by Anthony Appleyard

{FTN: .......} :: This matter should be a footnote.
This story has been published in the Tolkien Society periodical `Mallorn'.
This story is set far in Middle Earth's future, in the age of Man. I apologise for writing here about a subject so unlike most Tolkien-inspired matter, but the Great End is a part of his mythology, and I felt that the possible events leading up to it need exploring.

We await the great battle which has been gathering, all too likely the Last Battle and the End of Days. Men unknowing awoke the forces which are gathering for this battle, in which I fear that little of the world of Men as we know it will survive. Whether or not my account will survive it, I record what I know.

I used to read the old stories about when there were other sentient beings than Men on Earth. They talk of immortal Elves, who long ago departed, or faded until now they need a great effort to become visible to Men, and few Men believe that they exist. They talk of Dwarves, skilled smiths and miners who lived four times as long as Men. They talk of evil beings called Orcs and Trolls and dragons who they say were hunted out long ago. But I have seen none of such beings, only Men, and reports of ancient huge or deformed skeletons which are as likely to be remains of irrelevant animals or strange bygone races of Men. They talk of long-lived mighty part-Elvish men called Dunedain, whose blood is now completely mixed with that of other men, and their identity is lost. And they talk of Valar, and Melkor who became Morgoth. I thought little of tales of such beings - but now Men all too well know otherwise.

It happened when Men felt confined within the realm of Earth, and wanted to travel further. At first fictional characters travelled among the stars which real men had no hope of reaching; reading such stories satisfied many, but in some as they looked up at the stars it awoke the space-longing even more, and in the end drove them to make it as real as they could at great labour and cost. Huge fuel-greedy craft which could only be used once laboured to get a few men into near Earth orbit, and later to try to reach the Moon. The effort faded as men saw at last that it was leading to little of practical use, and would soon have died out, when a man called Aniwa discovered a power that makes spacecraft much smaller and far farther and faster travelling. How he discovered it, working alone, he never revealed, but it works, and men can copy it easily, and now with little trouble Men can quickly routinely travel far across space. One such drive unit can activate another - some wondered who or what had activated his first unit.

What we did when we found the Earth englobed in that strange invisible hard barrier, is what started it. When we found that our new craft fitted out to travel far and fast for months were shut in like caged falcons unable to go more than a few hours' flight from Earth, a few remembered old tales of the `Walls of Night' and their making, and saw an end of our plans and that Men belong on Earth where they arose, and many now say that we should have obeyed them; but others called for breaking out of the cage despite any natural or supernatural consequences. The barrier withstood unmarked all that we used on it, and some in our crews repented and said we should return home and scrap our spacecraft and leave the Outside alone to Those who made it; but while those who thought so talked with us, one of us made a blasting weapon out of a spare Aniwa drive unit that we had. Before it the ancient barrier started to melt at last. The stuff, whatever it was, was abominably hard to cut, and often resealed itself, or went into weird shapes, and many times we found another layer of it behind what we could see; but at last we got through it, and learned how to deal easily and quickly with any other such barriers we might come across. We left a radio beacon there, and flew out through the weapon-melted breach in that ancient defence, and away from it, away from Earth, out of any appointed ordered realm that the barrier defined into the ownerless void beyond, and knew not what we had done.

After the dread deed, men came and went routinely through that gap and others that we made later, until an exploring party of three spaceships found Him, first as a distant radar echo. Aniwa, who was with us, had directed us to explore that particular region of space, and persuaded us to investigate that particular echo, but would not say why. Finding the being caused a sensation, and what we now know to be the truth went unnoticed among many strange theories as to what he was. After what others have written, suffice it to say that we shot his chains off him, and taught him our modern language and how events had passed in our world.

He had been chained cruelly, doubled with his head against his knees, with the chain welded not only to manacles and leg-fetters but also to an iron collar {FTN: Silmarillion p252}, and it was years before he could easily straighten fully unaided; and he was very weak. The collar was of ordinary steel, unlike the other pieces, and ultrasound scans in an onboard workshop found buried in it mangled ornamentation and remains of three round attachment points as if it had been forge-hammered from something else long ago; one of us thought he recognised what it had been made from, and in alarm quoted ancient legends, and we should have heeded him. The being patiently endured cutter splatter burns as we removed the remains of his bonds, and the ordeal of being pulled nearer to straight by a powerful constructor craft's grapple-arms and fitted with a spring-loaded orthopaedic back-harness; making it found a better use for cut pieces of the vast chain that we had rid him of.

