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32
Seeking to Answer Questions of Identity

Seeking to Answer Questions of Identity


They met next in Mirkwood, no one feeling particularly comfortable meeting in Laurelindórenan considering the emptiness of Khazad-dûm with its unknown resident horror.

“And you cannot describe the thing?” demanded Saruman.

“None who has seen it has lived to describe it,” Celeborn said simply. “The Dwarves refer to it simply as Dúrin’s Bane, and speak of intense heat and smoke.”

“A fire-drake, then,” Saruman suggested.

“Perhaps,” Gandalf answered with a troubled shrug. “Although I have no memory of any reports of a great dragon being imprisoned under the pillars of the Middle Earth.”

“Nor do we remember such a thing,” Galadriel said. “Some demon creatures of Morgoth’s were said to have been so imprisoned by the Valar and their greatest servants….”

Saruman was shaking his head. “I ask you,” he said, “would Celebrimbor have settled himself so close to any demon of Morgoth? He was born in the Blessed Lands, after all, and was trained to recognize such evil creatures from a young age.”

“Yet he failed to recognize Sauron when he came in the guise of Annatar,” Celeborn pointed out. “Ereinion Gil-galad, Círdan, and Elrond would not treat with Annatar, but Celebrimbor accepted him as he presented himself.”

“Although we detected that Annatar was not truly wholesome, yet we did not speak out effectively against him either, my husband,” Galadriel pointed out.

Elrond spoke up. “You avoided him at all costs as I remember it, and counseled against allowing him to take part in the government of Ost-in-Edhil or to wander throughout the realm unattended.”

“For as much good as it did,” sighed Celeborn. “In spite of the great love we held for Celebrimbor, yet he remained one given most to the study of crafting. When offered special training in the forging of tokens of power he was easily tempted to ignore the warnings of his own heart as well as that of his friends and counselors. The desire to perhaps become as great as had been Fëanor overwhelmed his caution.”

Thranduil eyed the Lady Galadriel with eyes that did not fully approve of her presence in his halls. “This lady was also born in the Blessed Lands, as was her kinsman Celebrimbor. I would expect that she should have been just as sensitive—or insensitive--to the presence of imprisoned evil as would be he who founded Eregion, yet neither did she demure from the placing of his capitol where he built it, near the doors to what has become the Black Pit.”

“Evil is close to one’s doors no matter where one is within the Mortal Lands,” Galadriel sniffed. “Your land here now boasts neighbors surely as terrible as whatever creature hides within the darkness of Moria, if not worse. Is it not said that Khamûl appears to spend most of his time within Dol Guldur, debasing himself before the Necromancer, serving him even as he once served Sauron? It is true that these did not dwell there when your father founded his realm, but where in this marred world can we find any placefree from the presence of evil creatures willing to ravage our lands?”

“Most likely not even within the Hobbits’ Shire,” noted Gandalf.

“I must agree that there are few evils that reach that land,” noted Gildor Inglorion. “The Dúnedain of Arnor do well at protecting the borders of the settled lands within Eriador, and especially those of the Breelands and those of the Periannath. But nonetheless evil lies ready to enslave even those relative innocents, should the watch on their lands ever fail.”

“The evil creatures spawned by Dol Guldur and the deeps beneath the mountains certainly make their way north of Thranduil’s realm,” Radagast said. “The skin changers fight them as they must, although they have little enough to do with other peoples. And those of the Éothéod are too oft assaulted by those both from north and west, and from the south as well, and on occasion even by those from the east. There are nomadic folk from the northeast who on occasion will stray into the ranges of the horsemen, stealing horses and taking slaves and captives, often seeking to steal maidens and younger mothers with small children, apparently to take them forcibly as wives. As for the woodmen who dwell near me on the northern ranges of the great forest, they are perhaps less troubled than many others, protected as they are by the Elves to the south and hidden in single homes and small villages amongst the trees where they are easily missed by passing raiders. Only the Dwarves of the Iron Hills seem to have little trouble at this time from orcs and mannish raiders.”

