The Nine - Chapter Ten: The End of Days (3/3)

<p>13th October, 3441 S.A, Barad-dur<br /> <br /> For seven years the plateau of Gorgoroth had been filled with the fair and terrible hosts of the West &ndash; the Dwarves of Khazad-dum under the Axe of Durin IV; the Silvan Wood-Elves of Greenwood and Lorinand; the Sea-Kings of Arnor and Gondor; and the High Elves rallied under the spear Aeglos - ship-builders of the house of Cirdan, lore-masters of the house of Elrond and vengeful knights of Eregion left without a lord since the destruction of Ost-in-Edhil. For seven years the Dark Tower had sent sorties of Orc, Black Numenorean, Warg and Troll, and though all had made damage on those below each had failed. For seven years the Last Alliance struggled to break the doors of Barad-dur, and missiles blunt and sorcerous had fallen upon them &ndash; a crushing stone even killing Anarion, yet they still did not tire in their task of ridding Sauron from the earth. And for seven years the Nazgul were trapped within the Dark Tower, and it was they who had failed their unforgiving master upon the Battle of Dagorlad before the Black Gates. Though grievous loss had been inflicted upon Elf, Man and Dwarf, including the slaying of the Kings Amdir of Lorinand and Oropher of Greenwood, the entrance to Mordor had been won. <br /> <br /> It was the Witch-King and Khamul who had commanded the battle, and though they dared not admit it to Sauron, they both knew that a major factor in their defeat had been their shared animosity. Ever since Khamul had attempted to slay Uvatha despite the Dark Lord&rsquo;s wish to grant him the last of the mortal rings and the Witch-King deprived him of his vengeance, the two had become bitter and fierce &ndash; the Black Easterling barely submitting to the rule of his chief, and even if he did he would twist his directions to his own purposes. In truth, few of the Nazgul enjoyed the company of one another for so long &ndash; those who did not irritate Khamul were only the silent Indur and his old flame Adunaphel, who in past times would have fulfilled all his desires but now, as they were both but inhuman wraiths, only served of a whisper, a fleeting ghost and memory of a life bound to sweet flesh. <br /> <br /> Yet Khamul knew what was now coming &ndash; all of the Nine did, and it seemed to him they all reacted in their own manner. Uvatha the Archer was like a compressed spring, ready at signal to move as fast as the wind. Ren the Tainted felt the oppressing will of his master boom in his head like a war drum, and it drove him to an insanity that required the taste of dread from all those that would come against him. Adunaphel the Quiet was filled with a blind hatred that gripped her mind as tight as she gripped her blade, for the sons of Numenor who had deprived her of victory over Umbar in years past and the hated Elves whom she had desired to end since the schoolings of her father both now stood before her. Hoarmurath the Undying was most nervous of them all, for the preservation of his mortality had ever been his foremost thought, but now Lords wise and deadly threatened his preservation. Akhoarahil&rsquo;s Eyes of the Well had an eager gleam glowing within them, for this was but another chance to show his quality under the gaze of his master and better his peers against his master&rsquo;s greatest foes, and take the heirlooms of the mortal King Elendil, the ring of Barahir and the sword Narsil, which he had failed to in decades past. Indur the Outcast was like a statue, cold and devoid of emotion, though the bloodlust inside him was climbing like an increasingly deafening music. Dwar the Dog King cursed blackness, ready to pit his sword upon those who had disgraced them at Dagorlad. The Witch-King had a mind only of sorcery and death, and he held his pale sword before his face thinking of each spell he would unleash. As for Khamul, he was ready to test the fighting skill of the west against his own, but had a creeping knowledge that this attempt of seizing victory would only have a small chance of attainment.<br /> <br /> Very soon all of Barad-dur&rsquo;s final strength had been gathered, not just Orcs, Men and Trolls, but blasphemous creatures that still yet plagued the earth, almost magnetically gathered to the evil in Mordor &ndash; great spiders of the broods of Ungoliant and Shelob, werewolves and vampires that had followed their liege from the ruin of Tol-in-Gauroth, and from the Withered Heath and the lonely mountains of forgotten lands came long-worms and cold-drakes gathered to the malignant Scatha the Worm, and even a few winged Uroloki from the spawn of Ancalagon&rsquo;s kin, under one of his most wilful and malicious children, Smaug the Golden. As Khamul watched the terrible host muster, at last they heard long, echoing, booming footsteps, and the Orcs and Trolls among them quailed and jittered, and Ren the Tainted seethed as if in pain. From his highest tower he had come, garbed in his most abhorrent battle aspect, the One glowing like the fires of Utumno upon his finger &ndash; Gorthaur, Sauron, Sorcerer and Dark Lord. Even among his acolytes, only the highest of the Nazgul could witness his cruel splendour. With a wordless move of his outstretched hand the impenetrable iron gates opened effortlessly, bound to the power of its forger, and cries shrill, guttural and bestial and all wholly unbearable rang like the horns of the deep as all of Barad-dur&rsquo;s menace spilled from it like a swift and leaping flame.