The Lost Realm is ‘on the boat’! Let us hope that the boat carrying our cards is not doomed like the one that bore the last King of the lost realm during his final retreat from Angmar! No, assuming safe passage through the Ice Bay of Forochel, we should be mere weeks away from exploring Eriador with our two new Dúnedain heroes and the last remnant of the Northern King’s line. I could not be more stoked!
As we eagerly await these adventures, my second installment of “Anticipating Angmar Awakened” will take us deep into Tolkien’s Appendices to explore what our game designers have called ‘one of Middle-earth’s most intriguing realms’. Once a great kingdom of Men, these ‘dark and shadowy lands just outside of Bree-land and the Shire’ now feature but the ruins of that earlier power — Weathertop, Deadman’s Dike, and long forgotten Annúminas.
Today’s article will recall what tales remain of this history. What is the ‘lost realm’? Who were its rulers? How was it lost? And what does any of this have to do with Angmar awakening? The tragic saga of the North is not for lesser men to hear. Let us enter boldly into the “Annals of the Kings and Rulers” and see what we might learn about the travails and sorrow of the Dúnedain in Middle-earth!
WHO ARE THE DÚNEDAIN?
The proper beginning of the history of our game’s Lost Realm is actually found in the catastrophic ending of another lost realm. In the year 3319 of the Second Age, the isle kingdom of Númenor was ‘utterly destroyed’. As the Akallabêth tells us, Ilúvatar ‘showed forth his power’ and a ‘great rift’ opened in the sea and ‘the world was shaken’. The island realm was ‘swallowed up’ by a ‘devouring wave’ and ‘went down into darkness, and is no more’.
Númenor was the ‘Land of Gift’, granted by the gods to Men as ‘reward for their sufferings in the cause against Morgoth’ during the legendary battles of the First Age. It was a roughly star-shaped island, raised in the middle of the Sundering Seas, west of Middle-earth and within sight of Valinor (on a clear day). Númenor was to serve as a home for the ‘faithful houses’ of Men and they were granted ‘wisdom and power and life more enduring than any others of mortal race have possessed’.
This was the beginning of the Dúnedain, the Men of Westernesse. Their first king was the Half-elven Elros, twin brother of Elrond, who chose the mortal life and yet lived to be 500 years old, longer than any Númenorean who succeeded him. Under the reign of Elros and his early descendants, the Dúnedain became ‘mighty in crafts’ and lore, and ‘increased in stature both of mind and body’ because of their frequent interactions with the High-elves of the Blessed Realm. They became skilled mariners and ship-builders but they were ‘men of peace’, sharing their knowledge and bringing comfort back to the Men of Middle-earth who still lived there under the Shadow during the Second Age.
Unfortunately, all this would change. As the joy of the Númenoreans’ lives grew, so did their reluctance to pass away and go to their graves. Many began to resent the strange gift of mortality bestowed upon Men by Ilúvatar. They secretly doubted the Ban of the Valar which forbade them from sailing west to the Undying Lands of Valinor. In pride and foolishness, they clung to their flesh. While Elros and the early Dúnedain rulers had passed the kingship to their sons ‘at the height of their days’, the 13th King Tar-Atanamir refused to relinquish the Sceptre until he was ‘witless and unmanned’. This was the key turning point in the history of Númenor. As the “Annals” of Appendix A tell us:
It was Tar-Atanamir who first spoke openly against the Ban and declared that the life of the Eldar was his by right. Thus the shadow deepened, and the thought of death darkened the hearts of the people. Then the Númenoreans became divided: on the one hand were the Kings and those who followed them, and were estranged from the Eldar and the Valar; on the other were the few who called themselves the Faithful.
This hubris reached it climax in the reign of Ar-Pharazôn the Golden, the 24th and final King of the Númenoreans. Coming to power through ‘rebellion and strife’, Ar-Pharazôn was ‘the proudest and most powerful of all the Kings’ of the Dúnedain in Númenor. Desiring to become the immortal Lord of the whole world, he sailed to Middle-earth ‘with a great navy’ heralding such ‘might and splendour’ that even Sauron himself surrendered, returning to Númenor as a prisoner of the King.
