The Númenórean Er-Mûrazôr (Ad. “Prince of Black Fire”) was the most gifted and powerful of the many great Lords of Númenor. Although only a prince, his might outshone all but a few of Númenor’s Kings and, in the end, he lived longer than any of theAdan. Mûrazôr’s tale covers over six and a half millennia and is one of Man’s great tragedies.
The Black Prince was born in S.A. 1820 in the port city of Anduniein the province of Andustar on the island of Númenor (Andor). As the second son of King Tar-Ciryatan (Q. “Ship-builder”) and the younger brother of (Tar-) Atanamir the Great, he traced his lineage to the first King, Elros Tar-Minyatur. His mother gave him the nameTindomul (Q. “Twilight Son”), for he was born during a solar eclipse and his hair was blacker than any she had ever seen. Those Lords of Tar-Ciryatan’s court who favored the use of Adûnaic (signifying their displeasure with the Eldar and the Ban of the Valar) called him Mûrazôr.
Like his brother, the proud and greedy heir to the throne, the Black Prince supported his father’s ambitions and lobbied for the increased exploitation of Middle-earth. Tar-Ciryatan sought great wealth and sent his huge fleets to Middle-earth in order to exact tribute, and both his sons embraced the benefits of his often ruthless policies. Both embodied their father’s penchant for material things and power, which was hardly surprising in light of the fact that they witnessed their father force their grandfather from the Númenórean throne.
Atanamir, however, enjoyed the privileges and attention accorded to the heir to the Adan throne, and Tar-Ciryatan showed him his prideful love in a way never exhibited to Mûrazôr. The jealousies inherent in the family character eventually grew to frightening proportions in the Black Prince’s heart, fomenting hatred and unbounded desire. Always aggressive and fiery, Mûrazôr resolved to leave home and found his own empire in the vulnerable expanse of Middle-earth. He assembled a small fleet and set sail for Middle-earth in the spring of S.A. 1880.
The sixty-year-old Prince landed at Vinyalonde (Lond Daer) in Eriador, at the mouth of the Gwathlo inEnedhwaith. There, he debarked at the ancient haven amidst little celebration and, within weeks, he engaged in a brief struggle for dominance over the strategic port. His plans to carve out a kingdom in the fertile lands thatSauron’s hordes ravaged in the war with the Elves (S.A. 1693-1700) failed, forcing Mûrazôr and his followers to voyage southward. In S.A. 1882 the Black Prince’s ships dropped anchor in Umbar, where the Númenórean Lord proclaimed himself “King.” Although successful in wresting control from the local colonists, he ruled only for a few months. The Númenórean adventurer’s pretensions of rule faced an inevitable and overwhelming challenge from his father, Tar-Ciryatan, who ordered his recalcitrant son to return home to Númenor. Mûrazôr refused to follow the King’s bidding, but he dared not remain in Umbar in defiance of the edict from Armenelos.
Sauron perceived the Prince’s displeasure and offered him a means to achieve his goals. The Dark Lord realized that both Mûrazôr and his older brother Atanamir sought to hold onto their youth, and that they feared aging more than any corporeal foe. Atanamir showed his terror of death when he later refused to surrender theSceptre of Númenor until he died. The Black Prince, on the other hand, exhibited this fear by speaking openly of his bitterness toward the immortal Elves to whom he was related (through Elros Halfelven). Ever vigilant and perceptive, the Dark Lord sought to corrupt Mûrazôr by bringing the dissatisfied Númenórean to Mordor.
The Black Prince went to Barad-dûr during the first week of S.A. 1883 and became a pupil of Sauron. During the next 115 years, he expanded his knowledge of enchantments and spell-casting, becoming an exceedingly powerful Sorceror. Mûrazôr’s knowledge of the Black Arts was second only to Sauron’s, and he quickly rose to become the Dark Lord's most trusted lieutenant. His lessons learned, he submitted his spirit to his Master, who gave him a Ring of Power in S.A. 1998. The first of the nine Nazgûl, the Black Prince was known thereafter as the Witch-King or the Lord of Morgul (S. “Dark Sorcery”).
