Nine rings for nine kings,
Mightier than the seas,
But flawed they are, for might comes with power,
And only with more power would they appease.
<strong>13th November, 2000 S.A, the City of Uab<strong>
The sun in the far north was almost always revealed to the few straggling tribes and relic beasts from forgotten ages who resided in its arid bleakness, for the sky was far too thin to provide any veil against her. But such was the velocity of the sharp winds and lonesome air that her heat was not felt, and so the Northern Waste offered little cheer to the lonesome souls who wandered upon it.
Yet, in the secret city of Uab, no windows were cut into the stone bed chambers of the Ice King’s palace, and so Adunaphel awoke with no heed of chill or sun, only the waning candle that dimly lit the stoic contours of the handsome face that lay beside her.
Softly lifting his arm which wrapped around her bare waist, she moved from the warm furs of the bed to dress herself in the robes that rested still on the chamber floor, a reminder of last night’s pleasures. Walking gently towards the door so not to wake him, she looked back at her sleeping lover and moved through the door.
‘Hoping to slip away before any emotions settle?’
Adunaphel stopped and looked back at the apparently conscious Khamul. ‘You could say,’ she whispered, unable to help a smile lift the side of her mouth.
‘It would be a strange relationship. I wonder what Sauron would have to say,’ he smirked.
‘Perhaps he would be willing to wed us.’
‘I would like to see his idea of a wedding ceremony,’ joked Khamul.
‘We can both happily agree that this must not be serious, then,’ said Adunaphel.
‘The situation, or our apparent relationship?’
‘Agreed,’ stated Khamul. At that Adunaphel seemed to have a sting of realisation and let her eyes fall downwards slightly. ‘You seem a little disheartened?’ he inquired. ‘Do not be. A freer relationship is not bereft of passion.’
‘Yes,’ answered Adunaphel, a little cheerier now. ‘Last night was surely full of it. It has been so long since I felt such joy again. Not since I left Numenor…’
‘That I can agree on also. Now, did you not have some slipping away to attend to?’
Adunaphel smiled and left through the door.
King Hoarmurath ambled along the grey corridors of his palace, feeling a light breeze brush him from up ahead. Every morning he liked to awake before his subjects and walk to his balcony which overlooked the entirety of his strong city and into the woods beyond. He had done it because when he carried his old sword that had kept him unnaturally alive for so long – the blade which contained the fell spirit he had slain so many years ago – he could barely sleep at night; he had felt like a man being stretched out slowly and painfully upon a torture device. But now, at last, he would awake to look upon his kingdom free of that weight, a weight replaced with the dazzlingly beautiful ring upon his finger.
As he came towards the balcony, he heard a strange noise, a sound he had not heard in his travels before. It sung in sorrow, but with a certain optimism; soon after his initial confusion at the sound he already felt touched by it. It was, in short, beautiful.
Entering the open air, he saw at last the source. The emissary of Sauron, Adunaphel, seemed to be playing a strange instrument, and to Hoarmurath it seemed as if her very soul was sounding the notes as she gazed across the stark landscape. The King did not make a noise, seeking not to interrupt her until she had finished.
‘That was very impressive,’ he commented as her final note ended. She turned slowly to face him, as if she knew of his presence the whole time.
‘Thank you. I have played this lute ever since I was a child; in the citadel I rule I play it every morning, so all of my subjects can feel my presence. In fact, my father gifted it to me before he died – you would have appreciated him, for in the land I originally came from he protested against those who were allies with the Elves.’
‘Then I am sure we would have got along very well,’ Hoarmurath sternly said, thinking darkly of the current war he was engaged in with the northern Avari Elves. ‘I am far too happy that Sauron wishes to aid me in destroying them.’
‘Yes,’ answered Adunaphel, relatively absently as she placed her lute back into the veils of her robes. ‘Might I ask why you too have come here? It is strange to see a King up at such an early hour, especially without guards.’
‘I like to come up here every morning to remind myself of the power I possess,’ he said proudly, though Adunaphel was not so impressed by his arrogance. ‘And I am used to being awake early. The cursed sword I once carried granted me little sleep… Yet I rejoice to be free of that shackle at last!’
‘I should warn you, as neither Sauron or Khamul will,’ whispered Adunaphel as she readied herself to leave. ‘But you have just tied yourself to a new one.’
‘What do you mean?’ asked Hoarmurath, puzzled, but Adunaphel had already gone from the balcony.
