39. Death of a Dragon
The ringbearers arrived in Laketown late at night. The town was lit up with bright torches and loud with songs and shouts.
"Sounds like a party," Khamul said, watching as a pair of drunks staggered down the road.
"I believe the dwarves have arrived," Morion said, looking ahead at a large hall. It was brightest of all the buildings and seemed to be the one from which most of the drunks were coming from.
"They're having this huge party for a bunch of dwarves?"
"I believe the dwarves have said they would rid the town of the dragon. Obviously, this is a cause for celebration."
"But that's crazy! Thirteen dwarves against a dragon!"
"Perhaps the dwarves spoke of their secret weapon," Morion mused.
"Maybe they did," Khamul said with a grin. "Shall we go see?"
The pair rode over to the hall and dismounted, shooing the horses away. Looking in through one of the large windows, they saw thirteen bearded dwarves sitting at the head of a long table, drinking and eating and roaring with laughter and song.
"Where's the short thing?" Morion muttered.
"There it is!" Khamul hissed, pointing to a creature about the size of a dwarf but beardless. It was eating as voraciously as the others, but wasn't joining in the songs.
"What is it?"
"It's a Halfling!" Khamul exclaimed. "I've seen them before!" The Ring must really like Halflings. First Primela's nephew, now this one.
"A Halfling?" Morion asked, looking through the window. "I've never seen one before… It is short."
"Like a dwarf, only with hairy feet and fat."
"How interesting. I have seen many Men, elves, and dwarves in Sauron's dungeons, but never one of these creatures."
"They stay out of the world's affairs."
"Yes, until now."
The ringbearers were forced to leave watching the hall when the street became crowded with more feastgoers and those who were returning home. It would not do to be seen so close to the Ring. Not until they were ready to claim it.
The party lasted until well into the early hours of morning. Khamul was getting stiff and cold from standing near the back of a shed. Morion had fallen asleep and was twitching and muttering. Having a nice little conversation with Morgoth, Khamul deduced. It was confirmed when a streak of red appeared on Morion's cheek, oozing blood. Other than that, it seemed the Dark Lord was learning to manage his anger.
The dwarves and Halfling left the hall as dawn rose and started to make their way to the mountain.
"Come on, Morion!" Khamul hissed. "Now's our chance! We'll catch them when they're deep in the mountain where no one can hear them! The dwarves won't know what hit them!" She glanced down at Morion, who was still twitching and muttering, fast asleep.
Cursing as the dwarves and Halfling moved further and further away, Khamul delivered a swift kick to Morion's ribs. The Witch-King grunted and toppled over. "We've got to follow them! Get up, you possessed imbecile!"
Morion was dead to the world and not likely to be waking up anytime soon. Meanwhile, the Ring was slipping through Khamul's fingers. She could just leave the Witch-King. It wasn't like he was going to die or anything.
Khamul glanced at Morion, then looked at the line of dwarves. She looked back at Morion.
With a sigh, she sat down with her back to the shed. An hour later she started drumming her fingers on the side of the shed, but stopped when the shed's owner came out to investigate.
"Come on, Morion," she muttered, punching him a little in the same spot she'd kicked him. He groaned again and tried to curl up into a ball. Khamul stood up and hauled him up as well. "We're leaving. Now."
"Where am I?" Morion mumbled, opening his eyes.
"About time! You've been sleeping the day away! Let's get going!" Khamul started off into the street and was startled to find that Morion was not following her.
"Give me a minute," Morion muttered, rubbing his eyes.
"We don't have a minute! The dwarves are getting away as we speak!"
"What?" Morion gasped, his eyes flying open.
"Yes! They left while you were sleeping!"
"Why didn't you wake me?"
"I tried! You were sleeping like a rock. Or maybe you were having a little talk with Morgoth. The cut on your face suggests that."
Morion's had went to his cheek, but the slice was already healing. "They're going to kill the dragon," he said. "We can't let them do that."
"How are they going to kill the dragon? It's a full-grown dragon and they're a bunch of undersized Men."
"They won't kill it."
"What are you talking about?" Khamul demanded as Morion took off down the street, going the exact opposite way of the dwarves.
"We have to stop them!"
"Where are you going?"
Morion stopped. "Am I not going the right way?"
