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The Battles of the Fords of Isen were two engagements between the Rohirrim and the forces of Isengard that occurred at the Fords of Isen, in February-March of 3019 during the War of the Ring.

History

First battle

Saruman knew that his primary obstacles in conquering Rohan swiftly were Théodred, prince of Rohan, and his cousin Éomer, for these two men were strong-willed and capable military leaders. Saruman therefore launched an attack on the Fords of Isen, which was a very important strategic position in Rohan, for it had previously been the only way for large armies to cross the River Isen. However Saruman had secretly built a bridge upstream, which would prove critically important in outflanking Rohan's defenses. Prince Théodred met Saruman's host at the Fords of Isen, and with his riders was victorious in the ensuing skirmish, but this battle made the Rohirrim surmise that Saruman had prioritized eliminating Prince Théodred at all costs.

Théodred had heard of a great mustering in Isengard, and intended to thwart this army before it was fully gathered. He left three companies of cavalry on the eastern shore of the Isen whilst he himself took eight companies and a company of bowmen to meet Saruman's troops. But Saruman had already gathered all his troops and sent them south, where they dug in and waited for Théodred and his army. Théodred defeated a troop of Orcs about 20 miles north of the fords, and went on to attack the main army, not knowing that they awaited him. He arrived at Isengard, but was flanked by Orcs from the west.

At this Théodred ordered a retreat to the fords, but the Rohirrim were followed by the Orcs. Grimbold took command over the troops on the western shore, and Théodred stood guard in the middle of the ford, in case Grimbold had to retreat. But Isengard’s eastern army had now engaged the Rohirrim on the eastern shore, and attacked with Wargs, followed by two battalions of Orcs. The unprepared Rohirrim on the eastern shore were swiftly destroyed, and Théodred's retreating army, who were on the eastern shore, fled south along the Isen, being chased by the Orcs all the while. As the Orcs had control over the eastern shore, they sent a troop of Orcs armed with axes to attack the little hill Théodred was holding. At the same time, Grimbold was attacked on the western shore. Dunlendings of Saruman had surrounded the hill and were closing in on Théodred and his men, who cried for help. Grimbold heard this and took a small company of Rohirrim around him to aid Théodred. He hewed a path through the Dunlendings and reached Théodred a second too late, as he was struck down by an Orc. Grimbold slew the Orc and thought Théodred dead; and if it were not for Elfhelm, he himself would have died at that moment.

Aftermath of the first battle as seen in The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers

Elfhelm had come from Edoras and led four companies of cavalry to the fords to reinforce the beleaguered Rohirrim. Saruman's forces were surprised by this new army coming from the east as the Sun rose. In the blinding sunlight, the Orcs thought that Elfhelm brought a far larger host than he did, and many fled—the deserters were pursued by two companies of Rohirrim, while those that stood their ground were all killed. Elfhelm had ordered the other two companies to guard the eastern shore and took his own guard to charge the hill where Grimbold was fighting. The Dunlendings were being attacked from both sides and were soon killed. The Rohirrim still held both shores, and Elfhelm charged up the hill to where Grimbold protected the wounded Théodred. Elfhelm rescued Grimbold, and stooping they head the prince's last words, "Let me lie here to protect the fords, until Éomer arrives". He died moments later. As night fell, the Orcs on the western shore retreated. The next morning, Théodred’s troops who had been chased south by Orcs returned.[1]

Second battle

Command of the ford's garrison was given to Erkenbrand of the Westfold. However, until he arrived from Helm's Deep, Grimbold kept guard of the ford. Grimbold decided to place foot soldiers at the ford and put Elfhelm's men on the east side where he expected the attack to come from.

Saruman sent a force which was small, but which still outnumbered the defenders. The attackers forced Grimbold to retreat across the ford with heavy losses. Grimbold held the eastern side of the ford and waited for Elfhelm to come to his aid. More than half of Saruman's force was assailed Grimbold's position.

Some Warg-riders and their followers passed through the gap between the two Rohirrim flanks, and tried to surround Elfhelm. Though he knew Grimbold was in danger, Elfhelm retreated eastwards. Grimbold was still holding his position when he saw torches coming from the north and from Isengard - the vanguard of Saruman's reinforcements advancing towards him. Before he knew it, they had crossed the ford, which forced him to retreat to his camp and make a shield wall around it.

At the camp the Rohirrim were now surrounded, yet the forces of Isengard could not overcome them. Grimbold knew that he could not hold the circle forever, and so with no sign of Elfhelm or aid from Erkenbrand, he decided to try to break out and flee. He mounted all the riders for whom he had horses and made a gap on the east side of the shield wall for them. They formed two groups and attacked the north and south enemy flanks simultaneously. In the ensuing confusion, the remaining Rohirrim escaped the fight on foot, and retreated in the dark.[1]

With Rohan's border now accessible to Saruman, he prepared for his next objective, the Hornburg.

Portrayal in adaptations

In the extended edition of Peter Jackson's The Two Towers film (2002), only the aftermath of the first battle is shown. Éomer arrives at the place of battle and amid many fallen riders finds Théodred, gravely wounded but still alive. Théodred later dies in Edoras - in a behind-the-scenes feature, Peter Jackson says that Gríma Wormtongue was secretly responsible for it. The second battle and the characters of Elfhelm and Erkenbrand are excluded, or untold of, in the films.

In The Lord of the Rings Online, the Battles of the Fords of Isen are portrayed accurately, save for the smaller sizes of armies due to game-engine restraints. They are the only event in the game where the player participates actively in events detailed by Tolkien.

See also

War of the Ring

Prelude: Attack on the Woodland RealmSauron's assault on OsgiliathSkirmish at WeathertopSkirmish in Balin's TombBattle of the PeakSkirmish at Amon HenWar Commences:First Battle of the Fords of IsenAmbush of the RohirrimSecond Battle of the Fords of IsenBattle of the HornburgDestruction of IsengardBattle of IthilienBattle of OsgiliathSiege of GondorBattle of the Pelennor FieldsBattle of DaleBattles of Lórien and invasion of eastern RohanBattle Under the TreesBattle of Cirith UngolAmbush in IthilienBattle of the Black GateBattle of Dol GuldurBattle of Bywater

References

  1. 1.0 1.1 Unfinished Tales, Part Three, The Third Age, Chapter III: "The Battles of the Fords of Isen"
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