<strong>24th March, 3019 T.A, the Morannon<strong>
It had been seven days now since Sauron had sent the Nazgul to the Black Gates. Dwar and Uvatha continued to besiege the mountain-fortress of Erebor and so put an end to the Dwarf threat there forever. Adunaphel commanded the assault on Lothlorien in Khamul’s stead, hoping that wave after wave of devastating attacks from the hordes of Dol Guldur and the Misty Mountains would suffocate the eldritch power of the White Lady and her advocates. Indur, Hoarmurath and Ren had not yet returned from the scouting errands Khamul had placed on them, hoping to determine the position, arrival and tactics of the oncoming warriors from Minas Tirith, and also gather news and assess the situation of the War. He had also told Sauron that they would continue to search for word of the Ring, though he knew that the attempt would be, again, futile. Akhoarahil still marshalled the hosts of Mordor towards the Morannon, although now it seemed the vast majority were collected here and he now only rounded up the stragglers.
Yes, the army that clamoured below him was monstrously vast, thought Khamul as he stood atop the Black Gates, his winged steed away croaking upon the mountains that stood on either side of the gates. As the new Lord of the Nine continued to inspect the minions, he found that the words Adunaphel had spoken to him at Barad-dur before she had departed to Lorien troubled him. Though he had initially dismissed her scepticism on the war and the Ring – not to mention the ghost of their long past mortal relationship – he now found a sharp sense of doubt creeping through his mind. What if he was fated to lose? The concept still seemed incredulous to him, but not wholly impossible. For there were some things that Sauron or even any of the Istari knew; what could the past servants of Eru remember of his designs after countless millennia, even if he had revealed his purposes to them or not?
Looking out over the scarred slag-hills before him, the Shadow of the East at last turned and began striding along the gates to the twin tower Carchost, where his charts and maps were stored. If fate was conspiring against him, his tactics and battle-plans would have to be at their absolute peak.
<strong> 24th March, 3019 T.A, Lothlorien<strong>
Fire, fire, fire; everywhere the terrors of the enemy moved, hacking apart the bodies of the fallen and burning every tree. The voices of nature screamed in disbelief and anguish, and to those who had the powers to hear it, they could barely stand the deafening clamour. The borders of Lothlorien were beginning to fall, and there was only so much the valour of Lord Celeborn could do to prevent it.
As he desperately ordered his warriors into cohesive lines, he scoured the skies in concern. His last meeting with a Nazgul, the dreaded Shadow of the East, had left him injured in both body and spirit, though he was still grateful for his survival. He had believed that the enchantments of his land could withstand anything that the Dark Lord could muster, but in the assaults sent at them in the past days it now seemed to Celeborn that the arm of Sauron had grown so long that he could even grasp through the veils of Lorien.
The painful flames of the trees were spreading towards his direction; the funeral pyre lit for them would burn the entire wood. Yet in a flash, a wave of blue and white spread like a great barrier, moving across the trees and quenching the fires instantly. The wave dissipated, but the flames had gone with it. Celeborn turned, and rejoiced to see the form of his wife, the beautiful and deadly Lady Galadriel, her arms still outstretched from the casting of the spell.
‘My beloved, you have come at last!’ exclaimed Celeborn, swiftly leaping towards her.
‘Forgive me,’ she said. ‘I had to take a great gamble to ensure the safety of our people, but their spirit and strength has determined its success.’
‘I do not fully understand?’ asked Celeborn, sheathing his blade.
‘For days I have been conserving my energy, retreating the magical barriers that protect our land to me as I powered myself. But the enemy attacked before I could have foreseen – their captain Khamul has been as swift as he has been merciless.’
‘I can attest to that,’ agreed Celeborn, holding the still healing wounds on his body.
‘I heard he came against you,’ spoke his wife, touching his arm softly. ‘I am sorry. His power must have grown great. I did not know…’
‘Neither did I. But no great harm has been done – it seems he has retreated eastward.’
‘Good. His efforts against our land will now be in vain – my energies are now ready to banish the enemy from here forever. Who now leads in the Black Easterling’s disappearance?’
‘Another of the Nazgul, one lesser than he,’ Celeborn informed. ‘I deem it to be the Knight of Umbar.’
‘Then the creature shall soon be defeated. Ready our people to move through the woods; the enemy shall not withstand our attack.’
Adunaphel soared about the battlefield with neither compassion nor rationality. The words of Khamul had twisted into her soul and pained her to the core. Why could they live with no emotion, why were the fates so cruel? If rage was all she could live with, then it would consume the Elves here forever.
She cried a great shriek and dived downwards, spotting the Elf lines advancing forwards and a dazzling white light all about them, and she knew their Lady had come at last. The mere sight of it seared through Adunaphel, and would have forced her to retreat at any other point, but in her torturing madness she would endure it. Her fell beast crunched through the burnt husks of the trees and battered through the Elves, brutally crushing the life from them. She screamed again, and the Elves dispersed, but as they fled one sought to stand against her; Galadriel, the Lady of Lothlorien.
