Lady of Angmar - A short story
I have never liked the cold.
I was born with it, bred with it, raised with it. It kissed my face when I was born, and it swirled in my hair when I stood in the great hall at my wedding. It has seen me grow from young child to blushing maid to steadfast wife. But still, I have never liked it. It seeps into my bones and chills me, and not even all the thick furs I wrap about myself will stop it. It's always cold, here in the north, here in Angmar.
I stand at my window, looking down across the sharp mountains that bite out of the land. Angmar is a hard land, pretty in a way, but rough and cold and unforgiving. It is as if a giant took a chisel and hacked heedlessly at the land, carving out this, as jagged and sharp as a mouth filled with teeth.
My lord husband rules it. I am the queen, although I believe that title is a mere formality. My lord husband closets himself with his sycophants and his advisors, and he rarely asks for my opinion on matters. I don't mind much. It leaves me more time for hawking and reading, two pastimes I enjoy. I trust that my lord husband will choose wisely.
Some say that my lord husband is a cruel man. Perhaps he is, for if a criminal is brought before him he will always choose to drop the axe rather than spare the neck. However, a strong king is needed for such a desolate land, and the people seem willing enough to serve him. My lord husband may be cruel, but he is never cruel to me. In fact, he always treats me with something approaching tenderness.
He is also a sorcerer, and he works his magic to protect and guard our realm. I am proud of him for doing so. Not many can shape the unpredictable art of magic, and my lord husband works it with exceptional skill. In his spare moments, he teaches me a few tricks, but he has never revealed the full extent of his arts.
There is a tap at my door, and I turn from the window. "Enter."
It's one of my servants, a timid girl perhaps sixteen. She smoothes the stiff fabric of her black dress and bobs a curtsy. "My lady. My lord says that he desires your presence. In the throne room. My lady." She curtsies again.
I nod. "Give me a moment."
With a final curtsy, the girl rushes off, and I turn to the mirror. It reflects me as a lady of light, with the sunlight streaming in behind me. My eyes are dark; I have not slept well lately. I must lighten the skin with cosmetics, or my lord husband will be displeased.
I touch my face. Some say I'm pretty, but in my mind, that is more courtesy than anything. I think my cheekbones are too sharp, my eyes too large for beauty. A dark curling mane of hair frames my pale face and tumbles to my waist, unbound.
I slip into my finest gown, the crimson silk my lord husband gave me on our wedding day.
I fasten a cloak of ermine about my shoulders with a delicate chain, and bind my unruly hair into something approaching style. Then I slip my jeweled diadem onto my head. My lord husband likes me to look the queen when I appear before him, so I hang my throat and ears with jewels.
I hurry down through the silent corridors. Servants stop to bow or curtsy when I pass, and I acknowledge them with a nod. Little girls scurry to scatter my path with flowers, a luxury that my lord husband requires.
I reach the throne room's heavy double doors, and guardsmen clad in mail and rich velvet pull them aside. "The lady queen!" one announces, and I step through, trepidation fluttering in my heart as it always does when my lord husband summons me. I do not know what he might want.
My lord husband looks down from the chair on the high dais that is his throne. "Ah, my lady. You look beautiful this morn."
"My lord is very kind," I say, dropping a curtsy.
This seems to please him. "Come, sit with me a while, my lady. We have important matters to speak of." He beckons to his guardsmen, and they snap to attention. "Leave us for a while."
Impeccably trained, his guards nod, and then they go. I step onto the dais, remembering to lift my cloak and skirt so they will not trail. I sit down in the massive throne beside my lord husband, anxiously smoothing the skirt.
He touches my arm. "My lady, you need not fear. You have done no wrong. One as fair as you could never dishonor me, so rest easy. I have called you here to discuss a matter of gravest importance."
That has my attention. Rarely does he speak to me of such things. I wonder what it might be.
He reaches for a scroll of parchment that sits on the arm of the throne beside him. "My lady, I have just received a wondrous letter, from the Lord Sauron in the South-realm of Mordor. He sends me cordial greetings, and - oh, I see I must read it for you."
Witch-King of Angmar, Sorcerer and Lord,
Greetings. Word of your deeds and power has reached even my ears in the desolate south, and I send my most cordial respect and goodwill to you, your lady wife, and all of your court.
I wish to grant you a marvelous favor, should you so accept. Recently, smiths have forged Rings, Rings of marvelous power, to be allotted to each of the races in turn. Three for the Elven-lords, seven for the Dwarven-lords, and nine for the Lords of Men. It pleases me to distribute these rings as I see fit, and I have given away all but one of the nine rings of men.
And this I wish to offer to you, the most powerful of all the Nine, and if you wish it, you must only extend your hand and take it. I do this for I have heard of your already-mighty skills and think that they could be much enhanced with this ring.
Think on this, my lord, and send back your reply as soon as you might.
