2. Wizards, Wraiths, and Weathertop
I have always wondered exactly what happened on Weathertop between Gandalf and the Ring Wraiths. This chapter contains a little of what I think it was like. I hope you enjoy it.
Fargand rode under the clear blue skies and bright afternoon sunlight in the crisp October air. He was headed south on the faint Ranger trail skirting the eastern edge of the Tower Hills and was hoping to camp on Weathertop that evening. Thalguron had sent him out early the prior morning to deliver dispatches to the captains of the southern ranger companies and receive whatever tidings they would pass back north. Afterwards, he would swing further east to the Angle passing messages to families and friends from the other Rangers of the Northeastern company before returning back to the camp in the Tower Hills. “Back to being a messenger boy”, he snorted. “Thought I was through with this odious duty long ago.”
Like all young men of the Northern Dúnedain, he had joined the Ranger corps upon reaching his twentieth year. He had served as a messenger for the first few years after becoming a Ranger as did most before receiving permanent postings. As they gained more experience and other youngsters came in to take their places, they became more stationary in the patrol areas of their assigned units. He had not ridden on messenger duty in over two years. Since he was now twenty-six years old, he had six years of service in the field behind him. Not long compared to most of the men serving with him, but in his mind he was a hardened veteran much too valuable to be running errands. However since his injury battling a large pack of wolves two weeks ago not far from where he was now riding, he had not been able to draw a bow or wield a sword efficiently enough to return to full duty. But the weather was nice; the bay mare he rode had an easy, comfortable gait; and he would in a few days time be back among friends and loved ones long unseen. His thoughts drifted among the faces in his memory of all the pretty maids waiting breathlessly for his return, inevitably settling on the image of a certain auburn haired lass who just happened to be the daughter of his captain.
As he rode along, his mind wandered back to the Mid-Summer festival where he had become more closely acquainted with Tithmeriele than her stern Ranger father would have countenanced. Fargand had known of her since she was a baby. He had not seen her for a long time as she had been gone from the Angle for several years, studying healing arts under the tutelage of the Elves in Rivendell, and he had begun his career as a Ranger during her absence. She was no longer the shy younger sibling of his friend, Belguron, but had bloomed into a gentle, wondrous creature whose beauty rivaled that of the flower from whence her name was given. Tith had still not reached her majority and nothing serious had occurred or was planned as of yet, but her father was still very protective as any father would be of such a beautiful and desirable young woman.
So far, Thalguron did not seem to have any inkling of the budding attraction between his hard headed, light hearted trooper and his beloved little girl and Fargand hoped it would remain so as long as possible. He had been under the baleful glare of his commander for many reasons over the last two years but never for anything that would raise the older Ranger’s ire to the levels that this was likely to inspire. The thought of facing Barmariele, Tith’s fiery haired mother, evoked an even greater sense of foreboding and doom as his reputation as a fancy free skirt chaser crossed his troubled mind. With a shake of his head, he shifted his thoughts back to the picture of loveliness he held warmly in his thoughts and pushed the nagging worries of parental homicide away into the bright sunshine.
His thoughts came back into focus as he spotted the looming bulk of Weathertop coming into view over the shoulder of the hill to his southwest. Something about the familiar landmark caught his attention away from the daydreams of romance but he couldn’t quite put his finger on what it was. As he rode he searched the vista before him carefully for some sign of the source of uneasiness that began to grow at the edge of his senses. After a few more minutes, he began to realize what was unsettling him and causing his nerves to tingle. Even though the sun had passed its zenith, there were several hours of daylight left. But the top of the hill seemed to be shrouded in twilight and the lower portions of the hill that were in view appeared to be dimmed as if the colors had been washed out like a shirt after too many launderings. He was still a few miles distant from the object of his concern but with each stride of his mount he felt a strong sense of dread and evil envelope his heart and mind. When he had finally rounded the base of the last hill separating him from Weathertop, he reined the mare to a halt. Staring intently at the crest of the hill now only a little more than a mile distant, he thought he could see dark shapes moving around in the shadows that shielded the top from his view. From this distance and with the murky darkness impeding his vision, he could not make out what the shapes were.
