84. Not From Around Here
"He's a damn fool."
"Ah, come on now. He fought 'or us."
"What makes you say that? Doesn't look like he did much fighting anyway. Getting killed, yes, but not much killing."
"You e'er seen a man o' the dark who looked like 'at?"
"Looks ta me like a proper lord o' Gondor."
"That's stretching it a bit far. Looks like a man of the south to me. Morthond Vale, I'd say."
The other man shook his head and leaned on his shield. He was from Morthond himself. "Mah lords would ne'er let a man go inta battle like 'at," he said. "Ain't got no armor, do 'e? No weapon neither. Wouldn't last ten seconds. Didn't, either, by the looks o' 'im."
"Well, where's he from then? We can't just dump him with the rest of the bodies. We have to put him in his proper place."
The Morthond soldier eyed the body. "I'd say 'e was one o' Forlong's soldiers."
"Forlong? Forlong of Lossarnach?"
"Aye, Forlong the Fat."
"What makes you say that?"
"'E ain't got no armor. No proper lord'd let 'is soldier go ta war like 'at. Forlong would, carin' as 'e did 'or 'ood an' drink alone."
"What's going on over here?"
The soldiers snapped to attention as a tall man came over. Now he had the look of a proper lord of Gondor, they both agreed with a glance.
"Sorry, my lord," the first soldier, a man of Minas Tirith, said. "We were just debating where this poor fellow was from. I am thinking that he was from Morthond Vale, while my companion believes he was from Lossarnach."
"Well, let me have a look. I've traveled these lands enough I think I should know the differences between the people of Gondor."
"You can look if you like, lord, but it's hard to see much. Blood's all over his face."
"Lookit 'is arms," the Morthond soldier said. "Looks like 'e got too close to one o' them Shriekers."
"You speak like an orc," the Minas Tirith soldier muttered under his breath.
The tall lord paid them no attention and knelt down next to the body. He picked up one of the fallen man's arms and examined the long black lines under the skin.
"Ain't nothin' ya can do 'or 'im," the Morthond soldier said. "'E's dead."
"No, he's not," the lord said. He picked up the body, which lay limp in his arms. "And, just for the record, he's not from Morthond Vale or Lossarnach."
"Then where?" the Minas Tirith soldier asked.
As Aica passed down the hallway, Khamul reached out and dragged her into the room before slamming the door shut.
"What're you doing?" the seventh ringbearer hissed.
"Let me see the palantir," Khamul said.
"Then look for something for me!"
"Why should I do a single thing for you?" Aica snarled. She tossed her head proudly. "I am going to be the leader of the ringbearers soon enough."
"I've spoken with Sauron. He's taking direct charge for now."
"What?" Aica hissed.
"Talk to Sauron about it. Now, look for something."
"What is it?"
"First, Ancalime. She's in Dol Guldur."
Aica rolled her eyes. "Fine," she muttered. She stared into the palantir for a while before snickering.
"What is it?"
"She's losing. Badly. They're almost beaten back to Dol Guldur. The elves are displeased."
Khamul rolled her eyes. What could you expect from Aica? "Well, that's fine."
"I doubt Sauron's fine with it."
"I don't care. Now, find the Ring."
"If I could do that, I'd have it myself by now," Aica snarled.
"It's close. Sauron thinks it's in Minas Tirith, but I'm not so sure." She didn't trust Aica one ounce, but she had no choice, much as it pained her. She needed to know where the Ring was, even if it turned into a race between her and Aica. Besides, if it did, she could always crush the seventh ringbearer's skull with the palantir.
"I can't just find it like that," Aica muttered. Still, she stared into the palantir, Khamul watching her while fingering her sword. Perhaps she should just cut off the seventh ringbearer's head. A preemptive strike. Although…would it grow back or would she just put it back on? Maybe Khamul should hide it.
"See anything?" she asked. There was also no telling that Aica wouldn't see the Ring and then tell Khamul she'd seen nothing.
"No," Aica said, sounding genuinely disappointed and irritated.
"All right," Khamul said. "Keep an eye on Ancalime. Make sure she doesn't screw up too badly."
Aica's bitter glare told Khamul that she would do no such thing. Not that Khamul had expected Aica to, but it was fun to put the seventh ringbearer in her place. After all, no matter what Sauron said, Khamul was in charge now with Morgoth's death.
"What in the name of all the Valar are you doing here?"
"Hello, Vorea," Khamul said, waving to the third ringbearer as she turned a corner in the hallway. "How was the battle?"
"You are supposed to be in Dol Guldur!"
"As everyone keeps reminding me. Well?"
"We lost," Vorea said bitterly. "Morgoth was slain."
"I heard. How tragic."
Vorea's lips twitched. "Yes. Tragic. Still, it was unfortunate that the Corsairs' ships were commandeered by the Heir of Isildur. I was under the impression that he was dead."
"What gave you that idea?"
"That you were still alive, Khamul. Your hatred of them is legendary. I am surprised you have not dashed off to Minas Tirith to stab the Heir through the heart."
