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Things of Middle-earth

Black Shadow (illness)

Type: Miscellaneous

Other Names:
death's shadow
deadly darkness


A potentially fatal illness caused by exposure to the Black Breath of the Nazgûl; it is said to be curable by a rightful King of Númenórean descent using athelas:
For though all lore was in these latter days fallen from its fullness of old, the leechcraft of Gondor was still wise, and skilled in the healing of wound and hurt, and all such sickness as east of the Sea mortal men were subject to.... But now their art and knowledge were baffled; for there were many sick of a malady that would not be healed; and they called it the Black Shadow, for it came from the Nazgûl. And those who were stricken with it fell slowly into an ever deeper dream, and then passed to silence and a deadly cold, and so died.... they would speak, murmuring in their dreams; and the watchers listened to all that they said, hoping perhaps to learn something that would help them to understand their hurts. But soon they began to fall down into the darkness, and... a grey shadow crept over their faces....

Then an old wife, Ioreth, the eldest of the women who served in that house... said: 'Alas!.... Would that there were kings in Gondor, as there were once upon a time, they say! For it is said in old lore: The hands of the king are the hands of a healer. And so the rightful king could ever be known.'

The Return of the King, LoTR Book 5, Ch 8, The Houses of Healing

And with that they passed into the House; and as they went towards the rooms where the sick were tended Gandalf told of the deeds of Éowyn and Meriadoc. 'For,' he said, 'long have I stood by them and at first they spoke much in their dreaming, before they sank into the deadly darkness.'

The Return of the King, LoTR Book 5, Ch 8, The Houses of Healing

'[Faramir] is nearly spent,' said Aragorn.... 'But this comes not from the wound.... This hurt was given by some Southron arrow.... Who drew it forth...?'

'I drew it forth,' said Imrahil, 'and staunched the wound.... It was... just such a dart as the Southrons use. Yet I believed that it came from the Shadows above, for else his fever and sickness were not to be understood; since the wound was not deep or vital. How then do you read the matter?'

'Weariness, grief for his father's mood, a wound, and over all the Black Breath,' said Aragorn. 'He is a man of staunch will, for already he had come close under the Shadow before ever he rode to battle on the out-walls. Slowly the dark must have crept on him, even as he fought and strove to hold his outpost. Would that I could have been here sooner!'

The Return of the King, LoTR Book 5, Ch 8, The Houses of Healing

When the black breath blows
and death's shadow grows
and all lights pass,
come athelas! come athelas!
Life to the dying
In the king's hand lying!

From When the black breath blows
The Return of the King, LoTR Book 5, Ch 8, The Houses of Healing

At the doors of the Houses many were already gathered to see Aragorn... men came and prayed that he would heal their kinsmen or their friends whose lives were in peril through hurt or wound, or who lay under the Black Shadow. And Aragorn arose and went out, and he sent for the sons of Elrond, and together they laboured far into the night. And word went through the City: 'The King is come again indeed.'

The Return of the King, LoTR Book 5, Ch 8, The Houses of Healing

Contributors: Elena Tiriel 29Aug04, 14Mar08

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