The Nine – [Finale] Chapter Ten: The End of Days (2/3)

by Mar 5, 2010Stories

{Note: Some of the text describing the Battle of the Black Gates (namely from the point of view of the Captains of the West) is original text taken from ‘The Black Gate Opens’ and ‘The Field of Cormallen’ chapters of ‘The Return of the King’. This is used for artistic and entertainment purposes only. ‘The Return of the King’ belongs to the Saul Zaentz company.

25th March, 3019 T.A, the Morannon

It was late in the morning that Ren the Tainted finally returned to Cirith Gorgor. For five days Indur the Outcast, Hoarmurath the Undying and he had stalked the host that had emptied from the gates of Minas Tirith. At the command of their new captain, Khamul the Black Easterling, they had organised a small force of Easterlings and Orcs in Ithilien to fool the foe into believing their power was now weakened through the small number of warriors. The western host had easily scattered them, but since their feigned victory the three harbingers of horror had flew in the smokes above, making no cry or attack but spreading their fear upon those below like a suffocating cloak. Such was the deathly aura that stank from the Tainted that on the next day, as the enemy passed out of Ithilien, many were so traumatised that they were dismissed by their ‘King’ towards Cair Andros.

As they had flown, the scheming mind of Hoarmurath poured over the advancing army below him. Insidiously and with much calculation he had carefully studied them – the manner of their soldiery; the commanders that led them; the number that was mustered. Whilst they drew nearer and nearer to the Black Gates, the impassive Indur had become more and more avid and keen for the coming battle; he knew Khamul meant to keep none of the fools alive in order to reassess their worth in the eyes of the Dark Lord, and as he tossed it over in his mind he was beginning to look forward to the coming butchery ever increasingly. Yet the only thing that formulated in Ren’s mind was the delight at the wanton terror felt by many of the men below – it was delicious.

The Undying had departed back to the Morannon the night before the western host was due to arrive – he was to report the size of the army to Khamul, and compared to the might amassed before it, six-thousand was paltry. Dawndeath had too returned very early the next morning, hoping to prepare his blade for the bloodshed. He had attempted to order Ren back with him, but the Tainted’s sadism compelled him to stay and feed off the fear below. Only now had he pulled himself away from his feast, and it was solely the thought of his master’s wrath that obliged him to leave. As the late morning sun dazed through the mists sent up from Mordor, he steered his fell steed steadily onto the ramparts of the Black Gate before leaping off and allowing his creature to join others of its kin upon the craggy slopes to either side – four others he counted, meaning that Dwar was still at Erebor and Adunaphel at Lothlorien.

The ramparts of Black Gates were empty but for one shadowed figure – Akhoarahil had evidently been ordering the watchers upon them down into the valley below or into the Towers of the Teeth as to make the stronghold appear vacant.
‘At last you have returned,’ sneered the Dark Marshal. ‘Such indiscipline can only be expected under our new ‘captain’. What news do you bring? When will the fools arrive here?’
‘Thy Marshal,’ wretchedly drawled the Tainted. ‘They shalt be here soon; early this afternoon, I deem.’
‘Good. Before you go, Tainted, you should probably know that Dwar is dead.’
‘Thy Dog King?’ Ren seemed more concerned than sorrowful. ‘Why arst we all dying?’
‘Not all of us,’ said Akhoarahil with satisfaction. ‘But before the battle is out, it shall just be one more.’

Within the secret tunnels below the tower of Carchost, Hoarmurath busied himself with rummaging through their secrets. Sauron had kept a chamber here for storing many old secrets and documents – the Undying himself had placed a very ancient dagger of pure mithril here, but to his puzzlement it had disappeared – perhaps an over-ambitious Southron or Easterling had plundered it, he thought with anger. Yet still he poured over the old parchments and artefacts; perhaps he would find the text for a potent spell or something of the like, he pondered.
And then something caught his eye. It was a letter, and on the binding envelope read in scrawled ink in the Black Speech:

‘Of the upmost secrecy and importance this paper has been stored by Khamul, Master of Barad-dur, year 2001 S.A.’

Hoarmurath’s attention was hooked instantly. He remembered that Khamul was once the Master of the Dark Tower before the Mouth of Sauron had replaced him; he must have been ordered to protect and hide many secrets in his placement. Eagerly, he folded out the paper inside. Curiously, this writing was not the untidy scrawl of Khamul – an Elven hand had written this, in a forgotten Avari tongue that took all of Hoarmurath’s hoarded knowledge to translate.

