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Night Course in Pet Care: 1. Night Course in Pet Care
“Ghorgur, clean the stables! Ghorgur, shovel the dung out! Ghorgur, skin, chop and cook three meals a day for nine monstrous, half-wit winged creatures!”
Deep below Carn Dûm, the orc momentarily paused his sweeping to wipe the sweat from his forehead with a soiled hand. Under strands of dirty, thinning hair, two eyes burned feverishly and a vein pulsated madly on his forehead. Clenching his teeth, he resumed his work despite the uncontrollable trembling of his hands.
“One little mistake and I’m reduced to this,” he grumbled. “As if I am the only one ever to fall asleep on guard duty! How was I supposed to know that the wargs were entering their breeding season?”
Ghorgur would never forget the night when at least a dozen female wolf-creatures in heat broke loose inside the dungeons of Carn Dûm, howling like mad and causing havoc in their path, searching for a mate. More precisely, what Ghorgur would never forget was the warg-master’s boots kicking furiously his head and ribcage, for he wallowed too deep into a drunken slumber to be aware of the mayhem around him. The embarrassment of that incident still weighted heavily upon his heart. Various jokes were whispered behind his back, some even to his face. Not long after that shameful incident, he had been relieved from guard and patrol duty and assigned to the stables, tending to the monstrous winged beasts of the Witch-king.
Had the situation been different, he would not have been as bitter; better food, access to the cellars and unlimited ale and, on most days, he could sleep late. But losing rank had significantly damaged his chances with the females and his bloodlust found no release in his current tasks. He longed to walk on open fields again hunting down elves and men, harvesting skins and teeth for his war trophy collection. A low growl of hunger escaped his throat in the anticipation of the hunt, but a heartbeat later his hands clutched the broom so hard, that his knuckles turned white, in recalling that many moons would pass before he could again venture outside.
On top of everything, the Witch-king himself was a frequent visitor of this part of the dungeons. Apparently he had a soft spot for his monstrous pets.
Tired of cleaning away straw soiled by food leftovers and droppings of the various small animals that infested the depths of the dungeons, Ghorgur threw the broom away and walked to the far end of the room where a huge cauldron bubbled. The smell of boiling meat filled his nostrils as he stirred the half-cooked stew. It was not done yet, but the creatures would hardly notice anyway. Better serve it now, before the smell attracted the dungeon cats and vermin. Putting all of his strength in his shoulders and back he poured the stew to nine large bowls, one for each creature, the eight males and the one female -their mother.
The beasts greeted him with hungry growls and devoured their portions with loud slurping sounds. He served the last, largest bowl to the female of the pack and turned to leave the creature’s compartment with mind set on his own meal and ale.
Only when the bowl of food crashed on the wall beside him, spluttering half- cooked broth and meat chunks all around while barely missing his head, did Ghorgur realize something was terribly wrong.
By Mordor’s fires, what is going on?
On his way for his evening visit to his pets, the Witch-king pulled up short at the horrible wail which broke the silence of the depths of Carn Dûm- a cry of utter distress, followed by the sounds of furniture crushing, pottery breaking and desperate fluttering of monstrous membrane wings. An image of the accursed Eldar sneaking inside his stronghold and threatening his little Burzum flashed in his mind, but he shook his head to clear his mind from the disturbing vision. Clenching his fists, he willed his fears away as he hastened his pace on the slippery steps.
If anything happens to Burzum…
He had raised the creature from a fledgling and his dark form had been the first one she saw after hatching. Burzum and her mate had been the last of their kind, saved by the Dark Lord to be used as mounts for his servants. After her mate’s senseless death by an Eldar arrow, the Witch-king had been her only family and support in raising her offspring. Every time she saw him, a low, gurgling sound of affection left her throat as she stretched her long neck to his direction asking for treats and scratching. Her reptilian eyes glowed with simple, unselfish love in his presence, waking something long forgotten in the Ringwraith’s black soul. This creature followed him not out of fear, but out of choice.
If anything has happened to Burzum, someone will pay dearly, he vowed to himself.
It was regrettable that the last orc attending the stables had met such an unfortunate fate. He was fast, efficient and rather intelligent for one of his kind. But Burzum’s young ones were extremely frisky at this age; they had no idea that orcs break when their limbs are pulled to opposite directions. The one presently assigned to stable duty did not strike him as equally efficient, but he was the only one who had apparently not heard of his predecessor’s fate; probably due to his frequent indulgence to strong brews.
On entering the vast stable dungeons, he saw the orc in question hidden behind an upturned table, trembling. Broken kitchen utensils and various pieces of furniture were littered on the damp stone floor while the beast’s wailing continued. It was indeed Burzum’s cries; now her young ones had added their own wails to the cacophony, sensing their mother’s distress. The winged creature had apparently broken loose from her chain some time ago and then wrecked everything in sight in her delirious charge. But why? The Lord of the Nazgûl glared at the orc who cowered even lower behind the table.