Suddenly, a flash of light off to his right turned his attention further south and west to the road beyond. As he watched, a horse and rider came into focus in the distance coming from the west. As it drew closer, he could make out more details of the mount and its burden. Even at this distance he could tell the horse was larger than any he had ever seen. Its coat was brilliant silver that seemed to shine of its own accord without help from the sun. The rider atop its back was thin and wiry and dressed in some kind of a gray cloak and sported a bent, pointy hat on top of its head. He could make out some kind of staff or spear in the riders hand but it was still too far away to be certain which. The horse looked to be traveling at almost a dead run and was quickly eating up the ground between them. Another movement turned his attention back to the top of the hill that had originally held his gaze. The twilight seemed to be fading back toward a normal level of light and he was able to make out nine black horses and dark cloaked riders. As the shining horse flew steadily closer, the ebony figures bunched along the trail leading down the north face of the hill and began to descend rapidly. It dawned on him that they were now moving swiftly in his direction.
Although he still had no idea exactly who these fell riders were, he quickly decided that he did not want to gain their attention. He turned the horse aside into the trees and brush beside the trail and continued to watch. The dark riders continued their descent and as they reached the bottom of the slope turned and rode at a gallop toward the east. A dark cloud of gloom continued to overshadow them and draw the light from the area around them as they rode. He remained motionless among the trees and as they passed but a few hundred yards from his vantage point, his horse began to shiver and shudder under him. He spoke to her quietly trying to soothe her nerves and keep her from sounding a call or bolting out into the open. He looked up and got the clearest sighting of the horsemen he had seen and quickly wished he had remained ignorant of their visage. The horses were huge, ugly beasts that seen this close looked less like horses and more like some kind of demons. Their eyes were an angry red and almost glowed under the pall of the shadow in which they rode. Their riders were even more hideous to behold even though he could not make out any of their features. In fact, they did not seem to have any features beneath the dark hoods of the capes. Fear and darkness seemed to radiate from them just as light radiates from the sun. He began to quake along with his horse while a wave of despair washed over and through him and he lost any ability to form logical thought as terror wrapped itself around him like a heavy winter cloak.
The young Ranger heard the hoof beats of the silver horse growing louder as the sounds of doom faded away to the east but he did not move from the hidden spot just off the side of the path. It was not only that he didn’t want to move and possibly be seen by the new rider, he couldn’t! Both he and the bay were still caught in the grips of terror and it was several minutes before his shaking subsided enough for him to be able to regain control of his frayed senses. Fargand could see the scraggly, gray cloaked figure astride the magnificent stallion fairly well now. The stranger was as fearsome in his own way as the black riders had been. His wind blown hair flowed from beneath the battered hat and it was only a little less silver than the horse he was riding. His gray beard was long and thick, hanging down upon his chest. The weathered face was lined and wrinkled but still contained an air of powerful strength and grim resolve. The animal drew to an abrupt halt at the base of the hill and the old man stared hard toward the east, glowering from under shaggy brows in the direction of the fleeing company of evil. Fargand finally was able to coax the mare back onto the path and he began to ride toward the base of Weathertop where the stranger still sat. As the horse moved out from the cover, the grizzled old man whirled the horse to face him, swiftly drawing a long, white sword from his belt beneath the tattered cloak. Upon seeing the Ranger, he held him fast in his gaze for a moment and then visibly relaxed and re-sheathed his sword.
“I do not recall your face, young Ranger, but the star on your breast is known and I have ridden many a mile in the welcome company of those who wore one like it. As much as I desire to stop and get acquainted, I must insist that you depart and put as much distance as you can between us ere darkness falls. It will not be safe near me nor the area around Amon Sûl much longer this day. Ride while you can, and if you know of safe harbor nearby, seek it out quickly.” The words were spoken with urgency but not ungently. The aged rider could see the fear that remained in the brown eyes of the younger man and could sense how deeply shaken he had been. “If you know where Aragorn, son of Arathorn, can be found or if you come upon him, pass on the word that the Ring Wraiths are nearby and the treasure in his keeping is danger of being taken. Offer him any aid in his task he may require, for his quest is of more importance than even he may be aware. Tell him that Mithrandir has been searching for him and if we do not meet beforehand, I will see him in the house of Lord Elrond of Rivendell. Now ride quickly and do not return here no matter what you may see or hear until daylight shines again on Weathertop. Keep your wits about you and avoid confronting the Black Riders at any cost. A full complement of Rangers was not able stand against all nine even led by so venerable a warrior as Halbarad, and a single Wraith may be more than can be stopped by mortal strength and weapons. Now fly before the darkness falls and the evil gathers strength enough to return.”