‘As you will have deciphered now, I have abandoned both you and your service. I remember many hundreds of years ago when I found you upon the mountains watching over the destruction of Beleriand, torn between returning to Valinor or establishing your own power out of Morgoth’s shadow, and as an agent of darkness I could only sway you to perform the latter. I was successful, and so I aided you. But now I see that I was wrong. I ushered the Prince of Numenor over to your side; I raised the child Komul into a tyrant of the east bettered only by you; I enabled the Dog King to be consumed by his vengeance; I aided the outcast lord to exist only for his bloodthirst; I sealed the pact to make the prince of Ciryatandor a sadistic kinslayer; but worst of all I poisoned the mind of a peaceful man to turn his entire nation into a religious charnel-house that would execute even his own infant children.

Though I fled from our scheme of uniting the nine kings to become the wraiths of your malice, I know you will gather the other three to you through Khamul, and that my work can now never be undone. But, before I leave this world forever, I shall grant you a parting gift. I have looked into the future of both you and these Nine, and you shall find it is not to your pleasure;

One Lord, with one ring
And nine more he will attain,
With fire and war and a banner of doom,
Within the house of the Mirdain.
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.

One of the Nine to the Archer,
Messenger of ruin and soul-flayer;
One of the Nine to the Tainted,
The abomination and the decayer;
One of the Nine to the Once Vain,
Queen of all sadness and destroyer of mirth;
Stealer of spirit, darkest of heart,
Fear comes when the Undying comes forth.

One goes to the bringer of strife,
Kinslayer and tyrant most black;
One to the Outcast shunned by all,
The reaper and Shadow of the South will attack;
The third will be granted to the lord
Whose vengeance will misguide him;
The second of the nine for the Shadow of the East,
The fallen, the violent, the most grim.

From the sons of the great in Westernesse,
A black flower will spring,
The Prince, the captain, the sorcerer of old,
Lord of the Nine, a black Witch-King.
Yet at the end of darkness, seven will fall,
One will be slain by the rightful king,
Heralded by the immortal captain’s death,
At the hands of a woman and a Halfling.

May Eru have mercy on your black soul, Mairon.
Many regards,

A squabbling pack of Orcs huddled around the forge that stood at the base of the Cirith Gorgor when Dawndeath approached, but within a few seconds of his presence there they had quickly dispersed in fear. He deftly removed his ancient sword from its sheath and ran it against the grindstone, his mind thinking hungrily of the dozens of souls he would take as his blade became sharper and sharper.

‘Dawndeath! Ji Indur!’ came a sharp cry.
Indur turned to see the Undying, running towards him desperately. Unattached, he continued to focus on the grindstone as they spoke.
‘Speak,’ he said bluntly.
‘I was searching in the chambers below Carchost -‘ Hoarmurath began.
‘Is it not true that no-one can go in there without our Master’s expressed permission?’ interjected Indur.
‘That is not to the point. I have found something immensely…troubling.’
‘What could trouble one who cannot die?’ smirked Dawndeath.
‘This is dire for us all, Indur. Read this…’
‘I am sharpening my sword, Hoarmurath. Please leave me.’
‘No! The text speaks of you; did you know a seer called Dardar-‘
‘Come,’ said Indur, suddenly standing and looking out at the gathered Orcs. ‘Khamul will be expecting us.’
‘What – how do you know?’
‘He’s here.’
Hoarmurath went to Indur’s side and looked to where he cast his gaze and saw the hordes making a fearful path for a small retinue of mounted knights; they were clothed in black cloth and iron armour, and one carried a black banner with a single, red eye.
‘Black Numenoreans,’ said Hoarmurath.
‘Yes,’ said Dawndeath. ‘The Mouth of Sauron has come.’

The Dark Marshal, the Tainted and the Blood Archer already stood by Khamul when the Outcast and the Undying joined him atop the Black Gates. The Shadow of the East had just completed informing the gathered Easterling, Southron and Orc captains of their orders when Uvatha came to warn him of the oncoming embassy from the Dark Tower. He had gathered his brethren to him and stood atop the ramparts – for all of the Nine shared an animosity with the foremost of Sauron’s heralds; such that even Khamul and Akhoarahil would come together against him. The six Nazgul stood like statues upon the gates, their captain at the centre, his eyes flickering red in the crimson sun.

The parley force halted at the gates below them and the Mouth of Sauron looked up at Khamul. Ever since the Easterling had laid down his title of Lieutenant of the Dark Tower, Master of Barad-dur to him, the Mouth of Sauron had always thought that he was the better of the two, and enjoyed attempting to look down upon him. Khamul was glad that it was now him doing so, even if it was physically as opposed to figuratively speaking.

