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Witch-king

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Witch-king of Angmar
Biographical Information
Other namesBlack Captain, Lord of the Nazgûl, Chief of the Nine, Lord of Minas Morgul
Created/bornS.A. 1800-2200, probably Númenor
Years influentialS.A. 2251-T.A. 3019
DestroyedT.A. 3019, Battle of the Pelennor Fields
Age4200+
RealmAngmar, Minas Morgul
Physical Description
RaceMen/Nazgûl
GenderMale
Appearance(Later) Cruel, pale king with gleaming hair and a crown, invisible to most eyes
AccomplishmentsFall of Arnor, fall of Minas Ithil and Osgiliath, deaths of Eärnur and Théoden
"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."
― "The Siege of Gondor"[1]

The Witch-king of Angmar was the chief of the Nazgûl, King of Angmar, and Sauron’s great captain in his wars. A wraith, the Witch-king of Angmar was nearly indestructible, a terrible warrior, and a cunning strategist.

Contents

History

Some time after Sauron seized the Nine Rings in the Fall of Eregion, S.A. 1697 he gave them to mortal kings, sorcerers, and other warriors.1 With these rings the Nine achieved glory and grew wealthy, with the ability to turn invisible at will, not aging, but hating life as they were slowly drawn under Sauron’s dominion.1 Eventually all became Ringwraiths, the dreaded Nazgûl.

The one later known as the Witch-king was one of these, likely one of the unnamed three lords of Númenor to take the rings.2 3 He first appeared in the histories as a Ringwraith in S.A. 2251. Being the most powerful of the Nazgûl, he became their chief, the most dreaded servant of his master Sauron.

When Mordor fell in S.A. 3441, the Nazgûl vanished into the shadows, and were not heard of again for a long time.4

Early Power in Angmar

More than a thousand years later, in c. T.A. 1050 of the Third Age, Sauron began to rebuild his power in Dol Guldur. In c. T.A. 1300 his Nazgûl also reappeared, and the Witch-king established his realm, Angmar, in the north.4 His capital was Carn Dûm, on the northernmost peak of the Misty Mountains. He summoned men, orcs, and other creatures of evil inclination to his banner. No one knew that he was actually a servant of the long-dormant Sauron, and few that he was a wraith.5

In the north, disunity plagued the Dúnedain of Arnor. They had divided into three kingdoms, Cardolan, Rhudaur, and Arthedain, and were constantly at war with one another.5 The Witch-king saw the North-kingdom of Arnor as more vulnerable than the South-kingdom of Gondor.6 He played upon their opposition, sending in infiltrators and taking over the hearts of the men of that land. By T.A. 1349 the government of Rhudaur was controlled by men secretly in his service,6 and he secretly aided them in their wars against the other kingdoms.7 He then struck at a time of great hostility among the three, in T.A. 1409. Rhudaur in the east fell first, and most of the Dúnedain there were hunted down and slaughtered by sorcerers.8 Cardolan was ravaged, and the Tower of Amon Sûl, held by the men of Arthedain, was placed under siege. King Arveleg I was slain, and the tower was destroyed, but the coveted palantír escaped in the hands of the surviving men of Arthedain and was brought to Fornost.9

The Witch-king continued to press the men of Arthedain, laying siege to Fornost, and he might have taken over all of Arnor in that one offensive. But Araphor, the 18-year-old son of Arveleg, came to leadership and, with the help of the ancient elf Círdan of Lindon, repelled the Witch-king’s forces at Fornost and the North Downs.10 Elrond brought an army of Elves from Rivendell and Lothlórien, and the Witch-king was pushed back and subdued.

Twilight of Angmar

The Witch-king sat silent in Carn Dûm, rebuilding his armies and preparing for a final assault on Arthedain, last of the Arnorian kingdoms. The Dark Plague came and went in Third Age 1636, taking with it the last of the Dúnedain of Cardolan. The Witch-king sent barrow-wights to inhabit the barrows in Tyrn Gorthad.10 In 1974, he felt that his power was sufficiently restored to begin the advance.