We healed him as we could of the effects of his ordeal of long captivity, and of a bad face scar and a foot crippled by a wound (he said from a workshop accident) {FTN: Silmarillion p154}. He thanked us, and helped us much to develop space technology. Then he left us, he said to return to his people, carrying a deadlier light than the three jewels that we now know caused him long pain of old, and a deadlier load than the chains which we shot off him, for, all too disastrously deceived as to his identity and true intent, we gave him a power and propulsion unit like those in our larger armed spacecraft, strapped to his back, also connected to and feeding and rebuilding his body's natural power system.

There is a small spaceship that we cannot trace to anywhere we know of that builds or services them. We come across it occasionally in space. It carries an extremely bright light which can be seen like a star from far away, and has to be very carefully shielded out when it is near. Sometimes its light can be seen from Earth, as a distant moving star - and some remember that such a moving star has been seen long before Men flew or went into space. There is one man in it, or through his cabin windows he looks like a man, and he has onboard radio, but he cannot understand our language, nor we his. Its outside bears writings in an alphabet that we do not know. We tried to follow him down to his homeworld once, but somewhere inside the Barrier he gave us the slip among a strange invisible force field and vanished. The being that we found chained adrift in space told us that his old home is hidden there.

What is happening when Earth-born Men `break the bounds set on them long ago by the Valar and crossing Ea reach other Ardar which some say should have been allowed to develop in their own time' (as some put it), is all too much like the past. I apologize for talking like old legends, but all too well we now know that many things they tell of are true, same as few modern men believed that Numenor had existed until submarines found its remains. Likewise few believed in Valar or anything like them, until a spaceship found Him. So men explore, in craft much faster and farther travelling and more powerful with the improvements that the being taught us, and see strange things, and take what they will from other worlds, or settle among those born and bred there, shooting through any defences that they found on or around them. Or they find a world with no sentient beings, and call it free for the taking; but it belongs not to Men but is in trust for whatever sentient beings will arise on it native in future ages. High ideals fade.

I will tell of a planet that we found. Its natives look similar to Men, but different enough to show that they are not of our world. Their society, all over the planet alike, was in fixity of obeying the words of One who had died so long ago that they no longer knew how long ago he lived, preserved in a Book whose language their current spoken language had long ago evolved far from; their priesthood tightly controlled belief and observance and quickly summoned squads or armies or fanatical mobs to suppress what little innovation ever arose. They held that their religion established its rule in heroic war against a vast alliance of corrupt oppressive kings and evil monsters; but archaeology later seemed to show that it, having already spread widely, covered the rest of that world by using and then suppressing a starting technologization. Their inhabitable lands are not scattered as on Earth but grouped close, and routine contact stopped them from evolving different ways in different places, and so no local independences or individualities returned. Only on one remote island group in their big ocean did we find natives with other gods and language. But that religion kept their society ordered and stable - until we landed and sought contact with them.

Some at first welcomed us, but their priests warned them against us and tried to exorcise us, and said we were the Enemy from Outside who had rampaged for a while but were driven out when their religion was founded at the end of the Time of Darkness when their world was young. When in their unquestioning obedience they attacked in endless hordes, our ships' weapons consumed them as they came, and their bones and swords crumble under many bulldozed Hills of the Slain, until they had to leave our landing-grounds alone: and they knew that their priests' and Book's millennia-backed assurances of victory were false. Having no other recourse, some again contacted us, and we took control over their planet, and taught them things other than what their Book and priests had let them hear, and their minds opened to many things. When we had finished, their ancient and one Belief was split into a dozen irreconcilable variants, and many of them rejected all such belief, and we taught them our science and technology; and they give themselves and their children many names that in the old days would have been utterly forbidden. Now they easily explore the depths of their oceans, and in need of supplies slay beasts and enter land that belief and legend had for ages kept sacred, and some of them fare across space with us, and thank us for breaking them out of their long stasis; we get much supplies and help from there. But they and their world are troubled by many things that did not afflict them before we came; only a remnant follow their old belief or try to reestablish its old power.

On that planet, as in many such conflicts new and old, those who held to their old belief vowed that their gods would fight against us, but nothing came of it, or else whatever is there stays hidden and will choose its time. We joked that some time one such set of native gods would prove to exist and would offer effective resistance: until on one world it actually happened.

We landed there and contacted some natives. Nearly all worshipped the same gods, although they spoke many languages and their continents and islands are scattered widely across oceans; an unchanging ruling priesthood kept tight watch and control over them. As we learned some of their languages, some were friendly, and some hostile; holy-men stirred up trouble against us. War started, and those who supported us asked us to defend them. Our bases on that world were in danger and seemed like to be overrun by fury of numbers aided much by weapons and armour that we had not expected from unmechanized people, working by means unknown to the people who used them. As war swayed back and forth many times, we heard tell of a place in one of their oceans where few sea-ships went, where winds and currents flowed strangely; the holy-men, urging their people to resist us, said that help to secure victory would, as always before, be sent by something in there. The natives bowed towards the place as they appealed to their gods. It was said that very rarely someone from outside was allowed in there and back out to his people and told varying tales of wonders waiting for those who died in rightful battle; but there are many such beliefs and word-tricks to get warriors to fight harder. We sent a craft over the sea to look at the place described; the craft took damage from something hidden, and it was said that the Gods would indeed defend their own. Many sided with us, for the holy-men and local lords who aided them were dominating and enforced many heavy taxes and petty rules, intending the best but causing murmurings and dislike, and many natives saw in us at last another help than uselessly appealing to the Gods against the Gods' own agents.