‘It is a wonder you fools managed to organise this rabble,’ said the herald. ‘Especially since it is an Easterling that commands you.’
‘For once I agree with him,’ muttered Akhoarahil under his breath.
‘Silence, Marshal,’ snapped Khamul. ‘And I am surprised you arrived on time,’ he now said to the Mouth of Sauron. ‘In fact, if you had come a few hours later we would have already crushed the enemy, a task that would exceed your abilities.’
‘Do not mock me with your self-proclaimed power,’ he spat. ‘The Nazgul led us to defeat at the Pelennor, I shall lead us to victory here. I will be, once again, relieving you of your command, to ensure our success on this field.’
‘Then you would be going against the word of our master? He asked me to command this host, and advised me what direction to take in the battle. Unless you would usurp his word?’
‘How dare you question my loyalty! Very well, lead this horde of maggots, we shall soon see whether our master’s trust in you is misjudged.’
‘Good. The Dark Marshal shall inform you when the enemy arrives,’ said Khamul, now turning to his brethren. ‘We will take to our steeds and circle the Towers of the Teeth, as to impose ourselves upon the foe. Akhoarahil shall remain hidden on the gates and order our forces upon them after the parley. Then we will attack – I expect the head of each captain from all of you. Uvatha, crush the Sons of Halfelven; Ren, destroy the vaunted Swan Prince; Hoarmurath, slay the Captain of Rohan; and Dawndeath, bring me the crown of their supposed king. I will deal with the Wizard myself.’

As one the steeds of the Nazgul rushed down to them, and as they took to the air Akhoarahil fingered the hilt of the mithril dagger and knew the time for his ascension would soon come.

15th February, 2280 S.A, Umbar

Even before she had ever encountered the powers of the Dark Lord, Adunaphel was a master of secrecy. Umbar was considered to be the strongest and most powerful stronghold south of Mordor, yet such was the Silent Lady’s preternatural ability that she could enter this hostile port-city completely undetected.

In the two-hundred and seventy-nine years since she had received her ring, this proud lady of Numenor had changed drastically. She had once boldly displayed her beauty and strength, but now she hid all her body, even her face, behind a suit of black armour and a midnight cloak. She had once been pleased to walk out in the sun, but now she hid in the shadows. She had once enthralled the people of her citadel with the melodies of her lute, but now she barely spoke a word. As she withered away to the ravages of her shackled ring, only two things kept her from becoming something at she was completely not; her desire to wrest Umbar from Numenorean control, and her passion for another of the ringbearers, the Easterling Khamul. In the long years since their quest into the bitter north to grant Hoarmurath the sixth ring, they had met one another only a handful of times. Adunaphel knew that their emotions for each other would dissipate as her mortality had done, in time, and it caused her deep sorrow. But every day she hoped that their feelings would remain, or at least resurface once again, someday.

She had come to Umbar because she was to meet with someone; another of the nine ringbearers who was the king of a great and powerful nation further south. She did not have to wait long before she met him; it appeared that as they became more wraith-like, they could sense others of their kind.
‘Lady Adunaphel?’ said a tall man in a black hooded cloak.
‘Let us find somewhere to speak,’ she replied as they began walking away from the city gates into the busy trade streets. Such was the labyrinth expanse of the many stalls and bustling sellers that it was not long before they found a shadowed back alley to converse.
‘Why did you choose for us to meet here?’ inquired Adunaphel.
‘I thought it was apt. I thought we could mock the ‘power’ that this citadel is said to hold by having a meeting to discuss its downfall within its very walls.’
Adunaphel was highly irritated at this man’s arrogance and hollow bravado
showmanship, but she could not argue with an ally of such influence.
‘My army shall be ready for war in June, and that is a definite calculation,’ she whispered. ‘What of yours?’
‘It can be ready for then, also.’
‘Then that is when we shall strike,’ spoke Adunaphel. ‘My army shall march down on the city, which will no doubt draw their forces out to us. As I engage them, your army shall stand between them and Umbar, and so you can both besiege the city whilst we crush the army between us. Then both our armies will be free to assault the city and take it for ourselves before the reinforcements from Numenor arrive.’
‘A good plan. Very well, we shall keep each other informed up until the siege, then.’
‘Agreed. Before you go, I must ask you. You are of Numenorean descent – you are the King for one of their client kingdoms after all – how can I know I can trust you, Akhoarahil?’
‘Because you too are of Numenorean blood, Adunaphel. And I, unlike you, have already openly declared my independence. If I wished to be a pawn of Tar-Ancalimon and the Kings before him, I would have not killed my father.’
‘Very well,’ said Adunaphel as Akhoarahil turned and disappeared into the crowd, the strange gem-like gleams where his eyes should be glowing an avaricious green. With this new alliance sealed, Adunaphel looked up at the high towers of the port-city and knew the sign of her standard would soon adorn them.