‘Flee to the shadows!’ the White Lady cried. ‘You stand at the shores of doom, carrion! You cannot win here.’
Adunaphel did not reply, but instead shrieked again, and such was the harshness of her cry that even Galadriel flinched and stepped backwards, shocked at the strength of this foul foe. Giving her enemy little time to respond, Adunaphel’s steed jumped upwards and broke through the withered trees, landing almost on Galadriel herself, sending rivens of broken wood raining down on the White Lady as she fell backwards against the attack. But no sooner had she landed upon the floor that she jumped to her feet and pushed a brutal ray of white light against the wraith, and the fell beast croaked in terror, soaring away panicked. Yet the creature’s rider was made of more discipline, commanding the flying horror to wheel about and come soaring back down at Galadriel. As the dart of shadow came rapidly down, suddenly there was a flash, and the Lady of Lothlorien finally revealed the power she had been saving. It was if she was made of light itself, though her image was of deepest terror to friend and foe alike, and such was her might that the dead trees close to her fell to make a clearing about her. A long silver blade that seemed to be forged from the stars themselves materialised in her hand.
Still Adunaphel flew towards her in suicidal wrath. Closer she came, closer, and then her cursed sword was ready to strike. Her steed screamed as it soared into the clearing, and with a shriek Adunaphel made her stroke, but at the last second the White Lady stepped to the side and struck her blade along the fell beast’s torso. The beast screamed and tumbled into the trees, wheeling over itself, knocking away many Orcs who now retreated from Lothlorien’s wrath.
Adunaphel fell to the floor by the side of her shocked and injured steed, just outside of the wood. Dazed by the power of Galadriel, she recovered her senses as hundreds of Orcs ran from the trees as Celeborn led the Elves against them. She instantly knew that this rout could never be reorganised, and even if it was they had no hope of standing victorious over the White Lady. Knowing what had to be done, she mounted her beast, forcing it from its puzzlement and panic. Eventually, they slowly took to the skies again, but in the direction of the east. Though Sauron may end her for it, Adunaphel abandoned the attack on Lorien.
<strong>7th April, 2001 S.A, Barad-dur<strong>
As Khamul walked through the obsidian labyrinthine corridors of Barad-dur, he knew he would never become used to its expansive mazes. Adunaphel was by his side, and as they walked the many Black Numenoreans whom Sauron had been corrupting and collecting to his side moved out of their paths – though most would otherwise jeer and curse Khamul for his Easterling heritage, they were wise enough to respect any who bore one of Sauron’s rings and had learned to fear his impatient form of discipline.
The two emissaries came at last to the throne room of their master, though the iron gates were shut and its impassive guards stood against them.
‘We apologise Master Khamul, but the Lord is currently speaking with another of the ring bearers. He should be finished soon.’
‘Our mission has been of the upmost importance to Sauron, and I deem he would want to speak with us as soon as possible. So step aside, guardsman, I shall not ask again.’
The black portal opened and Khamul and Adunaphel stepped through, moving past the guardsmen whilst wearing their power like a cape. Sure enough, Sauron stood in his fair Elven guise with another, though Khamul was surprised to see that this King had no royal garm, but a deep black gate.
‘Ah, Khamul, you have returned at last,’ spoke Sauron.
‘Yes, my Lord,’ said Khamul, bowing lowly. ‘I would have returned sooner but the way has been long and our horses died in the cold of the Northern Wastes. Regardless, the ring has been delivered successfully and the King Hoarmurath has agreed to all of the terms you have set.’
‘Excellent,’ hissed Sauron. ‘With regards to his appeal for aid against the northern Avari Elves, I want you to lead a host of your warriors to aid him.’
‘But my Lord,’ said Khamul with deep anxiety. ‘The uprising in Khand has almost broken my empire; I need every warrior I can to control it.’
‘It will be done, Khamul, unless you would see that ring removed from your finger? Then I would see you no more as an ally, but as the leader of a rival kingdom, and I suspect you would not want that, would you?’
It took Khamul much to swallow his pride and bow once again. ‘It shall be done, my Lord.’
‘Good. I thought as much. You will be able to settle your feud with your enemy Uvatha and his Khandish uprising soon enough. Now, we shall speak in more detail. Dwar and I were just finished.’
At that the hooded figure bowed and left. As he passed Khamul and Adunaphel, they looked into his hood and were concerned. The door clanged behind him.
‘My lord – his face, what has happened to him?’ asked Adunaphel. ‘It looks as if he is becoming… wraith-like…’
‘Now, Adunaphel,’ said Sauron, ignoring her question completely. ‘I would recommend that you return to your citadel, one can only stay away from their governing for so long, would you not agree? And I would also advice that you ready your troops for the attack on Umbar, for it shall come soon. The Numenorean’s port is beginning to pose a large threat for our activities in the Southlands. I expect once you take the city their vengeance shall be swift and great, so contact my associate Akhoarahil of Ciryatandor for assistance.’