<br /> <br /> Into the stoic Dwarves swooped Smaug and his Uroloki, their cursed enemies of old; against the grim Elves of Thranduil came Scatha the Worm and his brethren, some charging with clawed feet and some crawling upon serpentine bellies. Like a conflict from Beleriand of all was the onrushing werewolves and vampires upon the Noldor of Galadriel and Celeborn. Tall and fair and terrible was Amroth and the Galadhrim, and the monstrous Trolls that came against them almost blanched from their valiant fury; and everywhere went foul Orcs, cruel Haradrim, brutal Easterlings, savage Variags and menacing Black Numenoreans. But it was upon the gathered command of Arnor and Lindon where the vanguard of the Dark Tower would fall.<br /> <br /> Up from the blackness came the Nazgul with their voices crying death and despair; up came the Nazgul with sorcery so blasphemous it would rend mortal voices to naught; up came the Nazgul with swords long and piercing and all cursed. The Witch-King screamed and held aloft his sword, and as he cried fire ran down it, and all fled from his face, and those who did not were beset upon by the Shadow of the East &ndash; Khamul, silent and focused, his strokes blurred and flurried like a storm or a wind of steel. Behind the Nine marched their master, and at his coming all light was quenched &ndash; but for the beacons of five. Though no wholesome light was left to shine upon them, the weapons of Cirdan the Shipwright, Elrond the Herald, Isildur the Moon King, Elendil the Tall and Gil-galad, High King of the Elves glittered against the dark shades before them, for there was a gleam in their eyes as if they had become conduits or manifestations of the Valar themselves. Wordless in their malice, Sauron and his Nine Captains fell into them with death in their unseen faces. The vengeance of the Dog King swung deftly into the Shipwright; the skill of Khamul challenged the star of Elrond; the untamed spite of Akhoarahil fell upon Isildur; the wrath of the Witch-King was put against Narsil of Elendil and the champions of light and dark, Gil-galad and Sauron met in a recollection of Fingolfin and Morgoth in ages past, as the dire arms of Uvatha, Ren, Adunaphel, Hoarmurath and Indur crashed into the guard of the Lords of the Alliance like scythes in the harvest.<br /> <br /> Khamul wheeled his blade in a circular arc which Elrond found difficult to defer. In the Elven Lord&rsquo;s other hand was the Banner of Gil-galad, and though it slowed the movements of its bearer, many who were not engaged in combat saw it and rushed immediately to the aid of their lieges, Erestor, chief counsellor of Elrond, Galdor, Lieutenant of Cirdan, and Valandil, son of Isildur &ndash; but the crowds were many and the battle was fierce. To Khamul&rsquo;s left the sons of the Lords of Andunie overthrew their long-corrupted brethren, and the western skill of Isildur and Elendil struck through the spectral sinews of Akhoarahil and the Witch-King, and with cries of despair they imploded and disappeared, their ghostly souls gusting from their ruined forms like corpse dust. Yet Dwar was waxing against the failing Cirdan, and the guard of the kings could not face the sheer carnage of the Nazgul. With a cry Elrond raised his banner high and made a swift strike at the Easterling, but Khamul slid snake-like from his thrust and made a strike of his own, which dully clanged off the Son of Earendil&rsquo;s superior armour but still made him wince in agony from the impact. As the swords of the duellers met once more, suddenly the eyes of Elrond were averted to another scene and his face fell in horror. For Aeglos had fallen against the fury of Sauron, and with the void in his eyes the Dark Lord had grasped the neck of Gil-galad, and the Elven King could only struggle in vain as the fallen Maiar choked him, and lifted him upwards in cold wrath. And then, like the flames of Ancalagon the Black burnt within it, the One Ring seared and the hand of Sauron burnt like the forges his ornament was crafted in. The flames spread until Gil-galad was wreathed in the dark fire, and within a heart-stopping flash he was gone &ndash; there was naught to account for the passing of the last High King of the Noldor but falling ash. For a moment it seemed that all was quiet, all waited upon the brink, but the first to cry in uproar was the Elf-friend, King Elendil the Tall, and he charged towards the insurmountable foe with Narsil poised in his grip, an echo of the heroes of Men of old; Hurin and Tuor and Turin Turambar. But Sauron would not yield to this last son of his greatest enemies, and the king fell, and Narsil broke beneath him. With a cry Isildur rushed to his side. <br /> <br /> Cirdan and Elrond now desperately struck against the increasingly confident Dwar and Khamul, who redoubled their attacks. But it was not enough, for with a pained shout Cirdan drove his blade into the Dog King, and letting out a last Howl of the Damned he too dispersed from the world. From across the battlefield Khamul saw the light of Galadriel go up, and from it the evil remnants of Tol-in-Gauroth and the kin of Scatha the Worm fled before its sight; whilst Smaug the Golden roared and took to the air, wounded by the Axe of Durin IV, whose folk he would rue revenge on. All across the battlefield, the hordes of Barad-dur were beginning to fade away in the hosts of the west like flame in a pool of water. The other Nazgul who had attacked the guard were now unseen in the clamour to Khamul, and of their fate he could not discern, but now only he and Sauron alone faced the Alliance command. Cirdan rushed in from behind but Khamul sensed his attack and turned to face him, and soon he was locked in combat with now two skilled Elven