10th August, 3000 S.A, Kiran Republic

It had been exactly one-thousand years; one-thousand years of patience, revenge, blood, betrayal and dark pacts that had all built up to this one moment in the unhealthily long life of the High King Ji Amaav II of Mumakan – or as he was once know, Ji Indur Dawndeath.

A millennium ago he had sought to battle against the tyranny of Numenor, he had sought for the continued freedom of his people and all of Middle-earth from their nigh-zealous arrogance. But he had been defeated by the Prince Akhoarahil of Ciryatandor, and then cast out by a fellow governor of the Kiran Republic, Loran Klien – a petty fool who had bartered with Numenor to disperse any opposition within his homeland. Betrayer, outcast they had called Indur – but he was remembered well by others. His erstwhile ally, the Lord Sauron, who had gifted him a ring in an apparently selfless offer to aid him against Westernesse, had sent his great emissary Dardarian in a daring attempt to set up Indur as the High King of Mumakan; and following a short and bloody combat he had succeeded. Sauron had enabled Indur his power, and now would enable his revenge, and it was a fact he never forgot. At last, the Kirani people would taste their own blood, and it would be because of their own mistakes.

Akhoarahil had since become the King of his land and too become an advocate of Sauron’s, and so in absolution had set up Indur with a priceless resource in his struggle against his former people – one which pleased Indur greatly. The High King of Mumakan marched against the Kiran Republic with legions of his dedicated followers – thousands upon foot and dozens more upon the prize jewel of his kingdom – the mighty Mumakil. No expense had been spared in Dawndeath’s war of vengeance.

The old city where Ji Indur had once been proud to call home, the glorious Korlan, was where it would begin. As the army of Mumakan neared, they saw the walls of the city mounted with many resplendent archers and banners, and below them armies of spears, shields and many horsemen. In the spires of Korlan, Indur could almost feel the gaze of the six governors, hiding themselves behind men who had no desire but to protect their homeland. Dawndeath almost felt regretful that these warriors must die to reach his true targets, but regret was a feeling massively dwarfed by revenge.

At last the charges were sounded. The Captains of the Kirani sent their battalions of armoured riders against the invaders – tall men with shields that flickered like gemstones in the sun and cloaks of hues beautiful and rich, and their horses were too armoured, and were but a fraction less proud and elegant than their masters. Ji Indur’s withering, half-wraith face scrawled into disgust – the Kirani’s display of valour was merely puerile, insufferable vanity. The dreaded king brought up his Mumakil; the beasts numbered fifty all told, and the ground shook as if Aule himself was striking it as they came to the fore. With a shriek that rent the oncoming riders’ ears like a lance, Dawndeath sounded the Mumak charge, and the air was thick with the bellows and roars of man and beast. With a sickly crash, the knights of the Kirani fell under the behemoths that thundered before them, and for all their feigned glory and pride they could not withstand the sheer brutality brought before them. As the majesty of Korlan lay trampled into the dirt, the King of Mumakan cried once more and his soldiers sprinted into battle, moving behind the devastation of the Mumakil, slaying any who survived their onslaught without mercy.

And then from the walls of Korlan a cheer went up – at first faint but then loud enough to drown out the war cries of the Mumaks. The Kirani pointed to the east and sung in hope, for hope was indeed what materialised before them, moving across the hazy horizon like something from a vision or a dream. For ever since the ejection of Indur the Kiran Republic had an alliance with Numenor, and in recognition of this, upon the shores of Kiran land the men of the west established a mighty haven, Tanturak. A line of lords ruled it, but they were each known as ‘the Magician’, for the nobility of Tanturak was ever intrigued in the pursuits of magic. And so the haven now came to the aid of Korlan – a great many Numenorean soldier marched, tall and fair and wrathful in black and silver and gold; their lord Urzahil the Magician at their head with his blade shimmering like a falling star.

Some distance before the battle the host of Urzahil halted at last, and the ranks behind drew black arrows to place on their longbows. The Kirani army laughed and jeered curses at the enemy – but suddenly, as the crimson sword of Dawndeath swung upon the frontlines, the foes that stood before him looked into his eyes, and there was a deadly glimmer there, and his tortured face twisted into a gleeful smile. Few realised their imminent danger as the darts of Tanturak fell down whooshing like deadly rain, but not on the army of Mumakan. All upon the walls of Korlan men dropped lifeless, their last expressions frozen in disbelief and despair. Akhoarahil’s gift to Indur was the friendship of his ally Urzahil – and as the Numenoreans charged into the shocked Kirani and all hope left them like a dry flame, Indur knew it was a truly great gift.

