Recap: Arwen is going with Gandalf to Mordor.
At the sound of a footstep outside her door, Snaga quickly hid her dagger in its sheath, which she had attached to a belt she wore under her dress, and grabbed for the book Galadwen had given her when the lessons with Shaglush had stopped. Snaga didn’t really like reading about the history of Mordor, but since Galadwen both expected her to and had gone to all the trouble of writing it down in Mordorian, it was good to be seen trying to read it.
Galadwen opened the door. Something was dancing behind her red eyes. “Snaga, come.”
Snaga looked up. “Why? What’s happening?” she asked, closing the book. She dropped it onto her bed. The sheathed dagger slapped her legs gently as she stood and walked around the bed. She did not like the hidden smirk in her mother’s eyes.
“You must speak with Him,” Galadwen told her. “He is…most anxious…to talk to you about your future.”
Can’t I at least have my birthday in peace? Snaga thought, annoyed and more than a little frightened as she followed Galadwen out of the room. Her mother walked quickly, almost bouncing as she took steps. Galadwen never bounced when she walked. This is not good, Snaga thought, suddenly glad she still had her dagger with her.
Snaga’s feeling of foreboding mounted when Galadwen started to walk up the stairs to Sauron’s tower. Snaga’s right hand fell stiff at her side, brushing the dagger hilt under her dress for comfort. She cast an uneasy glance behind her as Shaglush and Ghnakh materialized out of the shadows in front of the door and followed her into the room, closing the door shut with a bang. Snaga jumped as they did so – it sounded as though a tomb door were closing, locking her into the crypt. She braced herself against the force of Sauron’s being.
“Excellent, Galadwen,” Sauron said in an approving voice. Snaga tried to back up against the door, but Shaglush shot her a look of pure hatred, and she froze where she stood. “You may stay.” Galadwen stepped back and turned her red gaze on Snaga. “Step forward, little one,” Sauron said.
Her mind was screaming at her, Get out of here! Get out! Snaga stood her ground, not moving.
“Come to me,” Sauron commanded, anger coming into his voice. Snaga swallowed hard, but took not one step forward. “Come!” Sauron snarled, and Snaga came forward unwillingly, but afraid of what he could do in anger. She had not forgotten being slammed against the wall.
Instantly his voice calmed down. “Much better,” he said. Snaga could hear the smirk in his voice. “Snaga, today is your birthday, is it not?”
“It is,” she replied, forcing her voice to stay steady, and not shake with fear.
“You see, little one, I felt utterly miserable at not having a gift for you on your birthday,” Sauron continued. “Luckily, I realized this in time to prepare something very special for you.” Snaga saw Galadwen lick her lips like an animal. “Your mother has kindly helped me in making the gift. Galadwen, you may now give it to her.” Snaga could feel Sauron settle back, like a satisfied cat with cream on its whiskers – or perhaps, instead, with a few stray feathers once belonging to a bird. She shivered, although the tower was hot, as Galadwen drew from the pocket of her dress a packet and handed it to her. “Open it, Snaga,” Sauron urged.
Her fingers trembled as she untied the string around the packet. She pulled away the cloth that the gift was wrapped in. Something fell with a clink to the floor. “Pick it up, Snaga.”
Snaga bent down. She reached out and plucked the thing off the stone floor. Her hands shook as she turned a gold ring set with a dense black stone in her fingers.
“During the Second Age, I helped the Elven-smiths make the Great Rings of Power,” Sauron said almost eagerly. “For you, I designed one that is unique. Your mother forged it and set the stone, but the ring is of my own design. Its name is Darya.”
Something was very wrong about this ring. Snaga knew that Sauron often spoke of a One Ring that he had made and longed to have again, and always when he talked of it, he mentioned a war and nineteen other rings whose owners he wished to “possess.” What will happen to me if I put on this ring? Snaga wondered with apprehension. “What is the stone?” she asked, trying to find out something about the ring that would tell her of its powers.
“It is a darkstone,” Galadwen told her, “found only here, in Mordor.”
Snaga knew of darkstones. They were set in slave collars, and believed to have the power to bind something. “And what does Darya mean?” she asked, deciding that she would never put this ring on.