Lords. Summoning his most hidden powers and tapping into the very will of Sauron, the Black Easterling suddenly turned and crashed his sword against Cirdan&rsquo;s, but the Shipwright&rsquo;s blade splintered into dozens of broken pieces and the old Elf toppled from the impact, and Khamul then swung round and forced a burst of dark energy against Elrond, who too fell into the ashen earth of Gorgoroth. But as the Shadow of the East moved to make his killing stroke, he felt the presence of another blade &ndash; inside of him. Looking down at his torso, an Elven blade stuck through his form like a skewer. He turned his head, and from the side of his vision he saw his murderer &ndash; Celeborn, who had run to the sight of the Banner of Gil-galad. Khamul vowed to take his revenge on this cursed Elf one day, but as he begun to fail, the last thing he saw was Isildur, brandishing the broken sword of his father, as Sauron too begun to diminish.<br /> <br /> <br /> 25th March, 3019 T.A, the Morannon<br /> <br /> All about the hills the hosts of Mordor raged. The Captains of the West were foundering in a gathering sea. The sun gleamed red, and under the wings of the Nazgul the shadows of death fell dark upon the earth. Aragorn stood beneath his banner, silent and stern, as one lost in thought of things long past or far away; but his eyes gleamed like stars that shine the brighter as the night deepens. Upon the hill-top stood Gandalf, and he was white and cold and no shadow fell on him. The onslaught of Mordor broke like a wave on the beleaguered hills, voices roaring like a tide amid the wreck and crash of arms.<br /> <br /> The Blood Archer rose and fell like a buoy in the ocean, rising to fire a burst of deathly arrows before swooping down to take some poor soul in his beast&rsquo;s talons. But the Dunedain had bows of their own, and the keen blades of the Sons of Elrond were swift, and so Uvatha was kept at bay. The loathsome aura of the Tainted struck the Knights of Dol Amroth, but they stood stern and proud where other men would have quailed and fled. Like a monstrous stone thrown from the Cirith Gorgor Ren came against them, but from the midst doughty Prince Imrahil emerged and raised his glittering sword in wrath, and Ren would not stand before him after their encounter at Minas Tirith. All about Eomer the stout spears of Rohan were raised like a field of pickets, and Hoarmurath could do little to break through them without hurt, and had only curses and terror to throw upon them; and against the white light of Mithrandir Ji Indur could not go, and spiralled about the hills in mad frustration, unable to dive into the feast of slaughter below. But even as he roared in rage, a keen arrow from the bow of Legolas of Mirkwood shot upwards and pierced the hide of his winged steed, which screamed as it toppled from the airs into the host of Mordor below. Dawndeath immediately wrenched himself free of the ruin and pushed the scrambling Orcs about him from his path as he marched with slow and cold menace to the lines of the West.<br /> <br /> Like a man resurrected Akhoarahil raised himself from the ground. Ripped of his opportunity for power and revenge, he spat curses and blasphemes so loud and so terrible that the minions about him covered their ears and clambered from his sight. With a cry like the sundering of the earth below him he ripped his sword free of the sheath and searched the skies for the loathed Khamul and his wench Adunaphel, but with the hiss of a serpent he knew he could not reach them now. Seeing the struggling Men of the West before him, he knew that only the deaths of their captains would atone for his attempted insubordination. But then amongst the turmoil he saw a foe whom he despised almost as much as Khamul &ndash; the vaunted Heir of Isildur, whom had defeated him upon the Pelennor Fields. As he struck towards him he reminded himself of his vendetta against the Lords of Andunie, and of how this supposed king now carried the heirlooms he had so sought for so long; the ring of Barahir, and the reforged blade of Narsil, the terrible Anduril. The Eyes of the Well gleamed green avarice and red wrath as he struck towards his target. <br /> <br /> As if to his eyes some sudden vision had been given, Gandalf stirred; and he turned, looking back north where the skies were pale and clear. Then he lifted up his hands and cried in a loud voice ringing above the din: The Eagles are coming! And many voices answered crying: The Eagles are coming! The Eagles are coming! The hosts of Mordor looked up and wondered what this sign might mean.<br /> <br /> <br /> 2nd May, 2010 S.A, the Isle of Sunrises<br /> <br /> The hazy night was beginning to break into dawn when Khamul&rsquo;s boat neared the craggy shores of Tolromen, the fabled Isle of Sunrises. Never before had the Black Easterling been to this far-distant place, though he had heard tales of it since he was a child, of how it was the most easterly point on Middle-earth, and those who sail beyond its sight will find themselves falling with the waters off the world&rsquo;s end. Khamul, mighty and influencial though he was, had no battle-ships of his own and so had a mercenary crew take him where he beckoned on their boat. The transport was not as well armed or armoured as Khamul had liked, for he knew the bearer of the third mortal ring, Dwar, made war across all of the disparate islands off the eastern coast, and he had no desire to be drowned by one of the Dog King&rsquo;s battle navies. The Easterling had mused upon asking Dwar himself to lend him a vessel, but he knew word of it would find its way back to Sauron &ndash; and this was a meeting Khamul never wished his master to learn of.