Between Darkness and Dawn
Chapter 2: A Baited Snare
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The morning was bright and rosy, despite the nip of deepening autumn
that lingered in the air. Here and there birds twittered in the
branches overhead, winging their way south in preparation for the
winter months. Like the birds, the elf, ranger and two Beornings
had risen at dawn and already covered many miles.
Nature made a beautiful song, but it was difficult for Aragorn to hear
it. Pejor was talking to the ranger and Aragorn nodded politely
as they walked. At first he really had been paying attention to
what the younger man said, but about a half hour ago even his lengthy
attention span had been exceeded. He found his mind wandering.
Pejor was either oblivious, or used to the reaction.
“So if you hold it over the fire any longer it ruins the color, but if
you take it off when it’s only slightly brown you can twist it into...”
Pejor stopped speaking when his Master’s hand on his arm stopped his
“Come, Pejor,” Beoma interrupted. “It’s time for us to let the
good ranger have some peace. Home is just over those hills.”
Aragorn cast the baker a grateful look that made Beoma chuckle.
“Are we there already?” Pejor seemed genuinely surprised. “Well
goodbye, Strider, it’s been wonderful talking to you.”
“You too, Pejor,” Aragorn replied graciously.
Legolas shot his friend an amused glance. “You are such a liar,” his laughing blue eyes seemed to say.
When neither Beoma nor Pejor were looking, Aragorn made a face at the prince.
“Good-bye, friends!” Beoma and Pejor waved to the two friends as the
elder Beorning ushered his apprentice away. “We thank you for
your assistance and your gracious company. We can find our own
way from here. If you come this way again, you must stop by!”
“As long as you’re doing the cooking, Beoma, you can be sure we will!” Aragorn assured with a smile.
Aragorn and Legolas watched as the two Beornings wound away into the
distance and disappeared from view when their path took them down into
the valley, leading them home.
Aragorn sat down on a rock and tilted his face towards the
sunshine. He was still a bit tired. He was glad that Beoma
had not expected them to go all the way back to their village. He
was not sure Pejor would have survived that long.
The ranger opened one eye and found that Legolas was standing in
front of him, watching him. He closed his eye again.
“Do you hear that?” the ranger asked.
Barely imperceptible rustling sounds told Aragorn that his friend had seated himself on the grass next to the ranger.
“It depends on what ‘that’ is,” Legolas said after a moment.
Aragorn rolled his eyes. That’s what he got for talking to an
elf. There wasn’t a single significant sound to be heard for
miles, but doubtless Legolas could catalog every bird call and distant
footstep if asked.
“The silence. It’s beautiful, or at least it was,” the human said wryly.
“Ah,” came Legolas’ reply. There was a long pause. “You
know, you can’t really hear silence...” the elf said after several
For a moment Aragorn actually thought Legolas was serious.
Another quick peek at his friend’s face however told him that the
prince was teasing.
“Then maybe those elven ears of yours aren’t as good as you think,” the ranger’s rejoinder came equally deadpanned.
Legolas snorted softly. Neither of them wanted to talk about
leaving or where they were going to go from here just yet.
“Oh really? Well then what do you hear, my esteemed companion?” the elf taunted.
Aragorn tilted his head back with a small laugh. “Well, I hear
you, and I hear the birds...” the ranger stopped suddenly. His
brows furrowed. The fact was, he didn’t hear the birds
anymore. He opened his eyes to find that Legolas was on his feet
again, looking around.
The birds had all flown off, but there were other sounds. The
distant clamor was faint and muffled to Aragorn’s ears, but very clear
now to Legolas’.
“Estel, I hear orc voices!” he said with no small amount of alarm.
Aragorn jumped to his feet at Legolas’ side. In the distance grey
smoke rose in thin threads through the morning air. There was too
much smoke for it to be from cooking fires and it was coming from the
direction of Beoma and Pejor’s village.
The two friends took off at a run, following the path taken by the
Beornings not long ago. As they ran, the scent of smoke was
carried to them on the breeze.
