12. The Priest
What a pain it could be to have minions, Sauron thought as he shook his head at Khamul's stupidity. What had she been thinking? Murdering a lord of the Andunie the very night Pharazon released him? He would have been back in his cell faster than he could take a breath. Fortunately, the disaster had been averted. All was now well.
Pharazon did not waste time, and neither did Vorea. Within fifteen minutes his third ringbearer was ready to serve, and within an hour the great temple to the Valar was empty.
"It is like a graveyard in here," Vorea commented, glancing around at the empty niches, the barren altars, and the bare floors.
"It will be full of things once again," Sauron said.
Vorea frowned. "To the Valar?"
Sauron laughed and shook his head. "To Melkor and I," he replied.
Vorea's frown deepened. "My lord, I do not think it wise to raise a temple to such a monster as your former master. True, he is beyond the Door of Night in the Void, but still such adulations as you plan may awake him, or at least reach his ears."
"Don't be a fool," Sauron said. "Melkor is as good as dead in the Void. There is nothing left of him."
"He was a Vala, my lord. Such a creature cannot be taken lightly."
Sauron whirled on her and glared. "Do you think I did not know what Melkor was?" he snarled. "I do not need to be told by a mere child what I lived through myself! He is dead. Gone. Forever. Never to return. What I do now will only weaken the Valar's powers while strengthening my own. That is all that will occur. All."
Vorea nodded slowly. "Very well, my lord," she said. "Pay no heed to me. You are elder by far, and so much more wise."
Sauron nodded and continued moving about the temple. "A statue here," he murmured, "and perhaps another altar here. And the king will wish to view the proceedings, so some seats will be needed…"
The great bronze doors behind Vorea creaked open, and she whirled around, sword half-drawn.
"Oh, sir knight, forgive me," a small Numenorean man said, bowing deeply. He was dressed in a dark robe, covered with small stitched runes. He was exceedingly pale and there was a tint of red in his dark eyes that flicked this way and that.
"Who are you?" Vorea asked. There would be people who were unhappy Sauron had been freed, and it was her job to stop them from doing anything they might regret.
"I am Agan, a priest," the man said, bowing again. "I wish to know if it is true that the lord Sauron has been released from his imprisonment."
"It is," Sauron said, walking over. "You are a priest, you say," he said as Agan fell to his knees in worship. "Of whom?"
"The lord Melkor," Agan said. "You are His chosen, I will follow you to the end. Command me, and I will obey."
Sauron nodded. "Very well," he said. "I will need a loyal follower to make this into a temple for Melkor," he said, gesturing to the room.
"I will make it grand, oh lord!" Agan swore.
"Good," Sauron said. "These floors need cleaning, and there is much other work in the temple that needs doing. You are in charge of all of it."
"My lord, you do me too much honor," Agan said, bowing again before hurrying about his task.
"Take whatever money you need from the king's treasury," Sauron said. He smirked. "Spare no expense."
"I will not, my lord!"
"You have a Numenorean follower now," Vorea said. "Will you give him a ring?"
"Him?" Sauron snorted. "No. He's a fanatic, a blind fool. I'll manipulate him like a puppet, but I will not give him a ring."
Vorea nodded, relieved that Agan was not joining their ranks.
A middle-aged woman hurried down the corridor, passed them, then hurried back towards them.
"I'm looking for a woman named Vorea," she said. "I am Ceure."
"I am Vorea, but why are you looking for me?" Vorea asked, stepping forward.
"Khamul sent me for a ring," Ceure said, drawing herself up to her full height and composing herself. "I'm afraid I had to jump the wall. The guards are after me."
Vorea glanced at Sauron.
She does like to take the initiative, that Haradrim, Sauron thought. Still, I trust her judgment, for this at least. She would not let some fool in, or have her mind blinded by some sad story. Still, I need to test this one.
"Why do you want a ring?" Sauron asked. "What do you think it will give you?"
"Power," Ceure snarled. "I will take a ring and I will punish those who have wronged me. My treacherous brother for one."
"Is that the only reason you want a ring?" Sauron asked. "For power? Is that all?"
"Yes," Ceure said. "I have no want of immortality or any of that. All I have ever wanted in my life – and it has been a long life indeed; I am pure-blooded Numenorean – is power to control my own destiny. For my entire life it has been denied me; I will not pass up this last chance now!"
Sauron smiled and handed her a golden ring set with a sapphire. "Take it," he said. "And you needn't worry about the guards if they should find you. Just follow us, and all will be well."
Ceure nodded and slipped the ring on her finger. "Strange," she muttered, "I don't feel any different."
"It does not affect you physically," Sauron said. "Unless, of course, you are attacked. And then you will not be harmed."
"A useful thing."
"Indeed," Sauron said. "Though I do hope you will never need it."
"I'm no fool," Ceure said. "I know what you're up to. And I have no liking for Numenor, land of my birth though it may be. It has grown proud and corrupt in its old age. It is time for change."
"I'm so glad we can see eye to eye on this," Sauron said.
Ceure nodded and smiled, while Vorea wrestled with inner doubt. If Numenor falls, it will be with the grace of the Valar, she thought. They would not allow such a thing to happen if it were against their will. We are merely fulfilling their great plan, not going against it.
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