<br /> <br /> By Khamul stood two of his most trusted and skilled guardsmen, strong champions who followed their master even after the dissolving of his grand empire, and although they were stoic and vigilant of any suspicious vessel appearing from the horizon, the hired crew all seemed very jittery and scared. Khamul overheard one of them whining to the bo&rsquo;sun in a mannish language he could not decipher, but from his gestures it seemed they were more concerned of passing by the Isle of Sunrises by accident and falling from the edge of the world than any of Dwar&rsquo;s forces. The ship&rsquo;s captain, however, seemed to be a stern and experienced veteran, and calmly manoeuvred his vessel until they were at last making port upon the rocky shores of their destination.<br /> <br /> The Isle of Sunrises itself was little more than a series of sharp and high rocks extending from the sea like the point of a sword, but it was still climbable, and halfway between the summit and the waves was a relatively flat surface where two-dozen men could stand in comfort. Scattered across the Isle were several flags and standards that marked explorers ancient and recent who had made the journey to this famed place, and on many of the lower poles where the high tide had ventured old seaweed and barnacles were stuck, and the colours of the flags had been worn by the waters or ripped off completely. Against the perilous base the skilled captain again showed his practiced capability and made a safe and secure anchor, though as Khamul disembarked and clambered onto the stones, the two guardsmen remained on the ship to ensure no abandonment or unfair play happened, for anyone who fully trusted a mercenary, fair or foul seeming, was a fool. The climb was ragged and harsh, but Khamul was still a mighty man, despite the slow ravages his ring of power brought, and he quickly found footing and pulled his way tirelessly upwards.<br /> <br /> Upon the wide surface of the mid-way platform even more banners were stuck, and against the grim seas and the unending winds it almost seemed like the haunt of an old battlefield. Upon the eastern edge, the tall, robed and hooded figure of Dadarian stood patiently.<br /> &lsquo;Greetings, Khamul. You have come at last.&rsquo;<br /> &lsquo;Dardarian,&rsquo; the Easterling said, though he made no gesture of greeting.<br /> &lsquo;I suppose you are wondering why I am here.&rsquo;<br /> &lsquo;No,&rsquo; answered Khamul. &lsquo;I was in fact wondering how you arrived here. I see no ship...&rsquo;<br /> &lsquo;I swam.&rsquo; Khamul did not know whether his old acquaintance was joking or not, though by the dryness of his robes he guessed he had arrived through his arcane arts. &lsquo;Though I know it myself, I will ask you; how did you know I would be here?&rsquo;<br /> &lsquo;I still remember your tutelage when I was a child very well, Dardarian. You told me many tales between my studies, but more than anything you spoke of this place. Coupled with the fact you are now a renegade from Sauron, I knew you would be at such a disparate place.&rsquo;<br /> &lsquo;Well done. I only learnt of this place after I converted to the darkness, and then I had no care for things that were not useful to me, and so I never bothered to venture here. You are much wiser than Sauron believes, Komul.&rsquo;<br /> &lsquo;Do not call me that. I am Khamul, for my name in the Black Speech can be the only way I am talked of now. I am not the man I once was.&rsquo;<br /> &lsquo;Wise you are, but in that you are wrong,&rsquo; said Dardarian. &lsquo;The ring you carry will strip you of all mortality in time, and if you were a weaker man, your personality would fade, too. But that you will keep to the end of days, for I know the strength in you. Though you still feel ashamed at the thought, your ancestors had Elven blood, but you have proved to be greater than any of them.&rsquo;<br /> &lsquo;I did not travel across the sea for flattery, Dardarian,&rsquo; Khamul said, now much more sternly. &lsquo;Nor shall it save you from your plight. You know why I am here.&rsquo;<br /> &lsquo;Do you seriously think I am trying to escape my fate?&rsquo; chuckled the old Elf. &lsquo;If that were true, why would I be here?&rsquo;<br /> &lsquo;Then I suppose that is the most appropriate question of all. Why did you desert Sauron after going to Ren&rsquo;s home at Chey Sart?&rsquo;<br /> &lsquo;I think you already know why, but I shall humour you. Put simply, I realised the evil I was performing, and had performed. It sickened me to the core.&rsquo;<br /> &lsquo;Strange for you to finally grow a conscience after so many centuries,&rsquo; mused Khamul. &lsquo;Why only now?&rsquo;<br /> &lsquo;That I cannot answer. Personally, I put it down to my Elven nature. I was not always evil &ndash; and neither was Sauron. You would not believe that when I met your self-proclaimed Dark Lord, he was lost in doubt and turmoil after the final fall of his master...&rsquo;<br /> &lsquo;You speak of good and evil as if they were extreme constants. They are merely illusions; the only constant is power.&rsquo;<br /> &lsquo;Power!&rsquo; laughed Dardarian. &lsquo;Perhaps you are true, though believe what you will. But time shall reveal whether your immortality and your power bring you joy.&rsquo;<br /> &lsquo;Enough, Dardarian. You know what I have to do.&rsquo;<br /> The Avari&rsquo;s expression went blank, and he sighed softly. &lsquo;Yes. Yes, I am ready.