2. Chapter Two
The sunshine strikes against a man and leaves a shadow. Where the man is, the light is absent, and from that simple fact the shadow draws its being. And as I gazed at my shadow in the mirror I realised that it was him that others saw, not me. And on his hand he was wearing the ring of Power. And I looked down at my own hand... and I was not.
Such was the achievement of the Lord of Gifts. The One was one alone – and its nine shadows owed naught to the light of day. And those who wore them could be naught but wraiths, drawing in time their very being from the absence of light.
“My Reflection,” said I, “my Shadow... you would be nothing did the sunlight fall on you direct, instead of falling first on me.”
“Be that as it may,” replied the other, “it is I the people venerate, not the man of sky and earth who disports himself in secret beneath the leafy boughs. Him they do not see, nor care to know. It is not he who bestows on them the peace to till their fields undismayed.”
“Have you no sense of nature’s justice?” said I. “You are a dark fire, devouring the people, to no better end than to perpetuate your power. Were the people truly to know this, they would reject your rule.”
To this he said “Who would suppose that, but a fool?”
“Fool I may be,” said I, “but a fool who basks in the blessed light of day. That is the power in which I rejoice. I banish you beyond my borders! Go north, to the cold land of mists – and eat yourself in the darkness!” So I thought to rid myself of the ring.
So the shadow-king that was yet me departed, and I felt as though a weight was lifted from my heart. But in truth I was sundered – nevermore durst I look into a mirror – and when night fell dark thoughts overtook me. I knew that he who wore the ring plotted malice in the nether kingdom of my mind – the dowry I’d made over when I’d wed him to the shadows.
Presently, in the north beyond my borders, a dark king tangibly took form. He gathered to himself a people. Fell people, poison of the earth – an affront to the very sunlight. Even orcs, that shun the light of day. Cracking frosts and bitter winds – these were his chilling weapons. But what is chill, but absence of the daylight’s power? And what is wind, but the furious onslaught of that which has no substance?
To the kingdoms of the North, locked in fraternal strife, to these he brought peace – of a kind. Rhudaur he suborned – and all too soon the men of Angmar were massing on my borders, clashing their weapons and howling for my blood.
“What am I to do?” said I to my lady fair.
“Sunder yourself yet again,” said she, “and cast aside what is not fit for war. And I shall do the same. And so we shall regain the power to resist from the very elements of our natures!”
And so the man of earth was turned adrift to flee into the wild wood’s heart. I was Prince Fire – a brand raised in the face of Angmar. And, banishing the water-maiden of her tender side, my lady was Princess Air, with a brooch of blue sapphires on her lovely breast, to lift the people’s soul above despair.
But the Shadow proved the stronger... and overwhelmed the land.
My foe did me this honour – for was he not my dark self? – he caused a barrow to be raised over me and my lady fair, before leading off my people into bitter slavery. But in case our spirits of Air and Fire might ever arise to defy him again, he had prisoners exquisitely tormented at my tomb’s mouth. And this was the pact he made with them: in return for death’s release they were to haunt the barrow and do mischief to all who came nigh. My mound was not supposed to raise me up, but to hold me down.
Yet we’d escaped, my lady fair and I, in elemental form. Bereft of air and fire we were as nothing but earth and water. Doomed now to haunt the woods and caper in the sunlight to our hearts’ content.
But had I not been granted my desire? The heavy cloak of rule was lifted from my shoulders – a kingdom’s cares were but a fading dream. Our names of old have been forgotten... nevermore in Arda to be uttered. Instead we present ourselves by silly names to the rustic folk who’ve spread across the land.
But such is the One’s power that it can raise the least recalled of ancient ghosts, to lead them all and in the shadows bind them. Lost was Isildur’s Bane, and so I thought it would remain. But an age would pass and yet it comes to light – a debt presenting itself to be redeemed. Fool that I was – I should have known. In the fullness of time every vassal-bond falls due, though the liege-lord may be absent for a while. Gondor’s stewards know this of their empty throne – so now do I, of the One Ring.
