Thus far in Tales of the Free Folk, the “main storyline” has taken the form of a historical mystery as our party attempts to unravel the circumstances surrounding a ceremonial rite of the Hill-men of Eriador. In this article, we will address in turn the questions of how Hill-men fit into the larger history of Middle-earth, how the video game adaptation Lord of the Rings Online incorporates the Hill-men of Eriador, and (the main bit) how I developed these Hill-men so far in Tales of the Free Folk.
Oh, yeah. Fair warning: spoilers ahead! If you are caught up with Tales of the Free Folk (Episode 19: “How Was Our Service?” at time of this writing) then very little of this will spoil anything, unless I’ve unwittingly shown more of my hand than intended in some of the background. Actually, if I’m honest, there aren’t that many egregious spoilers in the article at all, but it is good practice to open with a disclaimer just in case.
The term “Hill-men” is used mostly to describe the non-Númenorean population of the old kingdom of Arnor, though generically can also refer to other populations such as the Dunlendings. Very little is actually explicitly described about the Hill-men of Eriador. They were likely descendants of men from the Ered Nimrais (White Mountains) who settled in the Angle, the area between the Hoarwell and Loudwater rivers. Eventually they migrated westward and came into contact with the Dúnedain of Arnor.
When Arnor split, the kingdom of Rhudaur had mostly Hill-man denizens. At some point, the king of Rhudaur was no longer of Númenorean descent, but was instead a chieftain from among the Hill-men. In most instances where there is recorded conflict between “Rhudaur” and Arthedain or Cardolan, we can infer that “Rhudaur” refers to the Rhudaurian Hill-men who had taken over the kingdom, not the Dúnedain population living there.
When the Witch-king and “Men of Darkness” established the realm of Angmar to the north, they succeeded in teaching many of the Hill-men sorcery and ultimately Sauron-worship. When Angmar began to war with the Arnorian kingdoms, the Witch-king more or less automatically annexed Rhudaur and called on the Hill-men to attack the remaining Dúnedain kingdoms.
By the events of The Lord of the Rings, there was no longer a “kingdom” of Hill-men, much as there was no longer a kingdom of Dúnedain or a kingdom of Angmarim. The surviving Dúnedain, in fact, sought refuge in the Angle, which was where the Hill-men likely initially entered Eriador. We may speculate that they remained scattered, taking once more to the “hills” for residence.
One other point of note would be that the Bree-Folk, men of Tharbad, etc. would have also been non-Númenorean residents of Arnor. It is not explicitly mentioned whether or not their ancestry can be traced to the Hill-men.
In The Lord of the Rings Online, there are two main (or at least named) “clans” of the Hill-men in Eriador outside of Angmar at the time of the War of the Ring. These are the Créoth (found in the Lone-Lands region) and the Corcur (found in the Misty Mountains region). There are two pockets of unnamed Hill-men in the North Downs region. One is in the ruins of Ost Crithlanc, on the approach to Angmar, and one is in the Etten Caves system.
While beyond the intended scope of this article, it is also worth pointing out that in the Angmar region, there are two more clans of Hill-men, the Trév Duvárdain and Trév Gállorg. Their relation to the other Hill-men is never explored. There is also a “subgenre” of Hill-man called the Gauredain (Sindarin, “werewolf-men”) in various mountainous areas, particularly the Evendim, Forochel, and Misty Mountains regions.
In the Angmar region of LOTRO there is a small series of quests called “The Seven Swords” wherein a scholar seeks to retrieve seven swords which were used to claim the loyalty of (the?) seven chieftains of the (Rhudaurian?) Hill-men. I leave those additional words with question marks because the Hill-men of Eriador were never fully explored within LOTRO. And so this seemed like fresh territory into which Tales of the Free Folk could venture.
Admittedly, there was another reason to explore the Hill-men within Tales of the Free Folk. When we were deliberating on the title for the show, “Tales of the Free People” had come up but seemed awkward-sounding, so was amended to “Tales of the Free Folk”. I initially did not like the title because “Free Folk” also refers to a people group from Game of Thrones (or “the Song of Ice and Fire book series”, whatever you wish). However, the Free Folk in that universe refers to a group of peoples living “beyond civilization” with a clan structure who are historical enemies of the people who live “within civilization” under the rule of a king. It then seemed even more fitting to include the exploration of the Hill-men into the plot arcs.
Does the “Free Folk” in “Tales of the Free Folk” refer to the Hill-men? Even I don’t know at this stage, but it is unlikely.
But back to the Créoth and Corcur. According to the 1887 University of Edinburgh Dictionary of the Gaelic Language, these are words in Scottish Gaelic. Now it is worth mentioning that (a) that is an old dictionary, and (b) I had not done a large amount of research into Scottish Gaelic, so whether or not these are accurate statements may well be up for debate. For example, Google Translate’s Scottish Gaelic translations are far afield of those given by this dictionary. However, it was the only place I could find those words outside of any LOTRO-related contexts, so it seemed a good place to start. For completeness, according to this dictionary créoth means “wound” and corcur means “crimson”.
This accounts for two clans of the Hill-men. What of the other five? We know of two other settlements in the game: one in the Etten Caves and one on the approach to Angmar. Those seem like a good place to start.
One of these we know very well: the people of Feòil, the Aranach clan. Part of the excerpts from the Founder’s Book of Trestlebridge which Raelynniel got to read all those sessions ago (but didn’t read on-camera) revealed that once upon a time, the Aranach lived among the people of Trestlebridge, in a day when the settlement actually spanned both sides of the gorge. However, when the dead began to stir in the Fields of Fornost (something something “Ghost King”?), they drove away the Aranach peoples north of the bridge, and they fled to ruins of Arnor in the cliffs of Nan Wathren. And we know how well that turned out…eventually they fled to the Folaichte Uamhan (“Hidden Caves”) which in LOTRO are known as the “Etten Caves”.