But Ar-Pharazôn was deceived. In the ‘waning of his days’, he listened to the advice of his supplicant Sauron and falsely believed he could ‘wrest everlasting life from the Lords of the West’ by taking possession of Valinor. Far from conquering Death, however, Ar-Pharazôn quickened its doom upon his race. He sailed for Valinor with ‘the greatest armament that the world had seen’ but as soon as the Golden King ‘set foot upon the shores of Aman the Blessed, the Valar laid down their Guardianship and called upon the One, and the world was changed. Númenor was thrown down and swallowed in the Sea, and the Undying Lands were removed forever from the circles of the world.’ The destruction was total. The realm of Númenor was lost — literally wiped from the map — except for a small remnant of ‘the Faithful’.
Mostly residents of the westernmost province of Andúnië, the ‘last leaders of the Faithful’ had maintained their friendship with the Elves and refused the councils of Sauron. By the ‘grace of the Valar’ they escaped the Downfall on nine ships. ‘Borne on the wind of a great storm’, they were ‘cast upon the shores of Middle-earth’ bearing a seedling of the White Tree and the Seven Seeing-stones gifted to their house by the High-elves. These Men, the last of the Dúnedain, established the ‘realms in exile’ of Arnor and Gondor, led by their High King Elendil and his two sons — Anárion and a valiant captain named Isildur.
REALMS IN EXILE
Now we come to The Lost Realm of our upcoming expansion. Founded by Elendil in 3320 of the Second Age after the Downfall of Númenor, it was named Arnor, the ‘Land of the King’. The Southern Kingdom of Gondor was established at the same time and the High King Elendil ruled both ‘realms in exile’ from his capital city of Annúminas in the North. Meanwhile his sons Anárion and Isildur each built a fortress flanking Osgiliath — Minas Anor and Minas Ithil — to guard against the Shadow in the South. Though ‘their lore and craft was but an echo of that which had been ere Sauron came to Númenor’, these Dúnedain lords kept alive a spark of that earlier glory which nevertheless ‘seemed very great’ to the ‘wild men’ that now came under their dominion.
It was less than a generation before the valour of these Men would be tested. Sauron too had survived the Downfall and though the ‘bodily form in which he long walked’ had perished, he was able to flee back to Mordor as a ‘spirit of hatred borne upon a dark wind’. Seething in anger at Elendil and the Faithful Exiles who were now ordering kingdoms on his borders, Sauron ‘made war upon’ them in 3429, hoping to crush the fledgling realm of Gondor before it was fully defended.
As Sauron began to break the strength of Gondor, the Last Alliance of Elves and Men arrived to fight in the climactic Battle of Dagorlad. Coming down from the North, the Elf-lord Elrond marched alongside Elendil, the King of Men whose line stretched back over 3000 years to his twin brother Elros. Together the Free Peoples of Middle-earth defeated Sauron. The Ring of Power was cut from Sauron’s hand and although Elendil and Anárion were slain in battle, the Eldar and Dúnedain prevailed over the forces of the Dark Lord. As the “Annals” tersely remark: ‘So ended the Second Age.’
Unfortunately, it would not be a happily ever after. Inheriting his father’s crown as King ‘over all the Dúnedain in the North and South’, Isildur first ‘remained for a year’ in Gondor to help restore and order the kingdom. But in the year 2 of the Third Age, on the way back to his capital in the Northern realm, Isildur was ambushed by Orcs in the Gladden Fields. The Ring of Power, which Isildur had kept ‘as a weregild for his father’s death’ was lost into the Anduin. Three of his sons were slain defending him, and the King was survived only by his youngest, a boy named Valandil who was living in Rivendell at the time. The tale, fully told in the Unfinished Tales “Disaster of the Gladden Fields”, ends with this coda:
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.
So it went that after the passing of Isildur, the two kingdoms of Men became enstranged. When Valandil grew older, he took up the throne in Annúminas as King of Arnor but no one would again claim the title of High King of all the Dúnedain for another 3000 years until the crowning of Aragorn as King Elessar at the end of the War of the Ring.
