The smoke from the burning of the Balchoths' bodies created a great black cloud that could be seen for miles and miles, even on the other side of the Misty Mountains. Khamul saw it as she sped toward Minas Morgul. She spared it scant attention.
I'll have that goblin's head yet, she thought. He'll come back to the city, I know he will. He'll have to report to Morion, won't he?
She grinned, thinking about the expression on the goblin's face when she knocked his head off. It would be well worth his insubordination.
"This is pointless," Ringe muttered, kicking a rock. He'd been wandering Moria for years. Years. And he hadn't seen so much as a sign of a balrog. It was empty, abandoned. There were signs everywhere that the dwarves had simply dropped whatever they were doing and fled. If there really had been a balrog, Ringe didn't blame them one bit.
A fool's mission, Ringe thought, peering into a tunnel. It was as dark as all the others. He'd probably looked into this one nearly a hundred times already. Still, he wasn't coming back until he'd combed this place from top to bottom. He might've already. Perhaps he should go back to Minas Morgul. Morion must be missing him.
"Looking for something?"
Ringe gasped and spun around, drawing a knife. It wasn't a balrog before him. It couldn't be. It was too small, too…not-fiery.
The man was about Ringe's height, maybe a little taller. He was stronger, but most men were stronger than Ringe. His hair and eyes were red, which sent chills down Ringe's spine. Maybe he was the balrog.
He flashed a smile. "My name's Lungorthin. I think you've been looking for me."
"Er…" Ringe stammered.
"Yes, I'm a balrog. It's been quite amusing to watch your search. You've searched this section of Moria nearly fifty times."
"Yes, you have. You're really quite hopeless."
"Oh. Well…I'm glad you decided to show up," Ringe said. "Um…I, um, wanted to talk to you on behalf of my, um, lord."
"Talk," the balrog said.
"The Witch-King of Angmar, formerly of Angmar, and Sauron the Great would like you to, um, join their army."
Lungorthin raised an eyebrow. "They want me to leave Moria?"
"I rather like it here."
"You can…burn things out there?"
"It's very quiet here. I've grown to like the quiet."
"The goblins'll probably come back soon," Ringe said. "It won't be quiet then."
There was a glitter in Lungothin's eyes that said that if the goblins weren't quiet then there wouldn't be goblins anymore.
"Uh…well…I see how you feel," Ringe said. "I'll just go back to Minas Morgul and tell them that you'd rather stay here."
"Why do you think I decided to show myself?" Lungorthin asked idly.
"Er…I don't know."
"My master is not your Witch-King, and nor is he Sauron. The only one I serve is Melkor, Master of Arda. His is the only will that I obey."
"Ah…" Ringe didn't like where this was headed.
"Your Witch-King swore to slay a man," Lungorthin said. "Sadly, tragically, he failed."
"Er…I'll just leave now, shall I?" Ringe started edging away from the balrog. Was it his imagination, or was Lungorthin starting to glow?
The balrog took a step forward. "Lord Melkor told him that if he failed, you would pay."
Ringe paled and took off running down the hall. He doubted he could outrun a balrog, but he could try.
A whip of fire caught him around the ankles. Ringe went down like a rock, cracking his head on the hard stone.
"There's no use running," Lungorthin said. He was fully engulfed in flames now. His eyes burned so brightly Ringe couldn't look at them. There was something about fire…Ringe had been noticing it for a while now, but it was so hard to look at, so hard to be near flames. He didn't know whether the other ringbearers felt this way, but he suspected Morion did.
"It burns," Ringe whimpered. The balrog's whip was magical and so was able to cause injury to his ring-protected flesh.
"It's going to do a lot worse than that," Lungorthin hissed. "In the halls of Angband, I was one of those who 'questioned' the elves brought there. I tortured Maedhros himself! I made him beg for mercy!"
This is bad, Ringe thought. This is really bad. He reached for one of his daggers, and Lungorthin's boot came down on his fingers.
Ringe screamed as the fire shot through him. Bones cracked and splintered under the force, but the fire was worse. The fire was so much worse.
"And here we're only getting started," Lungorthin said with a smile.
The land around Minas Morgul was dead, marshy, and noxious. The smell was enough to make those of a weak stomach vomit, and those with a stronger constitution gag. Khamul wrinkled her nose, cast a furious glare at the white flowers that gave off the stench, and urged her horse toward the city.
