Ranger For Hire: Have Horse, Will Travel
- The Dunedain of Arnor had had a pretty rough time for at least a thousand years prior to the destruction of their kingdom. The original Kingdom of Arnor was divided into three kingdoms in the year 861 by the sons of King Earendur, last of the High Kings descended from Elendil. Earendur's oldest son Amlaith retained control over the northwestern part of the kingdom, then renamed to Arthedain, but he abandoned the ancient city of Annuminas and settled in the more eastern city of Fornost Erain (the North Fortress of the Kings).
Amlaith's heirs feuded with their cousins in Rhudaur and Cardolan for the next several hundred years until the rise of the Kingdom of Angmar in the northeast presented them with a common threat. The Dunedain of Rhudaur were thrown out of power when the line of their kings failed, and under the rule of a hill lord Rhudaur allied itself with Angmar. But Rhudaur was destroyed in the war of 1409. Its people either fled or were destroyed by the Dunedain and Eldar.
Cardolan's kings died out, too, but the Dunedain of Cardolan seemed more willing to ally themselves with Arthedain. After the War of 1409 Cardolan effectively merged back into Arthedain and Arnor was formally re-established, but the kings did not reclaim their former title of High King, they were just kings. So the Dunedain of Arnor were now diminished in both numbers and heritage. Worse, they were unable to match the power and glory of their sister realm in the south, Gondor (which was by this time starting its long decline).
Arnor held out against Angmar for another 566 years after the War of 1409. The kingdom suffered terribly in the Great Plague of 1636, and Cardolan became virtually deserted, but the Dunedain and their subject peoples (Men of Bree, Hobbits, and probably some other Men descended from ancient Edainic peoples who had never left Middle-earth) began to recover their numbers in the following generations. Unfortunately, Angmar recovered as well and in the 1800s it resumed attacks upon Arnor. King Araval won a war with Angmar in 1851 and he attempted to recolonize Cardolan, but evil wights had been sent by the Witch-king of Angmar to inhabit northwestern Cardolan's hills (called Tyrn Gorthad, later the Barrow Downs) and the colonization failed.
Sometime after Araval's son, King Araphant, succeeded his father in 1891, Angmar began attacking Arnor again. Now the tide began to turn against the Dunedain and by 1940 Araphant and his counterpart in Gondor, King Ondoher, realized that some evil power had been steadily working toward the decline and eventual destruction of their kingdoms. The Dunedain of the north and south had not communicated with each other in more than 300 years, since the Great Plague. In that time their world had changed radically. Both kingdoms were threatened by powerful enemies in the east. Gondor stood alone, though Arnor remained in close friendship with Lindon and Imladris.
The two Dunadan kingdoms nonetheless promised to help each other as best they could, and to seal this alliance the two kings arranged a marriage between their children. Arvedui, son of Araphant, married Firiel, daughter of Ondoher. Their marriage would ensure that the Lines of Isildur and Anarion would survive, but it failed to achieve much else. Ondoher and both his sons fell in battle with the Wainriders in 1944, and the throne of Gondor was suddenly left vacant. The devastating loss of her father and brothers must have been hard for Firiel to bear, but Araphant was suddenly bereft of a powerful ally.
Arvedui appealed to the Council of Gondor on his wife's behalf for the throne of Gondor. The Council, led by the Steward Pelendur, rejected Arvedui's claim. They held that the Line of Isildur had no right to rule in Gondor because Isildur himself had commended rule of the realm to his nephew Meneldil, son of Anarion. The fact that Isildur had not left one of his sons in Gondor when he returned to the north seems to affirm the council's decision, but the decision ensured that Gondor's priorities would also change.
A new king was selected in the south. Earnil, the victorious captain who had defeated the enemy in two major battles, was a descendant of Anarion but he was several generations removed from Firiel and her brothers in kinship. He promised Arnor that when he had secured Gondor's borders he would send what help he could. But it would be thirty years before that help was arranged, and in the event it came too late.
Arvedui succeeded his father as King of Arnor in 1964. The wars with Angmar continued and Arvedui's military power diminished year by year. Tolkien tells us nothing of the battles which occurred but it seems that losses in the field would have been difficult to replace. It takes time and money to train and equip soldiers, and considerable resources must be devoted to keeping them fed and equipped during time of war. As more and more men perished, fewer and fewer prospective soldiers could be recruited. Worse yet, if young men died in battle, they were less likely to have married and produced sons to help defend the next generation.
