"I can see the sea from here," Yanta said warily, her hands straying to her knives.
"There is no need to be alarmed," Sauron said. "The Numenoreans will not attack now."
"How do you know?"
"They are recuperating from a recent war."
"Someone defeated them?"
"No, they defeated someone," Sauron said, the words sounding like they were choking him.
"Ah, already fought them, have you? You just need someone to help you?"
"Yes," Sauron said with a growl. "And I'm sure you're just the person to defeat the united forces of Numenor and the elves?"
Yanta smiled. "Maybe," she said.
I don't think she understands sarcasm, Khamul thought. "Where are we now?" she asked. "This is a pathetic looking land. Are we coming to another Harrowdale?"
"This is Enedwaith," Sauron said. "Once it was a green land. You could not step for walking into a tree. And now, the trees have been cut by the Numenoreans and sold for timber."
"It looks deserted," Metima said. "I can't see a single village anywhere."
"There are many small fishing villages," Sauron said, "but they are in league with the Numenoreans. No, we need someone from inland."
"There is a river up here, isn't there?" Yanta asked. "It divides the land, I heard."
"The Isen," Sauron said. "Yes, it's not far from here. We should arrive there by tomorrow, tonight even. It will be difficult to cross, especially now in spring."
The day wore on, and Metima and Yanta talked extensively about their lives, their families, and their lands. Khamul rode next to Sauron, and neither spoke until Khamul decided she needed an answer to a question that had been puzzling her for several days.
"I am confused by something," she said.
"What is it?" Sauron asked.
"There are three ringbearers now," Khamul began, "and I cannot help but notice that we are all female."
"Yes, you are," Sauron said, nodding.
"At first, when you picked me, I thought nothing of it. I was pleased that someone had recognized my talent. That they had ignored the stereotype of a weak, fragile body and seen what a tiger I was underneath. And then it was Metima, and I still thought you had chosen her for some great and unique talent. But now that Yanta has joined us, I am suspicious. There must be many swordsmen as skilled as I, and archers as fine as Metima. Yanta's ferocity and stealth are valuable, but there are many men who are like her."
"In short, you want to know why I picked you?" Sauron asked.
"Exactly," Khamul said.
"The ruler of Numenor is a man," Sauron said. "And likely his heir will be as well. There have only been three queens of Numenor in all its long history. The culture of the moment is such that women are decorative objects. Ornaments. Do you understand now why it might be wise to have powerful women as allies?"
The enraged look on Khamul's face told it all. "How dare you!" she hissed. "I thought you saw something unique, something special, in each of us! I thought you rose us from nothing because of some inner quality! Now I know the truth! You only picked us for surprising the Numenoreans! And when the Numenoreans are defeated? I think you'll take these rings back and give them to some male cronies!"
"Nothing could be further from the truth," Sauron said. "You are a unique woman, Khamul. You will return to Haradwaith in time, with an army of orcs following you. Then you will take control of the tribes from the shores of the sea to the furthest reaches of the south. And then I will know that I did not chose wrongly in giving you that ring."
"Any man could do the same," Khamul said.
"But I did not choose a man. I chose you. You are the bearer of that ring, Khamul, and you shall bear it the rest of your days," Sauron said.
"And if I have reconsidered?" Khamul asked.
"Take the ring off then," Sauron said.
"I shall, and I shall leave as well!" Khamul snarled, intending to rip the ring off her finger. Strangely, though, it would not come off no matter how hard she tugged. "What sorcery is this?" she growled.
"You are understandably angered," Sauron soothed. "But your heart knows what you want, and the only way to obtain that is through me. Do not worry though. This process of gathering will be over soon. Traveling to Numenor is impossible for me, and there will be no more ships from the west for a very long time. Too long."
"Then what do you intend to do?" Khamul demanded, still furious. How dare he! she fumed. I am nothing to him, just another minion.
"I shall have my six ringbearers, and then I shall plan," Sauron said.
"Plan?" Khamul sneered. "You mean you don't already have a plan in place? You don't know what you're going to do?"
"I will return to Mordor with the six of you," Sauron said, "and then I will send you out into the land to terrorize the populace. Pillage some towns, raid a few farms, slaughter some hundred people."
"You want to reveal us to Numenor so soon?" Khamul asked. "What madness is that?"
"Not madness," Sauron said, shaking his head. "I think when the king hears of you, he will once again turn his attention to Middle-Earth."
"And what will happen then?"
Sauron shrugged, but smiled in a secretive way.
The clever, vile bastard, Khamul thought. Keeping secrets from me, his lieutenant.
"The river Isen is directly ahead!" Metima called.
"Ah, we are making very good time indeed," Sauron said. "The horses of Mordor I knew were strong. But it seems that the Haradrim and the people of Rhun know a thing or two about horse breeding as well."
"Speaking of horses," Yanta muttered.
"What is it?" Khamul asked.
"Look for yourself."
A single bridge stood across the Isen. It was made of stone, and so narrow that only one horse could cross it at a time. Unfortunately, a horse was already on the bridge. Its rider was armed and armored to the teeth, and even the horse was draped with chainmail and armor.
"I think in order to cross you have to pay," Metima said.
"Or fight," Khamul said, drawing her sword. "I'll show you my worth now," she hissed to Sauron. "You will see that I am more valuable to you than you thought!"
"This may be a foolish course of action," Sauron warned, but it was too late. Khamul had urged her horse into a gallop, heading straight for the bridge.