With that she too bowed and left, stealing a passing glance with Khamul before departing. They did not want to leave one another so coldly, but they knew Sauron could not know of their affair, but no matter how long it would be they would see each other once again.
‘The Dog King, Dwar, has been sending his servants to search for Dardarian,’ said Sauron after Adunaphel had left. ‘And it seems that he has disappeared entirely, for no one has seen or heard of his passing since he visited the old home of the Fire King in Chey Sart.’
‘The Dog King?’ chuckled Khamul. ‘Not the most heroic of titles. Why choose to grant him one of the rings?’
‘Because dogs make for good servants. Though he has not found Dardarian, he has discovered a letter from him.’
‘A letter? What does it say?’
‘It is a last testament… a prophecy…’ answered Sauron, seeming a little concerned by what he had read. ‘But I want it hidden. Have it taken into storage at the Morannon.’
‘Of course, master.’
‘Now, although the disappearance of Dardarian has deeply troubled me, his work must be finished. You did well delivering the ring to Hoarmurath, but there are two that still need to be dispersed. The first will be taken to Ren, the Fire King of Chey Sart – his kingdom shows great promise and his religious fervour will be very easy to control. The fool has delusions that he is the son of his people’s holy volcano, and so my servants have managed to persuade him that I am its godly manifestation. I am sure once he sees Mount Doom he will be convinced.’
‘It shall be done with all haste, master. But what of the second ring?’
‘You shall be told whom will receive the final ring in time,’ informed Sauron. ‘For you shall not be going alone.’
‘I thought Adunaphel was returning to the south?’
‘I am not referring to her.’
At that, a figure mysteriously emerged from the shadows in the throne room, where he had been hiding. His voice was proud, but his words themselves sounded dark, as if they had been tainted from the utterance of so many necromantic incantations.
‘Greetings, Khamul. I was once called Er-Murazor, but you may know me as the Witch-King.’
<strong>13th October, 2001 S.A, Ciryatandor<strong>
A few months ago, Ji Indur Dawndeath had once been nothing more than a disgraced outcast. Yet with the aid of the enigmatic Dardarian they had slain the King of Mumakan and his one-hundred strong Aamya Guard, and through wearing the stolen armour of the dead king at a religious ceremony, Indur had become the new King. His subjects called him King Ji Amaav II, for they believed he was the resurrection of their first leader and deity Amaav – Dawndeath’s power was secure once more and now, he only sought to remove those who had scorned him in the past. When he was the ruler of his former home, the Kiran Republic, he had led his people against Numenor, but in the battle against them many mercenaries he had hired turned on him and the day was lost, culminating in his casting out from his home. Now, in secret, he had come to the Numenorean land of Cirytandor and its capital of Barad Carannun to find the captain who had defeated him and slay him – the Prince Akhoarahil.
With the sorceries taught to him by Dardarian, Indur crept through Barad Carannun unnoticed until he was in the inner palace. At last, he cast off his concealment in the royal courtyard, and as he raised his silver sword it glittered like a star in the southern sun, and he cried the name of his enemy thrice. Within moments, Akhoarahil rushed into the courtyard with a regiment of his guard behind him.
‘Do you remember me, Prince? Do you remember my face? I am King Amaav of Mumakan, but I was once known as Ji Indur Dawndeath, Captain of the Kiran Republic; captain of the army you defeated with my own mercenaries! You and I have unfinished business, snake!’
Slowly, Akhoarahil left the side of his guards and stepped down into the courtyard, though he did not show his blade. As he came closer, Indur was shocked to see that he no longer had eyes, but instead two shimmering gemstones.
‘I remember you, Dawndeath, but as you can see, much has changed since that battle.’
‘Do not speak,’ spat Indur. ‘I care not for your twisted words, all I care for is satisfying my vengeance.’
‘Listen to me – although I have never declined a duel before, I deem that you have come to the wrong place for your vengeance. Back when I defeated you, I was but a prince, a foolish scion of Numenor. But now I, like you, have become a king and a sorcerer, and very soon I plan to declare myself and my country independent. And in truth, I was never really your enemy – it was purely Numenor. And if you do indeed seek vengeance still, perhaps we can be of use to each other.’
After some consideration, Indur lowered his sword. ‘Then perhaps we shall talk.’
