68. Fell Beasts
That's what Khamul told Sauron.
The first person she met on the road was Gollum. To call him a person might've been stretching it a bit, actually. He was muttering to himself, and catching fish out of a river.
"What're you doing?" Khamul bellowed, leaping off her horse and tackling the deformed Hobbit.
"Agh! Hurts us, precious! Nasty Shrieker hurts us!" Gollum whined and then started biting. Khamul gave him a good hard shake and fixed him with a fierce stare.
"What're you doing?"
"Finding precious," Gollum hissed. "Nasty Hobbitses has precious. We're getting it back, yes we are. Gollum, gollum!"
"The precious is in Rivendell. You know where that is, don't you?"
"Yes, that's where the elveses are. They're going to be leaving it sometime, but it won't be for a while. A month at least."
Gollum frowned, looking almost like he was sulking. "We doesn't wants to be in nasty cold, precious. We wants to be back under our mountain, yes we does."
"You'll be there soon enough if you get the damn Ring!"
"Precious!" Gollum's huge eyes lit up like lamps. "Precious! Gollum, gollum!"
"You know where Rivendell is? The exact location?" Khamul asked.
"Maybe we does," Gollum muttered.
"I hope you do. You watch that place, you hear me? And when the precious leaves it, you follow it! And make sure you get that damned piece of metal!" Khamul dropped Gollum, who landed like a cat.
"Nasty Shrieker wants us to get precious back," Gollum said to himself. Half the things he said should've just been going through his head.
Khamul rolled her eyes. "Just don't screw this up," she warned.
And then she was back on the road again, Gollum watching her with lamp-like eyes, waiting until she was well out of sight before he went slinking back into the shadows.
Things were relatively calm after that. Khamul passed a man who looked suspiciously Gondorian, but she didn't pay him any mind. Probably should've stopped him and cut his head off, she thought. Ah well.
Things got tricky once she got down into Rohan. Khamul had bypassed Isengard on her way to the Shire, but that was getting more difficult to do. The fortress dominated the land for miles. It towered above all else, staring down with an all-seeing eye. Saruman knew the Nine were abroad, and he likely knew that Sauron's lieutenant as passing close by.
Saruman was watching, wondering what one of Them was doing here.
Khamul decided to oblige him and stop by.
Riding up to the gates of Isengard, Khamul found them barred, but apparently unguarded. She knew better though. There'd be orcs and goblins lurking just out of sight. Saruman was still playing the part of the dutiful guardian. For now.
He appeared shortly on the battlements, looking down at her from a long pointed nose.
"What business does the lieutenant of Mordor have with me?" he asked. "I've dealt with your kind enough these past few months."
"Oh, did they make a stop on their way up north?" Khamul asked. Someone could've told her. The bastards.
"They did," Saruman spat. He sneered. "They thought I knew where the Ring was."
"Which you do."
Saruman glared at her. "I cannot help but notice that you were not with them."
"Up north looking for the Ring?"
"Not with your compatriots. And yet, you call yourself the second Nazgul. I think that is perhaps now inaccurate."
Khamul growled. "Don't mess with me," she hissed. "We may be going through a bit of a rough patch, but I'm still the strongest next to…the Witch-King."
Saruman raised an eyebrow.
"And how about you? Betraying everything just for power? Bet the elves and Gandalf aren't too happy about that."
"What do they matter? I am a Maia, powerful beyond reckoning. The long years have only strengthened me while they have drained everything from Gandalf. He is hardly recognizable as a Power anymore."
"I think he's still got a bit of kick left in him," Khamul hissed.
Saruman sneered. "Did you have a purpose for coming here, Nazgul?"
"Better watch your back, Saruman," Khamul warned. "Never know who's going to be aiming a dagger at it now." She left him on that note, kicking her horse and heading south.
After skirting past Minas Tirith, and crossing the Anduin at night, Khamul found herself on the road to Minas Morgul. The path was covered with the noxious little flowers and the air smelled like death.
Not going there though, Khamul thought, gazing at the green-lit walls of the fallen Tower of the Moon.
All semblance of life fell away as Khamul entered Mordor. The land was scorched black and covered in ash. Orodruin had been active since Sauron's return. There were even fresh lava flows here and there.
And above it all towered the Barad-dur, being rebuilt piece by piece by industrious orcs and trolls. Even though the workers numbered in the thousands, each was watched over by Sauron, if not personally. His eye was upon them all, as it was upon everyone in the land.
The orcs at the gate shrank away as Khamul rode up. They hadn't seen her for quite some time.
"Take my horse to the stables and get it some food," she said, tossing the reins to one.
"Where are the other Shriekers, lord?" one hissed. "The Dark Lord said they would be back soon. With the One."
