38. To Mirkwood
Melkor laced his fingers together and watched his slave. "Where is Feanor?" he asked quietly.
It was these quiet moods Morion dreaded the most. "Your elf?" he asked. "I don't know. Isn't he here?"
"Then I don't know where he would be," Morion snapped. "I have a war to organize, if you'll excuse me."
"Arthedain has called a truce. I'm surprised you don't know."
"Yes," Melkor said. "Didn't Argeleb tell you?"
"What, no! The plague, I suppose," Morion muttered.
"Yes. Both sides need to recuperate. Orcs breed faster than Men so you should be ready sooner."
"A truce," Morion muttered.
"So you have plenty of time on your hands now," Melkor said. "I sincerely doubt Feanor has gone back to Mandos, therefore I assume he is in Arda. Find him."
"He's one more elf among thousands," Morion said. "Besides, I don't have access to Mirkwood, Lindon, or Lorien."
"Oh, but you do," Melkor said. "Dol Guldor is in Mirkwood, or have you forgotten?"
"I won't be able to get a league near the elves' part of the forest before getting filled full of arrows."
"Let me put it this way," Melkor said, "you can risk getting shot full of arrows, or I can make you wish you'd never been born."
"I already wish that."
"Then you've clearly never experienced the kind of pain I can deal out. Find my elf."
"Why does it matter?" Morion asked. "I can't believe even you would go this far for revenge."
"Oh, it's not about revenge anymore," Melkor said. "Feanor was the High King of the Noldor. He forged the Silmarils, made the palantri. To have him walking Arda again is a most discomforting notion."
The more Morion thought about it, the more he was inclined to agree. "I'll see what I can do," he said.
"Kill him when you find him," Melkor said. "Perhaps I'll get lucky and Mandos will send him back here."
"You found her," Morion said as Khamul and Aica walked in.
"Yes, yes, I'm back," Aica snapped, glaring daggers at Morion.
"Where was she?"
"Wandering around near the Misty Mountains," Khamul said. They had agreed to leave out everything about Lorien. Morion didn't need to know about that.
"I wanted some time to myself," Aica said.
"And why weren't you in Arthedain?"
"Already went there. Talked to a peddler who told me everything."
"The plague didn't hit them all that bad, but they've decided to call a truce with Angmar."
"So it's true," Morion muttered. "Well, it seems we have some time to gather allies. I've sent Yanta to recruit orcs, and Metima to find some Easterlings."
Khamul raised an eyebrow. "Yanta and Metima? Really? You're going to trust those two with gathering allies?"
"Yes," Morion said. "After all, I used to trust Aica with gathering information about Arthedain."
"Used to?" Aica snapped.
"Used to," Morion growled. "Your brother is perfectly capable of spying on Fornost, not to mention the fact that I doubt he'll wander off."
"You bastard!" Aica snarled.
"You know what?" Morion said with a smile. "Khamul, Aica, I think a trip to Dol Guldor is long overdue for the pair of you. Sauron will be so glad to see you. Take your time, and while you're in Mirkwood, look for an elf called Feanor. You may leave now."
"He knows?" Aica whispered as they left the office.
"No," Khamul said. "He's mad at us and wants us out of his sight. Melkor must've told him about the elf."
"Should I take the palantir?" Aica asked. "Will Sauron be able to detect it?"
"You can either take it," Khamul said, "or leave it here for an orc or Morion to find."
Aica nodded. "I hate Mirkwood," she muttered.
"I hate Sauron," Khamul said. "But let's get going. We don't want to keep the great lord waiting."
"Meat?" the goblin offered, holding out a strip of something that was probably mammalian, though it might've been a very large lizard.
"Thanks," Yanta said, accepting it. She'd never been very picky about her food, which was why Morion had sent her to deal with the goblins.
"So, Shrieker, your little land is in ruins," the chief said, taking a sip of wine. "You need the goblins' help to run the Men out of the north."
"That sums it up pretty well," Yanta agreed. "Except that we've got nine Shriekers, as you put it, and Sauron."
"Ah, the Dark Lord. He does count for something. But he doesn't have his Ring."
Yanta frowned. She really hated this goblin. He was extremely irritatingly smart.
"What we're offering you is all the gold and plunder you can carry out of Fornost," she said.
"And if we don't take Fornost?"
"Then you'll be dead so it won't matter."
"What are our odds?" the chief asked.
"With your help, good," Yanta said. "Angmar will recover faster than Arthedain and we'll soon be able to crush them."
"Soon. I don't know, a hundred years."
The goblin snorted. "You think like an elf. A hundred years is a long time."
"It might be sooner if you offer a lot of troops."
The chief considered this. "My people will fight for you, but we want to be fed and sheltered in Angmar."
Yanta frowned. Angmar's fields were pretty much ruined and they were just barely going to scrap through winter.
"Starting after next harvest," she said. "How about that? You bring yourself and all your little friends down from the mountains. All the food you can eat, and some nice places to live as well." Nice places to live: e.g., hovels.
"Very well," the chief said. "Anything I can do in the service of Sauron." He grinned, showing broken yellow teeth. "I wouldn't want to disappoint the Dark Lord, would I?"
"I was led to believe I would be speaking with one of the Dark Lord's lieutenants," the Easterling chief said.
"You are," Metima told him.
The chief snorted. "You're a woman," he said.
"So's your wife."
The chief glared. "My wife does not represent me at a meeting, nor does she have any influence on my people."
"I am one of Sauron's lieutenants," Metima said. "Although if you don't want to deal with me, perhaps you'd like to take it up with the Dark Lord himself?"
The chief paled. Even without his Ring, diminished and banished, Sauron held a grip of fear on these people's hearts.