“What news do you hear from the Men east and south of your forest?” Saruman asked Thranduil.

“For the most part they are able to maintain a wary peace with those from Rhûn, although now and then smaller settlements on the eastern shores of the Long Lake will suffer raids. The town of Esgaroth appears to prosper, however, and there are some who trade with merchants and craftsmen from Rhûn and even on occasion from Khand as well as with Gondor. And now that Thráin has settled under Erebor where he rules as the King under the Mountain a new settlement of Men is growing on the western side of the mountain. These Men trade mostly with the Dwarves, but also will deal with those from Esgaroth and with my own agents. Rarely are these threatened by anyone, or so it appears for now.”

“Dol Guldur does not send its creatures so far?” the White Wizard asked.

“No, the orcs, spiders, and other evil beings seem to prefer building strongholds in the shadows of the forest. We destroy these as we discover them, but we find we can never quite keep up with their proliferation.”

Saruman looked from face to face before looking to Galdor from Mithlond for whatever report he might have to make.

“More have come to the Havens seeking passage to Eressëa since the victory over Angmar by the Dúnedain of Arnor,” the Elf told them all. “This should not be, with such a lessening of the Shadow in the north. Our Lord Círdan advises that the identity of the Master of Dol Guldur should be ascertained. He grows in power, and too much evil seems to come from his fell hands and halls. The Nazgûl appear to answer to him and to aid him at his will, and Khamûl has served as his primary lieutenant there in his keep.”

“Then Círdan sees that the Necromancer is most likely yet another guise taken on by Sauron?” asked Gandalf.

Saruman made a derisive noise. “Why must all look upon the Necromancer and imagine him the Dark Lord come again?” he demanded. “Do you think that only Sauron is capable of such evil?”

“Then who else might it be?” asked Celeborn. “Whosoever he might be, he remains apparently unchanged for many lives of Men, even taking into consideration the longer lives granted to the descendants of Númenor. He hides himself ever from the view of others, but draws to himself what evil creatures he can, then sends them out to trouble all others. He breeds orcs of new kinds, apparently twisting all he can capture of the Children of Ilúvatar to follow his will.”

“Do you think that no others besides Sauron could breed orcs?” asked Saruman, his voice reasonable. “He was not the first to do so, after all.”

“An art perfected by Morgoth,” admitted Thranduil. “But how many other than Sauron has ever followed such a program, think you? And who other than Sauron was close enough to the Dark Enemy to learn such skills?”

“And you think that no one could learn to do such a thing untutored by Morgoth?” Saruman asked, leaning back in his seat.

“And how should they learn such arts if not at the feet of Morgoth?” asked Thranduil. “Who else has studied such things?”

“I think I should look into such studies,” Saruman said. “Perhaps if we can learn how it was done, we can find a manner of undoing such evil.”

“If such study does not twist the student to evil in and of itself,” noted Radagast disapprovingly.

“And how,” Saruman asked, reaching for his goblet of wine, “shall those of good will be turned to evil?”

“All too easily,” Galadriel said, cradling her own drink between her hands. “Fëanor was not always given to the idea that the Valar sought to hold our people in thrall, after all.”

Gandalf added, “Even Sauron did not begin as an evil being, not in the days he studied at the feet of Aulë with so many of his brothers. Only after he gave over his fealty to Morgoth did he fall.”

“And was not Morgoth himself equal to Manwë Súlimo there in the beginning?” asked Celeborn.

“If he was not superior,” agreed his wife.

Saruman shrugged eloquently as he sipped at his goblet. “Perhaps,” he murmured noncommittally, wiping his mouth with sleeve. “But even if the Necromancer should prove to be Sauron in yet another guise as has happened before, yet he can do little more than harry the peace of others unless his Ring should somehow come into his hands again.”

“Which is always a possibility,” Gandalf observed practically. “Rivers change their courses, and coastlines rise and fall, as has been said before. If any of his creatures should happen upon the Ring, imagine how swiftly It would return to his hand, and what evil he should bring to bear upon the rest of Middle Earth.”