The end came in the year 1974. Arnor detected a massive buildup by Angmar and sent urgent messages to Gondor for help. Earnil was finally stirred to action and he commissioned an expeditionary force to sail north under his son Earnur. But fleets and armies require time to raise and equip. Earnil called upon the Eotheod in the Vales of Anduin to join his expedition, and the ships did not set sail until 1975. During the winter of 1974-5 the Witch-king of Angmar unleashed a final assault against Arnor. Arvedui's soldiers were defeated. The Dunedain were shattered.
The King fled north with a remnant of his guard and two of the palantiri of the north. They were driven to seek refuge in the northern Ered Luin, where their food ran out and they ultimately were forced to seek help from the Lossoth. Arvedui survived most of the winter but perished when a ship Cirdan had sent north for him foundered and sank. Arvedui's sons, Aranarth and a younger brother, fled with a remnant of their people across the river Lhun into the Elvish domain of Lindon. With Cirdan's help the Dunedain and all they could save of their realm held out beyond the river.
Angmar's forces swept across Arnor. The Shire was ravaged and its people fled or went into hiding. The winter must indeed have been very harsh and doubtless many more people died from cold and/or starvation. In the spring when Gondor's fleet arrived Earnur and Cirdan assembled an army that attacked Angmar. The Witch-king came out from Fornost to meet the Elves and Men but he was defeated. He retreated toward Angmar but an Elven army came up from Imladris and the two forces crushed all that remained of the Witch-king's power. Angmar was ruined and never rose again. The Witch-king fled from the north.
In the aftermath of the war people had to reassemble their lives, and Aranarth spent four years assessing his options. Tharbad, the ancient river port, probably survived the war intact, although it may have been besieged. Bree may also have been bypassed by the worst part of the onslought. But the Shire had suffered greatly and the Dunedain had been driven from the North Downs, where they had lived for thousands of years. Aranarth's people were now too few for him to re-establish his realm.
A few people seem to have survived in Cardolan outside of Tharbad, but Tolkien mentions no towns. They were probably living in isolated farms and hamlets smaller than Bree eventually became. Perhaps no more than a few dozen people would be found anywhere. The Dunedain could not return to Fornost. The city had been destroyed by the Witch-king and inhabited by his creatures. It would require many years and men to cleanse the city, but Aranarth did not have the manpower.
Aranarth settled in Imladris and in 1979 he took the title of Chieftain of the Dunedain of the North. At this time the clan-chiefs in the Shire elected a Thain to take the place of the king and lead their defense against outside threats. The Bree-land seems to have settled down to minding its own affairs as well, though there is no mention of any individual of authority like the Shire's Thain or the Chieftain of the Dunedain.
Where could Aranarth's people have settled? Tharbad presents itself as a possibility, but the Dunedain though now few in number may nonetheless have presented a great burden to the town's economy. It is conceivable that the Dunedain at first scattered across Eriador, some settling in Bree, some settling in Tharbad. Some may have remained close to Lindon and others probably accompanied Aranarth to Imladris. Tolkien says only that they became a "secert and wandering folk".
The problem presented by this description is that if the Dunedain were to remain secret they could not spend much time wandering near the settled lands. Assuming the Dunedian became true nomads they would have to live in camps, maintaining livestock (sheep, cattle, or horses, at least), and would require a large amount of land in which to wander.
Open lands lay to the east of the Weather Hills, but only evil creatures had dwelt in that region since the Hobbits departed around 1300. The ancestral lands of the Dunedain, the Hills of Evendim north of the Shire and the North Downs, were available but nomadic peoples don't normally wander through hill-lands. If the Dunedain were only semi-nomadic, then they could probably live comfortably in the hill-lands, but I think there are better possibilities elsewhere.
Tolkien says that at the end of the Third Age "no other Men [beside those of Bree] had settled dwellings so far west, or within a hundred leagues [about 300 miles] of the Shire. But in the wild lands beyond Bree there were mysterious wanderers. The Bree-folk called them Rangers, and knew nothing of their origin." (Tolkien, "The Lord of the Rings", p. 161). These Rangers "roamed at will southwards, and eastwards even as far as the Misty Mountains; but they were now few and rarely seen."
