3. The Political Situation at the End of the Third Age:
In the North-West of Arda, the political situation is currently rather intriguing. There are several groupings which wield some political power: the colony of the Elves at the Grey Havens, under the lordship of Cíirdan; the elven haven of Imladris (Rivendell), domain of Lord Elrond; the Northern Dúnedain, under the command of their Chieftain, Aragorn, son of Arathorn; the hobbits of the Shire, whose Thain is Paladin Took; and the peoples of Bree (the name of their Mayor is currently unknown). Nominally, Aragorn, son of Arathorn is also the political leader of the Shire, the lands around Bree, as well as of any peoples living within the areas patrolled by the Northern Dúnedain Rangers. While the true extent of these rangings cannot be confirmed by independent observers, it appears that the Rangers regularly patrol an area bounded on the North by the Bay of Forochel, on the East by the Misty Mountains, to the West by the Great Sea, and to the South by the Greyflood River. This corresponds roughly with the boundaries of the old Kingdom of the Northern Dúnedain, once called Arnor. Other areas are patrolled somewhat more irregularly, particularly those heading down into Dunland. There are reports of set bases in a number of locations, from which the patrols range out. These include Sarn Ford (on the border of the Shire), the old city of Fornost Erain (north of Bree), and the ruins of Tharbad.
This situation was put in place by Arvedui, the last King of the Northern Kingdom. His son, Aranath, became the first Chieftain of the Dúnedain, and as such the descendants of Isildur have ruled the North (largely as the leaders of Ranger bands) since the death of Arvedui Last-King in 1975 Third Age. Their rule has largely been a delegated one, with the Thains of the Shire ruling in the King's name over that area (inasmuch as anyone can claim to rule or lead the hobbit-folk) and various mayors and squires leading over various small colonies of Men. The Mayor of Bree is an example of such a leader: his main duties are to act as magistrate, to settle arguments over land ownership, and to officiate at weddings. All of these duties he performs in the name of the King, even though the people of Bree have long since forgotten that there ever was a King in the North.
Since the ascension of King Elessar Telcontar, Aragorn son of Arathorn, Elvinyatar of the Line of Elendil, it would appear that the Northern Kingdom of Arnor is once again in existence. How this will affect the day-to-day functioning of the various communities under his rule is yet to be ascertained.
In addition to this intertwining world of Men and Hobbits, there are the Dwarves, who have mines at the Blue Mountains, westward of the Shire. Until recently, the Dwarves were a nomadic, roaming people, with no main leadership. Each dwarven band would negotiate separately with the Chieftain of the Dúnedain of the time for safe passage (usually ensured through Dúnedain guards on caravan routes). Since the restoration of the Dwarven kingdom at Erebor, the negotiations have been carried out between the King of the Dwarves and the Chieftain of the Dúnedain. From the available evidence, it would appear that this negotiation has been carried out in person at least once.
The main military (or militaristic) force in the Northern Kingdom is that of the Rangers of the North. Each Ranger is trained with sword and bow, as well as fighting both as part of a small unit (maximum size of 30 members) or as a solitary warrior. From all accounts, they are fell and deadly fighters. It is said that one Northern mercenary is capable of replacing five Gondorrim troopers. It is also said that those mercenaries who come to us from the North are those who were not deemed suitable for Ranger work. Thus it is that a full troop of Northern Rangers would be a replacement for more than a full company of Gondorian troops. Certainly the now-legendary Grey Company, brought to the relief of the city by King Elessar, are proof positive of this assertion. However, the main task of the Rangers, as explained by themselves, is to protect the peoples of the Northlands from having to know about the evils which surround them. Arms and armour for the Dúnedain Rangers are provided either by the Chieftain, or through heirlooms for each famiily.
In addition to this major force, there are local militia groupings, such as the "Shirrifs" of the Shire. These local groupings have more or less training in actual fighting (the Shirrifs of the Shire appear primarily to be a means for transporting information from one end of the Shire to the other, as well as of acting as a secondary border control after the regular Ranger patrols) depending on where they are located, however none of them even approach the skill of the Rangers.
