Tolkien fact 53 – The Oath of Eorl

Personally, it is a shame that so many of Tolkien’s greatest stories will go unread by many due to obscurity. Even with the immense popularity of The Lord of the Rings, there seems to be a large population of both hardcore fans and passing movie-viewers that are unaware Tolkien fleshed out his world much more than just two books. One of my favorite secondary tales in his fiction is obscure yet very relevant to the primary stories in the Third Age: The Oath of Eorl and Cirion.

gondor

Earlier in the Third Age, the land of Rohan was owned by the kingdom of Gondor and the people that would become the Rohirrim lived in the northern vales of the Anduin, between Mirkwood and the Misty Mountains. At this time, Gondor’s power had vastly waned and the ruling power was given over to the Stewards, as the line of kings seemed to have failed. Corsair ships harried the southern coast but the greatest danger was in the north: a fierce and unfriendly people, the Balchoth, had taken up residence in Rhovanion and were ever growing. Gondor had few options to deal with all of its troubles alone; they were weakened and hemmed in with no allies nearby.

In a final effort, the twelfth Ruling Steward of Gondor, Cirion, led his dwindling army northward to face the Balchoth near the Anduin. Before he left, he sent the Red Arrow to Gondor’s ancient ally in the North, the horse riders of the Éothéod, the people of Eorl the Young. By the time Cirion left for battle, Gondor had received no reply and the outcome did not look good.

The battle played out poorly for Gondor and they were driven into the folds of the River at the Field of Celebrant and pinned down, hopeless. At the last moment, horns were sounded and Eorl, leading many horse riders, drove into the rear of the Balchoth and overtook them, defeating them and saving Gondor.

Afterwards, as a sign of thanks and friendship, Cirion made secret plans with Eorl and select few men of his guard and traveled to the mountain Halifirien (marked in the red box on the map above, click it for more clarity). There, he had commanded some of his men to venture into the Firien Wood up into the mountain and clear out an ancient path up to a certain point, and not to venture passed that point. They did as they were told and Cirion led Eorl up this path and to the summit of the mountain. Here, one of the best-kept secrets of Gondor was hidden: the tomb of Elendil himself.

Cirion bade Eorl to place his hand on the tomb with him and swore an oath that gave the land in northern Gondor surrounding Calenardhon to Eorl and his people; there Eorl established the kingdom of Rohan and became its first king. Cirion sealed the oath with this astonishing verse, spoken first in Quenya, as the King’s house would speak in noble times, then in the Common Tongue:

“This oath shall stand in memory of the glory of the Land of the Star, and of the faith of Elendil the Faithful, in the keeping of those who sit upon the thrones of the West and of the One who is above all thrones for ever.”

Very seldom are the Valar (“those…of the West”) mentioned in the taking of oaths and even more seldom is the name of The One (God) used in such a manner. It is held that only the King of Gondor could call on the name of The One, but Cirion used his authority as Steward in place of the King for the matter. This is perhaps one of the most important events of the Third Age, as Gondor may not have been so fortunate in its friendship with Rohan had this not occurred before the War of the Ring. It is also a shame this story only appears in the book Unfinished Tales, which is essentially an annotated collection of incomplete stories written by Tolkien concerning many matters across all Ages of his work, published posthumously by his son, Christopher. This tale brings a lot more depth to the alliance between Rohan and Gondor in the War of the Ring and shows the history of this alliance from its very noble beginning.

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