The Lord of the Nazgûl
The Witch-King in the Twilight-World
Throughout the rest of the Second Age, the Black Prince stayed in Mordorand served Sauron by coordinating the efforts of the other Ulairi (or Ringwraiths). These years comprised the period of his complete transformation into a hideous Wraith possessed of an exceptional command of sorcery. His role as the Lord of the Nazgûl testified to his awesome magical skills. Ironically, Mûrazôr was the only Ringwraith who had not presided over a kingdom of his own for a considerable period prior to accepting his Ring of Power; however, his origins as a Prince of the Edain of Númenor provided him with inherent abilities that far exceeded those of his undead peers.
Sauron gave the Black Prince all of the trappings of a King for, aside from Sauron himself, the Lord of Morgul was the mightiest servant of Darkness in Mordor’s hierarchy. No one, not even the warlord Gothmog (and, laterLieutenant of Morgul) or the Mouth of Sauron, enjoyed such trust from the Dark Lord. Their relationship flourished throughout the latter part of the Second Age, as teacher and pupil sought to build an unassailable kingdom and establish dominion over Men.
Unfortunately, the corruption of Númenor that they sought for so long produced a policy of imperialism. The goals of Númenor’s Kings came to mirror, at least in part, those of the Dark Lord. Both powers sought to unite the Secondborn under one absolute monarch. Inevitably, this rivalry between Sauron and the Black Prince’s brethren erupted into outright war.
Ar-Pharazon, the last Númenórean King and the strongest of Númenor's later Kings, led an armada to Middle-earth in S.A. 3261 in hopes of crushing the forces of Mordor and establishing hegemony over Middle-earth. Landing at Umbar, he marched northward across Near Harad (then contested by Númenor and Mordor’s client,Adunaphel the Nazgûl) and met the Host of Mordor near the river Harnen in early S.A. 3262. The Adan King’s army appeared too potent for Sauron to contest, so he surrendered and went to Númenor as Ar-Pharazon’s prized captive.
The capture of the Dark Lord left the Black Prince briefly in control of the Kingdom of the Shadow, but the omnipresence of the Edain forced the Ringwraith and Sauron’s other minions into hiding. This prevented the Lord of the Nazgûl from waging any significant campaigns in his Master’s absence. Although he and the other Ulairi contested Númenórean advances in certain regions of Middle-earth, the Black Prince operated very quietly until Sauron’s return after the Downfall of Númenor in S.A. 3319.
Sauron's reappearance in Mordor in S.A. 3320 sparked a renewal of the wars of conquest against the Free Peoples of Middle-earth and brought the Ringwraiths out of hiding. For the next 109 years, the forces of the Shadow regrouped, grew, and mobilized under the guidance of the Lord of the Nazgûl. Then, in S.A. 3429, the Black Prince led an army into Ithilien and assailed Gondor, the newly founded South Kingdom (which, like Arnorin the North, was one of the Kingdoms in Exile). King Anarion of Gondor (the co-ruler with his brother Isildur) successfully defended the west bank of the Anduin, dealing a stalwart blow to the Black Prince’s plan to subjugate the South Kingdom before the arrival of any Dunadan relief force from Arnor.
The ensuing standoff lasted five years, until the Black Prince was forced to retire toward Morannon in the face of an army from the North led by Gil-galad and Elendil the Tall. Joined by the Dark Lord’s main horde, the Black Prince turned on his pursuers in the fields of Dagorlad, before the Gates of Mordor. There, the Last Alliance of Men and Elves vanquished the Lord of the Nazgûl’s warriors and broke the defence of the Black Land. The victors chased the shattered remnants of Sauron’s army to Barad-dûr, and then they laid siege to it for seven years. Anarion died under a stone cast from the battlements in S.A. 3440, but his death was avenged the following year. The Last Alliance finally entered the hold of the Lord of the Rings in S.A. 3441, ending both war and the Second Age. Sauron slew both Gil-galad and Elendil, but King Isildur of Gondor cut the Dark Lord down and sliced the One Ring from his twisted hand. Thus, Sauron and his nine Ulair servants passed into the Shadows.
The Early Third Age
The Kingdoms in Exile enjoyed great prosperity during the first millenium of the Third Age, for it was not until T.A. 1000 that Sauron stirred again in Arda. Gondor conquered a vast realm, while Arnor established dominion over most of Eriador. Despite constant wars with Harad and the sundering of the North Kingdom in T.A. 861, theDunedain reached great heights of power.
