6. Ride of the Haradrim
"Oh just go away!" Khamul snarled as the goblin tried to straighten her cloak. Wretched creatures, she thought. Even stupider than orcs.
Khamul stepped in front of a mirror and admired her appearance. Each of the six ringbearers had been given a black horse and black robes. Sauron was going to make a point to the people of Arda. The point being made by the ringbearers' extremely sharp swords.
Having spent much of the time since arriving in Mordor instructing Metima, Aica, and Ringe in swordplay, Khamul hadn't had much time to herself. Soon we will strike, she thought with a grin. We will devastate the lands. We will show the people of Arda true fear.
Sauron knocked on the door and walked in. "It is time," he said. "Go to Haradwaith. Recruit your people, raise the standard of Mordor."
"And then I shall travel through the desert with an army at my back," Khamul said, grinning. "I will sweep through the lands like a sandstorm."
"Exactly," Sauron said with a dark smile.
"I know what your plan is," Khamul said as she buckled her sword on.
"Do you now?"
"I do," Khamul said, drawing her black hood over her face. Strangely enough, she could still see out of it. More sorcery, she thought. "You are going to have us create fear and panic in the people. We will disrupt trading routes, demolish villages. Middle-Earth will go mad with terror. And Numenor will be angered."
"That is a cunning plan indeed," Sauron said. "And when Numenor is angered?"
"They will strike hard and fast at Mordor," Khamul said. "And then you will feign to treat with them."
Khamul nodded. "Perhaps you will even let yourself be taken captive and led back to Numenor. And there you will corrupt the king."
"That is a plan worthy of Melkor himself," Sauron said. "I'm not sure I could pull something like that off."
"You can and you will," Khamul said. "I know your thoughts," she warned, walking out of the room.
"Indeed you seem to," Sauron murmured.
"Where are you going to, Vorea?" Khamul asked as she entered the great war room of the Barad-dur.
"Enedwaith," Vorea said. "Each of us are returning to our countries to wreak havoc there. In my lands there are many fishing villages and trading posts of Numenor. I shall raze them."
"Likewise in my lands," Khamul said. "The Haradrim have always despised the Numenoreans who have taken our people as slaves, stolen our gold, and burned our villages when they encroach upon the coast. I shall rally them and we will destroy all signs of Numenor."
"Good luck to you," Vorea said, studying a map. "If I attack here," she murmured, "then I can disappear into these hills like a ghost. They'll never know where I went."
"And good luck to you," Khamul said.
An orc stood ready, holding her horse. Even a great warchief doesn't get treated like this, Khamul thought as she mounted the wild black horse.
The gates of the Morannon were opened to let the ringbearers pass. Mordor was a flat land, Khamul thought as she thundered across the ashen ground. Here I am, perhaps a hundred miles from the gates, and I can even see the land beyond them.
They rise above all else, Khamul thought. Then she glanced behind and saw the Barad-dur like a spike stabbing the clouds, and beyond it, Orodruin, the fiery mountain where Sauron had forged the One Ring.
No one goes near the mountain, Khamul thought. No one ever goes near the mountain. And we will keep it that way.
For in a secret he had confided in no one else, Sauron had told Khamul that the One Ring, forged in the fires of the mountain, could only be destroyed in that same flame. It must be protected against all dangers, Khamul thought. For if the Ring is destroyed, then I am destroyed as well.
Days passed, and then a week. When the green lands finally became the sands of Haradwaith, Khamul couldn't have been happier. Here I am, she thought. Years after I left, I have returned.
Neither Khamul nor the horse needed rest, food, or water. A blessing of the ring, Khamul thought. Not to mention that I won't get heatstroke.
Her first stop was the only city in all of western Haradwaith. Its mud walls protected against marauding goblins or orcs. But it could not hold out Khamul.
"I bring a message from Sauron, lord of Mordor!" she called out in the language of the Haradrim.
The guards on the walls began whispering among themselves, glancing at the black-shrouded rider in fear, and then terror.
Finally the chief of the town came to the gates. He was a tall, proud man, and would bow to no one, Maia or no.
"Who are you?" the chief demanded, glaring down at Khamul.
"I am a ringbearer!" Khamul shouted. "Chosen among all the people of Haradwaith for this great honor! You will bow before Sauron and drive the Numenoreans from these lands, or face his wrath!"
"We do not answer to threats," the chief snarled. "Go back to your lord and tell him the Haradrim will not bow to anyone."