In the clamour and midst of the dying Kirani, Dawndeath found Urzahil. The pursuit of magic which he and his forefathers were so enamoured of had turned into a dark road, and now like so many before him, Urzahil the Magician had succumbed to the promises of Sauron. But as always, in payment, he required service.

‘Greetings, Urzahil of Umbar. I thank you for your untimely coming; but I have a proposition from the Lord Sauron himself. He seeks an advocate of much authority and sorcerous power, someone willing to become his embassy, his herald, his mouth.’
Urzahil nodded, before falling back to his duties of command. Before falling back into the fray himself, Ji Indur surveyed the carnage around him; watched as his Mumakil were now steered towards the walls themselves, where many fierce men leapt from the towers upon the creatures’ backs to scale them, and watched as the horrified Kirani who still clambered outside the penetrated safety of Korlan’s fortifications died with no recollection of valour as both the armies of Mumakan and Tanturak cut them down like butchers. Almost in ecstasy, Dawndeath charged back into the fray, greedily shredding his long-estranged kinsmen as if he wanted to take each and every one of their lives himself. When he would at last come to sever the fearful heads from the governors’ bodies, Indur would already be drunk with revenge.

25th March, 3019 T.A, the Morannon

The host of the west had come. As the Dark Marshal slunk in the shadow of Narchost, one of the Towers of the Teeth, he watched the Mouth of Sauron duel words with the accursed Mithrandir, the newly baptised White Wizard, as the Captains of the West and the Black Numenoreans eyed each other warily. High above, Khamul, Indur, Hoarmurath, Ren and Uvatha continued to wheel about the peaks of the towers like vultures, but Akhoarahil knew they were watching the scene below with rapt attention.

‘Do not bandy words in your insolence with the Mouth of Sauron!’ the herald cried. ‘Surety you crave! Sauron gives none. If you sue for his clemency you must first do his bidding. These are his terms. Take them or leave them!’
‘These we will take!’ said Gandalf suddenly. He cast aside his cloak and a white light shone like a sword in that black place, that even made the onlooker Akhoarahil reel back with a sharp hiss of a curse. Before the Wizard’s upraised hand the foul Messenger recoiled, and Gandalf coming seized and took from him the tokens: coat, cloak, and sword. ‘These we will take in memory of our friend,’ he cried. ‘But as for your terms, we reject them utterly. Get you gone, for your embassy is over and death is near to you. We did not come here to waste words in treating with Sauron, faithless and accursed; still less with one of his slaves. Begone!’

The Dark Marshal readied his sword, waiting for the moment to launch the inevitable attack. The Mouth of Sauron’s face was twisted with amazement and anger to the likeness of some wild beast that, as it crouches on its prey, is smitten on the muzzle with a stinging rod. Rage filled him and his mouth slavered, and shapeless sounds of fury came strangling from his throat. But he looked at the fell faces of the Captains and their deadly eyes, and fear overcame his wrath. He gave a great cry, and turned, leaped upon his steed, and with his company galloped madly back to Cirith Gorgor.

As soon as they reached the gate Akhoarahil emerged from the shadows and swung his sword upwards with a great shrieking cry, and the soldiers of the Mouth of Sauron blew their horns in signal long arranged; and even before the embassy came to the gate the trap was sprung.
Drums rolled and fires leaped up. The great doors of the Black Gate swung back wide. Out of it streamed a great host as swiftly as swirling waters when a sluice is lifted.

Akhoarahil moved his blade in frantic striking movements towards the enemy as the Captains mounted again and rode back, and from the host of Mordor there went a jeering yell. Watching the scene with his Eyes of the Well blazing a brilliant crimson the Dark Marshal enjoyed the sensation of wielding such power again, and he was all the more hardened to do what had to be done to secure his command forever. Dust rose smothering the air, as from nearby there marched up an army of Easterlings that had waited for the signal, strategically placed by Khamul in the shadows of the Ered Lithui beyond the further Tower. Down from the hills on either side of the Morannon poured Orcs innumerable. The men of the West were trapped, and soon, all about the grey mounds where they stood, forces ten times and more than ten times their match would ring them in a sea of enemies. Sauron had taken the proffered bait in jaws of steel.

13th April, 2280 S.A, Ciryatandor

The grand army of Ciryatandor was ready to march with Adunaphel and her army of Near Harad against Umbar. Half of his force was to march with him through Harad, whilst the other half would sail there. The day had come to depart the golden spires of their marvellous land and prove themselves greater than their despondent fathers in Numenor.