&rsquo;<br /> Khamul lowered his eyes for a moment, but then in a heartbeat he drew his sword from his sheath with a rush. Dardarian stared at the blade almost curiously before meeting the unwavering gaze of his old acquaintance. Just a couple of steps before the Easterling met him, Dardarian suddenly yelled, &lsquo;Stop!&rsquo; And at once Khamul froze in his tracks.<br /> <br /> &lsquo;Before you do what must be done, tell me, did you inform Sauron of what you were to do?&rsquo; <br /> &lsquo;No,&rsquo; spoke Khamul. &lsquo;This is between just me and you. Though I must do my duty, word of this will never reach even his ears. To him you would have disappeared with no trace whatsoever.&rsquo;<br /> &lsquo;Good. That is good. You have hope yet, my friend.&rsquo;<br /> <br /> Barely had Dardarian spoken his last word that Khamul struck his sword into his chest. With a silent sigh Dardarian turned his back to the Easterling, staring out across the waves, and even as the sun had arisen and sat with content upon the horizon he fell from the Isle and was gone, devoured by the hungry waves. Only in the unending waters of Ulmo would the shadows of his past be washed away.<br /> <br /> Without a word or an expression Khamul climbed down from the Isle and boarded his ship. With a brief nod to his guardsmen they asked the mercenary captain to pull up anchor, and soon they were away from the craggy rocks. But as they sailed away, Khamul could not take his eyes from the jutting Isle; and as the morning light of Arien hung like a halo upon the point of Tolmaren one of the proud flags was ripped by the ceaseless wind from its ancient pole, and flew across the sea until it was lost.<br /> <br /> <br /> 25th March, 3019 T.A, Mordor<br /> <br /> There came Gwaihir the Windlord, and Landroval his brother, greatest of all the Eagles of the North, mightiest of the descendants of old Thorondor, who built his eyries in the inaccessible peaks of the Encircling Mountains when Middle-earth was young. Behind them in long swift lines came all their vassals from the northern mountains, speeding on a gathering wind. Straight down upon the Nazgul they bore, stooping suddenly out of the high airs, and the rush of their wide wings as they passed over was like a gale.<br /> <br /> Khamul slashed his sword with much strength into one of the oncoming creatures, and with a cry it tumbled down, but its death only spurred the Eagles on. Wherever the Black Easterling looked the creatures fought against his order; Hoarmurath seemed to be stunned and shocked at their coming and circled about the battlefield from them warily; Uvatha fired a stream of shots from his dark bow at Landroval, but his feathered wings were too swift; against the sickening pallor of Ren the Eagles would not go, but the Tainted was just as wary of them; and to Khamul&rsquo;s side Adunaphel and her steed desperately grappled them. <br /> <br /> But then suddenly the Nazgul turned and fled, and vanished into Mordor&rsquo;s shadows, hearing a sudden terrible call out of the Dark Tower; and even at that moment all the hosts of Mordor trembled, doubt clutched their hearts, their laughter failed, their hands shook and their limbs were loosed. The Power that drove them on and filled them with hate and fury was wavering, its will was removed from them; and now looking in the eyes of their enemies they saw a deadly light and were afraid.<br /> <br /> Yet upon the ground, Indur and Akhoarahil could not follow their master&rsquo;s command, and though doubt shuddered in their spirits they had hatred and savagery that out-shadowed all of their hordes. With a lurch Dawndeath brought his weapon like a meat cleaver upon the Knights of Dol Amroth, and though these men were lordly and brave this spectre of desperate slaughter suddenly put grim doubt upon their hearts, and the grip on their swords was slackened. But in this hour of doom Imrahil looked into the forgotten face of this terror and was not afraid. Standing above the men that had fallen to this revenant the Swan Prince stood unbowed, and the mad lust for death that seized the entire will of Ji Indur forced him upon this new foe without hesitation. Ren the Tainted had fled against the gleam of glory in the Prince&rsquo;s eyes at Minas Tirith and would not stand before him in this battle, but Indur was a being less bound by fear. Lost amidst the ecstatic slaughter of combat, fear was but an imp in the mind of the fallen lord, and it made him reckless but nigh-unstoppable. And so with a mighty crash his sword was brought down upon the defending shield of Imrahil with the potency of a Troll&rsquo;s blow. Dawndeath then stabbed around the heraldic safeguard but the Prince with a desperate yell swerved and in retaliation knocked the shield into the outraged form of the Ringwraith, who now thundered his sword into the shield again with a sorcerous garble which gave the blow unnatural strength, and it cracked into broken shards against the Shadow of the South. But Imrahil had anticipated the blunt attack, and spun around like a morning star and struck the ancient sword of his ancestors through the hood of the enemy. For a moment Dawndeath&rsquo;s blade moved up as if to strike, but then wavered, and fell from his hands as his iron mask dropped from his form, beheaded, and his body crumpled as if trampled by many foes, and a low groan of defeat reverberated from him as Indur the Outcast, vengeful ghost of the noble man he had once been, passed from the world forever.