His attack was sudden, but not unexpected. King Arvedui sent a message to King Eärnil II of Gondor the year before, but help did not arrive in time. Fornost fell, and the Witch-king took up residence there in the palace.11 Arvedui held out as best as he might on the North Downs, but at last fled north with the treasured palantíri of Amon Sûl and Annúminas. He would not return, for he perished in a shipwreck in 1975. With him the palantíri were lost forever in the icy seas of Forod. The already-diminished North-kingdom ended, and Arnor fell.10

Meanwhile, a coalition in the south had formed. Eärnil sent his son, Eärnur, north with a great fleet, all that Gondor could spare. They arrived at Lindon, and joined with the folk of Círdan. Círdan summoned all that would come: surviving Dúnedain of Arnor and elves of Lindon.11 Even a company of hobbit archers went to their aide.10 The Witch-king had grown overconfident, and instead of staying behind his fortifications initiated the attack. The Battle of Fornost was fought on the plain between Nenuial and the North Downs. The Witch-king may not have anticipated the strength brought against him, but for whatever reason the alliance gained the upper hand. His army began to fall back toward Fornost, but Eärnur’s magnificent horsemen struck from the north, and the Witch-king was routed.11

He decided to flee to Angmar and the safety of Carn Dûm, but the cavalry, with Eärnur himself in the lead, overtook him. Moreover, the ranks of the allies swelled, as an army of elves from Rivendell came led by the mighty hero of old, Glorfindel. Angmar was purged of men and orcs, and all seemed lost for the Witch-king in the face of such numbers. But the Witch-king himself came at the last, robed and masked in black and riding a black horse, and attempted to kill Eärnur with his own hands. But Eärnur’s horse shied away and fled, and the Witch-king laughed. But Glorfindel came on his white horse, and faced with such power the Witch-king fled. He vanished into the shadows, and no-one marked where he had gone.11

Eärnur wanted to pursue, but Glorfindel held him back, and made his famous prophecy.

"He will not return to this land. Far off yet is his doom, and not by the hand of man will he fall."
― Glorfindel, The Return of the King, Appendix A (iv)

Lord of Minas Morgul

The Witch-king escaped to Mordor, and gathered the other Ringwraiths about him in 1980.4 Angmar and Carn Dûm were lost, and so in 2000 the Witch-king began a two-year siege of Minas Ithil, eventually capturing the place and turning it into his residence. It was renamed Minas Morgul, and the palantír was sent to Sauron. The Witch-king sent an aura of fear in Gondor, and much of Ithilien was deserted.11

Eärnur succeeded his father as King of Gondor, and still held the Witch-king in especial hostility due to his humiliation at the Battle of Fornost. The year of his coronation the Witch-king sent him a taunting challenge, but Mardil Voronwë the steward restrained Eärnur from rash action. Seven years later the challenge was repeated, and Eärnur rode with a small escort to Minas Morgul. None that rode thither ever returned, and there was no longer a King in Gondor.11

After this the Witch-king bided his time. He and the Nazgûl built up their armies, including the terrible new orc-race of uruks. In 2475 he sent them out to capture Osgiliath, which they did successfully. They were driven out by Boromir, Steward of Gondor, but Osgiliath now lay completely in ruins. Boromir went on to retake Ithilien, so that even the Witch-king feared him. But he was killed by a Morgul-wound, and so his rule was but twelve years.12

Hunt for the Ring

Sauron declared himself openly in 2951, and sent three of his Ringwraiths to Dol Guldur (though the Witch-king was left in Minas Morgul). Then, by lucky chance, the creature Gollum was captured and interrogated. Under torture, the wretched creature revealed the tale of the One Ring and how it came to be in his possession. But he had the daring to trick Sauron into thinking that the land of the hobbits who stole the Ring was on the banks of the Gladden River.13 Under the leadership of the Witch-king, Sauron sent the Nine unclothed and invisible to search for the Ring after the assault of Osgiliath.

