As Calimendil made his return to Arthedain, in the year 1270, tragedy struck the court of King Tarandil, and I must take the time to tell you about it ere I go any further. Vorondil had been spending his time in the city of Tharbad on an assignment from the King. He was a skilled engineer and had taken up temporary residency in the city in order to supervise repairs to the great bridge that provided access to both ends of the city by spanning the river Gwathlo. Now Vorondil was Tarandil’s heir to the throne and was also the King’s favorite child. This I know first hand, as I was present during the King’s council meetings and witnessed the favoritism. I had always been the King’s chief councilor, but after the death of Elenarian Tarandil relied more and more upon his son’s advice in most matters. It was Vorondil himself who volunteered to dwell in Tharbad for a time to conduct a bogus reparation scheme upon the bridge in order to draw attention away from his real purpose: to spy upon the guilds and the men who ran them.
One guild there was that was especially corrupt; the Guild of the Greyflood. That guild had once served as Tharbad’s primary guardian of the river for the kings of Cardolan, and they supervised and navigated all traffic upon the water. During the rein of Tarandil, and even that of his father, Ardornil, the Guild of the Greyflood had fallen into decline. The master of that guild was Ulbor, though he had other names as well: Urlin, Vircar and Herald were a few of the names he was known to have used as headmaster of the guild. I shall never forget him, for he it was who was responsible for much of the river-crime and he ran an operation of intimidation and fear. He was not Cardolani and his origins are uncertain, but it was believed that he had come from the northern mountain regions, or perhaps from the east. That he had connections with Rhudaur is certain, as well as with Dunland. After secretly taking up residency in Tharbad he made overtures to Gelharm, the mayor, to turn a blind eye to the operations that were taking place in his guild. In return he would receive protection and financial gain. At first it seemed that Gelharm refused, but later gave in to Ulbor’s offer, for he was afraid. No one knew why Ulbor became such a reckoning force in Tharbad at that time, not even the king, but during Calimendil’s kingship it was discovered that he had been placed there strategically by the fledgling powers of Angmar, which was still in its infancy then.
Vorondil made it his personal mission to rid Tharbad of this man by all means necessary and he set his spies throughout the city. But Ulbor had spies also, and soon realized that Vorondil was a threat to him. Therefore, on a fateful night of winter Ulbor had one of Vorondil’s spies apprehended and questioned. His name was Gelimir and they demanded to know the true reasons for Vorondil’s sudden appearance in Tharbad. As I understand it Gelimir told them nothing at first, though in the end his spirit failed him and he revealed that Vorondil had every intention of driving Ulbor and his gang of underlings out of the city by any means necessary; even by death. Then the ruffians took council with one another and decided that they would send Vorondil a message, and they slew Gelimir and anonymously sent his severed head to Vorondil. This was the first horrendous act that set off a chain of events that would change the fate of all of Cardolan forever.
Now Ulbor was said not to have been present at this scene, for he was a shrewd man and could not afford to have the blood of any man on his hands. His servants were cruel enough to do his evil work for him! Many of these hateful men came to Tharbad from Dunland and other regions across the mountains and they were savage in their behavior. I know not whether Ulbor ordered the execution or if the men concocted it themselves. Yet as I look back on these events it seems plain to me that Ulbor was sent to Tharbad for no other reason but to wreak whatever havoc he may in the city in order to create an unpleasant diversion for the King of Cardolan. He was to draw his attention away from Arthedain and the north as Angmar (a name that we knew nothing of at the time) stepped up their assaults on Celebrindor’s northern border. Soon afterwards the Hillmen of Rhudaur organized themselves and crossed the Hoarwell and went across the plain of the Oiolad and fought with the Dunedain there. Trolls from the Ettenmoors became ever more active and harassed travelers going to and from the mountains. The soldiers and warriors of Arthedain were busy at that time and any aid from the King of Cardolan would have been welcome, no doubt, but an ever-maddening Tarandil found himself suddenly preoccupied by events in the city that he had always hated.
When Vorondil was given the head of Gelimir his aids later told me that Vorondil wept. Doubtless it was sent to him as a warning, and it would have been wise had Vorondil left Tharbad and went straight to the King. But Vorondil was consumed by wrath and would not wait for help from afar, hoping to catch his foes quickly and by surprise. He desired only to spill the blood of Ulbor and his accomplices, which he deemed to be a task of no great difficulty.