Akhoarahil stood in his armoury chamber within his palace of the capital city Barad Carannun. Many beautiful, exotically-clad young women placed and secured his plates upon his form, for after he had murdered his wife and sister Akhoraphil, he had submitted himself to using his vast power and wealth to have many please him in his murdered partner’s stead. Though he feared that as his ring stripped him of his mortality and made him increasingly wraith-like his taste for such pleasures would be lost, at least his power would not; and that was what this conquest was all about.

Suddenly, one of his most trusted captains, Sakalthor, burst into his armoury, crying, ‘My Lord Akhoarahil! My king!’
As the last strap of armour was placed upon him, Akhoarahil turned to reply. ‘Yes, Sakalthor, what is it?’
‘Our sentries report that the ships of Manwendil, the Lord of Andunie, are nearby!’
‘An attack force?’ inquired the King, a little concerned.
‘No my lord, it seems it is but a leisure flotilla.’

The King of Ciryatandor smiled to himself. Since the fourth King of Numenor, Tar-Elendil, gave his heirlooms the ring of Barahir and the sword Narsil to his eldest daughter Silmarien, whose son Valandil was the first Lord of Andunie, her younger sister Isilme and her descendants had argued for their true rights for at least one of the heirlooms. Akhoarahil’s family were descendants of Isilme, and had continued to plead for their due birthright. Now, both artefacts were in his grasp…

‘Sakalthor, prepare the fleet to advance on Manwendil’s ships.’
‘Yes my lord. What of the march to Umbar?’
‘Lady Adunaphel can wait,’ said Akhoarahil. ‘The ring of Barahil and Narsil are rightfully mine, and I today I shall take them forever. Besides, the sooner we capture them the sooner we may march to her aid.’
With that, both Sakalthor and his king marched from the chamber.

25th March, 3019 T.A, the Morannon

Little time was left to Aragorn for the ordering of his battle. Upon the one hill he stood with Gandalf, and there fair and desperate was raised the banner of the Tree and Stars. Upon the other hill hard by stood the banners of Rohan and Dol Amroth, White Horse and Silver Swan. And about each hill a ring was made facing all ways, bristling with spear and sword. But in the front towards Mordor where the bitter first assault would come there stood the Sons of Elrond on the left with the Dunedain about them, and on the right the Prince Imrahil with the men of Dol Amroth tall and fair , and picked men of the Tower of the Guard.

The wind blew, and the trumpets sang, and arrows whined; but the sun now climbing towards the South was veiled in the reeks of Mordor, and through a threatening haze it gleamed, remote, a sullen red, as if it were the ending of the day, or the end maybe of the world of light. And out of the gathering mirk the Nazgul came with their cold voices crying words of death; and then all hope was quenched.

Down flew Uvatha the Blood Archer against Elladan and Elrohir and the Rangers; down flew Ren Jey the Tainted against the Swan Prince and his Knights; down flew Hoarmurath the Undying against Eomer and the banner of Rohan; and down flew Indur Dawndeath the Outcast against Aragorn and the banner of Elendil.

As the first crash of Orc steel upon western shield fell and a fearsome company of hill-trolls from Gorgoroth shunted into the Tower Guard, Khamul wheeled away from his fell brethren and landed on the ramparts of the Morannon, seeking to oversee the remainder of his army’s manoeuvres before hurtling into the fray. Next to the Easterling and his loathsome mount stood Akhoarahil the Dark Marshal, whose gemstone eyes burned colours of rage and greed, red and green.

‘Well done, Marshal,’ spoke Khamul, eagerly watching his shrewdly crafted plans place his forces on all sides of the beleaguered enemy lines. ‘Once the others despatch the Captains of the West, I do not believe this should take very long. Greybeard and his lackeys will be out of their misery very soon.’
‘Unfortunately, I must reveal they share the same fate as you, Easterling,’ said Akhoarahil. Khamul had only registered the tone and meaning of the Dark Marshal when he desperately leapt towards him, his arm raised in a stabbing motion and a dagger of pure mithril violently gripped in his hand.

Quickly and frantically had Adunaphel flown back to Mordor from the front lines of Lothlorien. The wanton madness she had released during the assault had all but frazzled out, leaving a shallow and white fire aching through her spirit, and the deadly weapons of light that had been wielded by Galadriel had left her vision and her mind panging hurtfully – the White Lady had even direly injured Adunaphel’s fell beast with her magical sword, and so it had wearily flapped to return here, though the Knight of Umbar did not believe it would survive for much longer.