Khamûl, the Witch-king’s lieutenant, reported that he was unable to find the “Shire” in the vales of Anduin. The Witch-king was determined to search north and west until Gollum was found, or the Shire. But plans were halted when Sauron received word of the prophecy in Gondor and the doings of the turncoat Saruman, and concluded that the Wise did not yet have possession of the Ring. He sent the Ringwraiths to Isengard in the form of Black Riders, too late to prevent the escape of the captured wizard Gandalf, but had words with Saruman. Saruman, already a traitor to both sides due to his transparent lust for the Ring, fortified himself in Isengard. The Witch-king did not have enough power with him to assault Saruman in his great fortress, but had words with him. Saruman convinced the Witch-king that Gandalf alone knew where the Shire and the Ring was, and so the Nine passed into Rohan in search of him.13

They came upon the traitor called Wormtongue and questioned him. The terrified man told them everything he knew; that Gandalf had passed through Rohan, where the Shire was, and even that Saruman had lied to them. The Witch-king spared Wormtongue’s life, foreseeing that Wormtongue would bring ruin to Saruman. He divided his wraiths into four pairs, and went with the swiftest to Minhiriath. Along the way they captured several spies of Saruman, and found to their delight charts and maps of the Shire. They sent along the spy to Bree, warning them that they now belonged to Mordor, not Saruman.13

They came to Sarn Ford, but the Dúnedain Rangers prevented them from crossing. They sent for their great captain, the chieftain Aragorn II, who alone could well resist the wraiths, but he was away, and the Ringwraiths captured the ford and killed many of the Rangers.13 The Witch-king sent three Ringwraiths under Khamûl into the Shire while he went east with the others.4 But they had come too late: the Ring had moved on in the hands of a hobbit, Frodo Baggins.

Pursuit of the Ring

Fire on Weathertop by Ted Nasmith.
Khamûl was unsuccessful, but brought word from the spy they had spared in Bree. The man had witnessed a vanishing act on Frodo's part, and had organized an attack on the inn. The Witch-king guessed that Frodo would head east, and sent four wraiths to Weathertop, the ruins of the tower he had destroyed long ago. He went south along the Greenway and discovered nothing. Gandalf followed them, but the Witch-king let him slip ahead, and attacked him on Weathertop. Gandalf escaped at dawn, and again the Witch-king divided his force and sent four after the wizard. The Ring walked almost right into his hands. The captain of the Dúnedain, Aragorn II, had become the guide of the hobbits, and led them to Weathertop, where they were spotted and attacked. The Witch-king advanced on Frodo, and the terrified hobbit put on the Ring, seeing them as they truly were. When Frodo resisted, and invoked the name of Elbereth, the Witch-king stabbed Frodo in the shoulder. The tip of his blade broke off and sent poison through the hobbit’s veins. Then Aragorn counterattacked with flaming brands. The Witch-king fled at his mighty presence, confident that the poison of the blade would do its work and bend Frodo's will to his purpose. But he was shaken by the encounter; Gandalf and Aragorn were people of immense power, and even the Ring-bearer, who was not an especially strong person, had dared to resist him. He feared that Frodo might have some elvish power. Moreover, he knew that Frodo’s weapon, a blade of Westernesse, was wrought for his undoing and if it had struck him would have done him damage. He was thus distressed, and Aragorn, Frodo, and their little company eluded him.
Attack of the Wraiths by Ted Nasmith.

He resumed the pursuit quickly, though, and found the Khamûl had been driven from the Last Bridge by his old enemy Glorfindel. The Witch-king, who only had one companion with him, was likewise unable to confront him openly. They regrouped and went south, rejoining with the other four. They managed to pick up the trail of the company of the Ring, and despite hindrance from Glorfindel and Aragorn managed to pursue Frodo alone on Asfaloth. The pursuit came to the Ford of Bruinen, and there Frodo compelled the horse to stop. The Witch-king saw his defiance and laughed, breaking his sword with a movement of his hand. But the waters of the Bruinen rose at Elrond's command, sweeping the Nine downstream.14

War of the Ring

The Witc


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