Vorondil and a handful of his men marched through the cold and dark streets that night in secrecy until they made their way across the bridge and out onto the Isle of Tharbad, where the Guild of the Greyflood kept their docks and their warehouses. It is known that Vorondil paid a visit to a tavern owned by Ulbor but did not find him there. Soon afterwards the tavern was ablaze with fire.
Some said that Vorondil ordered it razed to the ground. All knowledge of the events of that night become shrouded in mystery after the firing of the tavern. Not even after so many years have passed since then have I been able to unravel this mystery and give it any closure. Yet one thing is certain: Vorondil was never seen by anyone at court ever again. Tears uncounted would soon be shed by many throughout Cardolan and the history of the realm would be forever changed.
“…Inform our chieftains in the north that a new order of things will soon prevail in Tharbad, for I have achieved the demise of the King’s Heir sooner than expected. He was an overrated fool who succumbed to me easily, as most cowards do…Proceeding the death of Tarandil (which should come soon) the throne of Cardolan will fall to his witless daughter and the youngest son – Calimendil; the latter of which hath already estranged himself from Arthedain…”
~ intercepted secret letter from Ulbor to Angmar, T.A. 1271
The search for Vorondil began in earnest during the Autumn months of 1270. If Tarandil was in a state of muted agitation before the disappearance of his son, he became an animated madman afterwards. Days turned into weeks and weeks into months and there was still no word from Vorondil. His remaining spies returned from Tharbad to Dol Calantir and told their king that they had not seen Vorondil since the night when he anonymously received the severed head of Gelimir. Men searched the countryside in many directions for any news of the King’s Heir but they received none.
At last Tarandil would wait no longer. He summoned myself and others of our council to meet with him in his private chambers. There he confided in us of his plan to sack the mayor of Tharbad and to set all the guilds therein ablaze until nothing remained of them but smoldering ashes. Ulbor was to be apprehended and laid in chains where he would be removed to the dungeons of Dol Calantir until interrogated.
It all happened in the early days of spring in the year 1271. I, along with members of the King’s Guard, went into Tharbad well after midnight and arrested the mayor. The guards of his house did not want to admit us but they were outnumbered and put down their weapons. We rushed inside the house and made for Gelharm’s quarters. There we found him with one of his concubines. He was scarcely clothed but we apprehended him and tied his hands as he was informed that he was removed as mayor Tharbad forthwith. As we led him away amid his protestations we replied, “The King has arranged less accommodating quarters for you at Dol Calantir, O Mayor!”
Then we crossed the great bridge and made our way onto the Isle, where many of the guilds were located. A separate contingent of guards entered the city from the south in order to prevent any that might catch wind of our approach and attempt to flee that way. Yet even more of the King’s men approached the city from down river upon boats. What little river-traffic there was at that late hour was halted and their vessels were boarded and searched for any signs that Ulbor might be stashed away secretly on board in hopes of escaping. Not in many years had the residents of Tharbad seen such a spectacle.
I was among those who sought for Ulbor upon the Isle. We went to the Guild of the Greyflood and burst open the doors. We were assaulted at once by the guild members, who did not wait for us to announce to them our intentions. A battle took place inside the guild and upon the docks that night and blood was spilled. I personally slew a man who turned out to be Ulbor’s cousin and second-ranking member of the guild, though I did not know it at the time I skewered him with my sword. All told we slew a dozen men before the rest put down their weapons. Some threw themselves in the river and attempted to flee by swimming. A few may have succeeded, though most were drowned. We jailed all of them, but much to our disappointment Ulbor was nowhere to be found.
By this time half of the Isle was on fire. We set Ulbor’s buildings, docks and sea vessels ablaze and watched them burn from afar. But the fire was too much and it was not long ere many other buildings caught fire as well upon the Isle. Soon a great conflagration lit up the night sky. It was too large a fire and many innocent folk were displaced from their homes unrightfully. Alas, some were burned to death. Others were overcome by noxious smoke and fell upon their knees as they fled. Still more sought to save their possessions and perished while doing so. Panic-stricken dogs barked and people wept as they threw themselves into the river. Never before have I seen such a sight.