Reaching the crest of the ridge, they looked down into the valley
below. The sight that met them was not a good one. The
small Beorning village sprawled gently across the landscape below
them. Black smoke rose in a thick pall over the normally peaceful
scene. Bright orange flames licked at and devoured thatched roofs
like stacks of kindling. The town was on fire.
Small black shapes roiled around the burning structures in tangled
knots of confusion. The twisted, ugly shapes of orcs were
everywhere, like a swarm of crawling insects. Beoma and Pejor
were nowhere in sight.
For a moment the shock was incredible. Orcs never attacked
here. These lands were secure: the Beornings kept them
safe. These people’s blatant hatred of the evil creatures kept
the orcs at bay in this part of the world. Whatever action had
set the foul beasts against the Beornings must have been great
indeed. The surprise did not hold Aragorn and Legolas captive
long. Almost immediately they began running down the hill,
towards the scene of battle.
As they came closer, the wide-spread fighting narrowed itself down to that which lay directly before them.
A stone and thatch cottage was engulfed in flames. A woman and
child burst from the yard behind the house. They did not scream
or cry, but fear was evident on their faces. The child tripped
and fell. The woman stopped to scoop him up and then kept running
without missing a beat. Half a dozen orcs swarmed out from around
base of the burning structure, right behind the fleeing mother and
They never reached their goal. A blur of brown and gold shot past
the woman and an arrow buried itself deeply in the throat of the
Aragorn and Legolas attacked the foul creatures with a cry. The
ranger’s sword flashed bright and lethal in the fire-glow. Beside
him, Legolas’ bow sung. The orcs fell swiftly before them as the
two friends hurried past the burning house, wading deeper into the
The Beornings were putting up a fierce fight and piles of orc dead
already lay heaped amidst the burning houses. The orcs had the
advantage of sheer numbers, but the villagers were making them pay very
dearly for this raid. The small number of Beorning dead was
“Strider!” Legolas shouted to get his friend’s attention.
Aragorn thrust his sword forward, impaling an orc with one sweep and
jabbing another in the gut with the pommel of his blade as he yanked
his hand back. He spun around and finished the orc he had knocked
down before looking up in answer to his friend’s call.
Legolas was a dozen yards away. The knives in his hands dripped
with black orc blood. His gaze was fixed on a point to the north
of them. Following the prince’s line of sight, Aragorn saw a
small group of Beornings surrounded by orcs just beyond the edges of
the village. They could barely see Beoma’s graying head bobbing
amid the others.
For a moment Legolas had a clear look. Beoma had his arm wrapped
protectively around Pejor’s smaller shoulders. A fierce look was
on the man’s face as he struggled with the overwhelming odds stacked
against them. The orcs were trying to pull back, herding their
Leaping up onto a smoldering haystack, Legolas sighted in on the orcs
driving the villagers away. Three arrows left his bowstring and
three orcs fell. The mound of hay beneath his feet shifted as
several of the dark creatures jostled the base, trying to dislodge the
elf. Flames licked higher, making the air stifling hot.
Legolas was compelled to jump down before the dry stack he stood upon
burst into brilliant conflagration.
Legolas landed on his feet and slit the throat of an orc that rushed
towards him. “Strider!” he called again. The orcs on the
edges of the town were getting away and he could not stop them from
Aragorn nodded. He understood what Legolas was trying to tell
him. Jumping over a low fence, the ranger hurried down the
cluttered street. A wave of fighting slowed his progress. A
brave line of stout Beorning men were holding several scores of orcs at
bay behind a series of overturned carts and flaming hay bales.
The orcs swarmed against one of the overturned carts, shoving it back
against the defenders, attempting to break their line. Throwing
his shoulder against the bottom of the wagon, Aragorn was quickly
joined by several other men. Together they shoved the defense
back into place. Jumping up onto the large wheel of the cart,
Aragorn leapt down into the middle of the orcs below, his sword
Legolas lost sight of Aragorn in the fighting. Stopping only to
deal with a few orcs that confronted him, he tried to gain a higher
vantage point once more. The burning buildings obstructed his
line of sight and the fighting held him mired down in the center of
town, unable to locate Aragorn or the group Beoma had been amongst.