In one of the many resplendently rich and exotic chambers of Barad Carannun’s royal palace, the Queen Akhoraphil, wife of King Akhoarahil sorted through the many papers and files they had collected over the years. Her beloved had told her not to go into the room, to let him and the servants do the task, but she could stand the disorganised mess in here no longer. As she cleaned and ordered the myriad writings, she was sent into nostalgia at an old statement written by her King clearing a journey to Numenor – the journey on which they had found one another. They had courted at a gathering held by the High King on his grounds at Armenelos – though Akhoraphil was at first concerned by the gemstones he used for vision, the magical Eyes of the Well, Akhoarahil had told her how he had recently become the king of a land on Middle-earth – and it seemed to Akhoraphil strange how similar their names were. Believing it to be no more than fate, Akhoraphil submitted to his charms and it was not long before they were wed. As she continued to sort through the old papers, she could not help but smile at the thoughts of their past romances.
Suddenly, her thoughts of the past tumulted into deep concern as she picked up a piece of parchment citing what seemed to be an adoption paper – with her name on. She knew that she had been adopted after her family died in a voyage, but what gave her such panic was a scrawling in ink written on the back of the form, in the unmistakable writing of her husband. It was a brief family tree reading the name of Akhoarahil’s father, and below it two strands leading off into her husband’s name… and her’s. White shock, then disbelief, then anger flared through Akhoraphil like a wildfire. As she stormed to find the King, grasping the piece of parchment in a death grip, she now knew that her family had never drowned in a voyage – they had made it to Middle-earth, where they had founded the kingdom of Ciryatandor…
Indur and Akhoarahil sat in the palace’s war council room, speaking of plans of war and alliances against the west. Though Dawndeath’s rage had abated in the promise of aid against his most hated enemy, Akhoarahil had not yet sent away his guards – he never knew if his guest would change his mind and pronounce another offer for a duel. They had been surprised that they both wore rings of power from Mordor, and that they had both been under tutelage from Dardarian, which seemed to cure their initial animosity.
‘These ideas all sound very promising,’ said Indur. ‘But before I move against Numenor, I wish to put an end to my old people, for the individual who replaced me, the one who cast me out is called Loran Klien, and he seems to be making many alliances to establish a new power in the Southlands.’
‘Then I would agree in their downfall,’ replied Akhoarahil. ‘Although your old people would be worthy adversaries – it is said the Kirans have both Haradrim and Avari Elf blood in their veins.’
‘It is true, but I can defeat them.’
‘I have no doubt. Very well – though I will not aid you to combat them personally, I do have allies that will. I presume you know of the port-city that Numenor has recently established near the lands of the Kiran Republic?’
‘Well, the line of sorcerer-kings who rule it, each ruler known only as ‘the Magician’, have been interested in independency for some time, and so I share an alliance with them. Due to Tanturak’s close position to the Kiran Republic, you can attack from one direction whilst they attack from the rear. I will arrange a meeting between you and the current Magician as soon as -‘
‘You disgusting creature! You worm! You snake!’
Akhoarahil was cut short just as Akhoraphil stormed into the room. Akhoarahil immediately stood, and Indur eyed her in concern.
‘I apologise for my wife’s interruption,’ said Akhoarahil to Indur, a little venomously, before addressing her. ‘What is this outrage? What is wrong with you? Can this not wait until my guest has departed?’
‘Believe me, monster this cannot wait!’ she cried.
‘Very well. I am afraid you will have to grant us some time alone.’
At that Indur and the guards left the room, a little awkwardly.
‘Now, explain yourself woman!’ spat the King.
‘I found this!’ shouted Akhoraphil, jabbing the parchment she had discovered into her Akhoarahil’s face like a weapon. ‘I found out the truth! I found out that you married your sister!’
‘I did not want you to find out,’ said Akhoarahil, but no less harshly. ‘I only wanted to secure my power with minimal casualty. But you will soon come to regret your discovery.’
‘Are you threatening me? How dare you! You would not dare harm your own wife – your own sister!’
‘Never again will I hold the mercy that I reserved for you. I should have done to you what I did to our father long ago.’
Indur was now bored from waiting – a petty marital dispute would not halt his newfound plans and ideas of conquest and revenge. Against the command of the guards, Dawndeath impatiently pushed through into the chamber.
Akhoarahil instantly turned and looked at Indur, but there was no hint of apology on his face. Indur curiously looked down at the thing Akhoarahil murderously stood over – the body was bent into horrible and unnatural shapes, as if some foul magic had twisted the bones inside the body without physical penetration. The throat of Akhoraphil was slit, ending her final moments of pain. A drop of blood fell from Akhoarahil’s crimson hands into the rapidly growing pool over the carpet.
‘I always believed that marriage was overrated,’ drawled Dawndeath.
