Between Darkness and Dawn

Chapter 2: A Baited Snare

by Cassia and Siobhan

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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 forward motion.  

“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 minutes. 

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 child.  

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 closest orc.  

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 fray.  

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 encouraging.  

“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 prisoners away.  

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 here.  

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 swinging.  

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 realization. 

“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 are we?” 

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 friend.  

“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 of 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 though...” 

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 even so...” 

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 nothing there. 

“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 it free.  

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. 

Interesting indeed. 

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 end. 

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 his master. 

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 sorts.  

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 there. 

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 areas. 

“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.