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Very Dark, Very Wet, and Very Miserable Morning, A: 1. A Very Dark, Very Wet, and Very Miserable Morning
The surprised blink confirmed it.
It was rather unprecedented, really. Nothing managed to startle Barad-dûr’s lieutenant. He could be wrathful if provoked. He could be fearful if personally reprimanded by the Dark Lord or the Witch-king. He could be frustrated when working with incompetent Orcs. He could be joyful when he set aside time to personally torture some of the more important captives. But shocked? Surprised? Never. Such emotions were completely alien to him, and the fact that his face now displayed open astonishment did not bode well for the commander standing before him.
f he chooses a reasonably swift death as my punishment, I will be fortunate, Abunai moaned silently to himself as he waited for his superior to speak.
Born in the deserts of Harad, Abunai was the first son of parents whose lineage could be traced to the men and women wise enough to leave Númenor and seek service under the true ruler of Middle-earth: Sauron. Abunai had been raised as a warrior and instructed by some of the finest men in the desert before one of Sauron’s scouts had seen his skills and talents. He had then been brought to Mordor for further training, and he now captained a group of elite Orcs and men that specialized in interrogation. Specifically, Abunai’s forces were in charge of prisoners transferred from Dol Guldur, and they were renowned throughout Mordor for their effectiveness in the art of torture and coercion. The lower dungeons of Barad-dûr where Abunai and his team operated were the epitome of the Dark Lord’s terrible power. Desperate screams from captive elves and men sounded eternally in the black corridors. Blood and mangled tissue stained the walls. Bile and vomit crowded the floors. The stench of corpses and unwashed bodies permeated the air, and a tangible feeling of endless despair destroyed any spark of hope or dream of escape.
At least, that was how it usually worked. But this particular morning was anything but usual.
Abunai and the Mouth of Sauron currently stood in the main hall up to their knees in running water. The familiar wails of agony had been replaced by the clicks of skittering claws and the thump of flapping wings. Orcs raced about through adjacent corridors, bearing everything from pots and buckets to clubs and nets. Mocking elven laughter even drifted out of some of the cells, a sound that had not been heard in Barad-dûr since the departure of the Last Alliance.
"I trust that there is an explanation for this," the Mouth of Sauron said sharply.
"I assure you that there is, honored one," Abunai said, dipping his head low as a sign of both respect and submission.
"Then reveal it! For it is not apparent to me."
"Where would you like me to begin?" Abunai asked quietly.
"Let us begin with this," the man who was not quite a man ordered, gesturing to river in which they stood. "I have been informed that the storage rooms and cells in the lowest levels are all underwater. Explain!"
Abunai grimaced. The water was actually what had roused him earlier that morning. His personal quarters were located directly beneath one of the main torture rooms, for he enjoyed falling to sleep with the sound of screams and sobs echoing in his ears. Unfortunately, because of their location, his quarters had also been the site of the day’s first disaster. "Yesterday, we installed several tanks of water for use in a new series of tortures involving complete submersion," he said. "Unfortunately, the tanks…leaked."
Leaked was actually a rather mild way of explaining what had happened to the enormous vats, some of which had rested directly above Abunai’s bed. Collapsed would be more apropos. Abunai had already dispatched messages to the taskmasters set over the slaves in southern Mordor, specifically those in Nurn as they had been the ones to build the tanks. There was currently an insurgency among the slaves that might be responsible for the faulty workmanship. Still, destroying a rebellion did not change the fact that Barad-dûr’s basement had become a murky lake.
"How large are these tanks?" the Mouth of Sauron demanded, his voice containing notes of disbelief.
"Large enough to hold fifteen elves in each unit," Abunai murmured.
"By the One," Barad-dûr’s lieutenant swore softly, his eyes closing briefly before opening and locking onto Abunai. "What of the prisoners in the lower cells?"
"Some we saved, but others fought us. Many chose to drown."
"And what of the elven captain that was sent to us last week?"
Abunai bit his lower lip in a rare sign of frustration. The prisoner in question had been a rather valuable find, for it was believed that he knew the whereabouts of at least one of the Elven rings. "We think that he was indeed from Thranduil’s realm, as the Nazgûl in Dol Guldur suspected," Abunai said at length.
"You say that he was from Thranduil’s realm? Why is this no longer the case?!"
"We failed to extract him from his cell because his cell was blocked by webs."