THE NORTHERN KINGDOM
Despite its inauspicious beginnings, Arnor was not actually a lost realm until much later in the Third Age. The Elven-smiths of Rivendell forged a new royal headband for Valandil to replace the one lost with Isildur. King Valandil and his heirs ruled over a prosperous and regal state in the North for many generations. They benefitted from traffic with the Elves of Lindon and Dwarves of the Blue Mountains to their west. Arnor’s princes were often born and raised in the last homely house of Rivendell to the east. Travellers frequently journeyed down the North Road through the border city of Tharbad to neighboring Gondor in the south. To the north were frozen wastes and uninhabited lands that, for the time, were not yet awakened to evil.
This era of relative peace lasted for about 800 years until the days of Arnor’s tenth King Eärendur. We know little about his reign except for the fact that his three sons did not get along. When their father died in 861, the younger sons tried to usurp their brother’s power and ‘owing to dissensions’, the realm ‘was divided into three: Arthedain, Rhudaur, and Cardolan.’ By now, we are familiar enough with Tolkien’s themes that simply noting that Arthedain was the westernmost of the three will allow you to guess much of what follows.
Indeed, the original capital city of Annúminas was in Arthedain (though it eventually became deserted and the throne moved to Fornost in the North Downs). It was in Arthedain that the ‘line of Isildur was maintained and endured’ while it ‘soon perished in Cardolan and Rhudaur’. The Kings of Arthedain alone continued to take names in the Noldorin form and kept their friendship with the Elves of Lindon and Imladris. Arthedain also maintained control over two of Arnor’s three palantíri.
Meanwhile, Cardolan and Rhudaur frequently fought over possession of the third and chief palantír which was housed at Amon Sûl ‘on the border of their realms’ in the Weather Hills. This interminable strife weakened all three kingdoms even more and further ‘hastened the waning of the Dúnedain’. Are we starting to notice the trend yet?
Alone, the fragmentation of Arnor was not enough to destroy the realm. It was enough, however, to attract the designs of evil. Around the year 1300, in the land ‘North beyond the Ettenmoors’, there began to take shape a kingdom of ‘evil men, and Orcs, and other fell creatures’. The lord of this land was a mysterious figure known only as the Witch-king. It was later realized that he was none other than the ‘chief of the Ringwraiths’ and that his sole purpose in founding Angmar at this time was to destroy the Dúnedain, finding ‘hope in [Arnor’s] disunion, while Gondor was strong.’ In those early years, however, the Men of the North knew only that the ‘menace’ of Orc invasions had begun again and that they were directed by some shadowy ‘Witch-king’ who, it was said, ‘could make frost or thaw at his will’ around his icy fortress in Carn Dûm. It is this imposing headquarters of Angmar that is depicted on the box art of The Lost Realm in the magnificent oil painting by Matthew Stewart (the four foot wide original is for sale on his website). Behold and marvel!
THE NORTH IS LOST
One by one, Angmar began picking off the fragmented kingdoms of Arnor. The first to go was Rhudaur. By the 1300s, the line of Isildur had already died out there and ‘power had been seized by an evil lord of the Hillmen, who was in secret league with Angmar’. Rhudaur rejected Arthedain’s legitimate claim to ‘overlordship in all Arnor’ and war ensued. The King of Arthedain was killed but his successor was able to hold the line against Rhudaur at the Weather Hills where he fortified Amon Sûl. Now the Witch-king saw his opening.
In 1409, he struck with full force from Angmar. The Dúnedain suffered a crushing defeat. The second consecutive King of Arthedain was slain in battle, Rhudaur was fully ‘occupied by evil Men subject to Angmar’, Cardolan was ‘ravaged’, and the tower of Amon Sûl was ‘burned and razed’, leaving behind only the ‘tumbled ring, like a rough crown on the old hill’s head’ where Aragorn and the hobbits make camp in The Fellowship of the Ring.
The young prince of Arthedain survived the war, however, and beat a successful retreat to Fornost with the palantír of Amon Sûl. Elrond, with aid from Lindon and Lórien, ‘subdued’ Angmar for a time and two of the three Northern kingdoms still endured. The line of Kings remained unbroken.
