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46
The Ritual Disturbed

Thanks to RiverOtter for the Beta

The Ritual Disturbed


Ah, it had captured the one bearing the Servant of Morgoth’s token, a small focus of Power and great dread and will entrapped in a Ring of metal. It had dragged the Ringbearer and his companions into its small, hollow hall, both enjoying and hating the presence of living beings about it. The bodies of those who’d once slept in this tomb had long since fallen to dust, and the little that remained of their essences that had lingered in this place had held but contempt for the wights that sought to despoil their mortal remains and last resting places. When the wights had been bound within the great downs area that held the barrows of Cardolan those spirits had watched the wroth of the wights be spent as they struggled against the bindings, and had simply proceeded to abandon this place to the newcomers. The boundaries set on the wights were powerful; none who lived within Arda, however, could control the destinies of those who were the blessed dead. These did not so much pass the boundaries that held the evil spirits as they simply went otherwise, somewhat at right angles from all visible bounds, for they were no longer caught in the dimensions of Arda and were able to turn directions the wights had not been able to perceive for better than the three ages of the Sun.

But these four were still living, and might be used to wreak great mischief. The wights of the Barrowdowns had been fully wakened and riled by the approach of the Ringwraiths. Angmar himself, who had first induced them to enter the tumuli, was in the number that now sought these through their lands to the west; the wight who’d claimed this tomb both wished to do him worship and to punish him for bringing it here to be so bound.

Cold be heart and hand and bone....

The wight found the bonds of corporeality in these living victims pleased it--at least for the moment. It had rendered them unconscious, setting on them as dreams what memories it had been able to garner from the spirits of those who’d been buried here--warrior husband, fair lady wife, hapless son only wakening to the needs of his folk when the assault came by night that had left them dead. That assault had been beaten off by others, a costly small victory that only stayed the final defeat by the Enemy’s agents a few more years at most. One of these four was most susceptible to the influence of such memories, and twitched as he relived the experiences of the lord, lady, and princely son as they awoke to the fact they had set insufficient guard to long survive the night. Like dolls the wight stripped the four of them, setting its will on the fragile nature of their clothing and seeing it all dissipated, leaving a few coins and oddments about their now-pale bodies, and the Ring lying on the torso of the one who’d carried It in a pouch formed by specially wrought folds of the clothing itself. Such a practical arrangement momentarily intrigued the wight, but then was forgotten as it planned the ritual designed to draw Angmar here.

Were Angmar himself to enter this place, it wondered briefly as it found gravecloths it had carefully preserved and dressed its victims again as a child might be expected to play with dolls, would he also be caught by the bindings set upon the Downs by the sons of Eärendil and the Istar? Angmar bore one of the Rings of Power wrought so long ago by the Elves of Eregion aided by the Servant of Morgoth; would the power of the ring he bore yet in his fleshless state, augmented by that of the one that lay on the torso of this one here--the wight paused to give what passed as a jab at the body of the Ringbearer and saw with satisfaction the body pale the more--would it be enough to bring down the boundaries and allow the wights held here to flee this place at long last?

Then there was a moment of other-sight, as it looked at the True Shapes of those who lay here--a Youth of mischief and wisdom, one of Authority, a shining Guardian whose weapons went beyond mere blades and points, and the mithril shining of one of those great spirits who stood ever against the darkness. A Star-Child--here, within the mortal lands? But then the vision faded, and he saw merely the mortal forms that for them, caught as they were within the world of Arda, now defined them--simple, foolish Halflings, not educated in the great wisdoms, barely aware of the eternal struggle against balance the wight and its kind, led and encouraged for so long by Morgoth himself, had ever fought since they’d fled from the Source of Light. And, having spent their own Light, they’d ever envied that held by other spirits, whether moving freely upon the winds or caught within corporeal bodies. Well, although this wight had learned long ago it could not take the Lights of others any more than it could touch the current Master’s Ring, yet the Wight would see the ones before it sent back beyond the Bounds of Arda if it could be done that they not reach the fullness of their potential and serve to restore the balance once more as it could see they were intended.

...Cold be body under stone.

