2. The Witch-king and His Enemies
Battle of Fornost
End of the Witch-king - Éowyn and Merry
I can find no better way to define the Witch-king than to discuss his enemies and the battles fought with them, as individuals or armies. I have broken this down into sections: the long-running unrest in Arnor up to the Battle of Fornost, the Battle of Fornost itself, and then smaller sections on individual opponents.
During the reign of Malvegil, (lived 1144 - 1349)
It was in the beginning of the reign of Malvegil of Arthedain that evil came to Arnor. For at that time the realm of Angmar arose in the North beyond the Ettenmoors. Its lands lay on both sides of the Mountains, and there were gathered many evil men, and Orcs, and other fell creatures. [The lord of that land was known as the Witch-king, but it was not known until later that he was indeed the chief of the Ringwraiths, who came north with the purpose of destroying the Dúnedain in Arnor, seeing hope in their disunion, while Gondor was strong.]34
During the reign of Argeleb I (lived 1226-1356)
In the days of Argeleb son of Malvegil, since no descendants of Isildur remained in the other kingdoms, the kings of Arthedain again claimed the lordship of all Arnor. The claim was resisted by Rhudaur. There the Dúnedain were few, and power had been seized by an evil lord of the Hill-men, who was in secret league with Angmar. Argeleb therefore fortified the Weather Hills; but he was slain in battle with Rhudaur and Angmar. 35
During the reign of Arveleg I (lived 1309 -1409)
Arveleg son of Argeleb, with the help of Cardolan and Lindon, drove back his enemies from the Hills; and for many years Arthedain and Cardolan held in force a frontier along the Weather Hills, the Great Road, and the lower Hoarwell. It is said that at this time Rivendell was besieged.
A great host came out of Angmar in 1409, and crossing the river entered Cardolan and surrounded Weathertop. The Dúnedain were defeated and Arveleg was slain. The Tower of Amon Sûl was burned and razed; but the palantír was saved and carried back in retreat to Fornost, Rhudaur was occupied by evil Men subject to Angmar, and the Dúnedain that remained there were slain or fled west. Cardolan was ravaged. Araphor son of Arveleg was not yet full-grown, but he was valiant, and with aid from Círdan he repelled the enemy from Fornost and the North Downs. A remnant of the faithful among the Dúnedain of Cardolan also held out in Tyrn Gorthad (the Barrowdowns), or took refuge in the Forest behind. 36
During the reign of Argeleb II (lived 1473-1670)
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. 37
During the reign of Araval (lived 1711 - 1891)
"With the help of Lindon and Imladris he won a victory over Angmar in 1851, and sought to reoccupy Cardolan, but the evil wights terrify all who seek to dwell near." 38
During the reign of Araphant (lived 1789 - 1964)
"Angmar recovers and makes war on the Dúnedain." 39
In the reign of Arvedui (lived 1864 - 1974)"
"In the winter of 1974 the Witch-king destroyed Fornost, laid Arthedain waste, and scattered the remnants of the Dúnedain."
"The following year Elrond and Cirdan, with some belated help from Gondor, sent by sea, defeated the forces of Angmar. The Witch-king was overthrown by Elrond, and his realm brought to an end."
"But it was found later that the Witch-king had fled away secretly southwards, and had entered Minas Ithil (now called Minas Morgul) and become Lord of the Ringwraiths." 40
During the reign of Eärnil II of Gondor, (lived 1883-2043, ruled 1945-2043)
"Then Eärnil sent his son Eärnur north with a fleet, as swiftly as he could, and with as great strength as he could spare. Too late. Before Eärnur reached the havens of Lindon, the Witch-king had conquered Arthedain and Arvedui had perished." 41
Battle of Fornost
"Then Círdan summoned all who would come to him, from Lindon or Arnor, and when all was ready the host crossed the Lune and marched north to challenge the Witch-king of Angmar. He was now dwelling, it is said, in Fornost, which he had filled with evil folk, usurping the house and rule of the kings. In his pride he did not await the onset of his enemies in his stronghold, but went out to meet them, thinking to sweep them, as others before, into the Lune.
But the Host of the West came down on him out of the Hills of Evendim, and were was a great battle on the plain between Nenuial and the North Downs. The forces of Angmar were already giving way and retreating towards Fornost when the main body of the horsemen that had passed round the hills came down from the north and scattered them in a great rout. Then the Witch-king, with all that he could gather from the wreck, fled northwards, seeking his own land of Angmar. Before he could gain the shelter of Carn Dûm the cavalry of Gondor overtook him with Eärnur riding at their head. At the same time a force under Glorfindel the Elf-lord came up out of Rivendell. Then so utterly was Angmar defeated that not a man nor an orc of that realm remained west of the Mountains.
