One goes to the bringer of strife,
Kinslayer and tyrant most black.
15th March, 3019 T.A, The Pelennor Fields/Minas Tirith
Across the bounds of the trappings of Arda, the endless plains of the East and the contours of the West, the cold barrens of the North and the scorching sands of the South, the names of few mighty individuals endured the tests of time. Yet, one name had been carved into the memories of all Middle-earth’s denizens, a name written in blood and malignancy and defined by centuries of brutal hardship. Lieutenant of Sauron and right hand of the Witch-King, the Dark Marshal was the pride of his masters and the bane of their foes. Yet, here, against the walls of Minas Tirith, he felt like his majesty had imploded about him.
The death of his lord the Witch-King had cut through him like a dart of ice. At first, the feeling of loss had shocked him dumbstruck, almost falling into a senseless state as he soared over the battlefield upon his winged beast. And then his black rage increased tenfold. Like the judging powers of the heavens themselves, his steed swooped downwards, pummelling into the Rohirrim hosts and sending the savaged remains of horses and riders flailing away from his impact. He emanated a shriek so ghastly it seemed to come from the deepest pits of despair as he wrathfully bounded from his winged creature, cutting directly into the Northmen, and not even their valued heroism could withstand the sight of the Dark Marshal.
Scattering the horsemen, he made his way to the foul scene of his master’s great winged beast, which now lay decapitated on the ground. The companions of those knights that had fallen about their king had come to bear them from the grisly battle, yet the Nazgul’s presence sent them fleeing in terror, abandoning their fallen in dismay. The Rohirrim King’s corpse was nowhere to be found – it seemed at least his body had been borne to the White City. Through the broken ground and mangled corpses the Dark Marshal stalked, until he found physical proof of what he already knew to be true – the crumpled, empty armour of the Witch-King and a jet black ripped cloak, trampled and muddied in the earth. In what seemed like a daze, he reached down with a gauntleted hand and retrieved the shattered helm of his lord, holding it aloft in sheer amazement of his passing. Yet now, as he held the fractured metal, something had become clear – for millennia he had served as the harbinger of the Witch-King, performed his duties, warred his enemies and counselled his schemes. Surely, with his death, he would take control?
The singular thought swelled into a lust for his master’s lost power. And yet – the fool Khamul stood in his way, for he was second among the Nine. The Black Easterling and the Witch-King had forever been rivals, and so in turn the Dark Marshal held nothing but scorn for him. To call Khamul lord – to be subservient to him – it was an intolerable concept. He would have to be removed.
And then he heard a cry overhead. The Dark Marshal let the crown of the past Lord of the Nine tumble to the ground carelessly as he lifted his head, slightly blanching at the sun breaking through the dark clouds sent from Mount Doom. Recognising the identity of the newcomer, he too shrieked, yet not in answer, but anger and disbelief, and his eyes flared in resent.
The newcomer wheeled as if in announcement, and sure enough the captains of the West looked upon this new horror with dread. His winged steed plummeted downwards like a falling black star, seeming like he would crash into the earth before masterfully guiding his monstrous slave to land and stand brazen before the Dark Marshal and the remains of the Witch-King. Fresh from the front lines at Lothlorien, Khamul, the Black Easterling had come to the killing fields of the Pelennor.
And the Dark Marshal favoured his coming even less than the allies of the White Tower.
‘Then it is true’, Khamul dispassionately surveyed the fallen Witch-King. ‘Not by the hand of man would he fall, it was said, and so it seems, for it appears his demise was his own foolish arrogance.’
The Dark Marshal spat out his words like poison; ‘Why have you come?’
‘The Master’s priority is the taking of Gondor’s cursed capital. I have come to please him, for it seems his greatest army resides without a general.’ The second of the nine sneered at the Marshal, ‘Well, at least any kind of skilled general, Sightless.’
In the days of his mortality, the Dark Marshal had been blinded in an accident whilst learning the arcane arts. In order to recover his lost sight, he sought out a pair of mystical, mythical gems known as the Eyes of the Well, and taking this name to heart had them inserted into his sockets. The gems allowed him to see the world through the flows of magic, and became one with his dark soul. In this hour of his disgrace at Khamul’s hands, they now burnt such deep red that fire itself seemed to smoulder from them.
‘I was the right hand of the Witch-King! I was the lieutenant of the Nazgul! If any have the right to claim command, it is I – not you, Easterling!’