<strong>22nd October, 2001 S.A, Chey Sart<strong>
The journey from Barad-dur to Chey Sart had taken a few months, for though the kingdom was relatively near, being on the eastern border of Khand, an expanse of mountains stood between the two lands, for Chey Sart, much like Mordor, lay on a plateau. After obeying Sauron’s command and securing Dardarian’s letter in a secret storage chamber by the Black Gates at the Morannon, Khamul and his companion, the Witch-King had taken to horse and began their journey.
Khamul had not met the possessor of the first of the nine rings until now, although he had wanted to. All he had known that he was the foremost of Sauron’s Black Numenoreans and was his greatest pupil, but as they travelled together they found themselves speaking about much of their past, and though this was done largely as a vocal competition of their feats and exploits, they found that they had begun to like each other a large amount.
The Witch-King had told Khamul that he was in fact the second son of the High King of Numenor, Tar-Ciryatan, being the brother of the current monarch, Tar-Atanamir. He had been frustrated that he could never become the king of his homeland and so had set out to carve his own kingdom. He had first attempted to claim the western haven Lond Daer, but failed, and so went south and captured Umbar, but when his father ordered him home he fled inland with his followers. There, he encountered Dardarian, and his schooling under Sauron had begun.
In return, Khamul had told of his birth as the Prince of the Womaw Kingdom, a province in Rhun where the lineage of its kings has half-Elven blood. As a child he had been raised by Dardarian until he was ready to rule, where he led a vicious and skilful conquest across the east to unite all of Rhun under one empire. His empire had faced threat of disintegration from agents from Numenor, and so he had gone again to Dardarian for aid, who granted him the second ring and helped him solidify his rule and capture Khand as a client kingdom. But when Khamul departed to Mordor, a man named Uvatha captured the thrones of Khand and led the kingdom to cast out Khamul’s rule, shaking his empire to fracturing point.
‘Fear not,’ the Witch-King had advised him. Even if your empire dissolves, at least you now have time on your side. Your immortality enables you to raise an empire, or even a hundred.’
Yet now their travel to Chey Sart had ended, and they had contacted Sauron’s agents here, where they had organised a meeting with the Fire King atop the holy volcano of the land, Ulk Chey Sart. They had expressed annoyance at the irregular meeting point, but had endured and climbed to the top of the mountain. Much of the way had been carved into stairs, and at the top of the mount there was a gateway and a platform that stood over the fires below which reminded the two emissaries much of the Sammauth Naur atop Mount Doom.
As they had walked they both noted how Ulk Chey Sart had filled the entire landscape with ash and cloud, putting a scar on what was reportedly once a very fair land.
‘Perhaps there is some logic behind the mad religion of this king,’ commented the Witch-King.
‘I do not believe in such untruths,’ replied Khamul. ‘He probably took inspiration from the erupting mountain and based his worship and title on it.’
‘Still, I imagine it was a very efficient way to garner support and power.’
The Fire King and his guardian retinue of zealots were already stood on the platform at the top of the volcano when the Witch-King and Khamul arrived. The Fire King was engaged in some kind of mad incantation, and the men around him hummed strange melodies as if they were intoxicated.
‘Greetings Ren Jey, the honoured Fire King, son of the holy mountain,’ said the Witch-King.
‘Art thou the emissaries?’ he hissed. ‘The speakers for the god of all mountains?’
‘Yes, we are the servants of the master of the earth.’
The terms and agreements of the new alliance of Mordor and Chey Sart followed tediously and lengthily, especially due to the lunacy of Ren and his followers. After what seemed like hours of speech, Khamul produced the eight mortal ring and fitted it upon the self-proclaimed Fire King’s finger.
‘Aye, a mighty gift indeed, so beautiful, so beautiful…’ he muttered. ‘In celebration, we shalt make a worthy sacrifice to my father.’
One of Ren’s retainers produced an object wrapped in a cloth from his robes, reverently handing it to his master. Ren hastily wrapped it in much excitement, and with a murderous glee showed the object to be a severed head.
‘Let this gift symbolise the purging of all the non-believers I hast purged,’ stated the Fire King. ‘And my ascension into godhood! For this art my last connection to the mortal world – the head of my old wife!’
At this Khamul moved his hand across his face in disgust and concern, attempting to conceal his distaste at this butcher, yet the Witch-King watched this scene avidly with interest. With one loud shout, Ren tossed the head into the flames and raised his hands in achievement. Their work done, the emissaries began the long trip down from the mountain, and with some haste, for Khamul wished to depart this cursed land with all haste.
‘Killing his own wife… What heathen religion has the moron wrapped himself in?’ said Khamul.
‘I thought it was fascinating,’ retorted the Witch-King. ‘If only every ruler was as superstitious as he, then the whole world could be controlled like a puppet on a string.’
Khamul looked at the Witch-King with an amazed concern. How could he be so ruthlessly efficient in the face of such barbarism?
