One of the Nine to the Archer,
Messenger of ruin, Horseman of blood.
17th March, 3019 T.A, Erebor
Only when travelling through the open air did Uvatha feel completely whole. Despite he was only the shell of his mortal self, the thrill of the ride still managed to exhilarate him somewhat, sharpening his senses tenfold. His sturdy bow felt weightless on his back, and by now almost felt like an extended part of himself, ready to be used as skilfully as any Elf marksman. Rightly was he feared as the Blood Archer, for too many to be accounted for had fallen to his aim.
Due to his rebellious nature, he had never been happy with how Sauron unceasingly cast him away with errands, or with any of his orders for that matter – he hated rulership more than any of the Nazgul; all he wanted was freedom to do what he wished. At least as a wraith he had eternity to eke out his desires – but was it worth it to be bound to a shackle?
Yet still, for once he did not fume at his commands, for he was glad to be rid of the other Nazgul at Barad-dur. He despised all of them, the arrogant Dark Marshal, the lecherous Tainted, and above all of them Khamul, the Black Easterling. In Uvatha’s mortal life, Khamul had captured his homeland, Khand, but Uvatha managed to rebel against the occupying Easterlings and bring the entire nation under his rule, the first time such a thing had happened – but it was how Sauron found him. To this day Khamul and Uvatha had a mutual, unspoken hatred, anticipating the day their score would finally be settled.
Finally, the Blood Archer drew closer to his destination, where the Dark Lord had sent him. He looked down to see the human towns of Dale ransacked by the apparently victorious Easterling and Orc forces, until the intensity and numerousity of the warriors below him increased into formations and battlelines, where they were all focused upon one thing – the great mountain fortress, Erebor, before them.
The arrows of Dale and the siege weapons of the Dwarves fired upon the impending invaders as they swarmed about the safehold as the last of the fleeing allies were retreating step by step through the gates. Wheeling around the mountain like a deathly storm was a spectre of death whom even the Dwarves were hiding in fear of. It let out a scream like the very sound of the rupturing of Arda, and when it was cried it seemed the entire battlefield froze for a second. Uvatha met the fury of Dwar the Dog King, the Shadow Lord, with a meeting cry before joining him in disrupting the defence of Erebor.
Always forward-thinking in their industrial advancements, the siege weapons of the Dwarves – and of the children of Erebor in particular – had been honed and perfected over many years of combat. Great trebuchets, catapults and ballistas launched unceasingly into the vast lines of Easterlings and Orcs, some shattering into dozens of razor shards, glistening like stars as they scattered, but as piercing as an Elvish arrow. Others burst into fire that rapidly encroached across the ground where they struck, vanquishing the besiegers in the fiery wrath of Durin’s line. From the hellish pits of Mordor and the exotic corners of the east, machines of Sauron’s malice were brought up to further hound the stoicness of the Lonely Mountain, and though in greater quantity than their foes the contraptions were no match for the precision and craft of the Dwarves. The bows of the men of Dale, forged in the image of heroic Bard’s weaponry, sang in a deadly choir, and not even the many resplendent shields of the Easterlings could block all of their aim. As the last of the men and the Dwarves who had combated the Dog King at the Battle of Dale retreated through the unbreachable gates of the Lonely Mountain, King Dain Ironfoot and King Brand still stood to defend and rally their people, and their action on the battlefield strengthened the defenders of Erebor tenfold.
Yet, for all the valiance of the two Kings, their light was eclipsed with the terror of the two Nazgul. Foul winds gushed from the wings of their reaping steeds, their crunching maws breaking through the armour of Dwarf captains and their claws tearing asunder the vaunted siege weapons that harassed their hordes so. As the twin menaces whirled and swerved about the mountain like a hurricane of destruction, those who stood against them could not dare to raise their swords, spears and arrows against them – fear held their arms frozen. The phantom auras of the undead seethed across the battlements like a plagued breeze, and their airborne steeds held memories of past miseries – the wreckage of Smaug the Dragon was still too near for some.
As death itself clutched at the heart of Erebor’s people though, there were some who stood without panic against the dark. Inspired by the honour of their fathers, the Princes Thorin III and Bard II, sons of Dain and Brand, kept the defence in check, patrolling the walls which they would protect with their blood. And in the courtyard of the gates, a covene of old friends gathered. Once there were twelve – but now only six remained to defend the mountain they had aided capture in long years past. Two had died in that old battle; one had departed to watch over the holdings in the Blue Mountains in Eriador; and three had fallen under the cold stone of Zirakzigil, Barazinbar and Bundushathur.