Saruman was shaking his head. “That will not happen,” he pronounced with authority. “The Ring cannot have remained within Middle Earth, not with the floods known upon the Anduin again and again over the ennin since It was cut from his hand. Do you think I have not studied upon this? Not all of my time I have spent outside the realm of Gondor has been passed in Rhûn and those lands beyond it. I have spent time on the banks of the Great River, watching its patterns, learning its rhythms. I tell you that the Ring has passed to the depths of the Sea and so cannot return to trouble Middle Earth again.”

Radagast fixed the chief of his order with a considering examination. “How is it that you failed to tell us of this before?” he asked.

Saruman glared at his brown fellow. “And since when must I answer to others, or speak of all I have learned or come to know to such as you?”

“If we are to work together to strengthen Middle Earth against the wiles of the dark enemies…” began Radagast.

But the White Wizard interrupted him. “Do you question my wisdom?” His voice was imperious.

Radagast’s eyes dropped to his own wine, and he gave no answer.

Gandalf’s eyes went between one of his fellows and the other before he turned his gaze to the carvings upon the wall beyond Saruman’s shoulder. He took a deep draft of his own wine and kept his own counsel.

Galadriel stretched her neck before stating, “But we cannot be certain that this happened. Lord Ulmo would not be pleased to guard such a token within his realm.”

“Yet he holds at least a Silmaril and several Palantirí in his keeping. Why should he refuse to commit such a thing as the Ring to his treasuries at the bottom of the Sea?” Saruman’s voice was utterly reasonable, and none could think of any counter to his argument.

“So, how is it that we could think to learn just who it is that is known as the Necromancer?” asked Galdor.

“The only manner in which I can see that his identity can be confirmed would be if someone should slip into his keep to spy beneath his mask,” Gandalf said.

Celeborn gave a decided snort. “As if anyone should agree to do such a thing, much less could think to succeed in such an enterprise.”

“I could not do so,” agreed his wife.

Celeborn smiled at her, reaching out to toy with one of her golden tresses. “No one could fail to notice you should you attempt to approach the doors to his fortress, Vanimelda.”

Radagast was shuddering. “I would not dare to even come within sight of the windows of Dol Guldur.”

Thranduil was nodding. “Our people can come only so close and no closer to the empty land around the tower before orcs and wargs come forth from its doors to assail them. I fear that he is too aware of the nature of Elves to allow us to approach him in secret.”

“Then perhaps someone who is not an Elf should seek to enter the precincts of Dol Guldur,” Saruman pronounced, one brow cocked in challenge.

The council went on for some time longer with no decisions made. After three days those who had come dispersed, Elrond and Gandalf accompanying the Lord and Lady of Lothlórien back across the Anduin to the Golden Wood. The Grey Wizard had been quiet for the last few days. “And of what do you think so assiduously, my friend?” asked Galadriel as they climbed at last to the level on which the talan for their home had been built.

“I am wondering just how I should manage to enter Dol Guldur undetected,” was Gandalf’s answer.

Elrond raised a single brow. “You would think to try such a ploy?”

“Someone must do so,” the Wizard answered. “And I am no Elf. Never has Sauron—or whoever the Necromancer might prove to be—faced one of us of the Wizards directly, or so it is to be hoped. I would think that I had some chance of at least approaching the doors, and perhaps might have the best chance to enter the place.”

“And if he recognizes the Ring you wear?” asked Elrond.

Galadriel was shaking her head. “He never touched them, and we refused to wear them during the years he ruled Mordor ere Isildur robbed him of his own Ring. He does not have their feel, or he would know for certain where each is kept and who keeps it. I suspect that the reason that he built his keep upon the ruins of Oropher’s first home was because he believed that Thranduil possibly received one of the three, and that it was to protect it that he had his new refuge excavated in the stone hill in the midst of the forest. He has searched for that supposed Ring for some time, or for signs that it is being used. But he has never been certain where the third Elven Ring has been kept. If he is Sauron, the Necromancer most likely realizes by now that one is within Laurelindórenan and that the second is within Imladris, since evil creatures have a difficult time even approaching either place. But the third—Círdan has never sought to hide his realm, nor has Thranduil. Nor has Edhellond ever been hidden from anyone. And I suspect he would find the thought that one of the wandering tribes such as Gildor Inglorion rules should shelter the third would be laughable. I think that he should have divined by this time that Thranduil does not hold the third Ring, and he suspects that either Celeborn and I are each Ringbearers, or that the third is worn perhaps by Glorfindel or Erestor in Imladris. I do not doubt he accepts that Elrond wears one of them, and that he suspects I carry the second.”

