Welcome to the presentation of this year’s Silmaril for Most Epic Hero. Unfortunately, all is not well in Middle-earth this year. But I’m sure it’s nothing our epic heroes cannot handle.
Let’s join them now as we travel across time and imagination to the land of Gondor and the city of Minas Tirith…
A troubling vision from the palantir
Two men of high bearing and noble aspect sit alone in the white marbled Hall of Kings, their countenances troubled.
A black sphere of seeing—a palantir—rests on a pedestal between them, the swirling fire of the vision slowly fading.
Midnight has long passed. Faint moonlight through high windows casts ponderous shadows about the room. Aragorn, whose eyes shine with the wisdom and understanding of the men of old, speaks in the darkness.
“The voting is done,” he says.
“And not a moment too soon, it would seem,” Faramir answers. “All the other ceremonies are finished, and yet shall ours fail before it is even begun. How can there be a ceremony without the silmaril and without anyone to receive it, for the heroes are plainly lost?”
“The ceremony is lost, yes, but hope calls out, even in this black hour. The lands of the West are sundered from us, and yet these other lands, even more distant still, call out to us through the palantir,” Aragorn says. “It would take the wisdom of the Valar, or even the One to unravel this mystery.”
Faramir’s normally carefree and sure brow tenses with doubt. “Fitting you should speak of the Valar at such times, my king. For the presence of a silmaril portends their hand in this, though who can say for certain?”
“Five realms we have seen this night, and yet we know not which shall avail us of our task. And how the fate of their worlds should have been intertwined with ours is a thing which passes understanding. Our doom is wrapped in shadow, but if indeed this vision is from the Valar themselves, we can do naught but obey.”
“Would that it were down a road less dark, but I shall stand beside you until the end.” Faramir gazes upon the king he loves so dearly and bows.
“To the tower,” Aragorn says, and with that, they withdraw to don their armor and make what preparations they may with time so cruelly set against them.
Battle on the stairs
Aragorn and Faramir race to where a lone figure struggles to climb the rocks at the edge of the cliffside road. They spur their steeds to the uttermost, the rain pelting their armor with thick drops. The dark city opposite the cliff glows with an eerie, green, corpse-light. They have almost reached the dreaded ruins of Minas Morgul, now teeming with orcs.
Ten of the orcs have ventured outside the city and are chasing the dark-haired figure up a dangerously steep stair cut into the black rock. Three of the ten already lie at the base of the cliff, having been slain or having fallen to their deaths. Aragorn and Faramir spring from their mounts and scramble up the stairs.
The orcs furthest from the dark figure give a bewildered shout as the Lords of the Gondor fall upon them. Anduril, Flame of the West, flashes in the night. Orcs fall like leaves from a shaken tree, and soon are no more. All save one, the last snarling brute who reaches the rain-soaked figure upon the stairs.
With a boot to the face, the orc staggers back. For one brief moment it struggles to catch itself, but its fingers find no purchase on the slippery rock. It plummets, screaming, to the road below.
“Are you all right?” Aragorn says, reaching the dark-haired figure first. He is shorter than the tall Gondorians, but keen-eyed and masterful. His clothes are torn and he bleeds from multiple wounds, but none look serious.
“Yes, but…but who are you? And how did I get here?” the man says.
“We cannot say, exactly,” Faramir says, “But some doom has drawn you to this place. In some way we do not fully understand, there are unseen eyes watching all around us who have declared you as a great hero.”
Aragorn pulls the man to his feet. “These heroes have been sent to fight a great evil which has returned to Minas Morgul. You will not have heard of him, but he is known as the Witch King, and he has taken that which is forbidden him, the callon sarn, the silmaril meant for the greatest heroes. He both hates and loves it for its beauty reminds him of the mortal life he once lived and also of the light of the Valar whom he has utterly forsaken. He would suffer none to have it, least of all the hero for whom it was meant.”
“My name is Leith Torren. I would go with you to win it back, but I am weak and wounded and have no weapon.”
“Yes,” Aragorn says. “In some way these watching eyes have measured your strength and sent you into this world as you are, in a weakened state. Do not fret, Leith Torren. You may yet win the battle another day, but for now, duty spurs us on.”
