The Kin-Strife of Gondor ~ The Reign of King Castamir by Hanasian, Elora

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Story Notes:

The discontent that led to the tragic Kin-Strife in Gondor was caused by the actions of Prince Valacar, son of King Rómendacil II, but the seeds were sown and began to grow long before this time.  During King Rómendacil's reign, there was war with the Easterling warrior clans of Rhûn. He succeeded in developing a strong alliance with the Northmen of Rhovanion who lived to the east of Mirkwood and also suffered at the hands of the Easterlings. With their combined might and leadership, they were able to defeat the Easterlings in battle, and after their great victory, Rómendacil furthered this close friendship between Gondor and Rhovanion by sending his son Valacar to be ambassador to the court of their leader Vidugavia of Rhovanion.

Rómendacil had intended that his son should learn something of the language and culture of the Men of Rhovanion, but he could not know that Valacar would fall in love with Vidumavi, daughter of Vidugavia. They were soon wed and to them a son was born. He was named Vinitharya, but was later given the name of Eldacar when Valacar returned to Gondor with him. As the firstborn son of Valacar, Eldacar was the rightful heir to the throne of Gondor. The marriage between Valacar and Vidumavi would be the catalyst that would bring unrest in the future.

In Gondor, it was widely feared that the pure Númenórean blood of the Royal House would be lost with this mingling with the “lesser” men of the north. The men of Rhovanion were strong and fierce, but their lives withered much sooner than those of the Numenorean line and intermingling of Valacar and Vidumavi was seen by many as an unwise act. When Vidumavi died before Valacar became King of Gondor, this “weakness” was confirmed in the minds of many Gondorians of the Rhovanion blood.

Divisions in Gondor began to form and unrest stirred, mainly in Pelargir and Umbar. The discord was muted under Valacar as king, as many held hope that he would marry again to a high Gondorian woman who would bear him a Numenorean heir. But no other would be named as heir to the throne. Eldacar would secede to the Gondorian kingship as Valacar, his father had wished. So began the Kin Strife of Gondor in 1432...


Author's Chapter Notes:

This is a summary of the Kin Strife's origins and an overview of some of what took place before Castamir overthrew Eldacar and claimed the crown.


Seeds of the Kin-Strife of Gondor

In 1432 when King Valacar died, unrest in the southern provinces spread into open rebellion with the coronation of Eldacar as King of Gondor. Fanning the embers of this unrest was Gondor’s powerful Mariners Guild based in Pelargir and led by Castamir, Master of Ships at the time of Valacar’s death. Castamir was the great grandson of King Calmacil and so could claim royal descent. Castamir’s grandfather Calimehtar was the younger brother of Minaltar, later known as King Rómendacil II. Calimehtar at the time was content in serving his brother as his Naval Commander and Master of the Mariners Guild. He maintaining Gondor’s great fleet of ships in Pelargir, served as Governor of the province of Harondor, and managed the affairs the tributary lands of Harad and the great port of Umbar. Through the line of Calimehtar, the Mariners Guild became a strong influence within the realm of Gondor.

As the line of Rómendacil had mingled itself with the “lesser” blood of the Rhovanions, Castamir presented himself as the rightful Numenorean heir. He proclaimed himself the true King of Gondor, despite Gondor’s laws of succession held that Eldacar was the rightful heir to the throne of Gondor. With Castamir’s proclamation, a rebellion in Pelargir erupted against Eldacar shortly after his coronation and it soon spread through the southern provinces to become a civil war.

For the next four years, war between Gondor’s people raged with brutality, each side convinced of their righteousness. The governers of the southern provinces of Anfalas, Belfalas, Lebennin, Harondor, and Lossarnarch declared for Castamir, while those of Ithilien, Anorien, Dol Amroth, Edhellond and the rough and hardy men who lived in the western lands of Calenardhon and Enedwaith swore allegiance to Eldacar.  Not all people in these provinces agreed with who their governors supported, and the fighting among the citizenry was grim. There were brutal raids and massacres of unarmed civilians by supporters of both sides in most provinces but after the first year, most of the dissenters had either been slain or fled to a friendly province.