It had laid the three together on the stone table where once lord and lady had been placed side by side. The Ringbearer’s form, now dressed in fragile garments that had been wrought to show forth the potential of the youth they’d once clothed, lay upon the narrower stone bed on which the body of that youth had been placed. Further beyond them had been the chamber in which the father of the lord, who had been one of the greatest warriors and rulers of Cardolan, had been buried--the Wight had taken that for his own dwelling place, and little enough remained there to remind any of that one at all. But it pleased the wight to bring out the jewelry it had gathered from the dust when it had swept the barrow clean of the reminders of the bodies the barrow had been raised to protect. It set ancient rings upon the fingers of its victims, and marvelously wrought circlets upon their brows, placing the one once worn by the lady upon the head of the one meant to be the golden Guardian. A torque it found and twisted about the neck of the Ringbearer. An arm bracelet once worn by the past king it placed about the upper arm of the one who still dreamed the attack on the home of the king’s son and his family.

They cannot see what lies ahead....

Weapons it brought forth and settled about the bodies. Too small these to carry swords; nay, the long knives buried foolishly here to arm hands without life to wield them it lay at their feet instead. Then it smiled--in the manner of smiling amongst wights--to set the oldest and most fragile of the blades by the Ringbearer himself. A parody of a royal burial it sought to perform, with the victims anything but royal or warriorlike--or, as yet, dead. Ah, but that could be remedied easily enough.

It searched and found the sword once borne by the king himself, wiped at it with the remnants of the King’s shroud, and settled it over the throats of the three who lay there together on the larger bier, then settled down to envisioning precisely how it would call Angmar here. At last the ritual was in its mind, and one last time it looked down upon the bodies of the four of them. The one open to the dreams had gone deathly still, his twitching at last halted. Good. Now it prepared to perform the rite--only to realize it must take on a corporeal form to do so.

This was its first true stop, for there was but one corporeal form it could take, and such a ludicrous one--that of a vague, floating torso with one extraordinarily long arm and a bony hand, its fingers particularly long and skeletal in nature. It was this form it had taken when it had followed Morgoth from Aman to Middle Earth, and it had been in that form it had been caught for the time He had sat upon his throne in Angband. The form was eerie enough, but of little use save to torture and frighten captives held within Morgoth’s dungeons. But when the greatest of Elves were held there, those who could not be broken to become orcs, they had laughed at the form in spite of their captivity; and when Beren was brought there they joked that it was what had become of his missing hand. A bitter jest, but one in which the Man had shared--while he could.

When at last Angband had fallen, that form had finally been destroyed and its spirit freed; but it had hidden itself from Manwë’s winds beneath the stones of Thangorodrim itself, coming forth only when the armies come from Aman had gone back again. And so in time it, greatly diminished from its original purpose and what it had been under Morgoth, had been called with others of its kind by Angmar to this place, intended to grow once again in power and terror until they might again wreak destruction on the lands of the living--only to be bound here, helpless once more.

It settled itself on the cracked stone table where the king’s body had lain, and worked on cloaking itself in the hröa it had once taken to itself. At last it managed, and it flexed the bony hand that had caused screams of terror and revulsion in so many of the Master’s captives. Good--that hand worked to its will. So it began singing the invocation it had crafted, focused itself within the hand, and began creeping out of the king’s chamber toward the hilt of the King’s sword, ready to use the power of their deaths to summon the Lord of the Ringwraiths here to break the bounds. Angmar might have the Ring--once those bounds were broken and the wights allowed to burst free once more.

Only as it reached for the hilt it felt a great pain instead as the solidity of the hröa it had drawn about itself was cut--and by the Ringbearer himself, clutching the Ring tightly in one hand as with the other he wielded that Dúnedain-wrought blade. The wight felt the hand fall, helpless in its moment of agony. It had forgotten just how much pain was involved in having hröa damaged! It twitched, rolling for the moment beneath the stone table where the Ringbearer knelt, having defied both the influence of the wight and that of the Ring he held.

The Ringbearer at last stood upon the floor of the barrow, but on the far side of the table from the wight where it focused in the hand. It sought to drag itself toward the Halfling, only to stop when, having lifted the King’s sword and cast it aside, he began to sing.

How had the Halfling learned that song--a simple one, but one that was in tune with the Song Itself? Had it been capable of such a thing, the hand that now embodied the wight would have covered its ears, for no longer could it delight in the Song any more than it could do so with Light and Breath.

And the Halfling’s song was answered as Iarwain approached. That name was one of the few the wight remembered of those who’d shared its beginning. One of the greatest of the lesser Singers, one who in the Time of Making had followed in the train of Irmo and had been a fellow of Melian.