Sauron, Lord of Mordor and the Tower of Barad-dûr
My lord husband furls the parchment and looks back at me. "What do you say to this, my lady?"
"It is worded prettily enough," I say cautiously. "I do not know of this Lord Sauron, for the news of tidings in the south hardly reaches the cold north. But I do not think it wise to accept a ring from a lord we scarcely know. If, perhaps, you invited him to Angmar, then I could better judge."
My lord husband smiles. "You are a wise woman, my lady. I did not think that you would counsel me false. It shall be done at once."
He claps his hands, and a page rushes into the room. "My lord?"
"Send my regards to the Lord Sauron, and ask him if he would so wish to travel to Angmar, to meet myself and my lady wife." He makes a gesture toward me.
"It shall be done at once." The page leaves.
My lord husband looks back at me. "Lord Sauron is a sorcerer, the same as myself. I - I think that I shall at least consider his offer. Now, you may go." He crosses the room and kisses my cheek. His lips are cold.
I nod. "Thank you, my lord." I curtsy my leave, and then I step back out into the echoing corridors. I shudder and wrap my furs tighter about me. The cold is deeper now.
The Lord Sauron of Mordor comes with little fanfare. In fact, were it not for the black standard flying above him and the iron crown that he wears on his head, I would take him for little more than a common traveler.
Yet when I see him close, I think that I cannot mistake him for simply another traveler. His bearing is tall and proud, and he is the handsomest man I've ever seen.
A bit of my mind holds back; he is a sorcerer, after all, so perhaps he is fooling my eyes with a pleasant form not his own. But I could scarcely care. I must remind myself to stop my eyes from straying girlishly to him. After all, I am a woman wed, and the queen of Angmar. It would not do.
His skin is milk-pale, and his hair long and dark. It falls about his broad shoulders in coal-black ripples. His nose is sharp and straight, and the planes of his face neatly chiseled. He is dressed in northern clothes, but I can tell that he is used to looser, cooler garments. However, he bears his discomfort well. His eyes are black, a color I have not seen before. They sparkle with warmth as he bows before me and kisses my hand. "My fair lady of Angmar."
"Ah, greetings, Lord Sauron, well met!" My lord husband strides forth, and he and the lord of the south clasp arms. "Welcome to my halls. I trust that you will be extended every courtesy, and you will find this keep as open and welcoming as your own."
"I trust that I shall." Lord Sauron's eyes flicker across every painting and carving in our great hall, as if he is surveying what we own. Behind him, the amassed court of my lord husband's castle wait in uncertain silence, not daring to speak until given leave to.
"Have you brought the ring?" My usually dignified lord husband sounds near as excited as a child on his name day.
Lord Sauron nods, and a young man steps forward, holding a wooden box on a silken pillow. "Right here, my lord, so that you could examine it at your leisure. Astal, open the box."
The young man eagerly flicks the box open, and Lord Sauron lifts out the ring on a soft pillow.
I don't like it. In my opinion, it is an ugly, ill-omened thing. Although the silver that it is made from is bright and well-forged, there are dark grooves in it and the carvings on either side of the stone look frighteningly like skeletons. The stone itself is red, with a black stripe down it like a large, flaming eye. I don't want my lord husband to put it on, I want him to politely refuse it and send the Lord Sauron away.
Instead, my lord husband tenderly lifts the ring from the pillow and holds it in his hand, seemingly transfixed by the way the silver shines in the sun. He sounds almost awed. "For me, Lord Sauron?" He is a sorcerer, perhaps he feels the magic in it.
"For you." Lord Sauron sounds amused. "If you should choose to take it. This is the strongest of all the Rings of Men, imbued with great power. This is a treasure to strengthen your realm, to keep away those who are unwanted."
Like you, I will silently, but I do not speak the words aloud.
However, I half fear he's heard them, for his eyes flash to me and stare at me as if he would burn a hole in my head with them. He gazes at me, eyes narrowed, and there is none of the friendly warmth in them that was there earlier.
A sudden fear fills me. I curse myself; he's a sorcerer. Perhaps he has heard my treacherous mind. I smile at him, but I fear the expression is weak and lifeless. I feel a cold terror rising in me, as if he would wrench my mind open and then tear it to shreds -
My lord husband's voice breaks the moment. "Lord Sauron, please, have a care for my lady wife."
Lord Sauron looks away, and I can scarce keep back a sigh of relief. "Please, my lord, she is of a delicate temper," my lord husband says. "I would not have you disturbing her."
"Apologies, my lord." Lord Sauron sounds perfectly remorseful.
I realize I am shaking, and my lord husband looks at me with concern. "Are you well?"
"Please, my lord, if you will excuse me. I am feeling - I feel faint. Perhaps a cup of wine would do me some good."
My lord husband nods. "As you will. I will have a servant prepare a goblet for you."