"Then what is the right way?"
Khamul rolled her eyes. "Follow me," she said, leading him along the path the dwarves took.
It was sunset when they reached the mountains. "Can't be far from here," Khamul muttered. "Dwarves have short little legs. We must be right near them!"
"There are horses over there," Morion said, gesturing to several pack ponies that stood near the mountain.
"Their owners are around here somewhere then," Khamul hissed. She sniffed the air. Yes, there was the Ring. It was close…so close…
"Can you smell them out?"
"I think so."
The two ringbearers moved stealthily up the mountain, pausing occasionally for Khamul to smell the air and get a sense of where the Ring was.
"I lost it for a while," she muttered, "but now it's back."
"Are we close?"
The two clambered over a jagged rock and looked down on a small campsite. Thirteen dwarves and one Halfling.
"Excellent," Morion hissed. His hand went to his sword, but then moved to his enchanted dagger.
"I'll take the left side, you catch them from the right."
"Will do. Careful: dwarves are some of the fiercest fighters in a corner."
"They'll be on their way to Mandos or wherever they go before they can get fierce."
Khamul tensed and got ready to spring when a thunderous roar shook the air. It knocked her and Morion to the ground where they flattened themselves, preparing for some horrible disaster.
The dwarves were in a panic as the sky lit up like a candle. Khamul muttered curses under her breath as wind wailed and blazing heat exploded around her.
"It's the dragon," Morion hissed.
"Tell me something I don't know!" Khamul snarled, covering her head as the dragon's wings beat around them.
The dragon roared in fury, nearly splitting Khamul's eardrums. The dwarves, it seemed, had escaped him. It growled, there was a rush of wind, and then the hurricane sounds faded. The dragon had left.
Khamul peeked over the ledge. The campsite was deserted. The dwarves were gone, but to where? There was no way they could have fled. She waited for the dwarves to come out of hiding, but they never did. Where had they gone? Had the dragon gotten them after all only not realized it?
"The horses are gone," Morion reported, glancing down the mountain. "The dragon took them when he lost the dwarves."
"Where are the dwarves?"
"I haven't the faintest idea." He gasped, his hands going to his stomach.
"Are you hungry or something?" Khamul asked.
Morion shook his head, gritting his teeth as his hands clenched until the knuckles were white. They turned red as blood leaked through his shirt.
"Morgoth isn't happy that the dwarves got away, is he?" Khamul guessed.
"No," Morion hissed, sinking to his knees. "It'll be fine…in a minute…"
"We aren't going anywhere for the rest of the night. Those dwarves'll have to come out here sooner or later."
The sun was beating down hot on the rocks and Khamul. Morion had recovered from Morgoth's anger, but was still moving gingerly with one hand on his stomach. What was the point of that? Khamul wondered. If Morgoth wanted the dwarves dead, then he should make sure Morion – his hands in Arda – was in perfect condition. Then again, the Dark Lord wasn't exactly a rational being.
"I think they got into the mountain somehow," Khamul said. "One of them went in and woke Smaug up. Then when the dragon came, they all ran inside."
"Then they'll be fried by Smaug," Morion said.
Khamul shrugged. "Then you have nothing to worry about."
"What about the…thing?"
"Now that Smaug's awake he's not just going to sit around or curl up and go back to sleep. He'll leave his lair again, and then we can sneak in and get it."
"We'll have to be certain he isn't coming back."
"It takes a lot of food to keep a dragon full. Those horses won't have begun to satisfy him."
"I hope you're right." Morion laughed. "Imagine if we had the One Ring within our grasp, but we let it go!"
"Shut up!" Khamul hissed, elbowing him hard in the ribs. "Don't say it out loud!"
"He already knows."
"He'll tell Sauron!"
"He won't, because if Sauron's all-powerful, then he can banish Morgoth back beyond the Door of Night. Morgoth wouldn't like that one bit."
"So he doesn't want Sauron to get the Ring back?" Khamul asked.
"No, not yet anyway. Not until…until Morgoth is present in this world to take it from him."
"Until he's taken over your body and thrown your soul into some nightmarish world, you mean."
