor, is said to have been called so because of his love of silver, “and he bade his servants to seek ever for mithril.” Although, later Gandalf would say that mithril was still found in Moria “alone in the world.”
It is told in Aldarion and Erendis that Erendis caused the diamond which Aldarion brought to her from Middle-earth “to be set as a star in a silver fillet; and at her asking he bound it on her forehead.” For this reason she was known as Tar-Elestirnë, the Lady of the Star-brow; “and thus came, it is said, the manner of the Kings and Queens afterward to wear as a star a white jewel upon the brow, and they had no crown.” This tradition cannot be unconnected with that of the Elendilmir, a star-like gem borne on the brow as a token of royalty in Arnor; but the original Elendilmir itself, since it belonged to Silmarien, was in existence in Númenor (whatever its origin may have been) before Aldarion brought Erendis’ jewel from Middle-earth, and they cannot be the same.
Every king and the chieftains that followed them in Arnor had borne the Elendilmir down even to Elessar himself; but though it was a jewel of great beauty, made by Elvensmiths in Imladris for Valandil, Isildur’s son, it had not the ancientry nor potency of the one that had been lost when Isildur fled into the dark and came back no more.
Elessar took it up with reverence, and when he returned to the North and took up again the full kingship of Arnor, Arwen bound it upon his brow, and men were silent in amaze to see its splendor. But Elessar did not again imperil it, and wore it only on high days in the North Kingdom. Otherwise, when in kingly raiment he bore the Elendilmir which had descended to him. “And this also is thing of reverence,” he said, “and above my worth; forty heads have worn it before.”
The actual number was thirty-eight, since the second Elendilmir was made for Valandil. In the year 16 of the Fourth Age (given under Shire Reckoning 1436) states that when King Elessar came to the Brandywine Bridge to greet his friends, he gave the Star of the Dúnedain to Master Samwise, while his daughter Elanor was made a maid of honor to Queen Arwen. The clear implication of the present passage is that King Elessar retained indefinitely the Elendilmir that was made for Valandil; and it seems, in any case, out of the question that he would have made a gift of it to the Mayor of the Shire, however greatly he esteemed him. The Elendilmir is called by several names: the Star of Elendil, the Star of the North, the Star of the Northkingdom; and the Star of the Dúnedain is assumed to be yet another. There has been found no other reference to it; but it seems to be almost certain that it was not, and that Master Samwise received some different (and more suitable) distinction.
When men considered this secret hoard more closely, they were dismayed. For it seemed to them that these things, and certainly the Elendilmir, could not have been found, unless they had been upon Isildur’s body when he sank; but if that had been in deep water of strong flow they would in time have been swept far away. Therefore Isildur must have fallen not into the deep stream but into shallow water, no more than shoulder-high, Why then, though an Age had passed, were there no traces of his bones? Had Saruman found them, and scorned them – burned them with dishonor in one of his furnaces? If that were so, it was a shameful deed; but not his worst.