<br /> <br /> Then all the Captains of the West cried aloud, for their hearts were filled with a new hope in the midst of darkness. Out from the beleaguered hills knights of Gondor, Riders of Rohan, Dunedain of the North, close-serried companies, drove against their wavering foes, pierced the press with the thrust of bitter spears. But Gandalf lifted up his arms and called once more in a clear voice:<br /> &lsquo;Stand, Men of the West! Stand and wait! This is the hour of doom.&rsquo;<br /> <br /> And even as he spoke the earth rocked beneath their feet. Then rising swiftly up, far above the Towers of the Black Gate, high above the mountains, a vast soaring darkness sprang into the sky, flickering with fire. The earth groaned and quaked. The Towers of the Teeth swayed, tottered, and fell down; the mighty rampart crumbled; the Black Gate was hurled in ruin; and from far away, now dim, now growing, now mounting to the clouds, there came a drumming rumble, a roar, a long echoing roll of ruinous noise.<br /> <br /> &lsquo;The realm of Sauron is ended!&rsquo; said Gandalf. &lsquo;The Ring-bearer has fulfilled his Quest. And as the Captains gazed south to the Land of Mordor, it seemed to them that, black against the pall of cloud, there rose a huge shape of shadow, impenetrable, lightning-crowned, filling all the sky. Enormous it reared above the world, and stretched out towards them a vast threatening hand, terrible but impotent: for even as it leaned over them, a great wind took it, and it was all blown away, and then a hush fell.<br /> <br /> But suddenly there was a great shrill cry, and for a moment the hearts of the Captains of the West dropped, thinking some impossible will had resurrected their great enemy from destruction, but it was not so. For out of the din the Eyes of the Well came blazing like the heat of the heart of the world, and he had grown terrible in his vengeance and his defeat. For though Sauron and his Ring had passed, the Nine wore their rings still, and though soon they would too vanish as their master had done their malice was for the meantime not yet passed, though their power began to slowly disperse like dust in a slow breeze. In his last stand all his will and unholy might was concentrated into his actions, and as he came running towards them his sword seemed to glow a rotten black. None would stand against him, but as Aragorn watched him he perceived whom this foe was, that very same Nazgul who he had fought upon the Pelennor, and Gandalf knew his history and cause for hatred &ndash; Akhoarahil, King of Ciryatandor, ancient foe of the Lords of Andunie and all of their bloodline. <br /> <br /> As the Dark Marshal sprinted up the slag-hill, the White Wizard brought up his staff and the light of his majesty dazzled from it, but the wrath of Akhoarahil had grown to such bloated size that it he no longer feared it, and the aura-vision of his Eyes of the Well saw through its flare. With words that would only make the highest lords of Mordor not tremble at their sound he cast out a gauntleted hand in a clawed shape, and the staff of Gandalf was thrown from his hands onto the dirt, and the intensity of the spell sent the Wizard falling onto the ground in shock. The blinding light from the staff failed, but as men reopened their blinking eyes they saw the Lord Aragorn, Elessar, charging to meet this foulest of foes, and as Legolas watched the meeting of their swords he was reminded of tales from his father Thranduil, who spoke of the duel of Sauron and Gil-galad at the end of the Second Age.<br /> <br /> The force of Anduril was fierce, but the sight of it and the ring of Barahir upon his foe&rsquo;s finger sent Akhoarahil into darker rage. Again and again he made slashes and stabs at his foe, and as he rent his blade through the air his eyes burnt a deeper hue and he made brutish sounds of seething distaste. But Aragorn intercepted them, though he could only defend himself from his enemy&rsquo;s cursed sword, left with no chance of retaliation. But in the throng Eomer stood, and he looked on the foul duel and saw his friend wavering, and so with a cry he came towards them, loosing his weapon, sharp Guthwine for the Mark. He leapt into the fray, but the Eyes of the Well detected his arrival, and Akhoarahil reversed his swing to stop Eomer in his tracks. But now, with the brothers of the Dunedain and the Rohirrim together in their valiant wrath, young-seeming, but lordly above all other men, they could not be stopped. With a mighty effort Anduril swung in a blur up through the Dark Marshal&rsquo;s guard and deep into his robes. The sorcerous sword dropped instantly. Eomer battered his shield into the wraith and it crumbled to the floor, and as Akhoarahil fell his armour and robes came away, and his helm emptied. The Eyes of the Well burned bright and then too dropped, the light inside them extinguished. Akhoarahil drifted from the sight of Arda, and his last cry was one of vengeance and menace unfulfilled. Gandalf, seeming to shake the wraith&rsquo;s power off him, walked to the ruined form and groped in the empty robes until he lifted the Eyes of the Well from the wreckage. And deeming that though these things had once been forged and borne by fair hands, had too, like so many things that had come into the possession of the enemy, become as dark as their wielders. He muttered a whispered spell and he closed his hand swiftly and tightly, and when he opened it there was but glittering dust. <br /> <br /> The Captains bowed their heads; and when they looked up again, behold! their enemies were flying and the power of Mordor was scattering like dust in the wind. As when death smites the swollen brooding thing that inhabits their crawling hill and holds them all in sway, ants will wander witless and purposeless and then feebly die, so the creatures of Sauron, orc or troll or beast spell-enslaved, ran hither and thither mindless; and some slew themselves, or cast themselves in pits, or fled wailing back to hide in holes and dark lightless places far from hope. But the Men of Rhun and of Harad, Easterling and Southron, saw the ruin of their war and the great majesty and glory of the Captains of the West. And those that were deepest and longest in evil servitude, hating the West, and yet were men proud and bold, in their turn now gathered themselves for a last stand of desperate battle. But the most part fled eastward as they could; and some cast their weapons down and sued for mercy.