The Disaster of the Gladden Fields was a battle at the beginning of the Third Age, in which Isildur and a retinue of the Dunedain of Arnor, marching home after the defeat of Sauron, were attacked by a large group of Orcs from the Misty Mountains. The king and his three eldest sons -- Elendur, Aratan, and Ciryon -- were slain and the Ring of Power was lost in the River Anduin. Only three men survived the encounter, but the shards of Narsil were saved by Ohtar, an esquire of the king.
The repercussions of the attack were wide-ranging, as Isildur had been king of both Gondor and Arnor, and his death left the two kingdoms to separate into isolated realms. Arnor would never completely recover from this catastrophic loss of a considerable part of its nobles and knights until the kingship of Aragorn II Elessar Telcontar of the Elendili in the Fourth Age. However, most importantly, Isildur's death prevented him from passing on the One Ring to the Keepers of the Three, which he had divulged to his brother Elendur to be his chief reason for visiting Elrond in Rivendell .
After that War of the Alliance , Isildur remained in Gondor for a year, regaining lost territories, and reorganising the realm. He sent the greater part of the armies of Arnor back to Eriador via the Numenorean road from the Fords of Isen to Fornost. After he was done with arranging the affairs of the southern realm, he delivered the South Kingdom to Meneldil and forthwith designed to march to Imladris . He had left his wife and youngest son there, yet he also greatly desired the counsel of Elrond at that time. It was for this reason that he proceeded from Osgiliath into the Vale of the Anduin, and over the Cirith Forn en Andrath, which was the high-climbing pass of the Northern Misty Mountains which led down into the valley of Imladris.
The Dunedain host had traveled northwards from Lorien , marching along a path that led to Greenwood the Great wherein Thranduil was king. Their route had been diverted by the flooding of the Anduin, which had compelled Isildur to take the road on the sheer slopes on the eastern banks of the river. King Isildur's party was flanked on its left by steep cliffs overlooking the River Anduin, and to its left, by hills and a forest.
The Dunedain were singing marching songs and generally of good cheer as dusk drew close, at which time the lusty men heard the strain of Orcs in the forest hills. Isildur organised his retinue into a "thangail ," a shield-wall two men deep and flexible at the flanks; it could be made to back up completely so as to form a defensive ring should the unit be surrounded. The Dunedain could only guess at the strength of the enemy, but they perceived that the Orc host was many times, perhaps even 10 times as large as their own. Isildur expressed regret that the Orcs should have approached them at such uneven ground, for had it been level or rather downhill for the Dunedain, then they should have formed up into a "dirnaith", a wedge formation that could have shattered the miscreant Orcs.
The first Orc onslaught came quickly and with great swagger, striking at the center of the Dunedain line after a volley of arrows had been fired. At this point, Isildur sent for his esquire, Ohtar, to take the shards of Narsil to Imladris for safekeeping should the battle go ill. The Orcs were discomfited at no cost among the Dunedain, all of whom towered above the talest of the Orcs. Piles of Orcs had gathered before the Dunedain, and the Orcs again kept their distance out of range of the powerful Numenorian bows. Isildur judged that the Orcs, in their typically craven fashion, were so thoroughly dismayed to be stung so badly in the fight that they would not resume battle, but would rather stalk the Dunedain from a distance. The king then resolved to bring his retinue onto lower and more level ground, yet the host had not marched more than a mile before the Orcs returned again. Hope faded as the Orcs crept towards them in silence and under cover of darkness. In this second attack, the Orcs approached in a full crescent, resolving to pressure the Dunedain at all points in their formation. Men were slain, and the formation started crumbling. Yet the men of Numenor did their sires honour, for many died at the cost of five Orcs each. Ciryon and Aratan were killed, and Elendur convinced Isildur to flee and cross the Anduin if he could, on whose other side he might find safety and make his way to Imladris.
The Route of Isildur:
Isildur then cloaked himself with the ring, and sped down into the valley. He made a long journey to the banks of the Anduin, and there parted with all of his arms and armour save for a short sword. Though rarely equaled in strength and vigour even by fellow Dunedain, the river was hard to cross, and Isildur was exhausted when he reached the western shallows. There, reeds and rushes tangled him and the ring slipped from his fingers. Orc prowlers then caught sight of the large and imposing figure, and out of fear they shot at him and fled quickly, having pierced him in throat and heart.
Only Ohtar, and an unnamed companion; and a stunned combatant and esquire of Elendur, Estelmo, had survived the disaster. Isildur's body was never recovered by men, and was secretly presumed captured and mutilated at Sauron's command. The Orc host which had waylaid the Dunedain were quickly scattered by a relief force of woodsmen which none-the-less had come too late to affect the fate of the king's retinue. The Orc victory had been so Pyrrhic that it would take them many years before they would gather the strength to venture out again in the Vale of Anduin. Estelmo was recovered alive, but stunned from a club's blow, and he told of how Isildur and Elendur had related to each other about the One Ring before their deaths. Isildur remarked: "I cannot use it. I dread the pain of touching it. And I have not yet found the strength to bend it to my will. It needs one greater than I know myself to be. My pride has fallen. It should go to the Keepers of the Three."
Then, probably the biggest consequences of the Gladden Fields was that the union of Arnor and Gondor was broken by blood, but more importantly; that Isildur never managed to give the Ring of Power to Elrond, Galadriel and Celeborn. All of them would have most likely decided to destroy it long before Sauron could have gathered his spirit again and refortified Mordor; in effect destroying the Dark Lord in the same way he was extinguished beyond all hope of recovery by Frodo.
|Battle of The Gladden Fields|
|Date: early in the month of Narbeleth (28 September - 21 October) in the second year of the Third Age|
|Place: Gladden Fields|
|Outcome: Phyrric Orc victory|
|Kingdom of Arnor||Orcs of Sauron|
|Isildur†||Unknown orc commander|
|200 Dunedain||1,000 - 2,000 Orcs|
|197 Dunedain||Unspecified but probably +1,000 Orcs|