Fairer Than Ivory, Silver, or Pearls
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Cursed Queen of Angmar, The: 30. The Round Room
She was not in her bed; she was lying on a hard, cold, stone floor of what seemed to be a passageway. There was no light, save a dim glow coming through a partially-opened door down at the end of the long, stone hall. Uneasy, she got to her feet and began walking towards the light.
As she grew closer she could see that there was a room beyond the door. Illuminated by the sickly yellow light were chains, racks, spiked tables. Once she was at the door, she carefully peered inside.
The room itself was round, with no windows, nor any other doors that she could see. In addition to the chains and racks, she saw several types of shackles attached to the walls. A pool of what she suspected was blood puddled in the middle of the floor. Almost directly opposite her was a bizarre construct of horizontal bars, set at different heights; shackles dangled from these as well.
Hanging above the blood, suspended by his wrists from a heavy chain, was a naked man. He had been gagged and blindfolded, and his feet chained together.
Frightened, sickened, she drew closer. He was a tall man, tall and powerfully built. Heavy black hair, matted with sweat and blood, fell over his face and shoulders. He had been flogged, and from the blood still dripping down his back she guessed that the flogging had been quite recent. At a distance it was impossible to tell if he was still alive.
Who was he? What had he done to deserve such torture? Slowly, uneasily, she made her way towards him.
As she drew nearer it was possible to make out slight movements; he still lived. She could also make out scars across his back, legs, buttocks. This was not the first time he had been subjected to this treatment. How long had he been hanging here? She glanced up at his bloodied wrists.
A sudden, horrific freezing seized her heart, squeezing all blood away.
On his right hand was a massive black opal ring.
"No!" She managed, barely, to keep from collapsing to the floor. She ran to him, desperate to find a way to free him, to cut him from the bonds.
"My lord," she sobbed, wrapping herself around his still-bleeding legs, "What happened? Who did this to you?"
He did not move, or indeed make any sign that he was even aware of her presence.
Frantic, she grasped the chains wrapped around his ankles. They had been welded shut; there was an ugly dark patch on his skin where the flesh had been seared by the hot iron. She had nothing, nothing at all, that would allow her to break the chain. Desperate, she looked around the room. There must be some tools somewhere, must be something she could use to cut him free--
Behind her, the door slammed shut.
Ariashal whirled around.
Standing by the now-closed door was a man, or rather, a man-shaped blackness. Its blackness seemed almost to be alive; it swirled and eddied, the light casting strange patterns over its surface. "Hello, little queen," said a soft, silken voice.
"Who are you?" she demanded. "What have you done to my husband?"
The figure did not answer. Instead it made its way towards her, coiling and seething across the room as though it were made of oily black smoke. Instinctively she backed away.
"Your husband," purred the voice. "Your husband has been--disobedient."
Some of the smoky mass pulled away from the body, forming itself into wispy, clawed hands. It laid its fingers along the King's flanks.
"Leave him alone!" she cried fiercely.
"Oh, no. That I cannot do. I cannot leave him alone." The hands slipped over the King's body, leaving ugly red welts in their wake. "He is a magnificent physical specimen, is he not? Look at these shoulders! Look at this chest! The strongest of all my servants."
The smokey thing's voice had taken on a tone of admiration. She watched as it changed size, growing tall enough to stand face to face with the hanging King. "My pretty, pretty Numenorean," it said, lingering close enough to his face to have kissed him. "The noblest of all my conquests."
She realized, horrified, who the thing was. "Sauron," she whispered.
"Yes?" The smoky mass of Sauron turned towards her. "What do you wish, my little queen?"
"What do I wish?" Her heart pounded as though it would break free. "I want you to let him go!"
Sauron laughed, a sound far more horrific than mirthful. "I cannot do that, sweet Ariashal. He is mine. Do you know how long it took me to find him? Do you know how many years I searched for him? He is everything I wanted. He is a prince, and a sorcerer, and a general. Everything I wished for." Clawed hands slipped across the King's body. "Well. Almost everything."
Without warning, the clawed hands were gone. In their place was a slim, fiery whip. Sauron drew it back, then slashed, hard, across his victim's chest. Fresh blood welled from the sliced flesh. "You have to be defiant, when all I wish is for your company. But no, you must run away, and defy me at every turn!" The flaming whip struck again. "You would lead the others against me, if you could! I cannot trust you! My greatest weapon, and I cannot trust you will not attack me!"
Again and again the whip struck. Blood spattered into the air.
"Stop it!" Ariashal screamed. She managed to reach the King, to throw herself in front of the searing whip. "Leave him alone!"
"You are brave, little queen." The flogging ceased. "Very well."
"Let him go!"
"I told you," purred Sauron, "he is mine to do with as I will."
"No!" She glared at the seething mass of smoke. "Give him to me!"
Sauron laughed. "Give him to you? Give him--to you?"
"Yes!" she shrieked.
"Very well." He stepped back. "I will give him to you."
Without warning the chains disappeared. The King dropped, limp, into a bloody heap.
Ariashal frantically went to work, struggling to untie the gag and blindfold. Somehow she would have to get him to his feet; she could not possibly move him in this condition. "I will have you free," she murmured, wiping away her tears. "You will be free soon."
"There is--one thing--I would have of you."
Ariashal looked up. Sauron had retreated a little, watching her with what she felt was some sort of twisted amusement.
"I want you to give me something, in exchange for--your husband."
"What?" she asked, her voice barely above a whisper.
Sauron waved his hand.
In front of him appeared Imrahil, Adrahil and Zimraphel, still sound asleep.
Strong hands caught her arms.
Ariashal looked up. The round room, the bloodied King, the sleeping children, Sauron--all had vanished. She was back in her bed, back in Rhudaur, and the King was holding her.
"Twas only a dream," he soothed. "You are well and safe here."
"No," she sobbed. "He wanted--he wanted our children!"
"No." The King pulled her tight against his chest. "He cannot have them. Ever. Now--tell me this dream."
"It was--there was a round room, and chains, and--my Lord, he was--he was torturing you." She managed to describe the events of the dream, although every now and then her tears forced her to stop; she finished with the appearance of the children in the torture chamber.
When she was finally done, the King was silent for a moment. "Are you able to dress yourself, or shall I call some of your women?"
She managed a sniffle. "I--I think I can dress myself."
"Very well. It need be nothing elaborate." He slipped from the bed and moment later the door to the outer corridor opened. "Guard, bring me the lords Herumor and Khamul. Immediately!"
He returned to her side, gathering her to himself. "I suspect that Khamul has been trying to pry into your dreams, my queen. He knows he cannot do so to me, and so he has tried to violate you. I promise you he will never do so again."
Ariashal looked up at him. She could see the reddish glow of his eyes, and somehow that was comforting. "My lord," she asked, still shaking, "does Sauron--does he have such a round room? With chains and racks?"
He breathed in deeply. The glow was much brighter now. "Yes."
Ariashal knew she did not need to ask about the rest. Instead she buried her face against him, crying.
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