Four hobbits stumble into my woods, bearing the cursed thing. They fool with it – they try it on – they place it in my hand. It has no power over my sunlit soul... but in my mind of shadows I know it still holds sway.
As night began to deepen I knew that I must flee the house, for my guests to enjoy its sanctuary in my lady’s loving care. But first I charged them solemnly not to cross the threshold. For I knew with whom I must keep tryst.
A man there is who’s near at hand. He knows who I am – or who I was. And I know him too, for what he is – and what he is to be. The Dúnadan – he wields by right of birth the might of Isildur. Authority and power to a degree I never could aspire... without a ring. He – or no one – will know what to do.
But it was not the Dúnadan I chanced upon. Four riders, clad in black, were waiting for me on the road.
“Hail, Prince of Cardolan, that was,” said one. “And King of Angmar, that will be again!”
“Hail, Khamul,” I replied, though I forbore to add “Well met”, or enquire as to his health. “What brings you back from the land of shadows, after passage of an age?”
“A quest – and a gift.” He held out his clenched fist. “Take it – it is yours, I deem.”
But my arm hung limply by my side.
“What, would you refuse the gift of your Master?” And from afar I felt the hungry gaze of the Lidless Eye. The Lord of Gifts was once more in his tower. There was no way out for me.
“Where are the other four?”
“They ride out after Greyhame. Ancient fool! He sought to keep tryst with a certain Baggins – who lies now at your house – but that will not happen. Lead us to your dwelling in the woods – and our quest will be at an end.”
“My house is secured by a power far older than the Dark Lord himself. Even now my elemental lady keeps watch within. You can no more cross its threshold than can I myself – by night and mist. And even you, Khamul, respect the sacredness of guests.”
“Think you to resist the will of the Lord of Mordor?”
I shook my head. “Not at all, my friend of old. I merely counsel patience.” And loathingly I held my hand out for the shadow-ring.
The four dismounted and went down before me on their bended knees. Placing the ring on my finger, Khamul said “We salute our leader! Now indeed the Nine ride out once more!” And he gave me a morgul knife, with a blade of dark fire.
“I will discharge my bond of hospitality,” said I, “and lead the hobbits safely to the road. Then I will ride with you to Bree – there we shall overtake them in the public inn.”
Thus have I done the never-to-be-thought! I have accepted back the shadow-ring – which long ago I had abjured. But never will I let the One go back to the hand of its dread Lord! Or has my victory over self – won at such cost – been utterly in vain?
Alas! – that the eldest hobbit must be sacrificed. But I cannot see how else to turn the daggers of those I command. To report failure will be bad enough! Conspicuously to play the fool and let the hobbits get away unscathed will rightly be deemed treason.
When daylight comes I carefully direct the hobbits to the road, certain at last that they will meet the Dúnadan, the only one to shield them now. And my lady goes part-way with them, to set them fairly on their path. But no sooner does she leave them than they blunder into the barrow and spring its curse.
So yet again I have to rescue them! – I who, in the watches of the night, become their sorest foe! That such a thing of doom should have fallen to the care of half-wits of half-pint size! But perhaps their very foolery is the one thing to confound the counsels of the mightiest of lords.
“Hey dol, derry dol! Come along my hearties, Tom can’t be all day rescuing stray parties. Up now, to the road! Go to meet a stranger. One who can protect you, though but a humble ranger.”
The hobbit Merry looks at me with such trust in his eyes. If he but knew!
Yet will his trust not wholly be betrayed. For I have salvaged from the broken mound, together with the lovely sapphire brooch that lay upon my lady’s breast, my own short-sword of Westernesse, wound about with spells for Angmar’s doom. This I place in Merry’s hands... the sword alone to wager my release.
This is a work of fan fiction, written because the author has an abiding love for the works of J R R Tolkien. The characters, settings, places, and languages used in this work are the property of the Tolkien Estate, Tolkien Enterprises, and possibly New Line Cinema, except for certain original characters who belong to the author of the said work. The author will not receive any money or other remuneration for presenting the work on this archive site. The work is the intellectual property of the author, is available solely for the enjoyment of Henneth Annûn Story Archive readers, and may not be copied or redistributed by any means without the explicit written consent of the author.