The second of the divided kingdoms to fall was Cardolan. Their final demise actually had less to do with Angmar than with Mordor. In 1636, the Great Plague ‘came with dark winds out of the East’. The second of three ‘great evils’ which eventually ended the royal line of Gondor, the plague had a far-reaching impact on Middle-earth. The White Tree of Gondor withered and died in the South. The great forest of Greenwood sickened into the diseased haunt of Mirkwood. And in the North, ‘most of the people of Cardolan perished’. The “Annals” record that:
It was at this time that an end came of the Dúnedain of Cardolan, and evil spirits out of Angmar and Rhudaur entered into the deserted mounds and dwelt there… Some say that the mound [of the Barrow-downs] in which the Ring-bearer was imprisoned had been the grave of the last prince of Cardolan, who fell in the war of 1409.
Fortunately for the remnant of Arnor, the plague ‘lessened as it passed northwards’ and Arthedain was ‘little affected’. One kingdom still survived.
Over the next few centuries, it seemed that the Men of the North rallied against Angmar. In 1851, they even won back the land of Cardolan and ‘sought to reoccupy’ the lost realm, but the would-be settlers were too terrified by ‘the evil wights’ and the region remained desolate. In 1940, King Araphant of Arthedain attempted to restore the unity of the realms in exile by marrying Fíriel, the daughter of Gondor’s King Ondoher. His timing was perhaps too serendipitous. Ondoher and his sons soon fell in the invasion of the Wainriders (the third ‘great evil’), but when Araphant claimed the crown of Gondor as a representative of the ‘elder line of Isildur’ his claim was rejected. In the nearly two thousand years since their founding, never had the window of opportunity for a renewed Kingship opened so wide, only to be once again slammed shut.
At last Arthedain could not stand alone any longer. In the winter of 1974, the fell Witch-king of Angmar ‘arose again’, sacked the capital at Fornost, and drove Arvedui, the last king of the North, in terror from his home. Escaping by the ‘swiftness of their horses’, Arvedui’s company fled into the ‘tunnels of the old dwarf-mines’ with ‘some of his guard’, and two of the three palantíri entrusted to Arnor. There they laid up in secret until ‘driven at last by hunger’ they took refuge among a curious arctic race known as the Lossoth or ‘Snowmen of Forochel’.
When Círdan heard of the Witch-king’s destruction of Arthedain and Arvedui’s flight into the far north, he dispatched mariners to save the King. But it seems Arvedui’s doom had already been written and he could not escape the cold breath of the Witch-king. As the rescue ship set sail with the ‘gaunt king’ to bring him to safety, ‘a great storm of wind arose and came with blinding snow out of the North’. Well skilled in sea-craft, even the mariners of Círdan could not contend with the violent winter vortex. During the night, the ‘ice crushed the hull, and the ship foundered’. As the “Annals” record:
So perished Arvedui Last-king, and with him the palantíri were buried in the sea.
THE BATTLE OF FORNOST
In his final days, Arvedui had been calling for aid in his last stand against the Witch-king, and although it did not arrive in time to save the lost realm, a great ‘Host of the West’ did finally march upon the North to break the power of Angmar once and for all. The King of Gondor, though he had rejected Arvedui’s claim to the throne, had dispatched his son Eärnur ‘with a fleet, as swiftly as he could’. Círdan ‘summoned all who would come to him from Lindon’. Rivendell issued a ‘force under Glorfindel the Elf-lord’. Seeking to staunch the snowballing expansion of evil, they ‘marched north to challenge the Witch-king of Angmar’.
By now, the frosty fiend had already taken residence in Fornost, ‘usurping the house and rule of the kings’. But like the fallen Númenoreans of now ancient days, with his power grew his pride. The Witch-king ‘did not await the onset of his enemies in his stronghold, but went out to meet them’ in open battle. He was too proud. The Host of the West swarmed upon the forces of Angmar and ‘scattered them in a great rout’, driving the Witch-king in full retreat from Fornost towards his original fortress in Carn Dûm.