'But it is said that when all was lost suddenly the Witch-king himself appeared, black-robed and black-masked upon a black horse. Fear fell upon all who beheld him; but he singled out the Captain of Gondor for the fullness of his hatred, and with a terrible cry he rode straight upon him. Eärnur would have withstood him; but his horse could not endure that onset, and it swerved and bore him far away before he could master it. Then the Witch-king laughed, and none that heard it ever forgot the horror of that cry. But Glorfindel rode up then on his white horse, and in the midst of his laughter the Witch-king turned to flight and passed into the shadows. For night came down on the battlefield, and he was lost, and none saw whither he went.
'Eärnur now rode back, but Glorfindel, looking into the gathering dark, said: "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." These words many remembered; but Eärnur was angry, desiring only to be avenged for his disgrace.' 42
Eärnur, son of Eärnil, ruled Gondor 2043-2050.
"On the death of his father the Lord of the Ringwraiths challenged Eärnur to single combat to make good his claim to the throne. Mardil the Steward restrained him.
The challenge was repeated with taunts in 2050, seven years later, and against the counsel of Mardil Eärnur accepted. He rode with a small escort of knights to Minas Morgul, but neither he nor his company were ever heard of again. It was thought that the faithless enemy had merely decoyed him to the gates and then trapped him and either slain him or kept him in torment as a prisoner." 43
As the calvary of Gondor chased the retreating forces of Angmar at Battle of Fornost, the Witch-king appeared and
"Fear fell upon all who beheld him; but he singled out the Captain of Gondor for the fullness of his hatred, and with a terrible cry he rode straight upon him. Eärnur would have withstood him; but his horse could not endure that onset, and it swerved and bore him far away before he could master it.…
"So ended the evil realm of Angmar; and so did Eärnur, Captain of Gondor, earn the chief hatred of the Witch-king; but many years were still to pass before that was revealed….
"Eärnur was a man like his father in valour, but not in wisdom. He was a man of strong body and hot mood; but he would take no wife, for his only pleasure was in fighting, or in the exercise of arms. His prowess was such that none in Gondor could stand against him in those weapon-sports in which he delighted, seeming rather a champion than a captain or king, and retaining his vigour and skill to a later age than was then usual."
"'When Eärnur received the crown in 2043 the King of Minas Morgul challenged him to single combat, taunting him that he had not dared to stand before him in battle in the North. For that time Mardil the Steward restrained the wrath of the king. Minas Anor, which had become the chief city of the realm since the days of King Telemnar, and the residence of the kings, was now renamed Minas Tirith, as the city ever on guard against the evil of Morgul. Eärnur had held the crown only seven years when the Lord of Morgul repeated his challenge, taunting the king that to the faint heart of his youth he had now added the weakness of age. Then Mardil could no longer restrain him, and he rode with a small escort of knights to the gate of Minas Morgul. None of that riding were ever heard of again. It was believed in Gondor that the faithless enemy had trapped the king, and that he had died in torment in Minas Morgul; but since there were no witnesses of his death, Mardil the Good Steward ruled Gondor in his name for many years." 44
The Silmarillion more clearly says that he was not merely killed in battle: "…but he was betrayed by the Nazgûl and taken alive into the city of torment, and no living man saw him ever again." 45
This leads one to speculate -why did the Witch-king single out Eärnur? The Encyclopedia of Arda notes that the Witch-king's actions had a far reaching effect: it deprived Gondor of their kings. Was it intentional, a cunning strategy; or did something about Eärnur irritate the Witch-king? One wonders if the Lord of Morgul simply sensed he was vulnerable to this sort of challenge, one which other men might have thought better of.
The Witch-king had two definite enounters with Glorfindel, and two potential encounters. We know he fled from Glorfindel at the Battle of Fornost, and that the Black Riders rode into the river and were washed away by the flood at Bruinin on Oct 20 while Glorfindel and Aragorn kept them from returning to the bank of the river.
It is unknown if the Witch-king was among the three wraiths on the bridge of Mitheithel or the two that Glorfindel meets during his pursuit on Oct 11. In HoMe 12 Tolkien hinted that Glorfindel fought in the Second Age battles, and therefore could have been at the Battle of the Last Alliance, and I would presume the Witch-king to be present as well.
Another question to consider is how Glorfindel's prophecy came to be known to the Witch-king. When Éowyn as Dernhelm was defending the fallen Théoden, the Lord of the Nazgûl told her, "No living man may hinder me!" 46 I suggest that he heard it from a captured, tormented Eärnur, or another victim who was at the Battle of Fornost.
The Witch-king's encouter with Gandalf is brief.
