"Isn't he just the cutest baby you ever saw?"
"Ohhhh, he's such a cute baby!"
Khamul gritted her teeth and tried to choke down some wine. It didn't work very well. She hated traveling these lands. They had changed so much since the fall of Angmar. The power of the Nazgul had moved south, to Minas Morgul, but Khamul found her heart still dwelt in the north, in the ruins of Arnor. And here as well, in this forsaken corner of wilderness.
"I'm sorry about that," a maid said, walking over with a platter of bread. "My sister gave birth quite recently. Isn't he a cute baby?"
"Yeah, he's great," Khamul said. "He'll be a great man someday. No doubt about that. How much is the bread?"
"We don't have much use for money out here. Do you have something to trade?"
Khamul handed her several arrowheads. "That should pay for the bread and the wine," she said.
"Oh, thank you," the woman said. "These will be good for hunting."
Hunting. That's all they think about. It doesn't even enter their heads that they could conquer the land. These Eotheod are the strongest tribe for miles around. They should use that power.
"Do you want a place to stay tonight?" the woman asked.
"No," Khamul said. This place was a dump. "I'll be on my way in a minute."
The throng of women around the baby began to thin, and Khamul caught a glimpse of the thing. It had lost its red color and looked passably human. There was a fierce, vicious gleam in its blue eyes and it was already squirming and thrashing about.
Nasty little thing, Khamul thought. Looks violent. Maybe he'll be the one to get these people together and show them that they're strong.
"Admiring my son?" a man asked. He was a tall, big man who looked like he could tackle anything. "I'm Leod, owner of this tavern and headman of the village."
"Your wife makes good bread," Khamul said. "And your son looks," Almost like a member of the human race, "very handsome."
Leod grinned. He had a genial, honest smile. "His name's Eorl."
"Eorl," Khamul repeated. It sounded strange. "Eorl."
"A good name," Leod said. "You can hold 'im if you like."
"Here." Leod picked up the thrashing infant and dumped him in Khamul's arms. The baby stilled instantly. "A woman's touch," his father said knowingly.
No, Khamul thought, looking into the baby's eyes. No. Definitely not.
The baby's eyes went from general frustration at a world they could not properly navigate to pure and utter loathing. Funny. Khamul didn't know babies could tell what she really was.
Slowly, deliberately, Eorl moved his head and sank his gums into Khamul's hand. She could feel teeth already coming in. This was a newborn? Really?
"Sorry about that," Leod said, hastily snatching Eorl away. He began to thrash and squirm again. "He doesn't know he's not supposed to bite yet."
"Well, he's a baby," Khamul said. "Thanks for the food. I've got to go."
Eorl cast Khamul a look of pure loathing as she left.
Khamul whistled for her horse and left the small village. She didn't know where to go. Hunt for more Dunedain? No, that was getting boring. She never got the chiefs anyway. She'd always get the chief's friend's cousin or something like that.
Where to then? Back to Minas Morgul?
Khamul heaved a sigh. What was it? Four hundred years she had been gone? Good riddance to them all. Except maybe Vorea. She was honest and lacked the conniving of the rest.
Khamul let her horse take her where it willed. Apparently it wanted to go to Gondor.
"Okay, bad idea," Khamul muttered and started to steer it to the north. She had no desire to fight off a whole regiment of Gondorian soldiers. Not right now anyway. She was feeling strangely…non-violent. For some reason the encounter with the Halfling and that thing that was her nephew was sticking in her mind. She'd traveled back there after sniffing around for the Dunedain chief and discovered that the thing had disappeared. Actually disappeared, not just gone invisible.
Invisibility. The wretched creature must've found some magical trinket from the Eldar Days. Still, there wasn't anything Khamul knew of that made a person go invisible. In fact, she'd never heard of a person going invisible! Except she'd done it once in Numenor. Almost. When Sauron had given her the Ring, Khamul hadn't noticed it, but everybody commented on how transparent she was.
"I wasn't invisible though," Khamul muttered. "I was just transparent."
And then there was Isildur. You didn't notice it, she thought, did you, that suddenly he was nowhere to be seen, and then he was right there? The Ring made him invisible. It fell off, and you got a clear shot. And then there was the odd smell. Kind of smelled like Mt. Doom, didn't it?
Sensing a moment of intense panic, the horse stopped moving.
The horse continued back toward the north, hoping to avoid any kicking or slaps with the reins. It didn't move fast enough though. Nothing could move fast enough for Khamul just then.
"THE DAMN HALFLING'S GOT THE RING!"