They take their leave of the wounded warrior and hurry across the bridge into the dreaded keep of Minas Morgul. Aragorn and Faramir tred across it in wonder that it should have been rebuilt so swiftly, having been destroyed in the War of the Ring. And yet, if the Witch King had returned as the palantir showed, perhaps all of their victories in that war had been undone.
Into Minas Morgul
At the gates of the dark citadel, another warrior gives battle. He too has dark hair, though he wears a leather jerkin and fights back a swarm of orcs with merely a dagger. Many orcs have already fallen to the tiny blade, despite the superior reach of the orcish short swords.
“Ah, help at last!” the warrior shouts as Aragorn and Faramir fall into battle beside him.
The three make quick work of the dozen orcs protecting the front gate, though the other warrior takes a savage knock to the head when the last dying orc he skewers bashes him with his helmet before breathing its last.
“We are glad to have served you in your hour of need. I am Aragorn and this is Faramir.”
“My name is Jace.” He wipes the blood from his hand and extends it. “Please, do you know where I am, or how I arrived here?”
“You are in a land called Middle-earth,” Aragorn says, “but we have no time to say more. We have set ourselves to hunt the Witch King and banish him once more from these lands. That last blow to your forehead left a gash. I would stop to heal you if I could, but all I can offer is some athelas.”
“I have received worse blows in the arena, but thank you. Would that I could follow, but the air here, it is difficult for me to breath. If I do not leave I feel I may grow weaker than I already am.”
“You fought well, Jace,” Faramir says. “There is no shame to withdraw and fight another day.”
Carnage in the courtyard
In the courtyard, they come upon a scene of death and destruction. All about lay orcs slain in savage fashion. The last of them falls just as Faramir and Aragorn arrive.
A lone figure in a strange hat and a tattered cloak of unfamiliar design stands holding a pointed metal rod over the orc as its body collapses.
“And stay down, you costumed freak!” the man says.
“Greetings, my friend,” Aragorn says with some astonishment at the battle scene and this odd man with no armor and only a metal rod. “Were you responsible for all of this?”
“Me? No. Well, I don’t think so.” He ponders the metal rod in his hand. “You see—name’s Nick, by the way, Nick Beasley, pleased to make your acquaintance—you see, I was up late and thought I’d just stir the fire with this poker when, poof!—I wake up to the worst Halloween party you could imagine. Don’t get me wrong. The green, spooky lighting is top shelf, but everybody was dressed the same! No originality whatsoever. And the ugliest costumes—these bogeymen knock-offs. Then two people came through, a young kid and a taller man. The kid wasn’t dressed up too much, but the other fella had on a pretty slick black mask. I’m sure he’ll win best pirate costume—if there’s anyone left to vote—”
“I’m sorry, but did they head up that tower?” Faramir’s eyes trace a line of orc bodies fallen on the stairs leading up to the main tower of the keep.
“Yeah, you’re pretty observant,” Nick says, pointing his poker. “But I bet you can’t guess how all these ugly bums went down. The man in the pirate suit challenged them to a battle of wits! And then they started arguing about who was the smartest and pretty soon—bam!—the whole place is a free-for-all.”
“And yet, not all were slain by their own blades,” Aragorn says. He points to several bodies nearby with claw marks, as if they had been attacked by some enormous beast. “Some creature was here. Did it attack you as well?”
“A beast? Nope. It was just me and this misfit masquerade here.” He gestures towards the orc bodies.
“And what are those tufts of hair clinging to your coat?” Aragorn says.
Nick tips up his hat as if to get a better view. “Hmm…hadn’t noticed those. Yeah…something funny is definitely up. I do have some…odd memories, but I’m sure it was nothing. Probably the gorgonzola sauce on my pasta last night. That’ll do a number on you. Come to think of it, I haven’t felt quite myself since I showed up here. I think I need to take a few aspirin and sleep this whole thing off. It’s been nice talking to you and I really commend you for your those git-ups you’re in—you two look like regular knights!—but I really think I oughta be moving along.”
“Yes, we have tarried too long in this courtyard as it is,” Faramir says.
“Farewell, my friend,” Aragorn says.
With that, the two bound towards the tower, leaving Nick brushing the fur off his coat and scratching his head in disbelief.