But even as he spoke the words, Khamul could see beads of sweat on his face, and not because of the sun. He was terrified of her. The guards were all but cowering in fear. It was only the chief's pride that kept him anchored to the wall.
"And what of the people you have lost to the Numenorean slavers?" Khamul demanded. "What of revenge? What of the pride of the mighty Haradrim? What of that?"
Even from here Khamul could hear murmurings in the town. They were frozen with fear, but also her words had struck a cord. They will come, she thought. Now, I just need to deliver the final blow.
"Send out messengers to the nomads and towns in all Haradwaith!" Khamul insisted. "Tell them to rally to the army of Sauron the Great! Tell them that in three weeks we march on the coast, and woe to the Numenoreans we meet!"
There was a ragged cheer from the city and Khamul knew she had won. Whatever terror possessed the men had driven them into her hands.
The days wore by and the people of the town began preparing for war. Messengers were sent forth the very day Khamul arrived, and by the third day the nomads began pouring in, armed to the teeth and hungry for Numenorean blood.
Three weeks later, Khamul stood on a sand dune, looking out over her army.
"There are over twenty thousand, my lord," a man she picked as her lieutenant said. "If we were to wait another few days, we would have thirty thousand. They just keep pouring in."
"We shall show Numenor that Haradwaith's snake has not lost its fangs," Khamul growled. "But we shall not wait! We will strike now, hard and fast at the coast. Those who wish to join us will have to catch up!"
"It is said, my lord, that the tribes of the eastern reaches are on the march, and that they number easily twenty thousand themselves."
"Send a messenger," Khamul said. "Tell them to stop their march five leagues from the Numenorean stronghold of Umbar. We will meet them there."
The soldier's eyes widened. "Umbar?" he gasped. "But…but it is impregnable."
"It will burn," Khamul growled. "A single ship alone shall escape the carnage, carrying back to Numenor the tale of our great victory."
Twenty thousand soldiers and over a thousand mumakil wound their way like a serpent through the sands, until a brilliant flash blinded Khamul as she reached the top of a dune one morning.
"Another mirage?" she murmured, shielding her eyes against the brightness. But no, it was the sea.
"There is a trading town down there," her lieutenant said, nodding in the direction of a small collection of huts. "Our people do not go there. There used to be some nomads, but then the Numenoreans took them as slaves."
"No longer," Khamul said, drawing her sword. There couldn't be more than a hundred people in that village, she thought. They're going to be massacred.
Not a single soldier died when they took the trading post. The buildings were looted and burned, and all one hundred and thirty five Numenoreans, and a few traitor Haradrim, were slain.
"We shall continue up the coast until we reach Umbar," Khamul said. "Every Numenorean town we pass, we loot and burn."
There were thirty-five towns along the coast, some small, some larger, but by the time Khamul looked upon the golden domes of Umbar, her army was larger than when they had started out.
The fierce Variags of Khand had joined them, traveling hundreds of miles from their far-off land to rid Haradwaith of the pestilent Numenoreans.
"And now, what do we do, lieutenant of Sauron?" the chief Variag asked, looking down at Umbar and stroking his mustache.
"Your Variags and the rest of the eastern force of the Haradrim were five leagues to the east of Umbar, but are now just one. The western Haradrim and Easterlings of my army are camped right outside the gates of Umbar to the north. To the west, there is the sea, and to the south, there is more sea. They have nowhere to go."
"They have ships," the Variag said.
"We shall burn them," Khamul said with a fierce grin. "Bring the forces of the east to behind that tall sand dune over there. Signal me when you are there."
"And what shall the signal be?" the Variag asked.
"If it is dawn, I will see you, but if it is night, light a fire. A scout on the top of the dune here will see it."
"At dawn the next day, we attack."
That night as Khamul was drifting off to sleep, her lieutenant rushed into her tent.
"My lord!" he hissed. "A fire has been lit to the east of Umbar!"
"Are you sure of it?" Khamul demanded, leaping to her feet and throwing on her cloak.
"I saw it with my own eyes, lord!"
"I must see it with mine first," Khamul said. So fast? she thought. I've heard that the Variags have the fastest horses in all of Middle-Earth, and now I believe them.
When she looked down from the top of the sand dune, Khamul could see lights shining in Umbar, but all else was darkness, save for a glimmering behind a sand dune in the east. The light moved from side to side as though someone was waving a torch. They probably are, Khamul thought.