"In rode the Lord of the Nazgûl. A great black shape against the fires beyond he loomed up, grown to a vast menace of despair. In rode the Lord of the Nazgûl, under the archway that no enemy ever yet had passed, and all fled before his face.
All save one. There waiting, silent and still in the space before the Gate, sat Gandalf upon Shadowfax: Shadowfax who alone among the free horses of the earth endured the terror, unmoving, steadfast as a graven image in Rath Dínen.
‘You cannot enter here,’ said Gandalf, and the huge shadow halted. ‘Go back to the abyss prepared for you! Go back! Fall into the nothingness that awaits you and your Master. Go!’
The Black Rider flung back his hood, and behold! he had a kingly crown; and yet upon no head visible was it set. The red fires shone between it and the mantled shoulders vast and dark. From a mouth unseen there came a deadly laughter.
‘Old fool!’ he said. ‘Old fool! This is my hour. Do you not know Death when you see it? Die now and curse in vain!’ And with that he lifted high his sword and flames ran down the blade.
Gandalf did not move. And in that very moment, away behind in some courtyard of the City, a cock crowed. Shrill and clear he crowed, recking nothing of wizardry or war, welcoming only the morning that in the sky far above the shadows of death was coming with the dawn. 47
The reader never sees any further into this confrontation, as Rohan's horns blow and the Witch-king vanishes for the time being. Tolkien commented on this aborted confrontation, "He alone is left to forbid the entrance of the Lord of Nazgûl to Minas Tirith, when the City has been overthrown and its Gates destroyed - and yet so powerful is the whole train of human resistance, that he himself has kindled and organized, that in fact no battle between the two occurs: it passes to other mortal hands." 48
End of the Witch-king - Éowyn and Merry
"The winged creature screamed at her, but the Ringwraith made no answer, and was silent, as if in sudden doubt. Very amazement for a moment conquered Merry’s fear. He opened his eyes and the blackness was lifted from them. There some paces from him sat the great beast, and all seemed dark about it, and above it loomed the Nazgûl Lord like a shadow of despair. A little to the left facing them stood she whom he had called Dernhelm. But the helm of her secrecy, had fallen from her, and her bright hair, released from its bonds, gleamed with pale gold upon her shoulders. Her eyes grey as the sea were hard and fell, and yet tears were on her cheek. A sword was in her hand, and she raised her shield against the horror of her enemy’s eyes.
Éowyn it was, and Dernhelm also. For into Merry’s mind flashed the memory of the face that he saw at the riding from Dunharrow: the face of one that goes seeking death, having no hope. Pity filled his heart and great wonder, and suddenly the slow-kindled courage of his race awoke. He clenched his hand. She should not die, so fair, so desperate. At least she should not die alone, unaided.
The face of their enemy was not turned towards him, but still he hardly dared to move, dreading lest the deadly eyes should fall on him. Slowly, slowly he began to crawl aside; but the Black Captain, in doubt and malice intent upon the woman before him, heeded him no more than a worm in the mud.
Suddenly the great beast beat its hideous wings, and the wind of them was foul. Again it leaped into the air, and then swiftly fell down upon Éowyn, shrieking, striking with beak and claw.
Still she did not blench: maiden of the Rohirrim, child of kings, slender but as a steel-blade, fair but terrible. A swift stroke she dealt, skilled and deadly. The outstretched neck she clove asunder, and the hewn head fell like a stone. Backward she sprang as the huge shape crashed to ruin, vast wings outspread, crumpled on the earth; and with its fall the shadow passed away. A light fell about her, and her hair shone in the sunrise.
Out of the wreck rose the Black Rider, tall and threatening, towering above her. With a cry of hatred that stung the very ears like venom he let fall his mace. Her shield was shivered in many pieces, and her arm was broken; she stumbled to her knees. He bent over her like a cloud, and his eyes glittered; he raised his mace to kill.
But suddenly he too stumbled forward with a cry of bitter pain, and his stroke went wide, driving into the ground. Merry’s sword had stabbed him from behind, shearing through the black mantle, and passing up beneath the hauberk had pierced the sinew behind his mighty knee.
‘Éowyn! Éowyn!’ cried Merry. Then tottering, struggling up, with her last strength she drove her sword between crown and mantle, as the great shoulders bowed before her. The sword broke sparkling into many shards. The crown rolled away with a clang. Éowyn fell forward upon her fallen foe. But lo! the mantle and hauberk were empty. Shapeless they lay now on the ground, torn and tumbled; and a cry went up into the shuddering air, and faded to a shrill wailing, passing with the wind, a voice bodiless and thin that died, and was swallowed up, and was never heard again in that age of this world. 49
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