As Gondor reached the apogee of its might in T.A. 1050, however, the Nazgûl returned from the Shadows and began rebuilding their strength in Middle-earth. The Lord of the Nazgûl went to Dol Guldur in Rhovanion, where Sauron hid under the guise of the "Necromancer". He remained in the Dark Lord’s hold for the next two and a half centuries. From this secure refuge, he plotted the destruction of Arnor, the weaker of the two Dunadan kingdoms. The Lord of the Nazgûl understoon that care was in order, knowing that the loss of the One Ring at the end of the Second Age significantly weakened the forces of Darkness.
By T.A. 1300, the methodical plan to crush Arnor was complete, and the Lord of the Nazgûl flew north to the plateau that rises between the two northwestern spurs of the Misty Mountains (Hithaeglir). This cool, high plain overlooked the wilds along the northeastern frontier of the realm he planned to destroy. It was their that he founded his own kingdom: Angmar (Q. “Iron Home”), the land of the Witch-King.
The Rise of the Witch-King
The Lord of the Nazgûl ruled his new domain from the mountain citadel of Carn Dum (S. “Red Fort” or “Red Hold”), a giant cavern fortress built into and around the last peak in the northern Hithaeglir. Never revealing his true identity, he gathered two hosts: an army of over thirty Orc tribes commanded by the Olog warlord Rogrog; and the Angmarrim, a force of over 10,000 Men drawn from the Dark Lord’s subject peoples in Eriador, Rhovanion and Rhun. These warriors deployed in holds along the ridges north of the Ettenmoors and theOiolad (S. “Cool Plain”). Holds like Morkai and Mount Gram threatened all of the North Kingdom’s upper frontier, but they initially concentrated near the sparsely populated northeastern border – above the relatively vulnerable and rude realm of Rhudaur (S. “Troll Shaw”).
Arnor’s breakup on T.A. 861 left three ostensibly allied successor states: Arthedain in the northwest, Cardolanin the South and Rhudaur in the northeast. Both Arthedain and Rhudaur lay near Angmar, but the latter of the two northern realms was far weaker. Arthedain enjoyed a very large proportion of Dunadan residents and harbored both of Arnor’s capitals and most of the lost kingdom’s major castles. Rhudaur, on the other hand, contained relatively few of the Dunedain, and most of its often disgruntled population was scattered in the rugged countryside. It appeared to be a natural target for the Witch-King's hungry armies so, in the first five decades of Angmar’s rise, the Witch-King’s hordes overwhelmed the East Wood and brought its surviving population under the Shadow. Rhudaur ceased to exist as an independent and free nation by the middle of the fourteenth century, T.A., and thereafter acted as both a client state and buffer zone for Angmar.
The conquest of Cardolan (S. “Land of Red Hills”) served as the Witch-King’s next goal. While much stronger than Rhudaur, it lacked Arthedain’s military resources and natural defences. Its capital and main city, Tharbad, sat on the lowlands along the river Gwathlo and much of its border with Rhudaur was composed of a sparsely defended hedge wall. Cardolan’s strategic value also invited attack, for Tharbad straddled the road between Arnor and Gondor, and the capture of this vital artery meant the isolation of Arthedain. Just as important, the Witch-King could virtually surround Arthedain’s heartland with the taking of its southern neighbor.
These factors led to the subsequent attack on Cardolan. Rhudaur declared war on the Land of Red Hillssometime before T.A. 1350, and fighting raged along the Mitheithel and near Amon Sul (Weathertop) for the next 59 years. With the help of the Arthadan army, the Dunadan Princes of Cardolan bested their old allies, however, and the Witch-King was eventually forced to commit his own troops. After building his supply routes through Rhudaur, the Witch-King ordered his forces to join the war and directly assault the dike and hedge wall that guarded Cardolan’s northeastern bounds. The Angmarrim crossed the open Lone Lands and smashed through the Dunadan defences south of Weathertop. Surrounding the great Arnorian citadel that housed one of the three Palantiri of the North, the host of Angmar cut the defending forces in half and drove the Prince and his retainers through the Barrow-downs (Tyrn Gorthad) and into the eaves of the Old Forest. The last ruler of Cardolan died as Tharbad fell.