"Forget dawn," she said, looking up into the darkened sky. "Send word for the eastern army to move in," she told her lieutenant. "Wake the camp," she instructed the officers. "In an hour, we strike."
Eager for blood and loot, the Haradrim and Easterlings were soon falling into formations while the mumakil riders adjusted straps on their beasts and made sure the armor and reins were in their proper places.
"Now is the time," Khamul whispered. "Lit a torch!" she told her lieutenant.
From across the sands, another torch was lit. Khamul could just barely make out the Variag chief.
"Charge!" Khamul roared, digging her heels into her horse's flank. The beast took off down the dune, the army thundering behind her.
The largest mumakil crashed across the sands to the front of the army. It didn't even slow down when it reached the gate, but instead crashed straight through. Umbar was awake by now. Khamul could hear shouts of guards and cries of the townsfolk. All for naught, she thought. Not even the arrival of all the ships of Numenor could save you now.
The combined army of Haradrim, Variags, and Easterlings cut through Umbar like the wind. The guards were trampled by horses, mumakil, and the chariots of the Variags. Umbar had an army, but no intelligence force, and had no idea that there was an army forty thousand strong camped right outside.
"Send the mumakil towards the barracks," Khamul ordered in the chaos. Townspeople were running for the ships, and she had to stop them before they got away. This won't be a victory if they escape, she thought angrily. Of course, the army was the greater threat, but they were in more chaos than the city. Umbar had been completely taken by surprise.
"Yes, my lord," the lieutenant said and began shouting commands. The enormous gray beasts turned slowly and began lumbering towards a contingent of spearmen that had appeared from the barracks. Several of the soldiers turned and ran as the mumakil thundered towards them.
"I am going to the docks," Khamul said. "Destroy the town. Don't stop until it is nothing but rubble."
Riding like the wind, Khamul was a creature of terror in the night. Soldiers and townsfolk alike fell to her blade, and those that escaped ran shrieking in madness off into the dark. It must be the ring, Khamul thought. I inspire terror in everyone I come across.
Ships were already setting sail, but Khamul seized a torch from a bracket on the wall and hurled it at a departing ship. It struck the sail and soon the ship was ablaze.
Finding a bow on a dead soldier, Khamul took it as well as a quiver of arrows. "Still trying to leave, are you?" she whispered, watching the ships prepare to cast off, full of terrified, desperate townspeople.
Ripping strips off her cloak, Khamul tied them to the arrows and then lit them with a nearby torch. Then, with the aim that had made her one of the foremost hunters in her early years, she shot at the ships until there was only one left that was not in flames.
"There's the only survivor," she said, grinning. One of the ships was not burning as well as she would have liked though, and she raised her bow to add more fire to it, when a sword whistled through the air, striking the bow from her hands.
"You're in charge here," a Numenorean man said. "I know it! You're the reason Umbar has fallen!"
"Indeed I am," Khamul said, drawing her sword and blocking the man's second blow. "Do you see that ship?" she asked, nodding at the only ship left in the harbor that was not ashes or in flames.
"What of it, foul creature?"
"Take it," Khamul said. "That is the only ship that will get out of this harbor tonight or ever. Take it and leave. Go back to Numenor. Tell your king that Sauron the Great will not tolerate Numenoreans on Middle-Earth's soil."
"I am a Lord of the Andunie!" the man snarled. "You will soon see such a fleet of ships as you have never seen before in your life! And you will be the first to fall!"
"I cannot die!" Khamul laughed. "Go! Run for your life!"
After one last desperate strike at Khamul, the man turned and sprinted for the ship while the Haradrim laughed. "Coward!" she cried between bursts of laughter.
The dawn rose through a cloud of ash and smoke. Umbar was nothing but rubble. Not even a single stone had been left unscorched.
"Remember your pledge," she told her lieutenant as she mounted her horse. "You will come to Sauron's aid if he ever should ask for it again."
"Yes, my lord," the lieutenant said. Khamul was returning to Mordor, and she was leaving her lieutenant in charge of the Haradrim. The Easterlings had departed as soon as Umbar was destroyed, and the Variags would soon be leaving for Khand, never to return, or so they claimed. Khamul suspected they would be back if there was a good chance to make some money.
Victory is mine, Khamul thought as Haradwaith disappeared into the distance. I wonder how well the others did. And I wonder what the king of Numenor will think of this!