For my contributions to our new Hasty Strokes segment here, I’m going to work my way through the scenarios in the order of their release, picking out an encounter card per set that is based on some iconic or obscure lore in Tolkien’s legendarium. Since I’ve already written full feature articles on Ungoliant’s Spawn and the Old Forest Road from the introductory “Passage Through Mirkwood”, we’ll begin today with a location from the second core set scenario. Let’s pull out that fan favorite, tried and true deck testing scenario “Journey Down the Anduin” and find out why it might be so threatening to spend too much extra time hanging around in the Gladden Fields.
An otherwise innocuous marshland between the Misty Mountains and Mirkwood Forest, the Gladden Fields became a most fateful location in the history of Middle-earth at the beginning of the Third Age. Isildur, the High King of Gondor, was marching north two years after his victory over Sauron in the Last Alliance when he was ambushed by Orcs in the Gladden Fields.
In the ensuing battle, Isildur slips the One Ring on to his finger and escapes, fleeing alone up the Anduin. Around midnight, “weary” and “in despair”, he attempts to swim across the river but cannot make progress against the “swirling dark and swift” waters. As the current sweeps him “down towards the tangles of the Gladden Fields”, he suddenly discovers that the Ring is gone. As Tolkien writes: “By chance, or chance well used, it had left his hand and gone where he could never hope to find it again.” Isildur is immediately overwhelmed by loss, but just as quickly relieved of pain and a “great burden”. Yet as he pulls himself ashore, Isildur’s doom comes. The Unfinished Tales account of the “Disaster of the Gladden Fields” tells of the tragedy like this:
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.
Of course, Isildur was not the last to die in the Gladden Fields in an encounter entwined with the fate of the One Ring. Over 2400 years later, two River-hobbits were going fishing on the Anduin when the shiny glint of gold caught the attention of Déagol who pulls the Ring from the muddy river-bed. After his friend Sméagol murders him for the precious object, he buries Déagol’s body far from their home and begins his slow and sickly transformation into the pitiful creature Gollum.
As the site of two of the most infamous deaths in the Third Age of Middle-earth, it’s no wonder that the Gladden Fields isn’t a place you’ll want to stay for longer than you have to as you make your “Journey Down the Anduin”!
Then again, we might be heading back there soon in the Ring-maker cycle. In Appendix B, we learn that Saruman began searching near the Gladden Fields in 2851, the same year he overruled Gandalf’s advice to attack Dol Guldur in a meeting of the White Council. The epilogue to the “Disaster at the Gladden Fields” suggests that his search may not have been in vain. While helping King Elessar (Aragorn) search Orthanc following the War of the Ring, Gimli discovers a “hidden door” which concealed a “steel closet” that seemed intended to receive the One Ring. There were only two artifacts inside, the first a “small case of gold, attached to a fine chain” and the second “a treasure without price”, the Elendilmir itself, the mithril crown set with a white star of Elvish crystal brought by the Faithful from Númenor before its fall. As these were both tokens of Isildur, the text ends by begging the question:
Why then, though an Age had passed, were there no traces of [Isildur’s] bones? Had Saruman found them, and scorned them — burned them with dishonour in one of his furnaces? If that were so, it was a shameful deed; but not his worst.
As we seek after the lore of the One Ring in the next cycle, might we be dispatched to the threatening Gladden Fields to find clues for the crafty wizard Saruman? Only time will tell!