49. Umbar in Distress
They never did talk again. Khamul was always busy with something or other, and Morion was either dreadfully ill or off with Vorea, terrorizing the Ithilien rangers. Whether it was Sauron's cruel doing, or just bad luck, they never seemed to be alone together.
"You're lurking again," Khamul snapped, opening the door to her room only to find Aica outside. And wherever Aica was, the palantir couldn't be far away.
"It's going to be a busy year," the seventh ringbearer commented.
"Oh, it definitely is."
"Do you have anything to tell me or has your mind been completely consumed by that thing?"
Aica shot Khamul a vicious glare. "The Captain of Haven in Umbar requests your presence."
"He's in charge of the city."
"And he's got a palantir as well?"
"No, he sent a letter. He wants a representative of Sauron to come with all speed to the city."
"He didn't say."
"It could be a trap then."
"Does it matter? None of us can die."
"And why, for that matter, does it have to be me?" Khamul asked. "You could send Yanta again."
"Sauron's pretty much banished her after the disaster with the Corsairs. He's not sending her within a league of Umbar ever again."
"Vorea is training the army."
"Did Sauron specifically tell you to get me, or do you just want me out of the picture for a while?"
"Why would I want that?" Aica asked, all innocence.
"I don't know, but I don't like it."'
"Why don't you just go down there, see what he wants, and then come back? It won't take too long."
"What have you seen?" Khamul hissed.
"I haven't seen anything!"
"Sure you haven't! What is it?"
"Like I believe that." Khamul waited several moments for Aica to relent, but the seventh ringbearer was being quite silent. "Fine. I'll see what this Captain of Haven wants."
Aica watched from the wall above the gate of Minas Morgul as Khamul set out. When she was sure the Haradrim was gone, she hurried to Morion's office.
"So good to see you," she said, the words like poison in her mouth.
"What do you want?" Morion asked, hardly glancing up.
"I would like to do a bit of traveling. Intelligence gathering, that sort of thing."
Morion was instantly suspicious. "What kind of intelligence gathering?"
"Spying on our enemies to the north. We know what Gondor's up to, but we really don't know what's going on up in what used to be Arnor."
"Why can't your spies do that?"
"Well…they've been disappearing, so I think they might've been found out."
Morion couldn't argue with Aica, though he would've liked to. "Fine," he said.
"I'm taking Ringe as well."
"Fine. Just don't disappear for years and years."
"Oh, you don't need to worry about me," Aica said. "I'll be back soon."
"Why do I have a terrible feeling about this?" Morion muttered once Aica had left. He should've refused her request, but it sounded reasonable. Perhaps Aica had changed. No, of course she hadn't. But what did she want in the north?
The Poros Road into Harad was in desperate need of repair. Due to the constant war between the orcs and rangers, it could never be worked on, at least, not without all the workmen getting killed. And so Khamul had to go slower than she would've liked to avoid having her horse break its leg. What would that do to an immortal horse? Probably it'd just heal up, but until then she'd have to walk.
The beautiful forests of Ithilien faded into endless sand and dust. The road faded as well, buried under tons of sand.
The glory of the Haradrim had long vanished. All that was left was ruined monuments and crumbling buildings. The glory of the Numenoreans had faded as well. Their statues were broken and their towns were hollow shells or just foundations.
And up the great sand dune Khamul went. The same one that she had stood on with a force of a hundred thousand Variags and Haradrim behind her. The same one she had stood on while looking down on the slaughtered bodies of thousands of her people.
Umbar had changed greatly in those thousand years. It was much bigger now, but it looked the worse for wear. Parts of the city were burning, as were a great deal of the ships in its harbor.
"What's been going on here?" Khamul muttered, urging her horse down the dune and into the city.
The streets were bustling with soldiers all running around while civilians tried to put out the fires that still raged. It looked as if Umbar was under attack, but where was the enemy?
"Hey! You there!" Khamul yelled at an officer.
"What do you want, Haradrim?" the officer demanded. He looked like a Gondorian, but Umbar and Gondor had been at war since Castamir. Ah, he was one of the treacherous Gondorians who'd sided with the Usurper.
"What's going on here?"
"Why do you care?"
"Because your Captain of Haven asked for me to come!"
The officer frowned, then gasped. "You? A servant of Lord Sauron?"
"Not a servant! I'm his right hand!" Or left hand, at least. He couldn't get by without me.
"Ah, ah, I see. Very well…we're having a small problem right now…"
"What's going on?"
"Gondor sent a bunch of fighters to destroy us!"
"No…it was only fifty or so…"
"Fifty warriors destroyed Umbar?!"
"We've got most of them killed," the officer snapped. "There are only ten or so left. They're hiding out in there." He gestured to a large building. "The headquarters of the merchant guilds."
"Well, I'll go take them out for you, shall I?" Khamul muttered, kicking her horse and heading off toward the building.
The building was surrounded by a veritable sea of soldiers. It took some arguing to get through them, but they were relieved to have someone else go fight Gondor's soldiers.
"Just be careful," one advised. "War ain't no place for a lady."
Khamul rolled her eyes.
"They killed over a hundred men, those ten," another whispered in horror.
"You want them dead or alive?" Khamul asked.
"One of 'em alive, if you please, ma'am."
"I can do that," Khamul said. She jumped off her horse and walked into the building.
It was dark, far too dark for such a bright day outside despite the smoke. It was also messy. Desks had been overturned, papers were scattered everywhere. As Khamul walked, she kicked a goblet, which went spinning, scattering what was left of its contents across the floor.