But when Arda was at last formed, Iarwain had broken from service to the Vala, having become enchanted by the mortal lands and the fragile beauty they possessed. He’d entered into Middle Earth and there had taken on the limitations of the form he held now, the form intended for the greater and lesser Children of Iluvatar. Almost he’d forgotten his origins--almost, but not completely. And never had he forgotten how to Sing----

The wight managed to roll its hand upon its fingers, and used them to scurry into the further chamber, hiding beyond the cracked bier of the king, until....

*******


The barrier the wight had constructed at the doorway to the further burial chamber fell, and into the chamber Iarwain entered, a blaze of righteous Wrath. And at last the Wight was able to move partly into the shadow realm of Possibilities, although it was still tied to the corporeal form of the hand. Well, if it had thought Iarwain’s dedication to the form he’d taken so long ago at the wakening of Arda kept him from following, it was now proven mistaken.

What did you think to do? Iarwain demanded.

Too long have I been caught between worlds, the wight answered him. Too long have I and my fellows been bound within the Barrowdowns. We seek release.

And to find it you would slay a part of the Hope of Middle Earth?

What do you care?

You served under Morgoth, but I never did so. But if Sauron rises where his Master failed, he will seek to allow Morgoth to enter in again, and all in the end will perish utterly. I would not give up the hope of eventual return to Eru’s Presence for the petty desires of the likes of you.

Petty!
demanded the wight in its turn.

I chose my own form of service to the Creator of all, and I know the delight and grief of it. Never will I turn from serving the Song, Iarwain declared, and he smiled, drawing to himself Light and Song as weapons the wight could not resist.

It fled, snapping back into the hand behind the king’s bier, and there Iarwain followed him, a smile of disgust and triumph on his face.

“You say you seek freedom? Then freedom shall be granted to you!” he murmured, then began singing in the Joy of Life Granted as he brought those yellow boots of his down upon the hapless hand.

In the realm of possibilities the wight cowered as Iarwain’s great weapon wrought of Song and Light clove it, and at last it cried out as indeed it was ignominiously freed of its last hold on its hröa and its ties to Arda.

*******


Standing guard over his fellow Hobbits where Tom Bombadil had shooed them outside the barrow, Frodo heard the shriek given as the Wight at last was destroyed, and he watched in horror as the roof to the barrow fell in upon itself. The fall of the roof, however, appeared to have offered the Master no harm of any note as he emerged from amongst the fallen stones and turves, still singing nonsense, one arm loaded with treasures, dusting his shoulders off with his feathered hat. Swiftly he bounded to the sides of the four of them, turning them momentarily away from the burial mound to the sight of what he spilled upon the ground that they not see the final rising of shadow from it as what had been intended as a servant of Light, Song, and Breath was blown apart by the latter, having been conquered by the former. But there was a secret portion of Frodo’s spirit that detected that passing anyway, and recognized the phenomenon a year later when it occurred again on the steps of Bag End, now putting meaning to the reports of the great shadow-shape, crowned by lightnings, that had risen from the shards of Barad-dûr.

As for Tom himself, he paused but one moment in the ruins of the mound, caught for an instant in the vision of the True Shapes of these four, but particularly that of the Prince of Stars who stood guard over the other three. Only a few others of such had he seen, one of them the young prince who’d been laid in this tomb originally, slain before he could come to his promise. But one other had come here not all that long ago as the immortals counted time, a mere sixty years or so as the Hobbits and Breefolk knew it, a young Man of the Dúnedain, son of Kings crowned and uncrowned, the King-to-be if all came out aright.

And here was the twin to the other, the other he knew walked abroad through the mortal lands. As he turned the four Hobbits away from the dissolution of one who’d been intended to serve all of Eä, Bombadil sensed once more that other Prince of Stars waiting outside the boundaries of the Old Forest, waiting for these to come forth. Well, he thought as he sang to call the errant ponies and his own Fatty Lumpkin to himself, he would see to it that the one waiting out there wouldn’t do so any longer than was needful.

“Come, my merry folk,” he began, as once again Tom Bombadil sought to beguile them to their destinies, distracting and instructing and confounding them with his capering and song and mixture of joy and nonsense that was in truth sense beyond understanding.

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