We explored in force, expecting to find likeliest nothing at all or a patch of rocks and rip-currents, or perhaps a hidden sea-ship base or the like. As we got near, what seemed like a great wind threw our ships aside with mighty power. Some said that we should have left it alone, but others were unwilling to leave something so powerful unknown and reported to be hostile behind our lines, and warlikeness drove us. What had seemed to be a small dangerous sea area where matter and sailors' compasses behaved strangely turned out to our amazement to be a ground-level space-warping hiding a large hidden area: it was as tales had told. By then we knew how to tackle that sort of defence, although with difficulty. We gathered all our craft. The barrier pushed all things round itself, and distorted vision and weight ever more as we pushed into it; madness and great weariness dwelt there. Our ships' drives strained, and their autopilots barely coped with the random blows that pushed us about. Nothing of ancient tale could have travelled that road. But we got through the hardest part of the barrier. A voice warning us off seemed to come from nowhere in particular, but we ignored it, and got through.

Even we felt wonder seeing the large well-ordered land hidden behind the ancient mighty barrier. Friendly natives who came with us looked at it and our deeds there with dread, for their oldest legends spoke of that land; one of them said "Then it is true! The Gods live there. Once long ago they were open to all until the evil arose and They fenced themselves off and from there at times send secret aid. I hoped to go there after death; I fear to tread on it unbidden in the body.". The oldest legends of Earth mention similar hidden lands, but such tales were not our concern, and we heeded them little.

At first we fully intended merely to explore and make contact and come to terms; by then we knew their main languages. But They who ruled in there formed up against us, and hurled the gale and the lightning, and power blasts that seemed to come from themselves and not from anything they wielded; we in the haste of battle did not know for certain, and when all was over we had no way of finding; they said that we had no permission to use our ships' type of drive power, and ordered us to surrender our ships, and threatened to pursue fast and far. No good came from such words as we and they managed to exchange. It was the seat of their ancient might, inaccessible to all for thousands of years, and we had broken into it. Awe at seeing such mighty Beings should have stopped us, but instinct to fight back drove us on, and we were not in a mood to flee; we had little trust that after fleeing pursued far many of us would escape alive, or that we could escape through the barrier at all; we were shut in there with such defence as we had brought with us. Someone in one of our ships ignored orders and fired back. The Beings replied in full force, and we had to fight back to save our lives.

I will not weary the reader with a long list of destruction wreaked by both sides. Battle swayed back and forth, but with our ships' new weapons we were as powerful as Them, and we demolished the forts and collapsed the cave-holds as we converged on Their capital; ancient forests of huge trees burnt. After a sharp dangerous final fight They withered in our energy beams as we cleaned their last stronghold out. Our ships needed long refitting and repair before we could have fought that battle again; but we had won. The Fence round that land vanished. One of Them had been seen to try to escape upwards, and may have got away to seek help. The feeling of their presence that even through our ships' metal hulls we had felt somewhat, was gone. Something very ancient and fair perished because it opposed us, brushed aside as routinely as our ancestors in a colonial war several generations ago felling an ancient tree for its wood or shelling a breach in a stone city wall which in previous centuries could have withstood a long seige heroic in story.

We and our local allies landed, and there was nothing any more to resist us or to keep outside natives subject. Those who had been privileged to live there at the feet of their Powers and serve them directly and know some of their secrets, had shared in defeat and disaster and could only look on. That which for ages had been merely a distant name of worship and hope was visible to all, wrecked beyond redemption. The deep caverns where the souls of that world's dead were said to go, were collapsed and filled with fallen mountains. The Blue Hall on top of that land's highest mountain had been an awesome unreachable name in countless sacred songs and oaths; now it was an immense unsafe ruin for us to blow up to clear the site for a communications and radar station. As ruler of its site, from the King of their Powers to a construction foreman with a two-way radio was a pitiful comedown, but we had brought it about. He nicknamed the site `Taniquetil', idly taking a name from childhood tales - and knew not what that name meant in its full import.