The tower stairs
Halfway up the stairs, they come upon the body of a boy upon the landing. A broken sword lies at his side. One of his legs is badly out of place. Fearing the worst, they kneel to search for any sign of life when the boy comes suddenly awake.
“Tink!” he says, a wild look in his eyes. “I’m coming.” But he winces and grabs his leg.
“Your leg is shattered,” Aragorn says. “Try not to move.”
“You have to go back to the courtyard. My brother is there. At least, I think it was him. It must have been, only he was bigger than I remembered. But I fell. I can’t go now. Please, help me.”
“There is no one in the courtyard save a man with a fire poker,” Faramir says. “Are you sure your brother is there?”
“But it had to be him,” says the boy, gritting his teeth and staring anxiously down the stairs. “You see, I’m Janner, and I’m the throne warden and I’m supposed to protect the king, my brother. We call him Tink, but he got…changed. I wanted to go back for him, but the man in black said he was doing a pretty good job of taking care of himself. Tink can be pretty…beastly in a fight, if you know what I mean. And besides, the man in black seemed to think his true love was imprisoned at the top of the tower and had asked for my help.”
“But you were worried about your brother,” Faramir says. “I know what that’s like. But he is not there. You have done your duty, Janner. Now stay where you are and we shall come back for you shortly and see to that leg.”
“All right. You seem like men I can trust. If you say Tink’s not there, maybe you’re right. I’ll be fine. Go help the man in black,” Janner says.
“Yes,” Aragorn says. “I am curious to meet this man. If the vision holds true, he will be the one to wrest the silmaril from the Witch King and send all this nightmare back to the shadow where it belongs.”
The man in black
At the top of the stairs a tremendous racket of booms and shouts and grunting and clinking echoes through the tower.
Aragorn and Faramir burst through the door and are almost swatted by an enormous chain which slaps against the wall. A mountainous troll, its head almost as high as the ceiling whips the chain frantically in every direction as it staggers from one side of the room to the other. Clinging to the creature’s neck is a man wearing a black mask and head covering. With his arms and part of the chain he is choking the terrible creature to death. But the troll is not going down easily.
“Ah, hullo there, friends,” says the man in black. “I’ll be down in just a moment.”
Despite his bravado, the man is taking a beating on the troll’s back as the creature slams him repeatedly against the wall, trying to shake him off.
“Oof! Can’t we—” The troll slams him, “just kill each other—” another slam, “like civilized beings?”
Faramir rushes in bravely and stabs the creature’s leg. The trunk-like leg jerks up and kicks him in the chest. He goes flying against the wall, slumping down.
Bellowing with such ferocity he rips the troll’s attention away from the man on its back, Aragorn charges the monster. In a shining flash, Anduril bites into the creature’s belly. It gives an awful, choked groan and falls forward. Aragorn has to leap back to avoid being crushed.
The man in black leaps lightly from his perch as the troll crashes to the floor, landing lightly on his feet.
“Much obliged, I’m sure,” he says with a tilt of his head. He makes a sweeping bow. “The Dread Pirate Roberts, at your service.”
“You are no pirate. The kindness in your eyes betrays you,” Aragorn says. “But first, I must see to my friend.” He kneels beside Faramir and removes his helmet. It takes several moments, and a splash of water in his face, but he eventually awakens.
“Ah, my king, forgive me. I rushed in too quickly,” he says.
“Think nothing of it. You live. That is all that matters. Are you well enough to continue?”
Faramir tries to rise, but grimaces and falls back. “It is as if my old wounds have returned. The troll’s blow was vicious, but some other fate robs me of my strength. You must go on without me.”
Aragorn clasps his friend’s hand. “It has been an honor to draw swords together, my friend. Should I not return, Gondor is in your hands.”
“You will face this doom and you will overcome it, as you ever have.”
“Terribly sorry to interrupt,” says the man in black with a winsome smirk. “But I do need to be going. I’m in a terrible rush. You see, my true love is at the top of this tower.”
“First, tell me your real name,” Aragorn says.
The man cannot deny the kingly gaze and grows suddenly serious under its tender strength.
“I can see there’s no fooling you. It’s Westley. And you must be from Guilder or somewhere else. You’re obviously royalty, but you’re no Humperdink, that much is certain.”