‘The Fire King is too grand a title for that beast,’ he said. ‘If it were my decision, that lecher would be named something more appropriate.’
‘Like what? Ren the Wife Decapitator?’ chuckled the Witch-King, causing Khamul’s brow to furrow even more at his lack of emotion.
‘Well, something equally tainted…’
<strong>24th March, 3019 T.A, the Morannon<strong>
It had taken days of hard work and increasingly brutal discipline, but the Dark Marshal had finally rounded up the entirety of Mordor’s warriors to the Black Gate. Deprived of his fell beast after it had been shot down by the cursed Lord Duinhir of Morthond Vale at the Battle of the Pelennor Fields, he could only travel across the expanses of Gorgoroth and Udun by way of horseback, which was frustrating to go back to after his winged steed. Akhoarahil had spent much of his time cursing Khamul and the other fools at the Morannon; he would most likely eke out his anger by strangling the Tainted or something of the like.
As the Black Gates and the threatening Towers of the Teeth grew ever nearer, the density of the multitudes of Orcs became thicker and thicker, yet they all moved from the path of Akhoarahil’s horse, for they feared his presence and his sword above the rest of his order.
When he had drawn to the base of the gates, he had his horse stabled and climbed up to the top of the gates. He was informed by the watchers upon it that the other Nazgul were still away on errands of scouting, although their captain planned the oncoming battle in the tower of Carchost.
‘The Easterling is not my captain,’ hissed the Dark Marshal as he strode towards the tower.
He found Khamul crouched over a series of maps spread on a table before him, but stood at Akhoarahil’s coming.
‘Ah, Marshal, you have arrived. I suspect all our forces are amassed and prepared?’
‘Yes,’ he replied, barely masking his animosity.
‘Good. Now, I have an idea for our course of battle…’ said Khamul, returning to the table, although Akhoarahil remained where he was.
‘Listen,’ said Khamul, now a little sternly. ‘We have possibly what will be the most decisive battle in this war ahead of us, and so we have to plan accordingly. That means not letting our inner feud stand in the way of victory. Are we clear?’
‘Crystal,’ answered the Dark Marshal, the Eyes of the Well turning a fiery orange.
‘Now, I plan to hide our forces behind the gates whilst the Mouth gives parley, and have a force of Easterlings hidden from sight around the corner of the mountains -‘
‘My lords,’ said an Orc who had just entered the room. ‘The Blood Archer has returned.’
‘At least there shall be someone to listen to my battle plan then…’
Uvatha sat upon his steed as it perched upon the gates, croaking warningly at the large army sprawled below it.
‘What news from Erebor? How goes the siege?’ Khamul asked.
‘There is progress,’ answered Uvatha. ‘But it is only steady. And we have a greater issue at hand. Dwar is dead.’
‘It is as I feared,’ said the Black Easterling, almost sadly. ‘I felt something, but was unsure of its origin… How was he slain?’
‘It was the Dwarf King. His axe was made of pure mithril.’
‘The blade that slew the Witch-King was too made of mithril,’ mused Akhoarahil.
‘It seems there is in fact a weapon that can destroy us, then,’ said Khamul. ‘We had always suspected, but never known for certain. We must be wary of such devices in the future. Now, Uvatha, contact the Easterling Captain Kud’ak Krimsonyt, have her bring her army to a position out of sight of the advancing enemy but behind the hills to the left…’
Akhoarahil did not pay attention to their speech, for a scheme began to form in his head. He turned and left to go back into Carchost – he knew that at its base there was a secret passage into a chamber holding several artefacts stored by Sauron over the years. Rummaging amongst its treasury, he found what he had sought – a small dagger from Westernesse, forged from pure mithril.
As he picked it up, it hurt his hand a little to hold the weapon, yet he smiled at its intended mark. In the heat of battle, none would suspect the dagger that would pierce Khamul and slay him. When the battle was done, the Easterling would be dead and Akhoarahil would claim the honour of victory; and with Dwar dead, only Indur would rank higher than he among the Nine and he was a butcher, not a leader. Akhoarahil had only stab Khamul, and glory would be his…
<strong>15th January, 2002 S.A, Khand<strong>
It had been around three months since the meeting with the Fire King, and still Khamul felt a bad taste in his mouth at the memory of him. Though he had questioned the character of the Witch-King after his comments regarding Ren, luckily he had managed to persuade him to celebrate the coming of the new year at a tavern on the borders of Khand where they had solidified their friendship over several brews – the night had ended with Khamul, a little worse for wear, telling the landlord that he should be rightly be ruling the land the tavern was built on. He still remembered the night fondly – since his rise to kingship and his pact with Sauron he had not been able to drop his power and relax. His thoughts now turned to the repair of his empire, perhaps using the aid of his new ally and friend the Witch-King; of meeting Adunaphel once again; and of delivering this last ring. The Witch-King had not yet told him who was to receive the last of the nine, but they were to meet at the secret cave of Olbamarl in the north of the mountain range that stood between the lands of Chey Sart and Khand, the Ered Harmal.
