The Prologue – A Story about the Rescue of Princesses

October 10, 3019. On the road near the Last Bridge

At last the hobbits were heading toward home. The Ring was destroyed, the War was over and they were eager to see their Shire again. They rode at leisure along the Great Road, which was as empty as ever, so they were grateful for the Wizard’s company. There would be frost at night, but the weather was still fine and the autumn sun played merrily on the red and yellow leaves.

A week out of Rivendell, they reached the Last Bridge. The sun was already low over the road in front of them, so they found a nice spot for a camp on the steep eastern bank of the Mitheithel. Sam lit a fire and produced from his saddlebags a large collection of frying pans, bowls and kettles as well as lard, dried meat, honey, dried herbs and assorted vegetables. Fresh from the Last Homely House, the travelers had provisions aplenty. Sam put a kettle of water over the fire to boil and started cooking a nice supper, fit for four hungry hobbits and one wizard.

“Let us go look upon the Bridge, while Sam makes our supper!” proposed Pippin eagerly.

Frodo shook his head, declining the offer. As ever, with the approaching nightfall, Frodo’s mood darkened. The horrors of their flight to Rivendell were still fresh in his mind and he had desired to see again neither the Ford, nor the Last Bridge, nor Weathertop, when they reached it. He sat huddled in a blanket, a book bound in red leather on his lap. The text was written in Bilbo’s spidery hand, and labeled on the back were the words: “Translations from the Elvish, by B.B.”

Gandalf, followed by Pippin and Merry, ventured on to the Last Bridge. After the day’s ride they were glad for the chance to stretch their limbs. Soon they stood in the middle of the sunlit expanse of the bridge that spanned the river in three graceful arches. The Sun played on the ancient blocks of white stone covered with moss and lichen. The place now looked peaceful and almost serene, despite the roar of the water below.

“Do you remember this place, Pip?” asked Merry. “It was right here where we found Glorfindel’s green stone and knew it was safe to pass over the bridge.”

“Of course, I do, Merry. I think it was a great idea to leave it for us as a token. Don’t you think so, Gandalf?”

The wizard shrugged his shoulders. The hobbits noticed he had hardly listened to their conversation at all. Frowning, he was looking absently at the swift foamy water rushing through the stone arches down below.

“Is something wrong, Gandalf?” asked Pippin worriedly.

The wizard sighed and muttered sadly. “Swift are the waters of Mitheithel beneath the Iant Methed…”
He lifted his head and his gaze wandered northward, to the broken crags crowned with the ruins of ancient watch towers.

“I was remembering a tale about a fair maiden who, driven by despair, fell to her death from this bridge. This was then a part of the ancient Kingdom of Rhudaur and the Shadow lay heavily over this land.”

The keen eyes of the hobbits burned with interest. “Will you tell us the tale, Gandalf, please?” asked Merry.

The wizard shook his head and turned to start slowly back toward the camp, with the hobbits following suit. “Not now. Frodo has been ill at ease since we passed the Ford of Bruinen on the Sixth of October. This is a sad and violent tale, not fit for his ears so soon after all he had to suffer. I am loath to shatter what little peace he has been able to regain.”

“Then perhaps later, Gandalf? asked Pippin hopefully. “After supper, when Frodo falls asleep? I am sure Sam will be happy to hear the tale, he is one for such things, especially if it concerns Elves.”

“I am afraid it is not about Elves, Pippin. It is about Men who lived here. Some were Dunedain, Aragorn’s people, others were from the native tribes of this land – the Hillmen.”

“And the maiden who perished here?” whispered Merry. “Was she kin to our King?”

“In a way,” replied Gandalf. “She was a descendant of Isildur as well, but from another line. By some accounts, she was once betrothed to one of Aragorn’s ancestors, Arveleg I, the one who would later die at Amon Sul.”

“At Weathertop?” squeaked Pippin. “How exciting!”

Gandalf shook his head sadly, for he had hardly found the death of young King Arveleg exciting – all those years ago. As they approached the camp he made a sign for silence. Supper was waiting for them and Frodo seemed cheerful once more. As they ate they merrily discussed the events they had shared together back in Gondor and Rivendell.