"Anyone there?" Khamul yelled. Her voice echoed.
There was a whizzing noise and Khamul ducked. A white-fletched arrow smacked into the wall behind her and quivered.
"I guess so," she muttered, drawing her sword.
"Get out while you still can!" someone called.
"That was unfortunate," Khamul hissed, cautiously making her way toward the voice. Another arrow flew over her head, and one grazed her leg. Khamul marked the positions the arrows came from. Of course, their owners were probably already moving.
A glimmer of light struck a man's eyes, the only part of him that stood out in the darkness. Khamul grinned and jumped forward, swinging her sword.
The man hadn't realized his eyes had betrayed him, but he could move damn fast. Not fast enough though. Khamul's sword caught him on the right shoulder. It wasn't an instantly fatal wound, but it was enough to send him to the ground.
"This is the best of Gondor?" Khamul muttered, putting her sword through the man's heart. "I'm disappointed."
An arrow came so close to her head it was off by less than a hair.
Ducking, Khamul moved along the edge of the room. It was darker here, all the better to hide her. It was also where the rangers – she had no doubt they were part of that elite group – were hiding. It was where she would be if she were them.
Pulling her black hood up over her head, Khamul doubted very much if a person even a few feet away could see her in all this darkness and gloom.
The next ranger she met was looking everywhere but behind him. Sad then, that the sword that ended his life came from behind his heart. He gasped and crumpled to the ground. Not that much noise. That was good. Maybe she could take them all out without the others realizing it.
Two down, eight to go, Khamul thought.
Another two fell the same way. The fifth and sixth were together, scanning the room with eyes that could barely see in the dark.
"There he is!" one yelled. The other rangers must've been cringing. They couldn't do anything but wait for the other two to fall. Any arrows they shot were just as likely to hit their friends as Khamul.
"Wrong gender," Khamul muttered, slashing at the first ranger. He parried it, but then tripped on his friend's leg. The two were tangled up for a minute, and a minute was all it took.
Wiping some of the blood off on one of the dead men's cloaks, Khamul glanced around. Four more…and they'd all be somewhere close by. Oh yes. Maybe they thought they could catch the intruder by surprise.
The seventh did, at least. He was sneaking along, a long dagger in his hand. He couldn't see in the dark though. Or he couldn't see Khamul at least.
One hand quickly covered his mouth, and the other shoved the sword through his body. He gasped and blood streamed through Khamul's fingers, but he fell without a sound.
Three more. Two to kill, one to capture.
Well, this one had been a bit stealthier than his friends, Khamul had to give him credit. But then he had to go and bungle it by shouting.
Khamul met his sword with her own. The clash echoed and echoed in the room.
The fighting continued for a minute. Every second Khamul delayed, the man's friends were getting closer. Unless she wanted to be fighting off three rangers, she had to end this now.
Drawing a dagger with her other hand, Khamul parried the man's sword, but then struck at him with her dagger. He hadn't been expecting that. And these were the finest of Gondor?
Two more to go.
"Come out, creature of Sauron!"
Khamul whirled around. There, in the center of the room where there was a little light, were the last two rangers. One had a sword, the other was armed with a bow, the arrow on the string.
"Come out and face us!"
Stupid man, Khamul thought. Reaching down, she picked up a heavy goblet and took aim.
"Urk!" The man with the bow fell to the ground, his skull broken open by the goblet.
"I think my aim's as good as his," Khamul said, stepping out into the light. "So, nine dead. The Captain wants one alive."
"If I am taken alive, it will be over your rotting corpse," the last ranger spat. "Come on, creature. Let us fight!"
"I've never been one to back down from a fight!" Khamul laughed.
He was good. Khamul tried her dagger trick again, but he spun away and even managed to kick it out of her hand.
"Who taught you this?" Khamul asked, trying to distract him but also to learn who had made this man the master swordsman he was.
"Many people," the ranger replied. He was not an unattractive member of his species. His brown hair was about shoulder-length, and his gray eyes almost looked elven.
"Traveling the land and learning as you go, eh?"
"What got you into this mess here?"
"I despise Sauron," the ranger spat.
"So you're going to die in some futile attempt to stop him? It's pointless, you know. He doesn't even need Umbar."
"If he ever does, I have stopped that."
Khamul laughed. "You really think so? Even if you killed the Captain of Haven, another would just take his place! It's pointless! Completely pointless!"
"It is not pointless," the ranger hissed. "My father did not die in vain, and neither will I!"
"Sure you won't," Khamul sneered. In his fury, the ranger had made a mistake. His sword went spinning away into the darkness.
The ranger stood perfectly still, Khamul's sword at his throat. "Kill me," he said.
"I told them I'd take one alive. You can come in now!" she yelled toward the door.
"May I at least know the name of my captor?"
"Sure thing." Khamul pushed up her hood. "Khamul, lieutenant to – "
"The Witch-King of Angmar," the ranger finished, a sad smile on his face. "You are a Nazgul, second greatest of the Nine."
"How do you know all that?" Khamul asked. Wait…there was something familiar about this ranger. Where had she seen him before?
The soldiers were beginning to spill in. They marveled when they found the dead bodies of the rangers. They marveled even more when they saw the live one.
"I believe you'd know me as Estel," the ranger said as the soldiers bound his hands.
"Firin?" Khamul gasped.
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.