Passing swiftly over the craggy maze of Emyn Muil, the rotting Dagorlad, the arid slag-hills of the Brown Lands and the dead desolation of the Morannon, the Silent Lady had finally come to the great battle. Seeing several of her order harassing those below brutally, she wheeled about the battlefield before roaring down to the Black Gates to meet where she believed she would find Khamul. Why she would want to find him first before descending upon the enemy eluded her, especially after his dismissal of her at Barad-dur, but she somehow felt that it would be necessary. Sure enough, stood upon the open ramparts was the Black Captain upon his winged steed – but it seemed like, strangely, another dark robed figure was leaping towards him – and something sharp glittered in its hand.

On instinct, Adunaphel swooped down even harder and spoke words of sorcery so quickly they nearly blurred into one, and a shadowy blast of untamed force escaped from her unsheathed blade. Barely inches from the assassination, Akhoarahil felt the surge with a loud smack, sending both the dagger and he tumbling into the hordes of Orcs below. Too late had he recognised the impending onrush of wings, and it had cost him his one chance of seizing the mantle of Lord of the Nazgul. Cursing madly and his thoughts twisting brutally into despair and rage, he was carried away from the gates in a sea of rushing feet and crude weapons.

Khamul immediately flew upwards from the gate. Thoughts madly went through his head – he had never thought the Dark Marshal, irritant fool though he was, had the nerve to pull such a stunt; and though the battle now pressed his immediate attention, he would deal with the usurper later. But a strange, distant emotion passed over him like a clear wave – he wanted to embrace Adunaphel in happiness at her rescue, and touch her and kiss her as they had when they were mortal, but his sudden bout of long-lost emotions left as quickly as they had come. His mind turned to battle, and of crushing the White Wizard in his monster’s talons. He simply flew past Adunaphel, and she could only blankly follow.

1st November, 2280 S.A, Near Harad

Never before had Akhoarahil felt such sweltering, infernal heat. Though the ring on his finger continued to wither away his mortality and feeling, such was the intensity of the bloated sun throbbing above that even he could feel its presence. For weeks he and his men had travelled across the Nafarat, the maddening Great Desert of Harad, for tragedy and ruin had befallen the once bountiful kingdom of Ciryatandor.

For long the High King of Numenor, Tar-Ancalimon, had kept his all-seeing eye upon the Southlands of Middle-earth. He knew that, removed from the spheres of Westernesse, the corrupt and over-ambitious lords of his havens had potential to become blinded by the power that they wielded, and forget their ties and the superior strength of their homeland. Two such individuals had arisen – the first was the Lady Adunaphel, who had a citadel close to Umbar. Hiding her femininity under the moniker of Ard Once Vain, she had captured control of almost all of the disparate Haradrim tribes of Near Harad, and for decades she had feigned political loopholes and negotiations to keep her from levying tax to Numenor.

The second was the King Akhoarahil of Ciryatandor; a land which had been named after Ancalimon’s grandfather Tar-Ciryatan, but which had, ironically, become a rebel state. Scouts had confirmed the armies of this land marching across many regions of Far Harad, becoming fat off the spoils of constant wars. Decadent and arrogant, Akhoarahil had thrown down the resplendent statue of Ciryatan in his capital of Barad Carannun and raised one in likeness of himself. The final show of disloyalty came when his fleet struck out against the ships of Manwendil, the Lord of Andunie, seeking to claim the heirlooms the ring of Barahir and the sword Narsil. For months Akhoarahil had pursued the smaller group of vessels, but Manwendil had escaped him. Tar-Ancalimon had suspected the two renegades for long, for they seemed to have come upon unnatural long life, obviously acquired through the magic of the Elves or of Sauron – Ancalimon had no love for either. With enough evidence to prove them as enemies of the state, the haven of Umbar reinforced by a fleet from Numenor had defeated Adunaphel’s vast army through a surprise assault at the Battle of the Gleaming Shore. The woman had escaped, but her power was crushed. Evidently still pursuing the Lord of Andunie, the King of Ciryatandor never came to her aid.

The second stage of Tar-Ancalimon’s plan was set in motion. The army that had crushed Adunaphel sailed to convene with the Lord Manwendil, and together their ships made shore further south to attack Ciryatandor. The forces of Akhoarahil did not reach the coast in time to prevent the soldiers from disembarking; and led by the vengeful Lord of Andunie, the loyalists defeated the warriors of Ciryatandor and moved wrathfully into their lands, and as Barad Carannun was burned to the ground, its crushed monarch and all the surviving fools who still dared to follow him had fled northwards in fear. Manwendil did not pursue him though, for he saw that Akhoarahil was leading his advocates through the Great Desert, and knew the arid wasteland would finish his job for him.