Arthedain’s main army barely survived the battle that took place at Weathertop. Withdrawing into the surrounding hills with the Seeing-stone, they yielded the tower on Amon Sul and retreated home to Fornost. The Angmatrim razed the citadel after wiping out its few remaining defenders – brave fighters who fought to cover the retreat of their brethren. Once again, the Witch-King prevailed. Cardolan passed into his fold.
Arthedain survived 566 years after the collapse of its last sister state. Facing overwhelming odds, the Dunedain of the last successor kingdom doggedly drove off a number of major attacks along its eastern and northern boundaries. Many of Arthedain’s beleaguered people relocated toward the frontier and concentrated in Fornostor in manors and settlements near the kingdom’s border forts, enabling the Edain of the North to react to any significant incursions.(This shift invited the Hobbit migration into Arthedain’s Shire in T.A. 1600-40).
Nature intervened as well, for the buildup of Angmar’s forces in Cardolan prior to T.A. 1636 ended with the onset of the Great Plague. The pestilence that struck during the winter of 1636-37 devastated Cardolan’s remaining residents, but it also decimated the Witch-King's southern army. Angmarrim in Rhudaur and Angmar also fared poorly – much more so than the Dunedain – forcing the Witch-King to rebuild his shattered forces and delaying the final confrontation for another three centuries.
Arthedain’s end came in the War of T.A. 1973-75. After nearly a decade of massing on the Arnorian frontier, the Witch-King poised his armies for the killing blow and King Arvedui realized that the Host of Angmar could not be stopped without aid from Gondor. He urgently appealed to Earnil but, before the Gondorians arrived, the Witch-King initiated his felling strike. Angmar’s armies overran Arthedain in T.A. 1974, sending Arvedui into hiding in the abandoned Dwarf mines of the Nan-i-Naugrim in the Blue Mountains of Lindon. Arvedui died in the Ice Bay the following year while seeking aid from the Lossoth of the Far North. Both of the Palantiri his retainers had rescued during the slaughter in Arthedain perished with him. Their loss fittingly symbolised the end of the North Kingdom and the completion of the Witch-King's primary goal.
Although the Lord of the Nazgûl crushed Arnor, he faced a much greater foe. Gondor’s relief army landed as Arvedui fled northward and marched to challenge the victors. Meeting the Witch-King near the ruins of the ancient Arnorian capital of Annuminas, Earnur of Gondor and his Eiadorian allies vanquished the Host of Angmar and drove the Witch-King from the field. His Iron Home fell later the same year, ending the saga of theNorthern Wars.
Minas Morgûl - the City of Black Sorcery
Following the fall of Angmar, Sauron sent his exiled Lieutenant to join his eight companions in Mordor. There, the Witch-King gathered the Ulairi and planned the surprise attack against Minas Ithil, the Gondorian capital of Ithilien and the key to the valuable cleft of Cirith Ungol (S. “Spider Pass”). The Ringwraiths quietly assembled an army in Gorgoroth and unleashed its fury in T.A. 2000. Quickly surrounding their prize, they cut the town off from the rest of Gondor and settled into a two-year siege.
In T.A. 2002, the Witch-King entered Minas Ithil and made the white marble city his new home. It remained his abode until his death. The Men of Gondor mourned the loss, renaming the Tower of the Moon Minas Morgul – the “Tower of Dark Sorcery.” From that point onward, the glow of the town’s moonlit walls signified Evil and shone like a symbol of the Witch-King’s terror.
The Palantir housed in Minas Morgul’s Tower of the Stone served Sauron well throughout the next millennium. It’s presence, coupled with the strategic and emotional value of the city itself, compelled the Dunedain of the Gondor to try to recover the fortress town. Ever deadly and always wily, the Morgul-lord played upon their desires and desperation, twice challenging Gondor’s champions to single combat. The Witch-King slew PrinceEardur of Lond Ernil (Dol Amroth) – the last of the First Line of Princes in Dor-en-Ernil – in T.A. 2004 and he cut down King Earnur in a duel in T.A. 2050, ending Gondor’s Line of Kings. Both times the Dunadan challenger died before the silvery gates of the city. Earnur’s death marked the beginning of the era of Ruling Stewards and signified and end of any pretense surrounding the recapture of Minas Morgul and the western pass into Mordor.