It looked as if the Beornings were slowly winning this battle, but the orcs were putting up a good fight.
When Aragorn finally reached the edges of the town, there was no trace
of Beoma, Pejor, or the orcs he had glimpsed earlier. Shouting
behind the ranger made him turn around swiftly. One of the
larger, two-story structures was toppling down upon itself. The
huge, flaming front tumbled towards the human like a hungry giant.
The ranger dropped and rolled only just in time to avoid being crushed
under the wreckage. He covered his head with his arms as burning
cinders showered around him. He started struggling to his feet...
and that was the last thing he remembered.
“Ohh, my head...” Aragorn wasn’t sure if he had said the words or only
thought them. His head felt as if it had been shoved into a box
ten times too small and batted about by a few cave trolls.
Everything was dark. He tried to open his eyes, but after a few
moments he realized that his eyes were open and it was dark because
it was nighttime. He started, suddenly disorientated by that
“Easy, Strider, easy.” Legolas’ reassuring voice helped him come slowly
back to full consciousness. “You should avoid confrontations with
falling structures, mellon-nín. I daresay that your family does not have a good history with them.”
Aragorn smiled ruefully, wincing as he pushed himself up on his elbows,
trying to get a better look around. “What happened? Where
The ranger found that he was on a hard earth floor, staring up into
darkened rafters of what might have been a barn or stable of some
kind. The smell of smoke and charred wood still lingered heavily
in the air. There was a constant, pattering sound that his
sluggish mind could not decipher until a soft peal of thunder told him
it was raining. He craned his neck around, trying to find his
“We are in a barn, near what is left of Beoma’s village,” Legolas
reported quietly. The elf was sitting cross-legged beside the
ranger on the hay-strewn floor. “This is one of the few
structures still standing. The orcs are gone.”
Aragorn could sense other presences around them in the dark and heard a
soft mutter of movement. “What of the others?” he asked.
“Is everyone all right?”
Legolas sighed softly. “Some are; some aren’t. The men
the village pursued the bulk of the orcs westward, back towards the
Misty Mountains. The creatures will think long and hard before
attacking these lands again. The women and children remained here
with a small guard. Word has been sent to the Carrock and the
other villages. Help should be arriving in a few days. They
will be all right until then, these are a strong people.”
“What of Beoma and Pejor?” Aragorn was almost afraid to ask. Legolas’ answering silence was not reassuring.
“I don’t know, Estel,” the elf admitted. “They are not dead, but
they are gone. A number of the villagers are missing. I
found their tracks leading away to the north. It seems to me
that, for whatever reason, some of the orcs retreated northward with a
group of prisoners long before the majority of the fighting was over.”
Aragorn rubbed his face, trying to clear the ringing from his
ears. “So they couldn’t be followed,” he said grimly. He
had seen those kinds of tactics in action before.
“So I would assume,” Legolas agreed. He kept his voice low so as
to not disturb the other people sleeping in the barn.
“Unfortunately they seem to have been successful. I was not able
to ascertain that they had gone a different way then that which the
rest of the orcs took until after the battle was over. By that
time all the fighters had already left in chase of the west-bound
orcs. There is no one here to go after the prisoners now and by
the time help comes from elsewhere...”
“They will be beyond reach and hope,” Aragorn finished grimly. He
pushed himself all the way upright and hung his head forward a little,
trying to work the tension out of his shoulders.
“That is what I fear,” Legolas concurred. “The Carrock is two
days journey from here. As soon as word reaches Grimbeorn of what
has happened to his kin he will come to their aid. I do not know
him, but I met his father Beorn once, a long time ago. They are
not men one should wish to have as an enemy. I do not doubt that
the orcs attempting to escape to the mountains will be slain, but I
fear any aid will come too late to help those taken north.”
“Then we must go after them ourselves,” Aragorn said decidedly.
Beoma and Pejor had been under his protection; he felt responsible for
them. Besides, he would suffer no one to be left captive in the
hands of orcs.
