29. The Barrow-Wights
"I don't like this," Ancalime whined as they rode across the land. "It's cold and wet. And this road is terrible!"
Khamul rolled her eyes and gritted her teeth. They had left Angmar a few days ago and were riding toward the ruins of Cardolan under the pretense of a noble woman traveling with a mercenary escort. Khamul knew the real reason for the disguise. Morion wanted to get Khamul and his sister out of Angmar for a while, just like he had Aica.
"Is that a dead body?" Ancalime gasped in horror, pointing toward a field where a bloated corpse lay.
"Yup," Khamul said. "Famine, probably. Or the plague."
"Can we get the plague?"
"I wonder why Morion sent us here."
"To deliver these." Khamul hefted one of the large wooden boxes attached to the horses. And to keep you from realizing he's got a thing going on with Ringe, she added silently. And to keep me from getting rebellious.
"What's in them?"
"What do we do with them?"
"Dump them in graves," Khamul said.
Ancalime frowned. "That sounds disgusting," she said. "Why are we doing that?"
"I don't know," Khamul hissed. "Morion wouldn't tell me."
"Oh. He must have a good reason then. Morion's very smart."
Oh yes, he's positively brilliant. He chose Ringe over…! No…I don't care. I've never cared. Why should I care? Why should I be jealous of some weak-willed albino bastard?
"You seem preoccupied," Ancalime noted.
"Just thinking about the boxes," Khamul said. "And the road. It looks like it might be washed-out ahead."
"Oh dear. Are we going to get muddy?"
Ancalime sighed in resignation. "One must make sacrifices, I suppose."
Khamul rolled her eyes. "Yes, I suppose one must," she muttered.
As it turned out, the horses got muddy, but the riders stayed dry. As they passed into Cardolan, the land turned black, the trees died, and the bodies started to pile up.
"It smells," Ancalime complained.
"Dead things smell," Khamul snapped.
"It isn't just the boxes, is it?"
"What you're preoccupied about?"
"Did you just learn that word today or something?"
"Leave me alone!" Khamul snarled. "I don't want to talk to you!"
"All right," Ancalime squeaked.
They rode for the rest of the day in silence, and then through the night. It was nice and peaceful without Ancalime's incessant chatter, but when they started through a dead forest, Khamul began to get nervous. She wished Ancalime would start to jabber about mindless things to take her thoughts off this eerie place.
I'm the biggest, scariest, toughest thing here, Khamul told herself. There's nothing here that could possibly hurt me.
So why was she so nervous?
"That looks like a big grave," Ancalime said quietly, pointing to a place beyond the trees.
"Mass grave," Khamul said. "That should be all right. Hold my horse." She swung down to the ground, grabbed one of the boxes, and started off toward the trees.
I am not afraid, she thought as she walked through the white, hollow trees. Everything was dead. The leaves and twigs crunched and snapped under her feet, no animals chirped or scurried through the forest.
When she reached the grave, Khamul opened the box and turned it upside down over the loose soil.
Nothing fell out.
"It's empty?" Khamul snarled in fury. Morion had sent her on a fool's errand!
She shook the box vigorously and then looked inside it.
"It is empty!" she roared. Cursing, she hurled the box further into the forest.
"Is something wrong?" Ancalime called from the road.
"The boxes are empty!" Khamul yelled.
"So there's nothing inside of them!"
"Is that a problem?"
Khamul stormed back to the horses and seized another box. She shook it. "Empty!" she yelled.
"I don't think you should open that," Ancalime said as Khamul started to open the box.
"It's empty, it doesn't matter," Khamul snapped. "Yup, empty."
As she looked into the box, something looked back.
Khamul shouted and cursed and then leapt back as something tackled her. It didn't have a shape, but she could feel its spirit trying to make a grab for her body.
"Get off, you wretched ghost!" she yelled.
The ring flashed on her hand, and the spirit left.
"What was that about?" Ancalime asked, her eyes wide. All she'd seen was Khamul yell and fly back, wrestling with air.
"Ghosts!" Khamul exclaimed. "There're ghosts inside the boxes!"
Ancalime laughed. "Don't be silly," she said. "There're no such things as ghosts."
"Yes, there are, and Morion's got them trapped in boxes. He wants them to haunt the graves of Cardolan's dead. Smart plan. No one'll be able to recolonize the place now."
"Is that a good thing?" Ancalime asked, frowning over unfamiliar words.
"Yes," Khamul snapped. "Now let's go find some royal graves. I like the idea of a ghost walking around in some old Dunedain's bones."
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.