<br /> <br /> Then Gandalf, leaving all such matters of battle and command to Aragorn and the other lords, stood upon the hill-top and called; and down to him came the great eagle, Gwaihir the Windlord, and stood before him.<br /> &lsquo;Twice you have borne me, Gwaihir my friend,&rsquo; said Gandalf. &lsquo;Thrice shall pay for all, if you are willing. You will not find me a burden much greater than when you bore me from Zirakzigil, where my old life burned away.&rsquo;<br /> &lsquo;I would bear you,&rsquo; answered Gwaihir, &lsquo;whither you will, even were you made of stone.&rsquo;<br /> &lsquo;Then come, and let your brother go with us, and some other of your folk who is most swift! For we have need of speed greater than any wind, outmatching the wings of the Nazgul.&rsquo;<br /> &lsquo;The North Wind blows, but we shall outfly it,&rsquo; said Gwaihir. And he lifted up Gandalf and sped away south, and with him went Landroval, and Meneldor young and swift. And they passed over Udun and Gorgoroth and saw all the land in ruin and tumult beneath them, and before them Mount Doom blazing, pouring out its fire.<br /> <br /> <br /> The onrush of the wings of the Nazgul was like a foul storm passing from the forgotten wastes of the north, but terrible though they might appear to all others, they were themselves desperate and panicked, gazing upon their target, the Mountain of Fire, with the entirety of their wills fixated upon reaching it. From what they could decipher from the call of Sauron, the One Ring had indeed been sensed, but upon the brink of the Sammath Naur, the Cracks of Doom. Surrounded by what remained of his dark order, Ren, Adunaphel, Hoarmurath and Uvatha flapping far in front of him, Khamul&rsquo;s mind raced in doubt. Was this but one final, taunting message from the Free Peoples of the West before they cast the nucleus of their existence into utter cataclysm? Or had the bearer of the lost, great ring become seduced by it at the last moment of doom? Either way, it was essential that they reach Orodruin in time.<br /> <br /> Yet as they neared the mountain, three things happened in Khamul&rsquo;s mind, all suddenly at once. The winged steed of Adunaphel, at last succumbing to the wound inflicted upon it by the sword of Galadriel at Lothlorien, began to steadily fall before collapsing in an unmoving heap at the base of Mount Doom; from the corner of his sense he heard a cry and the onrush of wings, and he saw three Eagles soaring towards them, the cursed White Wizard riding upon the greatest. And then Khamul felt as if the mightiest burden had been removed from his entire physical and mental form, and he was almost buoyed up by the sensation, which at first brought terror, but then upmost joy &ndash; yes, joy, and it was an emotion Khamul had forgotten. At last he realised what had happened &ndash; the will of Sauron had passed, removed from him, and only now, after his determined rush to Orodruin, had he noticed the crumbling tumults of Barad-dur and all the land of Mordor. The Easterling did not know how to feel.<br /> <br /> Even as these returning sensations washed over their Captain, Hoarmurath in his anxiety rushed still down into Mount Doom, and Ren and Uvatha turned at bay to combat the oncoming Eagles. Forgetting his feelings, battle called Khamul once more and he joined his brethren to attack the Eagles. With a crash, the combatants met. Brave Landroval, mightier than all but one of his flock, had the heart to face the lurid stench of the Tainted, and snapped the neck of his steed, sending Ren flailing down. Uvatha and Meneldur were matched in speed and swiftness, sword and beak dodging each other in blurred motions. But at the last the piercing talons of the Eagle clutched onto the spindly torso of Uvatha&rsquo;s creature and it too sent its master plummeting downwards. <br /> <br /> Last of all, the White Wizard and the Black Easterling met. Though his winged beast was easily overcome by the nobility of Gwaihir, Khamul leapt from the saddle onto the Windlord&rsquo;s back, clutching onto the golden feathers with a gauntleted hand, causing Gwaihir to cry and wheel in the air, but both Khamul and Gandalf held firm. Down came the sword of the Easterling, but up came Glamdring from the sheath. The blades struck, but Khamul pulled away and jabbed his weapon at the wizard&rsquo;s face. Narrowly moving from its path, Gandalf then shouted aloud, for this was the hour of the passing of his greatest enemy, the Dark Lord, and his strength now shone asunder, robed in old man&rsquo;s garment no longer. The White Wizard held the Nazgul&rsquo;s sword with two fingers, and then it vanquished into dust. Glamdring lunged up through the black swathes of Khamul, and with a silent acknowledgement of his worthy foe, he fell.