The fighting had settled mostly between the armies that stood with Eldacar and Castamir and had quickly stagnated along a line across Ithilien south of Emyn Arnen to the east of the Anduin and along the River Erui to the west of the Anduin. For two years, the ships of Castamir tried relentlessly to break their line by forcing the Anduin river passage with his ships, but Eldacar held most of the siege engines and had them placed to fire on the ships from both sides of the river. Also, cross river chains and log barriers were built to impede the ships’ ability to move upstream.

It wasn’t until the beginning of 1436 that Castamir had amassed enough force to be able to attack on three fronts. Leading his army himself, Castamir forced his way over the Crossing of the Erui after twelve days of fighting and at great cost. Eldacar’s army fell back in disarray and were not able to regain their defences until they reached fortifications in the narrows between the east end of the White Mountains just south of Harlond. Castamir’s army destroyed the siege engines on the west bank of the Anduin and disabled the cross-river defences. At the same time, fierce Haradian mercenaries drove up the eastern bank of the Anduin, driving a wedge between Eldacar’s army and the river. They were able to destroy the siege engines on the east side of the Anduin, but unlike Eldacar’s army on the west side, the Ithilien army was able to regroup and counterattack the Haradrim mercenaries.

After eight days of relentless fighting, the Haradians were for the most part decimated and few of the men, most of them the Haradian leaders and Castamir’s officers, fled to the south. It was a pyric victory in Ithillen, for Castamir’s ships were now able to pass freely up the river. In Harlond, the quays were burned and the riverfront fortified, and the few remaining siege engines Eldacar had were used to bombard the approaching ships. After much damage and loss, Castamir’s ships were forced to retreat downriver. Castamir sought to continue his attack on the west side, but his men were exhausted and had suffered great loss whereas Eldacar’s defence was strong. Thus, attack foundered and the lines stagnated.

 

Osgiliath ~ December 1436

Eldacar stood in the great library and walked to the Dome of the Stars. He gazed into the Palantir and saw that his position had become precarious. He had few reserves of men and though a small army had come from Rhovanion to his aid, it could only help in holding the defensive line. Not advance it against the armies that waited beyond Osgiliath’s walls. He still had the fortress of Minas Anor, from where his son Ornendil commanded western armies, and the fortress Minas Ithil, from which his son Aldamir commanded the eastern armies. Eldacar trusted his sons and their commanders to do what they could to strengthen his defences in their waning hopes of holding the north of Gondor, but how could he defeat Castamir and reunite Gondor? In this his vision was unclear. He also knew this stagnant war and the lines that divided Gondor could not last forever

It was late in the evening a few days after the New Year, and Ornendil was reviewing the defensive lines near Minas Anor. The chill air from the north had laid a thick frost over all and as the steam from his breath swirled about him, he listened closely in the quiet night. Something wasn’t right. It was too quiet. He waved for his line commander.

“Make sure the men remain watchful this night. Something is amiss.”

The commander nodded and sent a signal down the line, but as the next signaller turned, an arrow hit him in the neck. A cry went up and the Castamirian army started to yell. They were attacking at night! Ornendil quickly ordered the archers to ready, but again an arrow took down his signaller. When his second fell and the sound of swords rang all along the front line, Ornendil realised this attack was quickly deteriorating his position. 

What he didn’t know was Castamir had spies who had infiltrated his command, and the alert was not sent to the river watch or the engines. Instead of running his river boats upstream, smaller boats that carried twelve men were sent up along the river banks. These men could disembark quickly and surprise the guards at the strongpoints. With several of these groups along both sides of the river, the Castamirians were able to cause much disruption and chaos behind Ornendil’s defensive line.

Before Ornendil could assess the situation clearly, his flank on the river was compromised. The larger ships now could move upriver and unleash a larger army into Harlond.

In the western end of the line, rugged highlanders of Lebennin managed to take the furthest stronghold which allowed men to pour in unopposed. Arrow fell among them but it was sporadic. When reports managed to find Ornendil, he realised his line of defense was now untenable.