Before they were finished, night began to fall, quiet and starry. Soon Frodo lay asleep near the fire. After washing the dishes, Sam prepared to slip into his bedroll at his master’s feet, but Merry stopped him, nodding at Gandalf conspiratorially. Surrounded by three wide-eyed hobbits, Gandalf started his tale.

“This is an old story, old as Men reckon time. And the Shire reckoning had not even started then… As you know, after the Downfall of Numenor, when his sons established Gondor, Elendil the Tall founded the Northern Kingdom of Arnor. He made his home at Annuminas on the shores of Lake Evendim, not far from the Elvish country of Lindon – and just about a hundred miles north of your own homes in the Shire. The descendants of Isildur and their people dwelt there for many lives of Men, but their numbers were slowly diminishing, the memory and learning of Numenor waning…”

Gandalf sighed and reached into his bag to produce a familiar wooden pipe with long stem and curiously carved ivory bowl. He took his time filling it with sweet galenas as if musing on what to say next. The hobbits took out their own pipes: beautiful works of Elven craft, with pearl mouth-pieces and bound with fine-wrought silver – presents from Bilbo. Soon the pipes were lit and the sweet smell of Southfarthing leaf and galenas filled the still night air.

For a time they all smoked in silence. Then Gandalf continued. “And so it came to pass that after Eärendur the tenth King of Arnor died, the kingdom was divided among his three sons. The two younger ones were too ambitious to be content with the role of Royal princes. They wanted lands of their own to rule. The oldest son, Amlaith, was too weak, some would say, but I think he only wanted to avoid kin-strife and bloodshed. So, fair Annuminas was abandoned, and Amlaith became the first King of Arthedain at Fornost, the Northbury of the Kings. Now it is also desolate…”

Gandalf paused a moment to puff upon the pipe. “The second son took the Southern part of Arnor, calling it Cardolan, and settled in Tyrn Gorthad – you know it as the Barrow-Downs.” The Hobbits shivered as one. The memory of the Barrow-wights was not something one recalls lightly.

“The youngest son of Eärendur, Dauremir, was the most conniving of the lot – and took as advisors some who practiced the Black Arts. He became King of Rhudaur, the land between the Mitheithel and the Misty Mountains and also the west bank of the Mitheithel north of the Great Road – as far as Amon Sûl. Dauremir first settled at Brochenridge – just a little way from here.” Gandalf gestured with the pipe towards the darkness to the north. “Perhaps you have seen the remnants of the place. I think Aragorn led you close by, on your journey to Rivendell.”

Merry nodded thoughtfully. “I believe we saw the crumbled stone walls when we crossed a gap in a high ridge”, he mused. “I am not very sure, as it was raining and Frodo…” he gulped and continued “Frodo was too ill for us to look around much.”

“Yes, it must have been Brochenridge, or what remains of it. It was a mighty fortress, but soon proved unsuitable for Dauremir’s heirs to effectively rule from there. So, after a few generations, the Kings of Rhudaur moved to a fortress on the River – Cameth Brin.”

Gandalf turned from the fire and his sharp gaze seemed to pierce the darkness to the north. “Can he actually see it?” thought Pippin in awe. He was not sure of the answer. The old wizard had strange abilities.

“Cameth Brin, the jewel of Rhudaur…” continued Gandalf almost in a whisper. “The fair city of three waterfalls… I remember it well: the high tower perched on a rock, busy streets and markets, the glory of rainbows over the waterfalls… Everything is gone now, destroyed by enemies, fire and time…”

“You remember?” Pippin chimed in. “Wasn’t it very long ago? Were you already here?”

“I had roamed Middle Earth for more than three hundred years already, when our story took place,” replied Gandalf. “I arrived too late to see the division of Arnor, but I have been in Rhudaur ere the Shadow claimed it, and even ventured there a few times since – gathering information, or spying – to put it plainly. There are few places in the North that I haven’t seen, Pippin.”

“Cameth Brin was a mighty fortress, not too big, but virtually impregnable. There, a few days journey north up the river from this bridge, there is a high rocky plateau on the eastern bank. The tower, surrounded by two circles of walls, was built on this rock – the city of Cameth Brin. There most of the Dunedain nobles dwelt. The place could be reached from below only by a single winding road – the King’s Road, they called it. There was another town below the hill – Tanoth Brin, the place for commoners, soldiers and peasants. The lower town was defended only by an earthen wall, so if a strong enemy approached, all the people from the lower town abandoned their houses and gathered at the fortress to withstand a siege.”