‘I do hope this is but a jest,’ snarled Khamul. ‘For you could not possibly forget that I am second amongst our order? You would not possibly think that by merely following the Witch-King about like some desperate pup for centuries that you could usurp me of my rightful position? Unless of course you would go against the direct will of Sauron?’
‘His will? No. Only yours!’
As the Dark Marshal drew his wicked blade in defiance, another hooded figure entered the scene, his cloak and sword matching in splatters of crimson, as silent as a whisper.
‘Ah, Dawndeath,’ greeted the Black Easterling. ‘Finally, a reliable source who can inform me of our current position.’
The Dark Marshal sheathed his sword, yet still kept a hatefully tight grip upon it as the Outcast turned to the new Lord of the Nazgul.
‘The Tainted and the Undying press the attack in the city,’ uttered Dawndeath, his voice like the rasping of graveyard soil. ‘And the Corsair fleet will be here shortly. As for the Rohirrim, the Blood Archer has recently sent for our reinforcements, who are set to overwhelm them.’
Even as the words were spoken, bleak horns went up from the ruins of Osgiliath, and the second wave of Mordor’s evil pressed the attack. At their head was Gothmog, the Lieutenant of Morgul, rallying darkness to him.
‘It seems Gothmog has the battle under his control,’ stated Khamul. ‘I for one would trust his superior tactics compared to…others,’ the Dark Marshal growled as the Easterling’s gaze passed him. ‘This leaves us to pressure the city and the Rohirrim as much as we need. Search for their commanders and destroy them, and if any of you see signal of the Swan Prince or the cursed Wizard, we shall annihilate them.’
As one, the Dark Marshal and the Outcast called their fell beasts to them, quickly mounting them with murderous intent. Before vanishing into the chaos of battle, the Marshal turned to Khamul.
‘You rule as Lord of our order, Easterling, for now. But know this may change in time, for our dispute is not over.’ And with that he glided away, screaming as he passed.
‘How do you stand, Dawndeath?’ asked Khamul, carelessly watching the Marshal soar away. ‘What is your opinion regarding the Witch-King’s death?’
The Outcast brandished his dripping bloodied blade in remorseless lack of consideration and stated, ‘Does it truly matter?’
The Black Easterling readied his reigns and smirked at his brethren’s butcherous amorality. ‘Nay. Nay, it matters not.’
As the Outcast bounded back into the battlefield, a momentary shroud was cast over Khamul’s mind. He was left alone, contemplating as the massacre raged around him, and blankly repeated, ‘It matters not…’
Dawndeath had always reminded the Dark Marshal of his time in the mortal realm, for once he had been the ruler of a great southern Numenorean haven, Ciryatandor, and as its Prince he had warred with Dawndeath and his paltry Haradrim forces, most obviously winning against them. The taste of victory had been so powerful then…addictive even. And that was how he turned to sorcery. That was how he met the sorcerer, Dardarian; that was how he lost his sight and that was how he found the Eyes of the Well. And that was how he murdered his father…
He still remembered the scene as it was yesterday. A great day of celebration was held at Ciryatandor, and its King sat proudly upon his throne. Up through the crowd his son, the Prince Akhoarahil, moved, his crystal vision, the Eyes of the Well, showing him hues of blue and green, yet the figure of his father showed as pure red. Reaching out his hand, he penetrated his father’s mind, twisting, turning, torturing, leaving his mind in tatters and his sanity in torment. The King of Ciryatandor, in despair at the inner turmoil, unable to stand the storms in his head, sought for the nearest sword and impaled himself as his nation watched, horrified, staring sorrowfully as the lifeblood flooded from his wounds. Two days later, Prince Akhoarahil became King of Ciryatandor. His path to becoming the Dark Marshal would soon be complete.