Minas Morgul, once the beauteous Minas Ithil, reflecting the pale glow of the moon, was now a hollow shell of its former self. The walls were a haunted, pale green. They glowed, lit from within by some dreadful sorcery. The hideous statues that stood guard on the bridge to the city were deformed creatures, so terrifying that they caused even the strongest man to shudder.
Khamul's horse trotted across the bridge, visibly relieved to be home at last. There was some fear in its eyes though, as it surveyed the desolate wasteland.
"Is there someone out here?" Khamul muttered, standing up in the stirrups and looking toward Minas Morgul's gates.
The horse didn't reply, but stopped in the middle of the bridge, sensing another's presence.
Khamul sighed and dismounted. Maybe it would be the goblin. That would be an excellent welcome-home present.
It wasn't the goblin, or any goblin for that matter. It was a man, dressed in black with a wild look in his eyes. He looked slightly…no, more than slightly, mad.
"Morion?" Khamul asked.
"Fire…burning," the Witch-King gasped. He'd gone even more pale than when Khamul had last seen him. His eyes were hollow black holes, his fingers ivory twigs.
"What's going on?" Khamul asked, looking around. Had someone cast a spell on him, or had Morion finally lost it?
"The fire…oh Valar, the fire!"
"There is no fire," Khamul snapped.
Morion screamed and collapsed to the ground. Before Khamul's stunned eyes, burns appeared on his skin. His clothing smoldered and caught fire in several places.
Cursing, Khamul seized a handful of dirt and smothered the flames. "What's happening?" she growled. Morgoth, she thought. He's behind this.
Morion writhed on the ground, his body jerking and twitching. An invisible whip sliced through clothing and flesh. He was soon covered in blood, his clothes rags.
"Snap out of it!" Khamul snarled. Her voice shook a little. She'd seen magic before, but this was just…frightening. Could it affect her as well, or only Morion?
"Make it stop!" Morion moaned. His muscles tensed and a long gash appeared in his side.
Khamul grabbed Morion by the shoulders and shook him. "Snap out of it!" she ordered. "There's no one here! You're crazy!" What should she do? If this continued, he might die. If he even could. Either way, this couldn't be allowed to continue.
The second ringbearer was about to pick up the Witch-King when he seemed to seize up. His entire body went rigid.
"Well, that makes for easier carrying," Khamul muttered. She bent down and picked Morion up. He felt strangely light. Far too light for his body, which was mostly muscle clinging to bones.
Morion's back arched and his mouth opened wider than it should've been able to. Khamul was tempted to drop him and plug her ears. She knew what was coming.
The scream nearly burst her eardrums. She had ringing in her ears for hours afterward.
"It's not real!" Khamul yelled at him. "Nothing's happening! It's magic, plain and simple! Fight it! It's not real!"
Morion's eyes rolled back in his head and he went limp as waterweed. Khamul cursed furiously as Morion's weight seemed to double.
"What happened?" Yanta asked as Khamul staggered into Minas Morgul.
"Thanks for the help," the Haradrim snapped. "Open the damn door at least."
"What happened?" Yanta opened the door.
"I don't know," Khamul snarled. "He had a fit or something."
"Looks like he got beaten up pretty bad."
"I think that was Morgoth."
Yanta's eyes widened. "The Dark Vala? Here? Walking around?" She glanced fearfully into the shadows.
"Don't be an idiot! He's not here! He's in Morion's mind!"
"So how could he do all that?"
"I don't know! Magic, probably."
"What're you going to do with him?"
"I don't know."
"You don't know a lot of things."
"Get out of here!"
Yanta rolled her eyes, but wandered off down the hallway.
Getting the door to Morion's bedroom open was a pain, but Khamul managed to kick the damn thing open after a while. Morion still hadn't woke up or even moved. Khamul wondered if he was dead.
"I hope you're not dead," she muttered, dumping him on his bed. Morion lay where he fell. A quick check of his pulse proved that he was still among the living, if unconscious.
What's wrong with him? Khamul wondered. The cuts and burns are healing already. He should be awake at least by now. So why isn't he?
And what brought this on in the first place?
As she watched Morion's wounds slowly start to close, Khamul pondered what little she knew of the Witch-King and the Dark Vala.
First of all, Morgoth was a cruel, vindictive bastard. Morion was his hands in Arda. If Morion had disobeyed him, or screwed up something big, then Morgoth was liable to get extremely angry and punish his servant. Severely.