Morion nodded. He looked pale, thin, and weak by the sun's light, which seemed to bother his eyes. He didn't look at all like the infamous Witch-King of Angmar, killer of the last king of Gondor, destroyer of Arnor, right-hand of the Dark Lord Sauron himself. He just looked like an ordinary man in trouble. It played with Khamul's heartstrings. Not that she hadn't killed plenty of men who looked just like he did. It was just… He had looked like that the day she'd first seen him. Less pale, maybe, and certainly less haunted and thin.
Of course, Khamul had felt nothing for him then. Or had she? It had been so long ago, and it had been colored by so many emotions over the years. What had she felt that time long ago?
"I won't let that happen."
The words hung in the air and Khamul wondered for a moment who had spoken. She was shocked when she realized it had been her.
"You won't let what happen?" Morion asked, his voice less than a whisper.
"I won't let Morgoth take over your body."
Morion smiled. "Why's that?"
"Well, he'll get the Ring then and I don't want to be ruled over by him." You stupid, stupid idiot, she thought. She had been lying to herself for years and years, telling herself that it was merely admiration for a brilliant tactical move, or perhaps respect for his skills that Khamul felt for Morion. It was deeper than that. Ringe was right. He was right, damn his soul.
Khamul was in love with Morion.
"Was Ringe right?" Morion asked.
Khamul had been gazing out at the Lonely Mountain, watching the smoke drift from its gate. She glanced back at Morion now, about to tell him that Ringe had been right. Yes, dammit, she was in love with him.
He was smiling.
What the smile meant, only Morion knew. Khamul, however, took the smile to mean something – likely – completely opposite of what the Witch-King meant.
"You're mocking me!" she shrieked, leaping to her feet. "You're laughing at me! Just because you can never love me back, you're laughing! How dare you! You should have died when Numenor sank with the rest of your wretched kinsmen!" Spinning around, Khamul stormed down the mountain without a backward glance.
"Khamul! Wait! I –" Morion began. It was too late. Khamul was already too far away. "What a fool I am," he muttered.
How dare he! He had been laughing at her behind her back the whole time, hadn't he? He and Ringe had been snickering together at the silly ringbearer who was in love with a man who didn't care an ounce for her.
Khamul walked until she found a nice spot by the lake and sat down on the stump of a tree. Her heart hurt and she wondered if perhaps she'd been injured by some kind of strange magic. No, it was a far more common affliction.
"I'm not in love with him," she muttered. "I'm not."
She remembered seeing Morion genuinely smile or laugh, all too rare these days, and she remembered the small thrill of pleasure she got.
"Valar damn it all," she cursed, dropping her head into her hands. She was. She really was. And he'd never return it. How could he? He loved Ringe.
Morion found her near sunset and sat down next to her. He didn't say a word. Neither did she. They both watched a beautiful sunset over the lake. It seemed a second sunset when the mountain breathed fire. Or was it the dragon?
"I've never been incinerated by a dragon before," Khamul muttered.
"He won't come this far," Morion said.
Smaug didn't. He attacked Laketown with savage force, his tail smashing homes and his breath setting fire to everything and everyone in his way.
And the dwarves were nowhere to be seen.
"Looks like all the dwarves did was make Smaug mad," Khamul said.
"They could not kill a dragon. It is very difficult to kill one. They cover their soft underbellies with hard gemstones."
"I know. I knocked some off Smuag's chest when I fought him."
Morion raised an eyebrow. "You knocked some off? Where?"
"Left side, near his heart."
"Near his heart…" Morion whispered, looking at the enormous dragon.
A black arrow streaked through the sky, striking Smaug in the only part of his body he lacked armor on.
The hollow of his left breast.
The dragon fell with a crash, smashing structures and sending huge waves surging to the shore. Several came close to where Khamul and Morion sat.
"Well, that's that then," Khamul said. "The dragon's dead. We can go into the mountain and kill the dwarves now."
"How do you do it?" Morion murmured.
"How do I do what?"
"Every action you make, you completely unintentionally destroy Sauron's and Morgoth's plans. You get in a fight with a dragon and injure him in just the right place so he can be killed later at a critical point in history. You decide that some son of a tavern owner is worth your pity or mercy or what have you, and you save him. He grows up, saves the steward of Gondor, and founds a kingdom. How do you do it?"
And you don't even know about Estel, Khamul thought. "I'm talented."