"Get off that bridge!" Khamul yelled, stopping only a few yards from the edge of the bridge.
"And why should I?" the rider said in deep tones. "Unless, of course, you have money, Haradrim."
"I won't pay to cross a bridge!" Khamul sneered. "Now ride off if you value your life!"
"You're quite brave, Haradrim," the rider said, "or you are a fool."
"We'll see about that," Khamul snarled, drawing her sword.
The rider hefted a large spear and urged their horse towards Khamul.
This may have been a mistake, Khamul thought as she realized she had no armor whatsoever, not to mention no shield.
The horse, however, was not paralyzed by doubt, unlike its master. With a quick leap, it dodged the charging warhorse and whirled around, just in time for Khamul to strike at the rider's spear, intending to cut it into two pieces.
The spear, however, was made of metal and the reverberations nearly caused Khamul's sword to fly from her hand. Fortunately, the rider dropped their spear. Unfortunately, they then drew a sword.
"You are brave, Haradrim," the rider said. "It seems a shame I must kill you now. I cannot have a single person, no matter how brave, cross that bridge without paying."
"Unless they defeat you!" Khamul cried, charging straight for the rider.
They met with a tremendous clash. A spike on the rider's horse gouged a long wound in Khamul's horse's flank, while Khamul's sword bounced off the rider's armor, leaving a dent, but doing no other damage. The rider's sword, on the other hand, hit home and sliced open Khamul's sleeve. It would have taken her arm off, but protected as she was by the ring, it only harmed her clothing.
"By the Valar!" the rider exclaimed, gasping for breath. "You are unharmed! I knew I was striking flesh, but I seemed to meet with a wall more impenetrable than steel! Who are you, Haradrim, to possess such great magic?"
Khamul held up her hand to show the rider the ring. "That over on the hill is Sauron, lord of Mordor," she said. "He has many rings such as this that he gives to those who pledge loyalty to him. Are you such a one?" And one who isn't a woman, she thought bitterly. Let's see if he'll take a man who has no more virtue than that he can bash people's heads in extremely well.
"You are most blessed, Haradrim," the rider said. "And here comes the lord now."
"An excellent show," Sauron commented when he and Metima and Yanta rode up. "You put up a brave fight, sir knight."
"You do me too much credit, lord," the rider said. "I am no knight. Indeed, I am not even a warrior of a tribe, much less even belong to one. I am a wanderer who has set up shop here, hoping for some small coin to travel to vaunted Numenor and test my strength against her champions."
"Then perhaps you would like to join us," Sauron said. "I will be traveling to that land soon, and could use some trusted allies."
"Alas, good sir, but I fear I cannot," the rider said. "I have no great longing for a master, fair though he may be. And many are the tales and legends of your treachery, Sauron the Abhorred."
Khamul, who had just sheathed her sword, starting edging to it once more, but Sauron held out his hand to stop her.
"That is a name I am called, true enough," he said. "But I am also Annatar, Giver of Gifts."
"A lie to deceive the elves."'
"Again, true. But I did give them many gifts, did I not?"
"And then stabbed them in the back," the rider accused.
"I shall give you a gift, valiant rider," Sauron said, taking out a ring with a stone of diamond. "It is valuable, and shall make you as immortal and invulnerable as Khamul here."
"I shall not swear fealty to any lord," the rider said. "Your gift is fair, but I cannot accept it."
"You are wasting your talents here, warrior," Sauron said. "They could be much better spent planning war at my side. I can see that you have some skill as a tactician and strategist as well. Join me and win wars."
The rider seemed to consider this. "You shall take those words back soon enough, lord," they said wearily.
"I will not," Sauron said. "There is no reason in all Arda why I would do so."
"Then I shall give you two," the rider said, removing their helmet. Wild blonde hair fell to a little below their shoulders. Her skin was pale and her single eye was as blue as the sea. "You see," she said. "I am a woman, and I have but one eye. Lost in my first fight, though the fight, I won."
"You are a woman of great skill," Sauron said. "Take this ring."
The rider laughed. "You still offer it to me?" she asked, incredulous. "You are mocking me, great lord, and now I shall have to slay you and your valiant defenders for the insult!"
"It is no joke. Take this ring and join me," Sauron said.
The woman rode over and accepted the ring from Sauron. "I am not a suspicious person," she said, "but something is rotten in this."
"What could possibly be wrong?" Sauron asked. "I am a powerful lord recruiting able warriors for my cause."
"But I am a woman."
"As are they."
"I do not trust you," the woman said. "You are ever deceitful, Sauron."
"Then don't trust me," Sauron said. "I care not so long as Numenor falls. Now there are four ringbearers," he said with a smile. "May we cross the bridge?" he asked the woman.
"By all means," she said, gesturing. "I shall follow you."
"Who are you?" Yanta asked, looking suspiciously at the newcomer.
"I am Vorea, of no one's house," the woman said. "I was left abandoned in the woods and would have died save some kindly wolves reared me as their own. My spear I stole, but my armor, sword and horse I have rightfully won in trials of combat."
"She is a fine warrior," Khamul whispered to Sauron after they crossed the bridge. "If it weren't for the ring, I would have died."
"You know what I said about Yanta?" he asked.
"That she would be the third or fourth?"
"Yes. Forget that."
Khamul raised an eyebrow.
"Her," Sauron said, nodding at Vorea. "Consider her your immediate subordinate. Your lieutenant. She is the third ringbearer."
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.