"Yeah," Khamul said. "I figure I'll just stay around here. Lay low. Look for the Ring."
"Ah, Sauron believes it is close?"
Khamul nodded. "You handle the war. I'll keep an eye out for the Ring."
It was at that moment that a little orc waddled in. "My lords," he croaked, bowing low.
"What is it?" Khamul snapped.
"The captain of the tower of Cirith Ungol humbly requests your attendance at his tower."
"I was not informed, lords."
"I have a war to plan," Vorea said. "Minas Tirith shall fall, whether today, tomorrow, or a year from now."
"I guess that means it's me," Khamul said with a sigh. "I know there's a place called Cirith Ungol, but I don't know where it is."
"If my lord would follow me?" The orc started off down the hallway.
"Do I have to ride one of those Fell Beasts?"
"It would speed our journey."
Khamul sighed. "And time is of essence, right?"
"Yes, my lord."
Khamul had about as much talent with the Fell Beast as she did with swimming. The orc ended up clinging to her like a tick, whimpering softly.
"Look, it wasn't that bad!" Khamul snapped. "These damn things are impossible to steer!"
"Are we there, my lord?" the orc squeaked.
"Yes! Oh, what's that down there?"
Khamul shook off the orc and stood on the edge of the tower, looking down at the vast black plain of Gorgoroth. Squinting, she saw darting movement. Creatures. Two of them. One of them was kind of fat. They were wearing orc armor, but she'd wager they were something else.
Drawing in a deep breath of air, Khamul smelt Mt. Doom thick in the air. Orodruin was far away, but never far enough, and its smell permeated everything. But not this strongly.
Khamul turned away. The only way to meet Morion again was in Mandos, which meant death. And she'd be damned if she lived forever as a Nazgul. As a ringbearer, with Morion by her side, she could exist for eternity, but not as a Nazgul. Never as a Nazgul.
If you had the Ring, a little voice in her head said, you could bring Morion back from the dead. You could depose Sauron and rule Middle-Earth.
You can't bring people back from the dead, Khamul told herself. You can bring back Maiar and Valar and even elves, but not ordinary people. When dwarves and Men die, they die forever.
"Forgive me, my lord," the orc croaked, "but this is rather urgent."
"No, it's not," Khamul said. She opened the trapdoor leading to the tower and glanced inside. "Gosh, it looks like everyone's killed everybody else."
"What?!" the orc gasped.
There was not a soul living inside the tower. Even the watchers at the gate had their eyes stilled, and that was by some other power that Khamul was determined to overlook. Never saw it, she thought. If anyone brings it up, I'll just raise an eyebrow and say 'wow, I didn't notice that'.
The orc looked like he was about to go into shock. "I…I…" he stammered, looking around at the bodies.
"What were they fighting over?" Khamul asked.
"The spoils, my lord."
"We captured a small Man in the spider's lair. He had many valuables with him."
The orc rummaged around in the tangle of bodies before pulling out a shining mail shirt. "This."
Khamul snatched it away from him. "That's mithril, you damn fool!" she snarled.
Mithril! A shirt made entirely of mithril! Khamul almost drooled thinking about how much it would be worth. A lot. A whole lot.
"Shall we take it to the Dark Lord, lord?"
"Shut up," Khamul snapped. What should she do with this? If Sauron got it, he would be alarmed that someone had broken into Mordor. And even more so if he knew about their escape. And yet, if Khamul threw it away or kept it, it was bound to get out sooner or later, and that would make Sauron even more suspicious.
"My lord?" the orc asked.
"Quite right," Khamul said. "We need to give this over to the Dark Lord. It is our duty. However, I think I need some proof of this terrible massacre. Could you just go over there and pick up that huge orc's head?"
The orc waddled over to the body, and once his back was turned, Khamul drew her sword and cut off his head. "No survivors," Khamul said, wiping her blade on the cleanest piece of cloth she could find. "How tragic."
Soon enough the mithril was in Sauron's hands, who ran his fingers through the light metal fabric.
"And the wearer of this finery?" he asked quietly. He was back to speaking quietly. Not a good sign. He'd spoken very quietly during the Last Alliance.
"I sent him to another tower," Khamul said. "I'm sure the orcs are wringing every bit of information out of him even as we speak."
"Good. Was he an elf?"
"A Man, surprisingly. Somehow he had sneaked past the spider and entered Mordor. A renegade of Gondor's army, we think."
"Not with this. Was he carrying anything else?"
Sauron fixed her with a sharp look, which Khamul met. "Very well," the Dark Lord said at last. "This," He shook the mithril shirt, "I will keep. Tell me if the prisoner says anything useful."
"Of course," Khamul said.
"You make me suspicious, Khamul."
"You are being agreeable."
Khamul forced herself to laugh. "Since when am I not agreeable?"
"Whatever secret you are keeping, Khamul, you had better pray I do not find out about it."
Unless the Halfling chucks the Ring into Mt. Doom, in which case you really won't be able to do anything about it, Khamul thought. She just smiled. "What secret?"
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.