“I do not think I would dare to use Narya within the Necromancer’s own grounds,” Gandalf said, “although it could prove helpful in approaching the place undetected. Rarely have I invoked its power to conceal its bearer, but I might just try it this time. But Saruman is right—we will not know for certain who our enemy is if no one seeks to peer behind his disguise.”

*******


He remained within the Golden Wood as a guest long after Elrond departed northward with his wife and daughter, planning his campaign with Galadriel’s help, practicing concealment, and working on a disguise of his own. But once he left the protective girdle of Nenya’s power he did not go directly eastward, choosing to go south first to see how things ran in Gondor, then passing through what remained of Rhovanion and visiting for a time in Thráin’s new realm of Erebor.

“It is a good place,” Thráin told him, “and the Mountain has been most hospitable to us. There are gold, silver, and gemstones to be found as well as iron of exceptional quality. And it was here that I found the greatest gem that any of our people has ever discovered. I have worked upon it, faceting it with the greatest of care, so that it catches the least amount of light no matter which face one sees, and reflects it with great splendor. I have named it the Arkenstone, the Heart of the Mountain, and it holds the luck of the people of Erebor.”

“You and your people are content here?” the Wizard asked.

Thráin shrugged. “We are, Tharkûn, or at least for the most part. My wife does not like it particularly here, for as yet there are few enough women who dwell here, and not all of the amenities have been finished. She says she is happier when she stays with our kinfolk in the Iron Hills, which is where her sister lives. She is there now, having left a few weeks ago accompanied by our son Thorin. She will return before the winter comes, should she not choose to stay through until the spring thaws.

“Ah, enough of that—come and see what we are doing! The great hall where we intend to hold our markets is now under construction. It will not rival the great second hall of the Dwarrowdelf in Khazad-dûm, but it shall be finer than anything in the Iron Hills.”

Gandalf had to agree that what he saw was particularly fine and beautifully finished. Much of the matrix of the stone of the Lonely Mountain had a greenish cast that gave the caverns a feeling of liveliness and that accepted carving well. Many of the pillars of the great hall were carved to resemble tree trunks with lamps set amidst branching limbs, again adding to the feeling that one was out under a canopy of trees in full leaf. The ceilings were not as high as had been true in much of Khazad-dûm, but this somehow made the spaces more comfortable and intimate.

“When the women and children were sent away to safety after that thing that killed my father was found, we sent with them stores of mithril and other precious metals as well as ingots of steel. Our shares of these have been brought here, and we have been crafting fine corslets of mithril for the greatest warriors in Thranduil’s court, for they insist that these are far better to wear when they must fight spiders and wargs than normal chain mail or boiled leather. They pay dearly for them, but feel they are well worth the price, considering how light they are and yet how well they withstand teeth, stings, and edged weapons. We are becoming famous for such articles now, and it adds to our prestige wonderfully.

“Oh, and one other thing that will interest you in particular—we have found one section of the Mountain that is rich in mineral salts and rare metals such as magnesium and manganese and so on that you have ever favored for your colored fires. Come and see! We will be pleased to have you as one of our steady customers, Tharkûn!”

Gandalf was indeed pleased to find a source for such items. One cavern had a number of mineral springs where such mineral salts as he particularly prized could be easily obtained, and he was able to ascertain that they were of excellent quality.