“My name is Aragorn and yes, I am a king in these realms. Let us journey to the top, Westley, and you may tell me why you believe your true love is there as we go.”
With a heartfelt farewell to Faramir, Aragorn heads up the stairway on the opposite side of the room, following after Westley. They proceed quietly, whispering in hushed voices of their experiences since entering the fortress.
“I figured Humperdink had had second thoughts about letting me go and so he had me drugged and dragged down into that nightmarish courtyard.” Here Westley makes a disgusting face. “That lot was worse than the brute squad!”
“I am sure the woman you seek is beautiful, but we seek something yet more beautiful still, a jewel which holds the light of the stars before the breaking of the world. The Valar, through their servants, have willed that it fall to you. And until it is restored to its rightful place the shadow will corrupt all worlds and the doom of Middle-earth shall be the doom of all.”
“Hmm. You sound very convincing, but I’m still not sure she’s not up there. My sense of intuition is awfully good. Either way, we shall soon see. We’re almost there.”
They are hushed to silence as they begin to feel a cold, lifeless fear pressing against them heralding the presence of a Nazgul.
Master of Minas Morgul
Those last few steps are the hardest of all. For the spite of greed and unending death saps their strength. At last, summoning every last drop of courage and fortitude, they step onto the top of the tower.
Cruel winds buffet them from every side. The rain falls as if in shards of broken glass. In the midst of it all, upon a dark throne, gazing out towards the lands of Gondor sits a faceless figure in black robes and armor. His eyes glow, but give no light. The very air around him hisses with malice. They have reached the Witch King at last.
Upon his brow he wears the blazing blue silmaril, the callon sarn. It burns into his spectral body in a way far worse than any physical fire and yet the Witch King bears the pain willingly, for the lust for power and wealth in him is so great it cannot be denied.
“Sometime self-styled ruler of Gondor and all its shattered lands, you dare stand openly upon my tower?” The voice pierces the marrow of the two mortal men, gripping them in the dread of imminent death. “I will quench your life and seize your miserable throne. For the power of the ring cannot be denied. I alone of Sauron’s servants endure, sustained now by the power of Death itself, and through me, the will of Sauron and Morgoth shall hold sway once again in these mortal realms. For no mortal man may slay me!”
The Witch King rises and strides towards them.
“Come now,” Westley says. “We are men of action, lies do not become us.”
“While the light of the West shines yet, your power must ever be broken,” Aragorn says. “Death is your only claim to power, but behold! we are not bound forever to the circles of the world, and beyond them is more than memory. Even death is the gift of the One to men. Its power is not yours to command.”
As the Witch King advances, the two men are almost blinded by its light, and yet in that hour, Aragorn, last of the great kings of Gondor stands proud and tall and beside him, Westley, a traveler from a distant land whose courage and heart once allowed him to face death and yet not be defeated by it.
The Witch King’s blade clashes with Anduril and sparks shower the two figures. Westley deftly flanks the cursed Nazgul. In a perfect display of swordsmanship, both flick their swords in different directions and plunge them into the Witch King’s robes on wither side.
Westley’s rapier instantly turns black and bursts into dust. A numbing, invisible sting sweeps through his arm and hurls him to the ground. Aragorn’s sword, forged anew with the strength of the elves, is not so easily consumed by the Witch King’s dark spells, but it flares with burning white fire and Aragorn is forced to drop it and fall at his enemy’s feet.
The Witch King stabs Aragorn, the blade passing through his armor. Westley struggles to stand, but his strength has been sapped by the Witch King’s sorcery. The Witch King whirls and pierces him through the heart. Both men cry out, but their voices are ripped from them and they fall into shadow.
The callon sarn flares brighter than ever before, and the Witch King exults in his triumph. It had been so easy, feeding them the false vision in the palantir. The men had been so willing to believe they had any hope of regaining the stone. Now Gondor would fall swiftly and Middle-earth and all the realms beyond would pass swiftly into a new age of Shadow.
A voice in the night
As Aragorn and Westley writhe in agony, drifting up the stairs comes the sound of a woman’s voice lifted in song. Such beauty enwraps the tower as has never been before. By the power of that beauty, a powerful slumber overwhelms Minas Morgul. The Witch King’s head nods and he fights against the enchantment. Though Aragorn and Westley breathe their last, they count their deaths blessed for the joy of dying with such a song in their ears.