When word of the tragedy was reported back to the King he surprised us by emitting a trace of a smile, as if the tidings seemed pleasing to him! I knew well that he had always hated Tharbad, but I had anticipated a certain degree of sympathy from him for the innocent residents there that had been consumed in the inferno. After all, Tarandil was still a Dunedain of the line of Thorondor and above such vile behavior, and when I told him as such he became wrathful with me! More so than I had seen in a long while, and he cursed me saying, “You dare voice empathy for the rats and rogues that offer sanctuary to the murders of my son! And where is your sympathy for Vorondil? Aye, and where is this accursed Ulbor? You let the bane of the King’s Heir slip through your fingers, did you not? A plague upon you and your foolish visage! I lament the day I leant my ear to your ill-gotten council. Get thee hence away from me and my court, Iliandor! I command you to dwell in Tharbad for the duration of my rein upon the throne, since you care so much for its well being! Do not return to Dol Calantir until Vorondil is found or Ulbor is delivered unto me!”
That would come to be the last time I ever looked the King in the eye until he lay upon his deathbed, only two short years later. I was evicted from my quarters at court and was forced to take up residency within the walls of Tharbad. It was an unjust decision upon the King’s part but I forgave him for it, knowing full well the state of anguish he was in. We were all greatly saddened by Vorondil’s sudden disappearance, as well as the honorable men who mysteriously disappeared with him that night. I worked earnestly to turn up any evidence of Vorondil’s murder at the hands of Ulbor while I endured my days and nights in Tharbad. Yet I was unable to come up with naught but a lone testimony from one of the jailed members of the Guild of the Greyflood. He stated that he knew nothing of Vorondil’s fate, but admitted that Ulbor had dwellings not only in Tharbad, but also in Dunland, where he had forged an alliance with the Dunlendings there. Of this I had suspected before, but knew not that Ulbor was an intermediary between the Dunlendings of Dunland and those that dwelt in the regions of eastern Rhudaur. Afterwards we learned that he was assisting in a steady migration of men from Dunland northwards where they began to swell the numbers of their folk in Rhudaur right under the nose of King Ermegil, who had shortly before withdrawn from any further meetings with Arthedain and Cardolan. Since my dismissal from court I was not permitted to address the King myself but I sent tidings to him from Tharbad revealing my discovery. I never heard back from Tarandil on the matter.
One last thing of note ere I return to Calimendil once again. The horrendous fire upon the Isle of Tharbad consumed nearly half of the isle ere it died itself out at last – two full days later. Nearly all of the guilds upon the isle went up in flames, many of which were legitimate in every sense and essential to the prosperity of the city. The Guild of the Greyflood was destroyed and was officially banned forever. Tarandil offered up a hefty reward to anyone who could deliver to him any of its members that were known to have escaped the night of the fire. Those that had already been jailed were interrogated thoroughly at Tharbad regarding all that they might know regarding not only Vorondil’s disappearance, but also of their knowledge regarding Ulbor’s whereabouts.
The man who performed the interrogations was named Echormoth. He was a seasoned warrior whom Tarandil had previously sent into lower Minhiriath to deal with rising threats from the wood-woses in that region. But now he had been recalled by the King in order to take order of Tharbad, and soon afterwards he was named its new mayor. The folk there soon grew to distrust and even hate him, for he tripled the number of guards and soldiers inside the city. The men he interrogated offered him little information that was of any use to the King, save that Ulbor fled the city around the same time of Vorondil’s disappearance. Then an enraged Echormoth had them all publicly hung upon the bridge that led out to the Isle in order to set an example to all, and many of the folk were frightened and appalled by it. Most had now assumed that Tarandil had finally gone mad and many blamed the king himself for the inferno. As time passed the guilds slowly began to recuperate from their losses in the great fire. Yet many queer folk slowly began to enter Tharbad at this time and the city took a turn for the worse, in spite of Echormoth and his guards. A new and most secretive guild began to take shape, though we did not know it at the time. It was called amongst themselves the Assassin’s Guild, and their primary motive was to achieve the assassination of the King and his line whosoever it may be.
As for Vorondil’s final fate – it shall ever be a mystery shrouded in darkness. It was not until Calimendil’s rein as King that he was officially declared dead. Yet my best guess is that he was indeed murdered by Ulbor and his men and probably rests in a watery grave at the bottom of the Gwathlo. Whatever the truth it was a disgraceful and unjust end to one of Cardolan’s most honorable men…