This story was inspired by a visit to the village of Eyam, Derbyshire. Known as "The Plague Village," it was the scene of horror and misery in 1665 and continued for fourteen months.
In the corridors and halls of Angband, the whispers that usually permeated the place were more urgent and febrile than usual. The prevailing tale was that Morgoth was planning to wreak vengeance against the Elves and Men, and was pouring all his efforts into his latest plan. Orcs and monsters of every kind scattered in panic as a fearsome sight met their eyes – the Balrog Angwë, flanked by a pair of large, brutish Orcs, was proceeding with great speed to his master's study chamber in the bowels of Angband.
The escorting Orcs were trying to make themselves look important by holding their heads up high and marching purposefully, but their efforts fell flat as Angwë hastened along, his great bulk filling the narrower corridors, pushing over everything in his path. They scrambled to keep up with him, all the while attempting to maintain what dignity they could; but in Angband, only the most senior officers of Morgoth were able to do so.
Angwë made his way into the room where his master waited for him, looming over the terrified Orcs who had come with him. The Balrog was in his usual form, a massive dark shadow of horror dragging darkness with it. It was ever Morgoth's custom to send Orcs to fetch his minions and bring them before him to remind them that he was their master indeed, and could give or take rank as he willed. Petty slights like this were used to test the hearts and minds of his followers. Those who proved to be dissatisfied with his methods were quickly brought to heel – or to their doom.
The Balrog walked into the presence of Morgoth and bowed, then stood silently waiting for his master to speak, for Morgoth would not tolerate anyone speaking without his permission. He often summoned his servants to his office and left them standing there for ages to test them. Any signs of impatience were punished, for Morgoth demanded total unquestioning obedience from all of his followers.
Morgoth turned his back as Angwë came in, and left him standing there for a while as he went through his cabinets reading through his records and pretending to examine a set of artefacts brought to him by an Orc raiding party. Hours passed, and Angwë stood in his place like a statue, waiting to be acknowledged.
Finally, Morgoth looked up, tiring of his game. “Angwë,” he said as he turned to his Balrog, “I have a task for thee. The shame of being bested by that woman Lúthien and her cohorts is ever before me. It taketh the full measure of my thought and filleth all my days with loathing and dread.”
The Dark Lord paused for a moment, then slumped into the chair behind his desk. “It cannot be borne!” he roared, thumping the desk with the side of his mighty fist.
One of the Orcs fainted. The other one stood there gibbering in terror, too frightened to say or do anything. A long pause filled the room like smoke in a burning house. Morgoth flicked his fingers at the fallen Orc, and the other Orc dragged his comrade out of the room with all the speed he could muster.
Scowling, his red eyes narrowed and his harsh, grating voice dropped to an undertone, the Dark Lord continued, “I have a plan to wreak my vengeance upon them, and thou wilt be the bringer of doom upon mine enemies. For I will not have them laugh at me behind my back. They whisper about me, Angwë, even here in my domain, and say that I am weak and spent, like a Man in his dotage. They are turning against me – my servants – who used to hold me in such awe they dared not speak my name.”
Angwë said nothing. He just stood there, unmoving and immovable. Morgoth found himself doubting whether the Balrog was even listening to him, but these days he found he doubted everything.
“I must regain control,” said Morgoth in a commanding tone, “and have my will wrought upon this Middle-earth. Sauron cannot help me, he hideth in Taur-nu-Fuin licking his wounds. Thou shalt aid me in this endeavour, Angwë, to punish those responsible for the outrage against mine honour. I command thee to make a miasma that will cause sickness to arise in Men. If thou canst do some hurt to the Elves thereby, do so. But without Men to aid them, the Elves will soon lose their foothold on this land, and all hope will be gone for them. Canst thou do this?”
With a flick of his wings, Angwë spoke. “I shall do mine utmost to do thy will in this matter, O lord,” he replied. “I know little of the workings of these things, but I have seen things that can poison...”
“No!” shouted Morgoth. “Not poison. This thing shall be done to make the sight of Men loathsome to the Elves, who like fair-seeming things. When they behold the foul appearance of their friends, they will turn from them in disgust, and hold them in contempt for evermore.”
“Aye, lord,” replied Angwë, with a bow.
There was something in the bow Angwë made that raised suspicion in Morgoth's mind. Was he taking this seriously, or was the Balrog merely pretending to be obedient to his lord's will? The idea! Fury seized the Dark Lord like a choke-chain. “Angwë,” he asked in a low growl, “how dost thou intend to proceed?”
The Balrog looked straight at him and answered, “I shall go and observe them, my lord, and see what maketh them ill, then I shall multiply the strength of that agent, whatever it may be, and pour it forth upon them in foul vapours that shall issue forth from this place. Thy name shall be dread among them once more.”
Morgoth held his servant's gaze for a moment, weighing his apparent loyalty. No-one had spoken ill of Angwë, who was always in his workshop devising weapons and working for the glory of his master. Still, Angwë's desire for the mountain he had made still lingered in his heart, and while the promise of having it returned to him one day had kept him loyal thus far, the failure to fulfil it might make the Balrog reconsider his position – and possibly rebel. 'All of them desert me, for their hearts are full of wickedness and envy,' he mused. 'They wish for things they have no right to desire, and must needs be restrained from their depredations.'
As he eyed his servant, Morgoth sank into a self-pitying reverie in which all the events of the ages played out. The frown on his hideous battle-scarred face deepened, tugging at the never-healing burns on his forehead. Pain shot through his head, and he moved to wrench his iron crown from his head. It was too heavy, a burden that kept him in a cage of pain that weighed him down and made each day more awful than the one before.
The Silmarils that remained were still burning him, their holy power working through the metal of the crown, but he would not give them up because of what he had endured to get them. Everyone wanted to steal them, and for that reason he could not give them up, however much they hurt him. He had seen how the others – those ingrates! – looked at them, desiring them for themselves. Well they could look if they wanted to, but he would never give them up. Never! They had cost him too much to be simply cast aside.
The Dark Lord held Manwë, the leader of the Valar, responsible for this. Had he not placed a curse on them so that only Fëanor, who had made them, could have them and hold them without being burned? That Elf had felt the heat of Morgoth's wrath for that, and paid for his crime in full, but now his sons wanted their father's jewels, and would not end their efforts to take them from him. They had gone to everyone who would listen to their complaints and convinced them to join in league against him. Over and over again they had kept up their wailing and gnashing of teeth about how he had wronged them, and done everything they could to make trouble for him. Could they not just go and make more jewels? Why did they have to take his? What had Fëanor endured for them? He was unworthy of them. He deserved to have them taken from him. Fëanor and all of his minions deserved to be punished for all they had done to Morgoth, and the Dark Lord knew just how to do it. He turned to Angwë, who was still standing there waiting to be dismissed.
“Go, Angwë – be thou the architect of my vengeance. Bring a plague upon them all. Slay them with the breath of Angband!” he ordered.
“I will, my lord,” replied the Balrog. He bowed and took his leave.
Morgoth smiled. He had many enemies, but they would surely be fewer in number when his plans had come to pass. And after the plague, there were dragons and other monsters to unleash upon Middle-earth. He would be the master of all the world, and everyone who had ever crossed him would be made to pay for it.