MORE GONDOR, MORE PROBLEMS!
So, in the previous entry Gondor went from a nation that covered basically half the map to a little stub of its former self, with its former capital ruined, its biggest military base captured by the enemy, its only surviving ally in the north destroyed, and its king slain. Believe it or not, things get worse.
Gondor doesn’t have a king any longer; instead the country is ruled by a Steward, a sort of interim principal or acting vice-president. The justification for this is pretty shaky: by the end of the Kin-strife and the war with Angmar and so on, the king and all his cousins are dead. While there are cadet lines and half-breed semiroyals and so on, the general consensus is that none of them can rule Gondor without there being a lot of legitimacy questions, and then next thing you know, another Kin-strife, bleah, who wants that? Not the people of Gondor. Mardil, a major Gondorian politico, steps up to act as an executive, but he refuses the crown.
There’s a total of twenty-six ruling stewards, from Mardil to Denethor II, the line passing from father to son (or nearest male relative), ruling for something like 1000 years until the War of the Ring. At first it’s fairly cool. In this era you’ve got Gandalf & Saruman working against the Witch-King, you’ve got the relatively vibrant young Stewards leading counterattacks on Mordor. The orcs of Mordor swarm out and attack Gondor, then the Gondorians regroup and recapture the ruins of Osgiliath, and so on. It’s known as the Watchful Peace era.
But things gradually get worse. Gondor loses all control over Rhovanion, and the people there fall under the sway of Sauron. Their culture is the Balchoth, and they ally with the Easterlings against the folk around them, what had been northern Gondor, and then the orcs from the Gray Mountains to the north come south and things look grim for civilization.
It’s not the end, though: the Anduin river valley, between Mirkwood and the Misty Mountains, is the home of yet another human culture, led by Eorl the Young. He leads his countrymen in accord with Gondor against the Balchoth and the orcs, and their horsemen end up settling in Rohan, a nation that the Steward at the time invents and gives to Eorl as a present.
But then things get worse, again, as the corsairs from Umbar attack, and the Haradrim, and the orcs, in case you forgot about the orcs, they attack too, boom boom boom. The Rohirrim help the Gondorians out, we’ll talk about that later.
But then — and we’re getting closer to the present, now — Sauron shows up and is like, hey, I’m Sauron, screw you all! It’s grim, with the constant battle.
The corsairs of Umbar ally with Sauron, and the Steward of Gondor (Denethor’s father) is hard pressed, until Young Aragorn, I mean, a mysterious captain of war comes from Rivendell, I mean, Rohan and undetermined points further out. The mysterious captain who is secretly Aragorn, “Thorongil,” leads a Gondor strike force against the corsairs, and he totes defeats them, and everyone cheers and his men are like, come back to Minas Tirith, Thorongil, and Aragorn is like, no, I need to go back to Rivendell, I mean, the mysterious North from which I sprung.
Thorongil also talked smack about Saruman the White and asserted that Gandalf the Gray was the cool wizard, which made Denethor suspicious that Thorongil was part of some plot on the part of Gandalf’s to replace the Stewards of Gondor with some cadet line of kings from Arthedain. Which he basically was. Denethor was pretty sharp like that.
Anyway, Denethor becomes the ruling Steward, and he marries a nice girl who bears him two sons, then dies of grief because Minas Tirith is no place to be a lady, it’s so grey and besieged and far from the beach? I don’t know. Denethor takes it hard and he’s not a happy guy.