Speaking quickly and with a small tremor still in his voice, Fargand responded to the legendary wizard that he knew from stories in his youth. “I am Fargand, of the Northeast Dúnedain Rangers. I will do my best to find the Chieftain and deliver your warning and will assist him however I can. Will you stay to face the darkness alone? What better chance would you have than a full Ranger company? Won’t you fly with me to seek shelter and aide? There should be a patrol not far from here that we can enlist to locate and warn Aragorn of the perils riding through the country. Surely a half dozen well armed Rangers can offer some protection. Come, let’s ride together and heed your advice to get far away quickly.”
“Nay! I have a task laid before me that I must attempt no matter what the cost. Though I may not be victorious, it should buy precious time for those who need it most. Now flee and do not turn aside until you have reached the safety of your comrades.” With that, Mithrandir turned the stallion up the grade toward the peak of Weathertop and the broken crown of Amon Sûl..
Fargand whirled his mount and sped off without even a thought that he had again been relegated to the role of messenger instead of warrior. He rode hard back to the Northeast and prayed with all his might that he would catch the Fourth Patrol group at their camp. They should have been at Weathertop themselves the day that he had begun his journey and would have been moving back east and north on their assigned route today. He knew about where they should be and if he could find his way in the growing darkness without too much difficulty, he might be able to bring them back to help the ancient wizard sometime before dawn. He pushed away the thoughts of what the outcome most certainly must be for the old man if he faced the Black Riders alone and concentrated on guiding the mare through the rough countryside toward help and safety.
Mithrandir slid off of Shadowfax as they entered the small dell on the western side of Weathertop. He did not take the time to remove the saddle and bridle but reached inside his saddle bags and took out some food. He ate quickly as he stood there beside the steed who had borne him farther and faster than he had hoped or even thought possible. The men of Rohan were justified in their admiration of the great stallion. No doubt there was great consternation among the Rohirrim at his choice of a mount. Mithrandir did not intend to keep him forever, but still had need of him before he could be released and sent back to his home range. After he had finished the last few small bites of cheese, dried fruit and hard bread that he had gotten from Butterbur in Bree, he led Shadowfax down toward the small stream nearby. After the horse had drunk his fill, the Istari wizard spoke quietly to him in a language that the horse seemed to understand fully but few in Middle Earth would have been able to discern. The horse stood quietly in the lee of the bank as Mithrandir moved back up and began to ascend to the summit. He walked through a gap in the fallen rock and rotted timbers and prepared to wait for the return of the Nazgul. He could feel the growing blasphemy of their presence as they returned and he began to draw power from deep inside as his gnarled hand gripped the twisted staff. The tip of the staff began to glow and a bright light began to emanate from his icy blue eyes. He might not be able to defeat the awful henchmen of Sauron, but they would get a taste of the righteous wrath of a Maia and would not find it pleasant.
It was not long before he saw the first of them step from the shadows into the remnants of the watchtower and the battle began in earnest. He raised the staff muttering a word in the same language he had used with Shadowfax. Lightning flashed from the head of his staff, arcing across the clearing and driving the defiled creature back out of the circle around them. Another lunged towards him from the ruins to his right with a third just behind him. They had drawn their swords and rushed towards him shrieking in unholy voices and cursing him in the foul tongue of Mordor. Another flash exploded from his staff and struck the foremost wraith, knocking him back into his companion. As they staggered and fought to regain their momentum back towards him, he felt a blast of darkness strike him from behind. Though it did not cause any extensive physical damage, the pain was intense and forced him to his knees. The Nazgul sensed his weakness and rushed towards him again seeking to kill or maim with their wretched blades. Mithrandir struggled to regain his strength but knew he could not reach his feet before his attackers would be on him. He spoke a Word of Power and the two spawns of darkness before him burst into flame and were blown into the air and off of the mountain top.