Finding a lack of officers around him, Ornendil had to trust to unit leaders to try to organise a withdrawal from the centre of the line. But with his right flank crumbling and his left flank in Harlond already lost, time was not on his side. The assault on his communications was effective to the point that Ornendil could not reliably know if any of his commands had gotten to whom he had them sent to. Likewise, the few messages that he did receive were filled with ill news.

It was the message that the gates of Minas Anor fell to Castamirian raiders without a fight that caused Ornedil to lose hope. Suddenly, his plan to retreat into the city and prepare for siege was lost. Enough of the Raiders that had taken what was left of Harlond had gathered together and managed to get around the city walls to the gate. Some had taken cloaks and emblems from dead and captured Eldacarian soldiers and disguised themselves. Their deception worked. At first, acting like they were reinforcements for Eldacar, they were able to walk in the open gates and take control from the unsuspecting city guard. They drew in as many of their men as they could before it became known that the gate had fallen.

Gathering men to him, Ornendil had each man pass the word that they needed to assault the gates of Minas Anor. Likewise, the City Guard tried to re-take the gates from the inside, but the attacks were not coordinated and the Raiders were able to fend off both attacks.

With the gates held, it was deemed time by Castamir’s sympathisers to take down the guards at the secondary doors and open them to Castamir’s men coming up from Harlond. 

After a second attempt to storm the gates, Ornendil saw that the city was lost. With the confusion and chaos of his army on the field, they had no choice but to retreat across the Pelennor Field toward Osgiliath. 

Eldacar’s men trapped inside Minas Anor fought on, level by level into the morning, but when they were making a stand at the fourth level, the commander of the naval forces that had come up the river offered terms to Eldacar’s men. After considering the limited options, the ranking commander of Eldacar’s Minas Anor army, surrendered. The surrendering soldiers were herded into the courtyard where those who lived in the city were escorted to their homes. The soldiers who had no families, or were from outside the city, were immediately asked to swear fealty to King Castamir. Those who did were given a chance to prove their loyalty by fighting for Castamir in a penal unit. Those who would not were, along with any Rhovanions, put to death.

Word could not spread fast enough to Osgiliath of the fall of Minas Anor. Eldacar had ordered his elite Royal Guard out to reinforce Ornedil in Minas Anor, but it was too late and they could reach him. When the Highladers that broke the west end of Ornedil’s line made contact, the Royal Guard were forced to stand fast, and they set a defensive perimeter a few miles out around the gates of Osgiliath. There they were able to fend off any Castamirians who were so bold to pursue of the remnants of Ornendil’s retreating army.  With the Rhovanion Royal Guard on the forefront, the Gondorian Royal Guard aided the stragglers from Minas Anor to reach the city. After the first attack by the pursuing Castamirians to drive on to Osgiliath was stopped by the Rhovanions, they had no more strength and they retreated to set a defensive line around Minas Anor as they mopped up inside the city.

To have secured the city before the morning light was a success beyond all expectations. Castamir expected they would have to lay siege, and that would likely have taken many weeks if not months. Now, he was able to move on Osgiliath, the nation’s capital and Eldacar’s seat, much faster than he had dared hope for. Wasting no time, he sent two of the river ships onward without disembarking in hopes they could press their advantage. It was a gamble, but if they could gain East Osgiliath, Eldacar’s eastern army would be cut off and isolated.

Captain Silares took command of this force as they pushed upriver, and trusted Halvarin, his navigator to take them through. The soldiers aboard were itching to disembark, but when they heard they were the northern force, they settled and grew determined to take their objective. But like the attack on Osgiliath in Pelennor, the two ships full of men were not enough. Though they had nearly achieved surprise, a company of Aldamir’s men in Ithilien spotted the ships in the dark as they passed by.

The commander sent word to Osgiliath by their fastest two runners that an attack was imminent on the city by the river. The company was also able to attack Silares’ lead ship with burning arrows. It did little damage, but it did illuminate the two ships for a time, so the attempt at a surprise landing in East Osgiliath failed. Silares ordered the ships back to Harlond, reluctant to risk both ships and men on an attack on a prepared city.