The lands south of the Shire are described as great plains in an essay published in Unfinished Tales: "...The wide lands divided by the Gwathlo into the regions called by the Numenoreans Minhirith (
Between the Rivers, Baranduin and Gwathlo) and Enedwaith (
Middle-folk) were mainly plains, open and mountainless....In the time of the War of the Ring the lands were still in places well-wooded, especially in Minhiriath and in the south-east of Enedwaith; but most of the plains were grasslands. Since the Great Plague of the year 1636 of the Third Age Minhiriath had been almost entirely deserted, though a few secretive hunter-folk lived in the woods....But in the earlier days, at the time of the first explorations of the Numenoreans, the situation was quite different. Minhiriath and Enedwaith were occupied by vast and almost continuous forests...." (Tolkien, "Unfinished Tales", pp. 261-2)
The only significant forest in Minhirith is Eryn Vorn, which stood on the cape just south of the mouth of the Baranduin. Some of the Gwathuirim fled into those woods when Sauron destroyed the great forest in the War of the Elves and Sauron (S.A. 1695-1701). Tolkien never says these people accepted the rule of Arnor's kings, but they seem too few in number to have threatened Arnor. Only one of the High Kings, Valandur, died a violent death (in 652) and no details of the event are provided. But though he could have fought the Gwathuirim of Eryn Vorn, it seems more plausible he was engaged in wars with the evil men living in northeastern Eriador.
Woodlands may have survived elsewhere in Minhiriath, particularly along the shores of the Gwathlo itself or as the Old Forest, but Eryn Vorn seems to be what Tolkien had in mind when speaking of these secretive hunter-folk. In Appendix A to The Lord of the Rings Tolkien writes "In the days of Argeleb II the plague came into Eriador from the South-east, and most of the people of Cardolan periished, especially in Minhiriath....It was at this time that an end came to the Dunedain of Cardolan, and evil spirits out of Angmar and Rhudaur entered into the deserted mounds and dwelt there."
The lack of settled dwellings (of Men) farther west than Bree implies that there were no towns in Eryn Vorn, but the Gwathuirim are said to have been the original people from whom came the Folk of Haleth in the First Age. These Edain settled in the forest of Brethil and mostly lived apart from one another in single-family homesteads. It is reasonable to infer that the Gwathuirim lived in similar homesteads throughout Eryn Vorn. They were far removed from the evil creatures which haunted northern Eriador and would not need to dwell together in stockades and towns like the Woodmen of Mirkwood.
And there is no reason to assume that these Men were savage or in any way hostile toward the Hobbits, especially the Stoors who had settled along the Baranduin after having migrated north from Dunland. In fact, if the Gwathuirim of Eryn Vorn were in any way similar to their remote kin the Dunlendings, they may have been friendly to the Hobbits. Although Tolkien doesn't say the Stoors actually interacted with the Dunlendings, they did bring to the Shire many unusual words and names which imply a strong Dunlendish influence.
Communication between the Shire and the Gwathuirim after the end of Arnor may be the chief reason for why the Rangers kept a guard at Sarn Ford, the place on the Baranduin where the ancient highway crossed the river on its way from Tharbad to Lindon. Of course, until Tharbad was deserted in 2912 it, too, may have had some intercourse with the Shire. But the presence of Men in Minhiriath seems to explain why the Rangers were active in the lands south of Bree. They were keeping an eye on things there.
But it is also possible that some of the Dunedain actually lived in Minhiriath, raising horses in the plains, and/or pasturing sheep or other animals. These would have been few in number, and perhaps would not have been the largest group of Dunedain, but they could have supported the Rangers stationed at Sarn Ford and helped keep an eye on the entire region.
When Frodo was stabbed by the Lord of the Nazgul on Weathertop, Aragorn left the Hobbits to watch themselves during the night. He crossed the Road south and searched for athelas, the healing plant which had been brought from Numenor in the Second Age. "It grows now sparsely and only near places where [the Numenoreans] dwelt or camped of old," Aragorn told the Hobbits when he returned. "...In the thickets away south of the Road I found it in the dark by the scent of its leaves." (Tolkien, "The Fellowship of the Ring", pp. 210-11)
The Dunedain never lived at Weathertop. The hill had once been fortified
- meaning a garrison of soldiers must have been stationed in the tower with the palantir, but why would there be athelas growing in thickets to the south of the Road? How far did Aragorn go, that it required several hours for him to seek the plant and return? It may be that during the centuries when the Dunedain fought over possession of the palantir an armed camp had once existed south of the hill. Or perhaps a town had once stood to the south. Or maybe some wandering Dunedain had stayed in the region for a while after the fall of Arnor.
A return to northern Cardolan makes some sense for the Dunedain. They would have been close to the Road, which afforded easy access to Bree, Imladris, and the Shire. Dwarves passing by would be available for occasional smith-work (if they stopped on their journeys to engage in such tasks, and if the Dunedain ever called upon them). They would also be relatively close to the "badlands" of Eriador where the evil creatures needed to be kept at bay. Not so close as to be in peril, but close enough to keep an eye of things.