“Darya is the ring’s name, nothing more,” Sauron told her, his voice soft and soothing. Snaga found her finger drifting toward the center of the smooth gold band, and discovered that she had neither will nor wish to stop it. “It is naught more than a birthday gift. Put it on to please me. I wish to see it on your hand.”
“What…are…its…powers?” Snaga asked drowsily, her finger almost within the circle of Darya. Her eyes were drifting shut.
“Darya is the Ring of Possession,” Sauron replied, his voice still soft. “Put it on.”
The dagger shifted against her leg, and the sheath gently swatted her thigh. The sheath was tipped at the bottom with metal, so the dagger wouldn’t poke through it, and the cold iron against her leg startled Snaga out of her trance. Her eyes flew open, and she snatched her finger away from Darya. The ring had almost completely encircled her finger. With a snarl, Snaga hurled the ring at Sauron’s feet, her hand flying to the hilt of her dagger.
Sauron shrieked a curse as Darya clattered to the floor. At the sound of his voice, Shaglush leaped at Snaga, hurling his weight against her and bringing them both crashing to the floor. Snaga seized the hilt of her dagger, pulled it up through a slit in the side of her dress, and slashed inexpertly at the Orc’s restraining hands. Her unprofessional stroke did the job – Shaglush screamed in rage and pain, two of his fingers lying in a pool of black blood by Snaga’s head. She brought her legs up to her chest, planted her feet on Shaglush’s chest, and kicked him off her. He rolled onto the floor beside her, clutching his mutilated hand with his whole other one, and Snaga leaped to her feet, dagger at the ready.
Ghnakh bellowed in anger and drew his own knife. Snaga fell into a crouch as he came at her, aiming his blade at her throat. She ducked his swing and stabbed upward, hoping to hit his heart, lungs, or gut.
She missed, only scoring a line down his chest, cutting open his leather vest. He hurled his knife at her, and Snaga ducked it too slow – it caught her left shin and dragged down. She cried out in pain and wrenched it out, tears of agony blurring her vision.
Perhaps that was why Sauron was able to get her.
The next thing Snaga knew, she was being tossed around the room like a ball in the hands of children, buffeted back and forth by some unseen wind. The hands that caught her were the walls of the tower. She struck one and bounced off it to be hurled against another, merely to slide off it and thud into yet another wall. A thin line of blood trickled from her head down her cheek, next to her eye. Her left leg was screaming – no, it was she herself who was screaming, screaming at the top of her voice with agony and fear and rage.
But Sauron’s furious voice overrode her screams. “Do you think this is pain?” he demanded. “You have not even experienced minor discomfort! Will you accept my gift and put an end to this?”
It would stop! It will stop, if I take that ring. For a fleeting instant, Snaga thought she could take Darya, admit defeat, be subject to Sauron’s will when she wore Darya – anything, so long as it would stop this abominable pain! But then she thought of what that would mean – all her own will bled away, to be a mere vassal of Sauron, doing whatever he bade her do – and she knew, with a sense of shocked, angry recklessness, that she would rather die.
She drew in a breath and spat on the floor.
Instantly the pain she felt was multiplied tenfold, a thousandfold. She could no longer even scream. She simply hung limp in Sauron’s grip as he smashed her bones against the walls, tore at her golden hair, used her own dagger to slash up and down her body. He offered her no other chance to save herself. Snaga felt in her ruined body that death was coming, that it was reaching out its hands for her. She could almost see the grandparents that Galadwen had told her were dead reaching out for her, murmuring “Welcome…”
Then Sauron let her go. She fell to the floor, scant moments from dying, but kept on the threshold of the living. Snaga felt her tattered sides heave as she tried to breathe. Why won’t you let me die? she thought despairingly. Please let me die!
“Ghnakh,” said Sauron’s voice, cold and taut with fury somewhere above her, “see to it that she does not die. Do not heal her; just keep her barely alive. Lock her in the dungeon, in a cell where no light shines through. And make sure she does not kill herself.” Snaga felt Ghnakh seize her wrist. She had no strength with which to pull herself to her feet, so she could only be dragged from the room. Her body slumped down the myriad stairs after Ghnakh, who from time to time delivered a savage kick to her face, muttering, “For Shaglush, you filthy slave,” under his breath each time he did so. Snaga let herself fall into darkness, knowing as she did so that it was not death, but only pain-numbing unconsciousness, from which she would wake soon enough to a nightmare.