Where the Baranduin River left the sagging edge of the Eriadoran upland for the last time, it spread its waters across a broad shelf of crumbling limestone. Whenever the rains upriver hadn't been too severe, anyone with grip-soled shoes and some nerve could wade the mighty stream. This was Sarn Ford; the name was a mix of Sindarin and Westron; "Iach Sarn" translated as "Stone Ford," as did " Arthrad Sarn," and all four combinations had been used to designate this river crossing. The Redway, the old Royal Road, crossed the Baranduin at the ford on its way from Tharbad to the Blue Mountains and Lindon. The river here was wide and brown, its banks lined with willow, poplar, and birch. A few hundred feet north of the ford, a squat granite fortress sat on a low hill overlooking the red-paved road. Black-clad Arthadan soldiers walked the ramparts, and a Prince's pennant flew overhead. Around the base of the hill clustered the cottages of a small village, and in the distance small farmsteads and groves of hardwoods showed among knobs of grass-covered limestone. On the south bank of the river, just downstream from the main road, the ruins of a larger village—its buildings and crude earth-and-stone walls half-abandoned and crumbling—rest on an obviously artificial mound. Steps led down an embankment of ancient rubble to riverside docks lined with unpainted ferry boats and fishing smacks.
One of the more important river crossings in Eriador, Sarn Ford had seen regular use at least since the awakening of the Dwarves in the deeps of time. The Len Caraug, the Dwarven trail connecting Nogrod and Belegost with Khazad-dum, traversed the Baranduin at Sarn Ford; in the First Age, there was a Nogrodic fort on the south bank that later became the site of an Eriadoran town in the Second Age. The Elves prefered to cross the river via a magical rainbow-bridge, a Ninniach-tanwe, just upriver from the ford itself; when Gil-galad set the eastern boundary ofthe kingdom of Lindon along the Baranduin, he decided to fortify the place. His tower, Amon Sarn, sat opposite the mannish town of Iach Mardi until the War of the Elves and Sauron in S.A. 1699, when Sauron's armies swept across the ford and a quartet of Demontrolls took the Elven spire by storm. After Sauron was driven from Eriador, the blood of the three feadegnir— who died destroying Amon Sarn—still tainted the ruins, and the Elves gave up the idea of fortifying this part of their frontier. The Dwarves of Khazad-dum built a small tower near the poisoned site, and held it for the rest of the Age.
Fordhall (Iach Mardi), the Eriadoran town on the south bank, was destroyed three times over the course of the Second Age wars. Due to the accumulated rubble, it gradually rose above the level of the river's spring floods. Eventually Fordhall became a permanent possession of the Barony of Girithlin. Elendil the Tall inherited the Dwarven tower on the north bank after his return to Middle-earth in S.A. 3319; he planned a bridge over the Baranduin at Iach Sarn as part of his concept of a unified Arnor. Little of his plans survived his death in the War of the Last Alliance, and the bridge was never built. A Sauronic priest successfully summoned a Demon-troll at the site of the Elvish tower during the war; Valandil ordered the site cleared and a monastery built to cleanse it. Fordhall, which had been destroyed by the Demon, was again rebuilt. After the division of Arnor, the Arthedain converted the monastery into a fortress, named simply Iach Sarn, and the King of Cardolan fortified Fordhall. Iach Sarn, more than four hundred miles from Fornost, should have been a natural target for the Cardolandrim during their wars with Arthedain. In fact, almost no combat took place along the Baranduin, because Siragale, the large province directly north of the ford, was still primarily populated by Elves. Although the Elves of Siragale were legally under Arthadan rule, Cardolandren Kings and Princes were loathe to risk offending Cirdan of Lindon by spilling Elvish blood. The only local military action (taken by the Arthedain) was the elimination of the Girithli presence on the south bank—leaving Fordhall a semi-independent village. A smaller, safer hamlet, Stonehill, had risen on the north bank under the walls of the Arthadan fortress.
In Fordhall, an aging Priest of Darkness, one Ravabor, has labored nearly twenty years to re-create the spells that would summon the Demon-trolls once more to destroy the folk dwelling at Sarn Ford. Almost forgotten by his master in Carn Dum, Ravabor deals in herbs and potions to pay his room and board. He passes for a respectable citizen in Fordhall. Currently, the false herbalist is teaching the villagers of Stonehill an old folk dance. In combination with a sorcerous ward of powdered gold on the hillside below the keep and a measure of virtuous mannish blood in the Yule pudding, the dance could well accomplish the summoning Ravabor has studied for so long. Bored to insanity with parochial village life, Ravabor cannot believe he might miss his neighbors. Surely existence holds something more exciting than weekly card games with that royal fellow Minastir from across the river. Indeed, the Prince is Dunadan and prone to keeping company with High Elves and that unnerving conjurer, Gandalf "the Frayed." Despite his witty tongue and tricky card-play, he is the enemy. Above all else, a Priest must do his duty; a twenty-foot black-horned Troll would certainly teach these folk something about who has power in the world. The vale of the Baranduin is collecting Dunnish and Eriadoran refugees; the rest of Siragale is filling with Hobbits. Prince Minastir, the Arthadan Commander of the South, has much more to defend and administer then any of his predecessors. Stonehill, below the fortress Iach Sarn, has grown steadily and is beginning to attract a rough crowd. Even rougher is the bunch across the river at Fordhall. The political chaos in Cardolan has allowed the Arthedain to declare the south bank ofthe ford a neutral area, preventing any of the Irnil from seizing the town. Cardolandren governance of Fordhall has become helpless and hopeless. Raids by the Warlord of Creb Durga into the area have wrosened the situation, and Prince Minastir—worthy soldier that he is—doesn't have the resources to clean things up himself or the diplomatic skill to arrange a joint sweep of the area with Earnil of Girithlin. His best hope, ironically, is for western Cardolan to become so desolate that the mannish garbage collecting around Sarn Ford simply drifts away, and leaves him with what his ancestors possessed: a lonely, peaceful way-station on the great road.
As Cardolandren society disintegrates during the 17th century, Fordhall dwindles into a small, walled village, constantly threatened by Orc attacks from the interior. In T.A. 1974, the last Arthadan garrison of Iach Sarn marches north to fight and die in the kingdom's final battles around Fornost. When no King's men return, the Eriadoran farming cantons north of the river form their own government. Eventually the fortress crumbles away due to the lack of skilled workers to maintain its walls, and Stonehill gains an earth and wood palisade to replace it. Stonehill and Fordhall, ruled by a Council of Elders, dominate the area for the rest of the Third Age. They profit from the minimal amount of trade that penetrates up the Baranduin from the sea, scratch out a living from their farms, and obtain a few manufactured goods from the Dwarves of the Blue Mountains. The petty dictators that spring up, as well as Orc and brigand invasions, are overcome by locals operating with help from the Hobbits of the Southfarthing, the Rangers, and the Wizard Gandalf. During the War of the Ring, Saruman prepares a subtle conquest of the Sarn Cantons by influencing corrupt local leaders (similar to his dealings with Lotho SackvilleBaggins). Eventually, the fallen Istar commits a hundred trained soldiers to overrun Stonehill, saving his irregular "Ruffians" for the conquest of the Shire. Thane Paladin Took leads an small army of Hobbits south against these forces, while Beretar of the Rangers of the North organizes a local uprising. After the Sarumanic forces are driven headlong across the ford, the restoration of royal rule is assured; the foundations are soon laid for a new keep at Iach Sarn.
Places of Note
- MERP:the Shire