The cavern was very long and not inhospitable – in fact there were several items that suggested it was a holding place and had housed a large number of people in the past. Khamul sat on a barrel, holding his head in thought as the Witch-King stood by the entrance of the cave, watching for the coming of their associates.
‘Here they come,’ rasped the Witch-King. ‘Before this meeting transpires, Khamul, you must understand that Sauron prepared this. I deem that this is your final test of loyalty to him.’
‘What are you speaking of?’ asked the puzzled Easterling as he stood, but he was cut off from the coming of a singular figure. Unlike the past kings, who had at least displayed a retinue in their meetings, this man had come alone.
‘I take it that you are the emissaries?’ he questioned.
‘Yes we are,’ replied Khamul. ‘I must say this is a strange choice of place to meet.’
‘I want to keep this meeting secret to my people. I am a proud ruler of a proud people – they would not likely enjoy watching their lord submit to another. And this cave, Olbamarl, is like the only home I have. I was born here as a child, and have often used this as a base or a hideaway in times of strife. I do not believe we have had introductions…’
‘I am the Witch-King, first Lieutenant of Sauron. And this is -‘
‘Khamul, and you are?’ said the Easterling, going to shake the other man’s hand. As they shook the man seemed to recognise Khamul’s name, and he replied with barely a whisper.
The two men instantly drew swords against one another.
‘You – you are the one who tried to subjugate my people,’ said Uvatha. ‘You killed my grandfather the Emperor and made us a client kingdom – you turned my family into outcasts.’
‘And you are the insolent gnat who rebelled against my control and effectively dissolved my kingdom,’ spat Khamul. ‘I am going to enjoy watching you die.’
‘Khamul,’ spoke the Witch-King in a low, warning tone. ‘Our lord has ordered us to deliver this ring to Uvatha. His rule must overcome your revenge.’
‘I answer only to Sauron,’ replied Khamul. ‘I take any order he gives me, but I shall claim my revenge. I will go through you if I have to.’
‘No, I accept your challenge,’ said Uvatha. ‘I too must sate the blood of my people.’
As soon as the last word left his lips, the sword of Khamul came crashing down against him, but the Khandish King swiftly wheeled and kicked at the Easterling’s face. The blow was hard and unexpected, but all it had done was increase Khamul’s wrath tenfold. He launched another mighty swing at the Variag, once, twice, thrice, but Uvatha parried the attacks – barely. In response he jabbed at the side of Khamul’s guard, but hit nought but air. His enemy’s arm outstretched, Khamul punched Uvatha’s face, and the ferocity of his fist sent his foe into the dust. Khamul quickly kicked away Uvatha’s sword and lowered his own blade against his enemy’s neck.
‘You were a fool to think you could defeat me,’ said a merciless Khamul.
But suddenly, Khamul himself felt a shock of white, and before he could register what was the source he tumbled to the ground. As he lay, dimly slipping from consciousness, he watched the Witch-King walk over him to help Uvatha to his feet.
‘I am sorry,’ said the Witch-King to Khamul. ‘But Sauron’s will must be done.’
As he slipped into black unconsciousness, the Easterling watched his erstwhile ally pass the last ring to Uvatha and knew that their friendship had come to an end, forever.
<strong>24th July, 2001 S.A, the Morannon<strong>
What could be seen of the sun was failing in the dusk. Khamul, alone upon the Black Gates, once again looked out across the bleak expanse of the Brown Lands and knew the army that the Heir of Isildur had mustered would be here tomorrow. Yet again, his doubtful thoughts turned to the desperate words of Adunaphel. Perhaps tomorrow, the world would be rid of them all.
‘I have done great things,’ said Khamul to himself. ‘Things to ensure my legend persists.’
But I have done dark things in the process, he thought. He smirked at the fact that his conscience, after so long, appeared only now, on the eve on potential oblivion.
As the dusk set into night, Khamul at last controlled his pessimism. Unsheathing his sword and holding it in the direction of the White City, he spoke to himself once more.
‘Whether I stand upon the shores of death or not, I am a warrior, and if my time is to come then the west should still fear my blade, for when tomorrow comes, it shall be the last thing many of them see.’
With that, he went again to the tower Carchost. If it was to be the end of days, then he would ensure that it would be such an end for all to remember for aeons to come.
to be continued…lt;/strong></strong></strong></strong></strong></strong></strong></strong></strong></strong></strong></strong></strong></strong></strong></strong></strong></strong>