“Explain this,” hissed the Witch-king.
Responding to the sound of his voice, the wailing reduced to a series of whimpering moans. Still, the orc had not ceased trembling and stared at the Nazgûl blankly. Gathering the last remnants of his patience, the Witch-king spoke again.
“I will not ask a second time,” he warned the orc, his voice icy.
The orc crawled out of his hiding place, practically bent in two and avoiding eye contact with the Witch-king.
“My Lord,” he mumbled, “I’m afraid I have no idea why the creatures are in distress. I had just finished serving them their meals when the female snapped and attacked me. I swear, your Painfulness, I did not provoke them in any way. They are fed and watered, their cells are clean and there was no sign of distress prior to this.”
“Could she be ill?”
The orc blinked, obviously confused. He then mumbled something like, “How should I know?”
The Witch-king ignored his minion’s pitiful muttering and approached Burzum’s cell. The beast was crouched at the far end of the room, her neck stretched to the heights above that reached as far as the highest towers of Carn Dûm. Several minor cuts covered the thick skin of her body and made her look miserable, in addition to her relentless whimpering. Disturbed, he noticed that the chain cut in her flesh and the floor was smeared with her blood and droppings.
He eyed the orc icily. “You call this room clean?”
The orc opened his mouth to utter something. If any sound came out, the Witch-king did not notice, his attention centered on the restless beast before him. He was certain that Burzum had heard him, yet she would not look at him. Unsure of how to approach her, he stepped cautiously inside her cell, pushing back the urge to carve a third nostril on the stupid orc’s face. Entertainment could wait for later. Meanwhile, the beast again cried out and the Nazgûl focused, attempting to make some sense of this noise.
Unbeknownst to all, apart from Sauron and the other Ringwraiths, the ring that had stolen his humanity ages ago had enhanced his senses in several other ways. One of his new abilities consisted of understanding the tongues of the creatures that walked or crawled or flew, especially those that favored all things dark. Burzum’s wails had meaning in his ears.
“No one loves me,” the creature kept saying.
The Witch-king stood flabbergasted. Why would she say such a thing?
“I hate my life and I hate this dungeon,” wailed Burzum.
“Are you in pain, Death-wings?” The Ringwraith hoped that the use of her pet name might calm her down. No such luck.
A high pitched sound from the creature’s throat drove the orc to his knees, but the Witch-king hardly noticed. “My heart hurts,” she cried. “No one loves me.”
“How can you say that?” said the Nazgûl, now certain the orc somehow figured in this.
“Even mortals treat their animals better than this,” Burzum complained. “Mortals share their beds with them, bring them toys to shred and prey animals to hunt and kill. They run free as they wish to and eat the same food as their masters, not this despicable half-cooked meat!”
The Witch-king felt glad he had little of his corporal body left; otherwise he would undoubtedly suffer from a splitting headache. Before the night ended, the idiotic stable orc would be warg-food; he would personally see to it. Still, the question remained; how on Mordor had Burzum learned of the way mortals treat their animals?
“Burzum,” he said in a low voice, “who have you been talking with?”
“My friend,” she whimpered. “The only real friend I have in this empty life, confined in this dark dungeon instead of flying under the moon.”
Instead of an answer, the creature stretched her head to the shadows beside her and a low sound escaped her throat. Only then did the Nazgûl sense another creature’s presence. Something lurked in the dark corners of the room, something neither good nor evil; a trickster.
“Reveal yourself,” the Witch-king hissed.
Shards of darkness broke away from the shadows of the room and were woven under the torchlight into the form of a small, black-furred animal. With liquid grace it walked forth and stood before the Lord of the Nazgûl. Between the ghastly form of the Ringwraith and the massive body of the beast, the size of this animal seemed insignificant. Something in its amber gaze, however, spoke of intelligence and guile.
A cat; one of the many roaming the dungeons of Carn Dûm. The Witch-king could not recall when they first appeared inside his stronghold. It seemed as if they had always been there, creatures that lurked in the shadows hunting mice and insects. The feline population and his orcs were in constant conflict, since the small creatures never passed an opportunity to steal from the cellars, claw on sacks and equipment or simply annoy the sentries. But the Witch-King had never thought much of them, believing them simple-minded night predators.
Apparently not. “And who would you be?” he inquired.
“My friend,” said Burzum.
“I believe that your …friend can introduce himself,” said the Nazgûl in a voice dripping honey. Venomous honey.
The animal stretched his back and eyed the black form before him with remarkable insolence. “I am Fuinraw,” he finally mewed, “Chieftain of the Cats of Angmar. My bloodline goes far back, to those of my kind who dwelt in a mighty fortress of old. My ancestors roamed the dungeons of Angband and were highly favored by the one who has been cast in darkness. I am Heir of the Prince of Cats and I have come to request proper respect for my people.”