For the second time that morning—and quite possibly the second time in several decades—the Mouth of Sauron blinked in surprise. His mouth opened and closed as though he longed to speak but could not find the words. "Webs?" he managed after the span of several minutes.
"Yes, honored one." Abunai shifted his feet about in the water and winced as two Orcs suddenly splashed past them, screaming something about birds. "We recently obtained spiders from Shelob’s latest clutch. It is rumored that their venom is more potent than the venom of the spiders that we import from Mirkwood. While we have learned this to be true, we have also learned that Shelob’s offspring are much more difficult to control, especially if the creatures are instructed in their escape. It seems that the elven captain knew how to communicate with the beasts. He told them how to free themselves. Then he offered himself up as a meal."
Deep within the eyes of the Mouth of Sauron, a fierce rage was building. It was competing with astonishment and had yet to break free, but Abunai knew it was only a matter of time. Any moment now, the storm would be loosed and he would be fortunate if he retained enough of a tongue with which to scream. Morgoth only knew how many times he had deprived his captives of such a luxury.
A sudden rush of wind startled them both, and Abunai instinctively ducked as something soared overhead. Shaking wet locks of black hair from his face, he glanced toward the Mouth of Sauron just in time to see the flames of anger reach bonfire levels. "And what, Abunai, was that?" he asked, his voice cold as the Helcaraxë.
For a moment, Abunai was tempted to say that it had been a bat. It was rumored that there were bats in Dol Guldur, and Abunai knew for a fact that there were bats living in some of the watch towers around the Morannon. Bats were acceptable inhabitants of dungeons. Bats could be explained and dismissed. Bats would not get him into any further trouble. Bats were good. Bats were normal. Bats were safe.
Unfortunately, the flying creature had decided to land in the water and was in the process of paddling past them. And if it was a bat, then Gothmog was Galadriel.
"It was a seagull," he said weakly as another bird winged by.
Stunned silence met this announcement. "A seagull?" the Mouth of Sauron repeated after a moment, his voice suggesting that he was only asking because the Dark Lord would demand a full report on the flooded dungeons. The Mouth of Sauron himself did not really want to know any more details.
"Yes, honored one," Abunai confirmed miserably, wondering if they would stretch his punishment into years or be swift and cut it down to a few months. The seagulls had been Khamûl’s idea, coming from the theory that the sea-longing might be one of the greatest torments to inflict upon imprisoned Sindar and Silvan elves. To this end, Abunai had requested that seagulls to be shipped up from Umbar. Unfortunately, somehow in the chaos of the water and the spiders, the birds had managed to escape their pens. "They are part of a new interrogation technique," Abunai elaborated quietly.
For timeless minutes, the Mouth of Sauron did not move. Nor did he speak. He was completely silent and completely still. Seagulls darted about overhead. Spiders skittered along the walls. Water lapped gently as it flowed down the corridor. But the Mouth of Sauron was as motionless as the stones.
"Honored one?" Abunai ventured, knowing that he should probably keep his mouth shut but unable to wait any longer.
"Set your men and Orcs in order," the Mouth of Sauron said slowly. "Regain control of these levels and then report to me. I shall expect you no later than noon."
"As you command," Abunai said, dropping to one knee in the water and bowing his head. He held this position for quite a while until he heard the Mouth of Sauron sigh in disbelief, slog down the hall, and disappear around a corner. Then he rose slowly, unable to believe his good fortune.
This was quite possibly the first time that an errant commander within Barad-dûr had escaped immediate punishment because of sheer astonishment. A slight thrill of excitement overtook Abunai as he realized the full magnitude of what had happened. Even if things returned to normal later that day and he was tortured for years on end as a result of this incident, the simple fact that he had managed to shock the Mouth of Sauron into inaction was enough to salvage the terrible morning.
Shaking his head in wonder, Abunai smiled slightly and then went in search of his men and Orcs, barking orders to all that he saw. Pausing to right an overturned rack of branding irons, he stopped and listened as a hint of elven laughter caught his ears. The prisoners were enjoying their captor’s misfortune far too much, and with a dark shake of his head, Abunai seized a barbed whip from the wall and followed the sounds of mirth. He was under no illusions that he would escape punishment, but until that time, he still held sway here. And for as long as this endured, he intended to thoroughly enjoy himself on what was very possibly his final day. And he was going to start with the elves that dared to laugh.
Oh yes. This morning could definitely be salvaged.
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