Gandalf paused a moment to puff upon the pipe. “You can’t imagine what a dangerous, tumultuous time it was. Vagabonds and outlaws, mercenaries and deserters roamed the land. The Hillmen of Rhudaur were a warlike people, much like the Dunlendings, their kin. They were never content with the rule of the Dunedain. The Kings of the line of Dauremir dwelt in Cameth Brin as if in a besieged fortress, never safe, never secure, ever awaiting a rebellion. The lords of the land warred often among themselves and at times a king would be overthrown by one usurper or other, who would only fall in his turn. And, as if the inner strife was not enough, the three kingdoms, Arthedain, Cardolan and Rhudaur, ever fought between themselves…”

“Begging your pardon, Mr. Gandalf, Sir,” started Sam hesitantly, “why would they do such a thing? I mean, they were all kin, Elendil’s heirs and all that, why would they fight each other? ‘Tis plain unnatural, if you ask me…”

“It was mostly because of the Palantiri, Sam,” Gandalf replied sadly.

“The Palantiri?!” cried Pippin. The memories of Dol Baran and Rath Dinen flooded back to him in a rush. “The evil stones like Saruman and Denethor had?”

“I told you once, Peregrin Took, the Palantiri are NOT evil,” Gandalf replied somewhat irritably. “The seeing Stones of Elendil helped the Kings to rule their kingdoms, to send orders, to strengthen alliances, to watch the borders. They were quite handy devices, never used for evil purposes, before Sauron stole one of them.”

Pippin shrugged his shoulders, once the wizard’s piercing gaze left him. He was not convinced. One could hardly be, after seeing the fiery stone in the hands of the fey Steward of Gondor. Not to mention his own encounter with the Dark Lord. He gulped.

Gandalf snorted and continued with his tale. “There were not enough Palantiri in Arnor to divide them between the daughter kingdoms. There was one large stone which Elendil set right in the middle of his Kingdom, in a high chamber of the Tower of Amon Sûl and two smaller stones, like the one at Isengard. One of them Amlaith the King of Arthedain set at Fornost, while the other, the Stone of Emin Beraid, remained at the White Tower of Elostirion. It was of no use to Men as it was not in communication with the others, but only looked West over the Sea.”

“The strife was for possession of Amon Sûl, which lay right where the borders of Arthedain, Cardolan and Rhudaur met. Only the chief Stone set there was available for all three to communicate with Gondor. But eventually, every king wanted the Stone for himself. Amon Sûl had seen much bloodshed.”

Gandalf sighed again and paused a moment to puff upon the pipe. A silvery cloud of sweet-scented smoke lit by the glow of the fire glittered above his head. Then the wizard continued his tale, his voice suddenly old and weary.

“At the time when Malvegil reigned in Arthedain, about the year 1300 as Elves and Men reckon time, a new evil came to the North. A fourth kingdom arose north of Rhudaur, spanning the Misty Mountains. It was called Angmar, the Iron-Land, and there were gathered many evil Men, and Orcs, and other fell creatures. At first the rulers of Arnor paid it little heed. The first disquieting news came when Orcs, that had multiplied in the caves of the Misty Mountains, drove the Dwarves from their ancient stronghold under the Mountain of Gundabad, the northernmost peak of the Misty Mountains. The Orcs were rumored to be in league with the King of Angmar. Then came the reports of a mighty fortress being built at Carn-Dûm, at the western end of the Mountains of Angmar.”

“The king of this land was known as the Witch-King, for he was a sorcerer – that much was clear from the start. Nobody knew whence he came, but all thought most likely from Harad, or Umbar, as there were many Black Numenoreans in the Witch-King’s service. These lands had recently been conquered by Gondor, and the Black Numenoreans who used to rule there became homeless and scattered. But it led to further evil, as they spread their Dark Cult far and wide through the lands.”

Sam, who was sitting by the fire smoking quietly, suddenly stirred. “Angmar?” he asked. “But I have heard tales of the dread, icy land of Angmar and the Witch-King! My granny told us such tales when we were but children… “Behave, Samwise, lest the Witch-King gets you”, that’s how she threatened us. But I have thought it to be no more than a tale…”

“I think you have learned by now that old tales often prove true…” replied Gandalf

“Of course, Angmar was no simple tale!” cried Pippin. “My own forefathers, the Tooks, and Merry’s ancestors, the Brandybucks, were among those who heeded the King’s call and took part in the last battle that put an end to the Witch-King and Angmar! I think your own sires were there as well, Sam, only your family history doesn’t reach that far back.”