The Prelude of the War of the Ring
The Witch-King oversaw Mordor for the next 891 years, until the return of Sauron from Dol Guldur in T.A. 2941. His minions multiplied, fortifying the Morgul Vale around the mouth of Cirith Ungol. Minas Morgul became a nearly impenetrable bastion haunted by the shrieks of the resident Ringwraiths. All the while, the Dark Lord’s Black Captain prepared for the coming war and guarded his Master’s homeland.
The Witch-King only launched one attack into the neighboring province of Ithilien during this respite, an Urukattack against the exposed and underpopulated city of Osgiliath (S. “Fortress of the Stars”) on the Anduin. The former capital of Gondor sat astride the best route across the lower part of the Great River, and its huge stone bridge loomed as the most convenient route to Minas Tirith. In T.A. 2475, the Uruk-hai swept out of Minas Morgul and drove through the old city under the cover of a befouled night sky. Although retaken by the Dunedain, Osgiliath’s bridge – and the lofty Tower of the Stone that held the Master Palantir and rose above the centre of the river – fell into the Anduin. The Fortress of the Stars became a deserted and ever threatened stronghold as the rest of Ithilien came under the Shadow.
Work began on Barad-dûr in T.A. 2951, ten years after the Dark Lord’s arrival in Mordor, and the minions of Darkness gathered in Gorgoroth and Minas Morgul for the next and ultimate assault on Gondor. Sauron was desperate in light of the possibility that the lost Ruling Ring would fall into the hands of a worthy foe. He resolved to destroy the Free Peoples before they could gather under the banner of another King. The preparations lasted 67 years, so it was not until T.A. 3018 that the Host of Mordor and the Lord of the Rings stood poised for the Great War.
The Search for the Ring
With the end of winter, the Witch-King led Sauron’s southern army against the garrison at Osgiliath, throwing the Gondorians across the river. The Black Captain’s forces pursued the defenders onto the western bank and through the west quarters, securing the city for the Dark Lord’s coming invasion. Gondor’s army reacted with greater strength than anticipated, however, and the southern horde progressed no further. As the lines stabilized, the first test of the Free Peoples ended with the Witch-King’s departure on the quest for the One Ring.
As Chieftain of the Black Riders, he rode with the other eight Ulairi up the Anduin Valley in search of the Shire. Reaching the old Stoor homes at the Gladden Fields (where Deagol and Smeagol found the Ruling Ring), they routed the few residents and uncovered nothing of any import. Sauron’s Lieutenant realised that they had mistaken the ancient settlement for the real land called Suza (Kd. “Shire”), so he ordered his companions to turn south and head for Eriador. They skirted between Lorien and the cliffs to the west and rode through Rohanand past Isengard into Eriador. Taking the Greenway to Tharbad, the Nine crossed the Gwathlo and entered old Cardolan. Eventually they split into two groups, with Khamul leading two Riders through the Shire while the Witch-King took the others north toward Andrath and Bree in hope of cutting off any support or opportunity for flight.
After failing to capture their prey, the Nazgûl gave chase along the Great East Road. Uvatha the Messengerbroke off to deliver word to Khamul of the Hobbits’ escape route. The Witch-King and his four other companions rode toward the commanding summit of Weathertop, where the view of the road and the neighboring expanse ofDyr Erib (S. “The Lone Lands”) offered a means of insuring that they could intercept the fleeing Halflings. Seeing firelight on the peak, the five Ringwraiths followed the most recent tracks up the hill and attacked the resting Company in hope of attaining their Master’s prize. Three Nazgûl advanced as the Hobbits formed a tight circle around the fire. The Witch-King stabbed Frodo in the left shoulder with his Morgul-knife as Aragorn leaped to intercede. Luckily, the firebrand and Aragorn’s bravery enabled the Hobbits to survive the nocturnal visit, as the five Ulairi retired.
Frodo’s wound proved unmendable without aid from a high Healer, for the Black Captain’s blade imbedded itself and slowly worked its way toward the Hobbit’s heart. Although unsuccessful in the melee on Amon Sul, the Witch-King’s cursed weapon placed Frodo in grave danger of becoming a Wraith and falling under the Ulair’s spell. Strider realized the Halfling’s plight after finding the knife hilt and prepared an Athelas wash, but he knew that the party had little time to spare. With daylight, the Company fled toward the Bruinen Ford.