Suddenly he had an idea—perhaps he could use certain fireworks in order to distract or even possibly frighten the denizens of Dol Guldur! The Nazgûl were known to fear fire, and at least Khamûl was known to reside within the Necromancer’s fortress much of the time. There were a few simple items that could emit brilliant light and sparks that could be used to ward off any assault by the wraith or any of his fellows that might be encountered. And he thought of a few ideas for possibly clearing out whatever orcs that might be housed in the deeper halls or that might lie in wait for him.

“If I might have the use of a space where I could work on some fireworks, I would be much obliged,” the Wizard told the King under the Mountain, and quickly a bargain was struck.

*******


It was quite some time before Gandalf had his fireworks precisely as he wanted them. Thráin’s wife did choose to stay in the Iron Hills until the spring thaw, at which time Thráin himself went to fetch her and their son home again. Gandalf had just begun packing his creations into his satchels preparatory to leaving when the royal party returned, Thráin’s wife well pleased by expansions to their living quarters finished during her absence, but still enthusing about her visit with her sister’s family in the Iron Hills; and their son Thorin dreamy-eyed over a maiden he’d met during his stay in the north.

During Thráin’s absence the Wizard had managed to open an entrance to a new gallery that the Dwarves had found particularly troublesome, as the earth in this part of the Mountain had proved unstable and the stone especially flawed. But the gemstones to be found there were of high quality, so in spite of some initial grumbling about outside interference all ended up pleased by Gandalf’s aid.

Still, it was with mutual relief that the Wizard took his leave, intending at last to find his way into Dol Guldur and, if he could, unmask the Necromancer.

*******


“My Lord Theron,” murmured one of Thranduil’s scouts to the Elven King’s dark-haired son who was leading the patrol toward Dol Guldur, “I can see no one, but I will swear that we are being followed. I sense eyes watching us, and at times I hear a twig break as if under boots, or note vines or branches swinging back into place behind me as if someone else walked in my footsteps.”

Theron’s eyes swept the shadows beneath the trees, and he focused his attention on those nearby them, asking them quietly for what they sensed. “The forest,” he whispered finally, “agrees that someone walks unseen hereabouts, but they speak with assurance that there is no ill intent—or not toward us.”

Still it was unsettling to carry on their patrol with whatever presence it was that traveled near them that somehow concealed its identity so very well.

They surprised some of the sentries that kept the further watch upon the way that led toward the Necromancer’s abode, and were able to remove them without setting off any hue and cry. Closer they crept, but now the trees were no longer friendly, being either dead or twisted by the foul magics that seeped from the very walls of the place. One of the great spiders they found lying dead, decapitated by none of their number; and two orcs and a Man also felled by the hand of the unseen addition to their party. The Man was merely stunned, an Easterling by his apparel and weaponry. This one they made a prisoner, for whatever intelligence he might give to Thranduil’s warriors would be welcome.

They went still just inside the tree line, watching closely. At last new sentries came out to take the place of those already on duty, and they were able to see where it was that those they’d not yet incapacitated were stationed. Those that approached to take the place of the sentries they or their unknown ally had slain they sought to kill as quietly as had been their predecessors, and four were felled before the next one spotted the warrior who lay in wait for him and raised the alarm.

More orcs and fell Men issued from the gates, and as the Elves rose up to attack them Prince Theron sensed their invisible companion breaking away, heading for the great doors to the fell keep. He signaled his warriors to fall away to the left, drawing the fight and the gaze of the guard who still stood on sentry at the entrance itself away. He had no idea who it was that was taking advantage of their patrol or why he might wish to enter the Necromancer’s cursed place, but he would do all he could to see to it that whoever it was succeeded, if that was what was desired. When orcs riding wargs emerged from a stable-like structure further to the left he had no further leisure to focus any attention on the one apparently intent on spying out the secrets of Dol Guldur, not while he fought for the lives of himself and his companions.

When some time later the patrol was able to retreat back into more friendly climes he’d lost two of his warriors to the eight Men, one score and seven orcs, and six wargs they’d slain, and they carried with them the Easterling to be questioned. But whoever it was who had followed after them was no longer to be sensed. Theron looked over his shoulder, through the trees, toward the barely glimpsed clouds that roiled over the Necromancer’s keep, and breathed a prayer to the Belain and the One that whoever it was who’d entered into Dol Guldur would manage to come out of it again yet alive.