Remote rule from high with little hope of appeal, however well intentioned, had brought on the Rulers the inevitable result, many ten thousand years delayed, but at last it had happened. Some say that men do need a god or gods, whether real or not, as a focus of loyalties and an alleged author of rules needed to keep society orderly. From what those beings, or whatever they were, said to each other in our hearing, it seems that even they, mighty in strength and skill, believed in a god who they said made them and the universe. The one who we had found and unchained had complained to us that even among them there was rule by order from the top and lack of opportunity for individualism, and thus he had been chained and exiled long ago.

Some legends say that such beings once ruled the Earth. If so, they have gone or remain hidden, and their ability to see and know and rightly decide all things is less than some claim: in the `First Age' whatever the souls of the dead going to Mandos (as They said was their fate), and the `Eagles of Manwe' and suchlike, told the Powers, the Powers did not act on it of their own decision, but Earendil the sailor had to struggle to their land through fearsome sea-obstacles with much news that was not known there before, and prod them into coming out and intervening.

To that once-hidden land sea and air routes now run straight for all as to other lands. Men and natives land or settle there and use whatever they find there, with less and less respect for `ancient legend come to life' as each year passes. They plant commonly and unconsideredly on roadside and park many kinds of trees once precious, many found in the Hidden Land only, some of those even there rare, forcing them by technology to propagate in plenty when the Powers had made them otherwise to keep them scarce and sacred - even as our `White Tree', once famed in legend and a treasure of Kings, when crudely dosed in flower with an antiriot gas in a time of disorder seeded heavily and became common. They treat the desolations of battle as a natural part of the Hidden Land; to a former sea-hold of the immortal Powers, now melted out into a huge energy weapon crater where wild vegetation now unaided by Her named the Fruit-giver struggles to hide the marks of violence and the burnt-out forest about, men and technologized natives now come to sail and scuba dive on rest days, and treat the crater-harbour as a natural part of the scenery.

We found remains of devices and skills of the Powers, and knew that by now Men had duplicated all of them. There we have a new main base, where we and natives build and service aircraft and spacecraft and build up technologies in the land of Those who denied them such `forbidden arts' for countless thousand years. They study what remains of the former Inhabitants' marvellous buildings and constructions, and sometimes try imperfectly to reconstruct one of them. They explore with us and thank us for overthrowing the Powers who dwelt there and the priesthood that They enforced the ancient rule and stasis through, but others regret the death of what had been there before we came, and by force of habit still bow towards that land when they thank or appeal to their gods.

I have seen what we and they made of the Hall of Judgement, formerly allowed to be named only in a few special ceremonies. It and the area about survived the battle nearly intact, and those who had lived there had sought to keep it; but it became the centrepiece of a technology area which obliterated with unattractive new non-matching buildings the nearby open-air Ring of Judgement of ancient legend and oath; their builders felled timber where they would. It was renamed after a native who had died two centuries before for discovering and teaching forbidden technology. Such things we and natives did in what was once the Land of the Deathless, and cared not that some of the natives who went into the mountains behind the site to commemorate said that a shapeless presence, the ghost of a ghost, still clung to the five-mile-wide melted-out hollow where that world's Powers had made their last stand.

Long ago the Numenoreans deforested and plundered Eriador, and lesser men who lived there fought back in vain or sought aid from Sauron, say old tales. Now it is the same again, and there has been betrayals and changings of sides, and it has been said that that same servant of the Being who we unchained had remained hidden on Earth, with little power left after long-ago defeats, down the ages until he at last found Aniwa able and willing to listen to him and to give us and him the means of reaching and freeing his master, regardless of what else might come of it. Of such origin we now know is the power in our spacecraft with their names of onwardness and far travelling that have broken Men out of the world of their origin; but it is too late to go back to the start now.

Armed men and their native allies in armoured spacesuits drive powerful vehicles out of spacecraft and bulldoze anything in the way aside to make roads and fortified camps. Men by the thousand, each in a propulsor spacesuit with its own long-trip life-support system, descend on faraway worlds and take over, and when they unsuit after months on end in those suits they smell like stale sewage and are proud of it as a symbol of hardy far travelling in rough conditions as in holy streams and springs they wash their spacesuits and undersuits, or make burlesque of that or another world's native sacred rites and tales, or steal sacred things, or shoot at anything they will. Men gouge out areas of land in search for metals, pushing aside whatever or whoever dwelt there before. Men waste time trying to establish contact with what prove to be nonsentient animals, and then fail to recognize actual sentient beings. Failure to understand on contact leads to enforcement and conquest, and arming people who should not be armed. The power of Earth has grown great, as the power of Numenor had, for the beings that the legends called Ainur scattered across space have been slow to gather and to summon and arm allies and to be persuaded to leave their own worlds, and not quickly has come the gathering of the armies for the Last Battle and the End of Days. But it is coming.

Tolkien, J.R.R., 1977, The Silmarillion, London: George Allen & Unwin