Tolkien tells us very little about the lands around Bree. Aragorn mentions the Forsaken Inn, a day's journey (along the Road) east of Bree, and at the Council of Elrond he tells how Barliman Buttebur "lives within a day's march of foes that would freeze his heart, of lay his little town in ruin, if he were not guarded ceaselessly". Who are these foes? What lies within a day's march of Bree where such foes could dwell, except perhaps the Barrow-downs?
The lands south of Weathertop and the Road eastwards are described as being "more wooded country" than the lands north of the Road, but there are mostly "bushes and stunted trees...in dense patches with wide barren spaces in between" (Tolkien, "Fellowship", pp. 211-2). These are the Lone-lands of The Hobbit, where no people lived. Although the Dunedain had once dwelt in the region, they could not be living there at the time of the War of the Ring.
So the only other logical place where Dunedain might be found would be across the Mitheithel, the River Hoarwell. The Last Bridge stood about 300 miles east of the Brandywine Bridge (formerlly known as the Bridge of Stonebows) just north of the Buckland. 300 miles is about 100 leagues. The Hoarwell proceeded southwest toward its confuence with the Loudwater, the Bruinen of Imladris. Together the two rivers became the Gwathlo and the lands between them were called the Angle. In former days before the rise of Angmar many Stoors had dwelt there under the rule of the Kings of Rhudaur.
Northern Rhudaur was a land of hills and forests. The region north of the Angle, beginning at the Road, was called the Trollshaws. Aragorn turned north into this area after he led the Hobbits across the Last Bridge, and they wandered for many days in the valleys and woods until they came back to the Road near the Ford of Bruinen. It was in the Trollshaws that Bilbo and the Dwarves encountered three stone-trolls who had come south from the Ettenmoors to trouble the district. The Hobbit says the trolls had frightened away all the people who had lived in the district.
What people? Who were they? When Tolkien originally wrote The Hobbit he couldn't have had the Dunedain in mind because the history of Arnor and Gondor hadn't yet been composed. On the other hand, there were supposed to be many Elves living in Eriador, and yet we hear nothing of them near Bree and the Shire (except for the Wandering Companies which pass through the Shire). It's entirely possible the people of the district were Elves. But if there were Elves living north of the Road in the Trollshaws (near the Ford of Bruinen -- not throughout the region), then could there have been Dunedain living close by?
Tolkien tells us that starting with Arahael, son of Aranarth, the sons of the Chieftains of the Dunedain were fostered in Imladris. Elrond had been given the last heirlooms of Arnor by Aranarth (the Ring of Barahir, the Sceptre of Annuminas, the Star of Elendil, and the shards of Narsil) for sake-keeping, and many of the Chieftains of the Dunedain seem to have perished in the region. Aragorn I was slain by wolves in 2327, who apparently had not been seen in Eriador for long years before then. They must have crossed the mountains from Wilderland.
Arassuil, Chieftain from 2719-84, led the Dunedain in a war against the Orcs of the Misty Mountains. The Orcs began raiding Eriador, and some ventured as far west as the Shire. The sons of Elrond, Elladan and Elrohir, rode with the Dunedain against the Orcs. Arador was slain by trolls in the Ettenmoors north of Imladris in 2930, and his son Arathorn II was slain three years later while hunting Orcs with the sons of Elrond.
Although the Dunedain don't have to have dwelt near Imladris, it seems significant that Aragorn was able to call upon them to help scout the lands in the two months after the Council of Elrond. And later when Halbarad brought a company of 30 Rangers south to Rohan he told Aragorn that he had done so because messages reached Elrond saying the Dunedain should ride to Aragorn in Rohan. Elladan and Elrohir rode with Halbarad's company, so perhaps they conveyed the message to him, and could have found him somewhere in Eriador.
But it seems more likely the Rangers Halbarad gathered were already close to Imladris. If, as Legolas suggested, the summons came from Galadriel, only a few weeks had passed since Aragorn's departure from Lorien: February 16 to March 6 (when the Dunedain found him) is just under three weeks. That seems barely enough time for a messenger to reach Imladris and for Halbarad to gather what men he could and ride south to Rohan.