The Elven domains at the Grey Havens and Imladris have been in existence since the First Age (in the case of the Grey Havens) and the middle of the Second Age (in the case of Imladris). It has often been suspected that there was some form of protection on each of these colonies, however nothing has been able to be proven. There appears to have been a long-standing arrangement with between the Northern Dúnedain and the elves of Imladris, concerning the fostering of the heirs of Isildur. It appears also that Elrond of Imladris acted as caretaker for the heirlooms of the North: the ring of Barahir (handed to each new heir on his ascension to the Chieftainship); the shards of Narsil (now reforged) and the sceptre of Annúminas. However, aside from this relationship, it appears that the Elves of the northern domains have held to their customary aloofness from the difficulties of mortals. Indeed, the common Northern proverb states: "Go not to the elves for counsel, for they will say both yes and no".
Since the restoration of the Dwarven kingdom of Erebor, as well as the establishment of the Kingdom of Esgaroth at Laketown, there has been a certain amount of political tension between the three main political "players" in the north-eastern region. To the east, there is the Elven Kingdom of Mirkwood (formerly Greenwood the Great), under the Elf-King Thranduil (it is to be noted that King Thranduil is the king of the elves of Mirkwood only: the last High King of the Elven peoples was Gil-Galad, slain in the battle of Dagorlad). To the north, the Dwarven Kingdom Under the Mountain, led by the King Daín. In the middle of both of these, King Brand, son of Bain, rules the Men of the Kingdom of Esgaroth. While there was a short-lived accord between all three peoples, following the Battle of the Five Armies and the destruction of the Dragon, Smaug, it would appear that since this time, the situation has deteriorated. Indeed, the kings of Men at Esgaroth are set to become some of the foremost diplomats and loremasters in the world, simply by means of the manouvreing that they have to involve themselves in, in order that they may maintain friendly relations with both of their longer-lived neighbours.
The Elves of Mirkwood have a well-established patrol system. It appears that the tower of Dol Guldur, to the South of Mirkwood, has been a primary focus for the activities of the Dark Lord for a long period of time, and since the Dark Lord began to occupy this location, there has been a steadily increasing incursion of Dark Forces into the lands of the elves. As a result, the elves of Mirkwood are among the best archers of their peoples, as well as being excellent scouts and guerilla fighters. Although this writer has spoken with Lord Legolas, son of King Thranduil, there have not been many details forthcoming of the defences of the elven kingdom there: the only information I was able to obtain was that, having been on a war footing for over five hundred years of men, the elves of Mirkwood are too learned in the habits of war to easily give information away. However, if Lord Legolas is at all typical of his people, it can be guessed that the elves of Mirkwood largely fight with the bow, backing themselves up with knives, and possibly with swords.
Dwarves have never been known to have an organised military presence. Instead, rather like unto the Northern Rangers, each Dwarf is a military unit on his own (it is possible that this is where the Rangers got the idea from). The typical weapon of the Dwarf is the axe, and very few dwarves are seen outside their mountain fastnesses without at least two axes, generally more, strapped about their person. However, there have been reports of the Dwarves using hammers, maces, pikes, halberds, indeed a variety of different weapons in their varying battles. It is highly unusual, however, for a dwarf to use a sword, as they prefer the polearms to the bladed weapons. There is also the consideration that as each dwarf is an independent fighter, there are often times where whole bands of dwarves have been wiped out by enterprising bandit chiefs, as the coordination necessary to build a good fighting unit is not present within a dwarf band.
The Men of Esgaroth have an army, organised by their king, for the defence of their domain. Most of this defence involves driving off raiders from Rhûn, as well as marauding Orc bands from Mordor.
The political situation in Gondor has largely been relatively stable since the death of King Eanür in 2050 Third Age. The line of Mardil has ruled as Stewards, and the tradition has held that the line of Mardil would hold the kingdom in trust for the return of the King. The Steward of Gondor until very recently was Denethor II, son of Ecthelion II, who proved to be a capable Steward. Indeed, it is chiefly due to Lord Denethor's skill as a tactician and a ruler that there was a Kingdom for King Elessar to inheirit. Lord Denethor died suddenly at the height of the recent siege of Minas Tirith by the minions of the Dark Lord, and the Last Steward of Gondor was Lord Denethor's second son: Faramir II.