“Anyway,” said the wizard, nodding thoughtfully, “the battle of Fornost you are talking about was much later, in 1975. By then, the Witch-King had ruled Angmar for over 600 years. At first, in Malvegil’s and Argeleb’s times, everyone believed the King of Angmar to be no more than a regular Man albeit a sorcerer. It was not known until much later that he was indeed the chief of the Ringwraiths, Lord of the Nazgûl, shadow of terror and despair.”

Sam was on his feet in a blink of an eye. The other hobbits had heard this part of the tale in the Houses of Healing at Minas Tirith, but they visibly paled as well.

“Oh,” Sam cried… “Not the one who…?” he stuttered at a loss for words.

Gandalf took his pipe out of his mouth. The pipe bowl glowed brightly, like a star in the darkness. He replied gravely,

‘You have met him, Samwise son of Hamfast, though he was far from home, veiled to your eyes, when he stalked the Ringbearer at Weathertop. Then he came forth in power again, growing as his Master grew, until he broke the gate of Minas Tirith, that no enemy ever yet had passed, and all fled before his face.”

Gandalf bowed his head to Merry, almost reverently. “Thanks to your courage, Meriadoc, son of Saradoc, the world is finally free of the dreadful Shadow. Glad would have been the old Kings of Arnor if they could hear about your deed, as the sorcerer king of Angmar was chief among their foes.”

Merry blushed, embarrassed by the Wizard’s praise. “It was Eowyn really who killed him, not me,” he said. “And you shouldn’t praise my courage, becase I was very much afraid. I only moved to save my Lady. And…” he grinned mirthlessly, “had I known then that it was the very same Witch-King my nanny told me about, I could have hardly moved at all, as those tales were so scary.”

They sat for a while in silence, puffing at their pipes. Then Merry stirred.

“There is one thing I cannot understand, Gandalf. How can a Ringwraith pass for a regular Man? Back in Bree one of the nazgûl was just passing by, but still I began to tremble all over and felt that something horrible was creeping near. And when one touched me, I just went to pieces… And at the Pelennor I was so afraid I couldn’t even think, or look up, or move… Even dogs and horses and geese felt how uncanny they were… And, to top it all, their bodies were invisible, weren’t they?”

“You forget that the Witch-King was a great sorcerer in his own right”, replied Gandalf quietly. “And at the time he still had his Ring, before Sauron collected the Nine to himself. So the Witch-King was able to control if not his real appearance, but at least the way others perceived him. He could even appear fair, provided the observer had no access to the Spirit World. There are few left in Middle Earth who can see the Unseen: only Lords of the Eldar who had once dwelt in the Blessed realm, the Wizards, or those who wore the Rings of Power. Those would not be fooled. But the rest of Men and Elves… at best they felt something was amiss, but by the middle of the Third Age the Ringwraiths were a tale long forgotten, and no one associated the King of Angmar with them.”

Gandalf slowly turned the now empty pipe about, thinking of those long-past days. “And yet again we slept heedless of the danger. The Wise had been lulled by the long peace. Nobody perceived the danger when it lay at our doorstep.”

“Once the Witch-King settled in the North and built Carn-Dûm, he started plotting. He wished to destroy all the Dunedain realms, but at first he acted only by stealth and deceit, choosing others as his weapons. He soon perceived that Rhudaur was the most vulnerable of the three Dunedain kingdoms – so it was there that he decided to strike first.”

Gandalf started to fill his pipe again, smiling kindly at the hobbits. “Have patience, here starts our tale. You see, the last Dunedain King of Rhudaur, Tarnendur, came to power after a succession of usurpations and fratricides which had nearly destroyed the royal family – even while their Dunedain subjects had decreased from all the wars and other turmoils of the land. He himself sought to be a man of peace – and yearned for the days of greatness, and goodness, of friendship with the Eldar and the pursuit of knowledge and peace, but his kingdom held none of these. The Hillmen had infiltrated and lived among the Dunedain, and they were always discontented. Tarnendur had far less of an army than his predecessors, and so very few men who were versed in the lore of their people of old – and so many in the land had long followed the Black Arts, he could not imagine turning them all away so suddenly. Tarnendur himself had married a lady from Umbar, for he had once dwelt in Gondor – and they had a daughter, Gimilbeth.”