The Witch King resists to the end, but soon he too is caught up in the beauty of the song. For it brings him memories of the mortal life and its simple joys and pleasures. He wanders there in forgotten corners of his mind to the time before he was corrupted by the ring.
Up the stairs walks a radiant woman, in the flower of youth, her hair flaxen gold, her cheeks round and supple, and her voice clear as a light from the shore in the midst of a storm.
She pauses when she sees Westley lying dead upon the flagstones and a tear comes to her eye.
“Oh, my Westley,” she says, and in the moment her song ceases, the spell is lifted and the Witch King stirs.
“A maiden,” the Witch King breathes the words with venomous hate. “That is how they stopped me before, but that prophecy has already been fulfilled. You cannot defeat me by that way again. I, however, am under no such restraint.” He advanced upon her with his sword, ready to strike.
“I am Princess Buttercup,” the maid says, drawing herself up. “And you cannot hurt me. Westley and I are joined by the bonds of love. And you cannot track that, not with a thousand bloodhounds, and you cannot break it, not with a thousand swords.”
And once again she lifts her voice in song, but this one is born of grief and suffering, and yet there is hope in it too. It washes over the top of the tower and sets to shame all the lights below. Dawn breaks through the clouds as the strange mixing of other worlds with that of Middle-earth gives to her a special grace. The Witch King covers his head and shrinks from that song of grief, that keening of love lost and then found and then lost again.
In the end, overcome by its power, the chief of the Nazgul, the Witch King of Angmar, collapses in upon himself and is no more. And by a grace yet greater still, time works backwards as Buttercup scoops up the silmaril, the callon sarn, and places it upon Westley’s breast.
His eyes flutter open and, seeing Buttercup, he flings off his mask and joy washes over his face. “My dearest love. I knew you were here all along. But how so? And how have I come back to you? For I was dead and lost in shadow. Did you get Miracle Max to make another pill?”
“No, silly,” she says. “Death cannot stop true love. It can only delay it for a while. You taught me that.”
And with a kiss, they rise and bring the gem to Aragorn and lay it upon his breast. He awakes with a start. “The Witch King is gone, defeated once more. I can feel the darkness fading even now. I have you to thank, my lady. For I heard your song calling me back, even from the halls of the dead. Because of you, the silmaril of the hero is no longer in that foul creature’s hands. And I now I must bestow it upon the one to whom it belongs.” He rises and bows to Buttercup, his body restored and the light of the West shining once again in his eyes. He places the silmaril around the neck of Westley, for it is now seen to be bound to a ribbon after it fell from the Witch King’s crown.
“But how is this?” Westley says. “I did not defeat the Witch King, and yet I am the one to receive so marvelous a reward?”
“Oh no, my dear Westley,” Buttercup says. “You fought unto death, believing all the while you did so for love, even when I was nowhere to be seen. Your great love called me here and placed in my heart the song. And as every great hero knows, he is only as strong as the love within his heart for those he fights for.”
And so it ends…for now
I hope you enjoyed the conclusion of this year’s Silmaril Awards. An epic thank you to all who nominated, voted, and shared about these rewards with your friends and on social media.
If you missed any of the other ceremonies this year, be sure to visit the various host pages.
- Wisest Counselor
- Most Epic Heroine
- Most Magnificent Dragon
- Most Mischievous Imp
- Strangest Character
- Least Competent Henchman
- Most Nefarious Villain
- Silver Tongue
- Most Faithful Friend
You may also find the list of past winners by visiting silmarilawards.com for the list of past winners.
As might be obvious from the length of this “ceremony”, I was over the moon that Westley won. I got a little carried away perhaps, but how often do you get to write such iconic heroes as Aragorn and Faramir and the man in black from Princess Bride? I hope I did them and the other characters justice and I apologize if some of the characters whom I did not know so well didn’t ring quite true.
But now that it’s all over, what do you think? Were you pulling for Westley? One of the other heroes? Let me know in the comments!
Hey, I’ve got a fantasy series coming out next year and I’m going to be releasing the prequel for free in the next few months. If you like epic sword fights and heroes, consider signing up for my newsletter as that’s the only way you’ll be able to get the prequel!