"But what did Morion do?" Khamul muttered. As far as she knew nothing big had happened. Well, there was the thing with the goblin trying to kill Eorl on Morion's orders…oh… That was it.
"Dammit!" Khamul could've punched herself. Morgoth wanted Eorl dead, not Morion, not Sauron. He wanted Eorl dead bad enough that he was punishing Morion for it when he failed.
And this is all my fault, Khamul thought. She felt a twinge of guilt, but frowned and dismissed it. Why would Morgoth want Eorl dead? He's a tavern owner's son. A vicious, vindictive, warrior of a tavern owner's son, but he's still a tavern owner's son. He's never going to amount to much.
Someone knocked on the door.
"Come on in," Khamul snapped.
"Oh, you're back," Aica said, poking her head in. She didn't sound overly pleased. "What's wrong with Morion?"
"I don't know. What do you want?"
"Cirion's alive. He's the steward of Gondor."
"Why wouldn't he be alive?"
Aica rolled her eyes. "The Balchoth – descendants of the Wainriders – have been terrorizing northern Gondor. Cirion rode out to meet them with the army of Gondor. They got decimated and would've all died except this guy called Eorl and a freaking enormous army slaughtered all the Balchoth."
Khamul's head dropped into her hands.
Aica smiled. "Bad news?" she asked.
"Cirion also decided to give them a ton of land Gondor doesn't really need. They've already settled in. They're calling it the Riddermark."
"They also swore an oath. It's called the Oath of Eorl, appropriately enough. Basically, if Gondor ever needs Rohan's help, they send an arrow to them and Eorl's people have to come. Pretty neat, huh?"
"Argh!" Things could not possibly get worse. Okay, maybe if Morgoth took over Morion's body again things would be worse, but that was about it.
"Does this interfere with your plans?" Aica asked.
"Did you see all this in the palantir?" Khamul asked.
"So what if I did?"
"Have you been spying on me?"
"I knew it." The fuzzy feeling I'd get in my head. That was when Aica was spying on me through the palantir. I wonder how much she knows about the Halfling.
"Why were you looking for that Halfling?"
Or then again, maybe she doesn't. Khamul shrugged. "He stole one of my daggers. I wanted it back."
Aica snorted. "A Halfling stole the great Khamul's dagger!"
"Do you have anything else to say?"
"No, not really. Do you have any idea what's wrong with Morion?"
"Is it fatal?" Aica's face lit up like Minas Morgul's walls.
"Go away," Khamul snarled.
Aica walked out, the smile on her face so broad it was a wonder it didn't split her head open.
"Stupid bitch," Khamul muttered. She glared at Morion. "Move, damn you!" she snarled. She shook Morion's shoulders again. He twitched this time. "That's better! Wake up!"
Gradually, over the next hour, Morion twitched several more times, and finally opened his eyes.
"Where am I?" he muttered.
"Your bedroom," Khamul said.
"What are you doing here?" Morion asked. "You're up in the north."
"No, I'm here."
"I was just coming home when who should I find staggering around outside the gates? You."
Morion raised an eyebrow. "I was staggering around outside the gates?"
"Yes, and talking about fire."
Morion frowned, then realization dawned and his face went deathly pale. "Oh," he whispered. "Yes. The fire."
"You had some kind of fit or something. What was that about?"
Khamul's face was a mask of fury. "Ringe," she spat. "What about him?"
"Eorl didn't die. Morgoth…oh Valar, Morgoth."
Did Morgoth kill Ringe? This was an interesting development. "What happened?" Khamul asked.
"Sauron told me to send him to Moria to talk with the balrog, but it was Morgoth. It was Morgoth all along."
Khamul had a fairly good idea of what had happened after this. "So the balrog carved up Ringe and Morgoth let you feel it?" she guessed.
Morion nodded. "He's alive though. I know it. He'll be coming home soon."
"How nice for you," Khamul said, acid in every word.
"Thank you for bringing me in," Morion said.
"You were in my way."
Morion smiled. "Still, thank you."
Khamul shrugged. "My horse doesn't like trampling over people." She rose to leave.
"When you were in the north, did you ever come across a man called Eorl?" Morion asked.
"Oh. I suppose it doesn't matter if he dies now. He's founded Rohan. That's all Morgoth wanted to prevent."
"I don't know. He's convinced it'll hurt his plans."
Then it's a damn good thing I let Eorl live, Khamul thought. If it thwarts Morgoth's plans, then I'm all for it. Good for you, Eorl. Go forth and prosper.
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.