‘My kinsman and companions, we have been through many troubles together, but this will be our greatest ordeal yet. Though we are not as young and fit as we were in the days of honoured Thorin Oakenshield, we shall protect what he sought to claim for his people with our last drop of strength. Are you with me?’ The words of Gloin were spoken with the resolve of the very foundations of Erebor.
‘Aye, for honoured Thorin, who lies now with the Arkenstone and watches us with expectancy,’ said Bifur.
‘And for Kili and Fili, who fell to reclaim the earth we tred on today. Their deaths shall not be in vain!’ said Bofur.
‘And for my brother Ori, and Balin, and Oin, whose spirits still cry out to be avenged in the deep caverns of Khazad-dum!’ said Nori.
‘I am sure Dwalin would give any gem to be by our side today, but I fear he too must protect our brothers in the west, in the Blue Mountains. But I am ready to kill his share of foes as well as my own,’ said Dori.
‘I may no longer be of the use I once was,’ said fat Bombur, who now could barely move without aid. ‘But I shall stand by the gates till my last breath.’
‘Good,’ said Gloin. ‘Know that my son, Gimli, fights on our behalf in distant lands. When he returns, he shall see us victorious over the east, not the Lonely Mountain brought to fire and ruin. My brothers, ready your axes.’
Dendra Dwar, the Dog King, broke from his harassment of the garrison and soared above the assembled armies that awaited his call. With a cry and the swift orders of his sword, many of his best warriors that had waited patiently for bloodshed moved forwards towards the struggle at the gates. The axe of Dain, Barazanthul, left the severed and broken remains of his enemies in ruined heaps about him, and ever by his side was Brand, his sword as keen as his bow, and every arrow released landed mortality upon another servant of Mordor. Their men had retreated inside the gates, and now they stood with the bravest and best of their troops – swift and untiring knights of Dale, their bloodlines as noble as their cause; and the veteran kinsmen of Dain, powerful Khazad Guard, armour and axes clotted with red and black blood of fell man and Orc. But now the elite of Dwar’s forces moved against them – the strongest and fiercest men the lands of Rhun could muster forth, veteran mercenaries unpeered in their knowledge of war, and staunch Dragon Knights of the Easterling Empire, their twin scimitars flickering menace in the failing sun.
And then a clear cry rang from the gate as six Dwarves sallied forth just as it closed behind them; ‘Baruk khazad! Khazad ai-menu!’ Nori, Dori, Bifur, Bofur and Gloin ran to Dain’s side – although Bombur could not go further than the gate. The steel of the west was met with the iron of the east.
The aim of Uvatha could only be questioned by two – the most preternaturally skilled Elf bowmen, and fools. Yet his reputation and his title of the Blood Archer had been earnt not only by his ability, honed over many millennia, but from his subtle weaponry. His arrows had been enchanted with the dark magics his order possessed, and envenomed with the stock of the most poisonous snakes and scorpions of the southern lands of Harad – and so if the Blood Archer hit an enemy in the heart, they would die of the venom and sorcery before they died of the arrow wound itself. Such a fate had befallen Snowmane, steed of the Rohirrim King Theoden, which had crushed him before the Witch-King had confronted him. Yet for this battle, Uvatha had concocted a most devastating missile – potions of the far-east mixed with the cankerous aura of the Tainted and the spells of Minas Morgul imbued within arrows. When these blasphemous missiles hit a target, they release a poisonous fume through the victim which chokes those around them in a cloud of tainting death – and as the keen bows and the destructive siege engines of the defence pressed the attackers hard, he knew the time was now to release them. In a matter of less than a minute the Blood Archer had wheeled about the Lonely Mountain – firing six darts at key positions along the walls. Within a heartbeat the green fumes of his designs sprouted about the walls, instantly killing many valuable archers and siege crews of unlimited experience. Causing such devastation with such little effort amused and intrigued Uvatha greatly – such things sometimes made him relatively enjoy his service in Sauron’s clutches.
Prince Bard II, as he safeguarded the walls as best he could, saw the unnatural gases swarming across the battlelines. Seeing the toxins spread towards his positions, he gave quick and wise orders to save his forces from catastrophe.
‘Stay down! Cover your noses and mouths with cloths! Use your cloaks and robes!’
The smoke harmlessly passed Bard and his men before eventually crumbling into the air – the devices of the Blood Archer had passed swiftly but taken many lives. Bard once again stood in the clear air, drawing his bow in wrath of his allies who had fallen so unceremoniously. He scoured the skies, searching for his target, his brow furrowed in fury. And then he passed – Uvatha the Nazgul, screaming almost in mockery. From his quiver Bard plucked an arrow, and as he strung it he noticed what arrow it was – a Black Arrow, in the likeness of the same that his great-grandfather had struck down Smaug the Golden with. He drew back the shaft, and smiled as he released the arrow. The Blood Archer had barely recognised that his steed cried out its last scream of agony before they tumbled violently from the sky.