Legolas nodded. “I already assumed we would. I took the
liberty of gathering up such supplies as we shall need before the rain
began. We will be ready to leave at first light... if you are all right.”
“Me?” Aragorn flashed his friend a roguish smile. “You know how hard my head is.”
“Yes, I do.” Legolas raised one sculpted eyebrow at his
friend. “But you still had me worried. Finding you in that
flaming wreckage was no easy task, my friend. I feared you had
been consumed by the fire. You were lucky that it was only some
of the Beornings' personal things had trapped you when the building
collapsed. After we pulled you out, I could not wake you, but you
did not rest easy. I worried that you were more injured than you
appeared. You kept crying out something about the Corsairs.”
“Did I?” Aragorn honestly had no memory of any such thing. He
mused for a moment. “I’m sorry, Legolas. I suppose that the
last time I saw a village burn and was unable to stop it was in
Gondor.” The man fell silent. He had been unable to save
the prisoners taken in that raid so long ago. He vowed he would
do better by Beoma, Pejor and their people.
Legolas squeezed his friend’s arm. “Are you sure you are well?”
Aragorn nodded quickly. A little too quickly for his aching head,
which protested violently. He hid most of the pain from Legolas
under a smile as he eased himself back down unto the makeshift bed of
straw, thankful for the cover of dark. He really could use a bit
more rest to ease the pounding between his ears. The pain seemed
to abate some when he lied down. “I will be fine. I hate delaying
Legolas chuckled. “Strider, it is dark, it is raining and you are
injured. We would make no progress tonight. Rest for now,
and tomorrow there will be plenty of time to hunt orcs.”
He watched as the ranger nodded slowly and closed his eyes.
Relieved that the man seemed all right, the elf finally allowed himself
to rest. A small smile crept across Legolas’ face despite
their predicament. As usual, Estel had not accounted for the fact
that the prince could see him perfectly well in the dark. He had
watched the human wince when acting too quickly and noted how slow and
painful Aragorn’s movements were. There was no way Legolas would
have let the man leave in the middle of the night in his shape.
Tomorrow would be soon enough. He hoped that even the orcs
wouldn’t force their slaves to move in this weather.
It was still raining lightly the next morning when Aragorn and Legolas
began their northward trek. The fall air was chilly and the grey
rain cold, but the two friends moved swiftly under the cloudy skies
nonetheless. The tracks were still fairly fresh. Even with
the rain, Aragorn had no trouble following them northward. The
night’s rest had refreshed him and he was eager to begin. The orcs had
quite a head start on them, but the elf and ranger knew that if they
followed long and fast enough, they would eventually catch up with the
foul creatures and their prisoners.
Legolas pulled his hood up over his head to keep the drizzling rain out
of his hair and eyes as they hurried along the trail. He had
expected the orcs to eventually turn westward, towards the mountains,
but the trail continued to lead them further and further north.
The creatures seemed to be following the Anduin upstream. As the
great river dwindled smaller above the Rhimdoth, nearing its mouth in
the Grey Mountains, it became known as the Langflood.
“Where do you think they are taking them?” the prince asked after
several hours, when it became apparent that the orcs were not going to
turn sideways any time soon.
“I could not begin to guess,” Aragorn admitted. “It troubles me
that these orcs did not go the same direction as their comrades.
This whole situation is disturbing to say the least.”
Legolas could not have agreed more. “It is indeed. Since
Beorn and his kin took to watching the road between the high pass and
the Carrock, orcs have not dared to venture there. True, Beoma’s
village was small and relatively unguarded in comparison to some, but
Aragorn’s thoughts were running along the same path. The orcs had
either been overconfident, or they were seeking retaliation against the
Beornings for the woodsmen’s continued vigilance against them. If
the latter were true, then that lent added urgency to rescuing the
prisoners before the orcs could vent their rage upon them.
The elf and ranger pressed on even faster.
Suddenly Legolas paused and looked upward. He thought he had
either seen or felt a shadow flicker by overhead. Yet there was
“Legolas?” Aragorn turned back towards his friend. “What is it?”