That night, I stand at the window in my chambers again, staring out over the darkness. The castle of Angmar is built on a high cliff, into the rock itself, so I can look out across my realm. There is little to see now. Darkness smothers the land.
There is a knock at my door, and my lord husband opens it and steps through. He closes the door behind him and crosses the room to me. "My lady, what do you make of him?"
I am torn. I want to say that he struck me as false and dangerous, and so save him from whatever peril Sauron had in mind, but I can see that my lord husband is quite taken with this southron lord, and I do not want to disappoint him. I answer carefully. "Many-layered, my lord."
He smiles. "He is, at that. But, my lady, I thought him to be a wise and charming man, and the ring...such power. Such great power! He is a great sorcerer, and my own magic could be nothing if not enhanced by contact with such a one."
Many replies rush to mind. I choose one. "Exactly. My lord, we do not know what his true motives are for offering you this ring. He could have some dark plot in mind, to twist you about his finger. You must question him on his true motives. If he has nothing to hide, he will reveal them."
My lord husband looks faintly displeased. "My lady, you are wise, but you know little of the workings of sorcerers. Lord Sauron and I have already discussed the matter. He says that he offers this ring to me solely out of the fact for respect of what he calls my awesome powers." My lord husband looks pleased now. He has always enjoyed flattery.
Forgetting caution, I run to him, take him in my arms. He wraps me in a strong embrace and kisses me, and for a moment my fears are alleviated slightly. They return the next moment when my lord husband says, "I have a strong mind to accept his offer, my lady."
"My lord, no." My pleas are weak and fruitless. He is not listening to me. He is caught up in visions and dreams of the future, a future in which he rules both north and south with this Lord Sauron at his side.
Idealism sparkles in the fervor of his gaze. "My lady, imagine. It is said that the fruits of the south are sweeter than summer, the wine rich and cool, the land green and fertile. You could live in a palace of silver and marble, eat dates and figs, drink fine wine, and dress in silk. I know you have never liked the cold. It's always warm in the south."
The gods take him. He has found my secret weakness, exploited it. He is right. Were I in the south, I could be warm, have no need of my furs. For a moment, I waver, almost let him choose this. But then knowledge rushes back, of what Lord Sauron did to me, and I find that I cannot commit my lord husband to the hands of such a man.
He kisses me again. His mouth is strong, insistent. "My lady, I want to do it. I want to take this magic ring, become one of the nine greatest lords on the face of the earth. My lady, imagine. You would be the greatest queen in the history of our race. Men would bow down wherever you passed. You could rule at my side."
Again, I am so tempted to be swayed, to take the choice. I almost say yes. At last, I say, "Lord Sauron ripped into my thoughts."
My lord husband is not listening. " - And then we could have a crown made for you, gold and set with jewels - "
"My lord." I have to be firm. "I want no crown other than which I already have. I want to stay here in the north, I want to rule Angmar by your side."
He stares at me a moment, his mouth slightly open as if he does not understand what I am saying. Then he shuts it, and he speaks coldly. "If you wish to rule Angmar, you shall do it alone; I will not begrudge you this realm of rocks and ice. As for myself, though, I will take this ring and I will ride at Lord Sauron's side."
I stare at him in shock, disbelief. He can't be leaving me, not after he swore his wedding vows to love me and stay with me ever -
He lifts my hand to his lips and kisses it, but there is no real warmth in the gesture this time. "Good night, then, my lady, and farewell. For if you do not ride at my side, I shall never meet you again."
The door opens and shuts, and then he is gone.
It is even colder now.
The next morning, I watch him ride out. My lord husband, garbed in leather and iron mail, with a helm on his head and a sword hung by his side. My lord husband, his eyes bright with this idealistic dream. My lord husband, who swore to love me until death do us part.
I watch him go from the highest balcony in the castle. I am wearing my silk dress, my diadem, and all the jewels he gave me on our wedding day. I shall not watch my lord husband leave dressed as a widow or a beggar.
Lord Sauron is there. Suddenly, I hate him, and the thick golden ring he wears so proudly on the forefinger of his right hand. He is smiling very broadly, well pleased about something, and even from here I can see the red stone flashing on my lord husband's hand. So he already wears the ring.
I feel nothing.
Lord Sauron and my lord husband mount up and ride out, with much mechanical fanfare from the people of Angmar. I watch them until they are gone.
A wind starts up, tearing at the neat strands of my hair, darting boldly beneath my skirt and nipping at my legs. My crimson dress swirls on the wind, my dark hair flutters loose of its bindings. The wind threads through the delicate jewels I wear, and bites at the frosty tears on my face. Still I watch my lord husband and Lord Sauron, even though they are gone.
A cold flame begins to grow in me. So I am alone now. It matters little. I am the Queen of Angmar, and I will survive.