“Was she the one who died at the Last Bridge?” Pippin inquired eagerly. All this talk about politics made him drowsy and he hoped to come to the interesting part again.

“No, not this one,” replied Gandalf, shaking his hand. “Don’t be so hasty, Pippin Took! It was Tarnendur’s youngest daughter, Tarniel, who died here. Gimilbeth, unfortunately, took after her kin, Black Numenoreans from Umbar. Rumor has it she became a witch and the bane of her family.”

“How dreadful!” cried Pippin, growing excited. “But what happened next?”

“Well… Tarnendur’s wife died quite young. After many years, he married for a second time – most unusual for the Dunedain, who generally imitate the Elves in these… domestic matters. The new Queen Eilinel, from a noble family in Rhudaur, bore Tarnendur three children: two sons, Daurendil and Amantir, and a fair daughter, Tarniel. But Gimilbeth was not too happy to have her new brothers, as she had begun to hope she would become the first Ruling Queen of Rhudaur after her father’s death.”

“By the time Tarniel was fourteen, a new leader arose among the Hillmen. He was called Broggha. First a tribal chieftain, he bullied weaker chieftains into yielding power to him. Soon he was considered a rising great power, rivaling even the king of Rhudaur. Tarnendur, trying to placate the Hillmen, named Broggha his Counselor and Lord of Penmorva, in hopes that it would quell the unrest of his subjects. When Broggha came to take his position at the Council, he brought an army with him, rivaling the forces the King himself had. He was acclaimed as a savior by all the Hillmen of Tanoth Brin. Soon Broggha, in secret league with Angmar, put forth his plan to usurp the Crown.”

Gandalf paused for a moment, drawing on his pipe in silence. The hobbits waited breathlessly for some horrors to come.

“First he seized the young Princess Tarniel and married her by force. She was but a child of fifteen, gentle and innocent, and he was a fifty year old brutish barbarian. Horrible to think what she had to suffer… Only her friend, Odaragariel of Mitheithel, remained by her side, perhaps only that helped the poor child to survive.”

“Then Broggha cunningly eliminated the King’s sons and at last the King himself, and claimed the throne as his own by right of his marriage to his daughter. Of the King’s family only the Princess Gimilbeth remained alive, and that was only because the Witch-King of Angmar took a fancy to her himself…”

The hobbits listened wide-eyed, pipes forgotten in their hands.

Gandalf smiled suddenly. “Yet not everything was dark in this world of sorrow. Some valiant young men took the plight of the princesses to heart. Beleg, Malvegil’s grandson, later known as King Arveleg of Arthedain, vowed to rescue Tarniel. The princess was once his betrothed, although he had never met her. Prince Beleg gathered a few companions and ventured into Rhudaur late in the year 1348, to discover what they might. They stole into the royal fortress and bore away young Tarniel, wife of the hill king, and her companion Odaragariel of Mitheithel.”

“And thus the Princesses were rescued. But it proved to be too late for Tarniel. During their flight, she paused at the Last Bridge over Mitheithel and cast herself into it, for she despaired over the hillman’s child she carried within her. But the others safely returned to Amon Sul just after the Yule in early 1349 – where Beleg learned that his grandfather had died, that his father was now King Argeleb, and that he himself was Heir to Arthedain. In later years, he married the young princess Odaragariel whom he had rescued – and she was the last of the House of the Princes of Mithiethel.”

The hobbits sighed happily, relieved that such a sad story proved to have a decently happy ending. Perhaps it could still be classified under the category “Stories about the Rescue of Princesses” that Gandalf excelled in telling – so long ago in the peaceful Shire.

The night was turning cold. Thanking the wizard for his tale, the hobbits slipped quietly into their bedrolls, turned toward the dying embers of the fire. Soon they were asleep and dreaming of the wild land of crags and waterfalls, of noble Dunedain and evil Hillmen, fair maidens and brutish barbarians, cruelty and valor, of days long past and remembered by few, that Gandalf’s tale recalled for them so vividly.

Written by Gordis and Valandil

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