Now the remaining six, including the vile Witch King, their leader, were all arrayed in a semicircle before him. They were all shrieking and moaning unearthly cries and the Witch King stepped forward and uttered a stream of invective in the Black Speech. A bolt of evil power, as glaring in its darkness as the brightness of the lightning bolts issuing from the wizard’s staff, leaped from the Witch Kings hand into the chest of the weakened Istari. Mithrandir flew back into the pile of rubble behind him and lay stunned as the Dark Riders advanced once again. As they closed almost with in reach of their weapons, the gnarled staff emitted another massive bolt of lightning. The energy forked out and engulfed all six of the wraiths, driving them back and giving him time to get back to his feet. He was breathing hard and leaning on the staff for support as he drew himself up to face them again. As he scanned the area around him, he could only locate two of the riders. The Witch King and one other moved back towards him, seeming to float across the distance like specters moving through a barrow. He dove back around behind the pile of rubble, narrowly dodging a second bolt of darkness from the hand of the Witch King. Back and forth the bolts of lightning and shadow flew while the combatants warily avoided any open confrontations as each sought to incapacitate and destroy their opponent. Mithrandir caught the next to last wraith with another massive bolt, forcing him out of the battle, shrieking and cursing as he faded away into the darkness.
Now, only the Witch King opposed him. He had no delusions that he had managed to destroy any of Sauron’s minions, but he held hope that he had weakened them enough to give Aragorn and the Hobbits a chance to survive until they came to Rivendell or additional aide could reach them. Magical energy, light and dark, continued to fly back and forth between the two powerful beings. Both were noticeably weaker but the Witch King seemed to be able to draw on a reserve force of power that Gandalf did not have. The wizard began to feel the strain of the extended conflict and was finally beginning to fear he was coming to the end of his strength. The Witch King made another massive attack forward and Mithrandir managed to drive him back yet again. However, he knew that his time was done. He could not repulse the Witch King’s power any longer.
As he struggled to gather any of his remaining power, he saw a glow on the horizon. Hope sprang back into his breast as he realized that dawn was quickly approaching. The Black Riders could and did ride out in the daylight, but their powers seemed to be diminished by bright sunlight. He began to slowly maneuver himself back toward the western edge of the ruins. He hoped that the leader of the wraiths would not realize his intention until it would be too late to stop him. As he reached the point he was seeking, he focused all of his remaining power into one last blast of lightning and fired it at the Nazgul. When the wraith moved to dodge the burst of energy, Mithrandir threw himself beyond the rim of the broken tower. He tumbled down the hill but finally managed to control his rolling and regain his feet. He ran down the hillside, calling to Shadowfax as he went. He heard an answering whinny and the stallion burst over the edge of the bank of the stream where had been waiting, and came running towards him.
As he reached the horse, he used almost all of the physical strength left in his slender body and leaped into the saddle. He turned the horse down the path off of the mountain to the north. It was all he could do to hang on but he knew he had a chance now if he could distance himself from the Witch King and any remaining Ring Wraiths before the sun rose over the horizon. Shadowfax sensed his urgency and flew as if he had wings down the incline and away from the peak. When he reached the bottom, he instinctively turned east and raced away with the wind whipping around him. Behind them, Mithrandir heard a hideous shriek and to his dismay, but not his surprise, he heard screeches and moans answer their master’s call. He lowered himself onto Shadowfax’s neck and hung on with the last bit of strength that he had.
Special thanks, again to TreeHugger and shirebound for their help in proofing this chapter. I really don’t know how anybody can do this without faithful friends.
Until next time,
I menel darthant lim or le a i men taer athan le.
(May the sky stay clear above you and the road straight before you)
This is a work of fan fiction, written because the author has an abiding love for the works of J R R Tolkien. The characters, settings, places, and languages used in this work are the property of the Tolkien Estate, Tolkien Enterprises, and possibly New Line Cinema, except for certain original characters who belong to the author of the said work. The author will not receive any money or other remuneration for presenting the work on this archive site. The work is the intellectual property of the author, is available solely for the enjoyment of Henneth Annûn Story Archive readers, and may not be copied or redistributed by any means without the explicit written consent of the author.