*******


Khamûl listened to the report of the Rhûni Man who captained the guard about Dol Guldur as he described the encounter with the Elven patrol.

“They grow over bold,” the wraith hissed, at which the Man shuddered involuntarily. “We must increase the number of sentries. Thou shalt see to it.”

“Yes, lord,” answered the Easterling, who accepted the wave of dismissal then offered him with distinct relief.

Khamûl thought on the report. The loss of the orcs was not so troubling, for they had such creatures in plenty, after all. But the Men who’d been killed or taken were more worrisome. Those Men who served the Master here in his current tower were uncomfortable if their numbers fell too quickly, and were prone to grow restive when more than one or two died in an encounter with the Elves of Mirkwood. Yet orcs had proved less than satisfactory in most positions of command, as they rarely could react as swiftly to unexpected circumstances as might be wished. Few orcs, after all, were particularly intelligent, and they were easily distracted by what might appear to be an easy target from the awareness of those who lay in ambush for them. They were most effective in open warfare, for they would continue to seek to kill and maim even when seriously injured, and their sheer viciousness was enough to cow most who faced them.

But here in the environs of the forest where any single tree might hold a number of Elven warriors and archers unseen by those on the ground, Men were often preferable, for they could imagine that danger might lurk above and would be looking all ways for enemies, not merely ahead of them along their line of march.

To lose nine Men in one day, however, was not good—not good at all! There was the need for swift retribution if those who served in Dol Guldur were to be deterred from returning to Rhûn. He was considering just how this retribution might be exacted when the first boom! was heard in a hallway near the entrance to the tower.

He left the chamber where he’d received the report and accosted one of the Rhûnim. “What is it?” he demanded.

The Man’s face was white. “We know not—we are going now to see what might have caused such a din!” With that he pulled away from the Nazgûl’s grip.

“What was it that has happened?” The Nazgûl turned to find himself face-to-face with the Mouth of Sauron, who had apparently come from his dinner, wine staining his face from the corner of his mouth to the tip of his chin.

“They go to learn what it is,” Khamûl answered, resenting the preemptory tone that the twisted mortal had displayed. “Perhaps,” he hissed, “they might be more diligent in finding out what goes forward should you go yourself to oversee matters.”

The Mouth gave a wordless snarl, but went anyway. He had not got far down the passage, however, when a bang! was heard from somewhere near the back of the edifice, and all stopped in confusion. When a third explosion occurred near the western outer walls panic began to ensue. Men gave cries of alarm, while orcs growled and howled with frustration, uncertain as to which way they should go. When still another crash shook the tower, a uruk fell against three smaller snagas, sparking a fight that swiftly spread in at least three directions. Men were raising swords in defense of themselves, and one of the werewolves that tended to follow the Master about gave a piercing howl, and began turning its head from side to side, its fangs and jowls shiny with its slavering. Both Men and orcs pulled away from it.

What is this? demanded the Master from the Altar Room, where preparations were being made to harvest more life force for his benefit. Men and orcs pressed themselves against the walls, none seeking to draw their lord’s attention to himself lest he find himself being placed upon that altar, knowing that soon his body would be burning and the Master given just that much more power, enabling him to influence at least one more slave from afar….

Khamûl and the Mouth drew closer to one another. It was never a good thing to allow the Master’s attention to be distracted at such a time. “We must find out who or what it is that is causing these disturbances,” the wraith insisted. “Let the keep be searched, hall by hall, passage by passage, room by room!”

There was a rolling roar much like thunder across grasslands that echoed amidst the dank stonework of the tower, impossible to locate as to its source. It was possible to see the hairs on the back of the necks of the Men bristling much as did the hackles of the werewolf, and the whole place was filled with the fluttering through a growing reek of sour smoke of the great bats that dwelt there, distressed at being awakened from their daylight sleep. Cries of mingled terror and something else could be heard from those kept in the deep dungeons and the various workrooms about the place where the wraith and their Master worked on yet more diseases and distresses to be set loose across the lands of the Free Peoples of Middle Earth.