Lord Manwendil’s prediction had been almost completely accurate. With stores of food and water dangerously thin even when they had left Cirtyatandor in flames, more and more men began to fall with each day. The sadist determination of their lord whipped them onwards, but still they fell like flies. After weeks of burning torture, at long, long last they saw civilisation in the distance. It was the crossroads of the Harad and Amrun roads, and beside them the centre of southern opulence – the great merchant-city of Abrakan. Akhoarahil had made it – but barely a tenth of his followers now remained alive.

With bribe to the guards protecting the city the dethroned king and his men came into the trade-city. Yet no sooner had they entered the grand gates that Sakalthor, the ever-loyal captain of Akhoarahil, approached him, the survivors of Ciryatandor stood behind him unflinchingly.
‘Sakalthor, what is this?’ rasped Akhoarahil.
‘As we speak, Ciryatandor, our beloved home is being trampled into ash,’ stated Sakalthor. ‘And we fled to maintain your security, for you were our king.’
‘Why do you say ‘was our king’? I am your king!’
‘Not anymore,’ the words of Sakalthor were said with cold honesty. ‘You are a monarch without a throne, without a country, without a people left to govern. You have led us this far, but left most of our brothers for the sport of scorpions upon the Nafarat. We shall not share the same fate as them.’
At this, Akhoarahil immediately drew his blade, crying, ‘How dare you! Insolent wretch, I shall show you your true place!’
But, to his bewilderment, Sakalthor did not blanch at the sight of the sword, instead, he smirked. ‘You think you can still threaten us with fear? No, for we are free men now, for you can no longer offer us anything – wealth, honour, glory. Perhaps, one day, you will be able to grant us such desires once more, but until then my lord, I bid thee farewell.’

As Sakalthor and the last of his men scattered into the crowded city, an icy whisper caught the ear of Akhoarahil from behind; ‘A just reward for the unfaithful – to be humbled before one’s most hated enemies, and then abandoned by your own servants. Except, I was afflicted with these things, but was never unfaithful to my ally.’
‘Adunaphel?’ Akhoarahil turned to see the armour-clad, hooded shadow, huddled against a stone wall out of the light of the desert sun. ‘What are you doing here?’
‘I am on an errand of my own, kinslayer, when I should be busy reasserting the power of my new lands!’ she cried, and Akhoarahil was shocked at her outburst – she was known as the Quiet for a reason. ‘Why did you not come? Why did you not come to my aid when my majesty fell dead around me at the Battle of the Gleaming Shore?’
‘I, too, was on an errand,’ retorted Akhoarahil, thinking of the fruitless pursuit of the Lord of Andunie. ‘Do not sulk to me because you cannot win your own battles!’
‘We had a pact. We had an agreement. I should have known you would have not kept to your word. And let me ask you this – are you not allied with the kingdom of Mumakan? Why did you rather claw your way through to the edge of the desert? Why did you not go to Ji Indur for aid?’
‘It was not…convenient.’
‘You lie. I shall tell you why you did not go – because of your bloated, suffocating pride. You would let hundreds of your men die upon the sands of the Great Desert because of your blind arrogance. Perhaps you should have gone to him, I hear Ji Indur is a butcherous ruler – he would have killed you just to be associated with such a worm in the dust. I for one would advise you flee to Mordor, for though Sauron maybe more disgusted with you, he at least will not end you so rashly. But I can hope.’
Adunaphel did not give Akhoarahil a chance to retort, for she melded into the shadows of the trade streets and slipped away, leaving the disgraced king with his Eyes of the Well merging into a sorrowful, broken grey.

Sakalthor sat at the bar of the darkened brewery, his head hung in loss. Though he had done what he had to do and desert his tyrannical master, it seemed all that Abrakan could promise a man like him was simple, dishonest, mercenary work.
‘Sakalthor of Ciryatandor?’ said a quiet voice that seemed to emerge from the shadows. ‘My name is Adunaphel. I am here searching for trustworthy agents; warriors and assassins willing to forge a new order with me which will dominate all the Southlands like a puppet-master. I know a man like you would be interested to join with me; to be one of the first members of the Hasharii.’
Sakalthor turned to her, an ambitious gleam in his eyes. ‘Stranger, tell me more of this order.’

‘The Nine’ will conclude with ‘The End of Days (3/3)

Adunaphel and her Hasharii Order will return in ‘Of Venom Born’.


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Found in Home 5 Reading Room 5 Stories 5 The Nine – [Finale] Chapter Ten: The End of Days (2/3)

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