“Have you, now?” The Witch-king had heard enough of the old tales to know that the animal lied shamelessly. Tevildo, the Prince of Cats, had failed Morgoth pitifully during the time of the Trees and been sentenced to exile. But this creature amused him- an unexpected distraction from the tiring stupidity of the orcs that surrounded him. “The Prince of Cats resided in Angband,” he said. “Go make your claims there.”
Ears twitched backwards. “I already have. Apparently, someone has destroyed it. We dwelled here long before you came.”
The Witch-king studied the cat- a creature sharp and sly, unlikely to be manipulated and ordered around. If given the chance, he could cause serious disruption to his plans. However, he doubted his orcs were up to the task of getting rid of this cat and his kind, given their small, agile forms that could easily vanish in the shadows of the dungeons. Unleashing the wargs was probably not an option either; during their breeding season, they would pay little attention to small prey as this.
Before the Witch-king could utter a bilious reply, Burzum stretched her long neck forward, bending close to the creature. The animal arched his back and rubbed himself against the monstrous head, as a strange sound came from his body. The winged beast replied with a gurgling sound of affection.
Divide and conquer, thought the Witch-king. This must stop. “What have you been telling to my pets?”
“The truth,” Fuinraw replied defiantly. “That in every hamlet and town of Arda we get to sleep on mortals’ beds, we have fat rats to chase and even the Queen of Gondor has favored our company, showering us with toys and treats.” He paused for a moment, as if choosing the right words. “I meant to speak with the wargs as well, but they seem to have their attention focused on other issues.”
The Witch-king could swear that the cat was sneering. “Instead of dwelling in these gloomy halls, why not venture among mortals and the royal chambers that housed your forefathers until recently?”
Before the cat could reply, the winged beast objected.
“If Fuinraw goes away, I will be all alone again,” she whined miserably.
“No, you will not,” replied the Witch-king and scratched tenderly her huge head.
Big, hopeful eyes were fixed on his dark form. “Will I have prey to hunt and tear and chew on?”
He nodded, thinking of the worthless orc beside him. “You will have pale elves and horses and men from Rohan and Gondor to play with.”
“Will I have better food?”
The Witch-king glanced at the orc sideways. “Yes, you will,” he hissed and the orc, still clueless his fate had been decided, trembled anew at the sharp tone of his voice.
“Will I get to sleep at your chambers?”
Before the Nazgûl could reply, the cat interrupted the negotiations.
“This is very interesting,” he said with a yawn, “but what of my people? Your orcs hunt us mercilessly, endanger our young ones and scare away our prey. A littermate of mine was gravely wounded two nights ago during his search for food in the cellars. We demand retribution.”
At this point, all the Witch-king wanted was to get rid of this animal and return to his chambers. “Fine,” he replied with an impatient wave of his hand.
“Do not leave me,” begged the winged beast.
The cat stared at Burzum with huge, ageless eyes. “You will be in good care,” he promised.
His amber gaze darted back and forth, between the Nazgûl and his pet. “Yes,” he replied in a grave voice. “While in his care, no living man can hurt you.”
Something stirred inside the Witch-king, a faint glimpse of battles not yet fought. He never noticed the mischievous sparkle in the cat’s eyes.
Fuinraw stretched and addressed the Nazgûl again. “Will I be granted retribution for my fallen kin?”
“You will,” he replied and turned to the orc. “Stable master?”
The orc ran to his side, bowing repeatedly. “Yes, your Painfulness?”
“You will henceforth be reassigned to guard duty.” To escort this cat in the lower reaches, and good riddance.
The orc’s face lit up.
Somewhere in the depths of Carn Dûm, soft-pawed predators readied themselves for the kill.
And they all lived happily ever after.
If you enjoyed the story, check out this lovely picture Blue Iris made for it.
Burzum: Darkness in the Black Speech.
Fuinraw: Night-lion in Sindarin.
Tevildo: The evil Prince of Cats from Tolkien's Lost Tales. He was originally a main character in the tale of Beren and Luthien but he was later abandoned.
Fell beasts: Winged Creatures, Airborne Mounts of the Nazgûl.
"Fetid black creatures raised by Sauron as flying mounts for his Ringwraiths. That ridden by the Lord of the Nazgûl at the Battle of the Pelennor was described as naked and featherless, with wings of hide like a bat, and a long, sinuous neck ... Whatever the nature of the Winged Creatures, it seems that those used by the Nazgûl were the last of their kind in Middle-earth, and had been grown to an unnatural size by Sauron. Despite their size, they were not supernatural beings, but living creatures."
From the Encyclopedia of Arda.
With many thanks to my good friend for her beta.
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