“The Hall of the Master’s Throne!” the Mouth suggested, and soon many were pouring into that room, but all were halted in dismay.

Before the Master’s throne was a line of shimmering fountains of fire in harsh reds and threatening greens, with sparks of purest white amongst them; and upon the Obsidian Throne itself appeared the shape of an enormous head, limned with flame. A great voice boomed through the room, declaring, “Nányë Ozimandus, iTúra Rúcimayë!” The dire words echoed from the spike-studded walls, and many of the orcs threw themselves upon the ground, their hands covering their ears, even their faces unnaturally pale grey in shock and terror as the face alternately darkened and then shone out the brighter and as colored smokes filled the place and seeped out into the passageways leading into and out of it. Then in Sindarin was declared, “Look upon me and despair! Look upon me and know that justice will be visited upon you!”

The Mouth and the Nazgûl both stared at this manifestation of a magic they did not recognize in utter horror, having no idea at all as to what had led to its presence on the Master’s own seat or what threat it might pose to their Master or themselves. “Nányë Ozimandus, iTúra Rúcimayë!” filled the hall once more. The light intensified, and a dull roar could be heard, a roar that increased by the instant as a brilliant light pulsed behind the great face, and suddenly with a deafening crash! the head exploded into glistening shards, shards that formed into smaller images of the same head and that spread out throughout the chamber while a brilliant shower of white and gold sparks seemed to fill the middle airs of the place.

Orcs and Men scrambled for the doors, knocking one another to the floor and stumbling over the bodies of those who’d already been felled, and were pursued by flocks of the smaller faces as they sought to escape. The werewolf, now fully in canine shape, gave a shriek of terror as it tore through the crowd with its tail between its legs and headed for a particular tapestry depicting Ungoliant draining the Light and Life out of Telperion, and which hid the passage to the Altar Room. The Mouth and Khamûl followed it closely, bursting into the presence of their dread Master with a lack of ceremony that ordinarily would not have been tolerated.

A victim lay helpless upon the altar, the Umbari priest employed to carry out the sacrifice paused, black blade raised and the youth who held the fire intended to immolate the victim both turned toward the source of the tumult that could be heard even here.

The Necromancer himself rose from the black seat above and behind the altar with the werewolf crouched at his feet, his black shadow surrounded by the dark Fire that reflected his deepest nature. What is the meaning of this? demanded the Dark Lord of Dol Guldur.

“We must flee!” insisted the Mouth. “Oh, Master—we must flee! Ozimandus is here and threatens us with judgment!”

Such was the impact of his terror that the priest dropped his blade, and did not even notice that its edge had glanced off his sandaled foot and had removed his two least toes as he unceremoniously fled the room, while the fire-bearing acolyte dropped his basin of flaming resins and oil upon the floor, where the fire swiftly spread across its black and blood-reddened surface before following the other Man toward the safety of the priests’ close. Suddenly the room was empty save for the Man, once a merchant from the city upon the Long Lake, who lay upon the altar. Unexpectedly finding himself no longer under the direct threat of the knife, he struggled to roll himself off of the cold, blackened stone on which he’d lain onto the floor on the opposite side from the flames. He managed to stagger somehow to his feet, and stumbled toward the passage through which had come the three horrors who’d interrupted his intended death. A bright light filtered down the narrow way, one that somehow heartened him, as it brought a memory of true sunlight into this room in which blood and reeking flames and greasy smoke had held sway for so long. Even if death might await him in the heart of such brilliance, it had to be preferable to that which had threatened him in the presence of the Necromancer! A sudden song of gladness filled him, and he brushed by the now-smoldering tapestry, following the hope of freedom….

~~~

With apologies and thanks to those who made the film of The Wizard of Oz.

“Nányë Ozimandus, iTúra Rúcimayë!” "I am Ozimandus, the Great and Terrible!" (Quenya)


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