It would be three days before another attack could be waged in Osgiliath. But the winds warmed and the cold rains made movement hard on the muddy field. Castamir’s attack ended a few days later, his men exhausted. Though the thrust failed to achieve much, it did cause Eldacar to pull his remaining forces back behind the city wall. Castamir’s men would close a ring around West Osgiliath, but would have to battle the elements of winter outside the wall of the city.

It would be another month before Castamir could attack again, for the brief warming had passed and winter fell hard a couple days later. Frigid north winds were relentless through the month of January 1437. The Rhovanions, wearing their traditional furs, managed to withstand the cold better than the Gondorians, but the snows that came with the winds were fierce. Castamir’s men froze in the fields and Eldacar’s men tried their best to stay warm in the city. There would be no fighting while the winter held.

Eldacar used the time to prepare defences, and his son Aldamir sent what men he could spare from the East Watch of Cirith Ungol to Osgiliath to help strengthen the city. Knowing that his southern reach was now untenable with the loss of Minas Anor, Aldamir anticipated Castamir would attack soon. He prepared a defensive line anchored in the east against the spur of Ephel Duath that reached for Minas Ithil, then from the city to the road.

At the crossing of the river, he fortified both sides, and to the west, he set a line along the north bank of the river. To the south he had his elite Ithilien Rangers hold the line to wait for the attack. When it came, they would harass the advancing Castamirians and fall back to Minas Ithil. Aldamir’s leadership gave the men east of the Anduin hope, if not in victory, then in strength. But Aldamir could see the dire position they were in. All he could hope for was to resist Castamir, and plan for the eventual need to flee north to Rhovanion. Eldacar was fortunate that his younger son had the foresight to make even the most rudimentary plans to evacuate.

 

Osgiliath ~ February 1437

Eldacar was solemn, knowing that with the thaw, an attack by Castamir was imminent. The field. still muddy with melting snow, prevented any siege engines to be brought forth. But the sun returned day after day and with it warm winds from the south. Soon the ground would dry and the fighting would erupt again. Aldamir had reported their delaying retreat had cost Castamir’s eastern army dear, but they had gathered now on the line Aldamir had set. There would be no more reinforcements coming from the east. Their only hope was to the north, and any men Rhovanion could send.

Little did Eldacar know that with little if any Gondorian presence in North Ithilien, it fell to the Rhovanions to keep the Easterling clans at bay. Not yet strong enough to launch an attack of any significance, they had increasingly turned to harassing the Rhovanion farmer, not forgetting that they had aided their enemy Gondor in their great defeat years before. Vidugavia sent word to Osgiliath that no further aid could be spared at this time. The messengers had to travel treacherous ways through Dagorlad to North Ithilien to get to East Osgiliath, and word only came late in the month.

Eldacar and his sons stood alone against the rising popularity if the Numenorean-blooded Castamir, even though he officially had no right to the crown. It was he, Eldacar, son of Valacar, son of Rómendacil II, who was rightful king of Gondor, and if he fell fighting for the crown, so be it. He gave his sons the choice of slipping away to the north to dwell with their grandmother’s kin, but each stood tall with their father, preferring death if not victory for their father’s crown. So the stage was set for the final battle.

 ~ ~ ~

The Fall of Osgiliath ~ Late February 1437

The first attack took place in the east. Aldamir’s line held the initial assault, and only gave way slightly to the second one. For five days he held his line, and hoped to weather the onslaught. In the west, the heavy engines that Eldacar had used against Castamir’s ships had been repaired and moved to within range of Osgiliath, and Castamir wasted no time in sending both flaming and heavy solid projectiles. Eldacar had little to use to return fire, for most of the engines had been moved south in earlier years. The few he had were aimed at the river where Castamir’s ships would eventually come.

For three days, there was no attack directly on the city. But on the night of the third day, Castamir used the tactic that worked so well in taking Minas Anor and sent small boats of men up both sides of the river. But Ornedil would not be fooled so easily a second time. At first sign, he sent the Rhovanion Guard to counter the raiders. Vilmaith led the Rhovanions toward the river. They had caught the raiders not long after they had landed, yet they fought with intense precision.

