The Disaster of the Gladden Fields
The Disaster of the Gladden Fields is a chapter in Unfinished Tales, a posthumously published work of J.R.R. Tolkien edited and published by Christopher Tolkien. According to Christopher Tolkien, this is a 'late' narrative of the Professor written after the publication of Lord of the Rings and in the same time frame of narratives such as Cirion and Eorl, Battles of the Fords of Isen, the Drúedain and the philological essays cited in The History of Galadriel and Celeborn.
This work is divided into two parts. The first part narrates the events that took place in T.A. 2 upto the slaying of Isildur as a legend. The second part of the narration titled The sources of the legend of Isildur's death gives an account of the origin of the legend as surmises surrounding Isildur's death such as finding of Elendilmir after Aragorn II came to the crown of the Reunited Kingdom of Arnor and Gondor.
The story begins with Isildur taking up Elendilmir and declaring his sovereignty over Arnor and Gondor. He had spent an year in Gondor after the War of the Last Alliance to restore its order and define its bounds. Hence, he was eager to see his wife and his youngest son Valandil who were at Rivendell in Elrond's care. Besides he also had a need for a counsel with Elrond. Meneldil, Isildur's nephew bade him farewell at East Gate of the Bridge and Isildur and his company of two hundred war-hardened Dúnedain along with his three elder sons Elendur, Aratan and Ciryon made their march to Rivendell through the east side of Anduin.
They were attacked by a host of orcs on the thirtieth day of their journey, when they were four days march from Thranduil's realm at the northern borders of Gladden Fields. Before the first attack began, Isildur ordered his esquire Ohtar to take the shards of Narsil and flee along with one other man to Rivendell. Isildur and his men successfully broke the first onslaught, and it seemed to the defenders that their enemy withdrew to forest. Isildur ordered his men to march forward but even before they had gone a mile the Orcs moved again and gradually surrounded them in a ring still staying out of range of the dreaded steel bows of Númenor.
Elendur who was in his fathers's counsel asked Isildur whether he could use the One Ring against their enemy. But Isildur whose pride had fallen dreaded the pain of touching the Ring and wished to give the ring to the Keepers of the Three. Even as they were taking counsel, the second onslaught began with a blast of horn. Ciryon was slain and Aratan was mortally wounded when he attempted to rescue his brother. When defeat was imminent Elendur returned to Isildur and as his last counselor ordered his father to flee from the battle with the Ring and to take it to the Keepers.
Isildur put on the Ring with a great cry of pain, but Elendilmir of the West blazed forth. Hence Isildur had to pull a hood over his head to vanish. But Elendur, who was most like his grandsire Elendil perished in the battle.
Isildur ran great distance and reached the banks of the Great River, where he shed all his armor but with just a single short sword in his belt plunged into the river. Even as he swam the current swept him towards the tangles of the Gladden fields where the Ring betrayed him. Sudden despair came to him and he would have drowned himself, but the mood passed him as if a great burden had been taken away. He got out of the water, but was shot through the heart and throat with poison arrows by the lurking orc archers on the west bank. He fell back to the water without a single cry, with Elendilmir still on his brow. His body was never found by men or elves.
For more details on the battle see Battle of the Gladden Fields.
The sources of the legend of Isildur's death
There were three eye witnesses to this legend. Ohtar who delivered the shards of Narsil and his companion were two of them. The third was Elendur's esquire Estelmo, who had heard the counsel taken between the father and the son at Isildur's parting. Estelmo was found alive under Elendur's body and all the others in Isildur's company were lost in the battle. The Woodmen were able to come and disturb the orcs before they could mutilate the bodies of the dead.
The legend of Isildur's death was formed only during the reign of Elessar in the beginning of the Fourth Age. The surmises such as Isildur had the Ring and had fled towards the river, his armor and great sword were found at the banks not far from Gladden fields and that there were orc archers on the west bank to intercept the escapees who fled the battle to the river was known. The fourth surmise surrounding the legend is that Isildur and the Ring had to be lost in the River together or separately. If Isildur still had the Ring when he reached the west bank, he could have easily eluded the orc archers and traveled to Moria or Lórien with the supply of way bread and cordial which every Dúnedain carried in a sealed wallet in his belt. The belt and the wallet were not among the discarded gear found on the east bank.
It was revealed at the Council of Elrond that the Ring was found, sunk near the edge of Gladden fields close to the western banks and that no trace of Isildur's body was found. It was also known at that point that Saruman had been secretly searching that region.
When Aragorn II ascended to the throne, one of the first tasks he took up was to restore the palantir recovered from Saruman at Orthanc. When Orthanc was searched for its secrets, hoards of treasure were discovered. Elendilmir and a gold case attached to a fine chain was found among them kept in a hidden strong steel closet. Elendilmir was a white star of Elvish crystal set upon mithril fillet descended from Silmarien to Elendil and was the sign of royalty of North Kingdom as taken by Elendil. Elven smiths of Rivendell had made a copy of Elendilmir for Valandil and was borne by every King and Chieftian of North including Elessar. But the potency and ancestry of Elendilmir of the West could not be matched. Aragorn never imperiled Elendilmir once it was recovered.
With the discovery of Saruman's hoard it was evident that Isildur could have only fallen to shallow water. For if he had fallen to deep waters, the water of the Great River would have taken his body to a great distance, and Elendilmir would never have been discovered. But the remnants of the body of Isildur was never to be found in Orthanc. The possibility that Saruman could have dishonored them in one of his furnaces still remains.