<br /> <br /> <br /> Hoarmurath continued to rush towards the cone of the great volcano. He thought back to the Prophecy of Dardarian that he had discovered, of how fate had finally come to take his title of the Undying from him. Perhaps he could still grasp the ring before it is destroyed, if it had not been already, he thought. But then there was a sudden blast, and a flash of white, and yellow and red, and Hoarmurath saw that a massive leaping flame had exploded from the mountain, and enflamed rocks and fires spewed everywhere from it like a victorious firework. With a shriek the Nazgul who had committed himself to an eternal sustainment of immortality turned at bay from the ravages of Orodruin, but the fires were too many and in too large a volume. The last feeling to race through Hoarmurath&rsquo;s mind before ruination found him was fear, and then the flame took him. <br /> <br /> Mount Doom now belched unceasing rivers of magma and lava, hungrily washing down the ashen slopes. Ren the Tainted lay grovelling on the ground, but he did not seek to crawl from the oncoming flames, for he knew that he was the Fire King of Chey Sart, son of the volcano, and now the touch of his divine ancestry had come to reclaim him &ndash; and he would be reborn. The lecherous creature salivated and chuckled harshly at the prospect; but when the flames found him, a dark and sudden horror pulled itself through Ren&rsquo;s mind. With Sauron dead, his mind now finally cleared, and he thought of the madness and the destruction he had caused, and closing his eyes, what remained of his soul wept at what he had become, but what was now passing away.<br /> <br /> Not too far from Ren, Uvatha had fallen. He had landed painfully upon a high rock, and the lava flowed about him like an island, though Uvatha was not wholly pleased with his safety. All that went through his mind was that what he wanted had been achieved &ndash; he had died a warrior&rsquo;s death, though his foe and the manner of his passing could never have been imagined by him. Sighing, he lifted his sword from its scabbard, thinking of brave Dwar at Erebor, and he placed it across his body like a hero of old. There he lay, and there he waited for his exposed spirit to leave him, and die at last.<br /> <br /> From the wreckage of her fallen fell beast, Adunaphel rose, and looked about all the land, seeing the wreckage of Barad-dur, the tumults of Gorgoroth, the Eagles now flying in the distance with whom she supposed to be the Ringbearers in their talons, and the hastening fury of Orodruin, but for all these things she cared not. At last, she saw the thing she sought, and raced towards it. Breathing steadily upon the cragged ground was Khamul, and though he did not move at Adunaphel&rsquo;s appearance, she knew what he now felt was different to how he seemed.<br /> &lsquo;Adunaphel... forgive me. You told me that this would come to pass, but I did not listen.&rsquo;<br /> &lsquo;If it was fated then you could have done nothing to prevent it anyway,&rsquo; she replied, standing above him like a guardian.<br /> &lsquo;It is so strange, but so wondrous,&rsquo; said Khamul with an invisible smile. &lsquo;Our power lies shattered about us, but for the first time in so long I do not care for power anymore. I can feel my old self again! Dardarian was right...&rsquo;<br /> &lsquo;As can I,&rsquo; Adunaphel said softly. &lsquo;I remember how we felt for one another.&rsquo;<br /> &lsquo;Aye. How I rue that our time together has been as inhuman spectres, Adunaphel. But at least we have lived to be able to rue it.&rsquo;<br /> &lsquo;If indeed we have lived at all,&rsquo; she answered.<br /> &lsquo;That will soon change,&rsquo; said Khamul, though not direly. &lsquo;We both know how we feel once again, but we are still wraiths, still abominations.&rsquo;<br /> &lsquo;Perhaps knowing is enough. Though I cannot touch you like I once did, would you have me go from your side?&rsquo;<br /> Khamul turned to her, gazing long and hard. &lsquo;Never,&rsquo; he said.<br /> And there they stood, in the company of one another, until at last the fires inevitably found them too, and like Murazor, and Dwar, and Ji Indur, and corrupt Akhoarahil, and Hoarmurath, Ren and Uvatha before them, they fell out of sight of Arda. And with their passing, the Nazgul, the legendary Nine, were forgotten at last from the world, and the dark glory of their powerful splendour was lost, like ghosts on the wind at the coming of the end of days.<br /> <br /> <br /> <em>The Order of the Nazgul:<br /> 1. Er-Murazor, fallen Prince of Numenor, the Witch-King of Angmar, the Black Captain. &dagger; to Meriadoc Brandybuck and Eowyn of Rohan, Battle of Pelennor Fields.<br /> 2. Khamul the Black Easterling, the Shadow of the East, Lieutenant of Dol Guldur, second Captain of the Nine, fallen Emperor of Rhun.<br /> 3. Dendra Dwar the Dog King, the Shadow Lord, the Unforgiving, fallen Lord of the Eastern Isles (eastern province). &dagger; to King Dain Ironfoot, Battle of Dale.<br /> 4. Ji Indur Dawndeath the Outcast, the Betrayer, Shadow of the South, fallen King of Mumakan (kingdom of Far Harad). &dagger; to Prince Imrahil of Dol Amroth, Battle of the Black Gate.<br /> 5. Akhoarahil the Dark Marshal, the Storm King, the Kinslayer, fallen King of Ciryatandor (Numenorean client kingdom). &dagger; to King Elessar, Battle of the Black Gate.<br /> 6. Hoarmurath the Undying, the Ice King, fallen King of Urd.<br /> 7. Adunaphel the Once Vain, the Silent Lady, the Queen of Sadness, Knight of Umbar, fallen Princess of Numenor.<br /> 8. Ren Jey the Tainted, the Fire King, the Unclean, the Illusionist, fallen King of Chey Sart (eastern kingdom).<br /> 9. Uvatha Achef the Blood Archer, the Messenger, the Horseman, fallen King of Khand.</em></p>
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