The second of the Nine for the Shadow of the East,
The fallen, the violent, the most grim.
15th March, 3019 T.A, The Field of Celebrant/Lothlorien
The darkness had now eclipsed the sky. The clouds of shadow sent out from Mordor had grasped across much of Middle-earth – as had the armies of the Dark Lord. Across the northern bounds of the Field of Celebrant the foul swarms of Mordor and Dol Guldur were joined and marshalled against the golden woods of Lothlorien yonder. The presence of the fell host had taken even the immortal Sindarin defenders with dread, yet the ominous aura of the White Lady’s enchantments chilled the brutal assaulters to the core. Fear was everywhere.
At the head of Sauron’s mighty force was a great nothingness, and it seemed to the Elves of the Wood as if the black clouds above had reached down from the polluted skies to taint the very earth itself.
Yet among the folk of Lorien were many of the wisest in Middle-earth, and they knew only too well what the coming of this darkness heralded, for many of them had long studied the designs of the enemy, and more even had directly combated it: Nazgul, Ringwraith, bearer of one of the Nine mortal rings, general and harbinger of Sauron’s wrath.
And still no lesser Ringwraith was this. The cunning mind directing the endless horde was the overlord of Dol Guldur – that very tower, looming on the horizon of the Golden Wood, daily directing anxiety and loathing to the untainted peoples of the Lady’s realm. The Black Easterling he was called, but also Khamul, the Shadow of the East, second among the Nine and inferior only to the Witch-king in Sauron’s esteem. His weapons were many but his dark deeds were more numerous still.
Upon an ancient winged beast Khamul brooded. For much of the assault he had soared above the field of battle like a carrion bird, but for now he was still and motionless at the peak of a high hill, glaring down at the accursed trees of Lorien like an archaic statue from dark days past – a morbid reminder of elder times drowned in misery and despair. To the defenders his calmness seemed but a compressed spring, ready to bolt suddenly and swiftly to bring death to the deathless.
The truth of this was but partial. For the mighty Shadow of the East was uncharacteristically steeped in hesitation. Numberless followers wailed for blood at his back, belligerent for his beck and call – but the presence of Lothlorien grappled him like a vice. Never before had he dared enter the borders of the White Lady, for she was a power even Sauron was cautious to combat directly. Yet combat her directly was what Khamul had to now be prepared to do. And truly, he had no choice to turn back; what remained of his mind had long been in scrutiny to a greater tyrant.
The morose blanket overhead now heightened to an unnaturally rage, as if the impatient malice of Sauron himself had discovered his servant’s indecision and forged a tempestuous roof above for the slaughter to come. The Black Easterling raised a cursed blade to the tumults, unleashing words of sorcerous power. In answer the aerial darkness hurled down blasting bolts, scorching the earth where they landed, torturing the ground into ash. And in the wooded sanctuary below, Elves cried in their ancient languages: ‘The sky! Even the sky assails us!’ But their courage was replenished, for the snakes of lightning that struck the trees failed before any bough was sundered, for the Lady’s enchantments stood unbowed before the storm.
Rashly, the Nazgul commander cried anew, nerved by the neutrality of his necromancy and the paranoia of his master’s unphysical discontent. In their warmongering, the shambolic soldiery under Khamul sprung into a chorus of destruction. Buoyed by their uncounted attendance, he screamed in mastery and launched his winged creature into the blotted air. With feral shouts and guttural cries, his host surged forwards. Beneath the shelter of the trees, the defenders rallied together, their discipline reinforced by a player who had finally cast of his anonymity and entered the field – for hearing the name of the enemy’s new general, he had known his presence was required. Now the black fury of Khamul the Easterling was matched with the white wrath of Lord Celeborn, and where the staunch Elven Lord gave order, all but the very harshest of foes could be adeptly bested.
One assault had already been sent against the Golden Wood, but the valiance of her warriors did not falter so easily, and the marauders were sent reeling back in dismay. But the full brutal strength and murderous glory of the Black Easterling was now mustered. Khamul currently had no qualms that his unrequited hatred would grant him anything less than victory, and he was sure that this second attack would surely drown the arrogant Elves in the tides of the East. The trunks of long-standing trees would be cast aside for firewood, the craft and architecture of Caras Galadhon would sunder under the fury of progress and the brightest of lights would be drenched in the deepest of shadows.
Great Uruks chanted as their encroaching march disfigured the ground below them. Endless hordes of Orcs moved like a hungry tide towards the Wood. Their factions were many – Moria, Mordor and more – yet their barbaric goal was murderous and single-minded. Fell creatures from the foulest pits of Dol Guldur, misshapen and terrifying in their varied aspects sprawled, sprang, soared and scuttled, sadistically intent on consuming the enchanted light of Lothlorien forever. All these and others moved with the same malignant objective. All moved to the sound of one voice.
The very concept of death seemed to be made manifest by the spectre in the sky, like Mandos himself ready to pluck longevity from vitality. Thunderclaps tore through the souls of the Elves as the Black Easterling screamed again, and the onrush of his battalions came ever swifter. And then they were upon them. The scimitars and cutlasses and teeth and claws of the enemy tore through into Lothlorien with the ferocity of the wolf Carcharoth. The sonorous brawl of the Orcs was met with the steely ruthlessness of the Elven warriors – their keen blades matched with the pure brutality of the foe. From his aerial throne, it seemed to Khamul as if the trees of the Golden Wood had begun to rain into the oncoming hive, but he knew that the peerless bows of the Sindarin had begun to sing. Anticipating the tremendous damage they would have on his stratagems, he whispered subtle words of shadow and wove a shroud of darkness about him, distorting the accuracy of the Elves. Even still, piercing shafts found a mark and a cacophony fell upon the chargers.