Legolas shook his head and hurried forward to join the ranger once
more. “I don’t know,” the elf replied truthfully. “Perhaps
nothing. But we should make haste.”
Snow was falling upon the upper mountain reaches. It was still
early fall in the southlands, but here, in the frozen north, winter
came early and held the world in an iron grip until the mild spring set
Decent folk did not settled this far north: they did not dare. If
the bitter winters could not drive them away, the dark evil in the
brooding mountains would. Here and there, twisted iron spires and
broken rubble were buried under shifting earth and early snow.
The once great realm of Angmar lay in tumbled ruins, but evil still
lingered like a stain upon the land.
The greatest fortress of Angmar had never been destroyed, and for good
reason. It was built into the mountain itself: a vast castle etched out
of the living stone. From natural caverns tangled deep in the
roots of the mountain to the myriad labyrinths painstakingly carved out
of the upper core, the mountain had been converted into a dark
palace. Thousands of slaves had died excavating and shaping the
fortress. Their names and lives were now long forgotten, but the
echo of their misery lived on in the cold, cheerless halls.
Long, the mountain had stood empty, but the past century had slowly
seen lights kindling once more in the darkened window and the terror
that shrouded the area deepened.
At one such window, a dark figure stood, gazing out across the cold, barren reaches of his former realm.
The large pane of glass in front of him was frosted over with icy
tendrils that created a fern pattern on the window. It was
freezing outside, but the room’s single occupant would not have
known. He experienced neither heat nor warmth. He lived in
a world of shadows in which such things held little or no
meaning. He feared the searing touch of fire and the savage
clutch of rivers. Those elements of earth were the most painful
to his twilight-world existence. But he derived pleasure from
nothing, save the torment of others or the fulfilling of his master’s
will. It had been countless centuries since he had felt anything
but the aching, searing drive of his master. Sauron yearned only
to be reunited with the one thing that held the key to his power in its
keeping and that desire was echoed fiercely to all his minions.
Wincing slightly with the ache of Sauron’s devotion to finding the One
Ring, the Witch King growled softly. It was the only kind of
opposition to his Dark Lord’s overpowering hunger that he allowed
himself now. The years had fallen away, slipped by him, and he no
longer remembered the freedom that he used to have.
He glanced at the ornate ring on his own finger. The collar that
choked him, the noose that had squeezed all that was good from his
life. It was always with him, he never took it off now... A
reminder it was ... But a reminder of what?
Memory had passed, as had the desire to fight the power of the One
Ring. He no longer thought in patterns he could call his
own. He no longer moved through the world by his own volition, he
was owned now, owned, bought, sealed, corrupted... he was dead.
Vacant eye-sockets glanced back towards the window. He watched
the snow fall outside his castle, yet he remained untouched by the
beauty of the world. He was unfeeling of the world about him, but
still able to manipulate it skillfully. His fingers played with
the vial he held in his hand, idly tapping it against the table.
Here in his study, he felt free enough to shed the black clothes that
marked him as a Nazgûl. The sword that identified him as
the Witch King rested behind him over the mantel. His form was
barely visible when he was not clothed with the dark cloak and the
metal shoes and gloves that were his usual guise. To elvish eyes
he would have appeared as a deathly visage of a partly decayed corpse,
his once regal clothes torn and whipped about him by an eternal wind -
the breath of his master. But to the eyes of a human, should they
ever see him without his corporeal attire, he would seem only a black,
shadow-edged form that reeked of terror. For the most part the
Witch-king never walked in the world of men without his cloak, but here
he was safe and it felt good for a moment to be without the
restrictions that the clothes wrapped about him. His attention
returned to his previous thoughts as the wind battered the windowpane
in front of him.
His winged mount had brought good news from the south. The raid
against the Beornings had been successful. True, most, if not all
of the orcs he had sent out would likely have been destroyed, but he
cared little for them. The important thing was that his plans had
been set into motion. The prisoners had been spirited away... and
they were being pursued.
Each step brought his quarry closer. Soon he would begin finding
answers to the questions that had been building in his dark mind.