The Witch-King watched and, after joining with Khamul’s Riders, he and the other Nazgûl broke into furious pursuit. The Nine rode their prey down at the Bruinen Ford just west of Rivendell and cried for Frodo to surrender. As the Hobbit balked and summoned his last strength to finish the crossing, the Witch-King plunged into the river with two of his servants (Uvatha and Dwar) – only to find themselves engulfed beneath a torrential tide of magically summoned floodwaters. The enchanted current swept the Morgul-lord and the other eight of the Black Riders downstream, claiming their awful steeds. So ended the search for the Ring.
The War of the Ring
After the disaster at the Bruinen Ford, the Witch-King retired to Minas Morgul and returned to his role as commander of Mordor’s southern host. His goal was Minas Tirith and the defeat of Gondor. For this purpose, he arrayed his main army outside Osgiliath, planning a pincer of two wings. The other force issued out ofMorannon and massed upriver by Cair Andros, providing the Ringwraith with a pair of Anduin crossings and insuring that his enemies could not flee northward into Rohan.
The Gondorians retook western Osgiliath in early T.A. 3019, but soon thereafter the Black Captain sent his army across the river and scattered the guards in the ruined city. As the Morgul-host drove across the river from the east, smashing through the gates of the Rammas Echor that enclosed the Pelennor (S. “Fenced land”), another army came south from Cair Andros and entered the encircling outer walls from the north. The retreating defenders reached the city gates as the two attacking arms joined. Minas Tirith was surrounded.
The battle that followed took place before the walls of the city. As the ram Grond smashed the Great Gates, the main Hafhere of 6,000 Riders and the 120 Rohirrim of Theoden’s Guard struck the attacking force from the north, sending waves of Orcs into retreat. The Hafhere, led by Eomer, overran the main road and rode into the Haradrim between the ramparts and the river while Theoden and his guard skirmished with the Haradan Lord in front of the Great Gates. For the first time, the tide of battle favored the Free Peoples, and Prince Imrahil of Dol Amroth gathered the warriors in the forecourt of the city in preparation for a sally into Pelennor.
The Final Death of the Witch-King
The Lord of the Nazgûl responded by personally intervening in the fray involving the Rohirric King. Flying on the back of his Fell Beast, he dove upon Theoden. The advancing Rohirrim’s horses panicked as the Witch-King slew the Lord of Rohan with his awful mace. This act reversed the Ringwraiths' fortunes and endangered the Rohirric army; but, more importantly, it enraged Theoden’s niece Eowyn, who fought disguised as the youthDernhelm.
Fully armored and unrecognizable as a woman, Eowyn challenged the Witch-King as he stood over the bodies of her uncle and his beloved mount Snowmane, but the Morgul-lord scoffed at her words. Proclaiming that no man was fated to slay him, the Lord of the Nazgûl savored his kill and warned her of her folly, not knowing that he faced a maiden. It was then that Eowyn shed her helm and announced:
“Butno living man am I! You look upon a woman. Eowyn I am, Eomund’s daughter. You stand between me and my lord and kin. Begone, if you are not deathless! For living or dark undead, I will smite you if you touch him.”
Silent, the Witch-King rose on the sweeping wings of his Fell Creature, his fear and ire aroused. Eowyn stood strong, though, as the evil beast descended to attack her with its hideous claws and beak. She parried the initial foray and then sliced the monster’s head from its long neck. The Fell Beast tumbled to the ground, but the Lord of the Nazgûl rose again and advanced with his mace held high. He struck her green shield, shattering it, and raised his weapon for the slaying blow. Suddenly, the Hobbit Merry rushed behind him and plunged his enchanted sword into the back of the Witch-King’s knee, breaking the spell that held the Morgul-lord’s immortal form together, and giving Eowyn time to recover. The Rohirric maiden gathered herself and drove the blade through the Ringwraith’s neck. As fated, no man slew Sauron’s Lieutenant; instead, he perished at Pelennor by the hand of a woman, and an ancient sword wielded by a Halfling. The Lord of the Nazgûl finally passed out of Ea.