"Angmar needs people," Metima said. "Warriors, farmers, people to take the places of those who died in the plague."
"My people are quite happy where they are," the chief said. "I see no reason to cross the treacherous mountains and go into the gray, wet lands."
"When Arthedain falls, those who side with Angmar will come away with great fortunes. They can return to their former lands richer than their wildest dreams."
The chief thought about this. Wealth held a strong grip on his heart. "How long will this campaign be?" he asked. "I do not want to be away from my lands for long."
"Oh, it won't be long at all," Metima said. "A few years, not more than a decade." You'll be in your grave for a long time before we attack, she thought. But you don't need to know that.
"Only a decade," the chief muttered. "For all that wealth… It seems like a good plan," he said. "I want to be paid, of course. And all my people, too."
"Of course," Metima said. "You'll be paid handsomely for your services."
"Excellent," the chief said. "I shall send a message to my vassals. We should be ready to move out in a few days."
"Shut up," Khamul said. She had gotten to know when Aica was about to say something. There was this little, faint, intake of breath preceding the words. It was short, but it was long enough for Khamul to tell her to be quiet.
"How much farther is it?" Aica snapped.
"Not far," Khamul snarled. "You've been here before."
"Not for a long time! I don't remember the way."
"Fortunately, I do. We're south of the Gladden Fields right now. We'll be in Dol Guldor sometime late tomorrow, hopefully."
"I don't think Feanor's in Mirkwood," Aica said. "He's probably still in Lorien, so it would be stupid to go wandering around the woods looking for him."
"There are three – four, if you count Rivendell – homes of elves in Middle-Earth," Khamul said. "Feanor, or the kid whose body Feanor stole, didn't come from Lorien because they went there to get Galadriel's help. He also didn't come from Rivendell, as why would Elrond journey separately then? That leaves Lindon and Mirkwood. If it was Lindon, which is where the Grey Havens are, then the kid should've been put on a boat out of here. Therefore, he's probably from Mirkwood."
"Mirkwood's going to be harder to sneak around in than Lorien," Aica complained. "With all the horrors Sauron's unleashed on them, they'll be on their guard."
"I, for one, have no intention of looking for Feanor," Khamul said. "He's trapped in the body of an elf kid. We've got plenty of time to find and kill him before he becomes a threat." And besides, that'll spite Morion. Won't he be so irritated that Feanor's still alive!
"We could say we looked," Aica said with a cunning smile, "but none of the elves were called Feanor. Morion doesn't realize he's in a different body!"
Aica was getting smarter. Khamul blamed the palantir for that. "Yeah, that sounds like a good plan," she said.
It actually took them two more days to reach Dol Guldor. The forest around the fortress had grown wild and tangled, not to mention dangerous. There were bogs and marshes along with several unfriendly wildlife, much of it not local.
"I didn't know they had wargs in the forest," Khamul said, cleaning her sword after decapitating the enormous wolf.
"They don't," Aica spat. "Sauron must've introduced them to terrorize the elves."
"I think it's working," Khamul said. "It doesn't look like anyone's been around here for ages."
"Ah, my friends," the silky voice of Sauron whispered. "So good to see you. I was beginning to think you'd never come."
Khamul forced herself not to jump. Figures, she thought. The damn bastard's been spying on us. "We had some trouble getting across the Mountains," she said.
"Are the goblins not cooperating?" Sauron asked as he stepped out of the forest. He was dressed, as usual, in black. His long hair was tied back at the nape of his neck and it hung to the middle of his back.
"It wasn't the goblins, it was the path. It's in horrible condition. Our horses nearly broke their legs."
"How unfortunate. Perhaps the goblins need to be reminded that upkeep of the pass used by Angmar is part of their duty to their lord."
"After we've conquered Arthedain," Khamul said. "We need their help."
Aica snorted. "Goblins," she muttered. "We don't need their help."
Sauron raised an eyebrow. "You don't agree?"
"Oh, we agree all right," Khamul said. "Don't we, Aica?" she hissed.
Aica heaved a sigh. "Yeah, all right, fine. We need the damn goblins."
Sauron smiled. "I'm so glad to see you aren't at each other's throats after all this time."
Khamul forced a smile. "Yeah, isn't it great?"
"Please, accompany me back to Dol Guldor. I had noticed that none of my warg scouts had returned and decided to venture forth and see what had occurred. Apparently it was the pair of you."
"They attacked us," Khamul said.
"I'm sure they did."
"It's a little hard to discourage a warg from attacking you short of severing its head from its body!"
Sauron was never going to let her forget this. Never mind that the bloodthirsty beasts had lunged for her throat! Never mind that she didn't know they were Sauron's! No, all that mattered was that they were his wargs, and she'd killed them.
Once they were in Dol Guldor and eating dinner in its large dining hall, Sauron brought up the subject of Angmar and Arthedain.
"He's recruiting goblins from the Misty Mountains and Easterling from…the east," Khamul said. "We're going to strike before Arthedain's fully recovered."
"An excellent strategy," Sauron said.
"Did you mean for the plague to wipe out Angmar as well?"
"Did you want us crippled?" Khamul asked.
"I don't believe you're crippled," Sauron said. "In fact, I'd say the plague has put you in the optimal position. Your enemy is weakened, but believes you to be so severely weakened that he relaxes his defenses. That should make it easier to defeat him."
"It's still going to be a long battle," Khamul said. "If it was just Arthedain, it'd be easy, but it's not. We're also fighting Lindon, Rivendell, and sometimes Lorien."
"Give it time," Sauron said. "Patience is a virtue."
One thing Khamul had never been known for was her patience.