There were stirrings in the world of men and elves. Disturbing
tidings had reached him, not only from his fellow Wraiths in Dol
Guldur, but from other, more troubling sources. Some time back,
several of the wights he had long ago sent out to inhabit the ancient
barrows in Arnor had fled their way back to him. Shapeless and
quivering with rage, they bore tidings that their barrows had been
destroyed and that the corpses they had occupied had been reclaimed by
one of the Istari.
Captured and questioned, the wights had confirmed one another’s
stories. Disturbing though the news had been, what had piqued the
Wraith’s interest was not the meddling Istar, but rather the reports of
the elf and human who aided him. The wight that had trapped the
pair in its barrow provided some very interesting information.
The human it said, was strange... almost elvish. The elf had been
touched by darkness before. The wight was positive that he had
felt the lingering traces of its Master, the Witch-king’s touch upon
the fair being, like a healed scar.
The Witch-king was certain that this elf was the same one he had
captured so many years ago and nearly turned to his own devices.
He did not think it a very risky gamble to assume that the human was
the same one that had rescued the elf from him at that time or that
they were the same pair he had seen again in Mordor, near Minas
Morgul. Now it seemed they were keeping company with the Grey
Wizard and were responsible for the destruction of some of his servants
in the barrows.
Interesting... very interesting. Those two seemed intent on
popping up and mudding his plans. This did not please the Wraith.
Once was chance, twice might be coincidence, but having crossed paths
with that elf and human three times left the Nazgûl suspicious.
Since Saruman had crossed sides and begun communicating with Sauron,
the White Council was no more, and so a great threat to the shadow had
been removed... or so the Witch-king had supposed. Now he
wondered what the other members of the disbanded Council were
planning. What were the elf and human in the scope of the
Council’s plans? Spies? Or something more dangerous?
The Wraith intended to find out. He was especially interested in
the man... a ranger if he recalled correctly going by the name of
Strider. The evil being still remembered their first
encounter. The human was no ordinary man, he had sensed that even
then, but now he had even more reason to think thusly. The wight
he questioned had repeated that one fact over and over again,
steadfastly insisting there was something more to this ranger.
Yet none of them knew what it was.
The search for the Ring had yielded no new fruits in a very long
time. Many reluctantly suspected that it had washed down the
river and been lost in the great sea. Sauron had withdrawn to
Mordor, quietly rebuilding his strength and his troops. The Nine
were scattered about Middle-earth, awaiting the Dark One’s
instructions. Free to do as he wished for now, the Witch-king
desired to look into this matter more deeply. His spies brought
him word and for a time he waited and watched. He knew that the
elf was a wood-elf, but he and the human both seemed to have strong
ties to Imladris and it was there that he judged their purpose and
their weakness lay.
The Wraith had already made one covert attempt to disrupt whatever they
might be planning, but it had failed miserably. That was the last
time he left anything solely in the hands of a pack of slobbering orcs.
At first, word of an orc uprising near Rivendell had promised to
provide the Wraith with just the kind of opportunity he sought.
He had sent more wargs and orcs to swell their ranks and lent the dark
power of his will to their attacks. Guruth, for all his cunning,
would never have been able to breach Imladris’ protective barriers
without that kind of aid. A disruption of the power of the elves
in that area would have been a step forward for the minions of Mordor.
At the same time, the Nazgûl had thought to learn more of the elf
and ranger as well. Unfortunately, Guruth had not kept his end of
the bargain and proved only interested in his own means to an
In the end it had been a disgusting waste of effort. Now the
Witch-king was taking things into his own hands and there would be no
mistakes. Not this time. He had underestimated them too
often in the past. It had been a mistake to let the pair go
so easily the first time. He had erred in never thinking that the
elf he enslaved was important enough to look into the being’s mind and
pry from him his identity and the identity of those he called
friends. At that time it would have killed his new pet project
and he hadn’t wanted that... but now he regretted not having taken that
step. Time for him was as as idle as it was for the elves and so
it seemed only yesterday that the elf had been under his control and
the ranger in his grasp.
Yesterday and a lifetime ago.