In the original version of the tale of Aragorn and Arwen (published in The Peoples of Middle-earth), Tolkien wrote: "In the latter days of the last age [> Ere the Elder Days were ended], before the War of the Ring, there was a man named Dirhael [> Dirhoel], and his wife was Evorwen [> Ivorwen] daughter of Gilbarad, and they dwelt in a hidden fastness in the wilds of Eriador; for they were of the ancient people of the Dunedian, that of old were kings of men, but were now fallen on darkened days...."
What was this "hidden fastness in the wilds of Eriador"? The corresponding passage in the published tale is much shorter, for as with all parts of the appendices Tolkien was forced to shorten the material for publication. In the tale Gilraen eventually left Imladris (many years after Aragorn) and returned to her people in Eriador, but she lived alone, and Aragorn visited her in the year 3007 (he was then 76 years old, and she was only 100).
A "fastness" is a secure place, a stronghold. In essence, Dirhael and his family lived in some sort of fortified dwelling. Was it a town, or perhaps only a simple estate, like those of the Gwathuirim of Brethil and perhaps Eryn Vorn? Such estates resembled Beorn's home, being one or several building surrounded by a high hedge.
But a hedge is not much of a fortification. A stockade or fortified town seems much more likely, and the shores of the Bruinen river could easily support such a town. If the Dunedain settled in the Angle sometime after Aranarth settled at Imladris they would have been close to the Elves. Indeed, when the Company of the Ring set out from Imladris, they crossed the Ford of Bruinen and turned south, leaving the Road behind them. The first leg of their journey passed through lands Aragorn "knew...even in the dark".
He had grown up in Imladris, so it's reasonable to infer that he had wandered through the hills near Elrond's house. But if the Dunedain lived somewhere in the vicinity, Aragorn and the Rangers would have spent many years passing through the area on their ways to and from the Dunedain's secret homes.
Does a town or group of villages somewhere near Imladris contradict Tolkien's description of the Dunedain as a "secret wandering folk"? I don't believe so. The Rangers certainly wandered all over Eriador. They visited the ruins of Fornost Erain, according to Gandalf, guarded the Shire and Bree, and rode with the sons of Elrond against Orcs and Trolls in the eastern lands.
Whether some of the Dunedain lived south of the Shire or not, they seem to have spent a great deal of time travelling through the lands. Several Rangers had visited Weathertop only a day or two before Aragorn and the Hobbits reached there (and after Gandalf's fight with the Nazgul).
Aragorn himself spent a great deal of time travelling around. When Frodo asked Barliman about Aragorn the innkeeper said the Ranger had been in and out of the Prancing Pony a great deal the past spring, but he could disappear for a month or a year as well. When Aragorn explained to Frodo why he didn't know where Gandalf was, he said he had gone away from the Shire earlier in the year on an errand of his own. "I came west with [Gandalf] in the Spring," Aragorn says in "Strider". "We last met on the first of May: at Sarn Ford down the Brandywine. He told me that his business with you had gone well, and that you would be starting for Rivendell in the last week of September. As I knew he was by your side, I went away on a journey of my own."
Aragorn was gone for nearly five months. We don't know where he went, who he saw, or what he did, but Gandalf reached Hobbiton on April 12, so he and Aragorn must have passed through Bree around the 10th of April. Aragorn would have passed through again in early May. He seems to have returned to Imladris, or perhaps to his people. Some fans have speculated that perhaps Aragorn went to retrieve the shards of Narsil, which thousands of years before Elrond had foretold would be reforged when the One Ring was found again.
In the final analysis we still don't know where the Dunedain dwelt. The grassy plains of Minhiriath would have supported a wandering people with animals. The Dunedain certainly had horses because Halbarad's company rode them to Rohan (and they brought Aragorn his own horse, Roheryn). They had clothing which they may or may not have gotten from their own people. If the Dunedain raised sheep they would have been able to furnish themselves with wool. But they could also have purchased cloth from the Shire or Bree (or Tharbad prior to 2912), or perhaps even from the Elves. And the Dunedain also wore armor and had well-made weapons. Did they supply themselves or did the equipment come from Elves or Dwarves?
Nonetheless, a "hidden fastness" would not likely be located in Minhiriath, and the close association with Imladris seems to imply there were more Dunedain in eastern Eriador than in the western Eriador. Add to that the fact that there were no mannish settlements outside of Bree any closer to the Shire than 300 miles, and one is hard put to suggest what men could possibly be living at that range, unless they were indeed Dunedain dwelling in or beyond the Angle.
Michael Martinez is the author of Visualizing Middle-earth, which may be purchased directly from Xlibris Corp. or through any online bookstore. You may also special order it from your local bookstore. The ISBN is 0-7388-3408-4.
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