The military organisation of Gondor is a highly professional affair, with companies, troops and batallions being supplied by all the lords of Gondor, and all of these being under the direction of either the Steward of Gondor, or of the Captain-General of Gondor. In the past twenty years, the Gondorrim troops have been blessed by Eru with a Steward who was an excellent tactician and strategist (in the person of Lord Denethor) and a Captain-General who was a brilliant battlefield leader (in the person of the late Lord Boromir). Indeed, without the talent of the pair of these two leaders, it likely that Minas Tirith would have succumbed long since. This is not meant as a disparagement of the skills of Lord Faramir, who has commanded the troops of Ithilien for at least the past fifteen years, showing a flair for the style of warfare required in those conditions. Indeed, the Rangers of Ithilien are almost as fell a fighting force as those of the North. However, Lords Denethor and Boromir have spent a longer time in charge of the bulk of the troops of Gondor, and it is by this that their success is judged.
The arming of the Gondorrim is a sore point, for each Lord of Gondor is supposed to supply arms and armour for his troop. However, there is also a levy that each Lord must pay toward the upkeep of the Tower Guard (a unit which was once primarily ceremonial in function, but which is now regarded as an integral part of the defence of Gondor) as well as the levies which pay for the maintenance of the central armories of Minas Tirith. Thus it is that various lords are able to supply men with a better style of armour than others. An example of this are the Swan Knights of Dol Amroth: the wealth of the Lords of Dol Amroth has gone toward creating a well-trained, well-armoured and well-mounted fighting force. By contrast, the Arnórien levies tend to be farmers or farmers sons, armoured at best with a leather jerkin, and using whichever weapons they know - mainly bow and staff.
Since the ascension of King Elessar Telcontar, the situation has become slightly uncertain, and there appears to be a certain level of court politicking beginning to happen. This could also be ascribed to the ending of the War which has been a regular feature of life in Gondor since the time of Túrin II. It is possible that the exegencies of rebuilding Gondor will cause this to diminish, however it is by no means certain.
In Rohan, the situation is slightly different. Each military district, or Mark, is under the command of a particular commander. This commander is usually (but not always) the hereditary lord of the area. For example, the current King of Rohan, Éomer Éadig, was the son of the Chief Marshal of the Mark, and became the Marshal of the Eastern Marches. However, these military leaders, as well as the political leaders of the various districts of Rohan are all sworn fealty to the King of the Mark. The weapons and armour of the Mark belong to the King, and it is he who is responsible for arming and armouring the Riders of the Mark.
Each of the various Lords of the Mark enjoys a certain degree of political and economic freedom. This is part of the culture of the Rohirrim, for they pride themselves on being a free-spirited, freedom-loving and honourable people. Thus the Lords of the Mark are free to make alliances within their domains, or to organise trade agreements. The only condition is that they may not go against the will of the King in such matters. This is generally not an issue, however in the final ten years of the reign of Théoden, the consent of the King to such agreements was being withheld more and more, as well as the consent of the King to the actions of the Marshalls of the Mark in matters military. Arms and armour were not forthcoming from Edoras as well, and there were standing orders which forbade the exchange of information with the forces of Gondor. This has since been proved to be the actions of the traitor Saruman, through his agent Gríma Wormtongue. However, during this period, the Lords and Marshalls of the Mark became even more independent of the authority of the King than they had been previously, and it may prove difficult for the new King of the Mark to achieve a level of internal peace.
The various tribes of Dunland generally engage in internal warfare, as well as their customary raiding against the Rohirrim. In addition, over the past fifty years, there has been increased Dunlending activity along the borders of the range of the Northern Dúnedain Rangers. However, since the Battle of Helm's Deep, where a large part of the Dunlending forces were wiped out, it would appear that these otherwise warlike tribesmen have come to an appreciation of the better qualities of peace.
Since the fall of the Dark Lord, there has been considerable political upheaval in the countries formerly under his domination, including Harad, Umbar and Khand. While information out of these countries is currently scanty, it would appear that with the loss of the stabilising force that the total domination of the Dark Lord was over their political and social structure, the various power blocs within these lands have begun feuding in earnest. It appears that there is a strong pro-Gondor faction within Haradim society, which may gain power if given some selective and strategic assistance by Gondorrim authorities. In addition, there are some tribal groupings in Umbar which would appear to be interested in forming an alliance with Gondor, should the prospect arise.
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