The Wraith rose and paced the room. Restless... his soul was
restless and the unceasing pressure of his master’s desire for the One
Ring gave him no respite. His thoughts flowed darkly back to his
near success with the wood-elf. He had thought himself on the
verge of a new era, but it was not to be. Further experimentation
on other hapless captives over the years since then had shown him that
the Eldar were too resistant. They could be ensnared for a time,
but the poison eventually killed them before they could be notably
valuable. With significant modifications, however, he had found a
much more useful function for his poison with humans.
Still, his failure with the first elf galled him. It would be
good to have him here again, to rectify his past misjudgments.
There was just something about the elf and the ranger that barely
touched on a memory... If he could find out more from them, more about
them, he knew he would finally be able to get to the bottom of the
mystery. He suspected that if he ever did, it might even please
Returning to the task at hand, the Nazgûl wrapped his bony
fingers around the vial in his palm. He had a messenger leaving
for Dol Guldur. The human was bearing messages inquiring about
the other two Wraiths’ latest venture in tampering with the great
spider’s offspring. The Witch-king was assisting his comrades in
the breeding of a new species of the sentient beings, ones with a
specific bent that suited his fancy. Now, he would need his
courier to deliver another message as well, an invitation of
To make sure that all went as it should, he was also going to need
someone to watch over everything from afar and report back to him.
Standing from his desk and grasping his cloak, the Wraith threw the
coat on and stormed down the hallways, heading for his mount’s sleeping
quarters. The humans that populated the tower scurried out of his
way. The orcs that attended to him did likewise. No one
interfered with the Master when his mood was dark and no one spoke to
him unless it was required of them.
Entering the large, open cavern, the Witch-king approached the winged
beast that lay curled on the heated sands that comprised the floor of
the chamber. The great monster’s bedchambers were specially
heated through channels that had been cut in the mountain itself,
created to reroute portions of the thermal flows that had been
harnessed by the Witch-king when he had begun building his retreat
here. It had cost the lives of many slaves to create the channels
that heated the castle’s many floors and the upper chambers.
There were still caves and caverns below that the Nazgûl had
never felt compelled to explore. He knew the mountain was
occupied by more than just he and his servants. Signs of cave
trolls had been discovered near to the lower reaches and there were
other tell-tale signs of occupants that were darker and fouler than the
small-minded trolls. Yet the Nazgûl was unconcerned.
His presence was felt by all that lived within the sphere of his
touch. The fear that he invoked and the ill-temperament of his
winged companion kept anything from encroaching on his home.
The flying beast lazily shifted on the sands, turning its scaly head and
fixing iridescent eyes upon its master. The Nazgûl held no
fear for the mount. The beast yawned as the Witch-king approached and
began to speak in the Black Tongue. For a moment the creature
considered denying the Wraith. It had only just returned from a
surveillance mission. It was warm on the sands and the creature
did not want to leave. Accustomed to the arid lands of Mordor
where it was spawned, the creature hated this northern cold. As
always, however, its master’s will won out and the fell beast lurched
onto powerful hind legs, stretching thick leathery wings out and
arching its long neck. At least the trip back to the Misty
Mountains would be nice this time of year. It was still warm down
The creature loosened an ear-splitting, terror-inducing screech,
answering the Nazgûl’s request. Turning, it leapt off the
ledge of the open cavern. Catching the winter winds, it spiraled
high into the air, calling back to the Wraith. It would return
soon with more news, and it wanted its bed kept hot. With a dark
smile that was invisible to the naked eye, the Nazgûl walked
slowly back down into the tower. When his mount got back it would
find its bed hot, he would make sure. He always rewarded faithful
service. There was much for which to prepare. Calling to his
servants, he descended the spiral staircase and entered the main living
“Send me Tynair,” the Wraith commanded, summoning his courier.
“Tell him I have some additional instructions before he leaves.” The
Nazgûl hissed softly in satisfaction as his slaves scuttled
to obey him. He actually had something to look forward to and
that was a feeling he hadn’t know in years.
His dark heart laughed and a wave of fear expanded through the castle,
encompassing all that lived there. Angmar would host guests soon.