The Prince of Dale raised his bow and gave a victorious war cry, which the rest of his followers took up as the fell beast crashed into the regiments of Easterlings below, crunching into the ground in a cacophony of broken metal and flesh. Disoreintated and enraged, Uvatha crawled from the wreckage, shrieking in vengeance and pain. As he reached to take his bow, he discovered to his horror that from the fall, it had split asunder. His weapon, used in hundreds of battles over the millennia, had been destroyed. The mortal bowman would pay, but for now Uvatha took his cursed sword and struck towards the gate.
The time for commanding his army had passed – Dwar now sought to assault the gate of Erebor in a much less subtle way. Soaring towards the portal like a storm bolt, the fabled Dog King mused about his thoughts of doubt regarding his tyrannical position, his realisation of the abomination he had become. Though he was bound to his duty, he dearly hoped there was a foe at that gate that had the ability to finally end him.
His fell beast sundered into the combat with the impact of a catapult’s payload. The legendary armour of the Khazad Guard shattered like it had been forged with sticks, and the shining swords of the elite of Dale fell from dead hands like falling stars. The Dog King pounced from his mount, letting out the Howl of the Damned, which made even the staunch defenders of the gate move back in anxiety – except from the two Kings, doughty Dain and loyal Brand. Dwar moved towards the monarchs, casting fear and shadow about his form like an inpenetrable cloak. Yet a warrior jumped into his path, raising his axe against the wraith, which was met with the Dog King’s ancient blade. Another joined the lone soldier, crying, ‘Brother Nori! I am with you!’
As one the great axes of Nori and Dori fell down on the Nazgul, but the phantom captain parried them both in one stroke. Swerving his block back at them, he thrust the mightier, Dori, from his way and stabbed at Nori. The old Dwarf could stand his ground, however, and cut back at him with the stoic force Dwar had come to expect of such veterans. As Nori came back against him, the Dog King raised his gauntleted fist and spoke spectral chants. To his horror, Nori was frozen in place by the fiend, transfixed on the very spot. Seeing his brother’s plight, Dori ran to intercept the Nazgul, but was too victim to the wraith’s sorcery, being pushed back with a shadowy force, his back hitting the gates of Erebor harshly before collapsing to the ground, although Bombur strived to help him back to his feet. But Dori knew he had failed his brother – as Nori stood there, unable to move, with one black stab Dwar pierced through his precious armour and watched the life go from Nori’s eyes. The bitter cries of Dori were as frightful to the enemy as the Howl of the Damned was to the defenders.
With their commander pressing the advantage, the Easterlings followed suite in his example. Dozens of Dragon Knights duelled against Gloin, Bifur and Bofur, but more pressed into the entourage of King Brand. The Knights of Dale who had not fallen to the savagery of Dwar’s fell beast were overcome by the duelling skill of the east, and soon Brand found himself trapped, surrounded by Dragon Knights. Out of the corner of his eye, King Dain Ironfoot noticed his friend’s plight, and roaring the battle cry of the Dwarves launched into the elite Easterlings, sundering and scattering them with strong Barazanthul. But it was too late – Brand lay breathing his last breaths, though the many corpses of his foes surrounded him like burial gifts, a testament to the son of Dale.
Through tears of anguish Dain called, ‘Bifur! Bofur! To me!’
Soon enough the brothers came to their King, exhausted, but bowing their heads solemnly and respectfully at the fallen Brand.
‘Good friends, though you are not my kinsmen, you have fought by my side as if our blood was the same. Yet alas, I fear we shall never fight side by side again, for I must ask something of you that you may find difficult, although as your King you must swear that you will do what I ask.’
‘We will obey your word to the very end,’ curtly answered Bofur.
‘Good. Now, you must take the crown of King Brand. Find his son, Bard, and tell him what has passed – he is now King of Dale. As for my son…’
The old King stopped, and as he leant upon his axe it seemed he pressed the weight of the entire world upon it.
‘…as for my son, tell him that he shall see our people restored to peace and glory greater than even the days of old. Give him my crown, too…’
Bifur and Bofur suddenly realised what Dain truly meant. ‘But my liege!’ exclaimed Bifur.
‘No! It is decided. Get everyone back inside – only the strength of Barazanthul can keep the eastern dogs at bay. Take the crowns – go, now!’
With that, the cousins went, running through the gate, Bofur dragging his brother Bombur behind him and Bifur helping the barely conscious Dori, though if he was fully awake he would never abandon the field so. Last of all went Gloin, bearing the fallen body of Nori and leading the last of the Knights of Dale and the Khazad Guard through.