Khamul knew that given little pressure that the defence would endure and his followers break like glass upon metal. A crimson-lined sword he now wielded, a relic of murder long endured by those who would oppose him, and a green fire lit where his eyes had once been. A mask as terrifying and impenetrable as his spirit he wore, and its visage caused madness and hysteria upon whomsoever set their gaze upon it. The sword of the Easterling was aimed at an area on the frontline of the wood, where Elf and Uruk battled with ferocious determination. With a soul darker than the clouds that swarmed about him, he spoke a single word of destruction, and a bolt of consuming green witch-fire fell leapt from the hilt. It appeared like a falling star from the sky, both entrancing and chilling to the mind. Those in the path of the stunning flame saw but a flash of jade, and then it crashed upon the battle-line, burning Elf and Orc with a starved consumption, and for a moment the auras of Galadriel were sundered and the boughs of her wood were incinerated.
Down came the wraith on the wings of doom, down he came to the ground still scorched with his wrath. He leapt onto the ashen earth and his unnatural steed swooped back away, swirling about the airs high above him like a vulture ready for his rider’s slaughter to commence. Khamul stood obstinate and abominable to behold alone in the clearing, his potent weapon still glowing with forgotten sorcery. Again he harnessed his power, holding it aloft in premature victory. Again he screamed and a fell light poured from the sword, sending his minions further into the fray and the Elven host into further dismay.
‘Whom dare challenge me? Whom wilt dare my wrath?’ His voice echoed unendingly through the trees, pursuing those who would not behold his presence. He remained alone – none had stepped into the gauntlet. He laughed aloud, a noise loud as it was mocking. ‘Where is the courage of the Firstborn? Where is the flower of Valinor? The lineage of Finwe is drowned in the seas, and the children of Thingol rot in the gibbets. Thou end is long since due.’
A figure stepped into the dead ground. His armour shone bright gold in the throttling darkness, and a keen blade he wielded, a cobalt shield hung from his back, and a white-rimmed helmet enclosed his face. In his other hand was a standard, woven by Galadriel herself. A tapestry of colour and radiance it was, breathtaking to behold, swaying heedlessly in the gloom.
‘And who art thou to face me?’ the faceless spectre spat, almost repelled by the noble grandeur his adversary commanded. The challenger did not speak, but set his banner into the broken earth and prepared his shield and sword in anticipation of attack. He took the gleaming helm from his head and wiped his brow, before staring into the face of death itself, unflinching.
Only now did Khamul recognise this warrior, for he had twice combated him before. Over seventy years had passed since the expulsion of Sauron from Dol Guldur at the hands of the White Council, and more than three-thousand years since the grim War of the Last Alliance. But the title of this Elven Lord was forever branded into the Nazgul’s hatred; Celeborn.
The Black Easterling shrieked, and his sword lit again with jade witch-fire, burning yet chilling at once. Celeborn sprang at the Ringwraith, blocking his fury with a firm shield and thrusting his blade at the cold form. Yet the Easterling was swift, and had centuries beyond counting to perfect his duelling skill, moving aside from the Lord’s strikes with serpentine speed and stabbing at the weakest junctions in his golden attire. But Celeborn had experienced more centuries still, and each of the spectre’s attempts were blocked by his resplendent shield. Khamul raised his flaming sword high and now purposefully struck the item, sending the hungry flames spreading across the Lord’s shield until it was unbearable to him. It fell clumsily from his grip to the floor, where the peerless Elven forgery was melted into molten wax.
Now the Black Easterling seized his moment. Again he cried words of sorcery, and the witch-fire responded in recognition. Khamul directed a barrage of blows at Celeborn, yet his magic had made him preternaturally fast, and the Elven Lord felt the sting of his sword glance across his cheek and arm as he desperately attempted to parry the strokes away. A deep wound scored across Celeborn’s leg, and he fell downwards in pain as the black touch of the witch-blade screamed through his body. The Black Easterling stretched his metal-encased hand towards the fallen Elf, whispering foulness until Celeborn lay motionless on the ground, too spent to combat the Nazgul’s insidious will and ultimately transfixed.
Death-like amongst the ashes, the ancient Lord watched his foe as he took the Lady’s banner in one gauntleted hand, noticing a wince of pain in the Nazgul’s body as he retrieved it. Screaming in victory, he raised it into the air as jade flames raced from his hand and spread across the pole and up to the flag, and white fire smoked from Galadriel’s craft as it was consumed. Celeborn now no longer resisted the creeping necromancy of his enemy. He had beaten him twice before, but at the very doorstep of his land he could not; he had failed his people, and his beloved. The burning banner was but a symbol of it.
Then a feeling struck Khamul; and at first it brought shock, but then brought elation. The Witch-king was dead, that he was certain of. His former lord’s banishment from Arda was felt by all the Ringwraiths, though they reacted in a very different manner to the Black Easterling. He had ever been the Second among the Nine, begrudging the favoured Witch-king. There was never great fondness between the two, even for Nazgul, with Khamul on occasion ignoring the direct command of the Black Captain and twisting it to his own purposes, which the Witch-king often knew of and remembered. Yet now Khamul was master. He was now Sauron’s most favoured servant. He was Lord of the Nazgul.
Immediately, he tossed aside the failing standard and called his winged steed to him. Though he knew they may not have the sufficient ability to win the day, the assault on Lorien would be left in the management of lesser captains. Khamul’s presence was needed elsewhere.