Fresh blocks of Orcs and Easterlings moved through the once unassailable gateway of the city, its torn ruins riven across the courtyard at the hands of the Witch-King. Now the second ring of Minas Tirith was beset, and only the authority of their captains kept the tide back; Hirluin of the Green Hills, Lord Forlong of Lossarnach, Hurin, Warden of the Keys and Imrahil of Dol Amroth – the vaunted Swan Prince. This was what the Dark Marshal knew, and thus why they had to die. Why the White Fool was absent puzzled him somewhat though – could this be one of his deceptive ploys? Whatever the reason, there was no choice but to push on into the city, and the sheer volume of his followers could surely best anything Gandalf could launch at them. For now the fell captain took advantage, once again drawing his ancient blade and ordering a vanguard of Olog-hai to burst the second gate. Yet it seemed the Gondorians had foreseen this, immediately countering the Dark Marshal’s commands as Lord Duinhir and his skilled bowmen of Morthond Vale launched sleek black arrows down from the walls, bringing two of the Trolls down through their true aim and ferocious quantity of volleys. Enraged, the Marshal crashed into the bowmen upon the walls, scattering their garrison with his presence alone. Yet their captain Duinhir was made of sterner stuff. Taking a bow from his fleeing comrades, his aim took what seemed like hours to align. Confident with his accuracy, the arrow made fast from the shaft. Unknowing of his danger, the Dark Marshal sat victoriously upon his fell beast on the walls, raising his sword in defiance of the White City. And then he felt as if the earth had given way before him, until he noticed that a black arrow jutting from his mount’s heart. The monster came tumbling from the walls, and the Dark Marshal with him, spinning and wheeling as he fell to the stone floor. He automatically sprang up as he touched the ground, and with a curse he realised where he had landed. Alone, on the enemy’s side of the wall.
Spitting murderous curses and threats, he spurred towards the gate. If he could open it from the inside, his forces could come through and overwhelm the Gondorians… His schemes were cut short by a group of Dol Amroth knights, their Numenorean bloodlines allowing them to face the horrors that lesser men would not. Yet despite their valour, their sword arms were less keen, and the Dark Marshal parried their blades effortlessly before shunting his into their thick armour, dispatching them with the gory efficiency of a crazed butcher. More soldiers came to block his path, but more corpses were left in the Marshal’s wake, their bloody bodies beheaded with blade or crumpled in agony by his dark practices. The Eyes of the Well turned green, red, blue, the colours moving across the Nazgul’s vision as swiftly as his kills. He neared the gate, yet here an entire blockade of Minas Tirith’s defenders stood ready to await what broke through the other side. Some saw the Marshal approach, and summoning their courage called for their fellows to overwhelm him. The Eyes turned black as the cunning wraith readied his drenched sword, when suddenly a mighty crash flared across the courtyard and pieces of broken wood flew aimlessly. The interception of the Morthond Vale bowmen had indeed allowed the Olog-hai safe passage to assault the gate, and they had done. Now the bloodthirsty Trolls spilled into the Gondorian garrison, and spurred by the enigmatic and shadowy presence of the Dark Marshal the defenders began to flee. The hosts of Mordor flowed through the broken gate to pursue, battalions of Orcs and Easterlings, led by the vicious Nazgul known as the Undying and the Tainted, who barely acknowledged the Marshal as they continued their task of single-minded annihilation.
The Dark Marshal found his way again to the top of the wall, watching his brethren take their combat to the third gate. And then, out of the black clouds above, a winged creature soared down, landing against the wall where the Marshal stood. It was the Blood Archer, the deadly marksman of the Nazgul who had pierced the Rohirrim King’s horse with his fell missiles, chief messenger of the Dark Lord.
‘Marshal – the Corsairs -‘ he urgently hissed.
‘Have the pirate scum arrived at last?’
‘No,’ the Archer seemed desperate. ‘The Corsairs – their ships – stolen by the enemy! The flag of Elendil! Look yonder!’
Although the Dark Marshal was irritated at his comrade’s hasty ramblings, he followed the Archer’s finger to the Harlond docks. Indeed, the Corsair ships had arrived – yet soldiers – horsemen of Lamedon and strange hooded warriors in grey – sallied from the vessels.
The Marshal could not believe this. How could such a thing happen?
‘Give me your steed,’ he ordered.
‘What? No, of course not!’ retorted the Blood Archer.
The Marshal punched upwards, blowing the Archer in his face and sending him falling off his winged beast. Quickly, the Dark Marshal leapt into his saddle.
‘This is mutiny. Treason!’ cried the Archer, recovering from his fall.
‘Only by you’, hissed the Marshal. ‘You disobeyed my direct order.’
‘Who do you think you are, Lord of the Nazgul?’ asked the shocked Archer.
‘Yes. Yes, I do.’
And with that the Dark Marshal flew to meet this new threat, leaving the Blood Archer puzzled and mountless upon the walls of the White City.
Whomever this new threat was, they would fall. And then, the foolish Easterling Khamul would fall. They will all fall, and they will all burn in the gaze of the Eyes of the Well.