"That's what I'm here to talk to him about," Khamul said.
Sauron was in the throne room. An empty throne room. He watched her approach, not saying a single word until Khamul was within ten feet of him.
"Where are the others?"
"Elves can do magic, did you know that?"
"The others are alive. Where are they?" Sauron asked.
"A magical river washed us all downstream and killed eight of the horses."
Sauron raised an eyebrow. "Eight of the immortal horses?"
"Weren't quite as immortal as you thought."
"I see. I take it you do not have the Ring."
"Do you know where it is?"
Sauron cursed. "There are powerful beings in Rivendell. If one were to claim it for himself…"
"They won't. They're just a pack of cowards."
"This is dangerous. It cannot remain there." Sauron stood up from his throne and started toward the flight of stairs to his office. Khamul followed him. "I shall summon the goblins to battle. They will lay siege to Imladris and claim the Ring."
"Think the elves might have a problem with that."
"They will be destroyed."
Khamul shrugged. "All right."
Sauron spun around to face her. "Do you think you have a better idea?"
"How about sending some new horses so we can catch up with them when they do leave Rivendell? And they will. No elf wants their homeland under siege. They'll be kicked out of there so quick it'll make your head spin."
"Horses?" Sauron sneered. He laughed. "I can give you far better than horses."
I don't like the sound of that, Khamul thought, following Sauron down the stairs now. They came back to the throne room, and then descended again, down into the dungeons.
"Where're we going?" Khamul asked.
"You wanted new mounts. Horses are rather impractical now, wouldn't you agree?"
"I wouldn't. Horses are fine."
"Compared to these, they are nothing."
"And what exactly are 'these'?" Khamul had the feeling that Sauron was smiling his creepy smile.
Sauron didn't answer but continued his descent. From somewhere below them there was a thunderous roar that shook the stairs.
"What was that?" Khamul asked, trying her best not to sound disturbed in the least.
Sauron still didn't answer and Khamul was beginning to get annoyed. Just another flight of stairs, she thought. Then I'll leave. I'm not going to put up with this!
They reached the bottom of the stairs at last, and Khamul's jaw dropped. "What…what…what…"
"These are called…well, I haven't thought up a name for them. A name seems to diminish them. Call them Fell Beasts. It seems appropriate enough."
The Fell Beasts – the creatures, the things, the monsters – were enormous. Each one had a room all to itself, which was only barely big enough to contain it. Their wings could hardly open a fourth of the way, but from what she could see, they were like bats' wings.
The things themselves were completely devoid of feathers or hair, seeming to have plain skin, though far thicker, surely. Their long narrow necks ended abruptly in a sharp curved beak like an eagle's.
"Where did you find them?" Khamul asked.
Sauron shrugged. "There are many things of the ancient world in the mountains of Mordor." He looked at his lieutenant. "You would do well to leave the horse behind and ride one of these back to your comrades."
"Ride one? Ride?! You're crazy!"
"That is their purpose. There are nine here. Will you take one?"
Khamul wasn't entirely sure if it was an offer or command. Still, she knew her answer. "No. My horse is still alive and I'm going to ride it."
Sauron looked away from her, gazing at the monsters. "I cannot help but notice that while the other ringbearers have transferred their loyalties to Melkor, you have not."
"He's a fallen Vala who tortured and killed Morion."
"Killed may be an exaggeration."
"Still. You would do well to –"
"Shut up," Khamul snapped. "I don't need you to tell me what I'd do well by. You think I don't know it? If I was smart, I'd just fawn over Morgoth and everything'd be fine."
"You are intelligent," Sauron said. "You are just a fool. A headstrong fool."
"I'm going back to the north," Khamul snarled, making for the stairs.
"True. But you are not going back to Rivendell."
"Head to Dol Guldor. There is a large accumulation of orcs there, along with several thousand in the forest and the nearby mountains."
"What'd you want me to do with them?"
"Lay siege to Lorien."
Khamul laughed. "That won't work."
"In all probability, no. But it will distract them until I regain the Ring. And then I shall destroy them."
Khamul shrugged. "As long as I don't have to see Morgoth."
"Good." She started up the stairs.
"Never speak to me in that tone or with those words again."
Khamul sighed. "All right," she said.
"What did you say?" Sauron asked in a quiet voice.
"I meant, yes, sir, oh glorious lord of Arda."
"I am beginning to understand why you are in your current predicament."
"It's only a predicament if I don't like it," Khamul snarled.
"I can always find another second ringbearer," Sauron warned.
"I'd like to see you try it," Khamul hissed.
"When I have the Ring –"
"If you have the Ring."
Sauron's eyes darkened. "I will have the Ring, Khamul, and when I do, you had better be in my good graces."