The climax of the battle is one of the most epic moments in the lore of Middle-earth. Just when he seems defeated, the Witch-king makes a final appearance ‘black-robed and black-masked upon a black horse’ riding ‘with a terrible cry’ against the Captain of Gondor in ‘the fullness of his hatred’. Eärnur does not flinch, but his horse panics, carrying him away from the confrontation causing the Witch-king to cackle with such a vicious laugh that ‘none that heard it ever forgot the horror of that cry’. Glorfindel and his horse, however, are not so easily cowed. As Glorfindel rides forward, the Witch-king chokes on his laughter, immediately ‘turn[s] to flight’ and streaks off ‘into the shadows’.
Eärnur, seeking to reclaim some of his dignity, returns and wants to give chase, but is denied by Glorfindel who utters the famous words of prophecy that would be fulfilled more than a thousand years later by Éowyn on the Fields of Pelennor:
“Do not pursue him! He will not return to this land. Far off yet is his doom, and not by the hand of man will he fall.”
With that, the war was ended and the Witch-king retreated back to Mordor. But the final realm of the North was finally lost. Witness the full geographic history of Arnor’s demise with this excellent animated map.
THE HIDDEN REMNANT
After the Battle of Fornost, the North was freed from the evil power of Angmar, but as far as most Men were concerned, there was really nothing left.
There was a rural backwater called the Shire, whose Halfling-folk maintained they had ‘sent some bowmen to the aid of the king’ in the last battle against the Witch-lord of Angmar, but alas ‘no tales of Men record it’. A few small towns of larger Men still populated the lands around Bree, but the King was gone. As these diminished communities set about conducting the ‘well-ordered business of living, they heeded less and less the world outside where dark things moved’ and became simple and content in their ‘pleasant corner of the world’. The only cultural residue that remained to indicate they had once been the subjects of a vast and powerful realm was the idiomatic saying When the King comes back, ‘used of some good that could not be achieved, or of some evil that could not be amended.’
But despite all appearances in the daily lives of these ‘simple folk’, the darkness of Angmar had not been fully banished with the departure of the Witch-king. In the centuries that followed, Orcs ‘multiplying again in the Misty Mountains’ began to ‘ravage the land’. Wolves remained a ‘peril not yet ended’. Trolls could ‘come down from the mountains’ in search of mutton and manflesh. And most terrifying, there were shadows which ‘came out of dark places far away’ as ‘bones stirred in the mounds’ — undead Barrow-wights and delusions of night — ghosts from the graves of a fallen kingdom.
Not all was lost, however. Though Arvedui the Last-king passed away into the icy waters, his sons were safely sheltered by Círdan in the Grey Havens, until they could be sent to Rivendell along with the heirlooms of their house. Without a kingdom to rule, the son of Arvedui instead became the first Chieftain of the Dúnedain. For the next millennium, the line of Kings was continued by these Chieftains whose sons were all fostered in the House of Elrond. Out of sight and out of mind, it was nevertheless ‘the pride and wonder of the Northern Line that, though their power departed and their people dwindled, through all the many generations the succession was unbroken from father to son.’
These Dúnedain, the remnant of a remnant of a remnant from Arthedain to Arnor to Númenor, are the heroes and allies who we will be playing in The Lost Realm. Though they have ‘passed into the shadows and become a secret and wandering people’ whose ‘deeds and labors are seldom sung or recorded’, the Rangers of North have never ceased to keep the watch and protect the peace in the land of their forgotten fathers and ungrateful brothers. For a remnant of Angmar also remains. The fortress of Carn Dûm still stands in the frozen wastes of Eriador. Yet in the blood of one Ranger there still flows the strength and dignity of the kings of old.
All that is gold does not glitter,
Not all those who wander are lost;
The old that is strong does not wither,
Deep roots are not reached by the frost.
From the ashes a fire shall be woken,
A light from the shadows shall spring;
Renewed shall be blade that was broken,
The crownless again shall be king.
Update: Check out the visual chart I made to go along with this article showing the passing of the line of Dúnedain over 6000 years from Elros to Aragorn.