Alone at last, Dain son of Nain stood over the body of his fallen friend Brand; Barazanthul held in a death grip and ready for blood. Again came the Dragon Knights, and for all their martial prowess they could not get within an arm reach of the Dwarf King, for his mithril axe would not allow them. All but a handful of the Easterling elites had been slain, but to their credit they did not flee, intent on felling the last Dwarf at the gate. With a grim smile, King Ironfoot was happy that his last stand was against worthy opponents. Yet, worthy as they were, they were at last all killed in the shadow of the pass to Erebor.
From the hushed piles of the fallen again arose a gloom. Dain had not forgotten the presence of this Shadow Lord, Dendra Dwar, the Dog King. The rasping whispers of the Nazgul captain were like ice across the bare skin.
‘Do you remember, old king, when I came to you much time ago, asking for allegiance and assistance? I have come to put you in your place for refusing us so. You may be a fool for your refusal, but at least you can die like a hero.’
‘Not before my axe tastes your false flesh, abomination!’
The two commanders leapt at each other with Dwarven fury and phantom malice.
‘Baruk khazad! Khazad ai-menu!’
‘Agh burzum-ishi krimpatul!’
Barazanthul met the malignant blade of Morgul with a clash that could have ruptured the earth under them. Though in reality it doubtfully happened, it felt to the duellers that the entirety of the battlefield had stopped to watch their combat. The spells of the Dog King fell dead against the will of Ironfoot, and the speed of Barazanthul was wasted on the swift movements of Dwar. At last, the Dog King brought his blade up to strike, when Dain brought his axe in a great, sweeping arc. The two weapons met mid-stroke, and in a flash like the sun through dusk Barazanthul splintered the ancient sword in two and dove straight into the torso of the wraith. Dwar let out the Howl of the Damned – but this time it was out of pain. The Nazgul fell backwards, collapsing in the dirt.
And then, quicker than death itself came another horror. Through the ranks of watching Easterlings charged the second Ringwraith, Uvatha the Blood Archer, shrieking as he raised his sword. At his coming, Dwar regained his composure, and the Nazgul renewed their attack on the Dwarf.
‘You have shown much honour, Dwarf. You are a skilled opponent indeed,’ rasped the Dog King.
‘What would such a thing as you know of honour?’ snarled Dain.
‘Nothing,’ the tone of Dwar changed strangely. ‘But you have made me remember what it feels like.’
Uvatha did not have time to question his companions’ oddity, striking quicker than the serpents he acquired his poisons from, as Dwar scarred through the air with his broken shard. Seeking to send them both back grovelling, Dain made another arc with Barazanthul, but the stroke went awry. Seeing their opportunity, the Nazgul raised their blades and stabbed. As he felt the two cursed swords pierce through his mithril coat and armour, Dain Ironfoot knew that his time had come at last. He closed his eyes and let his spirit find its way to his ancestors even as his lifeless, but strong body collapsed to the earth he had died to defend.
Even as he fell, a loud cry went up from the walls. Swiftly the gate opened to allow one figure through – Gloin, kinsman of Dain, beat back the Nazgul with his ferocious grief, allowing others to take the bodies of Dain and Brand from the battlefield before following suit himself. The dead heroes of Erebor would not be left without ceremonial burial.
As their fallen nemeses and Gloin closed the great gates behind them, the host of Dwar took up a roar of victory. But even as they cried, the Dog King fell into the ground again. The Blood Archer moved to his side.
‘That axe…it was the purest and most blessed of mithril, Uvatha. I could not hope to stand against its blow for long,’ quivered Dwar, his shadowy majesty beginning to leave him.
‘Listen, Uvatha. You may take my winged steed, and I expect Sauron will want the day won. But know this, before I leave my wretched, shackled life forever: I have died a true warrior’s death, not bound like an immortal hound to a master for eternity; for that was our folliest decision. We are – we have become – abominations, Uvatha, nothing more, parodies of the things we once loathed. It seems… after this crippling undeath we have suffered for so long… death is not so bad, after all…’
With that, the form of the Dog King imploded, crumpling into itself as the last Howl of the Damned took up from its failing form. But from the nightmarish sound, the survivors of Erebor took hope, for never again would they hear that sound on this world. And Uvatha at last knew what he had long suspected; though he could now never rebel against Sauron, he could still pray for a death as glorious as Dwar’s. With that, he called the unmanned mount of Dendra Dwar to him and continued the Siege of Erebor – though he secretly hoped there was a Dwarf or a Man in that mountain that could grant him his greatest dream – a glorious death.<strong><strong>