Vilmaith managed to match the raiders, but when Rhinnin was slain before her, she froze as she watched blood gush from Rhinnin’s neck as her head turned, eyes bulging and closing as she fell and bled out. It all seemed to happen so slowly in Vilmiath’s eyes. Of all the battles in the tournaments she had been in and had won, this fight was real, and it was the first death of a close friend she had experienced. The sounds of swords clashing and the yelling and the groaning seemed to pass through her slowly, yet Vilmiath could not take her eyes off Rhinnin. It was the hands of one of her Rhovanion countryman that grabbed her tunic and spun her around…

”Vilmiath! She is dead! We have need of you!”

He screamed as his words cut through the fog. She blinked a few times and saw him staring into her eyes when the sword struck him in the back of the head. His blood splattered over her, and she lunged with her sword, killing the attacker as the Rhovanion man fell toward her and to the ground. As if the spell was broken, Vilmiath turned and deflected a sword aimed at her neck, then pushed forth with some other Rhovanions. The battle raged until sunrise, and the light of day found Vilmiath and the remnants of her Royal Guards victorious. They prevented the raiders from getting a foothold in the city.

On the east side of the river, the raiders fared better. They had managed to defeat the Ithilien Guard that held the confluence of the Anduin and the Morgulduin, and managed to breach the line Aldamir had set in place. Their penetration was not far, and losses were heavy for the raiders, but they held their hard-won key ground. It was to be the beginning of the battle of Osgiliath.

The armies of Castamir surged toward the gates of Osgiliath, and as the projectiles of the engines rained down upon the city, they managed to bring a ram to the gates. At the same time, ships led by Silares came up river from Harlond carrying men who would land on both sides of the river. The engines Eldacar had managed to sink one ship and damage others, but most of the men were able to land on the east side. After three days, East Osgiliath had fallen, dividing Eldacar’s forces.

Aldamir tried to force his way to the city but ended up retreating to Minas Ithil. That same day, the gates of Osgiliath were broken and Castamir’s army poured into the city. After days of bloody fighting in the streets, Ornedil was forced into a pocket in the north of the city along with the Lord of Edholland and his men. He and the Lord of Edholland led a counterattack while Eldacar led the evacuation to Rhovanion. The city fell a day later, the crown prince and Edholland’s Lord captured. In the east, Aldamir fought on, and with a great push against Castamir’s army, he had his Ithilien Rangers cover their withdrawal to the north. With Osgiliath in Castamir’s hands, they were forced to make their way through Dagorlad to east Rhovanion.

Eldacar had tried to get all his Rhovanion Guard out of the city, for he knew there would be no quarter for any of them. But they were fierce and would not stand down from a fight unless directly ordered. When he took account of his Guard in Rhovanion, too many had been lost. He knew not the whereabouts Vilmiath, or the twins Vilna and Vidnavi, the shieldmaidens of Rhovanion. He had no word of their deaths, nor were they with him in his escape. Eldacar was left now in exile among his mother’s people, and Castamir had forced his kingship over all of Gondor. And if that was not bitter enough, his eldest son was now Castamir’s prisoner and it was unlikely that the usurper would suffer him to live, not with two sons of his own to see to the throne.

Word from Gondor was sparse and chaotic. Confusion reigned in those early days of defeat. Those nobles that had held loyalty to the throne scrambled north as best they could, harried all the way by Castamir’s forces for the usurper was eager to wither Eldacar’s ranks and supporters however he might. Those that survived told grim tales of vicious pogroms. The slaughter had not ended with Castamir’s victory. His thirst for power merely to a thirst for vengeance.

And so it came to be that Eldacar was alone, far from Gondor, surrounded by the battered ragtag remnants of his royal court, the remains of his loyal Gondorian Royal Guard and army, and the few remaining Rhovanion Royal Guards that had lived.


Chapter End Notes:

This tale starts after the fall of Osgiliath in late winter 1437. The city is devastated, having suffered from siege by Castamir's army and after the gates were broken, savage street fighting. The Dome of the Stars was broken and Palantir was lost in the River Anduin when some of Eldacar's men tried to get it out of the city. Having been cut off from Eldacar in the north of the city, they tried to take it east to Prince Aldamir, but were stopped at the east side of the great bridge. As they fought to the last man, the Palantir was thrown into the river to prevent its capture.



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