Aranach means “bread” according to this dictionary; indeed, the people of the Aranach are primarily farming-folk. Their names reflect this theme: Feòil (meat), Biadhna (biadh ~ food), Goile (stomach) and his father Maodal (paunch) and brother Beilean (mouth); the other elder of the clan was Toradh (fruit) and the two guards at the tunnel mouth were Luibh and Lus (two different words translated to “vegetable”). Amhuinn, mother of Clàbar, has a name meaning “oven”. [Spoiler: her name was chosen because it matched the theme of the Aranach, but as mentioned…she is not from the people of the Aranach…ooh mysterious…] Clàbar means “filth, dirt, mire”.
The other “friendly” tribe created for the players to meet was the Cridhe (~ “heart”) tribe. Once the de facto head of the seven clans, the Cridhe grew to deeply regret their part in the war against the Dúnedain, entering a self-imposed exile south of the Witch-realm. By the beginning of Tales of the Free Folk, they had wandered to the Weather Hills, where they treated with Rangers. In unexplored areas of the Marshwater Fortress was a lead to various dispatches written by fallen Rangers to Saeradan about negotiations with this clan.
But they happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. Seabhag-Olnathron led a band of firebrand Hill-men on a mission of vengeance and slaughtered their encampment. Are there any survivors? That remains to be seen. The truth is, I forsook the Cridhe as they were the clan which Andang would have known the most about from the time when he was the GM. (Talk about wrong place at the wrong time…)
Speaking of these…firebrands…the most recent introduction to the Hill-men in Tales of the Free Folk were these mysterious Hill-men who seemed keen on lighting themselves on fire. There is an explanation for that which I will not go into in this article. It has nothing to do with them being Hill-men ipso facto, even though their name, the Losgadh, does mean “burning”. These are meant to be the hostile Hill-men that players of LOTRO will encounter on one approach to Angmar. The one that isn’t infested with dragons.
Not all of the Hill-men would have regretted their decision to ally with Angmar. The Losgadh lived in the shadow of the Witch-realm for a long time, and were steeped in the ways of Sauron-worship. They are still aligned with Angmar, and as the kingdom north of the mountain stirs once more with a new king ruling from Carn Dûm, the Losgadh are ever more fervent to advance the kingdom of Angmar in the hopes that their chosen masters will empower them as was promised of old.
Yeah, we saw how that turned out. There are still Losgadh living up away somewhere, but their chieftain is not going to be coming back from his last raid anytime soon. Will the players meet them? What will they find? We’ll have to find out…
So there we are: two clans (Créoth and Corcur) named in LOTRO, three more (Aranach, Cridhe, and Losgadh) mentioned in Tales of the Free Folk so far, and two unaccounted for. One of these is the as-yet-unnamed clan from which Clàbar and his mother came. Once upon a time, they were united…and the historical mystery on which the players are embarking is the question of whether they shall ever be united again.
Here is verbatim the original pitch for the “Rite of Convocation” (Feòil has made reference to it as the rite of Cruinneachadh ~ “convocation, gathering, assembly”):
Before the division of Arnor, a ceremonial piece of armor was given to the spokesman of the Ruadh. The seven tribes wished to share it, so each took a piece of the armor. The Dúnedain taught them heraldry and the Ruadh imprinted their symbols, derived from their own identifiers and styled in imitation of the Dúnedain’s own seven stars, upon the armor. When the tribes scattered, this armor was secreted within Krúslë Lannan.
According to tradition, when the time comes for the clans to reunite, messengers would set forth to return the ceremonial armor to the elders of the respective tribes. If each elder meets at the appointed location (which the messenger would tell them) bearing this armor, it would be taken as a sign that the reunification can begin. The leader would then wear the full set as a mark of authority.
This has remained pretty much intact, actually, almost one year. The players have three pieces so far: the Helmet (from a fallen Cridhe clansman found in the Marshes), a Greave (recovered from the ruins of Nan Wathren with Feòil), and a Bracer (recovered from the spoils of the fallen Losgadh chieftain in the Battle of the Cave). Almost halfway there. And then they need to decide who gets to wear the set. Decisions, decisions.
I refer to a people group called the “Ruadh” in the excerpt above. The name “Rhudaur” is postulated to come from two Sindarin words, rhû “evil” and taur “forest”, which I feel is too much of a dead giveaway. In the linguistic history of Middle-earth, this is probably a back-formation, someone’s idea of a pun as commentary on what befell this sub-kingdom of the Dúnedain. What self-respecting people group would name themselves “people of the evil forest” at best, or “evil forest people” at worst? This clearly isn’t what the name originally meant. Obviously it is some imperfect corruption of the Hill-men’s name for themselves in their own tongue: ruadh-tir, the “red-folk”. Why red? Because ruadh sounds like it could become rhud-, that’s why.
I mean, clearly it had to do with available pigments in the iron-rich sediments in the Angle.
That’s about all I have to share about the Hill-men in Tales of the Free Folk. I hope this has been an interesting and enlightening read. I wish to conclude with a few “teaser” questions about some of the other plot lines which have been brewing in the background:
- What lurks within the deep caverns of the Folaichte Uamhan…that even trolls would fear?
- What is the meaning of the dreams which have plagued Pineleaf Needles and Karvett Logsplitter? What…or who…is their source?
- What would incite shock troopers of a valiant clan of Hill-men to…set themselves on fire?
- We saw a group of orcs, trolls, wargs and Angmarim besiege the old fortress of Fornost. Who were they fighting? Put another way, who beat them?
See you all soon when Tales of the Free Folk resumes for a new episode on August 27th!