58. Durin's Bane
She knew what Sauron wanted, and she was curious herself, so Khamul wandered back down the mountain and into the valley. She skirted the border of the lake, which had grown ominous and dark over the years. The gate of Moria was open, and there didn't seem to be anyone guarding it.
Wary and highly suspicious, Khamul hid her horse outside and sneaked through the dark entrance. It seemed empty and abandoned. But the dwarves wouldn't leave their home, would they?
Not even when a terror of the First Age had returned?
Khamul wasn't sure and was suddenly aware that she was sweating. I'm not scared, dammit! she thought. I'm Sauron's lieutenant! I'm worth more to him than Morion! I'm not scared!
She continued through the darkened halls. Shouldn't there be some torches somewhere? At last Khamul spotted a cherry-red glow in the distance and headed in that direction.
She was feeling relieved to have located the dwarves at last, and, heedlessly, Khamul walked straight toward the fire. It grew brighter and brighter and larger and larger until Khamul realized it wasn't a normal fire after all.
"Uh oh," she muttered. She paused to think for a single moment before turning and running away from the vast inferno.
"You can't run from me, little dwarf," a horrible voice hissed.
The inferno dimmed, but Khamul didn't look back. She tripped over something and fell flat on her face. It was the corpse of a dwarf. He'd been burned to death.
"You dwarves need to learn who is the master here," the voice said. It was quite close now. The dwarf body was smoldering in the heat. Khamul felt warm, but it wasn't painful.
"You want to know who's in charge here?" she snapped, jumping to her feet and drawing her sword. "Me! And I'm not a dwarf!"
The thing from the inferno was actually a man. Just that. He was a man with red hair and eyes, but he was just a man. Albeit a man with flames licking him and shadows spread out like wings around him, but a man all the same.
"You're not a dwarf," he said.
"I am a proud Haradrim!" Khamul exclaimed. "Go back to wherever you came from!"
"I have spent thousands of years there, and I haven't really liked it. So no, I don't think I will. Who are you and why aren't you a pile of ash?"
"I'm a Haradrim!"
"I wasn't aware that humans had developed resistance to flame. Again, what are you? Ah," the man gasped, spotting the ring on her finger. "Sauron. I thought so."
"What are you?" Khamul asked. "A friend of his?"
The man chuckled. "Not really," he said. "I knew him in Angband, but we were never anything more than acquaintances."
"So you're Morgoth's general?" Khamul asked. Caradhras was right after all.
The man nodded. "My name is Lungorthin," he said. "I'm a balrog. I don't suppose you know what that is, do you?"
Khamul shook her head.
"Your education is sorely lacking."
"I'm so sorry."
"You remind me of many Easterlings I knew. And ate." Lungorthin grinned. He had very sharp teeth.
"I'm a –"
"Yes, yes, a Haradrim. I got that bit. So you're Sauron's servant?"
"Servant. I see. So he's the power here, eh?"
"Yes," Khamul said. "He used to be anyway."
Lungorthin's eyes glittered. "Got run off, did he? How sad. Is he still around?"
"Yes. He's hiding out in Dol Guldor."
"I don't know where that is, but I don't care either. I like these old mines. If you happen to see Sauron soon, tell him I'm back, though I expect he already knows."
"I think he does," Khamul said.
"Then I'll expect to see him soon. If you see any dwarves on your way out, send them to me. I'm in the mood for a snack."
Time to leave, Khamul thought and made for the exit with all haste. She couldn't be sure, but she thought she heard Lungorthin laugh at her as she ran. Better than getting eaten, she thought.