Incomplete narrative set in coastal Middle-earth in the SeA; also, its eponymous hero.
The fragment, which appears in HoMeXII - The Peoples of Middle Earth, offers a glimpse of the Numenorean colonisation of Middle-earth from the perspective of some of its indigenous inhabitants. Who these folk are is not recounted; nor is it revealed where in Middle-earth they dwell (and it appears Tolkien himself was undecided on this matter). It is not even clear whether the events described in "Tal-Elmar" take place earlier or later in the Second Age: there are references to Sauron's absence in Numenor (late SeA), and the stars of Elbereth upon the black sails of Numenorean ships (early-to-mid SeA). All we know is that it takes place "in the days of the Dark Kings".
What is certain is this: the "swart and sturdy" folk described in the narrative are semi-agrarian, and live in a "fenced town" on or about "the green hills of Agar", in the vicinity of a large estuary or coastal bight which can be glimpsed from a hill-top above the town. They are beset upon the east by a wholescale migration of "Fell Folk"--"Fair, tall, and flint-eyed they were, with bright weapons made by demons in the fiery hills"--and are threatened by "wild men" who dwell in the mountains and woods, not to mention their own kin in the neighbouring village of Udul. And now they face the "High Men of the Sea", whom they regard with dread.
The fragment centers upon Tal-elmar, the youngest of the seventeen sons of the aged Hazad Longbeard. Hazad's father, Buldar, "a man of wealth and power", had fought for "the North King" in a great battle in the valley of Ishmalog, in which a host of Fell Folk had been annihilated in an ambush. Buldar himself had taken as wife one of the captives, Elmar, being enthralled by her beauty. Elmar did not return his love, but lavished it greatly upon their sons, singing to them the songs of her own people, and Hazad especially reverenced her. Pestilence and ill-luck befell the folk of Agar in later years, and Hazad grew up in poverty. He married late: partly because the people of Agar were waning, but also because, compared with Elmar, who had died while Hazad was still a boy, "no woman of his own folk seemed desirable to him that knew what beauty in a woman might be."
In any case, the aged Hazad feels estranged from the folk of Agar, knowing that it is held against his family that Elmar had been of the Fell Folk. And he loves his youngest son all the more for the fact that Tal-elmar reminds him of his beloved mother.
One morning, the two of them are sitting together upon the hill overlooking Agar, when the keen-eyed Tal-elmar, looking out upon the Sea, spies what he thought to be "three strange birds", and another following with black wings. Then Hazad confides to his son that they are not birds, but the great ships of the "High Men of the Sea", the Go-hilleg, who worship Death "and slay men cruelly in honour of the Dark." Hazad has heard that while the Go-hilleg have established "dark fortresses" both north and south, they have hitherto rarely visited the region of Agar, except for raiding parties who spy out the land and carry off the fairest women and children, and the youngest men.
The news alarms Tal-elmar, who has not heard of the Go-hilleg before, and he urges his father to accompany him to the town to warn their folk. They visit Mogru, the scheming and unpleasant Master of Agar, who hates Hazad and his family, and persuade him to climb the hill and look upon the newcomers himself. Tal-elmar offers to warn the folk, and to act as an ambassador to the newcomers, and Mogru assents, fearing the Go-hilleg but seeing an opportunity to rid himself of Tal-elmar and his kin. Tal-elmar departs with a warning that death will find Mogru if any harm comes to Hazad. After an arduous journey through dark woods and snake-infested swamps, Tal-elmar reaches the Numenorean campsite. Emerging from the trees in a loin-cloth, he is mistaken for an Elf; but when he attempts to speak with the newcomers, he is taken prisoner. Here the fragment ends.
We can only speculate about this, since Tolkien himself had not decided where the narrative transpires--the estuaries of Isen or Morthond were his most likely choices.
(a) We know it takes place in the coastlands of Middle-earth in the SeA. Atop the hill over Agar, Hazad and Tal-elmar look "south and west" to the "great bight of the Sea that drive in on the land." "Bight" could refer to a bight proper--such as the Bay of Belfalas--or to one of the large estuaries that dot the coasts of Middle-earth: Baranduin, Gwathlo, Isen, Lefnui, Morthond, Harnen and Umbar.
(b) Hazad refers to two "dark fortresses", one in the north, and one in the south. Aldarion established the first permanent Numenorean settlement at Vinyalondė, c. 750. Other havens/fortresses were constructed along the coastlands: Pelargir in 2350, by the Faithful Numenoreans, and Umbar in 2280, by the King's Men, and (possibly) others further south.
(c) The Numenoreans in "Tal-Elmar" bear the Stars of Elbereth. Before the Rebellion in 2251, all Numenorean fleets would have borne the Stars; afterwards, only the Faithful would have done so.
(d) The Numenoreans in "Tal-Elmar" refer to "the Enemy." Prior to 3262, "Enemy" is an epithet for Sauron in Numenor.
(e) In the "Tale of Years," we learn that the Numenorean colonisation of Middle-earth only gained impetus after c.1800. The Numenoreans in the fragment tell Tal-Elmar: "Alas! . . . Your time of dwelling in the hills is come to an end. Here the men of the West have resolved to make their homes, and the folk of the dark must depart - or be slain." These do not sound very much like the words of Faithful Numenorean refugees.
It is most likely, therefore, that the events recounted in "Tal-elmar" transpire sometime between 1800 and 2251, before the Rebellion. But where? Morthond or Isen?
1. Morthond --
See ( http://www.geocities.com/ar_nimruzir/) for a more thorough speculation upon the purpose of the "Tal-elmar" narrative and of the identity of the names and places mentioned within.
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